Daniel 7


We are about to enter a tough section of scripture.  Like 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, the last chapters of Daniel are quite difficult to understand.  After doing commentary for the last 20 years, I dare say the prophecies of Daniel are the hardest to understand in all of scripture.  Let’s not let that slow us down.  We can have a positive attitude, a prayerful heart, and a ponderous mind.  If we do, we can understand even Daniel’s prophecies.  The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “It is not very essential for the elders to have knowledge in relation to the meaning of beasts, and heads and horns, and other figures made use of in the revelations; still, it may be necessary, to prevent contention and division and do away with suspense.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 287)  Our goal, then, will be to prevent contention and division between believers who interpret the meaning differently.

Much like John’s Revelation, Daniel speaks of beasts with fantastic imagery.  The imagery is foreign to us.  In addition, time seems to be reckoned according to a different scale than ours.  This is where we stumble with the interpretation.  For Daniel and Revelation, if we think of the imagery from a different perspective, things make more sense.  That perspective is a heavenly one.  From our perspective, the kingdom of Babylon has a name and a king, Nebuchadnezzar.  When seen from heaven, it makes more sense to see that kingdom, not with its earthly name, but as a beast with power on earth to destroy any other beast.  The conflict in the animal world is foreign to the ways of peace in heaven.  God is not in constant conflict; his angels know peace and tranquility; and the lion is at peace with the lamb.  However, on earth, life is a struggle between the forces of good and evil, between the power of the strong and the feebleness of the weak.  The beasts of the forest symbolize this power struggle.  One beast dominates until replaced by another.  In Satan’s domain, the battle is to the strong.  The beast imagery is meant to represent this dynamic.

As far as time goes, we should remember that time is only measured unto man.  Therefore, there are times when the conflict between Michael the Archangel and Satan is described without any explanation with regards to mortal time.  The battle between the two began in the pre-mortal sphere and will be culminated in the casting out of Satan at the beginning of the Millennium.  We may be talking about the First Coming one minute and the Second Coming the next.  We might be talking about the pre-mortal conflict one second and the end of the world the next.  Just keep that in mind as we proceed.

Daniel 7:1-2 Daniel had a dream… and behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea

Daniel is quite a dreamer.  His dreams are unlike many other prophets in that the imagery and subject matter is like John’s Revelation.  One of the key themes of Revelation is the conflict between God’s angelic forces and the world’s powers of wickedness.  Both books are a story about the battle for dominance on the world stage, spiritually speaking.  So we start with the four winds of the heaven striving upon the sea—we start with the imagery of great powers from the four corners of the earth fighting for supremacy.  The fighting winds are a prelude to the fighting beasts which arise out of the sea.

Daniel 7:3  The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings

The symbol of the lion was prominent in Babylon and in this case has reference to Nebuchadnezzar.

 Blue tile imagery from Ishtar's gate of a lion with wings

Babylon’s Ishtar Gate (Berlin Museum), notice the wing behind the front leg

The wings are symbolic of power and quick movement signifying the speed at which Nebuchadnezzar had conquered his enemies.  Concerning Revelation, Joseph Smith was asked, “What are we to understand by the eyes and wings, which the beasts had?  A. Their eyes are a representation of light and knowledge… their wings are a representation of power, to move, to act.” (D&C 77:4)  A lion is a fearsome beast without wings.  With its speed of attack quickened by the ability to fly, the image becomes even more terrifying, but something happens to the beast.

The great power of the winged lion is weakened, as if God who had given the beast power designed to take it away.  So, God lifted him up from the earth and plucked his wings one at a time until his power was all gone.  The fearsome image of a flying lion is transformed into a man, signifying his loss of dominance on the world stage.  This is the remarkable story of the kingdom of Babylon and the decline of Nebuchadnezzar.  Seemingly, the Babylonians came out of nowhere, dominated the world stage for little more than 60 years, and then were gone. 

Daniel 7:5  behold another beast, a second, like to a bear… had three ribs in the mouth

If the first beast represents the kingdom of Babylon, then the second beast represents the power of the Persian Empire. Just as Nebuchadnezzar did God’s bidding in destroying the wicked kingdom of Judah, so Cyrus the Persian was God’s servant in commanding that the Jews be allowed to return to Jerusalem and build the temple (see Ezra 1:1-3).  The three ribs in the mouth of the bear are likely representative of three neighboring nations conquered by the Persians:  the Median Empire, the Lydian Empire, and the Babylonian Empire.

From about 540-330 BC, the Persian Empire was one of the most amazing, magnanimous, prosperous empires in the history of the world.  Somehow, it has escaped common knowledge, but the Persians were extremely wise in how they handled conquered peoples, allowing them to practice their own religion regardless of the theology of the Empire.  Freedom of religion was one of their “bill of rights” for conquered peoples.

Daniel 7:6  the third beast was like a leopard with four wings and four heads

Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in 334 BC and put the Greeks on the map. In the imagery of the leopard, the four wings represent that Alexander was even faster than two-winged Nebuchadnezzar at conquering the world.  Arguably, his military conquests were unparalleled in human history.  Like Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, Alexander felt as if he was doing God’s bidding.  After conquering the known world by the age of only 25, he died eight years later, leaving a power vacuum. 

Orson F. Whitney

“When the Medo-Persian empire became corrupt, it was overthrown by Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered the world and ‘wept,’ it is said, ‘because there were no more worlds to conquer.’ … But was that all he did? Dean Farrar says of him and of the great service he unwittingly rendered to the cause of Christ: ‘The immense field covered by the conquests of Alexander gave to the civilized world a unity of language, without which it would have been, humanly speaking, impossible for the earliest preachers to have made known the good tidings in every land which they traversed.’ ‘Wherever he went,’ says the historian McCabe, ‘he left the Greek language, ... all powerful in drawing the nations of the old world into a closer and more intimate contact with each other. ... At a later period the Hebrew Scriptures, translated into Greek, were made accessible to the whole world, and the way was thus paved for the mission of Him of whom these Scriptures testify.’” (Conference Report, April 1921, Afternoon Session 34)

After a power struggle, Alexander’s empire was divided into four kingdoms, represented by the four heads of the leopard image:  The Seleucid Empire, the Ptolemaic Empire, and the domains of Lysimachus and Cassandra.

 map showing Persia's rule from Greece through Asia Minor to India

Daniel 7:7  behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth… and it had ten horns

This is the same imagery as Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the figure whose head was gold, etc. (Dan. 2).  The vision is telling the same story.  The final kingdom to take over the world prior to the birth of Christ—the coming of the Messiah—was the Roman Empire.  From the perspective of heaven, this kingdom was beastly, dreadful, and terrible, having great iron teeth and ten horns.

“This fourth kingdom, which was the Roman, is described as being stronger than the preceding. As iron breaketh all other metals, and is more obdurate, so the Roman empire broke in pieces the former kingdoms, and exhibited more strength and durability than the preceding one. The legs, feet, and toes of the image must certainly denote the Roman; for there never was any other nation on earth that answered Daniel's description but the Roman. Indeed, he first describes it as being very strong, or powerful; but afterwards becoming more weak and divided: and finally divided into ten different kingdoms, which were represented by the ten toes of the image. The Roman empire was at length divided into ten lesser kingdoms, as we shall see hereafter. These kingdoms retained much of the old Roman strength, and manifested it upon several occasions, so that ‘the kingdom was partly strong and partly broken.’ They mingle themselves with the seed of men; they made marriages and alliances, one with another, as they do to this day; but no hearty union ensued. The Roman empire, therefore, is represented in a double state: first, with the strength of iron, conquering all before it, ‘his legs of iron’ and then weakened and divided by the mixture of barbarous nations, ‘his feet part of iron and part of clay.’ It subdued Syria, and made the kingdom of the Selucidae a Roman province in the year 65 B. C.; it subdued Egypt and made the kingdom of the Lagadae a Roman province in the year 30 B. C.; and in the fourth century after Christ, it began to be torn in pieces by the incursions of the barbarous nations, and at length divided into ten kingdoms. The principle part of the modern kingdoms of Europe are the remains of those ten kingdoms of the Roman empire. (“Nebuchadnezzar's Dream,” Times and Seasons, vol. 3 (November 1841-October 1842), Vol. 3 No. 3 December 1, 1841, p. 609-610)

 Persian empire divided into four parts after Alexander the Great

Daniel 7:8 there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up

With the little horn and according to the time scale in heaven, we jump from the meridian of time to the last days.  The fulfillment has not yet occurred.  This king hasn’t shown up yet on the world stage.  He will replace 3 other kings before he takes power. This little horn is a king of a wicked nation, speaking great things. The symbol is likely the same as in Revelation 13, “I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast (i.e. were impressed with the Satan’s miracle of healing).  And they worshipped the dragon (Satan) which gave power unto the beast (kingdom of wickedness) and they worshiped the beast saying, Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?  And there was given unto him (the king) a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.  And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.  And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues and people.” (Rev. 13:3-7)

He is spoken of again in verse 25, “And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.” We can’t identify this little horn spoken of by David.  When he takes power and tries to turn the whole earth to wickedness and idolatry, then his identity will be well known and this passage will make perfect sense.  For now we must wait for its fulfillment.

Daniel 7:9  I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit

The Ancient of Days is Michael the Archangel, or Adam from the Garden of Eden.  He is the father of all men; the greatest in God’s patriarchal line; the greatest in God’s line of priesthood power, and excepting Jesus Christ, the greatest in fighting against Satan’s dominions in the culminating conflict at the end of the world.  He is described as an angel in celestial glory, almost as Christ, because he is indeed a glorified resurrected being. His throne is as a fiery flame even as Ezekiel saw the fiery flame of Elohim, describing it as, “the throne was as the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it…” (Ezekiel 1:26-27)

Daniel 7:10, 14 thousand thousands ministered unto him… and the books were opened

“Our Father in heaven is at the head of one vast family. This grand system of things he has organized on earth under the direction of Adam, our first earthly father, and given title to as the patriarchal order in which all of the aforementioned blessings are passed from father to son. Patterned after the heavenly arrangement, Adam, often referred to in scripture and elsewhere as the Ancient of days, stands at the head of this holy order over which he will yet sit in formal judgment as ‘ten thousand times ten thousands’ pass before to acknowledge him as their grand patriarch, the ‘father of all.’ He will preside at the great council at Adam-ondi-Ahman to be held at a future date and eventually ‘reign over his righteous posterity in the Patriarchal Order to all eternity.’” (Leland Gentry, Doctrines for Exaltation: The 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 79)

“Adam met and counseled with and prophesied to his numerous posterity three years before his death. Of this council, a meeting that will be a preliminary appearance of the Savior (prior to his coming in glory), the Prophet Joseph Smith said: ‘Daniel in his seventh chapter speaks of the Ancient of Days; he means the oldest man, our Father Adam, Michael, he will call his children together and hold a council with them to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man. He (Adam) is the father of the human family, and presides over the spirits of all men, and all that have had the keys must stand before him in this grand council. … The Son of Man stands before him, and there is given him glory and dominion. Adam delivers up his stewardship to Christ, that which was delivered to him as holding the keys of the universe, but retains his standing as head of the human family.’

President Joseph Fielding Smith offered the following explanation: ‘“This gathering of the children of Adam, where the thousands, and the tens of thousands are assembled in the judgment, will be one of the greatest events this troubled earth has ever seen. At this conference, or council, all who have held keys of dispensations will render a report of their stewardship. Adam will do likewise, and then he will surrender to Christ all authority. Then Adam will be confirmed in his calling as the prince over his posterity and will be officially installed and crowned eternally in this presiding calling. Then Christ will be received as King of kings, and Lord of lords. We do not know how long a time this gathering will be in session, or how many sessions may be held at this grand council. It is sufficient to know that it is a gathering of the Priesthood of God from the beginning of this earth down to the present, in which reports will be made and all who have been given dispensations (talents) will declare their keys and ministry and make report of their stewardship according to the parable. (See Matt. 25:14–30.) Judgment will be rendered unto them for this is a gathering of the righteous, those who have held and who hold keys of authority in the Kingdom of God upon this earth. … This will precede the great day of destruction of the wicked and will be the preparation for the Millennial Reign.’” (Robert L. Millet, “The Man Adam,” Ensign, Jan. 1994, 14)

Daniel 7:11-12 I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame

The Millennium can’t proceed until Satan’s kingdom of wickedness is destroyed.  This imagery is the same as the parable of the wheat and the tares, wherein the fate of the tares is to be burned, “the angels are waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned” (D&C 38:12).  From Matthew, “the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.  As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.  The Son of man shall send forth his angels (the Ancient of Days shall be first among them), and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. 13:39-43)

Daniel 7:16-17 So he told me, and made me to know the interpretation… These great beasts… are four kings

The four kings mentioned are 1) Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, 2) Cyrus of Persia, 3) Alexander of Macedonia (Greece), and 4) Caesar of Rome.  The imagery of the four beasts matches the dream of Nebuchadnezzar from chapter 2, wherein Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he was the “head of gold.  And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass… And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron.” (Dan. 2:38-40)  Daniel was a prophet who saw the immediate political future of the known world.  No longer would Egypt and Assyria dominate the land of Israel. It would be controlled by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.  This is all a prelude to the greatly anticipated advent of the Messiah. This is what Daniel wants to know.  Just like us, his question is, “what needs to transpire before the coming of Christ?”  He is given the answer.  Awaiting the Second Coming, we wonder the same thing, “what will happen before the Second Coming of Christ?”

Daniel 7:22 Until the Ancient of days came and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom

Joseph Fielding Smith

When our Savior comes to rule in the millennium, all governments will become subject unto his government, and this has been referred to as the kingdom of God, which it is; but this is the political kingdom which will embrace all people whether they are in the Church or not. Of course, when every kindred, tongue and people become subject to the rule of Jesus Christ such will be in that political kingdom. We must keep these two thoughts in mind. But the kingdom of God is the Church of Jesus Christ, and it is the kingdom that shall endure forever. When the Savior prayed, "Thy kingdom come," he had reference to the kingdom in heaven which is to come when the millennial reign starts.

When Christ comes, the political kingdom will be given to the Church. The Lord is going to make an end to all nations; that means this nation as well as any other. (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:229-230)

George Q. Cannon

When will the saints possess the Kingdom? Of this we may rest assured, they will not possess the Kingdom, if by that is meant the power to rule and exercise dominion over the earth, until they themselves have made such progress in the knowledge of God and the principles of truth as to be willing to yield an implicit obedience to Him and to be governed in all things by his laws. (Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 34)

LeGrand Richards

We, the Latter-day Saints, are preparing that kingdom to be delivered to the Savior when he comes in the clouds of heaven. When the kingdom has been adequately prepared, Jesus will come again. (Ensign, Apr. 1981, 10)

Daniel 7:25 a time and times and the dividing of time

How long is “a time and times and the dividing of time”?  A “time” as used in this case represents a year, or 365 days. (Sometimes a “time” is used to mean 365 years. See Daniel 12.)  The phrase, “and times and the dividing of time” is usually interpreted to mean 2 years and half a year.  Therefore, a time and times and the dividing of time= 1 year plus 2 years plus ½ year= 3.5 years.  Now how can we be sure this is right?  It corresponds perfectly with the 42 months that the beast is given power before the Second Coming as mentioned in Revelation 13:6, “power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.”  42 months is 3.5 years. Revelation 11:6 also speaks of “a thousand two hundred and threescore days” which is 1,260 days, or 3.5 years.

Jerusalem will be under siege for 3.5 years prior to the coming of Christ.  During this time, “the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.  Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.” (Zech. 14:2-3)

Daniel 7:27 the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High

Let’s look at this promise from Daniel’s perspective.  He was born in Jerusalem, taught that Jerusalem was the most powerful city on earth because God had always protected it.  Like the Titanic was unsinkable, Jerusalem was thought to be unconquerable.  He found that not to be true as he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar prior to the sacking of Jerusalem in 587 BC.  Living under Babylonian reign for years, he then saw the Babylonian power give way to the Persians.  As righteous as he was, he may well have wondered when God would return to protect his people and build up the city of Jerusalem.  The answer was more complex than he thought.  The timeline was longer than he thought.  Just because the Jews would return to Jerusalem 70 years after their captivity, didn’t mean they would dominate the kingdoms of evil.  They would still be subject to the bear, the leopard and the beast with 10 horns.  The real blessing of the kingdom being given to the saints of God would not occur for a few thousand years.  Daniel saw the fulfillment of the lion with wings with his own eyes.  He saw the fulfillment of the bear with three ribs in its mouth with his own eyes, but he would not see the redemption of Jerusalem with his own eyes.  Only in vision, would he see the kingdom be given to the saints.