Daniel 7

DateVersionReading Plan
@October 16, 2023ESV (2016)ESV Prophets Plan 2023


  • Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts
  • The Ancient of Days
  • The Son of Man is Given Dominion
  • Daniel’s Vision Interpreted


The chapter opens with Daniel seeing a dream and visions “in the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon”. Belshazzar became co-regent with Nabonidus in 553 BC. Assuming Daniel was about fifteen when he was exiled to Babylon, he would have received this vision when he was approximately sixty-seven years old.

In Dan. 7:2-8, Daniel describes the vision as the great sea being stirred up by four winds of heaven and “four great beasts” coming up out of the sea. The four winds refers to the convulsions of the Gentile nations in the times of the Gentiles. The four beasts symbolized four kingdoms which can be interpreted as Babylon, Media, Persia and Greece…or…Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and Rome. Daniel details each beast as one:

  1. Like a lion with eagles’ wings (Dan. 7:4)
  2. Like a bear with three ribs in its mouth (Dan. 7:5)
  3. Like a leopard with four wings and four heads (Dan. 7:6)
  4. Without an analogous animal; terrifying and exceedingly strong, having ten horns and another that came up among them (Dan. 7:7-8)

Dan. 7:9-10 is the placement of thrones and the “Ancient of Days” taking His seat. Ancient of Days refers to God’s eternal nature and everything is described as oriented to Him: “before him” and “served him” (Dan. 7:10).

Dan. 7:11-12 switches focus to the horn that was speaking. The beast was killed and its body destroyed, referring to the end of the fourth kingdom, the revived Roman Empire. The rest of the beasts, meaning the previous three kingdoms, would continue to exist but without their earlier dominance, until the coming of the messianic kingdom.

Dan. 7:13-14 describes more of Daniel’s visions that there came one “like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days”. Although some have maintained that the son of man is the archangel Michael or a collective personification of the “holy ones of the Most High” (Dan. 7:18), this one is none other than the divine Messiah himself, who will fulfill the destiny of humanity (Ps. 8; Heb. 2:5–18). Jesus understood it to be a messianic title (Mark 14:61–62), and he used it to speak of himself. Later rabbis saw it as one of the names of the Messiah.

Dan. 7:15-18 is of Daniel’s alarmed state and desire to know the visions’ interpretation. Daniel approached and inquired of “one of those who stood there” (perhaps Gabriel) to receive the interpretation. Important to note here is that whereas Daniel was given the ability to interpret the dreams of others, he was not given such ability for his own visions. The visions are made known to Daniel that the four beasts are four kings that “shall arise out of the earth” (Dan. 7:17) but that the saints shall receive the kingdom and possess it forever. (Dan. 7:18).

In Dan. 7:15-22, Daniel zeroed in on the fourth beast and its role specifically as it was “different from all the rest” in its cruelty and ferocity (Dan. 7:19). He continues in the account of the fourth beast and that it had “teeth of iron and claws of bronze” (Dan. 7:19) and “ten horns that were on its head” (Dan. 7:20). The other horn that came up made war with the saints and prevailed until the Ancient of Days came in judgment (Dan. 7:21-22). This represented the persecution of the Jews under Antiochus.

In Dan. 7:23-27, Daniel is given the explanation of the fourth beast. The ten horns are ten kings that shall arise and “another shall rise after them”. This “another” is the antichrist (cp. Dan. 7:7-8) described in the vision as the little horn. It will arise and take control of the last human empire by subduing three kings. He will be characterized by blasphemy (words against the Most High), anti-Semitism (oppression of the holy ones) and religious corruption (intention to change religious festivals and laws). However, his dominion will be taken away (Dan. 7:26) and the saints will be given the everlasting kingdom (Dan. 7:27).

In the final verse of the chapter (Dan. 7:28), Daniel marks this account as the “end of the matter”, or the end of his first apocalyptic vision. Daniel kept the matter close to his heart despite being “greatly alarmed” and this color changing.


Daniel has his first apocalyptic vision entailing a cornucopia of fascinating and bizarre imagery. There are beasts that look like various animals (and one that does not have any animal likeness) along with horns and other horns coming up from the horns. Daniel is also shown the Ancient of Days, a dominating figure representing God’s eternality, who gives possession of the kingdom to the saints.

The theme of kingdom seemed to emerge as significant in today’s reading. Throughout the chapter, the word ”kingdom” appears 12x and “dominion” appears 8x. The comparison of lesser kingdoms to God’s everlasting kingdom is also particularly striking. The kingdom of the fourth beast will be different from the other kingdoms and “shall devour the whole earth” (Dan. 7:23). However, the kingdom that God’s children will inherit will far exceed this one; it “shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14) and it will be one that we possess “forever, forever and ever” (Dan. 7:18).

This understanding of co-regency of the kingdom with our King can be difficult from our western democratic perspective, but one we should still try to grapple. That we have any level of citizenship in God’s kingdom is astonishing. Our sin stamps our passports void with permanent ink and no effort of our own can ever erase it. And yet, by God’s grace, those whom He has called are granted free passage by the blood of Christ that we may dwell with Him forever.

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