I’m preaching through the book of Daniel, and I came across a few verses in chapter 7 that seem to cohere best with a premillennial theology, and these are verses that I personally don’t remember ever seeing brought into the discussion of eschatology models.
Daniel 7 is an account of Daniel’s vision of four beasts who emerge from the sea: a lion with wings, a bear with three ribs in its mouth, a four-headed, four-winged leopard, and an unidentified, terrifying fourth beast with ten horns, from which emerges a little horn different from the others. My understanding of these beasts is that they represent successive human kings/kingdoms (see vv. 17, 23), pictured as horrifying beasts in order to demonstrate the horror of human rebellion against God. I follow the traditional interpretation that sees the lion as Nebuchadnezzar/Babylon, the bear as the Medo-Persian empire, the leopard as the Greek empire, and the fourth beast as the Roman empire. Although I am less certain about the horns, I think the best interpretation is that they represent successive human kingdoms from the time of the Roman empire to the end of history, picturing at least some kingdoms after Rome as sharing in its rebellion against God (note verse 24: “As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise…”). The little horn, then, represents the culmination of human rebellion against God embodied in a man that Paul calls “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), or the antichrist. Even if you disagree on some of these details, I think my point below about premillennialism may still stand.
After the four beasts, Daniel sees a vision of God calling the divine court into session, where he sentences and executes the fourth beast in one action and subsequently hands over sovereignty to one like a son of man. The rebellious kingdoms of this world are stripped of authority, and the saints of the Most High claim rule over an everlasting kingdom.
Interestingly, after the destruction of the fourth beast, we read this in verse 12: “As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.” One commentator I read argued that this statement indicates that the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece all lost their authority when they were successively conquered, but their lives were prolonged when their cultures were absorbed into the empires that succeeded them. But that interpretation doesn’t seem convincing to me, primarily because the prolonging of the lives of the three beasts occurs after the destruction of the fourth beast, i.e., after God comes in judgment. So it leads me to picture a future time when the fourth beast (still represented today in the “horns” that have come in succession to the Roman empire) will be destroyed, meaning that all antichrist powers will be judged by the coming of Christ. And when he comes, he will exercise all sovereignty over the earth, divesting all remaining kingdoms of their governing authority. And yet, at least some of these nations (pictured in continuity with the first three beasts) will continue to endure for “a season and a time” while Christ reigns.
What’s the point of that? Notice verses 14a and 27:
And to him [the one like a son of man] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. (v. 14a)
And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them. (v. 27)
First, a grammatical side note. In agreement with an earlier version of the ESV, I translated the pronouns in v. 27 as plural (“their kingdom” as opposed to “his kingdom”). The Aramaic pronoun is grammatically singular, but that doesn’t decide anything because it could just as easily refer back to the word for “people,” which in Aramaic is a masculine singular noun, even though it has a collective meaning (any Aramaic scholars out there: feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). So what that means is that grammar cannot decide whether this is singular or plural. Context must decide. Apparently, the more recent ESV takes the pronoun to refer back to “the Most High,” and thus it is his kingdom. However, I think the parallel of verse 27 with verse 14, which presents the kingdom as belonging to the one like a son of man, who in turn represents “the saints of the Most High” (see v. 18; I think the figure is both individual and corporate) seals the deal in favor of interpreting verse 27 in a corporate sense. It is their kingdom, i.e., the kingdom of the people represented by the one like a son of man. But even if you lean the other way, I think my point can still stand, though this grammatical argument tightens it a bit.
Now, back to the main argument. Why are the lives of the three beasts prolonged “for a season and a time” after God judges the fourth beast, takes away their dominion, and establishes the kingdom of the Son of Man? It is because God intends the nations of the world, divested of authority, to serve his people in their kingdom, not as those among the redeemed, but as defeated vassals under their authority. When David ruled in Israel, he gained some authority over enemy vassal states, but it was limited to Israel’s neighbors (e.g., the Philistines). When Christ comes to rule, all nations of the earth will be given into his hand. And when Psalm 2 makes this promise, it is not a promise about the redemption of the nations. It is a promise about the coercive rule of God’s Son over them: “you shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9). In other words, God intends his Son to rule in the midst of his enemies (Psalm 110:2), a promise that is not currently fulfilled in Christ’s heavenly session and so must be fulfilled in a future earthly reign. And in that reign we will also share during the millennium, when we will judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2).