As indicated in our introductory discussion to Daniel, chapter 7 shifts from Daniel in Babylon’s court to Daniel in heaven’s court. In the remainder of the book, Daniel receives and records a series of prophetic visions about world history leading up to and including the time of Christ. Ronald Wallace writes of these chapters:
We now come to the less well-known and decidedly more daunting half of the book of Daniel. It consists of a series of visions very complex in their nature, and often far from clear at first to their meaning. Scholars debate, more fanciful minds revel in speculation, and the ordinary reader tends to look quickly the other way. Yet all the material is equally part of the word of God and is able to instruct us for salvation.
A brief explanation of chapter 7’s vision might be helpful. Daniel saw four beasts in his vision, each representing a separate kingdom (v. 17), and then saw “one like a son of man” (v. 13; i.e. Jesus Christ) coming to receive the kingdom from his Father to hand to his saints (v. 18). The four beasts represent Babylon (v. 4); Medo-Persia (v. 5); Greece (v. 6); and Rome (vv. 7–8). Each of these kingdoms was temporary and was superseded by the one following it. Ultimately the fourth kingdom was superseded by the kingdom of Christ, who received an everlasting kingdom at his ascension (vv. 13–14). We do not have the space to go into great detail regarding the specifics of the imagery in this chapter, but Jay E. Adams and Milton C. Fisher have very helpfully explained this vision in The Time of the End (pp. 17–26, 51–57).
After Daniel had seen the vision of the beasts, he was “anxious” and the vision “alarmed” him (v. 15). He was deeply troubled as to what he had seen. He was particularly troubled at the vision of the fourth, indescribable beast (vv. 19–22). This is understandable when you read about what he saw. The beasts were vicious. The fourth, in particular, was “terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong” with “great iron teeth,” which “devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet” (vv. 7–8). We can understand how troubling this vision must have been for Daniel.
While we may never have witnessed a vision of such a graphic and vivid nature, we sometimes fall into moments of equal despair when we see godless governments the world over flexing their muscles in a show of authoritarian power. The cause of consternation may be the Middle Eastern powers viciously opposing the church or Western-influenced governments overstepping their God-given sphere of authority. Regardless, when we are troubled by the beasts of human kingdoms exerting authority that God has not given to them, this chapter reminds us of three wonderful truths to calm our troubled souls.
First, this chapter points us to the stability of heaven. Even as he witnessed the fourth beast devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling what was left with its feet, Daniel’s eyes were drawn to heaven. As he gazed into the throne room of God, he did not see turmoil and panic. He did not see God pacing in consternation and wringing his hands in despair. He looked as “the Ancient of Days took his seat.” Apparently, God was not as disturbed as Daniel was by what he saw.
When human government leaves us “anxious” and “alarmed,” we do well to remember that God is never anxious or alarmed. While we are running about in a panicked frenzy, he remains calmly seated on his throne. Heaven’s throne room is stable in the midst of earthly turmoil.
Second, this chapter points us to the authority of God. The Ancient of Days is here portrayed as the eternal Judge before to whom the kingdom of the world must answer. He sits in judgement over those who suppose that they are the judges of men (vv. 9–11). The image of authority is further strengthened by the imagery of “one like a son of man” as contrasts with the beasts of the kingdoms. As ferocious as the beasts are, humanity was given dominion over them. This “one like a son of man” was “given dominion and glorious and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” No matter how much they flexed their muscles, the human kingdoms were subservient to the “one like a son of man.” His authority superseded theirs.
When we are troubled by the authoritarian decrees of human governments, we do well to remember that all governments are subject to the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. Heaven’s authority supersedes every earthly claim to authority.
Third, this chapter points us to the transitory nature of (abuse of) human authority. The little horn on the fourth beast “made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came.” When the Ancient of Days came, “judgement was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom” (vv. 19–22). As terrible as the power of the beast was, it was only temporary. Heaven’s authority was eternal.
When human authorities leave us perplexed at their godless decrees, which appear to prove victorious, we should remember that their victory is transitory: “until” the Ancient of Days arrives to exert his eternal authority. A day is coming when the oppression of godless governments will give way to the eternal reign of the saints with the Ancient of Days.
As you consider the world around you, and lament the abuse of power that godless governments so often exercise, take heart in the stability of heaven, the authority of God, and the transitory nature of evil oppression.