top of page
  • Writer's picturemww

The Future Is in God's Hand -- an encouragement from Daniel 7

Every kingdom that opposes God will come to nothing.

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Daniel 7

We are going to spend one lesson in Daniel on his visions. And while my notes will focus on potential interpretations of the vision, I want our discussion to focus on what we know the purpose of this vision to be: no matter how many kingdoms oppose God and God's people, they will only ever operate in the space God allows them.

As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. (7:9)

Getting Started: Things to Think About

Warning: Lesson Involving Prophecy

There are six chapters of prophecy in Daniel, and we only have one lesson from them (next week's lesson is from a prayer in chapter 9). That's a good idea. Lessons from prophecies tend to cause debates. And most of those debates are completely unnecessary. God did not give us visions of the future to argue about them. He did so to give us urgency. Some Christians I know "feel good" about how much they study Bible prophecy, but they pay no attention to what the Bible says about how we are supposed to live our lives.

I'm going to put most of the space in this week's blog on how the prophecies are fulfilled, but that's not the most important part of this lesson! I would much rather you move quickly through Parts 1 & 2, acknowledging that there are many questions about Bible prophecy that we cannot answer until we stand before God, and spend most of your time on the incredible Part 3.

The Future! What Will It Hold?

Here's my first idea. Start your discussion with an open-ended "what do you think the future will hold -- 20 years, 50 years from now?"

You might not remember that The Jetsons was set in 2062 -- that's just 40 years from now. What kind of a track are we on? What about transportation in the future? Living conditions in the future? Vacations in the future? Health care in the future? And so on.

(That graphic comes from a NY Post article.)

My intent for this topic is to keep things light, "longing" for the promised advancements that haven't happened yet. However -- keep your ears open for just how optimistic or pessimistic the ideas are.

  • Robots and AI -- is it a robot apocalypse, or will we have friendly robot maids?

  • Gene therapy -- will we cure disease, or will we manipulate humanity?

  • Space travel -- will we colonize the galaxy, or will we be wiped out by aliens?

  • Cities -- will we live in slums or utopias?

  • Environment -- will we "save" the planet, or will we ruin it?

If media has influenced us in any way, it will be toward pessimism. TV shows, movies, and especially video games "enjoy" setting their stories in a post-apocalyptic world.

Your transition into the lesson would be a statement like this:

No matter what we think the future might hold, God is in complete control of it. Humans will not find a way to rescue ourselves from the penalty of sin. Nor will we find a way to wipe ourselves out before the final judgment.

How Does Today Compare with Your Expectations?

If your group isn't into predictions about the future, another way to open things up is ask how today compares with how they thought 2022 would be (10 years ago or 20 years ago).

Dallas Morning News recently ran a "Tomorrow's Lifestyles" that tied back to a survey they did in 2000. Things like smart appliances, wearable technology, video-casting, and cloning are moving the expected direction, but we aren't as far as some thought we would be.

I'm just waiting for the teleporter.


This Week's Big Idea: The Visions in Daniel

As I mentioned, Lifeway chose to do one lesson from the four visions in Daniel 7-12.

  • Chapter 7: a vision of four beasts (given ~553 BC)

  • Chapter 8: a vision of a ram and a goat (~550 BC)

  • Chater 9b: the seventy sevens (~539 BC)

  • Chapters 10-12: a vision of a man (~537 BC)

Daniel's visions are popular fodder for prophecy mongers. In fact, I can't recommend that you watch any YouTube videos on Daniel! The ones I saw were filled with reckless speculation, completely unfounded opinions, bizarre jumps in logic, and unhelpful conclusions. So, yeah.

Here's one video that I trust from The Bible Project about Daniel 7.

And here's their overview video of Daniel that puts everything together in a wider context.

To keep things moving (and coherent), I'll focus on their interpretation:

First, they draw the parallel we've mentioned between chapters 2 and 7. The main idea is that human nations have gotten so out of control that they behave like terrifying beasts.

That leads to the follow-up question: how long will God let this go on? As the next three visions show, longer than we would like, but no longer than God will allow.

The charts in this next gallery represent the most common views and show how interpreters find the parallels between the visions in Daniel. I'm not saying that any of these are "right" (because that would imply that I know!); I'm just saying that they're common.

My purpose in showing these charts: don't get too attached! They might be right; they might be wrong.

Above, I mentioned the parallel between Daniel chapters 2 and 7. Here are the two most common understandings:

  • The four kingdoms are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (as this graphic)

  • The four kingdoms are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.

We'll talk more about the descriptions of the four beasts when we get to them in the passage!

The most famous (though their influence is waning) charts about biblical prophecy came from the dispensational teacher Clarence Larkin (100 years ago!).

His books gave the exact meaning of every verse of every prophecy in the Bible and gave very detailed charts identifying exactly how the verses fit into history. I don't have space this week to discuss dispensationalism (I know you're disappointed) but know this -- any Christian who claims to know exactly what a Bible prophecy means (that God hasn't otherwise explained) is wrong. We have to approach prophecy very humbly.

Here's the transition for your discussion:

You may have come into this week's discussion with a very strong opinion about what these verses mean. Our goal this week is to understand what the Bible says and why the Bible says it. Everything beyond that is speculation on our part.

Part 1: Three Beasts (Daniel 7:1-6)

7 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream with visions in his mind as he was lying in his bed. He wrote down the dream, and here is the summary of his account. 2 Daniel said, “In my vision at night I was watching, and suddenly the four winds of heaven stirred up the great sea. 3 Four huge beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other. 4 The first was like a lion but had eagle’s wings. I continued watching until its wings were torn off. It was lifted up from the ground, set on its feet like a man, and given a human mind. 5 Suddenly, another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, with three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up! Gorge yourself on flesh.’ 6 After this, while I was watching, suddenly another beast appeared. It was like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back. It had four heads, and it was given dominion.

First, I want you to have great empathy for Daniel. These visions traumatized him.

  • As for me, Daniel, my thoughts terrified me greatly, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself. (7:28)

  • I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was greatly disturbed by the vision and could not understand it. (8:27)

  • In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three full weeks. I didn’t eat any rich food, no meat or wine entered my mouth, and I didn’t put any oil on my body until the three weeks were over. (10:2-3)

Daniel is not giving us fodder for musing and debate; he is sharing a vision of human catastrophe that will alter human history.

Second, realize that these visions were spread out. Perhaps it just takes that long to recover from such an overwhelming vision.

For "King Belshazzar", see what we said about him in the "Closing Thoughts" of the first lesson.

"A dream with visions in his mind" seems awkward in English, but they didn't speak English.

The word for "summary" also means "substance" -- in other words, this is the best Daniel could do in trying to explain what he saw and experienced. I liken this to John's struggle in trying to communicate his Revelation.

Heaven and Sea. There is so much to say about just this verse!

  • There is a subtle parallel with creation -- the wind of God moved across the waters to bring order out of chaos. That's basically what God will do here.

  • The "sea" always represents chaos and danger in imagery. Fresh water bodies bring life, but the sea brings death. In prophecy, the sea tends to represent the chaos of humanity (see Isa 57:20).

  • The four winds are also mentioned in Revelation 7 and 9.

In other words, these are not literal beasts out of a literal sea. These represent humans or human institutions. God later says, "These huge beasts, four in number, are four kings who will rise from the earth" (7:17). (And even with that said, I still interpret that to mean that "the kings" represent their empire.) But here's the clear point: whatever destructive power comes out of humanity does so at the call of God. God is sovereign over humanity.

The four beasts of Daniel 7 have long fascinated Bible readers. If you Google "Daniel 7", you will get no shortage of fantastic pictures. But let me be clear: what Daniel says is his best effort to describe what he saw. We don't know exactly what he saw!

What follows are common understandings of what the beasts represent and some unanswerable questions that should keep us from becoming dogmatic.

Beast 1: A Lion with Eagle's Wings and a Human Mind (or Heart)

If we hold to the parallel between Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2 and this one, then we know that this first beast represents Babylon (see 2:37). And we can say that the lion is a clear and obvious symbol of Babylon. That established, most scholars conclude that the references to the beast's humanity refer to Nebuchadnezzar's madness and restoration. But...

  • Sure, Babylon is often associated with a lion, but that doesn't help us at all with "bear" or "leopard".

  • Why does the lion have wings, and why are they torn off?

  • Why is this beast given a human mind (/heart) and put on two feet? Why not the others?

Note: if chapter 7 does not parallel chapter 2, then throw my reasoning out the window!

Beast 2: A Hungry, Unbalanced Bear

The "raised up on one side" detail makes many scholars conclude that this is the Medo-Persian Empire, an empire that was dominated by the Persians (case in point -- Cyrus the Persian installed Gubaru ("Darius") the Mede as a regent in Babylon). Assuming the parallel with Daniel 2, this would be the case. Those scholars then say that the "three ribs" represent the major conquests of the Medo-Persian Empire: Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt. The command to subsequently "gorge" refers to how the empire continued to grow after Persia took control.

I'm on board with that. As you can see from the map, the Persians expanded their empire to a great distance. In fact, their presence in Asia Minor created the destabilization that Philip of Macedon needed to start the next empire, conquered by his son Alexander the Great. (But more on this another day.) But...

  • Why is this beast not a hybrid (just a bear)? How does that distinguish it from the other beasts?

  • In my understanding of history, Persian took control of the empire before it conquered Egypt (and maybe even Babylon), so that wouldn't fit the given reasoning for the "three ribs". And why just three? The Medo-Persians conquered lots of peoples together. Maybe the three ribs represent something else entirely?

You might have caught that earlier I said a second understanding of this vision is that the four beasts represent Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. The problem with this interpretation is there is nothing historical about the Median Empire to indicate that they did a whole lot of anything, certainly not enough to be "known" for being a great beast. They conquered a small area over a short time and got caught up with the Persians.

Beast 3: A Four-Headed Leopard with Four Wings

Back to the hybrid monsters. The most common identification of this is the post-Alexander Greek Empire which was divided between his generals. I am in agreement with this interpretation. It explains why the beast is a hybrid at least. This empire was quickly dominated by four generals, and eventually two for the purposes of Jerusalem (they would be known in Daniel 11 as the kings of the north and of the south). This second map represents the world that we commonly associate with Daniel's later visions:

Jerusalem would be caught in the power struggle between the Seleucids (the kings of the north, based in Antioch -- yellow on this map) and the Ptolemies (the kings of the south, based in Alexandria -- purple on this map). That history, which we can actually read played out in the books of the Maccabees, is amazing. But...

  • Why a leopard? How did it compare with lions and bears in the ancient world?

  • Why did this kingdom and the first have wings, but not the second?

  • Why is it said that this kingdom is given dominion, but that's not said of the others?

  • In Daniel 2, the third kingdom is made of bronze; why?

In disclosure, I agree with the Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece paradigm. I believe that these three beasts are past tense (buttressed by being in parallel with Daniel 2). The world changed because of Babylon, Persia, and Greece -- they are well-qualified to be "beasts" in an apocalyptic vision.

But even if you think these "beasts" are something else, the meaning doesn't change. Earthly kingdoms will rise and fall and wreak havoc on God's people, but they only operate within the space allowed by God.

A transition discussion: what events happen in the world today that make you concerned about God's plan for humanity? You might say that you firmly believe that "God is in control", but what are those things that are on the edge of your firm belief?


Part 2: The Fourth Beast and the Horn (Daniel 7:7-8)

7 “After this, while I was watching in the night visions, suddenly a fourth beast appeared, frightening and dreadful, and incredibly strong, with large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and it trampled with its feet whatever was left. It was different from all the beasts before it, and it had ten horns. 8 While I was considering the horns, suddenly another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. And suddenly in this horn there were eyes like the eyes of a human and a mouth that was speaking arrogantly.

This section is supposed to push you to the limits of your trust in God. Here is a kingdom and a king that flagrantly opposes God -- "God, how can you allow such an obscene, profane human to have power and influence?"

But even over that one, God still has complete control and authority.

Daniel makes it clear that this fourth beast is "different". It has "iron teeth" (and "bronze claws" -- v. 19), meaning it's not natural. Note that Daniel doesn't even try to give an animal analog; this is a totally unnatural beast of war.

Here's what God says of this beast a few verses later (7:23-25):

The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, different from all the other kingdoms. It will devour the whole earth, trample it down, and crush it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will rise from this kingdom. Another king, different from the previous ones, will rise after them and subdue three kings. 25 He will speak words against the Most High and oppress the holy ones of the Most High. He will intend to change religious festivals and laws, and the holy ones will be handed over to him for a time, times, and half a time.

The intent of this kingdom is to conquer and rule, and it has no respect for God.

There is an unavoidable parallel between the "ten horns" of this vision and the "ten toes" of 2:41.

A fourth kingdom will be as strong as iron; for iron crushes and shatters everything, and like iron that smashes, it will crush and smash all the others. 41 You saw the feet and toes, partly of a potter’s fired clay and partly of iron—it will be a divided kingdom, though some of the strength of iron will be in it. You saw the iron mixed with clay, 42 and that the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly fired clay—part of the kingdom will be strong, and part will be brittle. 43 You saw the iron mixed with clay—the peoples will mix with one another but will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with fired clay.

So -- a stronger but divided (and thus more brittle) kingdom.

Let's see what we can agree on.

When God explains this vision to Daniel, Daniel adds this nugget:

20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three fell—the horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that looked bigger than the others. 21 As I was watching, this horn waged war against the holy ones and was prevailing over them 22 until the Ancient of Days arrived and a judgment was given in favor of the holy ones of the Most High, for the time had come, and the holy ones took possession of the kingdom.

Summary: There are ten horns (kings); an eleventh horn comes up and conquers three horns and speaks arrogantly and wages war against God's people and then is judged.

Right. How hard is that?

So, it's obviously, ... you know ... history, and ... you know ...

Look, y'all, I don't know what to say.

For the sake of argument, let's start with the idea that the Fourth Kingdom is the Roman Empire. It follows the scheme of the vision -- each kingdom conquers the previous. The Roman Empire had dozens of provinces and emperors, and the number "ten" could simply be symbolic of completeness. The Roman Empire was a war machine the world has not seen since. The Roman Empire brought together very distinct ethnicities, maintained cohesion by force, and ultimately crumbled under its own weight.

So what's the problem with this interpretation? Why are you going to hear debate at this point of the lesson? People think the "little horn" is the antichrist. And if the antichrist hasn't come yet, then the Fourth Kingdom can't have happened yet.

Above, on some of those charts, you see that they get around this by extending the Roman Empire through the Holy Roman Empire and into the Roman Catholic Church and thus it's still here today. (They get really spicy when they say that the pope is the antichrist. But, which pope? All of them? Really?) The problem with that interpretation is the Roman Empire fell in 476, and Pope Leo didn't crown Charlemagne the new Holy Roman Emperor until 800.

(And you can see from this Wikipedia map that the Holy Roman Empire didn't have much in common with the territory of the old Roman Empire.) The two entities are connected by name only.

I'm going to say something that might disappoint you -- I think that the Fourth Kingdom is the Roman Empire of New Testament fame, and it is gone. This prophecy is entirely past. Already fulfilled. For people who say "but the fourth kingdom will be unlike any other kingdom -- it must be unimaginably awful and post-apocalyptic like in the movies!", I respond with this: do you remember how last week I said that the Roman Empire put to death at least 400,000 by having them eaten by wild animals while people watched? And you remember how the Roman Empire would line the roads with crucifixion victims, crucifixion being the most barbaric way imaginable to kill someone? Yeah -- I will set the Roman Empire up against any awful concoction an antichrist can throw together. Consequently, that means that the "little horn" in Daniel 7 is not "The Antichrist" but he was "an antichrist".

Aside on Antichrist

What do I mean by that? Christians tend to focus on the singular antichrist who will lead the armies of Satan against God's people in the end of days. But think of it this way -- if Satan does not know when Jesus is coming back (and he doesn't), then Satan will always have to have an antichrist prepared to step in at any moment. Remember what John said:

Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. By this we know that it is the last hour. (1 Jn 2:18)

One can be an antichrist without being "The Final Antichrist", and that doesn't make him any less significant or any less destructive to God's people.

For example, Daniel 11 and 12 describe what some people think is "the end times" ("the end of days" 12:13), and there is one particular king who sets up "the abomination of desolation" (11:31) and exalts himself "against the God of gods" (11:36). That has to be the final antichrist, right? No it doesn't. In fact, those verses in Daniel describe eerily accurately the reign and fall of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Look him up.)

Why are we disappointed that those verses have already been fulfilled? Those events happened around 165 BC, almost 400 years after Daniel received this vision! Is that less amazing? That king tried to end Judaism. Isn't that the very definition of antichrist?

My takeaway -- antichrists have existed alongside God's people from the beginning, and when they act, they are revealing the playbook of the final antichrist. Every antichrist who has existed is a type of the final antichrist.

Now, back to the lesson.

For those who believe that the fourth beast is a future antichrist kingdom, they will say, "Yeah, but look at what happens next!" All right, let's do that.


Part 3: The Judgment (Daniel 7:9-14)

9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from his presence. Thousands upon thousands served him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was convened, and the books were opened.
11 “I watched, then, because of the sound of the arrogant words the horn was speaking. As I continued watching, the beast was killed and its body destroyed and given over to the burning fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was removed, but an extension of life was granted to them for a certain period of time. 13 I continued watching in the night visions,
and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. 14 He was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.

I hope you can see why these verses are the most important of the lesson! But they're also the easiest to follow, so most of my time was spent with the debated verses.

Your Bible might have some of these verses inset. That's because they have lyric elements that make translators think of them as poetry.

And what poetry it is! There is no shortage of artistic interpretations of this passage (and it can get pretty weird). "Ancient of Days" is Daniel's identifier for Yahweh. "Son of Man" is Daniel's identifier for who we know as God the Son. (I'm so out of space this week! Let me re-link the Son of Man video I attached above to make sure you realize that I want you to watch it.

The setting is intended to be dramatic. While all of these "monumental" things are happening in human history, God is sitting on His throne preparing to pass judgment. This awful "little horn" that has caused so much destruction and has spoken so much blasphemy, he is killed.

And that's that.

It does remind me of the outcome of the "final battle" in Revelation 19 -- the antichrist has assembled a great army against Christ, and... he's defeated and they're all killed. It takes two verses. Very anticlimactic. It also reminds me of a line from MacBeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.

When God is finally done with the antichrist, the antichrist is done. And all of his strutting will come to nothing.

In verse 12, we learn that the other beasts (kingdoms) were allowed to "hang on" for a little while after they were conquered. That would support the idea that the Fourth Kingdom must be a "final kingdom" because it is destroyed utterly. Furthermore, the description of the Son of Man's everlasting kingdom implies finality.

I'm not about the deny the parallels between this scene and Revelation 19 (except for the fates of the other beasts; of course, anyone can rebut that God can see all of human history at once). Furthermore, the later reference to "time, times, and half a time" (7:25) is very apocalyptic-sounding, and people connect it to the inscrutable reference to "the middle of the seven" in 9:27.

I'm still going to say that the Fourth Kingdom is the now-dead Roman Empire, and the little horn was one of Rome's emperors who was particularly blasphemous. We have no shortage of options! For example, Caligula, who declared himself a god in 40 AD. Or Nero, who executed Peter and Paul and many other Christians (and did things even more unspeakable). And all of those things happened hundreds of years in Daniel's future!

God sent Jesus to the earth during the Roman Empire. God chose to birth the church during the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire tried to destroy the Christian Church. What eventually happened? Christianity became the Roman religion, and the Christian church preserved the remains of the Roman Empire after its death.

In other words, the beginning of Christ's Kingdom (as in -- His rule through His people) happened during the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, through its infrastructure, provided the means by which the message of Christ would spread through the known world.

There will be a later battle -- a final battle. The struggle between Rome and the followers of Christ are a faint picture of that final battle described in Revelation. Does that make sense? I believe that this beast and battle are something that took place a long time ago (to us), and they also picture a beast and battle that is yet to come.

Whether you believe Daniel 7 describes a past event or a future event, the meaning and purpose is the same: God is in control of human history; even the greatest human opposers of God will achieve no victory of consequence against Him.

The worst the enemies of God can do is kill our mortal bodies, but what is that to us? It will just put us in that great congregation surrounding the Ancient of Days!

The much bigger implication is that the antichrist dupes people into opposing God. Their fate is to be separated from God for eternity. And if Christians live quietly or in fear of the armies of "the beast", then the antichrist has the victory of separating more souls from God. We must not let him/them have that victory!

Christ came preaching a simple message about this kingdom, and when we spread His message, we bring more people into contact with this kingdom.

  • Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near! (Matt 3:2)

  • Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt 6:10)

  • If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt 12:28)

  • The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom all who cause sin and those guilty of lawlessness. (Matt 13:41)

  • Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matt 16:41)

We are a part of Son of Man's kingdom and dominion now. Many will try to oppose us. The Roman Empire set up laws against God's people and even killed them -- but they could not stop the message. The kingdom of God continued to spread (like yeast, right?)

Not to get into debates about "the seventy sevens" (because we don't have time for that), but I believe that here, the "time, times, and half a time" said of the fourth beast is simply a way of telling us that the beast's power is only temporary. To the Christians who live through it, it probably feels neverending, but it's not. God's kingdom is neverending.

To bring things back around to the opening discussion about "the future", the point is quite simple: no matter how far out of control things seem to be, they are never out of God's control. And if you think that God is letting things get "too bad", I hate to be the one to tell you that you don't get to determine what's "too bad". I'm sure the Christians who were eaten by lions in the Colosseum might have a thing or two to say about that.


Closing Thoughts: Geopolitical Change

Obviously, I don't have time for a big topic here. But I was thinking about this -- in the world we live in today, we think of countries as "static". But that's not the norm for nations. In history, kingdoms rise and fall regularly; no nation has a "right" to exist in perpetuity.


bottom of page