Monsters are scary, even in dreams. For a brief time, as a child, I had a recurring nightmare about a hideous monster that visited my bedroom at night. It wasn’t real, and deep down I knew it. But it was terrifying just the same.
Daniel also dreamed of monsters. However, unlike my nightmare, which was fueled by irrational fears, Daniel’s dream was sent from God to teach him (and us) some very important lessons. Nevertheless, his dream and visions caused him significant alarm, even causing his face to change color (Dan. 7:28).
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel lay in his bed at night and “saw a dream” of four grotesque monsters (v. 1). The first of the “four great beasts” was like a lion with eagles’ wings. Its wings were “plucked off, however, and it was . . . made to stand on two feet like a man” (v. 4). The second creature was like a bear. It had three ribs in its mouth, and it was looking for its next victim to devour (v. 5). The third monster was like a leopard. It had four wings and four heads, and it was given great dominion. The fourth beast was by far the worst. It was “terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong.” It was not “like” anything Daniel had ever seen. With “ten horns,” “claws of bronze,” and “great iron teeth,” the revolting beast “devoured and broke in pieces” its victims, and then with malicious cruelty “stamped what was left with its feet” (v. 7).
What does this all mean? The monsters signify four powerful kings and kingdoms in history. The first creature is commonly understood to represent Nebuchadnezzar and the kingdom of Babylon. The second and third creatures represent the idolatrous and destructive kingdoms of the Medo-Persians and Greeks. Many interpret the fourth monster to represent the Roman Empire (and it may). I am inclined to think that it symbolizes the collective empires of this fallen world who, in these last days, are led by Satan to make war against the Lord and against His church (vv. 21, 25; see Rev. 13:1–10).
As with a child’s nightmare, the monstrous powers of this world can paralyze God’s people with fear. We wonder, Is everything going to be OK? God’s Word says yes—emphatically. In his vision, Daniel not only saw hideous monsters. He also saw the Ancient of Days sitting on His majestic throne and the Son of Man coming in the clouds to destroy the wicked monsters of this world and establish His everlasting kingdom (Dan. 7:27).
The contours of human history do not always make sense from our finite perspective. At times, it even appears that the church is losing. But take heart, dear believer: our God reigns. We are in the secure grip of God’s sovereign grace through faith in His crucified, risen, and exalted Son. Christ, the omnipotent monster slayer, is coming again. Abide in Him. You have nothing to fear.