The Beast Nations
January 16th, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
THE BEAST NATIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-16-72 10:50 a.m.
These morning messages, and in the immediate future for several months, are dedicated to the preaching through the Book of Daniel. Three volumes on the Book of Daniel that I have preached, three volumes of sermons are already published and they cover the first six chapters of the book, the narrative chapters. Beginning at chapter 7 is the prophetic section of the Book of Daniel, and these sermons that are being prepared and preached now will be published in a fourth volume on the Book of Daniel. The message is entitled The Beast Nations, and the seventh chapter begins in the first verse:
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had dreams and visions,
Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heavens strove upon the great sea.
And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another
And so the vision continues. He dates the vision as being in the first year of Belshazzar [Daniel 7:1]. Belshazzar died the night that the Medo-Persians took over the Babylonian Empire [Daniel 5:30-31], the night that the hand of God wrote on the wall [Daniel 5:5, 24-28], and that was 538 BC. He doubtless reigned, Belshazzar, doubtless reigned about three years. So "in the first year of Belshazzar" would be something like 541 BC. Daniel is now in his eighties. He is in neglect; they forgot about him. This dissolute prince who now reigns has no time for a godly statesman, a God-fearing man like Daniel, and this is sixty years after Daniel interpreted the dream for Nebuchadnezzar of the great-image man [Daniel 2:1-45]. In that year of about 541 BC, the first year of Belshazzar, Daniel saw visions and dreams, and he wrote them down [Daniel 7:1].
And this is the most unique book in human literature: the Book of Daniel is the first apocalypse. After the day of Daniel, there was a multitudinous, spurious, apocalyptic literature. Two of the real apocalypses, the genuine, inspired apocalypses are in the Bible: the Book of Zechariah, and John’s Book of the Revelation that closes the canon. But the first apocalyptic book to be written is this one by Daniel; a method whereby God expresses His truth through symbol and hieroglyph. God introduced Daniel to this apocalyptic ministry in order that he might unveil for us the sweep of human history through the future.
And in that apocalyptic writing, Daniel has no peer except it be the apostle John, who wrote the Revelation. The comparison between those two apocalyptic writers is always interesting. Daniel is preeminently the prophet of the times of the Gentiles, and he follows the sweep of human history until the coming of Christ into His terrestrial, earthly supremacy. The apostle John presents the apocalyptic future, the sweep of history unto the coming of Christ into His celestial supremacy, when the heavens and the hosts of all creation are made subject to the King and Lord of all. Both men – both apocalyptic writers by symbol, by picture, they present the whole story of human history until the great consummation of the conquering, coming Christ.
Now the seventh chapter has in it actually three visions: the first vision is that of the four beasts rising out of the raging sea [Daniel 7:3-8]. The second vision, beginning at verse 9, is the vision of the great judgment day, when the Ancient of Days sits upon His throne and before Him are the thousands and thousands times thousands and thousands gathered, and the judgment was set and the books were opened [Daniel 7:9-12]. The third vision begins at verse 13, when he sees the vision of One like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven . . . and there was given to Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom . . . that shall never pass away, and that shall never be destroyed [Daniel 7:13-14].
Now, as Daniel in the vision stands by the side of the Great Sea [Daniel 7:2] – there are four seas mentioned in the Bible: the Galilean Sea, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, and what the ancients called the Great Sea, that is, the Mediterranean. Many of you have stood on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Daniel doubtless stood on those shores many times as a youth. And in the vision, he is standing on the shore of the great Mediterranean Sea; the heart of human civilization, and of human history, and the denouement of the age. And while he is standing there, he sees a great violent storm as far as the eye can behold, the sea is shaken to its depths by a raging wind [Daniel 7:2]. The four winds of the heaven: the numeral four is the numeral for the world, representing the world – the four winds of the heavens, the four seasons, the four quarters of the compass – it represents the whole earth. Now, we are told in the Bible what the sea represents. In Revelation 17:15, "The waters which thou sawest are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." So the raging sea, so distressed and convulsed, is a picture of the social revolutions and passions of humanity. Daniel sees it in a vision as a great sea that is shaken from its center to its circumference, from its height to its depth – the great turbulent, tumultuous sea of humanity.
Now, as he looks upon that raging sea, so torn and tormented, he sees out of those convulsive torrents and winds and passions, he sees four diverse beasts arise one after another [Daniel 7:3]. They are not actual beasts, they are hieroglyphs. They are pictures that God presents of the series of empires. One is like a lion with wings [Daniel 7:4], one is a bear lifting itself on one side with three ribs in its teeth [Daniel 7:5]. One is like a leopard with four wings and four heads [Daniel 7:6]. And one is a nondescript, terrible and dreadful, with great devouring, iron teeth; and then last, there are ten horns that come out of the last beast [Daniel 7:7].
One of my dear friends who is a student of prophecy came to see me one time and he said – and his interpretation of these four beasts I have read several times in books. He said they represent: the lion, Great Britain. And it says there was – "he stood up as a man and a man’s heart was given to it" [Daniel 7:4]. He said Britain has been the civilizer of the world and the mother of parliaments. It has a human heart of sympathy and compassion. And he said the lion represents Great Britain. He said the bear has always been the hieroglyph of Russia; it is a symbol of Russia. And he said the leopard represents the United States and the swiftness of its rise, and the four wings represent the four branches of the armed service, and things like that. And he said the last, with the great iron teeth, the fourth beast, represents the kingdom of the antichrist, when the Lord shall come in interdiction and intervention in human history and set up His kingdom forever. Well, those things are interesting, and it could be true of course, because the symbols of God many times are repeated and representive in application over and over again.
But actually, it seems to me that the vision in the seventh chapter of Daniel [Daniel 7:1-27], is an identical revelation of the vision that was given to Nebuchadnezzar and interpreted by Daniel in the second chapter of the book [Daniel 2:1-45]. The reason I think that is because they both follow the story of human history to the consummation of the age. In the vision in the second chapter of the Book of Daniel, there was a gigantic man and the head was gold, the arms were of silver, the thighs were of brass, and the legs were of iron. And the feet of course, iron and clay, the ten toes and then the consummation of the age; the coming of Christ that struck the image on the ten toes. That is the whole story of history until Jesus comes again. The Babylonian Empire, the two arms – the Medo-Persian Empire, the brass thighs – the Greeks were the first to use brass as armor and brass shields, the brazen Greeks. Then the iron legs of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire and then the ten toes, the breaking up of the kingdom unto the coming of Christ; the whole sweep of history [Daniel 2:38-45].
Now in this seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, there is that same inclusive sweep clear to the end. There is first, the lion which would represent Babylon; the bear which would represent Medo-Persia – the three ribs: the destruction of the Lydian, the Egyptian, the Babylonian kingdoms. The leopard with his four wings and his four heads representing Greece that divided into four empires, taken by his four generals, and then the nondescript with great iron teeth – the Roman Empire, and then the ten horns that corresponds to the ten toes which exist to the coming of Christ [Daniel 7:15-27]. So in both images, you have the great sweep of history unto the end of the age. The fact that God gave it twice, shows how important it is.
Now, another reason why I think that the images are the same. God’s Word says there will never be a fifth world empire [Daniel 2:34-35, 41-45]. After the Babylonian, after the Medo-Persian, after the Greek, and after the Roman, the kingdoms break up into separate nations. And God’s Word says there will never be a fifth world empire. And that is confirmed by now a thousand five hundred years of human history. Charlemagne sought to build a fifth one, Tamerlane did, Genghis Khan did, Napoleon did, Hitler did; but God’s Word is stronger than the sword of Charlemagne, or the iron crown of Napoleon, or the panzer divisions of Hitler. There will never be another world empire. So the sweep of the history revealed to us in the second chapter of Daniel and the seventh chapter of Daniel are exactly the same.
Now, God would do something by repeating that vision. When man looks at his works – at his great buildings and his empires and his kingdom – he sees it as Nebuchadnezzar saw it in his vision, a great colossal man: a head of gold, even a breast, a heart of silver [Daniel 2:31-32]. He looks upon the kingdoms in the symbol of a great, impressive, triumphant, strong standing man. But in the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, looking at that same sweep of human history, God looks at it in an altogether different way. God looks at those kingdoms under the symbols and in the forms of wild beasts [Daniel 7:3]. A man looks at it in the form of a great conquering, standing, triumphant general or statesmen or king. But when God looks at those same empires, He looks at them in divine evaluation as being wild beasts. And the reason for that is very apparent, they act toward one another bestially; they are wild beasts. The nations rise by the power of the sword, in blood and in slaughter, in fury and in fire and in force. When we speak of these great empires such as Greece, we are not speaking of barbarous tribes that are heathen and pagan. These are the most cultivated and intellectual of all of the nations who ever lived. We are not talking about those bloodthirsty tribes that Livingstone, David Livingstone saw in the heart of Africa when they raided each other’s villages – when they burned each other, and slew each other, and sold each other into slavery, and their creeks and rivers ran red with blood. We are talking about the most cultivated and advanced of all the nations of the civilized world. When Alexander the Great conquered the known world, he took with him Aristotle, who was the greatest philosopher who has ever lived.
When Alexander the Great marched up to Jerusalem, he came to destroy it. The most brilliant story that you could ever read, one of the most moving is from Josephus – how Jerusalem was saved. Let me take just a moment to summarize it. Alexander was in Tyre. He was seeking to conquer Tyre, besieging Tyre. Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for eighteen years and never succeeded in reducing it. The first time Tyre was ever conquered was by Alexander the Great. While he was there in that siege, he sent to the surrounding countries for provisions for his army as he fought against the walls and the people and the armies and sailors of Tyre. Well, Jerusalem refused to help him, Judah refused to help him. So after the war was over down there in Tyre, Alexander marched to Gaza and burned it to the ground. And he was on his way to Jerusalem, to destroy it and to burn it to the ground in anger and in rage because they did not help him in his siege of Tyre.
In the meantime, God appeared to Jaddua the high priest, and told Jaddua what to do. So the next day when Alexander with his armies came sweeping up to Jerusalem to destroy it and to burn it, Jaddua the high priest came out with his miter and with his breastplate with the twelve precious stones, and with his linen ephod and with all the beauty of the bells and the pomegranates, and he was followed by all of the priests dressed in pure white. And then followed by all of the people of the city, dressed in robes, clean and white. And they welcomed Alexander the Great; they opened the doors of their city, and they opened the doors of their temple, and one of the men took the Holy Scriptures and showed in the prophet of Daniel where Daniel had prophesied concerning the coming of Alexander the Great. And so overwhelmed was the world conqueror by what he saw in the beautiful procession of the Jewish priesthood, and by the welcome of the Judean people, that he knelt down and he prayed in the name of Jehovah God. And he offered sacrifice on the brazen altar in the temple and Parmenio, his counselor, when he saw Alexander kneel in prayer and offer sacrifice before Jehovah, he expressed astonishment and amazement. And when Alexander arose, he said that in a dream before he left Macedonia, he had seen that very man, the high priest Jaddua, saying to him, that if he crossed the Hellespont with his Greek army, that God would give him victory through all Asia. That is a wonderful story, but Alexander the Great came to destroy Jerusalem with a sword and with a fire.
So all of these empires, their activity and their behavior toward one another is bestial; it is by rule of might, it is by blood and fire. It is no different today. International politics is dealt with according to power. The United States government, for example, will plainly say that when we sit down at a peace table or at a peace conference with a communist power, we cannot deal from weakness, we must deal from strength. Therefore our armies, and our navies, and our air force, and our bombers, and our atomic stockpile must be tremendous – otherwise we have no authority to negotiate, except from power. Modern nations always place in the scale of justice, the sword; it never fails. Russia has destroyed Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, they are no more. Russia has destroyed the freedom of Hungary, crushed their rebellion, and holds in an iron hand all of the countries of Eastern Europe. North Vietnam seeks by force and by war, to impose its iron will upon the people of the South. North Korea does the same thing to the South. And Sadat this last week said that the reason his armies were not in warfare with Israel today is because of the Bangladesh war between Pakistan and India. The nations act toward one another bestially: by the sword, by fire, by flame, by fury, by force. God looks upon them as beasts and as beasts do they act toward one another. Lenin said, "What would it matter if two-thirds of the population of the world were destroyed, if only the remaining third were communists?" While the theologians debate whether hell is a real lake of fire, the great super powers of the earth are stockpiling hell bombs to drop over agonizing humanity. This is a picture of the world.
What does it mean? As we read it, what is its message for us? This raging sea of humanity, and these super powers that rise out of the sea who deal in blood and war and force, what is its meaning? What of the future? What of the future of our nation? What of the future of the nations of the world? What of the future of our people and the peoples of the earth? Out of this great, seething mass of humanity and these nations rise, what is the future? Is it good? Is it bad? Does it portent evil and disaster? Is that raging sea in birth throes or is it in a death struggle? What? Now, when a man writes, and when a man looks, and when the historian of this world – without revelation and inspiration from heaven – when he looks, all he can see is the sea in its tumultuous turmoil and the nations that rise out of it; the great social revolutions of convulsions. Agitation, that is all that he can see, that is all he can see in the past. And as far as he can see in the future, there is nothing but that same torment and agony. There is rage, there is passion, there is war, there is bitterness, there is strife; that is all that he can see.
But Daniel says, he says:
I beheld till thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days did sit,A fiery stream issued from before Him: and thousands,and ten thousands times ten thousand ministered before Him,
And I saw in the night visions, and, behold, One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, came to the Ancient of Days,
And there was given to that Son of Man dominion, and glory, a kingdom, that all people, and languages, should serve Him: and His dominion,shall not pass away, and His kingdom,shall not be destroyed
Over and beyond the raging torment of the sea of humanity, Daniel sees the throne of the living God. And coming before the throne, he sees the Son of Man to receive forever a kingdom, everlasting, that shall never pass away [Daniel 7:9-10].
So as I read the passage, I find that these beast kingdoms and these empires continue only so long as God says they continue. And they abide only so long as God says they abide:
I beheld until the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.
And as concerning these other beasts, they had their dominion taken away and their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
I cannot enter into the understanding of that. Why does God allow it? That is the mystery of iniquity that Paul refers to in the second Thessalonian letter, the second chapter and the [seventh] verse [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. We are not revealed, it is not revealed to us, the mystery of iniquity. Why does God allow these nations so cruel, so wanton, so bloodthirsty, so coercive, why does God allow them to sweep over the earth and to bring agony and untold horror and misery to the human race? We are not told. We are just told that God’s sovereign grace, as the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep and brought order out of chaos in Genesis 1:2; so the sovereign purposes of God brood over the sea of humanity – the great ocean waters of the human race – and God is preparing and working toward the great consummation, when the kingdoms of the earth shall belong to the kingdom of Christ; and He shall reign, world without end [Revelation 11:15].
So the beast nations, these that rise up out of the raging sea [Daniel 7:3], they continued just so long as God says. And they are allowed to do just so much as God permits and none other. Their end is not what they choose nor is it what they like. Do you remember that famous sonnet of Shelley entitled "Ozymandias"? Listen to it:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose form – whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
And on the pedestal these words appear –
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing else remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
[Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias"].
These nations, and these kingdoms, and these empires only exist as God says. They only last as long as God says. They only continue according to God’s permissive will. And it is God who guides their destiny to whatever consummating purpose fits His masterful plan; they do not choose their own. Not what they like, not as they choose, but as God likes and as God chooses. The Ruler and the King of this universe is not the empire and not the nation and not the kingdom, but it is God Himself.
One other thing: what does this mean for us personally, individually? To you? To us? What does this mean? We also are in that raging sea. We are on this planet; we ride the thing. We are going to be buried in this planet if the Lord delays His coming. We cannot disassociate ourselves from the human family and the human race. There is a raging sea that torments and tosses us, and all of us face it – if not today, then tomorrow. There is decay, and there is disintegration, and there is age, and there is senility, and there is corruption, and there is death, and there is the grave, and all of us are in that torment together. As we look ahead and see the agony of that tormented sea into which our lives are cast and enmeshed, what does it mean for us? To the unbeliever, to the agnostic, to the infidel, to the Christ-rejecter, all he can see is the fury of the terrible storm, the visage of that last enemy, death [1 Corinthians 15:26]. All that he faces is corruption, and decay, and the grave. The darkness and the night, that is all for him; just the raging torment of an uncertain and darkened future.
What does this mean for us when we lift up our eyes? We don’t see the grave, or the torment, or the agony, or the corruption, or the decay, or the blackness of the night; not for us who look in faith to Jesus. Because for us, we see there has been cast for us and we see it – a throne of grace. And on the throne, the incarnate Son of God, the King of heaven and the King of earth, and around Him are these ten thousands times ten thousands [Revelation 19:11-16] – resurrected, immortalized, who minister in His name and who live in His presence. And our life is filled with hope, and glory, and optimism, and triumph, and victory.
That is the way the Book of Daniel closes: and God said to Daniel, "Go thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of thy days" [Daniel 12:13]. "Thou shall stand in thy lot at the end of thy days." Why, God says to Daniel, "Thou shalt rest," you will fall asleep. "But there shall be a time at the end when you will stand in your allotment in the Holy Land." Daniel belonged to the tribe of Judah. And in the land of Judah, he has an inheritance. And in that great and final day, God says to Daniel, "You will stand in your inheritance – in your lot in the kingdom of Judah" [Daniel 12:13].
That same thing was in the heart of Joseph. When Joseph died in Egypt, he made his brethren swear that when God visited them, that they would take his bones back to his inheritance in [Israel] and he would be buried in his lot, in his inheritance in the holy land of Palestine [Genesis 50:25]. You have a like illustration of that in Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey, at first – at the beginning, was a little tiny chapel. And a great, godly, Christian Anglo-Saxon king named Edward the Confessor died, and he was buried in that little chapel. And his great nobleman and friend who died, said, "I want to be buried as close to Edward the Confessor as I can be, so that when the resurrection day comes and my king stands up, I will stand close to his side." And his second great nobleman when time came to die, said, "Bury me on the other side of Edward the Confessor, that when my king stands in the resurrection, I shall be standing by his side." And other noblemen when they died, said, "Bury us as close to Edward the Confessor as you can." And then their friends who believed in Christ asked also to be buried close to one another – and thus, Westminster Abbey began.
Our destiny out of that raging sea, is not one of defeat, and despair, and disintegration, and death, and corruption, and the grave. We are not looking forward to darkness and night and defeat. But we are looking forward to a kingdom that shall never end, to an empire that shall never be destroyed, to a reign that shall be everlasting. We are not looking forward to death and corruption and the grave; we are looking forward to resurrection, and to heaven, and to glory; and to the fellowship of the saints and angels in heaven, now, tomorrow, forever, world without end [Hebrews 12:22-24]. That is the message of the Book of Daniel. And God wrote it out for us, that we who live in this day and in this time and belong also to that raging sea – that beyond the turmoil and the agony and the convulsion and the distress, we might see the throne of God and Him who reigns upon it for ever and ever [1 Timothy 1:17]. How do you like that? That’s God’s Book, oh, dear! We are always to be up, always to be hopeful, always to shine, always in the blessedness of the goodness of God’s purposes of grace for us, God having provided some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
Now, may we pray just for a moment? Our Lord, here this morning in this great throng of people, there are some to whom the Spirit of God speaks – to whom the Lord makes appeal. And humbly Lord, in Thy grace and goodness, may they reply, respond, answer with their lives.
While our people pray together, if God speaks that word of appeal to you, will you answer, "Here I come Lord, I make it now"? A family, "Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming today." A couple you, or just you. In the balcony round, if you are on that last row, if God speaks today, will you answer? Make the decision now in your heart, bowed humbly before God. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, you step into that aisle or down one of these stairwells and here to the front and to the pastor. "I am coming now, and here I am."
Our Savior, bless the appeal as only God can bless it. Our words are halting and feeble and faltering and human, but the Holy Spirit speaks the words of God. Holy Spirit, woo; say that word of appeal and give us this harvest for which humbly we pray, in Thy name, amen.
Now, we shall stand and sing our song. And while we sing it, come. As God shall open the door and lead in the way, make the decision now. Come, now, while we stand and while we sing.