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Daniel chapter 7

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New American Standard Bible

1In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and told the following summary of it. 2Daniel said, 'I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. 4The first was like a lion but had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and set up on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. 5And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and they said this to it: ‘Arise, devour much meat!’ 6After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, 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. 7After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8While I was thinking about the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the previous horns were plucked out before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like human eyes, and a mouth uttering great boasts.
Christian Standard Bible

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King James Version

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What does Daniel chapter 7 mean?

The book of Daniel can be divided into two languages, as well as two themes. The first portion of the book describes events that happened during Daniel's earthly life. Starting in chapter 7, this focus shifts to prophecies about the future. Likewise, the first portion of the book is mostly recorded in Aramaic (Daniel 2:4—7:28) rather than Hebrew. This represents how those stories are meant to carry a message to the non-Jewish world. Daniel chapter 7 is where these segments dovetail together: the last chapter speaking to the world at large, and the first emphasizing events of the end times. These prophecies are among the most impactful in the entire Bible. Concepts introduced here will be reflected in Jesus' ministry and echoed in the book of Revelation.

Daniel experiences a prophetic dream. He sees heaven-directed winds roiling the Mediterranean Sea, from which come four animal-like creatures. In parallel with Nebuchadnezzar's earlier dream (Daniel 2:32, 37–38), the first symbol represents the Babylonian Empire, depicted as a winged lion. The second beast looks like a bear. The details coordinate with Nebuchadnezzar's dream-image of the Medo-Persians. The third creature symbolizes the Greeks under Alexander the Great (Daniel 2:32, 39). These correspond to the predicted line of empires that would dominate the Mediterranean region (Daniel 7:1–6).

The fourth creature is not associated with any specific animal. It is wholly unique and unlike the others. Daniel will provide more details about this beast after he asks for further wisdom. For now, Daniel can only describe it as horrifying and powerful. This "beast" has iron teeth and bronze claws (Daniel 7:19). It utterly obliterates everything in its path. Daniel also sees a series of horns: ten at first, followed by a smaller horn. This "little horn" displaces three of the original horns, has human-like eyes, and speaks strong and impactful words (Daniel 7:7–8).

Next, Daniel sees a vision of God the Father seated on His throne and surrounded by an uncountable number of heavenly beings. The Lord, or "the Ancient of Days," prepares to judge the world. According to that judgment, the first three beasts follow a somewhat normal progression of power. They rise and fall, but each gives way to the next. The fourth beast, however, is killed, destroyed, and incinerated (Daniel 7:9–12).

What Daniel sees next becomes crucial imagery for Jesus' ministry in the New Testament. The vision displays a heavenly figure approaching God the Father. The newly arrived person is described as "one like a son of man." This was understood as a reference to a Messiah: a Promised One who would rescue Israel. During His earthly life, Jesus often referred to Himself as the "Son of Man," evoking this very prophecy (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:61–62; Revelation 14:14). The "son of man" is endowed with absolute power and authority over the entire earth. He is established as the ruler of an eternal, permanent kingdom (Daniel 7:13–14).

Though Daniel was gifted in understanding visions (Daniel 1:17), he was still human. These images made him anxious—they suggested something dire in the future. Worse, they were not immediately understood, probably making them even more intimidating. So, Daniel asks one of the nearby heavenly beings for help. Many commentators believe this is the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26–38). Gabriel is later tasked specifically with explaining prophecies to Daniel (Daniel 8:16; 9:21). The being explains that the beasts are four "kings," or nations, which will come from humankind. He reassures Daniel that God's people will have an eternal, unending kingdom (Daniel 7:15–18).

Daniel presses for more understanding of the fourth beast. Here, he gives more details about what he saw. The creature had iron teeth and bronze claws. The "little horn" that displaced three others is credited with making war on God's people and winning. This victory was temporary, lasting only until the judgment of God which defeated this evil figure (Daniel 7:19–22).

The same being who explained the other images provides an explanation of this fourth beast and the "little horn." As prophecies go, this is an unusually direct and simple interpretation. The fourth "beast" in Daniel's dream is a unique form of government that will utterly dominate and conquer the entire world. There will be ten kings—some kind of rulers or leaders—in this worldwide empire. A new leader will emerge, somehow defeating three of the original ten leaders. This figure will blaspheme God, persecute His saints, and arrogantly presume to change God's laws. Yet his time will be short: three-and-one-half years (Daniel 7:23–25).

When the time is right, the same court of judgment Daniel saw earlier (Daniel 7:9–10) will obliterate this evil kingdom and its ruler. The people of God will be restored. Believers will be given an eternal place in an everlasting kingdom, serving God (Daniel 7:26–27).

Even though he knows what the vision means, Daniel is still deeply affected by what he sees. His face grows pale—or perhaps flushes—with the magnitude of these future events. He writes down his dream and the meaning. Perhaps Daniel did not share this experience with anyone, other than in his written account. Or, he may have committed himself to studying the vision further. In one of those ways, or perhaps both, he holds the prophecy in his heart (Daniel 7:28).
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