Daniel 7 is one of the most important chapters concerning the Antichrist. It is here that we find the four infamous beasts that take center stage in end-time prophecy. These beasts represent four kingdoms that exist from the time of Daniel until the return of Christ. There have been different interpretations concerning which kingdoms are represented by the beasts. I have already written articles describing the views that the Daniel 7 prophecy was fulfilled before the first coming of Christ or during. I have found difficulties with them.
This article will discuss the more traditional view that the fourth beast will be overthrown by Christ at his second coming. There are two major models concerning this view. First, the fourth kingdom will be a revived Roman Empire. Second, the fourth kingdom is represented by a Middle Eastern empire, usually seen as a revived Islamic Caliphate. Does Daniel 7 support either of these models? Let’s take a look.
The First Beast
1 “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. 2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. 4 “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.”
Daniel 7 begins by telling us that Daniel had a dream in which four great beasts came up out of the sea. The first beast was a lion with the wings of an eagle. The wings were plucked off, and it then stood like a man and received the heart of a man. Scholars, for the most part, are in agreement that the lion represents the Babylonian Empire (626-539 BC).
This identification makes sense. King Nebuchadnezzar is pictured as both a lion and an eagle in Scripture (Jeremiah 4:7; 49:19; 50:17, 44 for the lion; Jeremiah 49:22; Lamentations 4:19; Ezekiel 17:3; Habakkuk 1:8 for the eagle). The lion was the king of beasts, and the eagle was the king of birds. These correspond to the head of gold in Daniel 2 concerning the majesty and importance of the Babylonian Empire. It is interesting that statues of winged lions have been recovered from the ruins of Babylon. The eagle’s wings also indicate the speed of the Babylonian conquests.
Eventually, the wings of the lion were plucked off and it stood like a man, and it was given the heart of a man. These details are believed to represent the situation in Daniel 4 where God humbled Nebuchadnezzar.
The Second Beast
5 “And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’
The second beast is a lopsided bear. A bear is a powerful animal but is slower and less majestic than a lion. Conservative scholars mostly agree that the bear represents the Medo-Persian Empire (c. 550-330 BC). The lopsidedness fits perfectly with this empire because the Persians held more power throughout the kingdom than the Medes did. The three ribs in the bear’s mouth are interpreted as three major conquests of the Empire, commonly thought to be Babylon, Egypt, and Lydia (Turkey).
The Third Beast
6 “After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.
Yet another beast rose up out of the sea – a leopard. It had four heads and four wings. The leopard is known as an animal with great speed, and the four wings suggest that it was amazingly fast. The Greek empire of Alexander the Great is the most common identification of this beast by Christian scholars.
Alexander conquered much of the known world very quickly (in about a decade). This is the meaning behind the beast being a leopard (a fast animal) and the four wings (double the amount of the lion). The four heads represent four different kings that emerged from this kingdom since, after Alexander’s death, his empire was divided into four kingdoms.
The first three beasts in Daniel 7 match the identification of the first three sections of the statue in Daniel 2. The following table illustrates this.
A comparison of the statue of Daniel 2 with the beasts of Daniel 7
|Daniel 2||Daniel 7|
|Head of Gold||Lion with the wings of an eagle||Babylonian Empire|
|Chest and arms of silver||Lopsided bear||Medo-Persian Empire|
|Belly and thighs of bronze||Leopard with four wings and four heads||Greek Empire|
|Legs of Iron||Fourth beast||Roman Empire (common interpretation)|
|Feet and toes||Ten horns||Revived Roman Empire (common interpretation)|
The Fourth Beast
7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was 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. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully.”
The chapter continues,
19 “Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws–the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell–the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, 22 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. 23 He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.’”
The fourth beast is not described as any known animal, but as “terrifying and frightening and very powerful.” Certain details equate this kingdom with the legs of iron in Daniel 2: 1) “its large iron teeth”; 2) “crushing” its victims; 3) the ten kings and ten toes (both are ten kings that emerge from this kingdom); and 4) the fourth beast is slain by Christ at his second coming (7:11-14, 26-27). The legs of iron and the ten toes of Daniel 2 are also destroyed by Christ at his second coming.
It is clear that the fourth beast of Daniel 7 is the same kingdom as the legs of iron and feet mixed with iron and clay of Daniel 2. In an article over Daniel 2, I gave evidence that favored that the fourth kingdom would emerge from the Middle East. If the legs of iron are Middle Eastern, then the fourth beast must be as well. Nothing in Daniel 7 suggests that the fourth beast must be the Roman Empire (although nothing is contrary to it either).
An interesting detail given in 7:19 is that the fourth beast has bronze claws. This is typically not given a lot of thought by most commentators of Daniel. The bronze claws clearly point to the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great since his kingdom was said to be a kingdom of bronze in Daniel 2. It suggests a connection between the fourth beast and Alexander’s empire. Interestingly, the Greek Empire was a Middle Eastern kingdom.
What about the ten horns? Many scholars look at these horns as a revival of the Roman Empire in the end-times. However, since Rome cannot be the fourth kingdom (as Daniel 2 and Ezekiel 38 and 39 indicate), the horns cannot be a revived Roman Empire. The ten horns would thus point to a revived Islamic Caliphate shortly before the return of Christ. The little horn is the Antichrist who will come to power in this revived empire.
The fourth kingdom of Daniel 7 is the same empire that is presented by legs of iron in Daniel 2. This means that the fourth beast in Daniel 7 is going to be whatever the legs of iron are. In a previous article, I showed that the Roman Empire has difficulty matching the legs of iron although a Middle Eastern or Islamic Empire is more consistent. Daniel 7 by itself does not prove or disprove either view. It is completely dependent on how one interprets Daniel 2.
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[This is a revised and updated edition of an article originally published on April 16, 2013.]
 John Walvoord. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971). 153. John C. Whitcomb. Daniel. Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1985). 94. Leon Wood. A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973). 181-182. John MacArthur. The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005). 957. David R. Reagan. “Daniel: His End Time Prophecies.” http://www.lamblion.com/articles/articles_general8.php. Accessed January 21, 2014. Sinclair B. Ferguson. Daniel. In the “New Bible Commentary.” Ed. D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Motyer, and G.J. Wenham. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994). 756.
 Walvoord, 153. Whitcomb, 94; Wood, 181-182. Ferguson, 756.
 Walvoord, 153-154. Whitcomb, 94. Wood, 182. Ferguson, 756.
 Walvoord, 155-156. Whitcomb, 94-95. Wood, 182-183. Macarthur, 957. Ferguson, 756.
 Walvoord, 157. Whitcomb, 95. Wood, 184. MacArthur, 957. Ferguson, 756.
 Walvoord, 159.. Whitcomb, 96. Wood, 185-186. Macarthur, 957. Ferguson, 757.
 Wood, 187. Macarthur, 957.
 Joel Richardson. Mideast Beast (Washington D.C.: WND Books, 2012). 83. Walid Shoebat, with Joel Richardson. God’s War on Terror (Top Executive Media, 2008). 332-336.