The Meaning of Daniel's Vision
I was terrified by these visions, and I didn't know what to think. 16So I asked one of those standing there, and he explained, 17“The four beasts are four earthly kingdoms. 18 But God Most High will give his kingdom to his chosen ones, and it will be theirs forever and ever.”
19I wanted to know more about the fourth beast, because it was so different and much more terrifying than the others. What was the meaning of its iron teeth and bronze claws and of its feet that smashed what the teeth and claws had not ground and crushed? 20I also wanted to know more about all ten of those horns on its head. I especially wanted to know more about the one that took the place of three of the others—the horn that had eyes and spoke with arrogance and seemed greater than the others. 21 While I was looking, this horn attacked God's chosen ones and was winning the battle. 22 Then God Most High, the Eternal God, came and judged in favor of his chosen ones, because the time had arrived for them to be given the kingdom.
23Then I was told
by the one standing there:
“The fourth beast
will be a fourth kingdom
to appear on earth.
It will be different
from all the others—
it will trample the earth
and crush it to pieces.
24 All ten of those horns are kings
who will come from this kingdom,
and one more will follow.
This horn will be different
from the others,
and it will conquer
three other kings.
25 “This king will speak evil
of God Most High,
and he will be cruel
to God's chosen ones.
He will try to change God's Law
and the sacred seasons.
And he will be able to do this
for a time, two times,
and half a time.
26But he will finally be judged,
and his kingdom
27 “Then the greatest kingdom of all
will be given to the chosen ones
of God Most High.
His kingdom will be eternal,
and all others will serve
and obey him.”
28That was what I saw and heard. I turned pale with fear and kept it all to myself.
Some parts of the church give undue attention to the second half of Daniel and speak with great authority about its meaning. As for the rest of us, we are not left to walk totally in the dark. Images here are taken up in the New Testament and, in the text itself, explanation is given to reassure a troubled Daniel, who knew from the inside how power works.
This is the time of Belshazzar, who has no redeeming features in scripture but only arrogant self-regard.
The angel confirms the parallels with chapter 2 in its broad brush strokes – four empires emerging one after the other but all in the end replaced by the kingdom of God. People of faith need a long view. The reassurance is that, whatever they are called to face, the final word lies with God and his victory is secure. Each empire will disregard human rights, trample on the poor and oppress its people. The fourth, however, will be worse than the rest, challenging God directly and singling out God’s people for special treatment. Even then, there will be good news. As we read in older translations of the gospels, ‘it came to pass’ (e.g. Luke 2:1 KJV).
This is not a message to make you cheerful, for there is little cheer about. We are not talking about a bad day or even a horrible year, but about a whole life lived under unpredictable, irrational, hostile forces.
But when it looks as if things can never change, they will. When it looks as if evil has triumphed, it won’t. When common sense says ‘despair’, then don’t. God will win through and his Son will rule. Till then we must trust in God, wait with patience, be on our guard, show resolute courage and stick to our task. That takes daily faith and obedience.
Take a moment to pray for people and places that are facing a hard time just now, and ask that they be given strength to stand firm.
Father, help me to keep on trusting when sometimes there seems little to trust about. Thank you for the assurance that the final word lies with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
First used in Encounter with God, July to September 2015, written by Colin Sinclair, copyright Scripture Union. Used with kind permission.
Colin Sinclair is a Church of Scotland Minister serving a congregation in the centre of Edinburgh. He is married to Ruth and they have four adult children and three grandchildren. Colin served on the SU staff in Zambia 1974-77 and as General Director SU Scotland 1988-96 and is currently the chair of the SU International Council and Executive. Colin and Ruth led SU holidays together for many years. Publications: “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Bible”; has contributed regularly to Encounter with God/ Wordlive for the last decade.