Daniel and the End of Human History (Dan. 2, 7, 8)

By James M. Rochford

In order to understand Daniel’s prophecy about the major empires of world history, we must compare Daniel’s prediction in chapters 2, 7, and 8. Daniel gives us three pictures of these world empires—all of which correlate with one another.

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Vision of Daniel 2

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Vision of Daniel 7

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Vision of Daniel 8

Why does Daniel give three visions, rather than just one?

There are two reasons why Daniel sees three visions, rather than just one.

First, this helped to emphasize the certainty of the event. Pharaoh was given two dreams by God for this purpose. In fact, Joseph told him, “Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about” (Gen. 41:32). The same was no doubt true for Daniel.

Second, these different visions could explain world empires from two different perspectives. At first, he pictures them like a giant statue (Dan. 2), because this is a human perspective of world empires. But when he explains them again in the book, he pictures them as frightful and snarling beasts, which is God’s perspective of world empires.

The Three Visions (Dan. 2, 7, 8)

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that God “has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days” and “what would take place in the future” (Dan. 2:28-29). Clearly Daniel claims that this prophecy is about the future of human history. Stephen Miller writes, “Virtually all scholars agree that the different parts of the statue represent empires or kingdoms.”[1] And later, he notes, “Virtually everyone agrees that the vision of chapter 7 parallels the dream image of chapter 2 and that both passages should be interpreted in the same manner.”[2] In other words, virtually every interpreter views these two visions as inseparable.

Daniel goes on to describe a statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs and feet of iron mixed with clay (Dan. 2:31-33). Finally, a stone was thrown at the statue, crushing it (Dan. 2:34-35). But what does this vision mean? Unlike other so-called religious prophets, the Bible interprets this vision for us clearly.

1. Head of Gold (Winged Lion): BABYLONIA (Dan. 2:38; 7:4).

(Dan. 2:38) Wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You [Nebuchadnezzar] are the head of gold.

(Dan. 7:4) The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it.

Daniel makes no mention of Babylonia in chapter 8, because it was already deposed as an empire at this point (Dan. 8:1). However, in chapter 2, Daniel clearly equates the head of gold with Babylon (2:38). Other symbols support this interpretation:

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Ishtar Gate

“Like a lion and had the wings of an eagle” Jeremiah symbolized Nebuchadnezzar as a lion (Jer. 4:7; 49:19, 22; 50:17, 44) and various prophets characterized him as an eagle (Jer. 49:22; Lam. 4:19; Ezek. 17:3; Hab. 1:8). Moreover, winged lions guarded the gates of the royal palaces. Archer writes, “The lion symbol was characteristic of Babylon, especially in Nebuchadnezzar’s time, when the Ishtar Gate entrance was adorned on either side with a long procession of yellow lions on blue-glazed brick, fashioned in high relief.”[3]

blake.nebuchadnezzar“A human mind also was given to it” This expression refers to Nebuchadnezzar getting his sanity back after God took it from him (Dan. 4:28-37) for seven years (Dan. 4:16).

Nebuchadnezzar’s reign ended in 562 BC—several decades after this prophecy was given. Several kings reigned after him, but they were ultimately defeated by the Persians in 539 BC. Thus Daniel predicted the first world empire as Babylonia.

2. Breast and Arms of Silver (Bear; Ram): MEDIA-PERSIA (Dan. 2:39a; 7:5; 8:3, 20)

(Dan. 2:39a) After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you

(Dan. 7:5) And 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 thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’

(Dan. 8:3, 20) Then I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last… 20 The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.

Daniel doesn’t explicitly name this kingdom in chapter 2; however in his second and third vision, Daniel specifically identifies this empire with Media-Persia (Dan. 8:20). Historically, Media-Persia ruled from 539 to 331 BC. Archer writes, “Alexander the Great… began his invasion of Persia in 334, [and] crushed its last resistance in 331.”[4]

“There will arise another kingdom inferior to you” Daniel refers to this second kingdom as “inferior” to Babylon (Dan. 2:39a). He must not be thinking in terms of its conquering ability. Media-Persia conquered more land than Babylon. He must be thinking in terms of moral quality, in the same way that silver is worse than gold in quality.

“Raised up on one side” This most likely refers to the Persians over the Medes. The Persians came up last, but were greater and absorbed the Medes. Moreover, the vision of the “ram” in 8:3 states that one horn was longer than another, fitting with this interpretation of chapter 7.

“Three ribs were in its mouth” This most likely refers to the people that the Media-Persians subdued: the Babylonians (539 B.C.), Lydians (546 B.C.), and Egyptians (525 B.C.).

“A ram which had two horns” In Daniel 8, Daniel sees a ram (v.3) which represents Media-Persia (v.20). Miller comments “A ram was a fitting symbol of the empire… the Persian ruler carried the gold head of a ram when he marched before his army.”[5]

Thus Daniel specifically identifies the second major empire with Media-Persia.

3. Belly and Thighs of Bronze (Four-Winged Leopard; Shaggy Goat): GREECE (Dan. 2:39b; 7:6; 8:21-22)

(Dan. 2:39b) …Then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth.

(Dan. 7:6) After 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.

(Dan. 8:21-22) The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece 22 The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power.

Head of

Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.)

Daniel clearly explains this kingdom as Greece, and this surely refers to Alexander the Great. Historically, the Grecian Empire ruled from 333 to 63 BC. While this beast isn’t as powerful as the others, it is far faster. This would fit with Daniel’s understanding of the beast as a leopard, which is known for its speed—not strength. Alexander conquered the known world an alarming speed—within 10-15 years.

“Which will rule over all the earth” This language refers to scope of Alexander’s conquering. Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world (from Macedonia to India).

“The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power” Alexander the Great didn’t have an heir to take over the empire. Actually, he had two sons (Alexander IV and Herakles), but they were quickly murdered. Thus the four heads refer to the four generals who divided his kingdom after his premature death in 323 BC (c.f. Dan. 8:8). His generals were (1) Antipater in Macedon-Greece, (2) Lysimachus in Thrace-Asia Minor, (3) Seleucus in Asia, and (4) Ptolemy in Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Palestine.[6]

4-1. Legs of Iron—Feet of Iron and Clay (10 horned beast with iron Teeth): ROME (Dan. 2:40)

(Dan. 2:40) Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces.

(Dan. 7:7) After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying 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.

Daniel specifies this following kingdom as a solitary one (“it”), and he also speaks of it being more vicious than the earlier kingdoms. He connects the visions of chapters 2 and 7 by mentioning iron toes/teeth and ten toes/horns. Moreover, both empires are mentioned last on the list.

Why doesn’t Daniel name this empire specifically as Rome?

Students of Scripture often ask why Daniel doesn’t explicitly name this empire as Rome. Daniel wrote his book in 530 B.C. Therefore, if he named Rome by name here, he would be mentioning an empire that didn’t even exist yet. This is probably why Daniel can’t even describe the beast itself, using language like “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong,” rather than giving it a name like the others (e.g. lion, bear, ram, etc.).

Moreover, Daniel’s descriptions surely match with the Roman Empire. Miller writes, “The Roman Empire dominated the world from the defeat of Carthage in 146 B.C. to the division of the East and West empires in A.D. 395, approximately five hundred years.”[7] Both Josephus and 2 Esdras (12:10–51) believed the fourth empire was Rome. Miller writes, “Only in modern times did the opinion that Greece was the fourth empire become widespread.”[8]

Is the fourth beast Greece?

Some critical scholars try to end the world kingdoms with Antiochus in 167 BC, splitting Media-Persia into two successive kingdoms. But Daniel clearly speaks of these as one empire—not two (Dan. 6:8, 15; 8:20).

Other critical scholars argue that the fourth beast is the successor of Alexander the Great. However, Archer argues, “Such an identification of the fourth empire can hardly be reconciled with the description of the fourth kingdom (cf. 7:7) as greater and stronger than the third. Could one segment of Alexander’s empire be considered more extensive than his entire realm? Or could its power be considered more formidable than that of Alexander himself—Alexander who never lost a battle? This theory cannot be taken seriously.”[9]

For these reasons, we hold that the fourth beast must be Rome.

4-2. Legs of Iron—Feet of Iron and Clay (Ten Horns): ROME II (Dan. 2:41-43)

(Dan. 2:41-43) In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. 42 As the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. 43 And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.

(Dan. 7:7-8) After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying 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. 8 While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.

(Dan. 7:24) As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings.

While the first part of this vision is the original Roman Empire (Rome 1), there are a number of reasons for seeing a prophetic gap here (flashing forward to Rome 11). That is, this section (Dan. 2:41-43) refers to a later reforming of the Roman Empire at the end of human history. A number of observations point toward this conclusion:

First, there is an anatomical distinction. Verse 40 refers to the legs, while verses 41-43 refer to the feet and toes.

Second, there is a composition distinction. The legs are composed entirely of iron (v.40), while the feet are composed of iron and clay (vv.41-43).

Third, there is unfulfilled language. In verse 44, we read, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” The original Roman Empire had one king—not many (“kings”). Apparently, these ten toes are actually ten kings. Moreover, Daniel 7:7 refers to ten horns in the Roman Empire. These ten horns refer to ten kings or kingdoms. Verse 24 explicitly states: “As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise.” Ten kingdoms never came out of the first Rome—nor did ten kings. This must still be in the future.

Fourth, this correlates with Revelation 13 and 17, which is also about the end of human history. John writes, “I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns” (Rev. 13:1). He later explains, “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom” (Rev. 17:12; c.f. Ps. 132:17; Zech. 1:18-19). These kings give birth to the Antichrist, which hasn’t happened yet (“not yet received a kingdom”). John explains,

“Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11 The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction” (Rev. 17:9-11).

There will be a future Roman Empire that fulfills this prediction completely. The “five fallen” kings are Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Greece (at the time this passage was written; AD 90). The king that “now is” is Rome in the first-century (AD 90). Finally, John explains that the other “has not yet come,” which must refer to the future Roman Empire. Thus the eighth king (v.11) must be the antichrist coming out of that final kingdom.

Fifth, prophetic gaps typically occur over the church age. For instance, in Luke 4:19-20, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2 and stopped reading halfway through a Hebrew couplet to show that the first part of the verse was fulfilled—but the second part hadn’t yet. This gap in Isaiah 61 occurs between the first and second coming of Christ. If there is a prophetic gap in this passage, it would similarly skip the church age, which was a mystery in the OT (Mt. 13:11).

The Stone That Becomes a Mountain (Dan. 2:44): GOD’S KINGDOM

(Dan. 2:44) In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.

Daniel explains this final kingdom with clarity. God will eventually set up his kingdom on Earth.

Does this refer to the Church Age or the Millennial Kingdom?

the-statue

God’s Kingdom

Some interpreters believe that this refers to the church age. That is, God’s church has outlasted all of these kingdoms and has destroyed them in a passive way. However, there are a number of reasons for believing that this refers to the millennial kingdom of Christ—not the church age:

First, this doesn’t fit with the language. The quiet entrance of the gospel into the world doesn’t fit with this language of smashing and crushing these other kingdoms. Jesus is going to return with force—not gentleness (Mt. 24:29-31; Rev 19:11-21). At this point, people will not have the privilege of choosing him by faith; instead, they will be forced to bow down before him as the king (Phil. 2:10-11).

Second, no coalition of kings was reigning when Christ first came on Earth. This passage speaks of taking place “in the days of those kings.” Since this doesn’t fit with Jesus’ first coming, we should expect this to refer to the future.

Third, since the earlier kingdoms were physical, we should expect God’s kingdom to be physical. Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome were all physical and literal kingdoms. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect the final kingdom of God to be any different.

Fourth, Daniel usually speaks of Christ’s second coming—not his first. In the context of these visions, we read, “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). Of course, this clearly speaks of Jesus’ second coming—not his first.



[1] Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. Dan. 2:36.

[2] Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. Dan. 7:28.

[3] Archer, G. L., Jr. Daniel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 85-86.

[4] Archer, G. L., Jr. Daniel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 47.

[5] Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. Dan. 8:3.

[6] Archer, G. L., Jr. Daniel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 47.

[7] Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. Dan. 2:40.

[8] Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. Dan. 2:40.

[9] Archer, G. L., Jr. Daniel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 48.