We find Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue in Daniel 2. I will attempt to establish that while the last empire being spoken of there is indeed Rome, the Babylonian king’s vision was not intended to give us information about the end times like Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 is. Nebuchadnezzar’s vision was intended to be a prophecy of the first coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of God that would one day grow to encompass all the earth—a kingdom that Jesus said was established during the days of his earthly ministry; i.e., during the Roman Empire (Matthew 12:28, 13:31–33 Luke 17:20–21, Mark 1:15).
Let’s first study the last part of Daniel 2 in order to show that this view that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is a self-contained unit not intended to be seen as a prophecy of the end times has strong biblical support.
Daniel 2:40 And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.
Daniel 2:41 Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay.
Daniel 2:42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile.
Daniel 2:43 As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.
Daniel 2:44 And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
I agree that these feet and toes are somehow a part of the Roman Empire. In other words, the feet and toes mixed with iron and clay, while different, are not a part of a new kingdom, but are a part of the legs of iron, which indicates the Roman Empire—just a chronologically later part of it, i.e., the end. Most conservative scholars tend to agree with this interpretation, but with some of the following variations:
I agree with conservative scholar Stephen Miller that in addition to your view of Daniel 2 and 7, your view about the rock that destroys this statue is the key to interpreting this passage. I ask you to withhold your judgment on this matter until we get to those verses.
A very important part of this discussion is that the last kingdom at some point will be divided. Since most views rightly presume that the feet and toes represent a chronologically later point of Rome, we can safely say that this indicates that Rome will be divided toward the end of its existence, whether we believe that its end was in the past or will be in the future.
Here we have a few problems for the revived Roman Empire view. The first is that we have an unambiguous fulfillment of this passage in the history of the fall of Rome. We know that Rome was divided into several parts before its fall, eventually settling into just two parts: the east and west empires. The second major problem here for the revived Roman Empire view is that forcing this prophecy to the end times means that we have to hold the view that the Antichrist has a divided, weak kingdom in the end times.
The descriptions of the Antichrist’s kingdom in the Bible do not give the impression that it will be weak or divided, but rather that he will have absolute power, and that those who do not worship him will be killed. This does not sound like a weak or divided kingdom.
If we look up the phrase, “the crisis of the third century,” we learn about a one hundred-year-or-so period in Roman history when the empire almost lost everything. It was the first time in Rome’s history that it started to show weakness. All the years of Roman dominance and iron-fisted—or should I say “iron-legged”—rule was starting to slow down during this time.
In AD 285, Diocletian split the empire into four parts called the tetrarchy, but it didn’t last. It briefly was united again under Constantine, but after his death it quickly split again into three divisions. It was total chaos, everyone claiming to be emperor for a few years.
Eventually, when all the dust settled, there were only two divisions of Rome: the eastern half and western half. That is how it would stay until Rome fizzled out of existence. Rome would never again rise to the prominence it once had, and it will grow less and less powerful until it is a shadow of its former self, constantly sacked by invading barbarians, penniless, and powerless. The exact date of Rome’s fall varies because of the death-by-a-thousand-cuts nature of its decline, but most historians put its fall at about AD 480, a mere one hundred years after the division of east and west was solidified.
I’m trying to establish that the end of Rome is characterized by weakness and division, and, as noted before, the one thing both sides of the argument about the feet and toes made of iron and clay agree on is that this passage is saying that the end of the Roman Empire will be characterized by weakness and division. The only difference is that some say the end of the Roman Empire is in the past, and others say we need to “revive” a Roman Empire first, and then watch its end be characterized by weakness and division.
Again, this is a terrific description of the last three hundred or so years of the Roman Empire. There were times during this period, often called “the decline of the Roman Empire,” in which Rome was partly strong in some ways, but partly fragile in others.
We have seen already to an extent, and will see again in the next verse, that it is grammatically necessary to see that the clay and iron represent the two divisions of the empire, in this case, the east and the west empires. So, in order for this interpretation to be a perfect match, we need to see a clear description in history of one of these divisions being much weaker than the other.
The so-called “final split” of the Roman Empire occurred when it was becoming clear that the Western Empire was going to be a lot more dangerous place to live than the east. This is when Constantine moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople. Eventually, Rome would be sacked by Alaric in AD 410, while Constantinople would not be sacked until the late Middle Ages.
Here are what some scholars have said about the weakness of the Western Empire compared to the Eastern.
The East, always wealthier, was not so destitute, especially as Emperors like Constantine the Great and Constantius II had invested heavily in the eastern economy. As a result, the Eastern Empire could afford large numbers of professional soldiers and augment them with mercenaries, while the Western Roman Empire could not afford this to the same extent. Even in major defeats, the East could, certainly not without difficulties, buy off its enemies with a ransom.
The political, economic and military control of the Eastern Empire’s resources remained safe in Constantinople.… In contrast, the Western Empire was more fragmented. Its capital was transferred to Ravenna in 402 largely for defensive reasons.
The Western Empire’s resources were much limited, and the lack of available manpower forced the government to rely ever more on confederate barbarian troops operating under their own commanders, where the Western Empire would often have difficulties paying. In certain cases deals were struck with the leaders of barbaric mercenaries rewarding them with land, which led to the Empire’s decline as less land meant there would be even less taxes to support the military.… As the central power weakened, the State gradually lost control of its borders and provinces, as well as control over the Mediterranean Sea.
The divided parts of this kingdom were noticeably different in strength. As mentioned, the Eastern Empire would survive in some capacity for hundreds of years after the West had long disappeared.
As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay. (Daniel 2:43)
There is a lot of confusion about this verse, which I think is due to the English translation of the Aramaic. This section of Daniel is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Other translations, such as the ESV, render the underlying Aramaic phrase this way:
As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. (emphasis added)
Instead of “mingle with the seed of men,” the phrase reads, “mix with one another in marriage.” So, the question is: Is the ESV capturing the intent of the Aramaic here? Let’s first look at the word translated as “mingle.”
The word translated as “mingle” is the Aramaic word “Arab” (ar-av), which corresponds to the Hebrew “Arab.” In other words, this word, if you look it up, will be in Aramaic, and its only use is right here in Daniel, because Aramaic is very rare. However, most Aramaic words correspond directly to Ancient Hebrew words, and that is the case here. In fact, the Aramaic and Hebrew for “mingle” are even pronounced the same. The Hebrew “Arab” means: “to pledge, exchange, mortgage, engage, occupy, undertake for, give pledges, be or become surety, take on pledge, give in pledge.”2 For example, in Genesis 43:9, when Judah was begging his father to let him take Benjamin to Egypt as per Joseph’s request, Judah says that he will become “surety” for Benjamin. The word “surety” is where we get the word “mingle.” “I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever” (Genesis 43:9, emphasis added).
Another example of the use of this word is in 2 Kings 18:23, where the word “pledge” is the word translated “mingle” in our passage: “Now therefore, I urge you, give a pledge to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses—if you are able on your part to put riders on them!” (2 Kings 18:23)
But the same word for “mingle” also can mean “to mix together.” And in fact, of the two times it’s used that way in the Bible, it is speaking of the intermarriage of Jewish and pagan tribes:
For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. (Ezra 9:2, emphasis added).
Here we have a very similar phrase to the one in our verse. I think this shows some precedent that the translators of the KJV believed that mingling seed was referring to intermarriage with two groups: “But they mingled with the Gentiles and learned their works” (Psalm 106:35).
So I think you can see that the ESV has a pretty decent rendering of this phrase when it says “mix with one another in marriage.” Even if that is true, we still have to determine who “they” are, and whom “they” are trying to intermarry with.
I suggest the simple method of sentence structure and basic grammar to find out who “they” are. If we look in verse 41, we see that Daniel says the feet and toes of clay and iron represent a divided kingdom. The next three verses repeatedly refer to these two divisions of the kingdom as iron and clay. Grammatically, there is no other possible plural subject other than the separate, divided parts of the kingdom represented by the iron and clay. This is confirmed in verse 44, which says “in the days of these kings,” making it clear that the plural subject that was in view in verse 43 must be referring to the kings of the divided kingdom in verse 41. So, this verse is saying that the divided parts of the empire (the iron and the clay) will pledge their offspring to one another in an attempt to become strong again, but it will not work.
It would be one thing if we had to look for some obscure fulfillment of this in Roman history, but the strength of this interpretation is the unambiguous fulfillment of it in the history of Rome, which gives the interpretations a great deal more credibility. In order for this to be true, we can’t just go picking any arranged marriages of emperors in Ancient Rome. Almost every senator, general, prefect, or any other person with imperial ambitions had arranged marriages to secure their legitimacy to the throne. I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that we can’t look at a single page in the entire history of Rome without reading about an arranged political marriage to solidify alliances. But we are looking for a very specific type of political marriage here. It has to be toward the very end of Rome’s existence; because it is regarding the feet and toes, it has to be between the Eastern and Western Empires. In addition, the two kings of the divided kingdom need to pledge their offspring to one another for the specific purpose of trying to unify Rome and keep it from demise. That should narrow the search quite a bit.
There are two instances of this exact thing happening at the end of the Roman Empire. The first is in AD 467, only about nine years before the last Roman emperor. This is when the Vandals were posing a major threat to Rome and Leo was reigning strongly in the East. There had not been an emperor in the West for a few years because a man named Ricimer, who had been ruling behind the scenes by manipulating puppet emperors for many years, had not appointed another puppet emperor and was hoping no one would care or that people would just accept him as the default emperor. This became a problem in the Eastern Empire because of the threat of the Vandals and the imminent war with them. Leo needed to find a way to unite the divided empire to defend itself from destruction. He decided to choose an emperor of the West for the West. He chose a guy named Anthemius and sent him to the West with a big army so that Ricimer would have no choice but to agree.
Here is the marriage connection: The emperor of the east, Leo, gave his daughter, Leontia, to Anthemius’s son, Marcian, to legitimize the reign of his new appointee to the West, essentially saying, “OK, East and West, we are all one big happy family now. So let’s go fight the Vandals or we are all in big trouble.” In addition, Anthemius also gave his only daughter, Alypia, to Ricimer, which also made Anthemius, who was a Greek-speaking foreigner to the west, acceptable to the Latin-speaking Romans, of which Ricimer had become kind of a ringleader. This plan actually might have worked, too, but the battle with the Vandals went very badly, and Anthemius would soon be killed; they would all be right back where they started.
This brings us to the second attempt to cleave together the East and the West through marriages. This time it occurred in AD 474, just two years before the last Roman Emperor, with Julius Nepos. Many people argue that Nepos was the last Roman Emperor, choosing not to count the child Romulus Augustulus, who “ruled” for about a year after Nepos was exiled. This time, Leo married off his niece to Nepos. The surname “Nepos” actually means “nephew.” He took the surname “nephew” as his title, referring to his newly acquired nephew status to Leo in the East. This alone should show the importance of that marriage in the attempt to unify the East and the West. This effort to save the Roman Empire failed as well. It was just too late for Rome; too many problems were converging to cause its destruction. Just like this verse in Daniel says, these two divisions of the final kingdom did not adhere to one another, and the fall of the Western Roman Empire is placed somewhere around this time, between AD 476–480.
Daniel 2:44 And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
Daniel 2:45 Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.
Here we come to the most crucial part of our study of this vision: the identification of this stone. Let’s briefly recall what happened with this stone in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in verses 34–35:
You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34–35)
So this stone strikes the statue on the feet, and it eventually grows to fill the whole earth.
This stone is a kingdom (Daniel 2:44), a kingdom God will institute during the Roman Empire that will eventually grow to encompass the entire world. Some would say this has to be speaking of Jesus, not of a kingdom, because of Ephesians 2:20, which says He is a “cornerstone,” but that would offend the explicit teaching in this verse that this rock is a “kingdom” in the same way that the parts of the statue were kingdoms.
This rock is representative of what is known all throughout the Bible as the “kingdom of God.” Let’s look at a few verses to demonstrate two points:
Jesus Christ begins the kingdom of God in His day:
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28, emphasis added)
Now at one point the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, so he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20–21, emphasis added)
And saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, emphasis added)
It should be noted here that there seems to be a present and future sense of the kingdom of God, in the sense that the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of God is not here or in this world, but rather in the future. But I believe it can also be shown with certainty that Jesus considered the kingdom of God to have been established with Him on earth during His teaching ministry.
The kingdom of God is supposed to start small and then grow large.
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13:31–33)
These two parables describe the small and then growing large aspect of the kingdom of God. So this is, in a sense, a prophecy for all ancient peoples pointing toward a general time the Messiah will come; that is, the kingdom of God would be established sometime during the Roman Empire. This may be one reason messianic expectations were so high in Jesus’ day.
At this point, we’ve only looked at one aspect of the argument that the revived Roman Empire idea is a modern, unbiblical tradition. We have seen that there is no reason to believe that last empire in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue is speaking of an end-times kingdom. But to complete this argument, we need to study Daniel’s vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7 to see for certain that these two chapters are unrelated. This will help us more clearly understand what the world will look like when the Antichrist rises to power.
In Daniel 7, Daniel has a vision of four beasts: a lion, a bear, a leopard and a “diverse beast.” These beasts are identified as kings and/or kingdoms by the angel who interprets Daniel’s dream starting in verse 17.
The question is which kingdoms are being referred to with these beasts.
As I said in an earlier chapter, most conservatives believe that Daniel 7 is simply a retelling of Daniel 2. In other words, the dream Nebuchadnezzar had in Daniel 2 of a multi-metal statue that represented the four kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome are again described here in Daniel 7. I don’t agree with that view, but I do agree that the fourth beast in Daniel 7 is the kingdom of Antichrist.
In the traditional view, the beasts of chapter 7 are succeeded in time by the next beast. For example, the lion, the first beast (who they say represents Babylon) would be followed after much time by the bear (who they say represents Medo-Persia), since Babylon was conquered by Medo-Persia, and then the leopard (Greece) would conquer the bear after that, and so on. I believe there are significant reasons to challenge this view of the kingdoms being in temporal succession of one another.
I propose that this vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7 is not simply a picture of four kingdoms that have come and gone in the past, but rather of the four kingdoms that will be on the earth at the same time when the Antichrist begins his reign in the end times, which means that the fourth beast in Daniel 7 is not necessarily Rome.
Daniel 7:11–12 describes the Antichrist, who is thrown into the lake of fire after his reign is completed. Few conservatives would debate this point. However, after he is thrown into the lake of fire, the mentioning of the previous three beasts shows that they are still around at that time. In fact, Daniel says specifically that they are allowed to live on after that.
I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. (Daniel 7:11–12)
In what sense can Neo-Babylonia or Medo-Persia be spoken of as living on after the Antichrist is destroyed? Most scholars give no compelling explanations for their presence and prolonging of their lives at this point. I will show why the contemporaneous view explains this verse, with many confirmations from the text. Additionally, several grammatical and contextual indications make it plain that these kingdoms exist at the same time in history. The following is an overview of the key points we will find in this vision as understood by what I will call the “contemporaneous beast view.”
There is a dividing of the world into four parts in the time just before the Antichrist begins his rule (figure 1). The Antichrist eventually takes control of one of those four kingdoms, which has ten rulers (figure 2). He eventually conquers all four kingdoms through war and effectively rules the entire world in a new, amalgamated beast, as seen in Revelation 13:1–2 (figure 3).
This view suggests that Daniel 11:36 and following essentially links Daniel 7 with Revelation 13. Let me explain what I mean by all that, and it may take me a minute to do so, so bear with me.
Daniel 11:36–45 describes how the Antichrist will be conquering all kinds of lands and kingdoms, then at some point, he will declare himself to be higher than God Himself in the “Holy Place” in Jerusalem. At that point, the last three and a half years of his reign will begin. But before this, he is busy making war, conquering other kingdoms and establishing his domain. This is perhaps why the book of Revelation says that one of the reasons the world marvels at the Antichrist is because of his war-making capability: “So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” (Revelation 13:4).
Arguably, the chapter that gives the most detail of the Antichrist is Revelation 13. The first two verses of that chapter say:
Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. (Revelation 13:1–2)
This is an unambiguous reference to our chapter, Daniel 7. The fact that we have a lion, a bear, and a leopard in the same place—all in the context of the Antichrist—is enough to make us pay attention, but when we see that this beast has seven heads and ten horns, a direct correlation to Daniel 7, the possibility of this being coincidental is not reasonable.
Why is this significant? If we take the beasts in Daniel 7—a lion with wings, a bear, a four-headed leopard, and a ten-horned beast—and combine them into one, we would have a seven-headed, ten-horned beast with the characteristics of a bear, a leopard, and a lion—exactly what we see in Revelation 13.
In other words, I am proposing that what we are looking at in the first few verses of Revelation 13, when a seven-headed, ten-horned lion/leopard/bear beast comes out of the sea, is the Antichrist, who is now finished with his conquest of the other three world powers and is the uncontested ruler of the world.
So, turning back to what I said earlier: The view that I promote, the contemporaneous-beast view, suggests that Daniel 11:36–45 (which describes the wars of Antichrist) essentially links Daniel 7 (the Antichrist pre-wars, in which he is only one of four powers) with Revelation 13, in which he is the uncontested ruler of all world powers. These three chapters, spread out all over the Bible, more or less provide a before, during, and after-conquests snapshot of the Antichrist.
And here in Daniel 7, it gives us details on what to look for in the world just prior to and during the beginning of Antichrist’s ascent to power. Daniel 11:36–45 gives what his conquests of the other powers will look like. And Revelation 13 tells what it will look like once he has gained complete control.
Let’s study Daniel 7 to see if there are significant reasons to challenge the idea that this vision of Daniel is simply a mirror image of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue.
The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. (Daniel 7:4)
The traditional view has this beast being Babylon, and specifically, Nebuchadnezzar. For example, traditionalists say that wings being plucked off and its being made to stand on two feet and given a heart of a man refers to the humbling experience God gave Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4, where the king was forced to act like an ox for several years until he recognized the sovereignty of God and then was restored to his right mind.
The picture the traditional view paints is that the lion represents Nebuchadnezzar when he was forced to act like a beast, and then the plucking of the lion’s wings, making it stand on two feet, and giving it a man’s heart is symbolic of God restoring Nebuchadnezzar to his right mind at the end of Daniel 4. This suggests that the reason for these four beings being described as “beasts” is because of similar situations like that of Nebuchadnezzar’s. Are we to understand, then, that the kings of Medo-Persia, Greece, or Rome are also described as beasts, because they, too, were forced by God to act like beasts? If so, they were apparently not restored to sanity as Nebuchadnezzar was, since no man’s heart was given to them.
The description of the first beast in Daniel 7 doesn’t even fit what happened to Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4. The clear intent in Daniel 7 is that the lion was always a lion, but was given a “man’s heart” and thus changed. The lion was not restored to its natural state by the plucking of its wings and making it stand on two feet. It was permanently transformed, and the intent of the text, as we will see, is that it was a downgrade for the lion, not an upgrade. Nebuchadnezzar’s situation was exactly reversed if we analyze this closely.
The traditional view also asserts things like “the winged lion is the traditional symbol for Babylon; evidence of this can be seen on the Ishtar Gate from Babylon.” To start with, there is no evidence to suggest that winged lions were considered a symbol of Babylon. Lions in general, regardless of wings, were associated not with Babylon, but with the goddess Ishtar. This is partly because of the reference to her loving lions in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which states of Ishtar: “Thou has loved the lion, mighty in strength.”
For this reason, Ishtar was often depicted with lions in sculptures and reliefs; only occasionally are the lions winged, for reasons we will get to later. This is why lions appear on the famous Ishtar gate of Babylon, because of their association with Ishtar, but Ishtar was not even the main goddess of Babylon. She, however, was, in some traditions, considered to be married to Marduk, the primary god of Babylon, thereby making Ishtar the queen of Babylon by marriage, according to those traditions.
There are other winged animals on the gate, like the bull, though most of the bulls do not have wings. In fact, the other two animals depicted on the gate (bulls and dragons) vastly outnumber the lions. There were 120 lions compared to 575 dragons and bulls. Incidentally, Nebuchadnezzar was really proud of the bulls and dragons on the front of the gate (where we won’t find any lions). He even mentions them specifically in his inscription about why he built the gate, but he doesn’t mention the lions at all.
All that to say that many commentators who try to make the point that winged lions are symbols of Babylon do so despite the historical evidence that winged lions are quite simply not symbols of Babylon at all, and when they do show up in Babylon, they are exceedingly rare.
People trying to make this winged lion in verse 4 be Babylon are often thinking of the so-called Lamassu. A Lamassu is a representation of a protective deity, not from Babylon but rather thousands of years before this in the Akkadian and then Assyrian kingdoms, who were enemies of Babylon. Although there are occasions when Lamassu have been depicted with lions’ bodies, the vast majority are with bulls’ bodies. There is some evidence that the Assyrian tradition of putting Lamassu, their protective deities, on city gates was why certain animals on other gates in later periods were given wings, as a tip of the hat to the older, Akkadian traditions regarding these protective deities.
This interpretation causes a hermeneutical problem as well. If we are going to say that we should look for a culture’s symbol for itself to decipher the following beast kingdoms, then how are we to deal with the rest of the beasts? There is not a shred of evidence that, for example, the Medo-Persians symbolized themselves with a bear. I don’t even think any traditional commentators try to suggest this. Nor did Greece make statues or reliefs symbolizing itself as a leopard, let alone Rome depicting itself with the odd beast that Daniel describes. If we’re going to say that we can decipher the beasts/kingdoms in Daniel 7 by looking at the artwork and symbols of the kingdom in question, then it needs to be consistent.
There is a similar problem with the next point, brought up by proponents of the traditional view, which is that Nebuchadnezzar is called both a lion and an eagle in Scripture. This is the best of the point that the traditionalists have to offer in favor of their view that the four beasts of Daniel 7 are the same as the nations in Daniel 2. Even so, it should be considered that Scripture also calls Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, a lion and an eagle in Hosea 8:1 and Jeremiah 50:17. A simple study of the usage of lions, eagles, or any other beast in Scripture reveals that they are used to designate characteristics, and are often widely interchangeable among individuals or nations—as long as the individuals or nations display the characteristics of the animal described in Scripture. For example, when used in a negative sense, lions are, among other things, strong (Proverbs 30:30), fearless (Proverbs 28:1, 30:30), stealthy (Psalm 17:12), frightening (Ezra 19:7; Hosea 11:10; Amos 3:8), destructive (1 Samuel 17:34; Micah 5:8) and territorially protective (Isaiah 31:4).
Similarly, eagles are used to depict specific characteristics of individuals or nations throughout Scripture. According to one Bible encyclopedia, it is “referred to for its swiftness of flight (Deut. 28:49; 2 Sam. 1:23), its mounting high in the air (Job 39:27), its strength (Ps. 103:5), its setting its nest in high places (Jer. 49:16), and its power of vision (Job 39:27-30).” Referred to in the article cited as a “ravenous bird,” it “is a symbol of those nations whom God employs and sends forth to do a work of destruction, sweeping away whatever is decaying and putrescent (Matt. 24:28; Isa. 46:11; Ezek. 39:4; Deut. 28:49; Jer. 4:13; 48:40).3
So consider that when lions or eagles are used to describe kings, the imagery is used of different kings and often different kingdoms, but the unifying factor is that they are instruments of God in the judgment of Israel and display the characteristics of the animals laid out in Scripture.
Again, the traditional view would fail at applying this hermeneutic to the other three beasts. For example, there is no reference in Scripture to Alexander the Great or Greece as a leopard, or to Cyrus or Medo-Persia as a bear.
I suggest that we should attempt to interpret the first beast the same as we would the others. The most scriptural way to do that is by understanding the symbolism of the beasts by the different characteristics of that particular animal provided in Scripture.
The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings.
A kingdom that is like a lion and has wings like an eagle suggests a strong and swift nation. Second Samuel 1:23 says:
Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives,
And in their death they were not divided;
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions. (2 Samuel 1:23)
We could apply the other characteristics of these two animals to these beasts for more clarity, but the important part in terms of interpretation comes with the following lines:
I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.
Both the wings being plucked off and the lion being forced to act like a man are to be understood as a bad thing, not a good thing, for this kingdom. The wings being plucked is pretty obvious: If the kingdom was swift like an eagle, but its wings were plucked, it would not be to the nation’s advantage.
The act of giving the creature a man’s heart should be understood as having its lion’s heart changed into a weaker heart. Scripture is clear that a lion’s heart is better than a man’s with regard to boldness or fearlessness.
If I was looking for this kingdom, I would be looking for one that was strong and fast, but that had its swiftness removed and that demonstrated less boldness than it once had.
And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: “Arise, devour much flesh!” (Daniel 7:5).
The next beast Daniel describes is “like a bear.” In the traditional view, this is Medo-Persia, because, again those who hold the traditional view believe that this is a retelling of Daniel 2 in which the second part of the statue is indeed Medo-Persia.
As we have already noted, none of the ideas traditional-view proponents apply to the lion work for the bear. There is nothing to indicate any Medo-Persian king had a humbling experience that made him think like a beast, nor is there any indication whatsoever that the Medo-Persian empire identified itself symbolically or any other way with a bear—and there is never a reference to a Medo-Persian king as a bear in Scripture.
It was raised up on one side.
Proponents of the traditional view say that the bear being raised up on one side is symbolic of the uneven relationship between the Medes and Persians in their coalition. The Medes were initially the dominant party, but later, the Persians were the more dominant of the two parts of this empire.
Note that the phrase “raised up” here is passive; that is, the bear was raised up on one side by an outside force—not of its own doing. Much like the lion having its wings plucked and being stood up, etc., this bear is being raised up on one side by another party, probably by the group that is also ordering it to “devour much flesh.” The verse says: “And they said thus to it: ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’” The “they” could be a reference to the winds of the earth that stir up the sea in verse 1.
And had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth.
The three ribs in the bear’s mouth, according to the traditional view, represent three notable conquests of the Medo-Persian empire. But because there are more than three notable conquests of the Medo-Persian empire, there is much argument among those holding this view as to which three should be considered the most important. I, of course, don’t think this has anything to do with the Medo-Persian empire, and so believe we should not concern ourselves with why this is not a perfect description of its military conquests—because it isn’t.
One interesting verse is found in Hosea 13:7–8, in which God describes Himself as all of the beasts in this chapter. This is the only time these beasts are found together other than in Revelation 13, and that passage gives us an idea of what these ribs are:
So I will be to them like a lion;
Like a leopard by the road I will lurk;
I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs;
I will tear open their rib cage,
And there I will devour them like a lion.
The wild beast shall tear them. (Hosea 13:7–8)
The bear is described here as tearing open a rib cage, so I think the basic hermeneutic applied to the bear by the traditional view is correct: the ribs represent initial conquests by this kingdom that are three in number.
Also note that almost every time a bear is figured in Scripture, the idea of it being, as it says here, “deprived of her cubs,” is mentioned. That is, the biblical bear is the most ferocious when its offspring is threatened. This is such a consistent theme that I would be surprised if the nations the bear represents are not acting out of a real or perceived sense of defense.
This phrase is very important, as it weakens the case that this beast represents Medo-Persia. After the conquests of Cyrus the Great and his son Cambyses II, which occurred relatively quickly and very early in the Medo-Persian history, there were two hundred years of no conquering at all, until the empire was defeated by Alexander the Great. The empire spent most of its existence simply struggling to maintain the lands that were initially conquered for it by Cyrus and his son. So, if this bear already with the main conquests in its mouth is supposed to be Medo-Persia, then it either chose not to devour any more flesh, as it was ordered to, or the image simply is not referring to the Medo-Persian Empire.
“After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it. (Daniel 7:6).
The leopard with four bird wings and four heads is the Greek Empire in the traditional view. Again, this theory has the same problems as the bear, since Alexander the Great was not humbled by having his mind turned into a beast’s mind. Nor is the symbol of the leopard associated with the Greek Empire; nor is Alexander the Great or Greece referred to as a leopard in the Bible. I would agree them, however, that the four wings on the leopard probably represent a very fast-moving empire.
One of the biggest problems with this view is the four heads of this beast. The traditional proponents say that these heads represent the four generals whom Alexander the Great gave his empire to after he died. The traditional view, then, has Scripture attributing the fast and ferocious conquests of the Grecian Empire to the four generals; no mention of Alexander is present. This is problematic to say the least. Even if we were to assume that Alexander was somehow involved—perhaps he was the torso—to give such prominence to the generals is inconsistent with history and with the way Scripture uses the head/kingdoms motif.
How does Scripture speak of leopards? They tear into pieces (Jeremiah 5:6), they are swift (Habakkuk 1:8), and they lie in wait for their prey (Jeremiah 5:6, Hosea 13:7).
We are looking for an exceedingly fast coalition of four end-times kings or kingdoms or even four leaders of the same kingdom. And, because of the consistent use in Scripture, this kingdom will have some quality that can be described as “lying in wait” or “being patient before striking.”
Mention of the leopard is found only about six times in Scripture, and the only time the term seems to apply to any nation or king is in Revelation 13, where we see that all four of the beasts have been combined as they rise out of the sea for the final three and a half years of Antichrist’s rule, suggesting again that we are to understand these kingdoms in Daniel 7 as somehow being represented again all the way in Revelation 13.
Daniel 7:7 “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.
Daniel 7:8 I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.
Here the traditional view has Rome in sight. The reasons for this—strength and fearfulness because of its might—are very general and can apply to any of the previous kingdoms. Any world empire would be able to claim these characteristics. The idea that Rome was “different” from the previous kingdoms can also apply to any kingdom on the list, depending we how you define “different.”
There are major differences in the fourth empire described here and the last empire described in the statue vision back in Daniel 2. For instance, in this verse, the strength of the empire is clearly the main focus; not a hint of weakness is detected. Contrast that with the last part of the last empire of Daniel 2, in which the Bible spends verse after verse describing the divided nature and inherent weakness of that kingdom. I would call that a very big difference! The kingdom in Daniel 2 is divided and weak, and the kingdom in Daniel 7 is described as invincible.
The main point seen as the clincher for the traditional view is the reference to the ten horns, which is said to correspond to the ten toes in Daniel 2. But I beg the reader to realize that there is no mention of ten toes in Daniel 2. That idea has been read back into the text by people who assume these two chapters are the same.
In chapter 2, the feet and toes are one unit, a fact easily demonstrated not just by the descriptions of them being one unit in the text, but also by the rock striking the feet, not the toes, in order to destroy the statue. If the biblical writer wanted to make a big deal out of the ten toes, he would have said, “By the way, there are ten toes,” but he does not. There is no mention of the number of toes in the text. For example, I believe we are supposed to pay attention to the number of ribs in the bear’s mouth (three), and, in the next chapter, the number of horns on the ram’s head, or even the number of horns on this beast’s head (ten). But when a number is not mentioned, we shouldn’t read one into the text. No one tries to draw attention to the ten fingers on the hands of the statue that represents Medo-Persia, because there is no correlation there; it takes the analogy too far. We wouldn’t note that there are two eyes and ears on the head, either. When the Bible is silent, we should be too.
That being said, I do have some agreement with the traditional view at this point, in that I think the kingdom the Antichrist comes from will have ten kings because of this passage in Daniel 7 and because of its interpretation by the angel, which we will get to later. The Antichrist indeed seems to arise from some kind of ten-nation/king confederacy, and he will subdue three of them before ultimately talking over the whole organization.
Two grammatical clues in this verse support the overall premise that the four beasts are contemporaneous and not successive. The first is the use of the word “before” in verse 7: “It was different from all the beasts that were before it.”
The word “before” here is the Aramaic word qodam, which is only used in a spatial sense and never in a temporal sense. It is never used in the time sense, like “he tied his shoes before he ran.” It is only used in the sense of being in front of something, like “I put some food before the king.”
One example of how this word is used is in Daniel 2:25:
Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel before the king, and said thus to him, “I have found a man of the captives of Judah, who will make known to the king the interpretation.” (Daniel 2:25)
A different word would be used to speak of something happening before something else in time. So when the verse says, “It was different from all the beasts that were before it,” it must mean that the other beasts are spatially in front of it, indicating that these beasts must be on the earth at the same time.
This brings us to the second grammatical clue in this verse. The phrase, “trampling the residue with its feet,” also supports the idea that these beasts are contemporaneous.
Biblical scholar Charles Cooper says the following on this point:
The importance of the translation of this verse is evident by examining several Bible translations:
A fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet. (NASB)
A fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. (ESV)
a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it. (1895-KJV)
a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. (NIV)
The reader should discern that the translations, with the exception of the NIV, place the final clause as the object of all three verbs. Does “what was left” go with the final verb to stamp or with all three verbs: to devour, to break in pieces, and to stamp? The answer to this question along with the question regarding the meaning of the clause “what was left” support our contention that the four kings/kingdoms of Daniel 7 reign upon the earth at the same time. If the clause “what was left” applies only to the verb to stamp, we would have to conclude that the clause refers to the things the beast did not devour or break in pieces. In other words, “what was left” is everything else the beast is not able to devour or break in pieces. If the beast could not “eat” it or “break” it, he stamped on it.
The other option is to take “what was left” as the object of all three verbs: to devour, to break in pieces, and to stamp, which is reflected in most translations. Taken in this sense, “what was left” represents everything the first three beasts do not control. In other words, the four kings/kingdoms divided the world up between them. The lion-king, the bear-king, the leopard king, and the diverse-king each get a fourth. In context, “what was left” is best taken to refer to that part of the earth that did not fall under the control of the first three beasts/kings/kingdoms.4
Daniel 7: 9–11
Daniel 7:9 I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire;
Daniel 7:10 A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened.
Daniel 7:11 I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame.
Daniel now shifts his attention to a new character in the vision: the Ancient of Days. This is a reference to YHWH, though the same description is applied to Jesus in Revelation. Later we will see the Son of Man whom Jesus identified with interacting with the Ancient of Days.
Daniel is now going to watch the Ancient of Days destroy the beast with the little horn by giving it to the burning flame. These verses are very important for our discussion, because they correspond directly to events in the book of Revelation. If we compare the two books, we will see that Daniel is giving us very specific information about the timing of the events being described in this chapter.
Let’s start with the first phrase: “I watched till thrones were put in place.”
I will quote from the last part of Revelation 19 to the first part of Revelation 20. First you will see the Antichrist is cast into the lake of fire, just as it happens in our passage:
Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:20)
Then we read that thrones are set up after that, which corresponds with Daniel as well:
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. (Revelation 20:4a)
This shows that there is a direct chronological match with the events of Daniel 7 and Revelation 19 and 20.
The comparisons to the time just before the millennial reign of Christ are very important, and Daniel will continue to make unambiguous references to it. One reason I want to address this is because I think it helps to explain the next verse.
As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. (Daniel 7:12)
“As for the rest of the beasts”: There is no doubt that the other beasts of Daniel 7 are in view here—that is, the lion, the bear and the leopard. Their dominion is taken away, but their lives are prolonged for a time.
This verse is very difficult to get around for those who still hold the traditional view, because the other beasts are long gone by this point. Stephen Miller, author of the commentary on Daniel for the New American Commentary who holds to the traditional view, offers the following to explain this most serious problem:
How could these beasts lose their authority and still exist? The explanation is that their dominance ceased, but they continued to live because they were absorbed into the next empire. For example, Greece was conquered by Rome; and although Greek dominance came to an end, the nation continued to live by being absorbed into another one of the earthly kingdoms, the Roman Empire.5
So according to Miller, when Daniel says “As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time,” he means that there would still be Neo-Babylonian or Medo-Persian blood on the earth in the last days. This presumes that the Bible sees kingdoms in a purely ethnic sense, which is very difficult when dealing with kingdoms like the Romans, who were very ethnically diverse.
I have another explanation for this problem. After the Antichrist is destroyed at Armageddon, there will still be people and indeed nations on earth who will populate the thousand-year period after the sheep and goat judgment. This has explicit biblical support. We know there will be specifically identifiable nations in the Millennium. For example, in Zechariah 14:16–19, Egypt is mentioned. In fact, that same passage specifically states that some of the nations that were a part of the final battles would be serving the Lord during this time: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King” (emphasis added)
So the nations involved in this vision are allowed to continue into the Millennium, based on the context. This is very difficult to say of Neo-Babylonia or Medo-Persia, but it makes sense if these four beasts are last-days kingdoms controlled by the Antichrist.
For a complete study on this chapter in Daniel, see my commentary on the book of Daniel entitled Daniel—A Commentary available on www.Amazon.com.
I hope readers will consider the possibility that Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 are not speaking of the same events. While I don’t regard this as an absolutely crucial doctrine to understanding the end times as a whole, I do think that by believing them to be the same, thereby causing a revived Roman Empire view to exist, we set ourselves up to be confused when the Antichrist does appear.