The four beast-kingdoms of Daniel’s Prophecy
In chapter seven of the Book of Daniel, we read about four beast-kingdoms. We see them first in chapter two, then again here in chapter seven. From this chapter to the end of the book, in chapter twelve, the beast-kingdoms rule in some form within the Middle East until Jesus Christ establishes His own kingdom. In other words; Daniel’s timeline of the four beast-kingdoms goes from Babylon to the time in which Jesus crushes the last of the beast-kingdoms. He then rules and reigns over the kingdoms of the world.
Deciding on the identity of the beast-kingdoms
Do we know the identity of the four beast-kingdoms in the Book of Daniel? If we do, then it leads us to conclude, when we see the fourth one we can expect Jesus to crush it and set up his own kingdom. According to most biblical scholars, we have already seen the four beast-kingdoms. So where is Jesus? Where is his kingdom? If it’s already set up on the earth, as many suggest, it’s not so great a kingdom after all.
Is that blasphemy or just stating an obvious fact? The “kingdom-to-come” that the prophets foretold is not in power on the earth…yet.
Many prophecy teachers today and in the past have made their conclusions about this subject. For many, the identity of the four beast-kingdoms is well-known and a biblical fact no longer disputed by accepted prophecy experts.
I don’t accept their conclusions.
The identity of the four:
I agree with the first three and dispute the conclusion that the fourth kingdom was and is Rome. I will develop my conclusion in the next several articles in this series in the Book of Daniel.
If Rome is the last of the beast-kingdoms, Jesus will crush Rome and then establish his kingdom and rule for one thousand years as the Bible says. If the fourth kingdom is Rome, a revived Roman Empire is required. If Rome does not revive then this prophecy remains unfulfilled.
I do not expect Rome to rise again. I expect another beast kingdom to arise in the Middle East thus fulfilling many prophecies in Daniel. Jesus will crush this new kingdom and take his throne in the seat of David and rule for one thousand actual years on earth.
The beast-kingdoms introduced
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts.
In the first year of Belshazzar:
In this chapter, Daniel writes about his own vision, not a dream from someone else. The vision was similar to the dream seen by King Nebuchadnezzar in chapter two. This new vision builds upon what the king saw, a giant statue with four kingdoms, is now a succession of beast-kingdoms. Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar’s once glorious and golden kingdom was the first ruling empire in the dream in chapter two. In the chapter-seven vision, Babylon quickly lost power and was conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire. At the time of the vision, a weak ruler sat on the throne of Babylon. Belshazzar, the ruler, partied with friends the night the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon.
Daniel had a dream and visions:
This chapter starts a series of four visions the prophet received from the Lord. They continue until the end of chapter twelve. This first vision is more complete than the ones that follow. The other visions mostly build upon and give clarity to the first.
Daniel had interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and now he is himself honoured with similar divine discoveries (v. 1): He had visions of his head upon his bed, when he was asleep; so God sometimes revealed himself and his mind to the children of men, when deep sleep fell upon them (Job 33:15); for when we are mostly retired from the world, and taken off from the things of sense, we are most fit for communion with God Matthew Henry commentary
Telling the main facts:
Daniel summarized the details of the vision. “Just the facts.” He apparently saw a lot more than what he wrote down. The Lord led him to only tell the “main facts.” We wish the Lord told us everything about all things but not that’s not the case. In the Bible, we have everything we need to put the puzzle pieces together. If we needed more God would have given more.
The four beast-kingdoms arise from the Great Sea.
Daniel spoke, saying, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.”
Stirring up the Great Sea:
The “Sea” referred to is likely the Mediterranean Sea. It is the most prominent body of water around which the historical events of these kingdoms took place. It can also be seen as a type intended to mean the surrounding Gentile nations (Psalm 74:13, Psalm 89:9, Isaiah 57:20).
Whatever the sea was it wasn’t calm.
The four winds of heaven:
The four winds of heaven stirred up the great sea. From all directions, North, South, East, and West, a mighty wind blew toward the battlefront. The Land of Israel located on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea is the battlefront. The Lord God of Israel sent these winds, visions, armies, and empires to judge the rebellious nation. The battle between God and his adversary, Satan, focuses on Israel, not anywhere else. Even in the modern age of grace, the Christian era, God centers his prophetic scriptures on Israel.
Smaller skirmishes occur all over the world and there will even be a battle in heaven, but most things happen in and around Israel. Four mighty winds come from four different directions to pound on the tiny nation.
And four great beasts came up from the sea:
The four kingdoms seen in chapter two are now large, ferocious animals emerging from the Great Sea. Each successive beast-kingdom is different from the one that came before it. The last one is far worse than the first three.
The first three beast-kingdoms.
The first was like a lion and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: “Arise, devour much flesh!” After this, I looked, and there was another, 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.
The first was like a lion:
This was the Chaldean monarchy, that was fierce and strong, and made the kings absolute. This lion had eagle’s wings, with which to fly upon the prey, denoting the wonderful speed that Nebuchadnezzar made in his conquest of kingdoms. Matthew Henry
Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar his kingdom was the first and best. The kingdoms that follow all shared rule. Babylon ruled by one man over the world of the Middle East. The Medo-Persian kingdom humbled and conquered the Babylonians.
A second, like a bear:
This was the Persian monarchy, less strong and generous than the former, but no less ravenous. This bear raised up itself on one side against the lion and soon mastered it. It raised up one dominion, so some read it. Persia and Media, which in Nebuchadnezzar’s image were the two arms in one breast, now set up a joint government. Matthew Henry
The bear was the Medo-Persian Empire, that immediately followed the Babylonian Empire. There was a partnership between the Medes and the Persians, the Persians, today’s Iran, dominated the rule between the two. Many consider the three ribs to refer to three great military conquests over Babylon, Egypt, and Lydia.
Another, like a leopard:
This was the Grecian monarchy, founded by Alexander the Great, active, crafty, and cruel, like a leopard. He had four wings of a fowl; the lion seems to have had but two wings; but the leopard had four, for though Nebuchadnezzar made great despatch in his conquests Alexander made much greater. Matthew Henry
The leopard was known for its sudden, unexpected attacks. This one was especially swift (with four wings), and clever (having four heads).
Each animal is mighty but dominates its prey in a different way. “The lion devours, the bear crushes, and the leopard springs upon its prey.” Strauss
“Nothing in the history of the world was equal to the conquests of Alexander, who ran through all the countries from Illycrium and the Adriatic Sea to the Indian Ocean and the River Ganges; and in twelve years subdued part of Europe and all Asia.” Clarke
After the death of Alexander the Great, his empire was divided into four parts or four heads. Specifically, the four heads were Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy, who inherited Alexander’s domain after his death.
The last of the four beast-kingdoms:
After this, I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.
A fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong:
The fourth beast blew the mind of the prophet. It was unlike the other three. They were beasts, but this fourth one was more dreadful, terrible, and strong than the others. As the vision unfolds we see that this is the kingdom that Jesus conquers at the time of the end of the age. Matthew Henry’s commentary has an interesting quote regarding the interpretation and identity of this fourth kingdom. He agrees with me that this final dominate power may not be Rome as many believe.
The fourth beast was more fierce, and formidable, and mischievous than any of them, unlike any of the other, nor is there any among the beasts of prey to which it might be compared, v. 7. The learned are not agreed concerning this anonymous beast; some make it to be the Roman empire. Matthew Henry
“The learned,” meaning Bible scholars, “are not agreed.” I agree with those who question Rome.
The famous commentator, Matthew Henry, believed Rome wasn’t the fourth empire in Daniels’ vision.
Others make this fourth beast to be the kingdom of Syria, the family of the Seleucidae, which was very cruel and oppressive to the people of the Jews, as we find in Josephus and the history of the Maccabees. And herein that empire was diverse from those which went before, that none of the preceding powers compelled the Jews to renounce their religion, but the kings of Syria did and used them barbarously. Their armies and commanders were the great iron teeth with which they devoured and broke in pieces the people of God, and they trampled upon the residue of them. The ten horns are then supposed to be ten kings that reigned successively in Syria, and then the little horn is Antiochus Epiphanes Matthew Henry
Antiochus Epiphanes–a model of the Antichrist figure
The commentator identifies a more likely possibility in a near and far fulfillment of this prophecy. Syria, ruled by Antiochus Epiphanes, fits more precisely into the vision. Remember, the focus of these visions is Israel, their rebellion against God, and their eventual judgment. The four beast-kingdoms ruled in and around the Middle East. God used them as tools to judge Israel. The Roman Empire ruled in the Middle East but never controlled the area the first three did. That’s an important piece of the puzzle to consider.
Different… it had ten horns:
It was different from all the beasts before it. It had ten horns. Horns in biblical hermeneutics represent power or leadership of a nation. This final kingdom has ten leaders who share rule, only for a short season though. One “little horn” will eventually take control of this final empire. The little horn is an additional, horn, or eleventh, who joins the ten and leads them to rule over the region of the Middle East.
Another horn, a little one… a mouth speaking pompous words:
Pompous words aren’t unique to this ruler, but this leader will boast against God. Paul the Apostle uses passages from the Book of Daniel as he refers to this pompous ruler. Jesus, the Messiah, and future King who will sit on the throne of David will confront and defeat the leader of the final beast-kingdom.
In the next post in this series, we’ll explore the vision of the One who is prophesied to crush this dreadful and terrifying Antichrist kingdom.
Related posts from the prophet Daniel
Daniel sees a holy watcher
God sends a mysterious hand to write a coded message during a drunken party