Exposition of Daniel 8:1-8 How ancient events forecast our future

Daniel 8:1-8

1 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. 2 In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. 3 I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. 4 I watched the ram as it charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against it, and none could rescue from its power. It did as it pleased and became great.

5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. 7 I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power. 8 The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.

As we have said previously, the Bible is firmly anchored in history, and yet this history is presented along with its theological implications so that we can understand how our God influences history in both subtle and direct ways. Such is the case in Daniel 8. The revelations given to Daniel in “the third year of Belshazzar’s reign” (551 B.C.) informed him of international developments extending to at least 150 B.C., some 400 years later. That period would end with terrible persecution of God’s people.

While the then-future developments from 551 B.C. to 150 B.C. were certainly of interest to Daniel because of their effect on his people, that is not the main reason the prophetic visions were given. The angel ordered to explain the visions to Daniel said, “Understand that the vision concerns the time of the end” (verse 17). In other words, the events that developed through God’s intervention in the centuries just after Daniel’s time have direct bearing on how things will happen in “the time of the end” still in our future. For this reason, Jesus warned his disciples, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).

In case we have not been clear, you may live through the still-future events that will resemble the now-past events shown to Daniel. Not because we say so but because Jesus warnned us to stay ready.

Alexander the Great crushes Medo-Persia

As the vision begins (verse 2), Daniel sees himself in Susa, a fortified city located 230 miles east of Babylon and 120 miles north of the Persian Gulf.[1] Susa has an interesting history[2], but we must ask ourselves why Daniel sees himself in a location other than Babylon; commentators essentially ignore the question. Our own theory is that the imagined transfer of Daniel to another place and time is symbolic of the transfer of the events revealed to Daniel to another place and time. What that means is that Daniel is shown events that will unfold over the next 400 years, but those events have implications that must be transferred to the “time of the end.” Examples will be provided below.

Daniel sees a ram with two long horns (verse 3), which we will soon find to represent “the kings of Media and Persia” (verse 20). One horn was longer but grew that way later; Media was initially dominant in the relationship — such as in 539 B.C. when Babylon fell and Darius the Mede took over — but later Persia became the larger and more prominent. The Persian Empire, sometimes called the Achaemenid Empire, existed from 550 B.C. to 330 B.C., a period of 320 years. During that time the Persian armies rolled over their enemies, from India to Greece and from (modern) Turkey to Egypt (verse 4). But these developments were not known in 551 B.C. when Daniel received this vision!

Daniel had not yet digested the vision of the ram when a male goat with a single prominent horn approached swiftly from the west (verse 5). We learn in verse 21 that the goat represents Greece, and the prominent horn is its first king, Alexander the Great, ruling from 336 B.C. to 323 B.C. For a time he simultaneously held the titles King of Macedonia, Pharaoh of Egypt, and King of Persia. Even though the Persian armies always outnumbered Alexander’s forces by a wide margin, he crushed the Persians in every battle. Daniel says, “None could rescue the ram [Persians and Medes] from its power” (verse 7).

Alexander unexpectedly died at the age of 32 in 323 B.C. in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar; “At the height of its power the large horn was broken off” (verse 8). Four of Alexander’s generals divided the vast empire. Chisholm explains: “Cassander ruled Macedonia, Lysimachus controlled Thrace and Asia Minor, Selucus was in charge of Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt. This geographical diversity explains why the four horns are described as growing toward the four winds of heaven (v. 8b).”[3] Remember that none of this was known in 551 B.C. when Daniel saw the vision.

At this point in his life Daniel has seen Yahweh fulfill every element of the detailed dream given to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), including Nebuchadnezzar’s highly unlikely humbling and restoration to power. He knows that Yahweh has all kingdoms in his hands and can turn them as he wishes. The real question raised by these visions in chapter 8, which we know were fulfilled in detail, is this: Will we live our lives in full expectation that Yahweh will bring to pass those visions whose fulfillment still lies in our future? Best decide your answer now because what comes next maps from the past into our unknown future.

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, 207.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 221, explains that the famous legal Code of Hammurabi was discovered in the ruins of Susa in 1901. Esther later served as queen in Susa in a palace that has been fully excavated.

[3] Chisholm, Handbook of the Prophets, 311.

Exposition of Daniel 7:15-28, Resolving Daniels 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 Gods 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 1819). The enigmatic phrase for a time, times and half a time (verse 25b) is thought by Miller to mean 3 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 3 years … . Nor is a period, periods and half a period simply a convoluted way of saying 3 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 910. 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 Gods 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] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)196.

[2] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, vol. 18 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)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] John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1989)181.

Exposition of Daniel 7:9-14 The final end of beast-like human kingdoms

Daniel 7:9-14

9 As I looked,

thrones were set in place,

and the Ancient of Days took his seat.

His clothing was as white as snow;

the hair of his head was white like wool.

His throne was flaming with fire,

and its wheels were all ablaze.

10 A river of fire was flowing,

coming out from before him.

Thousands upon thousands attended him;

ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.

The court was seated,

and the books were opened.

11 Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)

13 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Todays section of Daniel 7 must surely rank near the top of all revelations contained in Gods holy and infallible Word. In it we learn that final authority does not rest in the brutal competition for power among turbulent humanity; final authority comes from heaven and has been given to the son of man. The one whose dominion is everlasting is none other than Jesus the Messiah, the one who died for us and rose again to rule forever. This revelation further explains the meaning of the rock in Nebuchadnezzars dream (Daniel 2) that strikes the image and shatters all the kingdoms into dust that blows away. Each vision in the book adds to those which have gone before.

While the little horn shouts blasphemies, Daniel continues watching. What unfolds before him is nothing less than the final judgment of the beasts and the enthronement of the final ruler, the man from heaven. Having seen symbolic events about the earth, Daniel now sees symbolic events about heaven, the place where final decisions are made.

The vision Daniel describes in verses 9-14 does not overflow with elaborate details as it seeks to express a reality no man has ever seen. The Ancient of Days assumes the role of judge, seated on his throne (verse 9). That his judgment must be feared is symbolized by the fire that flows from his throne (verse 10a), not to mention the fact that his throne itself is flaming fire (verse 9). Wood explains the phrase the court was seated (verse 10b) by saying, This reads, literally, the judgment sat. This is simply to say that the situation was ready for the business at hand.[1]

But, the judgment rendered by the Ancient of Days is not whimsical; it is based on the deeds and words of each person, that is, on actual fact. (Rev. 20:12). That is the meaning of the phrase the books were opened (verse 10b). Miller adds: Of course, ones eternal destiny will be determined by whether ones name is written in the book of life (cf. Dan. 12:1; Rev. 20:12, 15). After this is established, the reward of the believer or the degree of punishment for the lost will be fixed by what is inscribed in the record books.[2]

In context, both Daniel and the vast throng before the throne wait to see the judgment executed upon the fourth beast, and particularly upon the little horn, who was still speaking boastful words (verse 11a). This beast of such terrifying power is slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire (verse 11b). The ease with which the earths greatest and most evil empire is killed and eternally punished should send a chill down the spine of all who would oppose Yahweh and his anointed king (Psalms 2:2). For a time the Antichrist will raise his voice against God, but, at the appropriate time, that voice will be stilled in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).

The fate of the fourth beast has been revealed first because of its extreme significance. The revived Roman Empire, under the defiant rule of the Antichrist, brings opposition to God to the highest intensity in all human history. Daniel also speaks briefly about the other beasts in verse 12. Like the rising and falling waves in the sea-metaphor of verse 2, these three beasts (kingdoms) rose and fell in sequence, with the power and resources of one falling into the hands of the next. Wood explains, The empires prior to the [revived] Roman continued to exist in their respective successors, in that their people and culture were absorbed into them.[3]

The human kingdom Yahweh intended

As momentous as these events will be, it is ironic that Daniel has yet to recount his most important vision, the enthronement of the son of man and the establishment of his everlasting kingdom. Verses 13 and 14 are among the most important verses in the Bible. Here we find the phrase son of man, a title Jesus frequently applied to himself. One of the most telling instances occurs when Jesus was interrogated by the high priest before his crucifixion:

Again the high priest asked him, Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?

I am, said Jesus. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:61-62)

The high priest understood these claims and their connection to Daniel 7; he immediately called this statement blasphemy and led the group in condemning Jesus to death (Mark 14:63-64).

Both Jewish and Christian interpreters have historically understood the phrase son of man (verse 13) to be a reference to the Messiah, but some have recently said that it is a reference to the archangel Michael or to the Jewish people. However, verse 14 makes it clear that the son of man is to be worshipped by all peoples, and the Bible consistently teaches that only God is to be worshipped (Rev. 19:10).[4] Old Testament scholar Joyce Baldwin rightly says, The son of man is not only king but God, though, as is characteristic of apocalyptic style, this is conveyed in veiled terms.[5] Further, when Jesus applied the term to himself, his claim was understood by the high priest to be an assertion that he was both Messiah and God.

We are told in verse 14: His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Against those who might claim this kingdom is merely spiritual, Miller says: All of the other kingdoms described in this chapter are real, earthly empires; and it is best to see this kingdom as real and earthly as well. … Though his rule on earth will last one thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6), Christs sovereignty will not end after the millennium but will continue throughout eternity.[6] The continuation will occur in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 2122).

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

[1] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998) 189.

[2] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1994) 205.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 191.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 208.

[5] Joyce Baldwin, Daniel, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1978) 154.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 210.