Why Daniel's Beasts in Revelation?
- In Revelation seventeen we have prophetic symbols that appear to be
drawn from Daniel. In Daniel the visions in the later chapters
appear to be connected to Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter two.
Particularly the vision in chapter seven, where the symbols of beast,
heads, and horns comes from.
The vision in chapter two is traditionally interpreted as
the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.
According to history, about 550 B.C., encouraged by Babylon, Cyrus
rebelled against the Medes. His rebellion led to the defeat of
Astyages. The kingdom of the Medes was replaced by the kingdom of the
Persians. Cyrus the Persian took Babylon in 539 B.C. So the Mede
empire fell before the Babylonian empire.
If the fourth empire is Rome, then it looks like the kingdom of God
destroyed Rome. One idea is that Rome turned into the Roman Catholic
church. I guess if we think about it long enough we can find a way
to put the dream in a historical context.
Another idea is that Daniel was written after the historical
fullfilment of these empires. The sketchy history may be attributed
to the reason that prior events weren't very well known in those days.
In chapter eight we have Alexander the Great defeating the kingdoms
of the Medes and the Persians. Alexander the Great wasn't born until
316 BC. This was over 200 years after the Median empire ceased to
In chapter seven we have four beasts that are supposed to be the same
ones we saw in chapter two. Note that the fourth beast is destroyed
first. That means Rome was destroyed before Babylon, Medo-Persia,
and Greece. In chapter two all the empires are destroyed at the same
time. That of course isn't historical.
If the symbols in Daniel are supposed to represent earthly events we
should hope for better accuracy. On the other hand, if it is an
allegorical representation of spiritual concepts it would be more
like an impressionists 2D painting of a 3D reality.
My idea is that the NT writers believed the visions used the
political situation of Daniel's day to describe something in the
Torah, and ultimately are related to the Gospel.
The biggest reason to put Daniel's vision in a historical context is
the reference in 2:37 to Nebuchadnezzar. By the way Nebuchadnezzar
died in 562 BC. That's 23 years before Cyrus conquered Babylon.
The king of Babylon can also be associated with figurative language
in the Bible. Both Isa 14:4 and Eze 26:7 read like parables. We
also know that title "king of kings" is used in the bible in another
What is the time frame given for the king's dream? We are told in
the latter days (28), and in the time of the kings in the dream
(44). It sounds as though all the kings pretty much existed at the
same time. That isn't the case in history.
My point in all of this is showing that Daniel is not mainly about
political situations in history, but about spiritual lessons, or so
the NT writers believed.
But even ancient writers such as Josephus and the writer of I
Maccabees saw at least part of Daniel fulfilled in history. They both
identified Antiochus Epiphanes in the second centry BC with Daniel's
abomination of desolation. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, Chapter
7, Section 6, I Maccabees 1:54)
However, Jesus insisted Daniel's abomination of desolation hadn't
occured yet (Mat 24:15, Mk 13:14). The gospel writers saw this as an
event still in the future, and not as part of history, and perhaps
not even represenative of literal events.
In the previous post I try to make a case that Revelation is more
theological in nature than political or historical, and that the NT
writers took that attitude about the OT scriptures in general. It may
be that John took that attitude in Revelation. He would have agreed
that the abomination of desolation was something to occur after Jesus
spoke, and perhaps theological rather than literal in nature. He may
will have considered the view that Daniel was speaking of literal
historical events false. That being the case it would make sense
that the beasts, which are a composite of the ones Daniel saw, are
used to represent false teaching in Revelation.
* Dates are from the Holman Bible Dictionary