2 "In my vision that night, I, Daniel, saw a great storm churning the surface of a great sea, with strong winds blowing from every direction. 3 Then four huge beasts came up out of the water, each different from the others."The First Beast
4 The first beast was like a lion with eagles’ wings. As I watched, its wings were pulled off, and it was left standing with its two hind feet on the ground, like a human being. And it was given a human mind.
The first beast is a very appropriate symbol for Babylon. The winged lion was the the seal of the Babylonian Empire, and can be readily found on many pieces of Babylonian artwork. The lion (the king of beasts) is a good symbol for strength, and the eagle (the king of birds) is famous for its power and the range of its flight. At the height of the Babylonian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar's power was felt from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, from Asia Minor to Egypt.
When the lion was no longer able to fly like an eagle is most probably a reference to the time when less powerful rulers followed Nebuchadnezzar. Under this succession of rulers, Babylon lost its glory and power. The picture of the lion standing on its hind feet like a man further degrades the lion's power. English King Richard was called "Richard the Lion-Hearted" because of his great courage and bravery in battle. This is basically the opposite of that, symbolizing an empire made weak and enfeebled by its narcissism, becoming so enamored with its own wealth and luxury that it ultimately fell with barley more than a whimper to the Medes & Persians.
The Second Beast
5 Then I saw a second beast, and it looked like a bear. It was rearing up on one side, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And I heard a voice saying to it, “Get up! Devour the flesh of many people!”
The bear symbolizes the Medo-Persian Empire (also corresponds with the silver portion of the statute from Daniel 2). The bear, while not as graceful as the lion or the eager, is a largely powerful animal, though somewhat more cruel and ferocious, attributes associated with the Medes by Isaiah (13:17-18).
While Gabriel doesn't specifically interpret (v. 16) the meaning of "rearing up on one side" as mentioned in the vision, when taken in conjunction with Daniel 8:3, 20, fairly clearly indicates a kingdom composed of two parts (the Medes and the Persians), of which the Persians became the more powerful part shortly before the conquering of Babylon.
The three ribs Daniel describes are likewise not specifically interpreted. Most scholars, however, believe they may represent the three principal powers that were conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire: Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt (cross-reference Is. 41:6, as Lydia, Egypt, and Babylon were in an alliance to fend off the Persians). But all the alliances & false gods between the three kingdoms couldn't defeat what God had ordained to happen.
The Third Beast
6 Then the third of these strange beasts appeared, and it looked like a leopard. It had four bird’s wings on its back, and it had four heads. Great authority was given to this beast.
The leopard is a fierce, carnivorous animal noted for the swiftness and agility of its movements (see. Hab. 1:8, Hos. 13:7). The leopard represents the Helenistic period of Greek rule, started by the Macedonian Philip the Great. It was not until Alexander's day that a reference could be made to the "first king" (Dan. 8:21) of a Greek empire who was "a mighty king" with "great dominion" (Dan. 11:3).
Alexander, through a succession of military victories, conquered nearly all of the known world. He finished uniting all of Greece, and he conquered the vast Persian Empire, including Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Babylon (where he later made his capital) and pushed as far east as northwest India. He did all this in less than a decade. Thus the symbol of the leopard, with its natural agility, gifted with extra swiftness by not two but four wings seems barely adequate in describing the unparalleled speed with which Alexander conquered the world.
The four heads describe the Greco-Macedonian Empire after Alexander's death. After a few weak successors vied for his thrown, four powerful generals, Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy divided Alexander's vast territory amongst themselves, and ruled as kings of their own region. Thus the beast with four heads (or four horns in Dan. 8) is a fitting representation to the Greek Empire founded by Alexander that ended up four smaller principalities after his death.
The Fourth Beast
7 Then in my vision that night, I saw a fourth beast—terrifying, dreadful, and very strong. It devoured and crushed its victims with huge iron teeth and trampled their remains beneath its feet. It was different from any of the other beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 As I was looking at the horns, suddenly another small horn appeared among them. Three of the first horns were torn out by the roots to make room for it. This little horn had eyes like human eyes and a mouth that was boasting arrogantly.
9 I watched as thrones were put in place
and the Ancient One sat down to judge.
His clothing was as white as snow,
his hair like purest wool.
He sat on a fiery throne
with wheels of blazing fire,
10 and a river of fire was pouring out,
flowing from his presence.
Millions of angels ministered to him;
many millions stood to attend him.
Then the court began its session,
and the books were opened.
11 I continued to watch because I could hear the little horn’s boastful speech. I kept watching until the fourth beast was killed and its body was destroyed by fire. 12 The other three beasts had their authority taken from them, but they were allowed to live a while longer.There really isn't anything in the natural world to compare to this horrible creature, and no comparison is made like there is with the first three beasts. History makes it fairly clear that the next great power to arrive on the scene was the Roman Empire. The Romans arrived gradually, but by 30 B.C. controlled everything Alexander had, and then some.
The great iron teeth described by Daniel speak of both cruelty and strength. As the creature tore to pieces and devoured its prey with grotesque fangs, so Rome devoured the people and nations it conquered. Where Rome did not destroy or subjugate a conquered people, it often put them in indentured servitude or sold them into slavery.
The ten horns referenced as part of this great beast are ten kings, or kingdoms, that eventually replaced Rome as barbarian tribes chipped away at the Empire. Historians generally put the ten kingdoms as: Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, Suevi, Alamanni, Anglo-Saxons, Heruli, Lombards, and Burgundians. Some historians replace the Alamanni with the Huns, although the Huns disappeared without leaving a settled kingdom. Regardless, it was a wild, confusing period.
The little horn that (rather creepily) grows to overtake the others was mentioned as being "greater than his companions." This little horn comes to be seen as the continuation of the Roman power, but instead of a physical empire, the horn grows into the moral Roman Empire, or the Church. The early Catholic church and its popes yielded an incredible amount of political influence in early Europe. The three Arian kingdoms (who held slightly different beliefs than the Catholics) that stood in the way of total dominance were the Heruli, the Vandals, and the Ostrogoths. At the urging of Emporer Zeno (of Constantinople) the Ostrogoths conquered the Heruli and removed them from power in Italy. Later, Emperor Justinian lead several campaigns and defeated the Vandals in Northern Africa and removed the Ostrogoth's from Italy, thus cementing the Catholic belief system throughout the Western World. The Church enjoyed very nearly absolute power over the next few centuries (and still has a great deal of influence even today) until the period surrounding the Protestant Reformation.
The Eternal Kingdom
13 As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey Him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.
In original Aramaic kebar 'enash, literally means "like a son of man." According to the Aramaic usage, the phrase could be translated as "like a man." Instead of the translation "a son of man" the translation "One, human in form" would more adequately represent the Aramaic phrasing. God chose to represent His Son in prophetic vision with a special emphasis on His humanity. As we know from the New Testament, sinners have an advocate before the Father "one like" themselves, One who was in all points tempted and has felt the frailty of fallen man.
The "Ancient One" or "Ancient of Days" reads literally in Aramaic "an Ancient of days." The expression is actually descriptive rather than a title (like we associate with hymns). The article is used in vs. 13 & 22 as an article of previous reference, in other words it is used in reference to the Being described earlier. The representation is of God the Father.
Christ came and showed us what His Kingdom is like. Not a kingdom of borders, but a kingdom of conscience. It's how He lived His life and taught us how to live. He instructed us to go out and make disciples of every nation and every race and introduce the world to the Kingdom of Heaven. Just when all seems to be lost, Jesus will come again, just as He promises Himself in the New Testament. And, as Gabriel explains to Daniel:
26 “But then the court will pass judgment, and all his [the little horn's] power will be taken away and completely destroyed. 27 Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey Him.”
I hope that gives you a little more clarity and insight into the symbolism and imagery that Dany touched on last week. The visions are repeated again in the chapters following. Gabriel even tells Daniel about Jesus' death in chapter 9. I would encourage you to study Daniel's book, because it really shows you how much is in God's control, even if it doesn't seem like that. Daniel's visions aren't meant to predict our future. The were a reassurance to the Children of Israel that God was in control even as their homeland was ruled by different entities (some good, some bad) over the years. The same is true for us today. We can't use Daniel's book to tell what's going to happen tomorrow, next week, or next year (and really, Daniel's visions have already been fulfilled). God's message to us is that He is always with us, and that He is in control, and that no matter how bad things might get, in the end we can join Him in His Kingdom forever if we choose too.