Nebuchadnezzar was not the only one to have a vision of the future course of world history. After Daniel was given the interpretation for the king’s dream, he went on to have several prophetic visions of his own. Each of these predictions adds considerable detail to what was first given in the prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. In the seventh chapter of his book, Daniel records how he had an unusual vision while he slept one night, many years after the king’s original dream. The experience was terrifying for him and much different than the one he saw before. The opening verses set the scene:
“I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.
“And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.”
Daniel’s vision begins with a raging, dark sea of ominous character—the wind roaring upon it and the waves tossing with angry intent. The very sight of this terrifying ocean would be enough to send nightmarish shivers down anyone’s back, especially in the middle of a dark night. But the vision did not end there. As he continued to dream, suddenly out of the sea arose four great beasts or animal-like, mutant creatures one after another. As they ascended from the raging depths, each of them was seemingly more frightening than the one which came before. This is the way Daniel described them:
“The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings; I beheld till its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man; and a man’s heart was given to it.
“And, behold, another beast, a second, like a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between its teeth; and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.
“After this I beheld, and, lo, another, like a leopard, which had upon its back four heads, and dominion was given to it.
“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet; and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.”
Can you imagine what it might be like to have a vision from the Lord as dramatic as this one and have it take the form of a realistic dream of horrifying imagery? It’s one thing to have a typical nightmare and become frightened because of its realism, but it’s another thing altogether to be the recipient of a intense vision from God. So awesome was this experience for Daniel that when it was all over he said,
“…[I was] grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.”
Daniel became sick and was troubled long after the night of his vision. He was shocked by the intensity of the images and became physically ill from the implications of what the images of the beasts might mean.
Most people who read this prophecy for the first time come away confused as to what all the symbolism of the raging sea and beasts might mean. Daniel was also confused as to what he saw, so afterward as recorded in the same chapter, the Lord gave him an opportunity to ask an angel what it all meant. This is what the angel said to Daniel that day:
“These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, who shall arise out of the earth.
“But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.”
Decades after Nebuchadnezzar had his original dream of four great world powers arising in the earth, Daniel was now having a vision of the very same thing using different symbolism. Instead of the body parts of a gigantic metallic image of a man representing the empires that were to come, he was seeing these powers as animal-like, mutant beasts coming out of a raging sea. Each of these beasts can be seen to have direct correlation to the four parts of the king’s image.
The first beast coming from the sea is described as a lion, which corresponds to the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s image. It is described in Daniel’s vision as being the king of the beasts, just as in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the head of gold was the pinnacle of all the other empires to come. Remember that in the king’s previous vision, the priceless gold construction of the head represented the glory and splendor of Babylon. The symbolism behind the lion of Daniel’s vision is almost identical. The lion of Babylon initially has wings that can soar high and ascend to great heights as a world power. However, within the full description of this first beast, the prophecy also symbolically speaks of some of the historical events surrounding the life of Nebuchadnezzar—details which were not included in Nebuchadnezzar’s own dream. The way Daniel describes the plucking off of the wings of this beast and how it was subsequently given a man’s heart bespeak of the downfall and humbling of Nebuchadnezzar as told in Daniel chapter four.
The second mutant beast that came from the sea was described as a bear that raised itself up on one side and had three ribs in its mouth. This turns out to be a perfect representation of the “arms and breast of silver” from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, or the Medo-Persian empire, which was predicted to follow Babylon. In reality, Persia was destined to be much more powerful than the Median part of the empire, thus the beast was seen to be “raised up” on one side. In addition, the three ribs in its mouth probably represent the three main parts of the empire, namely Persia, Media, and the Babylonian portion (which was conquered in the kingdom’s rise to power).
Greek dominance came next according to the previous vision, and in this revelation Daniel adds some fascinating details which describe what happened to the empire after Alexander’s day. The Lord gave Daniel the vision of a leopard coming out of the sea to represent Greece, and this symbolism is not without purpose. It turns out to be a perfect prophecy of how the empire rose to power, namely with the swift battle victories of Alexander’s army. The leopard is one of the fastest land animals, able to run up to 45-50 miles per hour, which symbolically represents the incredible rate at which Alexander defeated his enemies from Macedonia to Persia and throughout the Middle East. In less than ten years, the Greeks successfully conquered the entire power base of the Persian Empire—just like the quickness of a leopard in its attack. However, very soon after the rapid consolidation of the bulk of the Greek Empire, it just as suddenly split apart in the year 323 B.C. after Alexander’s unexpected death.
In Daniel’s dream, the “leopard” is described as having four heads upon its back. Although it may seem difficult to interpret what he means by this brief description, if we include some additional information from chapter eight of Daniel and compare it to known historical data concerning the Greek Empire, this somewhat obscure symbolism becomes an amazingly accurate prophecy. In chapter eight, Daniel prophesies of the coming of the Persian and Greek Empires in much greater detail than in the previous vision of chapter seven. In fact, so clearly did the Lord reveal the coming of these two kingdoms that Daniel even mentions the empires by their correct names centuries before they arose. In the beginning of his prophecies he sees the Persian Empire as being symbolically represented by a ram with two horns—one of the horns sticking up higher than the other. Again this speaks of the Persian portion of the empire being more dominate than the Median part. He continues in the vision to see a he-goat come from out of the west with great speed and power, running right into the ram hard enough to kill it. According to the full description, the he-goat originally had one “notable horn” on its head. However, soon after it usurps the power of the ram, its great horn is broken and replaced by four other “notable ones” (see Dan. 8:3-8).
Daniel then goes on in chapter 8 to reveal exactly what all this symbolism means. In verse twenty, the angel Gabriel begins to interpret the vision for him and says,
“The ram which thou sawest, having two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia”.
He then continues by telling us about the other main symbolic character, saying that
“…the rough goat is the king of Greece, and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power”.
Dan. 8:21- 22
With this information in hand, the vision of the third beast in chapter seven can now be fully interpreted. According to all of these prophecies, as soon as the Greek empire was to become consolidated under the control of its first king, it would then be divided into four parts, none of which would remain under his leadership.
This is precisely what happened in Daniel’s future—over two hundred years after he wrote these words. When Alexander the Great died, the Greek Empire did not remain as a single political entity. Instead, four of his principle generals who were loyal to him before his death, afterward bitterly fought for control of the kingdom. Finally, the empire broke apart into four independent Greek-controlled territories roughly consisting of the areas of Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, and Macedonia. This state of division generally continued until the rise of the fourth world empire of Rome.
Some may contend that because this is supposed to be about prophecies of the Second Coming of Christ, it is not necessary to learn about these prophecies which have obviously been fulfilled long ago. However, an understanding of Biblical history, especially prophetic Biblical history, is extremely important for a proper interpretation of the prophecies of the last days. If we couldn’t comprehend how and when these predictions came to be fulfilled in our past, then how would we ever be able to identify and interpret those prophecies which relate to the return of Christ and which also have yet to be fulfilled? It is therefore of utmost importance to understand the prophecies of the nations, because every one of them ultimately leads to the fascinating predictions concerning that last world empire, which will be ruled by the Antichrist himself. As will soon become evident, many of the predictions concerning the last days would be virtually unintelligible if it were not for a proper understanding of Daniel’s four world empires.