In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it. 2 Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’ 6 After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, 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. 7 After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, 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; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.
God is sovereign over the affairs of men. He knows what will happen before it happens. He knows what kingdoms will rise and fall, and nothing happens outside of his purview. In Daniel’s vision, a glimpse into the future is given concerning four kingdoms and one which would arise later. The first kingdom is Babylon, represented by the lion which stood up. It was powerful, fearful, and ruled harshly from the top down. The second kingdom, represented by the bear, is the Medes and Persians. The Persians were the more powerful entity within that kingdom, which explains the idea of the bear being raised up on one side. The three ribs in its mouth could be explained by the fact that they advanced to the north, west, and south (Daniel 8:4). The leopard with four heads and four wings represents Greece which was divided into four separate entities and ruled by four separate generals. The beast with large iron teeth represents Rome. This beast had ten horns (see notes on v. 23-27). Later on in time a single horn would come out from the old Roman empire and become powerful and make great boasts against God. In the process it would cast down three other kings (see notes on v. 23-27, Daniel 11:42-43). (see also Daniel 2:36-45 for an overview of the four kingdoms mentioned)
9 “I kept looking
Until thrones were set up,
And the Ancient of Days took His seat;
His vesture was like white snow
And the hair of His head like pure wool.
His throne was ablaze with flames,
Its wheels were a burning fire.
10 “A river of fire was flowing
And coming out from before Him;
Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,
And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;
The court sat,
And the books were opened.
The kingdoms of men rise and fall, and God is sovereign over all. On a coming day in the future, God the Father, the Ancient of Days, the One Who has no beginning or end and is not bound by time and space, will return to judge the world in Jesus Christ (Revelation 19). Believers will stand before Jesus’ bema seat for honor according to what was done by faith in this life (2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Unbelievers will face the Great White Throne judgment in which the books will be opened, and it will be evident that they are not in the Book of Life (Revelation 20). Their sin will be held to their account because they refused to bow before Jesus in this life. They will be cast into the lake of fire. When Jesus comes back as Judge, there will be no doubt Who is on the throne. He, being pure and holy, will have an appearance of bright whiteness, and the fire of judgment will accompany Him to judge the wicked. Believers’ deeds will be tested by fire to see if they endure the fiery test, but they will never face the fire of God’s wrath. Unbelievers will be frightened and forced to bow the knee, recognizing that their doom is sure. There will be myriad believers in heaven serving Christ, and there will be myriads of angels accompanying Him as well (Revelation 5:11). The kingdoms of men come to an end, but Jesus’ kingdom is eternal and endures forever (Daniel 4:3, 34; Daniel 7:13-14, 27; Psalm 145:13). Believers will have the privilege of being seated with Christ in heaven and ruling with Him (Ephesians 2:6; Revelation 4:4, 11:16, 20:4; Matthew 19:28)
11 Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.
The little horn is the coming antichrist who will be cast along with his false prophet into the lake of fire as will Satan who had raised him up to deceive the masses (Revelation 19:20, 20:10). His boasting will have a fiery end in hell. The other beasts, representing Babylon, the Medes and Persians, Greece, and Rome lost their world dominion as history passed them by, but their descendants still exist in their representative geographical areas. They are just not world powers any longer. Until Christ returns, there is opportunity to repent from sin, but that time is finite (Hebrews 9:27).
13 “I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
14 “And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
The Son of Man, Jesus, is seen coming before the Father and being given glory and a kingdom. There will be people from every tribe, tongue, and language that serve Him. Much of the world will reject His testimony, but some everywhere will believe. His rule lasts forever and cannot and will not be destroyed ever. He will rule on earth during the millennial kingdom, and He will rule forever with God in heaven for eternity even as God creates a new heaven and earth. (see also Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9)
15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 16 I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. 18 But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.’
The vision was powerful and distressing to Daniel, and he was alarmed by it. He approached one who was standing by, probably one of the myriad of angels in God’s presence. Daniel wanted clarification, explanation, and understanding to give him peace of mind. Thankfully, God is faithful to explain the vision so that man is not left to guess regarding what God knows that He needs to know. The four beasts are kings which will arise from the earth (see notes on verses 1-8 and Daniel 2:36-45). Their kingdoms will be temporary and passing, but believers will inherit a permanent kingdom because their God is the Highest One with no beginning or end. His kingdom will never end, and His saints get to participate and celebrate His rule, serving and enjoying Him for eternity.
19 “Then I desired to know the exact meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its claws of bronze, and which devoured, crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet, 20 and the meaning of the ten horns that were on its head and the other horn which came up, and before which three of them fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth uttering great boasts and which was larger in appearance than its associates. 21 I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them 22 until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom.
Daniel was most interested in the fourth beast because of how exceedingly frightening it was. It was markedly different than the other beasts in the vision because of its distinct teeth, claws, and horns. Daniel wanted more insight into the ten horns and the little horn that rose up after them before which three horns fell (see v. 23-27). As the vision continued, Daniel saw the horn wage war with the saints and overpower them for a time. During the tribulation period, the antichrist will persecute the Jews and the tribulation saints (Revelation 7:9-17; 12:13-17; 13:7-10, 15; 18:20, 24). But this time will be shortened for the sake of the saints who are alive at the time (Matthew 24:22), and Jesus Himself will return and pass a favorable judgment on the saints because of their faith in Him. They will take possession of the promised eternal kingdom with Jesus from the millennial kingdom to the ages yet to come.
23 “Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. 24 As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’
The fourth beast is the fourth kingdom, Rome, which was more expansive than prior kingdoms and different in terms of its governance and the diversity of peoples it allowed within its boundaries. It was fierce and powerful in conquering, but it was different in the freedom it gave to those it conquered. Out of this kingdom, ten kings will arise. This likely is a reference to the ten future kings who give their allegiance to the antichrist (Revelation 17:12-13). The antichrist is the little horn which comes to power after them and gets their allegiance. That this all happens in the geographical region of the old Roman empire is significant. The little horn is different from the rest and from those before him in that he will be backed by Satan himself and supported by a demonic false prophet (Revelation 13). The little horn will conquer and subdue three kings. Three nations subdued include Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia (Daniel 11:43), but there will be other more significant ones as well, Israel included (Daniel 11:41-42) before the kings of the north and the east converge against him (Daniel 11:40, 44). During his time as the most powerful person in the world, antichrist will be so blasphemous to God because of his great pride and defiance against the Most High. He will persecute and make war with those who come to Christ during the tribulation period. He will even try to change the laws pertaining to keeping time, likely changing the calendar to remove any traces of Jewish or Christian history and origin. He hates Jesus, and his desire is to remove anything that relates to Him or could be traced back to Him. Even the seven day week goes back to Genesis 1 and God’s creative acts, and perhaps that will be targeted by him as well. For three and a half years (this timeline of the great tribulation is confirmed in Revelation 11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:5), God will allow the antichrist to do as he wishes, but his allotted time is short (Revelation 12:12). Even then, God will still call out to man through His witnesses (Revelation 11:3) and even through an angel from heaven with the gospel (Revelation 14:6-7), never giving up hope that some may repent even in the darkest hours of the earth’s existence. But at the end of the antichrist’s allotted rule, Jesus will return, judge him, and cast him into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20). His rule will be taken away and annihilated forever, though his eternal suffering will continue unabated (that is why he is seen still suffering in hell even after the thousand years are ended- Revelation 20:10). The antichrist has one short kingdom, but his eternity is terrible. After the tribulation period, Jesus will rule during the millennial kingdom and into the period of the new heavens and earth (Revelation 20:6), and His saints will rule with Him (Revelation 20:4).
28 “At this point the revelation ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”
This was the extent of the clarity which Daniel would get at this point in Belshazzar’s first year of rule (see v. 1). But more revelation would come two years later in chapter 8. God only gives us as much as we can handle at a time, and Daniel was so alarmed at this point that he was pale and probably near fainting from the intensity and content of the vision.