7.28 Daniel -- Four Beasts
The remainder of the Book of Daniel consists of dreams, visions, and revelations received by Daniel, who is himself the narrator throughout. This section has its own chronological order: chapters 7 and 8 fall after the events of chapters 1-4, while 9-12 come after 5 and 6 (Baldwin, p. 136; NIV Study Bible pp. 1309, 1312). It’s also interesting that the visions came in the first and third years of Belshazzar, and the first and third years of Darius/Cyrus (Dan 7:1, Dan 8:1, Dan 9:1, Dan 10:1).
Chapter 7 is the odd one out in this section, as it is still in Aramaic -- the shift back to Hebrew occurs in 8:1. This is the last chapter addressed to Gentiles, and it covers the four kingdoms of chapter 2, which will be followed by the kingdom of God on earth.
This time the four human kingdoms are not a single statue. They are a succession of beasts, and Daniel sees them come up, one by one, out of a great sea (Dan 7:3). Babylonia is a winged lion, given "the heart of a man" (Dan 7:4). Medo-Persia is a lopsided bear, perhaps reflecting Persia’s dominance within the federation (NIV Study Bible, p. 1310). Greece is a winged leopard with four heads or divisions. Rome is a terrifying beast with iron teeth and bronze claws. The first three beasts are not clearly better or worse than one another. Moreover, although they succeed each another, none is wiped out; a remnant of each still is present at the end (Dan 7:12).
The worst world-ruler "is reserved for the end" (Baldwin, p. 140). In the climax of the dream, the beasts are not merely shattered and crushed by a living stone, as in chapter 2. The eternal Lord Himself, the Ancient of Days, establishes His throne on earth and opens books of judgment. Then "one like a son of man" appears from heaven and is given sovereign power over all the earth forever (Dan 7:13-14). As the NIV Study Bible points out, "This is the first reference to the Messiah as the Son of Man, a title that Jesus applied to himself" (p. 1310). Presumably the title emphasizes His humanity, and yet Daniel here sees Him only in His exaltation, coming from heaven in triumph to rule on earth.
He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Dan 7:14).
"The 'one like a son of man' is unique among men, and yet plays a representative role: all distinctions of race and colour and nationality are stripped away and one apparently human figure represents the whole human race. Derived from one, all are summed up in one, and the original goal "have dominion" (Gen 1:28) is fulfilled in the one like a son of man who is given a kingdom that shall not be destroyed" (Baldwin, p. 150).
The vision does not stop with the son of man receiving his kingdom:
The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever -- yes, for ever and ever (Dan 7:18).
These saints cannot be only "the hitherto humbled people of Israel," because He is "Son of Man" and not "Son of Israel/Jacob": "the concept is far wider, embracing all mankind" (Baldwin, pp. 150-51).
In one sense this is encouraging -- God is planning a worldwide salvation, not just limited to Israel. On the other hand, the nature of history is that of intense spiritual conflict:
This horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom (Dan 7:21-22).
Efforts of Christian commentators to identify each of the ten horns with historical rulers distract us from the main point: evil is so powerful that God's people cannot overcome it (Dan 7:25). It will take the direct intervention of God to vindicate His people. This brings us back to our primary observation about the Biblical attitude to history vs the modern secular one: God owns history.