Phrases from Daniel’s vision of four “beasts ascending from the sea” are applied to Jesus and his saints in the New Testament

Phrases and imagery from Daniel’s vision of “four beasts rising” from the chaotic sea occur in key passages in the New Testament, often in contexts concerning the future return of Jesus at the end of the age, the kingdom of God, and the royal authority he received from his Father. For example, Jesus foretold how “all the tribes of the earth” will see the “Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven.”

In the gospel accounts, the term “Son of Man” is the self-designation heard most often on the lips of Jesus; he is “THAT Son of Man” from Daniel’s vision.

In the Book of Daniel, the “Son of Man” was “coming” on the “clouds of heaven” to receive sovereignty over “all peoples, races, and tongues” from the “Ancient of Days.” Likewise, after his resurrection, Jesus declared that he had received “all authority in heaven and on the earth,” and therefore, his disciples were to proclaim the good news of his kingdom to “all the nations” – (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18).

Similarly, in Revelation, the “slain Lamb” approached the “One Who was Sitting on the Throne” to receive the “sealed scroll,” which he immediately began to open. In reaction, voices proclaimed him “worthy” to “open the scroll,” and to receive all “power and authority,” for by his blood he had “purchased men from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them a kingdom of priests” – (Revelation 5:5-14).

In an unexpected twist, in Daniel, the “Son of Man” was seen “coming on the clouds” to the throne to receive the “dominion,” whereas, in related New Testament texts, he is portrayed as “coming on the clouds” to the earth to gather his “elect” or to mete out judgment. For example, at his trial, when the high priest demanded whether he was the Messiah, Jesus responded:

  • I am he, and you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul described how both living and resurrected saints will “meet him in the air,” as Jesus is descending to the earth. His saints will be “gathered to him on the clouds.” Thereafter, they will be with him “forevermore.” – (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle described the future “man of lawlessness” and the “apostasy.” Already the “mystery lawlessness” was working in the world and would do so until the “Lawless One” came “out of the midst” at the appointed time, at “his season” (Greek, kairos), when he would deceive many with “lying signs and wonders,” thereby, causing some to apostatize. But “lawlessness” would only prevail until the “arrival” of Jesus. At that time, he will “consume with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the manifestation of his coming” the “man of lawlessness,” along with all who refused the “love of the truth.”

Likewise, in Daniel, the “little horn” arose from “among the ten horns” and prevailed “against the saints,” until the “Son of Man came on the clouds of heaven,” and the “season[Septuagint, kairos] arrived for the saints to possess the kingdom.” At that time, the dominion of the “little horn” was “removed to consume and to destroy it unto the end” – (Daniel 7:8, 21-262 Thessalonians 2:1-8).

In Revelation, Daniel’s vision of four beasts “ascending from the sea” is changed into a single “beast ascending from the sea.” That single creature possessed the animal characteristics of Daniel’s four “beasts”; it was an amalgamation of all four previous images. Thus, the one and final “beast” is related to Daniel’s four beasts, but also, it is something greater (or worse) than the original four – (Revelation 13:1-5).

Revelation adds and omits things to its single “beast” that Daniel attributed to his fourth beast. For example, in Daniel, there is no mention of the “seven heads” of the fourth beast. In Revelation, each of the “ten horns” wears a diadem, something not mentioned in Daniel, and there is no mention of three horns being removed to make way for another one.

The Book of Revelation is not concerned with reiterating what Daniel wrote. It uses material from Daniel to draw a fuller, and perhaps, different picture. Daniel saw four beasts, John saw only one, but it combined all the worst elements of the original four.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

In Revelation, the “beast from the sea” appears seen again in chapter 17, where it is under the economic sway of “Babylon, the Great Harlot.” She rides the “beast.”  Its seven heads represent “seven kingdoms,” and, already in John’s time, five had “fallen,” the sixth existed, and the seventh and final “kingdom” was yet to come – (Revelation 17:7-17).

In Revelation, the “beast” is trans-historical – a political reality that appears periodically, an entity that ascends repeatedly from the Abyss/Sea to wage “war against the saints.” Its ten horns represent kings allied with it.

A key passage used repeatedly in Revelation is the description of the assault against the “saints” by the “little horn.” It “made war with the saints and overcame them.

The phrase from Daniel is applied to the attacks by the “Dragon” and the “beast” against the “two witnesses,” the “seed of the woman,” the “saints,” and in an ironic fashion, to Satan’s war with the “Lamb” – (“These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them” – Daniel 7:21, Revelation 5:6-127:9-14, 11:7, 12:17, 13:7, 17:14, 19:19).

The theme of malevolent creatures “ascending” from ominous depths to attack the saints appears repeatedly, though in each case, it is adapted to a specific context. For example, the “two witnesses” are targeted by the “beast that ascends from the abyss.” The “saints” are victimized by the “beast that ascends from the sea.” And, after his release from the “Abyss,” Satan gathers the nations to “ascend over the breadth of the earth” to attack the “camp of the saints” – (Revelation 11:7, 13:1, 13:11, 17:8, 20:9).

In Daniel, the “little horn” prevailed against the saints until “judgment was given for the saints of the Most-High. Likewise, in Revelation, Satan was bound for the thousand-years, even while “judgment was being given” for the saints – (Daniel 7:21-22, Revelation 20:4).

Consistently, in consideration of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the authors of the New Testament interpret the vision of Daniel in new, unexpected, and even ironic ways. He is the “Son of Man” who received “dominion” from his Father on behalf of his people. At the end of the age, he will appear on the “clouds of heaven” to gather his faithful “saints” to himself, and to render “everlasting destruction” on Satan and all his forces.

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