Tag Archives: divine judgment

Daniel’s Disturbing Dream (Daniel 7:1-28)

Daniel, a godly prophet and a man of unshakable faith, has been steadfast in his daily walk of fellowship with God throughout the first six chapters of the Book of Daniel. Nothing has caused him to panic or depart from his faith and practice as a godly Jew. Neither peer opposition nor the king’s new law (chapter 6) greatly disturbed Daniel. Daniel’s first inner turmoil occurs in chapter 7. A revelation from God in his sleep discloses future events which Daniel finds most troubling. Twice in chapter 7 Daniel speaks of his distress:

“As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me” (verse 15).

“At this point the revelation ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself” (verse 28).

We should note Daniel’s distress in chapter 7 before turning to the other prophecies in Daniel, where we will find that prophecy very often produces distress. Where it has not caused distress, it should have. Nebuchadnezzar became distressed when he received his first night vision (2:1) because he did understand some of his dream. In his vision, the statue collapsed and disappeared, because a mysterious stone struck it at its feet. His vision in chapter 4 should have produced more distress than it did. He was “at ease” when he received the vision, and then he became fearful, and his mind alarmed him (4:4-5). Upon hearing the details of the dream, Daniel too was troubled (4:19). Unfortunately, the king did not heed the dream’s warning, and his kingdom was taken away for a time. In chapter 5, King Belshazzar’s dream should have greatly alarmed him, but apparently it did not. That night his life and his kingdom came to an end. Subsequent revelations in the Book of Daniel which Daniel received were closely associated with some kind of agony or distress (see 8:17, 27; 9:20-21; 10:2-3, 7-10, 17; 12:8).

A look through the Scriptures shows that Daniel’s response to the prophecies he received was not unique. Many Old Testament prophets shared Daniel’s distress as a result of the prophecies they received and often conveyed to others. Why does the prophecy of Daniel 7 cause this godly man so much consternation? What so upset Daniel about the future? Should we be troubled as well?

Prophecies are given so that we may look at history, especially events occurring in our own lifetime, from God’s perspective. Prophecy provides men the opportunity to think and act in a way which pleases God, who determines the future and who reveals future events to men.

Chapter 7 reveals in broad terms what the future holds. Our study of this chapter will isolate what troubled Daniel about the future. If taken seriously, we will find the future sobering as well. May the Spirit of God reveal the meaning of this prophecy to us and produce in us that which God desires to His glory and our good.

Structure of the Text

Two major divisions comprise our text: (1) Daniel’s dream—verses 1-14 and (2) the interpretation—verses 15-28. In more detail, the outline would be as follows:

(1) Daniel’s Dream verses 1-14

  • The Four Beasts — verses 1-8
  • The Ancient of Days — verses 9-12
  • The Son of Man — verses 13-14

(2) The Divine Interpretation — verses 15-28

  • Daniel’s distress — verse 15
  • A General Interpretation — verses 16-18
  • A Fuller Interpretation — verses 19-27
  • Daniel’s Response — verse 28

Interpretive Guidelines

Interpretations of Daniel’s prophecies differ widely. Liberals reject all prophecies, because they require a sovereign God and a miraculous revelation of future events. While conservative, evangelical scholars believe the prophecies in Daniel are true, their interpretations differ greatly. Whether liberal or conservative, our conclusions grow out of the premises and presuppositions governing the process and the product of our interpretation. For this reason, I wish to clearly state the foundational presuppositions and principles on which this exposition of Daniel is based.

(1) The Book of Daniel is a part of the Holy Scriptures, and thus inspired, accurate, and trustworthy.

(2) The prophecies of Daniel must be understood in relationship to and in light of the other prophecies of Daniel.

(3) These prophecies must be understood in light of their historical background as provided in Daniel, in the inspired revelation provided by other portions of Scripture,and the cautious use of supplementary information by reliable historical documents or study. Other biblical prophecies bear on the prophecies of Daniel, particularly preceding or contemporary prophecies.

(4) Prophecies not completely fulfilled cannot be fully understood until after their fulfillment. At least the final portion of chapter 7 has not been fulfilled. Even those portions which we believe have been fulfilled, students of prophecy differ about the way of their fulfillment.

(5) Above all, the prophecy in this chapter means precisely what God says it means in this text, nothing more and nothing less. How easily we turn from what is revealed to speculate about what has been concealed (see Deuteronomy 29:29). We should not spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy trying to fill in the blanks God has left. Our attention should be given to what is clearly and emphatically said. In our passage, Daniel asks for and receives an explanation. What God determined to reveal to Daniel should be enough for us.

Overall Observations

Note these general observations about our passage before we turn to a more detailed study.

(1) Daniel 7 is the last chapter written in Aramaic in the Book of Daniel. Daniel 1:1-2:4a was written in Hebrew. From Daniel 2:4b to the end of chapter 7, the original text was written in Aramaic (the language of Babylon in that day). After this chapter, the book returns to the Hebrew language.

(2) Chapters 7 and 8, while written in different languages, are written during the reign of Belshazzar and somehow linked by the author in Daniel 8:1.

(3) This chapter contains the major segment of Daniel, which is primarily prophetic, although it does not contain the first prophecy in the Book of Daniel.

(4) This is the first prophecy in the book revealed directly to Daniel. The other prophecies were revealed to King Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar and interpreted by Daniel.

(5) While the process involves wicked kings and nations and the suffering of the saints, the culmination is the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom.

(6) None of the kings or the kingdoms are identified.

(7) No identification is made of the saints as “Jews” or “Gentiles.” There seems to be no Jewish nationalistic emphasis here, as there will be later.

(8) The four beasts are all different, with the last standing apart from the first three.

(9) The interpretation of Daniel’s vision comes in two parts, beginning with a general interpretation and then a more specific one based on Daniel’s questions.

(10) Daniel’s preoccupation is with the last beast, rather than the first three.

(11) A distinction is made between God the “Father”—the “Ancient of Days” and God the Son—the “Son of Man”—with both playing a part in the establishment of the kingdom.

(12) No distinction between the first coming of Christ and the second is made in the coming of the eternal kingdom of God.

(13) In some sense, the last kingdom is still on-going. Since the last kingdom and the prophecies associated with it have not yet been fulfilled, we must in some way be a part of that kingdom. The day of judgment is still future and has not yet been fulfilled. Thus, the vision is yet unfulfilled in terms of its major emphasis. No wonder interpreters differ about the details (Just my thoughts.). Quite clear, however, is the identity of the “Ancient of Days” and the “Son of Man.”


Chapter 7 moves from the historical accounts of Daniel and his three friends to the prophetic revelations received by Daniel in the last half of the Book. The following chart may help us visualize the relationship of Daniel’s prophecies to the historical setting in which they were revealed:







Daniel 1-4

Daniel 5

Daniel 6

Daniel 12

Daniel 7-8

Daniel 9

Daniel 11-12

The first prophetic revelation is found in Daniel 2. A night vision is given to king Nebuchadnezzar, apparently early in his reign as king of Babylon. Through the vision of a magnificent, awe-inspiring statue, God reveals the future for Gentile kings and their kingdoms. The head of the statue was made of gold, the chest and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of bronze, and the legs and feet of iron and clay.

In his interpretation of the dream, Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar he was the head of gold. The identity of the kingdoms represented by the other body parts and metals was not revealed. The king is told that all of these earthly kingdoms would be destroyed by the “stone not fashioned by human hands,” and that an eternal kingdom would take the place of these temporal kingdoms. The subject of the vision in chapter 2 seems to be taken up again in chapter 7. The inter-relationship between the prophecies of chapters 2 and 7 is demonstrated on the following page:




Head of gold

The winged lion

Breast & arms of silver

The devouring bear

Belly & thighs of bronze

The winged leopard

Legs & feet of iron & clay

The indescribable beast


A four-part statue

Four beasts

Statue represents kingdoms

Beasts represent kingdoms

Deterioration: Gold to iron mixed with clay

Deterioration: Nearly human to blaspheming beast

Statue destroyed

Beasts destroyed

Eternal Kingdom is established

Eternal kingdom is established


Nebuchadnezzar’s Vision

Daniel’s Vision

Daniel’s interpretation

Angel’s interpretation

Glorious statue

Horrible beasts

Human statue in four parts

Four (inhumane) beasts

Destroyed mysteriously by a stone

Destroyed in judgment by God

Daniel’s Dream

1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it. 2 Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’ 6 After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, 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. 7 After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 “While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth uttering great boasts. 9 I kept looking until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, and the books were opened. 11 “Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. 12 “As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time. 13 “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

The first recorded vision comes to Daniel in the form of a night vision, like those of Nebuchadnezzar (2:1; 4:5) during the first year of the reign of Belshazzar. How interesting! The vision comes to Daniel in Belshazzar’s first year. A subsequent and related vision comes to him in this king’s third year (see 8:1). The revelation of the “writing on the banquet hall wall,” already described in chapter 5, actually happened later, on the last day of Belshazzar’s life. According to verse 1, the written record of the revelation Daniel received in his first night vision is but a summary of the prophecy he received.

Belshazzar’s rise to power and ascent to the throne seems to have inaugurated a new age for Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was the first ruler of Babylon to have contact with Daniel. Having gained an appreciation for Daniel and his three Hebrew friends, over a period he came to faith in their God. His declaration, which resulted from the deliverance of the three Hebrews, made it unlawful to hinder the worship of the Jews; his decree recorded at the end of chapter 4 went much further. It not only bore witness to the conversion of this king, but encouraged all of the subjects of Babylonian rule to worship the God of Israel.

I believe some in Babylon, like their king, came to a genuine faith in God. Many others may have reluctantly professed or actually adopted the Jewish religion. King Nebuchadnezzar died apparently nine years before Belshazzar came to power. Public sentiment was turning against this “foreign religion,” and the Babylonians, including Belshazzar, wanted a return to their “old time religion” —the pagan worship of the gods of Babylon. With the commencement of Belshazzar’s co-regency may have come not only a rejection of the Jewish faith and worship, but a new wave of persecution directed toward it. The toasting of the gods of the Babylonians with the sacred temple vessels, recorded in chapter 5, may have been Belshazzar’s final act of blasphemy. As we shall show later, the content of the prophecy of Daniel 7 is very closely related to the reign of Belshazzar. The words of verse 1 point to the relationship between the prophecy Daniel received and its historical setting and context.

In his vision, Daniel observed the sea being stirred up into a raging storm by the “four winds of heaven.” This signifies that the events which follow have been ordained by God. God stirred up the sea, and from its foaming, raging waters came forth four horrifying beasts. These beasts, each different from the other, are described in verses 4-7.

The first beast was lion-like, with wings like that of an eagle. Its wings were plucked from it; if this happened in mid-air, he must have plummeted to the ground. If not, he could never have become airborne again. The beast was lifted up and made to stand like a man. The beast also was given a man’s mind.

Generally, it is agreed that this beast represents the Babylonian empire and king Nebuchadnezzar in particular. This description certainly fits the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s plunge from power and sanity in chapter 4. While God tells neither Daniel nor us that this beast represents Nebuchadnezzar, He does reveal that the “head of gold” in the vision of the great statue was Nebuchadnezzar (2:36-38). Since the head of gold seems to describe the same king and kingdom as the first beast, it may not be too far afield to conclude that Nebuchadnezzar is the king represented by the first beast.

By far, this first beast is the best of a bad bunch. He is more beastly in the beginning and more human in the end, paralleling the character of Nebuchadnezzar. This also underscores that these four kingdoms go from reasonably good to unbelievably bad. The only human things mentioned of the fourth beast are his eyes and his mouth. His mouth is used to speak boastfully.

The second and third beasts are briefly described in verses 5 and 6. The second is bear-like. The precise meaning of the symbols of the raised side and the three ribs is illusive. Encouraged to do so, it savagely devours. The third beast is leopard-like, with four wings and four heads, and it is given dominion.

The fourth beast receives greater attention and is of the most interest to Daniel. Different from the first three, this beast seems uglier, more powerful, and much more hostile toward God and His saints. Daniel finds nothing to compare to it. With iron-like teeth, horns (some with eyes), and feet, it is utterly destructive. What it does not destroy or consume with its teeth, it crushes under foot, much like a bull in a china shop.

This fourth beast has the distinction of ten horns. As Daniel continues to watch, another horn emerges, as three of the other horns are plucked out by the roots to make room for it. Looking about with its numerous eyes, no one can escape his look or hide from him. With its mouth, the beast continues to speak boastfully.

The scene of the four beasts arising from the sea, which Daniel saw in his night vision, is strikingly similar to the account found in the 13th chapter of Revelation:

1 And he stood on the sand of the seashore, and I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2 And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. 3 And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 and they worshiped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” 5 And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8 And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. 9 If any one has an ear, let him hear. 10 If any one is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if any one kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints (Revelation 13:1-10).

As the beast continues to boast, a second scene commences in Daniel’s vision, and for a period of time both scenes run simultaneously. The second scene portrays the establishment of the thrones on which the Ancient of Days and those holding court are to be seated to pronounce judgment.

In the first scene, heavenly winds are employed to whip up the sea from which the four beasts emerges. In the second scene, heaven calmly prepares for court, which will determine that the time for judgment has come. The beasts are a horrifying and frightening sight; the heavenly court scene is one of regal splendor and beauty. The beasts emerge out of chaos and confusion; the heavenly court is calm and dignified. This scene in Daniel is also similar to a prophecy recorded in the Book of Revelation:

4 and they worshiped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”

11 And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. 12 and he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 And he performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. 15 And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed (Revelation 13:4, 11-15).

Note that the description of the beasts is written in prose, while the description of the heavenly court in verses 9-10 and of the Son of Man in verses 13-14 is written in poetry form. The beasts are hardly worthy of prose, but the court of heaven deserves a description of the finest words.

The “horn” continues to sound off while the court is being set up for judgment. Suddenly, the boasting beast is silenced by death, and his body is cast into the burning fire. Even the fate of this fourth beast is different than his three predecessors, as his life and his kingdom seem to end at the same moment. The other three are removed from power but allowed to live for some time after their removal (verse 12).

As Daniel continues to watch, someone descends with the clouds of heaven, one like a “Son of Man.” He is presented to the Ancient of Days, and to Him is given dominion, glory, and the eternal kingdom. He will rule over all nations forever.

The expression, “son of man,” is not new to Daniel nor to the Jews of his day. Up to this time, it was simply a synonym for being human, a son of man. In the first use of this expression, being a “son of man” was contrasted with being God:

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)

The expression is used in the Psalms in a more pregnant way, in reference to the coming Messiah.

Let Thy hand be upon the man of Thy right hand, Upon the son of man whom Thou didst make strong for Thyself (Psalm 80:17).

Daniel uses the expression “Son of man” twice. The first time in Daniel 7:13, he is referring to Messiah, who will sit on the eternal throne of His father, David. The second time, the expression is used in reference to Daniel himself, as it will be used very frequently in Ezekiel to refer to this great prophet:

So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end” (Daniel 8:17).

Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” (Ezekiel 2:1).

Old Testament Jews would likely regard the reference to the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7 as a reference to the Messiah, although they would probably not understand Him to be both divine and human. Before the coming of Christ, who would? When Jesus came, He embraced this expression as a designation for Himself, giving the term meaning vastly beyond that previously held by any Jew.

A Divine Interpretation

15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 16 “I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. 18 ‘But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.’ 19 “Then I desired to know the exact meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its claws of bronze, and which devoured, crushed, and trampled down the remainder with its feet, 20 and the meaning of the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, and before which three of them fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth uttering great boasts, and which was larger in appearance than its associates. 21 “I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom. 23 “Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms, and it will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. 24 ‘As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. 25 ‘And he will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 ‘But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. 27 ‘Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’ 28 “At this point the revelation ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”

Daniel’s response to the vision was far from assuring or calming. Some of his alarm arose from his not yet having been given the interpretation of his vision. Yet, his emotional response was valid and changed little after the vision was explained more fully.

This vision was an “interactive vision,” as Daniel was not only present in the vision but was able to approach one standing by to ask the meaning of what he saw. It seems safe to assume the interpreter was an angelic being; at least this is the case in chapter 8 (8:15-26). The interpretation of the events Daniel witnessed in his vision is given in its most concise form in verses 17 and 18: The four beasts were four kings, who will arise from the earth. In spite of these kings, the saints of the Highest One will possess the eternal kingdom forever and ever. In spite of all these beasts do and say, in spite of their power and even their success, neither they nor their kingdoms will last. The kingdom of God will be established and the saints will possess it forever.

The emphasis of this brief interpretation falls not on the enemies of God, their power, their brutality, nor their boasting, but on the kingdom of God, its certainty and its permanence for all the saints forever. The emphasis is positive. If Daniel had been shaken by the dark side of his vision, he is reminded in the interpretation of the outcome of these events—the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom.

The vision’s explanation was not thorough enough to satisfy Daniel. Desiring a more detailed explanation, he apparently asked for one and received it. Passing over the first three beasts, his questions focus on the last beast. He wants to know more about this dreadful beast, different from the rest, especially in the destruction he wrought. The ten horns are of interest to him, but most of all that final horn which arose, surpassing and replacing three others and speaking boastfully.

The vision plays on before Daniel, almost as though in answer to his desire to know more. The boastful beast becomes even more aggressive, waging war with the saints and even overpowering them. No wonder this vision causes Daniel such distress. This takes place until the Ancient of Days comes and judgment is given to the saints, at the time the eternal kingdom becomes their possession.

These are the things Daniel sees in the vision. Now, in verse 23, the angelic interpreter explains the relationship of the boastful beast and the coming of the eternal kingdom of God. The fourth beast is a fourth king, different than the others. He distinguishes himself by his ability to overcome the whole earth, crushing it under foot.

The ten horns, Daniel is told, represent ten kings who will emerge out of the fourth kingdom. An eleventh king then rises to power, different from the others, replacing three of the previous kings. This king’s boasting turns to blasphemy. He not only speaks against the Most High, he oppresses the saints. He intends to make changes in time and in law. Just what this means is unclear, but it suggests this arrogant king not only speaks against God, but, like Satan, he aspires to change the order God has established. He surpasses those before him by speaking boastfully, then blaspheming, and finally seeking to overthrow God’s order.

The final words of verse 25 are carefully chosen to let the reader know that while this king appears to be successfully opposing God, all he does is a part of the divine plan for the last days. The eleventh horn may hope to change the time, but in God’s plan this king is granted “a time, times, and half a time” —three and a half years to oppose and oppress the saints. God grants this king success and his saints suffering, but only for an appointed time.

When the court sits for judgment, his dominion is taken from him and he is destroyed forever. At this time the kingdom of God is established. The saints of the Highest One are given all the kingdoms of the earth for an everlasting kingdom. They will serve and obey Him forever.

Daniel’s vision ends here, but its impact on him does not end. His thoughts alarm him, and his face pales. Nevertheless, Daniel tells no one, keeping the matter to himself and suffering a quiet agony over the future events God has revealed to him.


The message of this prophecy is really quite simple and may be summed up this way. Before the kingdom of God is established on the earth, four earthly kingdoms will rise and fall. These kingdoms go from bad to worse. Arrogant, boastful, and even blasphemous kings will reign over the nations, opposing God and oppressing His saints. All of this is by divine design. During times of oppression, it may appear the saints are being defeated and that God’s kingdom is but wishful thinking. When the sin and oppression of evil men reaches a predetermined point, God will remove them and establish His promised eternal kingdom. Then the saints will receive the kingdom which will never end.

A number of lessons from our text have broad application to our thinking and conduct as Christians. Consider these lessons as we conclude.

(1) Prophecy is necessary because God has chosen to settle His accounts with men slowly. God is eternal, and so is His plan for all creation. God is in no hurry to fulfill His promises, (even though it only encompasses 6000 years,) whether His promise of the eternal kingdom for all the saints or the promise of eternal destruction and judgment for sinners. Prophecy is necessary then so that men are reassured of divine deliverance and blessing, as well as divine judgment (see 2 Peter 2:4-9). Through the ages, the saints have learned that they must wait for the promises of God to be fulfilled and that this may not happen in their lifetime (see Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40). God may choose to delay judgment on the wicked until their sin reaches full bloom; the possession of the land of Canaan would not happen in Abraham’s lifetime, but more than 400 years later after the suffering of the people of God (see Genesis 15:12-17). God also allows the wicked to persist and even to prosper, so that those whom He has chosen might be saved (Romans 9:22-24). God’s plan and program are carried out on His schedule, not ours (see 2 Peter 2:8-10). Prophecy becomes necessary from time to time to remind men of those things God has planned for the future which He will surely fulfill.

(2) While the timing of the fulfillment of divine prophecy may seem remote to the recipient, it still has relevance for him. According to our text, the prophecies of Daniel 7 will not be fulfilled for a considerable period of time. Four kings will establish four kingdoms, and some of these kingdoms have a number of kings. The last kingdom has at least eleven kings. Centuries must therefore pass before the prophecies of Daniel are fulfilled.

The distance in time of the fulfillment of Daniel 7 said something very important to the captive Jews of Daniel’s day. It would be but a very few years until Cyrus would come to power and assist the Jews to return to Jerusalem and the land of Israel. In the euphoria of this grand event, someone might well conclude the kingdom of God was to be established within the lifetime of those returning to Israel. Our text challenges such a conclusion, and later prophecies in Daniel further document that the coming of the King and of the kingdom will be some time further in the future. In those days, as in our own, there are always those are too quick to conclude that the kingdom of God has come (see Matthew 24:4, 6, 8, 24-28; 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff.).

The kingdom of God would not be established in Daniel’s lifetime, nor in the life of those who returned to the land of Israel from their captivity. The prophecy of Daniel 7 nevertheless had great relevance and application to those in Daniel’s day. Nebuchadnezzar may have started badly, but by the time we read of him in Daniel 4 he seems to be a true believer in God, urging the citizens of his kingdom to worship and serve Him. For the remainder of Nebuchadnezzar’s life, it seems that religion in the kingdom of Babylon was at least favorable to the worship of the God of the Jews. While most of those in this kingdom may not have had a true conversion, at least they tolerated the Jewish faith as the religion of the state.

With the death of Nebuchadnezzar comes a change in the people’s attitudes, especially their leaders toward Judaism. Belshazzar came to power several years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar and seems to have turned completely away from the God of Israel. Consequently, it is little wonder that in the events recorded in Daniel 5, Belshazzar was ignorant of Daniel and the abilities God had given him. He only called on him in a moment of sheer panic when no one else could help, and only then because of the recommendation of the queen mother.

The reign of Belshazzar was, in some measure, a foretaste of what was yet to come in full measure during the reign of the fourth beast, especially of the eleventh horn. Would this horn Daniel’s vision revealed oppose the people of God and even blaspheme God Himself? God would strike him down in the moment of His choosing to silence him once and for all and put an end to his kingdom. Would Belshazzar toast the gods of gold, silver, wood and stone with the sacred temple vessels? God would strike him down suddenly too and bring his kingdom to a swift end. The prophecies of Daniel 7 speak of a future day of reckoning, foreshadowed by the actions of Belshazzar and the judgment of God on him and his kingdom.

As I read through the statements men have made about the God of Israel in the first six chapters of Daniel, I find that what men came to know and to acknowledge through history, God declares through prophecy. I encourage you to compare the statements of Daniel 2:21-22, 44, 47; 4:3, 34-35, 37; 6:26 with the content and declarations of Daniel 7. What God declares in prophecy, He reveals as well in history. We are in harmony with God when our declarations conform to his. Those of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, and Darius all agree with the prophecy of Daniel 7. God is able to raise up kings and put them down. God will establish His kingdom, and that kingdom, unlike the kingdoms of men, is eternal.

(3) The finest commentary on the prophecy of Daniel 7 comes from our Lord Himself. In the Old Testament, the expression “son of man” was used most frequently in reference to men, who were merely (as opposed to God) human. In the Psalms and also in Daniel 7, the expression “Son of Man” begins to take on a more technical meaning, referring to the Messiah, who will sit on the throne of His father, David, to rule over men forever.

When the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, having added perfect humanity to His undiminished deity, He spoke of Himself very often as “the Son of Man.” In the Gospels, Jesus began not only to identify Himself as the Messiah, the promised “Son of Man,” but also to explain all that this involved. The Son of Man had the power to forgive sins, as well as to heal a paralytic (Matthew 9:6). The Son of Man was also “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). He would rise from the dead (12:40). He will also send forth His angels to gather those who do not belong in His kingdom (12:41). He questioned His disciples so that they could confess that He, the Son of Man, was the Messiah (16:13f.). He would, after His death, burial, and resurrection come in His glory, rewarding men according to their deeds (16:27). His disciples were promised that they would share in His reign as King (19:20). The transfiguration of our Lord was but a foretaste of His coming glorious kingdom (16:28). When He came with His kingdom, they would be sure to recognize Him (24:27). However, the Son of Man must first suffer at the hands of men (17:22; 20:18).

Those who rejected the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of Man, would mourn when they saw Him returning in the clouds:

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).

As the destruction of the last beast and the blaspheming horn came as a complete shock to them, so the Lord’s coming will catch unbelievers unprepared as well (24:27-39). His followers too must be alert and ready for His return (24:44).

In my opinion, the most dramatic reference of our Lord to His identity as the Son of Man comes as the Lord Jesus stands on trial before the Sanhedrin and the high priest:

59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death; 60 and they did not find it, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, 61 and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” 63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, AND COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN” (Matthew 26:59-64).

In His response to the demand of the high priest, Jesus directly claimed to be the promised Messiah. That was bad enough, from the religious leaders’ perspective, but the way in which He answered them was the last straw. Jesus quoted the words of Daniel 7:13. They surely knew this text to be messianic, but they had always applied it to the Gentiles. They believed that the Messiah would come to establish the kingdom, to bless the Jews and to condemn the Gentiles. Jesus applied this text to them, not as those who would enter into His kingdom, but as those who would be judged at His return. No wonder His words stung and prompted them to act as they did. For the time, it was these Jewish leaders who were beastly, arrogant, and blasphemous, and because of this they would suffer divine judgment. The words of Daniel which applied to the beasts now found application to them.

(4) Suffering is to be expected by the saints, before they enter into the glorious kingdom of God. Daniel 7 indicates in the clearest way that prior to the coming of the kingdom of God the saints will suffer at the hand of the final “horn” and even be overpowered by him. Wherever I see the Scriptures speak of the coming kingdom of God, I find suffering closely associated with it. Before the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt and brought into the land of Canaan, they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians. Our deliverance from the power of sin and the penalty of death has been accomplished by our Lord, who suffered in our place. Those who will reign with Christ are those who have suffered (see Romans 8:17;Philippians 3:10-11; 2 Timothy 2:12). Suffering is an inseparable part of the process which leads to glory. So it was for our Lord (1 Peter 1:10-12), and so it will be for us.

(5) Prophecy is not written as hype but revealed to produce the hope of glory and endurance in present tribulation. Prophecy is not a pep rally, which generates a great burst of short-term enthusiasm but does little to inspire faith and endurance in the midst of suffering. Neither is prophecy written to make us happy or to feel good. Daniel’s response is testimony to this reality.

(6) Prophecy is written to sober the saints. Prophecy speaks not only of the joys and glories of God’s kingdom to come but of the suffering and tribulation preceding the eternal blessings of the kingdom of God. In the context of the coming of His kingdom and the suffering and trials which precede it, soberness is a vitally important quality which prophecy promotes:

1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8).

Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).

The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:7).

(7) Prophecy is revealed, not to give us the particulars of things to come, but to change our perspective. Prophecy is necessary because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. We could never predict the goals God has determined, nor the means He has ordained for history to reach them. Prophecy reveals that which we would not and could not expect apart from divine revelation.

In God’s economy, things are not what they appear to be. We do not walk by sight, but by faith. We do not act on what we see so much as on what God has said. Abraham and Sarah were elderly and childless. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for them to have a child. And yet God said they would. And they did! Abraham had to believe and behave on the basis of God’s promises, rather than on the basis of his perception.

As the boasting horn of Daniel 7 seems to be getting away with his blasphemies and his oppression of the saints, it seems to him he can do whatever he wishes, including the changing of times and law. As the wicked prosper in their sin, it seems as though they can continue in sin without any fear of divine judgment (see Psalm 73:1-11; 2 Peter 2:3-4). Their perception is wrong, for suddenly and without warning their day of destruction will come upon them. When that day comes for them, it is too late to repent.

As the saints suffer at the hands of the wicked, it may appear all hope is lost. It may seem to them that their defeat is certain and that their hopes of entering into the eternal kingdom are lost. Things are not as they appear to be! When we expect it least, the Lord will return, the wicked will be punished, and the kingdom of God established forevermore.

I have heard a number of attempts to explain the “gaps” in Old Testament prophecy. One of those gaps is found in Daniel 7. The coming of the Son of Man is represented as one coming, and not two. We know that Jesus came the first time to die and that He will come again to subdue His enemies and establish His kingdom. We are told the Old Testament prophet could not see the distance between the first and the second coming of our Lord, just as one cannot see the distance between two mountains, when viewed from afar.

Considering this text has changed my opinion about the “gap” in the prophecies of the Old Testament. The gap is not the prophet’s problem; it is ours. The Old Testament prophet did not see the gap because he viewed the coming of Christ as God does. From an eternal perspective, the coming of Christ and His kingdom is but one coming. Our Lord’s first coming happened over a period of more than 30 years, and yet we view this as one coming. If, in God’s eyes, a day is as 1,000 years and 1,000 years as a day (2 Peter 3:8), then the coming of our Lord has only been a few days from beginning to end.

We see a gap—an almost insurmountable gap—between suffering and glory; God does not. Suffering and glory are a part of one work. Just so, Christ’s suffering and glory is but a part of one coming. Prophecy greatly benefits the Christian because it enables him to see things from the bigger and broader perspective—from God’s perspective—so that when he suffers, he knows it is but a part of the process of getting to glory.

Consider the birth of a child, remembering that God’s deliverance and salvation is likened to birth. The process of having a baby involves the pains of childbirth. They are far from pleasant but an unavoidable part of the process. The woman endures in the view of the final outcome of the process. When the child is born, the pains of suffering are quickly lost in the joys of seeing a new life, or a couple of hours of pain compared to many years of child rearing. Child-bearing is a process which involves suffering and glory. Salvation is likewise a process involving suffering—and then glory.

Prophecy is revealed to men to change their perspective, to urge them to see things as God sees them rather than as they appear to the human eye. We are not to base our thinking and actions on circumstances, but upon the Scriptures. What God says, He will do. History has shown this to be true in the past, and prophecy assures us that it will be true in the future. Let us listen then, and be sober, enduring the sufferings and trials sent our way, looking expectantly and certainly for His kingdom to come.

Daniel’s Disturbing Dream
Questions and Answers

(1) Why does Daniel indicate the historical setting of the vision he receives in chapter 7?

In verse 1 Daniel indicates his vision came to him in the first year of the reign of Belshazzar. The vision recorded in chapter 8 took place in the third year of Belshazzar. The account of the writing on the wall and the death of Belshazzar (obviously the last year of his reign) is found in Daniel 5.

Prophecy is not revealed in a historical vacuum. While most prophecies in the Bible reveal events which will take place after the death of the recipient of the prophecy, the prophecy is revealed for impact upon those to whom it was revealed. Prophecy is always practical and relevant to the person(s) receiving it.

At the outset of the account of his vision, Daniel wants his reader to know the historical context in which this prophecy was given and to consider its interpretation and application in the light of that context. Specifically, the account of “The Bad News at Belshazzar’s Banquet” (not a bad title for that lesson) in chapter 5 was given to us so that we could better understand the prophecies of chapters 7 and 8. We will deal with the meaning and application of Daniel’s vision later on in our questions and answers.

(2) Why do you think Daniel summarized his dream when he wrote it rather than tell it in full (see verse 1)?

Editing is often evident in the Bible (see John 20:30-31; 31:25). Editing allows an author to set aside details which are not significant and focus on the essence of the message he is trying to communicate. Daniel boiled down his vision to its essence, so we would not fail to understand the message he meant to convey to us.

(3) What principles should guide and govern our attempt to interpret the prophecy of this chapter?

First, the prophecies of Daniel are divinely inspired and revealed, and thus they are true and reliable. Second, the prophecies of Daniel are to be understood in the light of the entire Book of Daniel, of the Old Testament, and of the Bible as a whole. Thirdly (and most importantly), the prophecies of Daniel mean exactly what God says they mean, nothing more and nothing less. The prophecy of this chapter is divinely interpreted. God has revealed in this interpretation what He wants us to know and has kept back that which we need not know. We dare not ignore that which is revealed nor do we dare go too far afield in speculating about what is concealed (see Deuteronomy 29:29; 1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:23).

(4) What is the structure of Daniel 7?

The chapter falls into two major parts. Verses 1-14 contain the vision which God gave to Daniel. Verses 15-28 contain the divine interpretation of this vision.

(5) What do the four beasts represent? How was the fourth beast different from the first three?

Each of the four beasts represent a king and thus a resulting kingdom. Each beast has its own unique characteristics. The fourth beast appears to differ from the other three in that he is more beastly, more powerful, more destructive, and more arrogant. This beast is also unique among the four in that he grows 11 horns. These horns are also kings, from whom kingdoms arise (verse 24). This fourth beast seems to regenerate in the form of subsequent kings and kingdoms. His final offspring, so to speak, is the little horn which becomes the great blasphemer, whose life and kingdom is suddenly cut off by the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man.

(6) How important is it for us to identity the kings and the kingdoms mentioned in our text? Are we supposed to discover their identity?

Daniel was told that the beasts are kings, but he was not told the identity of any of the kings. There is fairly strong inferential evidence that Nebuchadnezzar was represented by the first beast, the winged lion. The point of this prophecy is not to tell us who future kings will be, but rather what they will be like. Until God’s eternal kingdom is established, kingdoms will progress from bad to worse. These kings will rise to power and dominate the earth. In the latter days, an unusually powerful and evil king will arise, who will blaspheme God and oppress the people of God. When his appointed time is over, God will destroy this king and his kingdom and establish His eternal kingdom on the earth. This is what we need to know from Daniel’s vision, rather than the identity of the beasts.

(7) Who is the Ancient of Days? Who is the Son of Man? What role do they play in relation to the four beasts?

The Ancient of Days is a designation for God, not found elsewhere in the Bible. This designation refers to God the Father in a way that stresses His eternality, dignity, and power. It is virtually the opposite of the term “beast.” The expression, “Son of man,” is not new to Daniel. In Ezekiel, and even in Daniel (8:17), it is used in reference to a prophet. Usually it refers to a person as a human being. But here in chapter 7, as in Psalm 80:17, the “son of man” is more than just a man, He is the Messiah. When the Lord Jesus came to the earth, He often referred to Himself as the Son of Man, gradually making it clear that He was the Messiah who was God incarnate.

When the iniquity of the blasphemous horn reaches full bloom and his appointed time to rule is fulfilled, God will destroy him, casting his body into the fire. It is at this time that all human kingdoms will become subject to God and to the saints in the eternal kingdom, which the Son of Man will establish when He comes to the earth to judge and to rule.

(8) Is there any relationship between Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 and Daniel’s dream in chapter 7?

There seems to be a close connection between the vision of Nebuchadnezzar, which is revealed and interpreted in chapter 2, and the vision of Daniel in chapter 7. The statue has four parts; there are four beasts. Both the statue parts (made of different metals) and the beasts represent kings and kingdoms. Both series of four kingdoms begin well and end badly. Both sets of kingdoms are brought to a sudden end and are replaced by an eternal kingdom. It therefore seems that the two prophecies speak of the same four kingdoms by means of different imagery. The latter prophecy of Daniel 7 adds many more details than were revealed in chapter 2.

(9) What is the relationship between Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 and the events described in Daniel 5?

The blasphemous horn of Daniel 7, which goes so far as to oppose the people of God, is suddenly taken by death, and his kingdom is removed. In a similar way, Belshazzar becomes blasphemous and is suddenly removed by God for his wickedness. The death of this king brings about the end of his kingdom. Daniel 5 is an illustration and a prototype of what will happen in the end times, as described in the prophecy of Daniel 7. The fulfillment of the prophecy of Belshazzar’s demise underscores the certainty of the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision in the last days.

(10) What effect did the vision have on Daniel, and why?

Daniel is greatly distressed by the vision which he sees in chapter 7. We are not told precisely what it is that troubles Daniel. From the context, it would seem that Daniel’s distress is the result of the wickedness and oppression of the world kingdoms which are represented by the beasts, and by the knowledge that the saints will be oppressed and even overcome for a period of time. The fact that wicked men will prosper and prevail and that the righteous will suffer is hardly pleasant news.

(11) What is the point of the vision? What is its message to Daniel, to the Jews, and to us?

In the latter days, before the kingdom of God is established on the earth, kings and kingdoms will become worse and worse. The wicked will prosper and appear to get away with their opposition toward God and His saints. The righteous will suffer. But in the end, God will judge the wicked and establish His kingdom for His saints.

The saints should expect to suffer because of their faith, especially as the last days for the kingdoms of men draw near. The saints should also expect the wicked to prosper, for a season. The saints should neither believe nor behave on the basis of how things appear to be (the wicked prospering and prevailing over the righteous). The saints must believe and behave according to what God has promised about the future —the righteous will possess the kingdom of God forever.

Amen! Even so Lord Jesus Come Soon!

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in The Book of Daniel

The Judgment Of The Nations

In the broad program of divine dealings with the Gentiles, the sovereignty of God over creation is revealed in an unusual way. Although God in His sovereign grace has allowed Gentiles to assume great power and in the words of Christ, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24), the consummation of this program inevitably brings the Gentiles before God for much-deserved divine judgment.

The history of the world has demonstrated that mankind is not judged once but many times. God has already exercised His judgment upon angels, Adam and Eve, and many particular judgments have fallen upon individuals, cities, and nations. In the flood of Noah the entire world was subject to disciplinary judgment. Towering above all judgments in history is the fact that Christ on the cross was judged as the sin bearer for mankind and that there Satan also was judged and defeated (John 16:11). Christians in this present age of grace also experience the disciplinary judgment of God (I Corinthians 11:32). Throughout the whole period of the tribulation and especially in the great tribulation judgment after judgment is poured out upon the world.

In this sequence the judgment of the nations assumes great significance and is one of the important milestones in divine dealing with a wicked world. That it is not the final judgment is evident, for other judgments will follow at the end of the millennium and the final judgment of all will be at the Great White Throne. The judgment of the nations, however, is important as bringing to a close one of the major phases of divine dealings, namely, the times of the Gentiles, and in a preliminary way anticipates the judgment of all unsaved men which will occur a thousand years later. The confusion which has arisen in the attempt to make this the judgment of all men, including both the resurrected and translated saints as well as the wicked, is corrected by careful attention to the exact text of Matthew 25:31-46 where the details of the judgment are given.

The Time Of The Judgment

The passage is introduced by a time clause indicating when the judgment will take place in the tremendous sequence of events related to the second coming: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory” (Matthew 25:31). The context indicates that this is the coming of Christ to the earth in connection with the establishment of His earthly kingdom. The judgment, therefore, is distinguished in time from judgments that relate to the judgment seat of Christ occurring in connection with the rapture of the church, and from all historic judgments that precede as well as the many judgments that are poured upon the earth during the great tribulation. It follows the second coming of Christ to the earth, and precedes and is a preparation for His reign on earth for a thousand years. Therefore it is also distinguished from any judgments on rebellion during His kingdom reign and from the final judgment of the Great White Throne at the end of the millennium.

The Place Of The Judgment

From the context it is also clear that the place of the judgment is earth, not heaven. The phrase, “the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him,” is a picture of Christ and the angels coming from heaven to the earth. This is substantiated by another time clause, “Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory” (Matthew 25:31). This is not the throne of God in heaven, but rather the earthly throne predicted by the prophets. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” (Jeremiah 23:5). The place of this judgment, therefore, is the millennial earth not heaven.

The Subjects Of The Judgment

In Matthew 25:32 the subjects of this divine judgment are clearly declared to be “all nations.” The passage could be translated “all Gentiles” as the Greek word is ethne. This is a common word found frequently in the Bible and generally used of non-Jewish races. Although occasionally used of the Jews themselves (cp. Luke 7:5; 23:2; John 11:48, 50, 51, 52; 18:35; Acts 10:22; etc.), the more common meaning is to refer to Gentiles as distinguished from Jews, for instance in the references in Romans 11:13; 15:27; 16:4; Galatians 2:12. In some passages the Gentile character of the word is the main thought as in Romans 3:29; 9:24.

The context here indicates that the nations or the Gentiles should be viewed as the non-Jewish population of the world. In the narrative they are contrasted to “my brethren” (Matthew 25:40) who in the passage are distinguished from both the sheep and the goats, which comprise the entire mass of the Gentiles. In order to maintain the distinctions, it is best to understand it as referring to the non-Jewish peoples of the world. However, a similar judgment awaits the Jewish people (Ezekiel 20:34-38) and the issue is not whether both Jews and Gentiles are judged, but rather whether this passage concerns itself primarily with the Gentiles. In view of the fact that this is the climax of the times of the Gentiles, it seems appropriate that a special judgment should be applied to these who have oppressed Israel throughout their history.

From the English word nations some have inferred that what is dealt with here are political entities or countries as such. This is not at all indicated by the word ethne, a racial rather than an organizational term, and the details of the prophecy are such that they can be applied only to individuals and not to groups. The expression “all nations” therefore is best understood as referring to all Gentiles and more specifically all Gentiles who are living on earth at this time. It should be understood that many Gentiles at the time of the second coming of Christ were also already judged in the very act of divine wrath being poured on the armies gathered in the Middle East according to Revelation 19:17-21. As this is an earlier event in connection with the second advent, it must be assumed that we have here living Gentiles who were non-combatants or not involved in this great struggle.

The Basis Of The Judgment

This passage in Matthew 25 is a remarkable one in that works are prominent. According to the Scriptures, as all Gentiles are gathered before Christ to be judged they are divided into two classes, one described as “sheep” and the other designated “goats.” According to Matthew 25:33, “he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” Having made this arbitrary division, He then justifies what He is doing by addressing Himself first to the sheep. In graphic language Christ in His role as “the King” declares to the sheep on his right hand: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Matthew 25:34-36).

The declaration by Christ is remarkable because attention is called to certain rather ordinary works such as feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty drink, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison. Furthermore, Christ declares that they who have done these things have done them to Him personally.

The righteous accordingly answer Him with the question, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?” (Matthew 25:37-39).

In reply Christ as “the King” states, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

In contrast to this, Christ then turns to those on the left hand described as goats and declares, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not” (Matthew 25:41-43). In like manner the goats replied asking when they had neglected these works of mercy. The judgment then is pronounced upon the goats by Christ, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:45, 46).

This passage has troubled expositors for it seems to indicate that the sheep go into life eternal because of their righteous works whereas the wicked are condemned because of their failure to do these prescribed deeds of kindness. The question is naturally raised whether a person can be saved by works. If any passage in the Bible seems to imply it, this would be the passage.

When other Scriptures are brought to bear upon the question of whether people can be saved by works, it soon becomes evident that salvation by works is an impossibility under any circumstances. Although grace may be revealed in different degrees in different dispensations, it is evident Jesus as judgefrom the very doctrine that all men are sinners, that all men are spiritually dead, and that no amount of good works can reverse the sentence of death or change the sinful nature of man. Works can never be the ground of man’s salvation. There can be no cure for depravity, Adamic sin, and obvious human failure found in every life, other than the grace of God. Hence, while there may be different dispensations with varying rules of life there can be only one way of salvation, namely, through Christ and His provided redemption. The question remains then how this passage in its plain emphasis on works can be justified.

The answer is first of all found in the fact that in every dispensation works are not the ground of salvation, but rather they are the evidence of salvation. It is always true that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). This does not mean that a man is saved by works, but it does mean that one who really trusts God and is the recipient of divine grace will manifest this fact in a changed life. Humanly speaking, it is proper to challenge faith that does not manifest itself in some way. The passage then should be added to all others that emphasize the importance of works, not as the basis for salvation, but as the evidence of it.

A question still remains, however, concerning the precise character of these works. Is it always true that those who are kind to others and feed them and clothe them are necessarily Christians? The obvious philanthropy of many non-Christians in our modern world would seem to indicate that this cannot be taken normally as an indisputable evidence of eternal life.

The answer to the problem is found in the peculiar circumstances which form the background of the judgment. The people who are here being judged as Gentiles are those who have survived the horrors of the great tribulation. In this period which Jeremiah refers to as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7), anti-semitism will reach an all-time high. It is evident from the warning of Christ in Matthew 24:15-22 that the Jewish people will be hounded to the death especially in the Holy Land, and possibly throughout the world. Satanic hatred will be manifested to a degree never before achieved and will be part of the world-wide satanic deception which will cause men to believe a lie. In the words of II Thessalonians 2:11, “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”

Under these peculiar circumstances, under the strain and stress of satanic hatred of God and compulsion to worship the world ruler, anyone who would befriend a Jew would be a marked man. It is almost inconceivable that one who would be a true worshiper of the beast would ignore the world-wide command to exterminate the Jew. For a Gentile under these circumstances to befriend one who is designated as “my brethren” would be phenomenal and could be motivated only by a realization that the Jewish people are indeed the people of God and that their Messiah is indeed the Saviour of all who believe in Him. A simple work of kindness such as is here described therefore becomes highly significant, and in the context of this judgment one who would perform deeds of kindness would inevitably be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, while the works are not the ground of their salvation, which inevitably must be the grace of God and the sacrifice of Christ, works are nevertheless the evidence of salvation and to this our Lord points.

It is still true that salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9) but rather by faith and by grace.

The importance of works in the final judgments of mankind here has another divine revelation. The sheep who have manifested their faith in Christ under trying circumstances by befriending a Jew are now rewarded by being ushered into the millennial kingdom with its blessings of Christ’s righteous rule and beneficent care over all who trust in Him. By contrast, the goats who followed the course of this world and undoubtedly participated in the persecution of the Jewish people as well as neglecting their acts of kindness now come under the divine judgment which they justly deserve, and are cast into everlasting fire.

The Judgment

The purpose of the judgment of the Gentiles is obviously one of separation of the righteous from the unrighteous in preparation for the millennial kingdom (cp. Matthew 24:40, 41). It is a fulfillment of that which was anticipated in the parables of Matthew 13 where it was predicted that in the end the wheat and the tares would be separated, the good and the bad fish would be dealt with, and the bad fish destroyed. The millennial kingdom will begin with the entire adult population of the world limited to those who have put their trust in Christ. It will be a new beginning comparable to that following the flood when Noah and his immediate family formed the entire population of the earth.

From this context it is also evident that this is not a final judgment of the individuals concerned. Those ushered into the millennial kingdom in this judgment still are in their natural bodies, still have a natural life to live, and ultimately will either die or be translated and have their life reviewed in finality. Although there is no specific revelation of this fact, the general truth of Hebrews 9:27, “as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” it may be concluded that the sheep will be subject to ultimate reward for their works even though at this time they are assured of eternal salvation in that they possess eternal life. In a similar way the casting of the wicked into everlasting fire should not be confused as a final judgment in which they are cast into the lake of fire which does not occur for another thousand years. It is rather that they move into a state of divine judgment described by the word “everlasting fire” such as is true both in Hades, the temporary abode of the wicked dead, and the lake of fire, the final state of the wicked. Their judgment in a word is that they are put to death physically, but subject to future judgment and final resurrection at the Great White Throne judgment. This judgment accordingly ends the times of the Gentiles and begins the millennial rule of Christ.

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The Fifth And Sixth Trumpets: The First And Second Woes

The Fifth Trumpet: The Fallen Star and the Opening of the Abyss (9:1-2)

9:1-2 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.

The rising crescendo of judgments on the earth now introduces the first woe, a dramatic event described by John in the first twelve verses of this chapter. As the trumpet of the fifth angel is sounded, John records that he sees a star fallen from heaven having the key to the bottomless pit. Earlier in the book of Revelation, in connection with the sixth seal (6:12-17) and the fourth trumpet (8:12-13) record is made of unusual disturbances in the starry heavens. In chapter 6, the stars of heaven fall even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, and heaven itself departs as a scroll when it is rolled together. In chapter 8, a great star from heaven described as “burning as it were a lamp” falls upon rivers and fountains of waters. In these instances it is probable that reference is made to material stars or fragments of them, and their falling on the earth is a form of divine judgment upon a wicked world.

The star here mentioned, however, seems to refer to a person rather than a literal star or meteor. The star is described as “fallen” in more accurate translations rather than falling, as indicated in the Authorized Version. The word fall is in the perfect tense which signifies completed action. For the event itself, see Revelation 12. J. B. Smith notes two passages anticipating this: Isaiah 14:12-17; Luke 10:18.184 The person referred to as the star is given the key of the bottomless pit, or the pit of the abyss, as it is better translated. No explanation is offered in the passage itself concerning the identity of this person, but the occasion may be the aftermath of warfare in heaven mentioned in Revelation 12:7-9, where the devil is cast out into the earth. This act of God, probably at the beginning of the great tribulation, terminates the ability of Satan to accuse the brethren in heaven as he has been doing through previous ages. The first verse of chapter 9 does not record the fall itself, but rather the star is seen as already fallen from heaven to the earth. It would seem likely, therefore, that the person referred to as the star is none other than Satan himself. J. B. Smith believes the star is an angel:

That a literal star is not meant is evident from the part that to him was given the key, that is, the authority (Matthew 16:19; Revelation 1:18), to open the bottomless pit. An intelligent being must be intended. It has been observed Mat. a star is used as a symbol of the angel, 1:20. As early as the days of Job, there is a similar use of the word… (Job 38:7).

To this personage is given the key of the bottomless pit, or pit of abyss. This is the first instance of this expression in Scripture mentioned three times in this chapter and four additional times later in Revelation. The “bottomless pit” (Gr., abyssos) is the abode of demons according to Luke 8:31. The Greek word is found seven times in Revelation (9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3). Romans 10:7 implies hypothetically that Christ descended into the spirit world between His death and resurrection. From these references, it may be concluded that the pit of the abyss is none other than the place of detention of wicked angels. It is here that Satan himself is confined for a thousand years during the reign of Christ on earth (20:1-3). The opening verse of this chapter, therefore, presents Satan as having the key to the pit of the abyss with power to release those who are confined there.

The second verse records the use of the key. The pit of the abyss is opened, and out of it comes a smoke as the smoke of a great furnace which darkens the sun and the air. It is evident that this event causes that which is contained in the pit of the abyss to erupt, polluting the air and darkening the light of day. It seems to portend the spiritual corruption which will be caused by these demons released from their confinement, and it identifies the character of the judgment involved in the fifth trumpet as that of demonic and satanic oppression.

The Fifth Trumpet: Demonic Torment Loosed upon the Earth (9:3-6)

9:3-6 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.

pictures of locusts, which are likened to scorpionsAs John continues to observe the unfolding of the fifth trumpet, he sees locusts coming out of the smoke which are likened to scorpions. As is borne out by the description given later, these are not natural locusts, but a visual representation of the hordes of demons loosed upon the earth. Peake observes:

Now these descriptions of heaven and hell were meant by the author to be very literally taken. They are not figures of speech; and if we are to be true to the writer’s thought we can scarcely represent the scenes to our imagination with too much realism. And similarly the scorpion locusts are quite literally intended; they are not heretics, or Goths, or Mohammedans, or the mendicant orders, or the Jesuits, or Protestants, or Saracens or Turks, but they are uncanny denizens of the abyss, locusts of a hellish species, animated by devilish instincts and equipped with infernal powers.

Walter Scott expresses another viewpoint, “that the locust army is a symbolical representation of judgment of a superhuman kind.” Scott holds that “neither the smoke nor the locusts are literal.”

The locusts are commanded, probably by God or perhaps by Satan himself, not to hurt the grass of the earth or any green thing, or any tree, but only men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. In the Old Testament, locusts were a greatly feared plague because they could strip the country of every green leaf and sprout, leaving man and beast alike to die for lack of food. Frequently in the Bible, locusts are used by the Lord as a divine judgment upon a wicked world. In the contest of Moses with Pharaoh in Egypt the plagues of locusts mentioned in Exodus 10:12-20 caused Pharaoh to be quickly humbled. According to Exodus 10:16-17, when the plagues of locusts had covered Egypt, Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and entreat the Lord your God, that he may take away from me this death only.” In response to this entreaty, Moses prayed to God and a strong west wind blew the locusts into the Red Sea. A similar plague of locusts is mentioned in Joel 1:4-7.

The locusts in Revelation 9, however, while given this title because their function is similar to that of a locust, represent a divine judgment upon a wicked world. They are described as having the capacity to sting as the scorpions of the earth and as not eating the grass or green vegetation as ordinary locusts would do. Instead, they torment men in a way comparable to the torment of a scorpion. Apparently the entire human race is open to their activity except those who are sealed by God in their foreheads. This obviously excludes the 144,000 of Revelation 7, and the protection may extend as far as this plague is concerned to all who know the Lord in that day. According to 2 Timothy 2:19, “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” In a similar way, believers in the present age are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise according to Ephesians 1:13-14. It would seem improbable that any true believer in that day would be subject to the torment of the locusts; the torment is rather a judgment upon Christ-rejecting men.

The graphic description of the torment is compared to that when a scorpion strikes a man. Scorpions in all climates are fearful and painful scourges. In warm climates, they grow to such size as to make their sting not only painful but dangerous. Frequently small children die from the sting of a scorpion in tropical countries. Though the affliction here described is not actually a sting of a scorpion, it is compared to the pain and suffering caused by such a sting.

Further, the torment is said to extend for five months. Probably the best interpretation is to take this literally as a period of five months. As Alford and other commentators point out, “Five months is the ordinary time in the year during which locusts commit their ravages.” In contrast to the pain caused by a scorpion which would pass away in a course of hours, this continues for a long period so that in verse 6 John writes that men shall seek death and shall not find it.

Literal death is meant here. Elliott’s point of view that the command not to kill in verse 5 refers to the security of the church is made impossible in view of the obvious character of death in verse 6 where men seek to die and cannot do so. As Alford notes in commenting on this,

For it surely cannot be allowed that the killing of men should be said of their annihilation as a political body in one verse and their desiring to die in the next should be said of something totally different, and applicable to their individual misery.

This is a horrible picture of domination by demons to such an extent that men lose their ability of free choice and are in agony of body and soul. What the Scriptures here convey is that in addition to the natural plagues of the first four trumpets, now wicked men are afflicted by torment of demons.

The attempts of some commentators to spiritualize this trumpet and work out an elaborate prophetic system, based on the idea that each day in the five months is a year, is totally unjustified. There is no period in history which in any sense fulfills what is portrayed in this chapter, nor is there any evidence in Scripture that the term “month” or “year” is ever used in any other sense than a literal one. Though the word day frequently refers to a period of time longer than twenty-four hours, and the weeks or sevens of Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 9 are evidently prophetic years rather than twenty-four-hour days, in this instance there is no justification for taking the expression to mean anything other than a literal five months. This would fit in the chronology of the tribulation time as it is elsewhere taught in the Scriptures. The introduction of the time element is to show that the torment is not a passing experience of a few days but rather a plague that extends over a considerable period of time, making its affliction a fearful experience to contemplate.

Undergoing such a strange and painful experience, it is natural that men would seek to die. The prophecy indicates, however, that though they seek death, death shall flee from them. As is common in demonic affliction as recorded in the Gospels, those in the grip of demons are not free to exercise their own will and therefore are not free to take their own lives. Even the hope of death to deliver them from their present troubles is taken away from them in that dark hour. They are left to face then-trial and affliction without any way of escape.

The Fifth Trumpet: The Locusts Described (9:7-11)

9:7-11 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months. And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.

The description of the locusts given in these verses makes it clear that they are not ordinary locusts and are so named only because of their function as a judgment and plague from the Lord. They apparently are much larger than ordinary locusts and are compared to horses prepared for battle. Inasmuch as demons do not have physical shape, what John is seeing must symbolize demonic possession. The locusts are described as having crowns of gold on their heads, ordinarily a token of victory, but here apparently a decoration or headdress. Their faces are described as similar to the faces of men. Their hair is described as the hair of women and their teeth as the teeth of lions. This awesome combination of the qualities of beasts and men depicts the utterly fearful character of these instruments of divine judgment. This is in keeping with the general character of the book of Revelation as an unmasking of the true nature of Satan and evil.

In verse 9, the locusts are declared to have breastplates of iron, implying that they are immune to destruction. They are also equipped with wings which give forth the sound of many chariots going to battle, implying speed and the impossibility of evading their attack. Particular attention is given to their tails, which are compared to those of scorpions and by which they have power to hurt men for five months. It would be difficult to describe a more fearful spectacle than these instruments of divine justice, utterly wicked in themselves, and released from the pit of the abyss to accomplish this terrifying judgment. The fact that they have power to hurt men five months is repeated in verse 10, as if to call special attention to the length of their torment.

In addition to the previous description, in verse 11 the locusts are declared to have a king who is the angel of the pit of the abyss, described both in the Hebrew and the Greek. The Hebrew name “Abaddon” and the Greek name “Apollyon” both mean “destroyer.” Such is the character of Satan and those who affiliate with him as wicked or fallen angels. Though in the modern world Satan often appears as an angel of light in the role of that which is good and religious, here the mask is stripped away and evil is seen in its true character. Satan and the demons are seen as the destroyers of the souls of men and as those who can only bring affliction. When divine restraint is released, as in this instance, the true character of the evil one is manifested immediately.

Announcement of Two More Woes (9:12)

9:12 One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.

Fearful as is the torment inflicted by the locusts out of the pit of the abyss, it is only the first of three great judgments which conclude the trumpet period. In verse 12, we are informed that the woe described as following the fifth trumpet is now past, and two more woes are going to follow. The word woe refers in Scripture to some great calamity, usually a judgment from God such as Christ pronounced upon Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matt. 11:21). Desperate indeed will be the situation of those who know not Christ in these tragic hours preceding His return to judge the wicked world.

The tribulation period unmasks human wickedness and also demonstrates the true character of Satan. In our modern day while Satan is still restricted it is easy to forget the great conflict which is raging between the forces of God and the forces of Satan referred to in Ephesians 6:12. In the great tribulation, and especially in the time of the fifth trumpet, with the release of the confined demons the full character of Satan will be starkly manifested. For the first time in history all those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour will come under demonic possession and affliction. What is true in that hour is also true in some measure today, for there is no deliverance from the power of Satan nor from his affliction apart from salvation in Christ and the delivering power of God.

The Sixth Trumpet: The Loosing of the Four Angels (9:13-15)

9:13-15 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.

With the sounding of the sixth trumpet, John hears a voice described as coming from the four horns of the golden altar before God. In 8:3, this altar is the scene of the offering of incense with the prayers of saints. Here in its final mention in the book of Revelation, it is related to the judgment of the sixth trumpet. The inference is that this judgment like those preceding is partially an answer to the prayers of the persecuted saints on earth and a token of divine response and preparation for their deliverance. The four horns seem to indicate that this altar is similar to the design of the altar of incense used in the Tabernacle and in the Temple. If the horns have significance, they refer to the sovereignty and judicial government of God.

The voice instructed the sixth angel to loose the four angels declared to be bound in the great river Euphrates. Walter Scott observes that the command to loose the four angels indicates that “these angelic ministers of judgment are under divine control; they cannot act without express command.”

In attempting to understand the description of this unusual event, a number of questions can be raised about the four angels. Why should they be bound in or at the river Euphrates? The answer seems to be that the vision concerns an invasion from the Orient. As Alford says, “there is nothing in the text to prevent ‘the great river Euphrates’ from being meant literally.”

These apparently are not the same four angels mentioned in 7:1, who are angels in authority over the winds of the earth. The four angels mentioned in chapter 7, holding the four winds of the earth, are instructed not to inflict their punishment until the 144,000 of Israel are sealed and protected. They seem to be holy angels or instruments of God’s divine wrath upon the world. The four angels in chapter 9, however, are obviously of different character, for they are described as bound at the great river Euphrates. There is no instance in Scripture where holy angels are bound. Some of the wicked angels, however, are bound according to Jude 6. Likewise, later Satan is bound for one thousand years and cast into the pit of the abyss.

4From these parallels, it may be concluded that the four angels bound in the Euphrates River are evil angels who are loosed on the occasion of the sounding of the sixth trumpet in order to execute this judgment. It is another instance of the loosing of wicked angels similar to the release of the demonic locusts earlier in the fifth trumpet. They all are prepared for their hour of activity much as the whale was prepared to swallow Jonah and effect divine discipline upon the prophet. These are wicked angels designated to execute the great judgment of the sixth trumpet but prevented from doing so until the proper moment. It is declared that the angels’ function is to slay the third part of men and that they had been prepared to fulfill this purpose at the given hour.

The expression “an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year” designates not the duration of their activity but the fact that this judgment comes exactly at the hour of God’s appointment. On the basis that the article is used only before the word hour in the Greek construction it should be translated “the hour, and day, and month, and year,” to be interpreted as Alford does: “the appointed hour occurring in the appointed day, and that in the appointed month, and that in the appointed year.” Though the agency of men is used to accomplish the purpose of God, the time schedule is determined by God, not man, and even angels execute God’s will in God’s time.

The judgment here depicted, that of slaying the third part of men, is one of the most devastating mentioned anywhere in the book of Revelation prior to the second coming. Earlier in the fourth seal, a fourth of the earth’s population is killed. Here an additional third is marked out for slaughter. These two judgments alone account for half of the world’s population, and it is clear that in addition to these judgments there is widespread destruction of human life in other divine judgments contained in the seals, trumpets, and vials. Never since Noah has such a substantial proportion of the earth’s population come under God’s righteous judgment. The fact that the third part of the population of the world is killed is repeated in verse 18.

The Sixth Trumpet: The Army of Two Hundred Million (9:16-19)

9:16-19 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.

Having declared the purpose of the army, John now gives details. Most impressive is the astounding number of the army of horsemen, 200 million, or literally “twice ten thousand times ten thousand.” Because the number “ten thousand times ten thousand” is often used of an innumerable company (cf. 5:11) some have held that this should not be understood as a literal number. Scott does not believe that the army of 200 million should be taken literally:

A literal army consisting of 200 million of cavalry need not be thought of. The main idea in the passage is a vast and overwhelming army, one beyond human computation, and exceeding by far any before witnessed.

H. B. Swete comments, “These vast numbers forbid us to seek a literal fulfillment, and the description which follows supports this conclusion.” If considered a literal enumeration of the army, it would represent the largest armed force ever known to man. Considering the millions of people in the Orient, the literal interpretation is not impossible, especially in view of the population explosion. The number of the horsemen here is comparable to the innumerable chariots of God mentioned in Psalm 68:17.

There is no direct statement as to the origin of this army, but the implication is, from the fact that the angels of verse 14 were bound “in” or at the Euphrates, that the army may come from the East. A similar and later development mentioned in Revelation 16:12 following the outpouring of the sixth vial also depicts an invasion from the East. Unless the vials and the trumpets coincide as some believe, these are two different events, possibly two different phases of the same operation. Chronologically the trumpets involved closely succeed one another and their judgments seem to fall like trip-hammer blows as the great tribulation comes to its close. Whether the army is held to be the literal number mentioned or not, it is clear that this is a massive force of tremendous military power as evidenced in its capacity to slay a third part of the human race. It may be that the army here described continues to fight until the time of the second coming of Christ, and the number slain is the total number involved in the conflict.

John also gives a graphic description of the horses as well as of the warriors who sit upon them. They are declared to have breastplates of fire and of jacinth and brimstone. Some have interpreted the description as John’s understanding of a scene in which modern warfare is under way. Further, the heads of the horses are compared to heads of lions out of whose mouths fire, smoke, and brimstone issue. This again is a description that might be comparable to modern mechanical warfare. In verse 19 additional details are given in that the power is declared to be in their mouths and in their tails. Their tails are compared to serpents, and even the tails have heads with which they can hurt men. Whether these are symbols or the best description John can give of modern warfare, this is an awesome picture of an almost irresistible military force destroying all that opposes it. The terms “horses,” “lions,” and “serpents” all speak of deadly warfare. The mention of lions can be compared to that in Revelation 10:3 where lions roar, and to the description of the locusts in 9:8 as having teeth of lions, and to the beast of Revelation 13:2, which has the mouth of a lion. As king of beasts the lion speaks of victorious conquest.

Further light is cast on the character of the warfare in verse 18, where it is repeated that the third part of men are killed by the invading force; special mention is made of the means, namely, “by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.” This again seems to be a picture of modern warfare rather than of ancient weapons. This indicates that though there may be a disarmament in the early phases of the time period between the rapture and the second coming, by this time, namely toward the close of the tribulation, modern means of war are once again being fully used. The world that longs for peace and seeks to attain it by the worship of the beast of Revelation 13 will learn the sad lesson that there can be no peace until the Prince of Peace rules.

The Sixth Trumpet: Man Still Unrepentant (9:20-21)

9:20-21 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues Truth vs Liesyet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

In spite of the dramatic judgment inflicted by this invading military force, those who survive are declared to be unrepentant. Such is the hardness of the human heart even though faced by worldwide destruction and divine judgment from God and a clear testimony of God’s power to deal summarily with every human soul. The character of their wickedness is unfolded in these verses. They do not repent of the evil works of their hands. They do not repent of their worship of devils, or demons, and the worship of idols which their hands have formed, which John dramatically describes in the words “which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk.” Their worship of idols does not change their lives, and verse 21 indicates that they do not repent of their murders, their wicked sorceries, their fornication, nor their thefts. Though the power of satanic false religion is evident in the world, it does not have the transforming, purifying, redeeming quality found only in the power and grace of God. Though men can be made to fear God by demonstration of divine power, they are not brought to the place of repentance apart from faith in Christ and divine grace. Scott observes, “The two closing verses of the chapter reveal an astounding picture of human depravity.”

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