All voices agree together, secular and sacred alike, that we are coming to an unprecedented time of trouble in the world, and we shall never again see anything that could be regarded as normal times.
As I read those words they seem as fresh to me as if they had been spoken this morning. Every part of that statement seems absolutely true. Then I pondered what our President said last Thursday night: “The state of the union has never been stronger.” And he took credit for the way things are going in America. Perhaps he is right. Who knows? Then on Sunday a friend commented on what the President had said. “Yes, the state of the economy is good, but the state of the American soul is not good at all.” Therein lies the paradox of these days. As we enter the 21st century our nation, and indeed much of the world, enjoys a time of economic prosperity. Where is the “unprecedented time of trouble” Ray Stedman spoke about? Perhaps he is just a prophet of gloom and doom.
Before we come to a final conclusion, we ought to heed the message of our text. Daniel 7 records one of the most amazing visions in the Bible. It tells of a strange dream Daniel had in the year 553 BC in which God revealed to him a symbolic outline of human history stretching from Daniel’s day to the very end of time. Although much of his dream has been fulfilled, the final parts are yet future to us. And if they are to be taken literally (as I think they must be), then Ray Stedman will in the end be proven correct and President Clinton’s optimistic words will be seen as (at best) a temporary respite from the troubles to come.
Biography and Prophecy
But first a word about the book of Daniel. This ancient book divides neatly into two parts. The first six chapters are biography, telling the story of Daniel’s deportation to Babylon and his adventures in the courts of various pagan kings. Again and again we see him standing firm under pressure, facing danger and death, and in the end being promoted by God to ever-higher positions of power. When we come to chapter 7, the book changes from biography to prophecy. The last six chapters detail four visions given to Daniel in the last 20 years of his life. These visions center around the nations and empires of the world, especially as they relate to God’s plan for Israel.
The first and greatest of these visions is found in Daniel 7. John Walvoord calls this vision the most comprehensive Old Testament prophecy of the future. Many of the Jewish scribes considered it the greatest chapter of the Old Testament. And the gospel writers quoted from it on many occasions.
Four Beasts from the Sea
Before going any further, let me summarize the vision. One night as Daniel was on his bed, he had a dream and then visions came to him during his dream. He saw the four winds of heaven whipping up the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Then without warning four beasts emerged from the sea, one after another. First came a lion with wings. Then a ferocious bear raised up on one side. Then a leopard with four wings and four heads. Then an unidentified beast more terrible than the first three. The fourth beast had iron claws and ten horns on its head. As Daniel watched, an 11th horn came up from among the ten horns and conquered three of them. Then the “little horn” began to boast of its power and to blaspheme God. At that moment thrones appeared and the Ancient of Days (a term for God) came to judge the world. The little horn and the fourth beast were destroyed and cast into burning flames. Then Daniel saw the Son of Man (a term referring to the Messiah, and so recognized by both Jewish and Christian expositors) coming in power and glory to set up his kingdom on the earth.
Let me put it in even shorter form: The sea … four beasts … ten horns … the “little horn” … arrogant words … the Ancient of Days … judgment … the Son of Man … His kingdom on the earth.
The Statue and the Four Beasts
This is what Daniel saw. But what did it mean? We can make a useful comparison between this dream and the dream King Nebuchadnezzar had in Daniel 2. In that dream the king saw a vast statue made of four metals: head of gold, chest of silver, thighs of bronze, legs of iron, feet of mixed iron and clay. A stone cut out of a mountain hits the statue at its feet (the iron and clay part), smashing it to bits. Then the stone grew until it filled the whole earth. Daniel explained to the king that the four metals represent four successive world empires—decreasing in value from top to bottom but increasing in strength. Nebuchadnezzar (and the Babylonian empire) was the head of gold. Three other empires would come later. We know from history those empires were Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Daniel explained that the feet of iron and clay represented the breakup of the fourth kingdom into various countries, some strong and some weak. The stone that hit the feet represented the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to destroy all manmade kingdoms and to establish his kingdom on the earth.
How do these two dreams relate to one another? In the second half of Daniel 7, an angel tells Daniel that the four beasts represent four kingdoms:
The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever (Daniel 7:17-18).
The “sea” Daniel saw was really the “sea” of humanity, the churning, roiling tumult of people and nations and politics and armies, as first one group and then another vies for power. Out of that chaos four kingdoms emerge (visually symbolized by the four beasts) one after another. In the Last Days there will be a “fifth kingdom"—the kingdom of God on the earth, which will be established when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in power and great glory.
The World as God Sees It
Let’s put the two dreams side by side and make a comparison.
Rome—Iron—Unnamed ferocious beast
What about the feet and toes of iron and clay? They approximate the ten horns of Daniel 7. What about the “little horn” who becomes dominant? He is mentioned in Daniel 7 but not in Daniel 2.
One final question. Why are the same four empires referred to as metals in one dream and beasts in another? Answer: The statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream shows us the empires of the world as man sees them beautiful, precious, highly valued, and deserving of our praise. In Daniel 7 we see the same kingdoms as God sees them. They are ferocious beasts, bent on conquest, plunder, destruction, and domination. God sees beyond the glitter of the world to the depraved nature inside the heart of every human ruler. He isn’t fooled by mighty armies, hanging gardens, vast palaces, and sumptuous feasts. He knows that the heart of man is the heart of a beast. It is “desperately wicked” and full of evil.
Daniel 7 also shows us the nature of every kingdom built by man. They are earthly, brutal, destructive, and ultimately temporary. Nothing made by the hands of man lasts forever. One kingdom falls, another rises only to fall and have its place taken by yet another kingdom. The same is true in the business world, the corporate world, and in every field of human endeavor. The lion rises only to be defeated by the bear who falls to the leopard who is crushed by an unnamed beast. So it goes.
This is the history of humanity until the end when Jesus Christ finally comes back to earth. Then (and not until then) all earthly kingdoms are finally replaced by the kingdom of God. And that kingdom will last forever.
Daniel 7 in Perspective
Here are a few summary statements that help us see Daniel 7 in perspective:
A) Daniel saw four beasts coming out of the sea of humanity.
B) The four animals represent four great World empires:
C) The fourth kingdom will exist in various forms until the Last Days.
By this statement I simply mean that no empire ever arose to replace the Roman empire that fell in 476 AD. Though the empire collapsed, the remnants continued in various forms for centuries, leading eventually to the Holy Roman Empire, to the nation-states of Europe, and ultimately to the modern nations of Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Since no nation conquered Rome and since no empire replaced it, it is fair to say that there have been only four great world empires from Daniel’s day until now. In that sense we are still in the general period of the fourth beast. In terms of Daniel 2, since 476 AD we have been in the period of the feet of iron and clay.
When I preached this message, someone asked me about the empires of China, central Asia, and the large empires of Africa. Why doesn’t the Bible mention these? The answer is that from God’s point of view everything in the Bible centers around Israel. The only world empires that matter are the ones that touch the “Beautiful Land” (a phrase from Daniel 8:9). Israel has always been the apple of God’s eye, the chosen land for his Chosen People. The Bible counts both history and geography from the standpoint of Israel. Empires that don’t involve Israel aren’t mentioned even though those empires might otherwise be very important in the larger scope of world history.
D) Ten kings will arise from the fourth kingdom.
I take it that these ten kings represent ten end-time rulers or nations that will in some way be related to the territory of the old Roman empire. How or who or what or when is not clearly revealed, making speculation useless.
E) One king will arise from among the ten kings and become dominant.
Again, we don’t know who this person will be or how he will rise to power or how he will subdue three of the ten kings. All of that will become clear in the days preceding the return of Christ to the earth.
F) We commonly call that one king the antichrist.
Daniel 7 offers the first extended revelation in the Bible about the antichrist. There is further information in the New Testament, especially Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2, and Revelation 13-19.
G) The antichrist will be an arrogant man who will attack the saints and will blaspheme God.
Daniel’s vision concerns the character of this “little horn.” It is clear that he speaks “boastful words” in his rise to worldwide power. Along the way he persecutes the saints of God and openly blasphemes the Lord God. In the end he will set up himself as God on earth and command all people to worship him.
Daniel 7: 25 adds this cryptic bit of information. He will “try to change the set times and the laws.” No one really knows what this means. Will it involve somehow adjusting the time schedule so that we no longer have a 24-hour day? Will he invoke a five-day week? Or a 15-month year? Changing the laws indicates that he will attack the moral foundations of society. When the antichrist comes to power, wrong will become right and right will become wrong. Moral values will be inverted as he makes his final mad bid for world domination.
H) He will be in power for 3½ years but will be suddenly destroyed by God.
The last phrase of Daniel 7:25 tells us that “the saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.” That evidently refers to a 3½ year period in which he will have total power on the earth. I believe that will happen during the last half of the seven-year tribulation period just before the Lord Jesus Christ returns to the earth to set up his kingdom.
I) Jesus Christ is the king who will defeat the antichrist and establish his kingdom on the earth.
The story of the great battle between Christ and the antichrist may be found in Revelation 19:19-20.
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
The “little horn” of Revelation 7 is also the “antichrist” who is called “the beast” in Revelation. Though known by many names, he comes to the same end every time. He will be cut off at the height of his power, suddenly destroyed, utterly defeated, and thrown alive into the lake of fire where he will be tortured for ever and ever. This will be the final destiny of the little horn with the big mouth. You might call it “Battle of the Big Little Horn.” We more commonly call it the Battle of Armageddon.
J) The saints of God will inherit the kingdom and reign with Christ forever.
If some of these details seem hard to follow, don’t feel bad. And don’t be surprised. When Daniel heard the interpretation, he was troubled and a look of grave concern came on his face (Daniel 7:28). He decided not to tell anyone else, probably because the vision seemed beyond human comprehension.
But the end of the story is always the same. Once earthly kingdoms have been overthrown and the Lord’s kingdom established, God’s people will reign with the Lord on the earth forever. This is the best news of all from Daniel 7. Jesus Christ wins in the end and those who are joined with him by faith share in his triumph.
History As God Sees It
Daniel 7 teaches us some important lessons about history from God’s point of view.
1. Though we glory in our accomplishments, God sees human history as a succession of empires built on immorality, greed, and violence.
We see the pomp and the glory, we revel in our prosperity, and we claim that the state of the union has never been better. But God sees through all the smoke and mirrors. He isn’t fooled. Not for a second. What we worship as beautiful, he sees as ugly, decadent, and violent.
2. Human history will come to a terrible climax in the future reign of antichrist.
This is the logical end of humanism. When you leave God out, you get the antichrist. When you take down the Ten Commandments, you get Columbine. Which is one reason the Colorado legislature is considering a bill to post the Ten Commandments in every public school in the state. Would it have made a difference in Littleton? Who knows? But turning away from the moral foundations of Western Civilization can hardly be called an improvement. The antichrist rises precisely because nature abhors a vacuum. When you dispense with God, you must fill the void with something else.
3. Human History will again see the direct intervention of God.
This is wonderful news for believers and terrifying news for everyone else. Men say, “Where is the promise of his coming? All things continue as they have from the beginning of creation. Nothing ever changes. All those miracles that happened back in Bible times, and all those plagues, that could never happen again” (see 2 Peter 3:1-9).
Wrong! Jesus said “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:26-27). And what were they doing in Noah’s day? Eating, drinking, and getting married. That is, it was life as usual. Then one day without warning, the rains came down and the floods came up. And just like that an entire civilization was destroyed. Something even more devastating will happen in the future when Jesus returns and overthrows the antichrist and his gathered forces.
4. When Christ sets up His Kingdom, His saints will rule with him.
This is our hope for the future. We who have joined ourselves with Christ by faith will rule and reign with him. He will win the victory and we will “receive” the kingdom from him.
The Shape of the Future
Suppose we stand back for a few moments and survey this prophecy as a whole. Much of it has already been fulfilled. The first three kingdoms have come and gone and the fourth kingdom ended as an organized entity 1600 years ago. That ought to give us confidence that the rest of Daniel 7 will someday be literally fulfilled. If that is true, what should we look for in the future as we near the end of this age? Here are six trends to watch for, all of them based on Daniel 7.
1. Rise in spiritual counterfeits and false authorities.
Jesus warned us in Matthew 24 to beware of false Christs and those who claim to come in his name (Matthew 24:4-5, 10-11). In the last days spiritual counterfeits will appear who will lead many people astray.
2. Search for a leader who can bring the world together.
The “little horn” will arise precisely because he promises to unite the nations. Isn’t this what the world wants? And isn’t that what the pundits predict for the new millennium? Note the following quote from former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, taken from an interview with the BBC:
I think we are realizing that we are going to have to have an international rule of law. We need not only an executive to make international law, but we need the military forces to enforce that law and the judicial system to bring the criminals to justice before they have the opportunity to build military forces that use these horrid weapons that rogue nations and movements can get hold of—germs and atomic weapons. Our whole society is in danger—more than it’s ever been from limited numbers of people—terrorism, national war movements, civil war type movements. There’s going to be a realization of that now. Whereas before, there was a possibility of each nation being in its own way insular, particularly the USA, being protected by two great oceans. We are not protected by two great oceans any longer. American people are going to begin to realize that perhaps they are going to have to yield some sovereignty to an international body to enforce world law, and I think that’s going to come to other people as well. It’s a fair distance to get there, but we are not ever going to get there unless we keep trying to push ourselves onto the road. (From BBC News Online, Friday, January 28, 2000)
That’s a long quote but I included it because it shows how quickly we are moving from national sovereignty to a call for some kind of executive to enforce international law. Cronkite plainly says that America must prepare to “yield some sovereignty” to an international body. And we should do it, he says, in the name of peace and security against terrorism.
We will hear much more talk like this in the future.
3. More bloodshed and violence among the nations.
This comes directly from Daniel 7. Each succeeding beast is more bloodthirsty than the previous one. I ran across a headline this morning that reports some Pentagon officials have concluded that China is preparing for war with the United States. But this should not surprise us since Jesus himself said there will be “wars and rumors of wars” until he returns (Matthew 24:6). My point is that these things won’t diminish as we near the end; they will increase in fury and in tempo.
4. Increasing hostility to Christians and to the gospel message.
In recent days I have been deeply convicted on this point. No one can read Daniel’s story without being impressed with his courage in the face of ridicule and hatred. Nothing has changed since then. The people of the world still hate the people of God. Jesus warned his followers to expect trouble in the world (John 14:18-25). “If they hated me, they will hate you also.” For far too long we Christians in the West have lived in a kind of “bubble” of personal peace and safety while our brothers and sisters in places like Sudan, Somalia, parts of India and China, and in many other countries have paid in blood for their faith. I believe the “easy days” are coming to an end as the benign veneer is ripped away from humanism and we see the ugly face underneath. Hard times are coming as the “bubble” begins to burst. Are you ready?
5. Massive rejection of traditional morality.
This follows from everything else. The whole point of humanism is to produce a worldview that leaves God out. Thus we have evolution instead of creation, widespread sexual immorality, the glorification of homosexuality, and the redefinition of marriage and the family. The Bible warns us against those who call evil good and good evil. Brace yourself. The worst is yet to come.
6. Apparent victory of evil.
There will be times when the bad guys seem to have won it all. During the final 3½ years of the tribulation, it will look to the untaught as if God has been dethroned and the world has fallen completely into the lap of the antichrist.
As those days come nearer, don’t be surprised at “preliminary victories” by the forces of darkness. After all, the whole world lies in the devil’s lap already. He reigns as a kind of “squatter king” over the world God created for his own glory. Until he is forcibly evicted, he will “rule the roost” and appear to be invincible.
What Difference Does it Make?
What difference does all this make? After all, this is ancient prophecy that touches ancient history and yet-future events. Should it matter to us? How then should we live? Here are five answers to that question. The truth of Daniel 7 should …
1. Increase our confidence in God.
He knows the future because he is the God of tomorrow. Though many things that happen around us make no sense at all, we can rest in the thought that God is working out his plan step by step. God is not worried about the “little horn” or any other horn for that matter. He knows how to “de-horn” the antichrist when the time comes. So take heart and trust in God.
2. Give us patience while we wait.
Certainly this was a message the Jews in exile needed to hear. “Though the wheels of God grind slowly, they grind exceeding small.” While we may not live to see the final fulfillment of Daniel 7, we know that sooner or later, it’s all going to happen just as God said it would. Be patient, child of God. The Lord will complete that which concerns you.
3. Wean us away from our trust in the kingdoms of this world.
Here is a word to everyone who is making money in the current economic boom. Good for you. Enjoy these days. Invest in the IPOs. Do some daytrading. Build a career with a big company. Hitch your wagon to the nearest corporate star and see how far you can go. Those things are not bad or evil. But don’t put your trust in them. The kingdoms of the world, and the companies of the world, and the careers of the world, they come, they go, they rise, they fall, and soon they will all be destroyed by God. Use the world but don’t fall in love with it.
4. Warn us of the spirit of antichrist which is the spirit of this age.
First John 2:18 makes this point forcefully. There are many antichrists already in the world. These are men and women whose seductive purpose is to entice people into following them down the primrose path of personal destruction. Caring only for themselves, they stop at nothing to gain a following. Beware of anyone who promises you peace, safety, and security apart from God.
5. Call us to courage in the difficult days to come.
You may wonder if I believe in the Rapture of the Church. The answer is yes I do. But I can’t tell you how long until the Rapture happens. That is hidden in the mind and heart of God. If Daniel 7 is to be taken literally, it predicts a deterioration of the spiritual condition as we enter the final period of world history. Our call is to be strong and of good courage while we wait for the Lord to return from heaven.
6. Remind us that those who belong to Christ are on the winning side.
As the gospel song says, I’ve read the end of the book and we win. That’s certainly the final note of Daniel’s amazing vision. Bad days are coming for planet earth, but in the end those who know the Lord will reign with him.
A few days ago I ran across a sentence that stuck in my mind: “All the threads of history lead to the throne room of God.” How true that is. So many times the “threads” of life seem to dangle meaninglessly. Or they are entangled in a hopeless knot. If we could see the big picture, we would discover that every thread of life leads back to God.
Daniel 7 tell us that there are four kingdoms, and then there is a fifth. Today we live in turmoil. In a sense judgment has already begun as nations rise and fall, the killing continues around the world, and our leaders repeatedly disappoint us. All these things are but the beginning of sorrows. Yet we should not lose heart. The best and worst is yet to come. History is leading to a awesome climax as the antichrist briefly rules the world in a desperate bid to dethrone God Almighty. But as a friend likes to remind me, God Almighty is God All-Mighty. History leads to the antichrist but it doesn’t stop there. It leads on to the return of Jesus Christ in power and great glory.
Today God lays his hand on us. He sees us in the midst of the swirling, fighting, bloodthirsty nations. He sees us in our confusion and in our frustration. He knows that we are easily baffled by circumstances and quickly led astray. We are part of that great roiling sea of humanity Daniel saw. In the midst of all that happens around us, God bids us to look up to his throne. Look up to the One who holds history in his hands. “Look up,” Jesus said, “for your redemption draws near.”
I find great encouragement from the fact that a great stone hit the statue in Daniel 2 and smashed it to bits. That Stone is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Rock of Ages, the Stone of Stumbling, and the Rock of Our Salvation. He is the stone the builders rejected. That stone has become the cornerstone of salvation. And someday (may it be soon, Lord) that stone will smash the statue and the kingdoms of the earth will disappear.
Where will you be when the stone hits the statue? If you are on the stone, you will be safe. If you are under the stone, you will be smashed like everyone else. Build your life on the Stone of God’s Salvation, the Rock of Ages, the Lord Jesus Christ. Stand on the Stone and in the Last Day you will be still be standing when everything else has disappeared. Amen.
- Listen to this sermon (44:34)
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Daniel: Courageous Living in Turbulent Times
» SEE SERMONS IN THIS SERIES
Dare to be a Daniel Daniel 1:8-21
The World According to God Daniel 2
A Time to Disobey Daniel 3
But If Not Daniel 3:17-18
The King Who Went Crazy Daniel 4
God’s Graffiti Daniel 5
How to Tame Lions Daniel 6
Animal Parade Daniel 7
Goats 1, Rams 0 Daniel 8
The Positive Power of Prayer Daniel 9:1-23
A Peek into God's Calendar Daniel 9:24-27
War in Heavenly Places Daniel 10
Who is the Antichrist? Daniel 11
The Last Days According to Daniel Daniel 12» Index for this sermon series