When these prophecies are correlated to the last days before Christ returns, it is primarily the fourth world empire which is the most important to understand. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the fourth power (which we have before identified as the empire of Rome) was pictured within the image of a metallic human figure as the legs of iron as well as the feet and toes of iron and clay. At the end of the age, this power will consist of ten nations gathered together from within the same territory that was possessed by the once-united Roman Empire. Not surprisingly, this interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream also fits perfectly within the framework of Daniel’s prophecy of the four beasts. When Daniel begins to write about the fourth beast in chapter seven, he does so with an intensity and depth not found in any of his descriptions of the other three beasts. It is almost as if he sees the awesome power and evil of this future empire as being so overwhelming that he becomes frightened when he catches a glimpse of it. He says that this final empire will be “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly” (Dan. 7:7). He also says that it will be different and distinct from all the beasts that came before it.
According to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the fourth empire will be so strong and dominant that it will continue to exist all the way up to the point of God setting up his kingdom. In Daniel’s vision of this beast he tells us exactly how its worldwide supremacy will be accomplished. He symbolically sees the empire as having “great iron teeth” which it systematically uses to devour everything in its path. Daniel further correlates this description with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream by saying that as the beast conquers its enemies it “stamp(s) the residue with its feet“. The devouring iron teeth and the trampling feet of destruction of this fourth beast are unmistakable references to Nebuchadnezzar’s first vision.
However, there is also something significantly different between these two prophecies of empires. Daniel in his vision is mainly seeing the ruthless personalities of the empires (signified by the predator-like nature of the beasts), while in the previous prophecy Nebuchadnezzar was focused to a greater extent on their glory and dominion (signified by the impressive, strong, and valuable metals within the image’s construction).
The Ten Horns
The other correlating factor between the two visions occurs in the last phrase of chapter 7, (v. 7). Daniel makes the statement that the fourth beast, in addition to all its other characteristics, had ten horns. So important is this one point to our understanding of the political situation of the last days that Daniel actually spends most of the remaining twenty-one verses of this chapter describing it. Where Nebuchadnezzar previously saw ten toes signifying the ten nations which would make up the Roman Empire at the end of the age, Daniel now was seeing upon this “Empire-Beast”, ten horns. Thus, both visions can be correlated to the same empire and having similar characteristics, but described using different symbolic imagery.
The Little Horn
The Lord must have impressed upon Daniel the importance of this symbolism, because he immediately becomes very curious as to what these horns could possibly signify. In verse eight, Daniel says,
“I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before which there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots; and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
This single prophecy and those that build upon it are extremely important to understand if we are to make any sense of end time events and the final world order. First of all we need to realize what is happening in this vision. Daniel began by seeing a fourth creature rise out of a stormy sea. This beast was a caricature representing the entire empire of Rome in its fearful power and dominance. As he was observing this dreadful Empire-Beast and the ten horns that were upon its head, he narrows his focus to specifically consider the horns.
As Daniel’s eyes focused on the finer details of the beast, his prophecy also moved from generalizations concerning the empire as a whole to specific characteristics or discrete historical events within the time-span of its dominance. Daniel says that he “considered” these horns. In other words, he concentrated on them, and as he did, he noticed another “little horn” suddenly growing up among the other ten. This additional horn is not an eleventh nation, because his description tells us that it had “eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things”. The Lord was causing Daniel to move his attention from looking at the empire as a whole (the Empire-Beast itself) to the geographical or political makeup of it at the end (the ten horns) and finally to a prominent individual who would reign over it (the little horn). In verse eight of chapter seven, he goes on to say that when this little horn arises among the ten, that three of the first horns would be “plucked up by the roots”. This gives us the idea of a violent overthrow or a major coup within the empire which will cause or accompany this man’s meteoric rise to power.
Fortunately, the Lord provided Daniel with an interpretation to all this symbolism later in chapter seven, so we can now be certain of its meaning. An angel later came to him with the express purpose of clarifying the vision, especially with regard to what happens to the ten horns. This is what the angel began to say:
“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.”
The angel told Daniel in these verses that the four beasts he was seeing are indeed symbolic representations of the coming of four future world powers. However, he didn’t really go into great detail for any of the first three powers, because Daniel immediately expresses his desire to “know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others”. He specifically wanted to know about the “mouth that spoke very great things, whose look was more stout than its fellows” (see Dan. 7:19-20). This is how the angel answered his request:
“The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.
“And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise; and another shall rise after them, and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings.
“And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change the times and the laws; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
“But the judgment shall sit; and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.
“And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”
One thing this prophecy does is to position the events with respect to where our generation fits in the course of prophetic history. Since the fourth world empire has already had its day of absolute unity and has subsequently broken apart into many nations, we therefore must now live in the latter days of this prediction. We have no choice but to admit, based solely upon the words of Daniel, that most of the foreseen course of human history already has taken place, including the rise of the predicted four world empires and the fall of the first three. Seeing that this is true, the end of the age and the return of Christ must be much closer than most people have ever thought possible.
In addition, the angel that spoke to Daniel clearly explains what the ten horns are supposed to represent in this vision. He says in verse twenty-four that the “ten horns…are ten kings that shall arise”. Therefore, these horns must symbolically refer to the leaders of ten independent nations that will arise in the last days out of the remnant of the fourth kingdom or Empire-Beast.
We can now definitely say that at the end of this age the overall make-up of the “Roman Empire” will begin to manifest itself as some kind of confederation consisting of ten nations. Once this primary characteristic is fulfilled, an additional event is then prophesied to occur that will transform this loose association into a much more consolidated alliance. The angel first tells Daniel that among these ten nations another leader shall arise. This eleventh horn is really not another country, because Daniel describes him as only a “little horn”. He is said to arise among the first ten and not separate from them. In other words, his rise will not signify the coming of an eleventh nation into the confederation, but rather the rise of a particular leader from within it. Due to the tremendous effect this little horn will have upon the other ten, he will quickly become the most important force within the entire alliance.
As will become apparent through many other Biblical prophecies, it is this same little horn that will become the final world leader and who is also the person that Christians call the Antichrist. His coming will represent the beginning of the end for the fourth world empire, and also the final curtain call for the entire world. Before his rise, the ten nations that come out of the former Roman Empire will be “partly strong and partly broken” as symbolized in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream by the ten toes of iron and clay. They have the potential strength of iron, but are weakened by disunity as represented by the presence of clay. However, as soon as the little horn comes on the scene, the empire will be shaken and changed at its very foundations by his leadership and political power. The angel says that this man will be “diverse from the first” ten. So influential will be his personality and leadership that all ten leaders who ran the empire just prior to his coming will suddenly seem powerless. When the little horn arises, Daniel predicts, he will somehow assume the leadership of three of the first ten horns, either by political maneuvering or by military conquest. These events will be the defining factors surrounding the Antichrist’s rise to power.
Daniel thus records exactly when and how the Antichrist will rise to power. People have often tried to speculate when this event will occur. Unfortunately, trying to make a guess as to who the Antichrist might turn out to be or when he will arise without really paying attention to Biblical teachings has lead to many silly interpretations of prophecy. Notice, the angel clearly told Daniel that the Antichrist’s coming would occur only after the ten nations have arisen. This statement turns out to be our best guideline in watching for his appearance. The final Roman confederation of ten nations must be present in the world before we concern ourselves with the question of whether the Antichrist’s revealing is near.
The Bible also specifies exactly how he will rise to power. Daniel writes that when the Antichrist comes upon the world scene, three of the first ten horns would be “plucked up by the roots” (v. 8). The correct interpretation of this statement is given in verse twenty-four which simply says that he will “subdue three kings”. When he suddenly arises among the ten nations of the confederation, the Antichrist will wield such power that he will actually be able to cause the immediate downfall of three of them. In Daniel’s description it seems evident that this “up-rooting” will take the form of some kind of military uprising or coup. The Antichrist is prophesied to arise only after the alliance has been formed, and only then will he quickly assume the position of absolute leader over the entire empire by conquering three of the first ten nations.
Daniel is thus seen to set forth all the basic guidelines concerning the structure of the last world empire and the rise of its leader. According to his prophecies, the final form of the Roman Empire will initially consist of ten nations gathered out of the original Roman territories. The empire will not be completely unified at this point, but will be best characterized by the statements “partly strong and partly broken” and “iron mixed with miry clay”. Once this end-times confederacy arises, there also will suddenly arise along with it a dynamic leader upon the world scene who will come directly from among them. He will be considerably different from any of his contemporaries with respect to his political influence and ability to speak. In fact, this man will be so strong and powerful that three of the ten nations of the alliance will be subdued in his rise to power. He will also be heard to speak “great words” so as to cause all the people of the empire, and indeed of the entire world, to be impressed by his rhetoric.
Soon we will look in greater detail at this individual we call the Antichrist. But first we must look at a third prophecy concerning the final world order which is actually the last key to understanding all of these predictions. After this next chapter which comes from the book of Revelation, we will finally be able to put all of these prophecies together into one coherent theme—an account which will prove to have very interesting consequences for the prophetic significance of our generation.