Skip to main content

Daniel Dreams of Four Beasts, a Little Horn, and a Court in Heaven

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.

Holy Prophet Daniel

Russian Icon Painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Russian Icon Painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction to Daniel's Dream

In the seventh chapter of the biblical book that bears his name, the Prophet Daniel had a dream of four beasts, ten horns, a little horn, the Ancient of Days, and One Like a Son of Man. He had this dream in the first year of Belshazzar, before Babylon fell to Persia.

The first thing he wrote is that “the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.” (Daniel 7:2-3, ESV).

The great sea is most likely the Mediterranean Sea since (1) Israel has a coast in it, (2) it is larger than the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, and (3) it is the sea to which Greece and Rome had access (in my article on Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, I identified two kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as Greece and Rome).

Just as Pharaoh’s two dreams in the book of Genesis had the same meaning (Genesis 41:25), it appears Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s dream also have the same meaning. However, Daniel’s dream gives us more details than Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

In other words, the beasts represent Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome. This evident since the book of Daniel explicitly mentions Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece, and since the destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple, prophesied in Daniel 9:26, was fulfilled by Rome. There really is no reason for the book to discuss any other kingdoms.

In the Bible, the four winds are associated appear to represent God’s supernatural influence throughout the whole world (Jeremiah 49:36, Ezekiel 37:9, Zechariah 6:5). Therefore, it is relevant that the four winds are what stirred the great sea. In other words, the rise and fall of these kingdoms are the work of God to achieve his wise and sovereign purpose.

Although, in Daniel’s dream, the beasts rose from the sea, one who spoke with Daniel said they rose from the earth (verse 17). The truth is that no kingdom has ever literally risen from the sea, so the statements about the beasts rising from sea and from the earth do not necessarily contradict each other: the dream was making reference to the region of concern, whereas the one speaking with Daniel was interpreting the dream.

Fantastic and Monstruous Beasts

The beasts that Daniel saw in his dream were monstruous and had fantastic characteristics:

Beast 1 (Daniel 7:4)

  • Like a lion
  • Had the wings of an eagle
  • Its wings were plucked off
  • It was lifted up from the ground
  • It was made to stand on two feet like a man
  • The mind of a man was given to it

Beast 2 (Daniel 7:5)

  • Like a bear
  • Raised up on one side
  • Three ribs in it mouth between its teeth
  • It was told to arise and devour much flesh

Beast 3 (Daniel 7:6)

  • Like a leopard
  • Four wings of a bird on its back
  • Four heads
  • Dominion was given to it

Beast 4 (Daniel 7:7)

  • Terrifying and dreadful
  • Exceedingly strong
  • Great iron teeth
  • Devoured and broke in pieces
  • With its feet, it stamped what was left (the residue)
  • Different from all beasts before it
  • It had horns

The Horns of The Fourth Beast (Daniel 7:8, 11, 21)

  • The fourth beast had 10 horns
  • A little horn came up among the ten horns
  • Before the little horn, three horns were plucked up by the roots
  • In the little horn, there were human eyes and a mouth
  • The little horn spoke great things
  • The little horn made war against the saints
  • The little horn prevailed against the saints

This may not be relevant, but I find it fascinating that Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the second chapter was about a statue, and then on the third chapter Nebuchadnezzar built a statue. Similarly, in the sixth chapter, Daniel faced lions; then, in the seventh chapter, he dreamed about beasts. The dreams appear to be related to their experiences.

Simiarly, when Joseph had dreams in Genesis, he dreamed about things that were common in his life: sheaves and celestial bodies.

The Court in Heaven

In his dream, Daniel didn’t only see the four beasts: he also saw The Ancient of Days, One Like a Son of Man, and myriads meeting in a court of law.

Several thrones were set because judgment was about to take place (keep in mind that these thrones are not literal thrones on Earth, but symbols of what was taking place in heaven).

The Ancient of Days, whom one who spoke with Daniel identified in verse 18 as the Most High (that is, God), was dressed in white and had white hair. He was also sitting on a throne with wheels, and both the throne and its wheels were made of fire.

A thousand thousand were serving the Ancient of Days, and ten thousand times ten thousand were standing before him.

Then, the court sat to judge, and they opened their books. Because the court “sat,” it seems to me that those who sat are the same ones who were previously standing.

The result of their judgment was that the fourth beast was killed and that its body was burnt. The other beasts lost their dominion, but they were allowed to live for “a time and a season,” which doesn’t sound like a very long time.

Afterwards, One Like A Son of Man (in other words, one who was human) came “with the clouds of heaven” and was presented before the Ancient of Days (I address the meaning of the clouds in another article). This human received dominion, glory, and a kingdom that will last forever so that all humanity would serve him.

Who is the One Like the Son of Man? According to the New Testament, he is God’s anointed, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, Jesus often referred to himself as The Son of Man (Matthew 9:6, 16:13, 17:22).

Daniel Was Told The General Meaning of The Dream

Daniel was troubled by the vision, so he approached one of those standing before God and asked for the meaning of the vision. Daniel was told that the four beasts are four kings, and that the saints of the Most High (the Ancient of Days, God) will receive the kingdom and possess it forever (in my article on Nebuchadnezzar's dream, I explain that the dreams can refer to both kings and kingdoms).

Daniel then asked concerning the fourth beast, its ten horns, and the little horn. The one speaking with Daniel told him that the fourth beast was a fourth kingdom (Daniel 9:23), that "out this kingdom" there would arise ten kings (Daniel 9:24, ESV), and that an eleventh king would arise after them.

According to the one speaking with Daniel, the eleventh king would

  • Be different from the other kings
  • Put down three kings
  • Speak against the Most High
  • Wear out the saints
  • Think to change the times and the law.
  • The saints would then be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time
  • However, the court would take away its dominion, consume it, and destroy it.

The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms would then be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is everlasting and whom all will serve and obey.

Interpreting The Beasts in Daniel's Dream

As I mentioned previously, these four beasts represent the same four kingdoms to which Nebuchadnezzar’s dream made reference.

The first beast is a lion with the wings of an eagle. This best had wings plucked off, it was lifted up from the ground, it was made to stand on two feet like a man, and it was given the mind of a man. All this appears to be a reference to God’s work in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart, turning him from a proud man to a man that praised God (Daniel 4:30, 37).

Media-Persia is represented by a bear. That one side of the bear was higher than the other is probably a reference to the relationship between Media and Persia, indicating that Persia became the dominant kingdom. The ribs in the bear’s mouth and the instruction it was given to devour much flesh are probably a reference to the battles and conquests Cyrus waged in order to consolidate his power.

The leopard with four wings and four heads represents Greece. The empire emerged fast, and it was divided into four parts after the death of Alexander the Great.

The last beast, the terrifying and dreadful beast with iron teeth, is Rome. That its feet stamped the residue seems to be a reference to Rome destroying what was left of Israel after the previous empires.

Interpreting The Fourth Beast and Its Horns

As we have said, the fourth beast is Rome. Also, this kingdom had a total of eleven horns: the ten main horns plus the little horn. The interpretation given to Daniel Is that the horns represent kings of this fourth kingdom (Daniel 9:24).

The little horn would subdue three horns.

Finally, the beast (which is Rome) would be killed, and its body would be burnt with fire.

Who then are the horns?

Many believe that, although the beast represents Rome, the ten horns and the little horn are part of a revived Roman Empire that is still future to us. According to them, the little horn is the Antichrist, and the ten horns are ten kings who will ally themselves with the Antichrist.

But, does the text itself give us any reason to believe this? In this text, I do not see a reason. Just as Nebuchadnezzar’s statue stood for four kingdoms, Daniel is specifically told in this vision, on verse 17, that these four beasts represent four kingdoms (four is a very specific number). Moreover, in verse 24, the horns are said to be kings from this fourth kingdom (they are not a kingdom of their own).

I believe there are two reason why many see the eleven hours as a later kingdom of the Antichrist:

  1. Rome was an empire that crumbled from within and it did not end by being destroyed by fire
  2. They are reading their perspective on the Book of Revelation into the text in Daniel

However, when you put aside your theological views and limit your understanding of the passage to information presented in the passage, these two things are true:

  1. There would be a fourth kingdom with eleven kings
  2. God’s kingdom, not another, would begin after the fourth kingdom.

Who Then Are The Eleven Kings?

Because the book of Daniel is concerned with how Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome interacted with Israel, what makes the most sense is to begin counting kings since the time Rome occupied Israel: that is, since Pompey.

So then, the ten kings (horns) in chronological order are:

1. Pompey

2. Julius Caesar

3. Augustus

4. Tiberius

5. Caligula

6. Claudius

7. Nero

8. Galba

9. Otho

10. Vitellius

Who then is the eleventh king, the little horn?

We would expect Vespasian to be the eleventh king, but instead this eleventh horn is a little horn: it is smaller than Vespasian because he is under Vespasian. The eleventh king is Titus (I am assuming that the term king is a general term for someone in power).

What is so significant about Titus? Titus burned down Jerusalem and its temple.

Who then are the three kings he subdued? This is a reference to three emperors who fell before Titus rose to power: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius.

How Was The Body of The Beast Burnt?

So how was Rome burnt down?

There are different ways in which the vision of the beast being killed and burnt down could have been fulfilled.

  1. Rome did literally burn under Nero in the year 64 Ad.
  2. Jerusalem and its temple, which were under Roman control, were burnt in the year 70 AD.
  3. My favorite is that this is talking about a spiritual burning of Rome. Rome would fall, and from God’s perspective this was the killing and the burning of Rome. After all, what Daniel was seeing was a vision of symbols of what was happening in the spiritual realm. God’s court was not on Earth, but in heaven.

Conclusion

There are several important points to remember:

  • Daniel's four beasts are four empires that are now in the past
  • The ten horns on the fourth beast are also ten Roman emperors that are now in the past
  • The little horn on the fourth beast is the Roman general who destroyed Jerusalem and its temple: Titus.

It seems to me that Daniel’s dream has nothing to do with a future Antichrist. Moreover, as far as we can tell, there is no two-thousand years gap between Rome and God's kingdom in this passage of the Bible.

The book of Daniel expected God’s kingdom to begin either after Rome or after Titus.

© 2022 Marcelo Carcach

Related Articles