Initially the Babylonian empire was established with considerable speed, but this was interrupted with the humbling experience recorded in Daniel 4:1–37. This reflected the pliability of the gold portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s image.
The second beast represented the Medo-Persian Empire.
“And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’” Daniel 7:5
The third beast represented the Greek Empire.
“After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.” Daniel 7:6
A swift-running leopard with wings represented the swiftness of Alexander’s conquest with the Greek Empire. The four heads symbolised the four main divisions the Empire was divided after his untimely death in B.C.323—Ptolemy, Seleucus, Philip, and Antigonus.
The fourth beast represented the Roman Empire.
“After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast–terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
“While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully.” Daniel 7:7–8
Daniel was very troubled by the fourth beast’s description, and asked its meaning.
“He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.
“ ‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ ” Daniel 7:23–27
The second paragraph of this explanation is reminiscent of the final aspect of Nebuchadnezzar’s image.
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44
The ten horns that developed at the end of the Roman Empire were not all strong kingdoms; part of them were absorbed into a new dominion which arose after them. This new dominion became known as the Holy Roman Empire, with the Pope as head of the dominion—as a ruler he was ‘different from the earlier ones’, and he would ‘oppose the saints’. This situation was to continue ‘for a time, times and half a time’. A time was a Babylonian year of 360 days. Times indicated two (i.e. 720), and a half of time, a further half (i.e. 180). Adding the figures, we get:
360 + 720 + 180 = 1260
In prophetic writings each day stands for a year, so the duration of this Papal opposition was to last for 1260 years. In the year 606AD, the Bishop of Rome, Phocas, decreed that the current Pope, Bonifacius III, was the “Universal Pope”, head of all churches with the privilege of him transferring it to all who succeeded him. So it was more than just coincidence that 1260 years later, in 1866, this power was removed.