Keys to understanding apocalyptic literature in Daniel

Notes by Lisa Sawhill

Horns – symbolize kings or national powers

Heads – symbolize various kings

Wings – symbolize various kings, or power of those kings to swoop down over other nations

Great Sea – the nations of mankind

Wind(s) – the working or power of God

Beasts – specific nations

Qualities/actions/descriptions of the beasts or horns – descriptions of what those kings or nations will do, qualities of those kings or nations

Statue as a whole – various kingdoms of mankind

Specific parts of a statue – specific nations/kingdoms

Time, times and a half time – three and one half years, not necessarily literal, a limited time period

Dreams/Visions in Daniel

Chapter 2Statue representing four kingdoms, described as large, great, of extraordinary splendor, awesome (Daniel 2:31 NASB) This vision was a dream given to Nebuchadnezzar by God revealing what would happen in the future.  Daniel interrupts the dream and describes it as true and the interpretation as trustworthy.  (Daniel 2:45 NASB)  This occurs during the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.  Daniel was probably still in the three year training period during this time, so he was a young man.

Head of Fine Gold – King Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonian Empire) described as the King of Kings whom God had given the kingdom, power, strength and glory over everywhere where man or beast or bird dwelled.  God had given them into his hands to rule over them.  (Daniel 2:37,38 NASB) The Babylonian empire lasted 73 years if dated from the destruction of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, in 612 BC to the capture of Babylon by Cyrus in 539BC.

Breast and arms of silver –  Medo-Persian Empire, described as inferior to the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:39 NASB) Notes from book:  Perhaps Daniel is referring to the city of Babylon which was a grand city, no city of the Medo-Persians outdid it.  The Medo-Persian empire lasted 219 years if it is dated from the unification under Cyrus (550 BC) to its destruction by Alexander the Great in (331 BC).

Belly and thighs of bronze – Greece, the kingdom of Alexander the Great and his four generals who took control and split the empire after his death, described as ruling over all the earth (Daniel 2:39)

Legs of iron, feet of iron and common pottery clay together – Rome, described as strong as iron crushing and shattering and breaking all these other kingdoms into pieces, but the kingdom will be divided – the iron parts strong, the clay parts brittle.  The iron and clay parts will not adhere together, the people will mix but not stay united.  (Daniel 2 40-43)

Stone cut out of a mountain but not by human hands – God’s kingdom, described as a stone which, during the times of the kings of the Roman Empire, will be cut out by God and will crush the other kingdoms and put an end to them.  God’s kingdom will never be destroyed or given to another people.  It will endure forever.

Chapter 7 – Vision of the 4 beasts coming out of the great sea, stirred up by the four winds

God stirs the nations, and four will rise up that are greater than the surrounding ones.  Each beast represents a particular nation and its qualities.  The power of these beasts and their treatment of God’s people is emphasized.  Daniel probably had this vision in 553 BC, the first year that Belshazzar ruled for his father, Nabonidus. This was 52 years after Daniel had been deported, so he may have been in his late 60s or early 70s.  The nations represented by the beasts are the same nations as represented by various sections of the statue from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

  1. The beast which was like a lion and had wings like an eagles loses its wings is transformed into a human with a heart: This first beast isn’t a prophesy of a future kingdom, but what had been – the Babylonian kingdom whose leader, Nebuchadnezzar, was humbled and became a be supporter of the God of Israel.  The lion is symbolic of the strength of Babylon.  The eagle’s wings describe how Babylon would seem to swoop down and destroy nations, as described in Jeremiah 48:40 “This is what the Lord says, ‘Look! An eagle is swooping down, spreading its wings over Moab.’”  Babylon completely destroyed Moab.
  2. The beast which appeared as a bear, raised up on one side with three ribs in its mouth:  The bear was told to get up and eat much meat.  This beast is symbolic of the Medo-Persian empire, the Persians held a greater status in their alliance, thus the bear is raised up on one side.  The three ribs represent the three main conquests of the empire under Cyrus, then his son, Cambysses:  Lydia (546 BC), Babylon (539 BC), and Egypt (524 BC).
  3. The leopard with four wings and four heads which was given dominion: The speedy leopard represents the conquests of Alexander the Great whose empire covered a greater area than any other empire up to that time. All this he accomplished in 12 years. His empire was divided into four divisions after his death in 323 BC and ruled by his generals:  Antigonus ruled the East from Syria to India, Cassander ruled the West, Macedonia and Greece, Lysimachus ruled the North, Thrace and Asia Minor and Ptolemy the South, Egypt and Palestine.
  4. The dreadful and terrifying beast, strong with iron teeth that devoured, crushed and trampled down remaining nations, different from the beasts before it. It had ten horns: This last beast symbolizes the Roman Empire . The most focus is given to the “little horn” who speaks boastfully against the Most High and wages war against the saints for a time.  He changes set times and laws and is judged by God.  His power is taken away and destroyed forever.

Augustus:  Ruled 27 BC – 14 AD (41 yrs.) First called Octavius, he was the adopted grandson of Julius Caesar and finally took power over the Roman Senate, changing the balance of power and becoming  the first emperor. Before the first century BC, Rome was a republic, ruled by the Senate which was elected by the people.  Army generals then began to force their rule over the people and Senate, using their armies, which lead to civil wars between the Senate and the armies of the generals.  Julius Caesar is the best known of these dictators. Emperor worship was started in part of his empire, although he did not encourage it. Augustus was emperor when Jesus was born.

Tiberius:  Ruled 14 AD – 37 AD (23 yrs.) Son of Augustus, he was ruling when Jesus was crucified.

Gaius (Caligula): Ruled 37 AD – 41 AD (4 yrs.) Encouraged the people to worship him as a god.

Claudius:  Ruled 41 AD – 54 AD (13 yrs.) Claudius was the son of Nero Drusus and came to power through the influence of Herod Agrippa the First.  He is said to have been poisoned by his fourth wife, Agrippina the Younger, the mother of Nero. Because the Jews were causing problems in Rome, Claudius commanded all the Jews to leave.  This affected many Jews who had become Christians (see Acts 18:2 for the story of Aquila and Priscilla).  Although the Christian Jews were not part of the uprising, they suffered the consequences of it, but God used the situation.  He brought Aquila and Priscilla and Paul together in Corinth!  Also during Claudius reign, there was a great famine which is mentioned in Acts 11:28-30.

Nero:  Ruled 54 AD – 68 AD (14 yrs.) Nero began the first serious persecutions of Christians after the fire of 64 to put down rumors that he had the fire started.  These persecutions occurred primarily in Rome and consisted of torture, being dressed in animal skins and thrown to the wild dogs, crucifixion, and use as a human torch during the evening hours.  During his reign Paul and Peter were executed.  Revelation 17:3-18 discusses Nero and is a parallel passage to Daniel 7. Nero and the persecutions he represents is the“beast which was and is not..”

Galba: 68 AD – 69 AD, Otho: 69 AD – 70 AD, and Vitellius: 69 AD – 70 AD These three generals were each proclaimed emperor by their troops, none of them strong enough to rule the entire empire, their reigns overlapped and they were defeated by Vespasian, Domitian’s father.  Domitian was a young adult when this occurred and saw his father “uproot” these “three horns”.

Vespasian: 70 AD – 79 AD Began the attack on Jerusalem

Titus: 79 AD – 81 AD Destroyed Jerusalem as discussed in Matthew 24: 1-21

Domitian: 81 AD – 96 AD (15 yrs.) MAY have persecuted the Christians and be the one referred to in Revelation 17:8, 11.  In this view he basically is the resurrection of Nero and all the persecutions.  Therefore he is referred to as the same beast as Nero and as an eighth king in that passage.  The ten horns in Revelation 17 are the same emperors as in Daniel 7.  The seven heads are the same emperors minus the three weak generals (Balba, Otho and Vitellius). Therefore, Domitian makes the eighth king in Revelation.

Descriptions of Domitian in Daniel 7, written 600 years before his reign:

–          Daniel 7:8b. 20,25 speaks boastfully, imposing

  • Domitian, Titus’ brother,  He was addressed in writing and conversation as “our Master and our God.”

–          Daniel 7:21,25 wages war against the saints and defeats them for a time, speaks against the Most High, oppresses his saints for a time

–          Daniel 7:25 tries to change the set times and the laws

  • Domitian changes the calendar.  He changes September and October to Germanicus (his surname) and Domitianus, honoring the months of his coming to power and of his birth.  After his death, the names were changed back.
  • Domitian changed many laws, one of which was the law concerning how Roman senators were chosen.  He gave himself the power to select each one. After his death, all his laws were nullified by the Senate.

–          Daniel 7:26 he is judged and his power is taken away  and destroyed completely forever

Vision of God, picture of judgment

The Ancient of Days – clothing white as snow, hair white like wool, seated on a throne with a river of fire flowing before him, thousands upon thousands attending him with ten thousand times ten thousand standing before him, he pronounces judgment in favor of the saints – Rev 5-7

The throne – “flaming with fire with its wheels all ablaze”

Court room scene with the books opened

Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven – Rev. 1:7,13; Acts 1:10; 1 Thess 4:17

Son of man given authority, glory and sovereign power – Matthew 28:18

Son of man worshipped by men of every language – Phil 2:9-11; Rev 5:13

Sovereignty, power, greatness of all the kingdoms is handed over to the saints – Rev 5:10

This is an everlasting kingdom in which all rulers will worship and obey