The Meaning of Daniel 2:1-45 and 7:1-28
(Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream and Daniel’s Vision)


The Book of Daniel lays the framework for the study of the tribulation period and Daniel alone gives the two critical preconditions for the beginning of the period: 1) the existence of Israel as a national entity; and 2) the re-emergence of a future form of the Roman Empire under the leadership of a small group of ten leaders from which the Antichrist will ulti­mately derive his authority to rule and emerge as a satanically empowered dictator (Dan. 9:26-27), with the full knowledge and assistance of these ten leaders (Rev. 17:12-13). Since the period formally begins with the signing of a treaty between these two parties (Dan. 9:27), it is evident that the absence of either or both parties would preclude the start of the period (see Figure 2). In order for the tribulation to unfold, both national Israel and a modern alliance of nations roughly corresponding to the nations of the old Roman Empire (or the people groups thereof) must be in place.


At the time Daniel wrote, the nation of Israel was in captivity to Babylon (later to Persia, after the fall of Babylon). It would have been apparent to Daniel that in order for the prophecies he was given to be fulfilled, the nation would have to be regathered from captiv­ity. In fact, it would even have been possible for Daniel to discern a second dispersion and regathering, based on information supplied by the angel in the prophecy of the seventy “weeks” (Dan 9:24-27). Nevertheless, the Book of Daniel is very clear on this point: the tribulation involves the nation of Israel. Failure to acknowledge this key point has led to many false interpretations of both Scripture and history. One error that must be avoided is incorrectly identifying the Church with Israel. These two are distinct in the prophetic program. It is impossible that the Church could fulfill Israel’s role in the coming tribula­tion. Both the Old and New Testaments are clear on this point: the Church is not Israel, and Israel is not the Church (cf. Rom. 11)—though they are both key elements in God’s unified program for history. (For a more extended discussion of the distinction between Israel and the Church, see chapter eight, The Rapture of the Church.)


We learn from Daniel not only that the nation of Israel must be in existence prior to the beginning of the tribulation, we also learn of an alliance of nations that will be in existence during the period and through whose rulers the Antichrist will derive his political authority. The details of the emergence of this kingdom are laid out in Daniel 2:1-45 and 7:1-28. In order to understand the place this alliance of nations occupies in God’s plan for the future, we must understand Daniel 2:1-45, the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and Daniel 7:1-28, the account of Daniel’s prophetic vision (see Figure 2).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:1-45)

The first information regarding the empire over which Satan’s prince will rule is revealed in Daniel 2:1‑45. The revelation is in two parts: a dream given by God to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (vv.29‑35), and the interpretation of the dream given through Daniel (vv.36­45).


Since Daniel’s interpretation includes the content of the dream itself, we need only quote the interpretation.


[Dan. 2:27-45] “As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may under­stand what went through your mind. You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold. After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay. In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”


In his dream Nebuchadnezzar saw a great statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As Nebuchadnezzar continued to watch, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. This rock then struck the statue on its feet and toes and crushed them. At the same time the entire statue crumbled and was swept away by the wind, but the rock that struck the statue became a great mountain, filling the whole earth.


God revealed the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel, and Daniel explained it to Nebuchadnezzar (2:27-45). According to Daniel’s prophetic interpretation, each of the parts of the statue (the head, the chest and arms, the belly and thighs, the legs and feet) represents a world empire, four in all (vv.37-40). Nebuchadnezzar—representing Babylon—is the head of gold. Afterward there are to be three more world empires (prophetically corresponding to Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome). Interestingly, the fourth empire is different from all the rest in that it is described as having two forms: the first form being the legs of iron, and the second being the feet partly of iron and partly of clay. (As we proceed from the head to the feet, we move forward in time; thus it is that the form represented by the feet and toes is to be the final form of the fourth empire—Rome.) God also revealed through Daniel the meaning of the rock, cut out, not by human hands, which crushed the feet and toes and caused the entire statue to crumble and be blown away. The rock represents the kingdom of God that will replace all the previous world empires and which will never be destroyed, but will endure forever (v.44).


There are several important observations to be made from this passage, all of which will be confirmed subsequently in Daniel’s vision (7:1-28). First, it would seem that the dream relates to that period of time elsewhere referred to as “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:24)—the time during which Israel is to be dominated by Gentile powers, beginning with Babylon and extending through the tribulation up to the point at which Christ releases Israel from their bondage to foreign powers at His second advent. Second, the dream relates to the future since it pictures the inauguration of the eternal kingdom to be set up on earth by God (cf. 7:13‑14, 26-27; 12:9). Third, some form of the fourth world empire (Rome) will be present at the time God sets up His eternal kingdom. It will be different from the original form of the Roman Empire in that as the feet and toes of the statue were composed of iron and clay, which do not adhere, so this “kingdom” will be an alliance of nations (some weak, some strong), each with its own national characteristics (vv.42‑44), it will begin as an alliance of ten world rulers (but we learn later from Daniel’s prophetic vision that three of these will be eliminated by one individual (not one of the ten) who is eventually to be installed as the supreme dictator. In destroying that alliance, or “kingdom,” God will end the period of Gentile world domination pictured in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:1-28)

Years after giving Nebuchadnezzar a revelation of future world history, God communicated a similar revelation directly to Daniel in the form of a vision. The main points of Daniel’s vision correspond to the main points of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (see Figure 6.2). Daniel relates his vision as follows.


[Dan. 7:1-28] In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the sub­stance of his dream. Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it. And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, Get up and eat your fill of flesh! After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrify­ing and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully. As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. Then I continued to watch because of the boast­ful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. I approached one of those standing there and asked him the true meaning of all this. So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: ‘The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. But the saints of the Most High will receive the king­dom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’ Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”


In his vision Daniel saw four beasts. The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. As Daniel watched, the wings were torn off and the beast was lifted from the ground so that it stood on its two feet like a man and the heart of a man was given to it. As Daniel contin­ued to look, he saw another beast that looked like a bear. This second beast was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth (v.5). Afterwards, Daniel saw a third beast that looked like a leopard with four wings on its back. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. Finally, Daniel saw a fourth beast with iron teeth, terrifying and very powerful. It crushed and devoured its victims and trampled whatever was left of the former beasts. The fourth beast had ten horns, and another horn came up among them—a little horn. This little horn uprooted three of the original horns. Daniel describes it as having eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking boastfully (vv.7‑8). Next Daniel saw thrones set in place, and the Ancient of Days [God] taking His seat of judgment. As Daniel continued to look, the little horn was slain and his body was thrown into the fire. At this point Daniel saw one “like a son of man” approach the Ancient of Days. This one was given authority, glory, and sovereign power to rule; and all the people of the earth worshiped Him. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, one that will not be destroyed.



Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream and Daniel’s Vision




[Figure 2]



Daniel did not understand the meaning of the things he had seen, so in his vision he approached one standing nearby and asked the meaning of the vision. He was told that the four beasts represent four kingdoms that will arise on the earth, and that the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever (vv. 15‑16). He was still con­cerned over the meaning of the fourth beast. As he continued to watch, this beast was waging war with the saints and overcoming them (vv.19-21 cf. Matt. 24:9; Rev. 6:9‑11). However, the Ancient of Days intervened, and the kingdom was given to the saints (vv.21‑22). [Revelation 8:1-20:6 is a detailed account of God’s intervention through the outpouring of divine judgment to prepare the way for His kingdom on earth.]


The explanation that Daniel received concerning the fourth beast is this: The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will arise on the earth. It will be a worldwide kingdom different from all the previous kingdoms and will crush them. The ten horns on the beast are representative of ten kings (leaders) who will arise, and the little horn represents another king who will arise and subdue three of the previous kings. This king will speak against God and oppress the saints, who will be given into his hand for three and one-half (years). However, God will judge this king and turn the kingdom over to the saints who will possess it forever (vv.23‑27).

Correlating Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s vision

Both Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s vision pertain to a period in history known as “the times of the Gentiles;” it is the period during which Israel is under Gentile domination. As can be seen in Figure 6.2, each beast in Daniel’s vision corresponds to part of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Both Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s vision deal with the successive world empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and the future alliance that comes out of Rome (i.e., Rome’s final form). Both prophetic revelations foresaw the fourth kingdom as present immediately prior to, and replaced by, God’s eternal kingdom. Furthermore, both revelations contain certain details about the fourth world empire and God’s eternal kingdom that will replace it.


From a comparison of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s vision, we are able to con­struct the following picture of the alliance/kingdom that will be in place at the beginning of the tribulation. Both revelations indicate that this final form of the Roman Empire will be composed of an alliance of ten nations, or groups of nations. This is represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue by the ten toes and in Daniel’s vision by the ten horns. [There could actually be more than ten individual nations. The number “ten” refers to the number of principle leaders in the initial confederation; three of those will be eliminated early on by the Antichrist. Apparently the Antichrist is not one of the leaders of these nations, but a person chosen by the leaders of these nations, who give him their authority to rule (Rev. 17:12-13). We may surmise that some global disaster in the future (possibly natu­ral/physical, economic, or political), or the fear of some impending disaster will be used as a pretext for these leaders to surrender their national sovereignty to the Antichrist.] Daniel 2:40-43 indicates that this final kingdom is to be a “divided kingdom” as indicated by the fact that while iron and clay can be molded together, they do not adhere firmly. Adding to this the fact that the “little horn” must subdue three of the original horns (Dan. 7:24), it is apparent that this empire is a confederation built with intrigue, coercion, and force. By comparing these two prophetic revelations with Daniel 9:24-27, it is possible to identify the “little horn” of Daniel 7:24-25 as the Prince who will make the covenant with Israel which begins the seven-year period of tribulation.



Copyright 2005, by Sam A. Smith

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Adapted from What the Bible Says About the Future

Copyright 1995, 2004, by Sam A. Smith

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