The prophet Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when he was a very young man. Nearly forty years later he was given a vision that confirmed and further explained his first preview of the future. In this vision Daniel saw the major world empires represented by four beasts (Dan. 7).
» The first beast was like a lion with eagle’s wings (Dan. 7:4).
» The second was like a bear that raised itself on one side, having three ribs in its mouth (Dan. 7:5).
» The third was like a leopard, having four wings and four heads (Dan. 7:6).
» The fourth was described as “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly.” It had ten horns and after a time another little horn grew and plucked up three of the other horns by the roots. The little horn had eyes like a man and a mouth speaking great things (Dan. 7:7, 8).
What do these four beasts signify?
Could they be interpreted in the light of nations now on the world scene?
Is the lion with eagle’s wings a reference to the British Empire and the United States, as some contend?
Is Daniel’s bear really Russia?
Does the leopard symbolize the African nations, since that area is the leopard’s natural home?
If not, why not?
Historically, students of Bible prophecy have seen Daniel’s vision as a further development of the preview given in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
The reason? The context of the Scripture portion demands it.
The lion then represents Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire.
The bear finds fulfillment in the Medo-Persian Empire that followed. The bear was raised on one side because the Persians were stronger than the Medes. The three ribs in the bear’s mouth indicate three major conquests of that empire.
The leopard, having four wings and four heads, was a prophetic picture of the Grecian Empire. Led by Alexander the Great, the Greeks were swift and devastating in their conquest of the Medes and Persians. Alexander declared himself emperor of the world and great honors were paid him. But the young military genius died in his early thirties and his empire was divided between his four generals, fulfilling the prophecy that the leopard would have four heads.
The fourth beast, described as “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly,” represents the Roman Empire.
Daniel’s interpretation of his vision of the four beasts gives little explanation of the significance of the beasts themselves or the empires they represent. That is not strange since they are but an enlargement of his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But the prophet is fascinated by the ten horns, which correspond to the ten toes on the great image, and especially by the little horn that rises later, portraying a powerful leader in the end time. Note Daniel’s warning about this coming evil person:
And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time (Dan. 7:24, 25).
Who is this persecutor whose evil power seems unchecked for three and one-half years (a time and times and the dividing of time)? Why does the world accept him? Why is he allowed to bring such destruction? We will learn more about the earth’s most evil ruler through the study of another of Daniel’s prophecies, this one concerning his own people, the Jews.
The Seventy Weeks
When Daniel entered the court of Nebuchadnezzar he was a young man. Shortly thereafter he interpreted the king’s dream, giving an outline of the future and showing the rise and fall of the major Gentile empires from that time until the end.
In mid-life he received the strange vision of beasts and kingdoms that substantiated and enlarged the prophecy of his youth. He was greatly exercised about the evil ruler who is yet to appear and who will assume immense power while persecuting the people of God.
Near the end of his life he found himself studying Jeremiah’s prophecy and recalling that the captivity of his people was to last seventy years. Since that period had nearly elapsed, he began to pray about the return to Jerusalem. Mourning over the desolation of his homeland, he prayed for its restoration, confessing his own sins and the sins of his people.
During his prayer Daniel was visited by the angel Gabriel, who gave him a timetable of coming events that would especially affect Israel, his own people. The angelic message given to Daniel is known as the vision of the seventy weeks. This mathematical revelation gave the Jews the exact time at which to expect the coming of their Messiah. It also prophesied His death and foretold the coming destruction of Jerusalem following His crucifixion, as well as the rise of the Antichrist and the establishment of Christ’s coming kingdom on earth. Read this amazing prophecy:
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision of prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate (Dan. 9:24-27).
Sir Edward Denny, a respected nineteenth-century student of prophecy, referred to the vision of the seventy weeks as the backbone of prophecy. It may well be just that.
We will delve into the prophecy of the seventy weeks in our next newsletter.
A MESSAGE OF HOPE FROM DR JACK VAN IMPE