Exposition of Daniel 7:15-28 Resolving Daniel’s inner turmoil

Daniel 7:15–28

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever — yes, for ever and ever.’

19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws — the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell–the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.

23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.

26 “’But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

28 “This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”

If we had seen the visions that Daniel saw, we might have felt the same distress or even worse! He had enough experience with visions to feel the threat level, and the need for reliable interpretation was clear. To get information about “all this,” he approaches one standing before the Ancient of Days (verse 16).

The interpreting angel immediately defines the four beasts as four “kings” (verse 17), but he also says that the fourth beast represents a “kingdom” (verse 23), showing “how interchangeable the two ideas are in the vision.”[1] Verses 17 and 18 serve as a very compressed summary of the action, but two points receive stress: (1) “the holy people of the Most High” are the ones who finally receive the kingdom, and (2) their possession of the kingdom is permanent in the extreme.

That second point is expressed by an Aramaic sequence that Miller translates as “forever — yes for ever and ever.”[2] The phrase contains three instances of the Aramaic noun meaning “remote time, eternity.”[3] The interpreting angel wanted to contrast the eternality of God’s kingdom with the transitory nature of the human kingdoms that preceded it.

Because the fourth king/kingdom is so hideous and powerful, Daniel is concerned to know more about it (verse 19). For this reason, many new details emerge in verses 20–26 concerning the revived Roman Empire, over which the Antichrist — “the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully” (verse 20) — will rule. Most disturbing is that the Antichrist will wage war against the holy people and defeat them until the judgment of the Most High ends his reign of terror (verses 21–22).

The angelic interpreter then reveals even more to Daniel. The empire of the fourth beast will conquer the entire earth (verse 23). The ten horns are ten contemporaneous kings, and the Antichrist will emerge as another king by defeating three of the ten (verse 24). The Antichrist will speak against the Most High and persecute his people (verse 25). That much is clear, but the second half of verse 25 is difficult. There are two views:

  1. The Antichrist will try to change “set times and the laws” that are likely related to religious freedom (verse 25). The holy people — meaning those who belong to God — will be in his hand “for a time, times and half a time” (verse 25b). Perhaps an apt analogy is to think of how Jesus was treated after he surrendered to the forces sent to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18–19). The enigmatic phrase “for a time, times and half a time” (verse 25b) is thought by Miller to mean 3½ years[4] and Wood[5] agrees.
  2. The Antichrist will try to change “the regular timings of the cosmos,”[6] which will be in his hand for an undetermined period of time that is ultimately cut short. Goldingay says, “‘A period, periods and half a period’ is not a cryptic way of saying 3½ years … . Nor is ‘a period, periods and half a period’ simply a convoluted way of saying 3½ periods.”[7]

Though the former view is quite popular — and can be supported by making additional assumptions — it is hard to decide which view is correct. In either case, the people of God who live under the rule of the Antichrist are in for a terrible experience.

When the angel says “the court will sit” (verse 26), he is looking back to verses 9–10. Based on the facts, the Ancient of Days will forever take away the world-spanning sovereignty exercised by the fourth beast. All such sovereignty will become the inheritance of “the holy people of the Most High” (verse 27). It is the Messiah to whom all sovereignty is given, and “all rulers will worship and obey him” (verse 27). The worship and obedience of those rulers may, in some cases, be grudging, but they will give the Messiah such worship and obedience or die, as Psalm 2 makes clear.

These visions took quite a toll on Daniel, and, if we understood them fully, we would take our loyalty to Christ all the more seriously. It is only God’s kindness toward us in Christ that will bring us through the coming cataclysm to our inheritance.

[It is important to realize that Revelation 13 and particularly Revelation 17 contain visions that overlap those revealed in Daniel 7. Tracing all the connections is quite instructive but lies beyond the scope of this study.]

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wood, Daniel, 196.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 211.

[3] HALOT, ʻālam, remote time, q.v.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 215.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 201.

[6] HALOT, ziman, a fixed time, q.v.

[7] Goldingay, Daniel, 181.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!