Every prophecy teacher has an opinion of what Daniel’s four beasts represent. Some consider them ancient kingdoms only, some consider them modern. What does the Bible say?
Daniel’s Four Beasts
Prior to AD 2000, nearly every commentary on Daniel considered these beasts to be Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome (in that order). After the publication of Joel Richardson’s Islamic Antichrist and Mideast Beast, many prophecy teachers have now revised their opinions to replace “Rome” with “Islamic Caliphate” as the fourth beast. Then in 2013, Mark Davidson published “Daniel Revisited” and proposed the theory that these beasts will be modern countries of Iraq, Iran, a Sunni confederation, and the Beast Empire. We will explore both of these opinions in this article, as well as other theories that the beasts are the United States, Britain, Russia, Germany, and the United Nations.
In our last article, we presented the parallels between Dan. 2 and Dan. 7 in the following table:
|Dan. 2||Dan. 7||Commonalities|
|Head of Gold||Lion with Eagles Wings||Head leads the body Dan. 2:38; Lion is King of the Beasts Dan. 7:4|
|Chest and Arms of Silver||Bear||Bear has “ribs” in mouth Dan. 7:5; Chest has ribs|
|Belly and thighs of Bronze||Leopard||Bronze Kingdom rules over earth Dan. 2:39; Leopard is given dominion Dan. 7:6|
|Legs of Iron||Fourth Terrifying Beast||Iron crushes Dan. 2:40; Fourth Beast crushes Dan. 7:7|
|Ten Toes||Ten Horns||Ten Toes on “feet” Dan. 2:33, Toes called “kings” Dan. 2:44; Beast with Ten Horns tramples under “feet” Dan. 7:7, Horns called kings Dan. 7:24|
|Stone and Mountain||Kingdom Given to Jesus and Saints||Kingdom will never be destroyed Dan. 2:44; Kingdom is everlasting Kingdom Dan. 7:24|
The parallels between the visions are extraordinary. There can be no doubt the visions are looking at the same six empires. We now must only identify the kingdoms .
The First Three Beasts
These beasts are found in Daniel 7:
The four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. 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. 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!’ 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. 7:2-7 NASB, emphasis mine)
All the beasts arise out of the sea. We are told in Rev.17 that the sea or “waters” are “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”
The lion with eagle’s wings is a perfect picture Ancient Babylon. Jer. 4:6-7 is speaking of Babylon and the prophet calls it a lion, “A lion has gone up from his thicket, and a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste. Your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.” In Ezek. 17:1-24, the prophet tells a parable of two eagles and a Cedar tree. The eagles are the kings of Egypt and Babylon and the Cedar is Israel. Combining these symbols, we have a lion with eagle’s wings. In Ezekiel’s parable the eagle uses his wings to fly to the top of the Cedar and carry off branches. This is a picture of Nebuchadnezzar carrying off the King of Israel and his royal court. If the wings of the lion are “plucked” off, this is a symbol of the lion being defeated and no longer being able to invade.
In Dan. 4, we see a dream of Nebuchadnezzar that was interpreted by Daniel. In that dream, Nebuchadnezzar was given a “beast’s mind” (Dan. 4:16) and his hair and nails grew to be like an eagle’s feathers and claws (Dan. 4:33). At the end of a seven-year period, Nebuchadnezzar’s mind was restored to him, and of course he cut his hair and nails. This is a picture of the lion being given a human mind.
The bear that is raised up on one side is a picture of Persia. The Persian Empire at that time was the empire of the Medes and the Persians, but the Persians had become the stronger faction, thus the bear was “raised up” on one side showing the strength of the Persians. The three ribs were the three kingdoms the Persians had conquered: Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt.
The leopard with four wings and four heads is the Hellenistic Empire founded by Alexander the Great. After his death, it is said to have split into four sub-kingdoms, thus the four heads. These empires correspond to the first three kingdoms of the statue of four metals seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2): the head of gold (Babylon), the chest of silver (Medo-Persia), and the abdomen of bronze (Hellenistic).
All three of these beasts first appear in the Book of Hosea, written two hundred years before Daniel, which foretells that these beasts will tear Israel apart:
So I will be like a lion to them; like a leopard I will lie in wait by the wayside. I will encounter them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and I will tear open their chests; there I will also devour them like a lioness, as a wild beast would tear them. (Hos. 13:7 NASB, emphasis mine)
We have already learned that the final Beast Empire will be a combination of the Babylonian Kingdom, the Medo-Persian Kingdom, and the Hellenistic Kingdom.
From this we can say with assurance that the first three beasts are at least partially fulfilled by Babylon, Persia, and Greece. This does not preclude a modern fulfillment as well, but we cannot say these beasts are strictly end of days Kingdoms. They are historic as well.
Saying these beasts are the United States, the UN, Britain, Russia, or other modern western powers, however, is just wrong in my opinion. There is zero biblical support for that position. The land masses of Babylon, Persia, and Greece are clearly and biblically defined in this prophecy.
The Fourth Terrifying Beast
Daniel’s primary interest was, and ours should be, with the final, fourth Beast, however. It is this Beast that will be led by the Antichrist, will conquer Jerusalem, and will persecute the Jews and Christians unto death.
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. 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 (the little horn) possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts. (Dan. 7:7-8 NASB, clarification and emphasis mine)
First, he is identified by his heads and his horns. From the above passage we see It has ten horns, and from the following passage we see it has seven heads:
Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. (Rev. 13:1-2 NASB, emphasis mine)
We can also identify the fourth beast, “the Beast,” by its actions:
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. (Dan. 7:7 NASB, emphasis mine)
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 (the other kingdoms) in pieces. (Dan 2:40 NASB, emphasis mine)
Joel Richardson has used this verse (Dan. 2:40) to eliminate Rome as a potential candidate as the fourth kingdom (the fourth beast.) This passage clearly states that the fourth kingdom will crush the other three. Since Rome never defeated Persia and only occupied Babylon for a single year, it must be eliminated from contention as the fourth kingdom (Beast). Joel’s book Mideast Beast also contains numerous other proofs as the identity of the Islamic Caliphate as this kingdom and I refer you there to continue your study.
Future Fulfillment Implications
We have now established the historic identity of Daniel’s four beasts: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and the Islamic Caliphate. We know from Rev. 13 and 17 that the Islamic Caliphate will receive a fatal head wound (in 1924) and will rise in the last days as the kingdom of the Antichrist. From this we know the fourth beast will be present in the end times. What about the other beasts? What is there fate?
Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time [literally “season and a time”] (Dan. 7:11-12)
This is a very interesting passage. It seems to imply that the Lion, Bear and Leopard will live on longer than the Islamic Caliphate (the fourth beast) that will be burned in the lake of fire after the return of Christ. If that is true, they are still existing in today’s world.
In conversations I’ve had with Joel Richardson about this verse, his opinion of it (in 2014) was that the “lives of Babylon, Persia, and Greece” (their influence) were allowed to live on for a while after they were conquered thousands of years ago. In his opinion, however, they aren’t still with us today.
I am not sure I agree with Joel. First in Rev. 13:2 we are told the forth beast incorporates the other beasts into it: “And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion.” Second, Dan. 7: 11-12 seems to imply a chronology that the Fourth Beast is killed first, but the other Beasts are allowed to live on for a “season and a time.”
Mark Davidson has proposed in his book Daniel Revisited that the first three beasts have an end time fulfillment as Iraq, Iran, and a Sunni Confederacy of four nations (Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Albania). This viewpoint certainly permits a more clear reading of Rev. 13: 2 and Dan. 7:11-12. Mark supports this viewpoint by stating that Iraq has already fulfilled 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 (literally “heart”) also was given to it.” Mark claims that Iraq (the land mass of historic Babylon) under Saddam Hussein was defeated by the USA (“wings plucked”) and made into a democracy (given a human heart). But is this a clear reading of the passage? It is certainly much less elegant than the interpretation above about ancient Babylon. The symbol of “wings” come from Ezek. 17 and demonstrate a conquering of Israel that Saddam never accomplished. The giving of a human “heart” speaks of Dan. 4 where it appears Nebuchadnezzar repented and became a “believer” in YHWH. The formation of a democracy in Iraq seems a pale stretch for saying it fulfills the giving of a human heart as if the Iranian dominated government there is any more human than Saddam’s.
So although I agree with Mark’s interpretation of Dan. 8, extending it to Dan. 7 doesn’t seem correct; it is not impossible, nor is it dangerous interpretation, but it seems off in several major regards.
Could the Lion be speaking of ISIS instead of Iraq? Yes, it could. We will have to continue to view world events to see if a more elegant fulfillment of prophecy takes place with ISIS than Saddam’s Iraq; but I doubt it will. It seems that Iran will invade and defeat ISIS and I can’t imagine them being given a “human heart” at that point, but we shall see.
Dan. 7: 11-12
So how do we interpret Dan. 7:12, that the dominion of the first three beasts are taken away but their lives are extended for a season and a time?
After Jesus returns, Islam (the fourth beast) will be destroyed. The land masses of the Lion, Bear, and Leopard will still exist, however. Upon Jesus’s immediate arrival upon earth, there will be much work for us to accomplish. The cities will lie in ruins, the Temple will be desecrated, and Jesus’s new government will need to be instituted world-wide. Although some think Jesus will snap his fingers and this will be accomplished, I do not. I see it as a millennial long process which will be delegated to us!
Especially within the first year, there will need to be systems in place to support the survivors of the Great Tribulation. Will those systems be “countries?” I think they will; and those countries may include the Lion, Bear and Leopard. Then when Jesus’s government is ready to administer the region, the Lion, Bear, and Leopard will be disbanded. Interestingly this period is called a “season and a time.” We know from “time, times and half a time” that a time is a year. Is a season 3 months? Maybe. So this period of a year or so may be an administrative period. At least that is my current opinion.