Sermons

Summary: How can we identify the horns that come out of Daniel's fourth beast? Revelation can help us.

On the small Greek island of Patmos there is a place called ‘the Cave of the Apocalypse’. It is here, according to tradition, that John had the vision which we now have in the form of the last book of the Bible, Revelation. However, in the Book of Revelation, the word ‘vision’ is used just once. I think there was more to John discerning what he described than him going into a trance and seeing things. Peter tells us that Old Testament prophets ‘searched and enquired carefully.’ I imagine John did the same. Revelation quotes more from the Old Testament than any other book in the New Testament. I think John spent a lot of time looking at Old Testament prophecies and wondering what they meant. I imagine the process as being like making a tapestry. John drew many of the threads for his tapestry – Revelation – from the Old Testament. He drew most threads from Isaiah, and second-most from Daniel. I imagine John doggedly looking at each thread and thinking and praying about it, until God revealed to him how it fitted into the whole tapestry.

Almost half of what John quotes from Daniel comes from chapter 7. In this chapter Daniel has a vision of four great beasts coming up out of the sea. These beasts represent four kingdoms. Some versions translate v.17 as ‘kings’ and some as ‘kingdoms’, but v.23 makes it clear that they are kingdoms. Some commentators take the four kingdoms as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Others split Media and Persia into two, in which case Greece is the fourth and Rome doesn’t come into the picture. We may note that the fourth beast has ten horns.

We possibly can’t decide from Daniel alone which of these two interpretations is correct, but Revelation helps us. In Revelation, John tells us he saw a sign: ‘a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns’ (Rev. 12:3). Aha! The ten horns align the dragon in John’s vision with Daniel’s fourth beast. However, the seven heads are new; Daniel doesn’t mention seven heads. A little further on, John tells us that ‘the seven heads are seven mountains’ (Rev 17:9). Many Bible versions have ‘hills’ instead of mountains. Rome was built on seven hills but we do not know of any other city that existed in John’s time that was. So, John’s reference to seven hills identifies the dragon he saw as Rome, i.e. the Roman Empire. That also means that Daniel’s fourth beast is Rome. Good progress!

Daniel 7:24 tells us, ‘As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise’. As in v.17, some Bible versions have ‘kings’ and some have ‘kingdoms’, but we won’t worry too much about that; one commentator sees the two words as being nearly synonymous. In other words, the one kingdom splits off into ten kingdoms. Hmm, the Roman Empire no longer exists, but is there sense in which it has split off into ten kingdoms?

Yes, indeed! The Roman Empire passed away, but it handed on a legacy of thought, culture and civilisation to Europe. Rome had embraced Greek philosophy and handed that on to Europe. It handed on language: many European languages have roots in Latin. It handed on its alphabet. It handed on a pattern of government: Rome was a republic, and presently 14 European countries are parliamentary republics. Trial by jury was a Roman practice.

In the past, the phrase ‘the West’ referred to Europe. But ‘the West’ now has a wider meaning. We might talk about the Cold War as ‘a standoff between the West and the U.S.S.R.’ So here, ‘the West’ includes the USA. The USA has Roman roots: it too is a republic, and it has a senate. Canada, Australia and New Zealand also have their roots in European culture. And now, western culture, philosophy and worldview are spreading all around the world; ‘westernisation’ is happening in many countries.

Some people think Daniel’s ten horns means specifically ten kingdoms – not nine, not eleven. But ‘ten’ could simply mean many. Daniel’s ten horns can then be the many nations that are the spiritual and cultural successors of the Roman Empire, countries which we think of today as the westernised nations. I don’t know if this is a correct interpretation, but if it is, it would mean that Daniel’s prophecy is fulfilled. The fourth kingdom, Rome, appeared and disappeared, and ten kingdoms (many, in fact) have come out of that kingdom.

Have a good day!

Simon

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