Growing up as a pastor’s daughter, my church was like my own personal playground. My sisters and I spent many hours there and we knew each hallway, back staircase, and classroom. We used to play in the closet where the felt figures and flannel boards were kept for Sunday school. I remember sticking felt Daniel to the board with the felt lions. I remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the little felt fire.
However, I do not recall there being a felt version of the bear-like beast holding three ribs between his teeth or a beast with ten little horns, one of which had little eyes. Those were mysteriously missing from our church’s felt-figure collection.
This is probably because the felt-figure manufacturing company knew that no Sunday school teacher in his right mind would be teaching on the prophecies of Daniel to small children. Daniel himself was afraid of the visions he saw (Daniel 7:15).
Can you imagine what a five-year-old would tell her mom after being picked up from class? “Mommy! We learned about beasts and rivers of fire and giants who stepped on everybody and HORNS!”
Chapter 7 of Daniel marks a notable shift in this book, a shift from historical account to end-times prophecy, or, what theologian types call “apocalyptic literature.” Sounds fun, right? Ok, I know, I know. There’s no way around it—chapter seven is when the book of Daniel gets weird.
Weird, but not un-interpretable and not impossible. Scripture does not include dreams and visions to throw us off or confuse us. The prophecies of Daniel are purposeful and, ultimately, hopeful.
We can break down Daniel’s dream in this chapter into three parts:
- The four beasts
- The Ancient of Days
- The Son of Man
The Ancient of Days is God, and He is holding the book of judgment, which makes me squirm a little. The Son of Man is Jesus. And the four beasts symbolize four kingdoms: Babylon and Medo-Persia (who both ruled during Daniel’s day), Greece, and the last beast, which represents a more general kind of evil, an evil that has been present throughout all of history and continues to reign today. (I encourage you dig into that last one on your own, because it is really, really interesting!)
The part when Jesus arrives on the scene gives me chills. Until He shows up, everything in the vision is terrifying and warlike and confusing. The beasts, the horns—utter chaos. Then, the scene quiets down, the Son of Man arrives on a cloud and approaches the throne of the Ancient of Days. All eyes turn toward Him. The narrative focuses on Christ.
Jesus interrupts a world gone awry.
He did this with His birth, and He will do it again in the Second Coming. This is why Daniel 7 and the chapters that follow matter so much for us. The prophecy, friends, is not over. We live in the midst of it. Jesus came once, and He is coming again, to do away with the fourth beast once and for all.
For now, we live in the tension of prophecy yet to be fulfilled but eagerly anticipated.
What we see in this vision is not meant to scare us; it is meant to give us hope for victory. It promises that despite the chaos, violence, pain, and suffering, the Kingdom of our Christ is coming. And when it does, He will reign.
Forever and ever, He will reign.
“His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).