1. In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters.
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon — In 555 BC, another king arose in Babylon. In this chapter, it is Daniel himself who relates a vision. In chapter 2, Daniel is interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, but in chapter 7, he makes it clear that this is his dream. In chapter 7, he writes only what he saw, and does not provide an interpretation. However, it is certain that the interpretation is the same as the history of the four great kingdoms outlined in chapter 2.
2. Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.
3. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.
4. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.
5. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.
6. After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.
7. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.
Four great beasts — These again are the four great kingdoms, the Babylonian-Chaldean, Medo-Persian, Macedonian-Greek and Roman Empires. This is the same vision as in chapter two, but expressed with different symbolism. While some choose to understand the fourth beast as the successors of Alexander, especially the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kings who ruled in Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt, the thrust of the whole prophecy of Daniel indicates that it is the Roman Empire at the time of the coming of Christ.
Ten horns — These are the ten kings also mentioned in Revelation 17:12. If we start with Julius Caesar, we see a sequence of ten emperors reigning until the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian. The reign of these kings coincided with the period of the ministry of the Messiah and the Apostles.
8. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.
There came up among them another little horn — Some have applied this to the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes during the time after Alexander. Antiochus’ desecration of the Temple in 167 BC is prophesied in Daniel 8:9. But keeping with the consistent application of this passage to the Roman Empire, I must conclude that this speaks of Nero Caesar. He is the little horn “among them” – the sixth of the ten emperors. Thus he is “another little horn.”
Three of the first horns plucked up by the roots — Three emperors, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius were assassinated to make way for Nero, who was not in the line of succession.
9. I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.
10. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.
The Ancient of days — This passage speaks of God the Father. This is one of the Old Testament passages in which we see the three Persons of the Trinity. Some interpret the “fiery stream” as symbolizing the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
11. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.
The beast was slain — This speaks of both the destruction of the Roman Empire and of Nero who committed suicide with a military sword that killed many people before him.
12. As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.
As concerning the rest of the beasts — After Nero’s death, other rulers governed the Roman Empire, but the power of their throne began to weaken.
They had their dominion taken away — At this point, the kingdom of God began to grow in all the earth.
Yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time — There are several possible interpretations from a preterist perspective.
A general interpretation has the rest of the beasts symbolizing the Gentile nations, including the realms held by the Babylonian, Persian and Greek kingdoms, that will remain in rebellion to God for an unspecified period of time until the kingdom of God gradually fills the whole world, as in chapter 2. This is the interpretation I favor, but there are two others that are interesting and worth considering.
A more specific interpretation is that the rest of the beasts symbolize the remaining four Roman kings who ruled after Nero. The “Year of the Four Emperors” lasted a little more than a year from the death of Nero on June 8th of AD 68 to the accession of Vespasian on July 1st, 69. In this space of time, Nero, Galba, Otho and Vespasian ruled in turn.
On the other hand, if a season and a time is interpreted to be “three months and one year,” then Vespasian’s reign as emperor began on July 1st of AD 69 and the destruction of Jerusalem took place on September 8th, AD 70. In fact, according to the ceremonial calendar, 360 days (a year) plus 90 days (a season) extended exactly to September 24th, AD 70, which in that year was the Feast of Trumpets or the Jewish New Year just after the destruction of the Temple.
13. I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
The Son of Man — This speaks of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is fully God and fully man. In the Gospels, Jesus calls himself the “Son of man” in order to identify as the Messiah.
14. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
Dominion, and glory, and a kingdom — Christ was given the keys to the kingdom by God the Father when He sat down at the right hand of God after His resurrection and ascension. This kingdom is not a future kingdom. It began in the days of the Roman Empire. It overcame Rome and will overcome all the kingdoms of this world. It will last forever.
15. I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.
16. I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things.
17. These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.
18. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.
The saints of the most High shall take the kingdom — Here is the Dominion Mandate given not only to Christ, but to the saints. We are to possess the whole kingdom, that is, the whole world for the dominion of Jesus Christ. This commission was given at the time of Christ.
19. Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet;
20. And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.
Before whom three fell — Nero was born in AD 37, the same year as the death of Tiberius Caesar. Three Caesars were assassinated to clear the way for him. These were Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. Tacitus and Suetonius record that Tiberius was smothered by Caligula and Macro and the crowd in Rome hearing the news rejoiced. Some consider this story to be spurious, but this is the consensus of the ancient historians. Caligula was murdered by his own guardsmen at the behest of a rival faction. Claudius was poisoned and it is thought that his fourth wife, Agrippina, committed the deed in order to make way for her son, Nero, whom Claudius had adopted as his step-son and heir.
Many interpret the Little Horn as the “eleventh” horn. Of course, the number eleven is mentioned nowhere in the text. The Little Horn does not come after the ten horns, but as it has been translated as “in the midst of them” or “among them.” Thus if the Little Horn is Nero, he is the sixth of the ten.
21. I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them;
The same horn made war with the saints — Nero began a persecution of the saints which began in AD 64 and lasted until his death on June 9th, AD 68.
22. Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.
23. Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.
24. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings.
Another shall rise after them — That is, after the “three” who are subdued. This is consistent with verses 8 and 20. Nero was not in the direct line of succession, but three emperors were assassinated to make way for him.
25. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
Until a time and times and the dividing of time — Literally, “time, times, half a time.” If we understand a “time “to mean a year, then it is three-and-a-half years. Nero’s persecution of the Church lasted from about December AD 64 until his death in June AD 68. Although neither Suetonius nor Tacitus give us the exact date when the persecution began, we can safely assume it was late 64 and lasted until Nero’s death.
26. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.
27. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
28. Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.
An everlasting kingdom — The purpose of this passage, and the entire prophecy of Daniel, is to give the Jews a correct understanding of the time when the Messiah would come. The purpose is to declare when the kingdom of God would come on earth. Jesus alluded to Daniel when He said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28).