Daniel is a bit out of order chronologically, so we’re going to skip chapters 5 and 6 for the time being. Belshazzar was now king of Babylon. He was the son of Nabonidus who had apparently married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar to legitimize his seizing of the Babylonian throne.
During the last ten years of Nabonidus’ life, he lived in a place called Teima, and left the administration of Babylon in Belshazzar’s hands.
It was during this time that Daniel had this vision, which in many ways mirrored the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2. Four beasts are described, representing four kingdoms.
The lion with an eagle’s wings represented Babylon. The image of its wings being ripped off, and then the lion standing up and being given the heart of a man stands for Nebuchadnezzar’s fall into insanity and his subsequent restoration.
The bear stood for the Medo-Persian empire. The raising up of one side stood for the fact that the Persian side of this empire was stronger, while the three ribs stood for the nations of Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt that this empire devoured.
The leopard stood for Greece, which under Alexander the Great swiftly conquered the known world, while the four heads stood for how after his death, his four generals would take over.
The fourth beast represents Rome which would conquer Greece. The horns seem to represent ten rulers that would come from this empire in a time yet to come, with one taking prominence over all the others. This ruler shall blaspheme God and persecute the saints. It seems pretty clear then, that this is referring to the Antichrist.
But then God brings this Antichrist to judgment, and one “like a son of man” comes with the clouds of heaven, and is given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, and all people will serve him. And that final kingdom will never be destroyed, but will stand forever. This, of course, represents Christ’s return and the coming of God’s kingdom.
Obviously, there is much debate of the timing of all these events to come, and you have all the pre-tribulationists, post-tribulationalists, mid-tribulationists, and so forth. Other people can argue their case far more eloquently than I ever could. I tend to be a pan-tribulationist. I believe it will all pan out the way God wants it to.
I’m not going to worry so much about when Jesus comes. I just want to be ready when he does. I hope God takes us away before the tribulation, but I trust that if he doesn’t, and I’m there when the Antichrist is, the words of Paul will hold true, namely,
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (I Corinthians 10:13)
The thing I take from this passage, however is that ultimately, God will reign over all. No matter how bad things get, it will turn out because he’s in control. He sets up kings and he casts them down. He set up Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander, and Caesar. All were great men. But all were ultimately cast down by God, in his timing. And though things will get bad when Antichrist comes, he too will be cast down, and at that point, God will reign over all.
So when you find yourself looking at the world situation, and fretting about it, remember the words of Jesus when he said,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. (John 14:1)
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)