Read the Passage (NRSV)    Find more resources related to this passage  Print

Daniel 7:1-28 – Your Kingdom Come


Daniel 7 marks the shift from stories to visions and from third- to first-person narration. Now, Daniel, not a king, has dreams, and he himself needs an interpreter. Daniel sees a succession of terrifying and increasingly violent kingdoms. Unlike Daniel 1-6, Daniel himself is not under any immediate threat of death. Particular attention is given to the fourth kingdom out of which a final ruler emerges to challenge both the saints and God. The heavenly judgment, however, stands against him. He will not succeed. As in Daniel 3 and 6, in which Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel let the future be in God's hands, Daniel 7 encourages faithful persistence in the face of any kind of persecution.


Daniel sees a succession of four beasts, each destroying its predecessor. The fourth beast is more complicated; ten horns emerge from it followed by yet another horn termed a "little horn". Interpreters have often sought to identify the beasts of Daniel 7 with specific kingdoms or rulers, but all such attempts are disputed. Even in the case of "little horn," which many identify as Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ruler of Syria from 175-164 B.C.E.), interpreters dispute whether the reference is a prediction from the time of the exile or from a time much closer to Antiochus, even a "prophecy" after the fact. Commentators in the early church, however, saw the beasts as different Roman rulers. Others have sought to refer the visions to still other nations and periods of persecution. Various mythological echoes have been posited for the four winds, the great sea, and the four beasts. The language is evocative of prior accounts of chaos and turmoil of transcendent dimensions. It is perhaps sufficient to experience the evocation in general and to forego attempts to provide exact referents for the allusions.

The last beast or kingdom is described more fully than the others. The ten horns indicate a series of kings within the period of the fourth kingdom. The indication of its duration, together with its violence, makes this last kingdom unique. The horn that emerges from the others, the "little" horn, destroys the horns or rulers from its own kingdom. It speaks "arrogantly" (7:8, 20). The kingdom was particularly boastful, which precipitated increased violence directed specifically at the "holy ones of the Most High." Note the shift from mentioning only Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as exiles, as was the case in Daniel 1-6. The other kings and kingdoms attack each other. The last one, however, will also attack the Jews, who will by that time have returned from the exile to Judah and Jerusalem. In spite of this, as indicated by Daniel 2 and 7, God will have the final victory.

The title "Ancient One," the white hair, and the enormous number of attendants (7:9-10) suggest great longevity and durability. The reign of this one is long enough to encompass the destruction of each of the beasts or kingdoms. This emphasis reaches a climax in the language of 7:14. The "Ancient One" has everlasting dominion! This dominion is first extended to the "one like a human being" (traditionally translated "son of man") and then to the "holy ones of the Most High."

Daniel was shocked by the prospect of a future outburst of violence and persecution. His reaction is analogous to that of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2 and 4) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5). However, he turned to God for guidance, for he knew that the kingdoms were in God's hands and that their rising and falling was not subject to human control. Daniel was a servant of God who knew his place. He would not presume to know what only God could disclose; hence, the need for an interpreter.

The violence that is visited upon the people of God (7:21) is a part of the last ruler's attack against God. While the kingdom of God is the one thing certain about the future, the world will resist this kingdom with all it has. The most important thing is that God will break the resistance to God's kingdom and has promised to sustain and keep us in it. "Little horns" have continued to appear in history with sufficient regularity to suggest that Antiochus IV Epiphanes did not exhaust the category.

Daniel 7:1-28

Visions of the Four Beasts

7In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:* 2I,* Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. 5Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks* in its mouth among its teeth and was told, ‘Arise, devour many bodies!’ 6After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. 8I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.

Judgement before the Ancient One

9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
   and an Ancient One* took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
   and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
   and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
   and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousand served him,
   and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgement,
   and the books were opened.
11I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being*
   coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One*
   and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
   and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
   should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
   that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
   that shall never be destroyed.

Daniel’s Visions Interpreted

15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me,* and the visions of my head terrified me. 16I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17‘As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever.’

19 Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; 20and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn that came up, and to make room for which three of them fell out—the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others. 21As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, 22until the Ancient One* came; then judgement was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.

23 This is what he said: ‘As for the fourth beast,
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth
   that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;
it shall devour the whole earth,
   and trample it down, and break it to pieces.
24 As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
   and another shall arise after them.
This one shall be different from the former ones,
   and shall put down three kings.
25 He shall speak words against the Most High,
   shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,
   and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;
and they shall be given into his power
   for a time, two times,* and half a time.
26 Then the court shall sit in judgement,
   and his dominion shall be taken away,
   to be consumed and totally destroyed.
27 The kingship and dominion
   and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
   shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
   and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’

28 Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly terrified me, and my face turned pale; but I kept the matter in my mind.

Related Passages