Live to Win in the End

In verse 1-7, Daniel sees a vision of four kingdoms, the fourth of which was the most dominant (7:29). This kingdom would endure for a lengthy time giving rise to ten kings, after which, apparently an eleventh would arise that would exert more power than the others. Another view might be that this fourth kingdom would envelop ten other kingdoms as did the Roman Empire. Other interpretations have been given. In this process of the shifting of power, one would arise that would be particularly zealous in his persecution of the saints of God (24, 25). Many attempts to identify these kingdoms have been given through history, as each war and the haughty pretensions of dictatorial rulers prompt speculations on this. During the Puritan revolution, some people known as the Fifth Monarchy party, looked upon Oliver Cromwell as the little horn that would “wear out the saints of the Most High” (25). Others have put these events, especially of the fourth beast, into a period known as the Great Tribulation, to be overcome by a post tribulation, premillenial return of Christ. It is important to realize that Daniel has now lived long in the kingdom of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar is dead, and the first year of Belshazzar has begun. The conversion of Nebuchadnezzar would have been a momentous event but he soon died, and his son, who did not share his father’s submission to Yahweh, but resumed the haughty ridicule of the God of the Jews, now was in place. It is quite possible that Daniel was weary of the strength of paganism and was looking for respite and some assurance of the Lord’s continued purpose of providence. His answer, by gracious revelation from God, was that God continued his reign though worldly powers would replace one another.

I. The power exhibited by earthly potentates can appear formidable, but we must remember that they are only men who “arise out of the earth.” – 7, 8, 17

A. The fourth beast represents a kingdom that will have some remarkable longevity and amazing power – “Terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong.” Was it Rome, or the Turkish empire, or the earlier Syrian empire with the cruel Antiochus Epiphanes as the little horn that was three times as powerful and cruel as any of the other kings?

B. Perhaps it will have an advanced technology and ability to destroy those that oppose it, “Great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet.” It could refer to how well-equipped was the army of this fourth beast.

C. This beast (a secular state based on a desire for dominance, power, and wealth) had a succession of kings, or rulers, with the final ruler usurping authority from others in some way.

D. Though he boasts of great things with great threats and takes action particularly against the saints (21, 25), it must be born in mind that he is just a man. A similar vision is given to the apostle John at Patmos in Revelation 13:5-18. 666 means he’s a man, he’s a man, he’s a man.

II. All of the powers of earth rule only for a while and are all being judged in righteousness before the throne of God. 9-11

A. The thrones were placed, that is, already in place even while the changes in power were occurring on earth between all the kingdoms of beasts seen in Daniels’ vision.

B. The one that “took his seat” was the “Ancient of days,” an eternal one not given to the changes brought about by the passage of time. In Isaiah 6, the prophet saw him already seated on his throne. Even so in Revelation 4:2 we read, “a throne stood in heaven with one seated on the throne.” Here in Daniel, the “Ancient of Days took his seat.” This does not indicate that he was not ruling before, or that he had suspended his sovereignty for a season, but that a special intervention in the affairs of men is about to take place in the exertion of a mighty act of judgment.

C. This eternal being is seen as awesome in power and purity. Personal holiness and absolute purity in judgment seem to be indicated by the images of whiteness and fire. We find in Revelation 1:12-15 John’s vision of One described by those same images: “The hairs of his head were white, like wool, like snow. His eyes were flames of fire.” All the judgments to come in the Revelation would be carried forth with perfect equity, purity, perfect knowledge, and thoroughness.

D. Though powers of the world may not acknowledge him and may seek to vaunt themselves above any worship of him, Daniel sees that in heaven tens of millions of glorious beings serving him and standing in absolute readiness to do his bidding. Enoch, the seventh from Adam had also seen a vision of the ungodliness of worldly powers and the final judgment by divine power and glory. “Behold the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14, 15)

E. This Ancient of days knows all events, has them all recorded, and will allow nothing to escape his judgment. We may be sure that the holy God will defend his cause, his Law, his righteousness, his purpose, and his people.

III. The loudest power, with the most outrageous claims, will be destroyed in a moment by the power and purpose and justice of God. – 11, 12

A. This most powerful of all the beasts that has given rise to this loud-mouthed little horn will be destroyed in the midst of its speaking. Though this fourth beast was powerful and ruthless and had a sequence of rulers (7), it fell significantly in every element of its greatness and had left only grandiose boasts. At his most confident moment, this haughty, but merely earthly, power, speaking through a little horn with eyes like a man, is slain and rendered inconsequential, a non-entity among the remnants of other powers. When one is but a man and can see no further than a man, he who vaunteth himself will be brought down thoroughly and quickly.

B. The other beasts, and perhaps remnants of their kingdom and people will continue to exist, but no power will be theirs.

    • This could refer to Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome with remnants of each of these former kingdoms surviving within the successive kingdom. We are not given a timetable in this vision but we know for sure that God is in control of the rising and falling of each kingdom of man and that his rule eventually will be manifest in a visible way.
    • Augustine’s City of God is an extended theological analysis of God’s rule over all the permutations of power and glory that rise and fall in human governments. Augustine wrote in the preface: “The glorious city of God is my theme in this work, which you … suggested. … I have undertaken its defence against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city—a city surpassingly glorious, whether we view it as it still lives in this fleeting course of time, and sojourns as a stranger in the midst of the ungodly, or as it shall dwell in the fixed stability of its eternal seat, which it now with patience waits for, expecting until righteousness shall return unto judgment, and it obtain, by virtue of its excellence, final victory and perfect peace.”

IV. The one through whom righteous rule will be established is a righteous Redeemer fully pleasing to and equal in power and glory to the Ancient of Days, 13, 14

A. Daniel’s vision now focused on one like a “son of man” coming to the Ancient of days. He is presented before him.

    • This, in light of future events, manifestly refers to Jesus Christ, of the same essence as the Father but also taking to himself our nature in the flesh. The scene foreshadows that simple statement of the author of Hebrews, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:3, 4).
    • That he comes “with the clouds of heaven” foreshadows the image of Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds.” This is a triumphant appearance for “even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” That he comes in triumph as the Son of Man shows that redemption has been accomplished, death has been defeated, and all the elect of God are gathered to him (“all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve him”—verse14—as we see in Revelation 5:9, “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth”).

B. This scene is fleshed out in more detail in Revelation 5 in the vision of John. He sees God on his throne with a book, completely sealed that no one can open. When the Lion of the tribe of Judah, also appearing as a slain lamb, appears, it is found that he alone is worthy to open the book; he “went and took the book from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” (Revelation 5:7). Not even the strong angel could do this; but the slain Lamb has gained by his death, as he had possessed already by his eternal Sonship, an authority to approach the throne and take the book by his intrinsic worth and authority. He shows through the seals what has been decreed until the end when his saints “will worship Him, … will see his face, …the Lord will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:4, 5).

C. An eternal kingdom is given to him to rule all “peoples, nations, and languages.” This is pictured also in Philippians 2:11, where “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

D. It is most gloriously a redemptive kingdom for “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come [unto the age of the ages]” (18).

    • This is given greater detail in the vision in Revelation 5, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, . . . and they shall reign on the earth.”
    • From Revelation 22:3, Charles Spurgeon preached on “The Throne of God and of the Lamb” emphasizing the redemptive wisdom, power, and righteousness that is the foundation of this throne. These images, which as we see recur frequently in the Bible, he summarized as if he were dwelling with Daniel: “The sovereignty that is signified by this throne must certainly be unlimited. The throne of God is the throne of an absolute monarch who does as He wills among the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of this lower world.”
    • Psalm 22 pictures an eternal reign based on the finishing of the redemptive work. The person around whom the Psalm revolves moves from abject misery and humiliation to eternal dominion: “I am poured out like water. … dogs encompass me. … I can count all my bones. … All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:27, 28).

E. This corresponds with the scene of Daniel 7:27 “And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High. Their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.” Yes, by our sovereign Savior, “given to the saints.”

Great and amazing are your deeds

O Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways,

O King of the Nations!

Who will not fear, O Lord,

and glorify your name?

For you alone are holy,.

All nations will come

And worship you,

For your righteous acts

have been revealed.

Revelation 15: 3, 4

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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