Just about any interpretation that you can find of the beasts that Daniel saw in his vision of chapter 7 will relate those beasts to the statue that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about in chapter 2. In each case, four kingdoms are mentioned, so many people have concluded that they must be the same kingdoms.
The problem is, with the possible exception of the last kingdom, the book of Daniel doesn’t relate the two visions at all. In fact, it indicates that the first three kingdoms of the two visions are not at all the same.
Consider the following:
37 You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory;
38 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.
39 “After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth.
40 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.
Did you get that? Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon was specifically identified as the first kingdom represented by the statue. And the rest were sequential. One after another. Though not actually identified by Daniel, the second kingdom is usually considered to be the Medo-Persian empire of Cyrus, and the third the Greek empire of Alexander. And the last kingdom is said by Daniel to crush and break its predecessors. Sure enough, the empires of Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and Alexander are all gone now. They’ve been gone for over two thousand years.
Now look at the four beasts:
9 “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.
10 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.
11 “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.
12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)
13 “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.
14 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.
Beginning with verse 9 of Daniel chapter 7, we find him watching a judgement scene in Heaven. And in verses 13 and 14, someone who looks like the Son of Man approaches the throne and is given all authority and power. Thus, what Daniel is seeing is a vision of the end times, not the eras of the Babylonian, Persian, or Greek empires. The beasts that he has seen are end-times entities that exist up to (and after, for three of them) the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The last beast was destroyed, but the others continued on, undestroyed. Even a second-grader would conclude that the first three kingdoms of the statue and the first three beast-kingdoms are not the same.
So what are we to make of the four-beast vision? What kingdoms do these beasts represent? Are they present yet? And if so, can we identify them?
Let’s give it a try. Noting the similarity between the fate of the last beast and the fate of the antichrist described in the book of Revelation, it’s probably reasonable to suppose that they might be the same. The last beast would appear to represent the kingdom of the antichrist. That kingdom has not yet coalesced. It is still future to us.
The first beast, however, looks to be firmly on the scene. Daniel tells us that it had the wings of an eagle, and they get plucked off. This beast is lifted up to stand on two feet like a man, and a human heart is given to it.
Now, prepare yourself, because you may not like this, but consider what the prophet Ezekiel wrote.
17 Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.
18 And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence.
19 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:
20 That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
24 For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Well, well, what a surprise! The Bible actually tells us who will be given a new heart.
The first beast is described as looking like a lion. At some time in the future, Jesus will return as the Lion of Judah to save and defend the people of the Nation of Israel, but right now they are acting as a lion themselves, for Israel is definitely the military lion of the Mid-East. With one of the most capable air forces on the planet, Israel certainly has eagle’s wings, too. And, we know that at some time in the future, those wings will be plucked, leaving Israel vulnerable enough that the antichrist will be able to take possession of the city of Jerusalem and the temple, and set up the Abomination of Desolation. Then, after the Jews flee to the wilderness in defeat, the Lord will return, lift them up, and give them a new heart.
The idea of Israel being one of the beasts of Daniel 7 takes a bit of getting used to, doesn’t it?
What about the other two beasts? Can we identify them yet?
I am unable to do so at this time. However, we do know of two other kingdoms that will be in existence at the same time as the antichrist. In chapter 11, an angel describes to Daniel what will happen in the future, all the way up to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. Then, in verse 35, the angel shifts from the time of Antiochus to the end times, and with verse 36, he begins describing the antichrist. And look at what the angel says in verse 40.
40 “At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him in battle, and the king of the North will storm out against him with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships. He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood.
41 He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand.
42 He will extend his power over many countries; Egypt will not escape.
43 He will gain control of the treasures of gold and silver and all the riches of Egypt, with the Libyans and Nubians in submission.
44 But reports from the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many.
45 He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.
The angel says that there will be a King of the North and a King of the South at the time of the end. And they will have enough military strength to go up against the antichrist in battle. Notice also that the angel’s pronouncement came on the heels of a lengthy description of the activities of previous kings of the north and south. We know where those two kings were based, so we might reasonably expect the future King of the North to have control of Syria, and the King of the South to be in control of Egypt.
Are these two kingdoms good candidates for identification as the second and third beasts of Daniel’s vision? Right now they are at best weak candidates. Other than being in existence at the end times, and having an adequate military, Daniel does not indicate that either king will have the attributes of either the bear beast or the leopard beast. The Egypt and Syria of today certainly don’t seem to display those attributes either.
However, since the angel said that there would be strong Kings of the North and South in the end times, both countries bear watching. At the time of this writing (July 2012), Egypt has just elected a new ‘king’, and there is an uprising in Syria, which may result in new leadership there as well. Students of prophecy should be interested in the developments in those two countries, watching to see if either ends up with a government that can be described as having four heads.