What are the four beasts of Daniel’s visions?
The prophet Daniel envisioned four beasts that came out of the sea in the first year of the reign of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, Belshazzar was co-ruler with his father, Nabonidus. The four beasts represent four empires: the Babylonian Empire, the Medio-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire and the Roman Empire.
The Babylonian Empire
“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts. Daniel spoke, saying, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea.
And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it” (Daniel 7:1-4).
Daniel saw the Great Sea (Mediterranean Sea) stirred up by the four winds of the sky and out of the sea came four beasts. The Mediterranean Sea is symbolic of the population of the world (Revelation 13:1; 17:1). The four beasts are four kingdoms, which rule the known world. The four winds could be symbolic of the Holy Spirit (John 1:8). That could also mean that the Holy Spirit is causing these four kingdoms to carry out God’s plans for the world. If the four winds are not symbolic of the Holy Spirit we should not be concerned because we know that God is in complete control of all the kingdoms of the world. The Lord enables kings to and kingdoms to rise and puts an end to them (Daniel 2:37; 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21; Romans 13:1).
The kingdoms of the world are referred to as beasts because those kingdoms are cruel as wild beasts. They are vicious and ruthless.
The first beast is the lion that has wings of an eagle. The wings are pulled out and the lion stands on its feet like a man and is given the mind of a man. The lion is symbolic of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom of Babylon. The transformation of beast to a man could depict Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual conversion. The king lived for many years like a wild beast but then came to understand that God as deity is the highest truth and it is He who rules over the kingdoms of the world (Daniel 4:29-37).
The Medio-Persion Empire
“And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: ‘Arise, devour much flesh!”
The second beast resembled a bear that was lying on its side with it raised up on one side and three ribs of teeth. This beast is commanded to arise and devour much meat. The phrase “raised up on one side” is symbolic of the Persians being more powerful than the Medes. The three ribs are symbolic of the three key victories the Medio-Persian Empire had: The defeat of King Croesus by Cyrus the great and the conquest of the Sardis, the capital of Lydia in 547 B.C.; the conquest of Egypt by Cambuses of 525 B.C. and the suppression of the Ionian Revolt by a number of cities in Asia Minor (Turkey) from 499-493 B.C. This kingdom was commanded to take over and conquer more territory.
The Greek Empire
“After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it” (Daniel 7:6).
The third beast is like a leopard with four wings and four heads, representing the Greek Empire, which was divided into four parts after the death of Alexander of Macedonia. The Greek army was the most efficient army up to that time. Alexander the Great conquered all of Asia Minor (Turkey) in less than two years (334-333 B.C.) with 48,100 soldiers, 6,100 calvary soldiers and 120 ships. He defeated Darius III at the Battle of Issus in November of 333 taking control of the Persian Empire. That is why it was symbolized as a leopard with wings.
The Roman Empire
“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns” (Daniel 7:7).
The fourth beast is very different from the others and is not presented or symbolized by an animal. It is called, “terrible and powerful, and exceedingly strong” with “huge iron teeth” and “ten horns. “ It totally devoured, crushed and trampled down the former kingdoms. This beast is symbolic of the Roman Empire, which is the strongest and most wicked empire. The ten horns are the same as the ten toes in chapter two. They represent the ten partitions of the final world empire.