Are the beasts meant to symbolize kingdoms or individuals?
Are the horns of the various beasts to be interpreted as kingdoms or individuals?
A frequent criticism on the preterist interpretation of the Beast of Revelation 13 is as follows. In one place, the preterist interpretation has the “beast from the sea” as Nero, and in another place it is the Roman Empire as a whole. Yet this use of a “beast” as a fluid symbol is a frequent feature of Daniel as well.
The symbolism of Daniel 7 and 8 sheds light on how the images in Revelation ought to be interpreted. Daniel has beasts and horns as symbols that are fluid rather than static. Sometimes they symbolize individuals and sometimes they symbolize kingdoms. A beast can symbolize any Gentile nation. For the most part, the beasts mentioned are unclean animals according to ceremonial law. Horns are the crowns of the beasts, just as the king is the crown of the kingdom. Some examples are as follows.
Daniel 8:3 — Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.
A ram which had two horns — The Empire of the Medes and the Persians. The Medes conquered and destroyed Babylon, but the Persians ruled over the kingdom in the end.
Daniel 8:5 — And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes.
A he-goat — The Empire of Greece and Macedonia
A notable horn — Alexander the Great
Daniel 8:8 — Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven.
The great horn was broken — Alexander died an untimely death at a young age shortly after conquering much of the known world.
Four notable ones (horns) — Antigonus, Cassander, Ptolemy and Seleucus, the successors of Alexander, who divided his empire among them.
Daniel 8:9 — And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land.
A little horn — This refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The “little horn” – like the “notable horn” – refers here again to an individual, but we can also understand that it refers to the whole Seleucid Empire from the strongest successor of Alexander, Seleucus, all the way down to Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
The “beasts,” “horns” and “kings” can refer either to a line of kings or a king individually. This shift between denotations is necessary to understand in order to interpret Daniel 7; 11:36-45 as well as Revelation 13 and 17. The “beasts,” “heads,” “horns” and “kings” refer to Daniel’s Fourth Kingdom, the Roman Empire. They also refer to the line of Caesars, and sometimes specifically to Julius Caesar, Nero and Vespasian.
Whenever there are static or fluid symbols that allude to another source within Scripture, they sometimes mean the same or sometimes the opposite. For instance, Peter warned his hearers, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8), while the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) turns out to be Christ. There is only one lion in Revelation; but this image is taken from Genesis 49:9, “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?”
Sometimes symbolic images throughout Scripture are fluid. Sometimes they are static. The lion is a fluid symbol as it can be good or evil. The dragon is Satan in Revelation 12, just as the serpent is the devil in Genesis 3. This image is static. The woman in Revelation 12 is virtuous, but the woman in Revelation 17 is a harlot. This image is fluid. For the most part, allowing for a few exceptions, if a symbol is found in the Old Testament, we can assume that it represents the same thing in Revelation. If there is a large degree of correspondence between the Iron Beast of Daniel 7 and the Beast of Revelation 13 and 17, then we should use this correspondence in our interpretation. It is important to gain a full understanding of allusions to symbols in earlier books of the Bible before locking into a static interpretation.