Fourth Beast – Dreadful and Terrible

The winds continued striving over the great sea as the fourth beast, that blood-thirsty empire – Rome, began to rise. Its tenacity and ruthless reign was incomparable to any known predator beast and hence this beast was only depicted as a dreadful and terrible beast in the vision of Daniel:

7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.

Notice this description of the beast –  “diverse from all the beasts.” The word for “diverse” in Chaldean, the language Daniel used to write this vision, is shena and means to alter or change. This was exactly the case with the fourth empire: Rome unlike other kingdoms evolved into different forms over time. From a monarch system, to a republic, and then an empire. From a pagan empire to a Christian one! As Daniel looked at the terrible beast, its ten horns got his attention. Something was happening to three of the ten horns:

8 I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.

A strange vision it was, but thankfully, we don’t have to wonder about its meaning because the interpretation was already given to Daniel (see  verses 23-25 below). Events in the vision of Daniel took a different turn after he saw the little horn plucking up three horns. Daniel saw “thrones” (i.e. the political powers or kingdoms of the world) being cast down.

9 I beheld till the thrones were cast down…

This had been shown to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream as “the stone” breaking in pieces “the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold”, metals which Daniel had interpreted to represent the four world empires.

All the empires of the world felt great in their time. The kings of the empires had established their thrones. However, as Nebuchadnezzar had later come to learn, there has always been the greater ‘throne’ (power) above, where the true king ‘sits’ – “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment, and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Dan.4:37).

Unlike earthly thrones which come and go, the throne of the “King of heaven” is established forever. The judgments of this “King” are righteous and wise.

On earth we esteem men who have lived longer to be wiser – “Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom” (Job 32:7, cf. Pro.16:31). But there is One who inhabits eternity and hence the source of all wisdom (Isa.57:15); He is God and was rightly called “the Ancient of Days” in Daniel’s vision. Although no one can or has ever seen God (Joh. 1:18), and although He dwells “in the light which no man can approach unto;  whom  no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim.6:16), Daniel had to be shown a symbol of something that he could write for you and I to be able to read it. Thus he saw:

9…and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.

The vision next showed the setting of the day of judgment of nations:

10 A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.

The judgment mentioned in verse 10 above will not be done directly by the invisible God (Yahweh), and neither will it occur in heaven. The judgment will be executed through a human vessel (see verse 13 notes below).

In verse 11 Daniel’s attention is taken back to the little horn he had seen earlier. He is shown the judgment that would occur to the beast on which the little horn was because of the blasphemous words it had uttered. Daniel also notices that although the previous beasts had their dominion taken away (at the time when they fell and gave way to other empires in history), their “lives” ­ – spirit or influence – had prolonged  for a season:

11 I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.

12 As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.

What we see in the following two verses (13 and 14) is a human vessel that God would manifest through to judge the nations and to establish  a new kingdom on earth. This human vessel already came to earth, ascended to heaven and we await his return. He was not an ordinary human being but the visible manifestation of the invisible God in human flesh (1 Tim.3:16), a God-man!  That was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ (Joh.1:14).

Jesus is not another God; He is not one-third of the so-called Trinity  for “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col.2:9). He will one day return to come and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. This kingdom shall never fall to another empire for nations will not war against another; the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God, and in righteousness and peace Christ shall rule the world (Isa.11:5,9):

13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.

14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

As Daniel saw these visions, he got so troubled about the meaning of the details of the fourth diverse beast and its little horn which had plucked three other horns. He narrated his grief and perplexity in verse 15 through 22:

15I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.

16I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things.

17These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.

18But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.

19Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet;

20And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.

21I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them;

22Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.

The Lord was gracious and revealed to Daniel more details about the fourth beast and its little horn:

23Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.

24And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings.

25And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.

The feature of being “diverse” was so prominent about this beast that it is was again stated in the interpretation of the vision by the angel. To appreciate the diverse nature of the Roman Empire let us look into its history.

History of Rome

Alexander’s conquests had progressed eastwards. He never took interest in the region that lay west. It is important to know that at the time of Alexander’s exploits, the western region only consisted of a few Greek colonies and was clustered with  wooded peninsulas which were populated with peasants.

The peasant tribes were stubborn, unruly, and ready to defend themselves in case of any invasion. One such tribe were the Romans who occupied a peninsula called Italy.

Rome has had a diverse history which can be categorized as follows:

  • The period of kings
  • The period of the Republic when two Consuls were voted into office by the Senate.
  • The period of emperors, which can be further divided into two epochs as Pagan Roman Empire and Holy Roman Empire.

Before we look at the above diverse nature of Roman history, it is important to know that roman society was generally characterized by two kinds of people – the patricians and the plebeians.

Plebeians (or plebs in short) were the common or poor people that formed much of the citizenry of roman society. Patricians comprised families which owned vast estates and meadows; they were the noblemen of society. It was out of the patricians that men entrusted with the task of appointing a leader came. This council of leaders was called the senate.

1. Roman Monarch  – Period of Kings

Like many ancient tribes Romans had myths and legendary stories about their origins. The Romans traced their origins to the renowned twin brothers, Romulus and Remus. The twins were believed to be sons of Mars, suckled and raised by a wolf!

The planet Mars was worshipped as a god of war by Romans. They believed that in time of war Mars would come to their aid and so it became a practice during war to offer prayers to Mars.[1] So, how greatly to be revered were the sons of Mars!

Romulus later killed Remus and established himself as the first king of Rome in 753 BC. There were six other kings who rose after Romulus. There are interesting details in the histories of these kings that will be important to understanding certain details of the prophecy of Daniel. So let us briefly go through what happened during this early history of Rome.

I. Romulus

As earlier mentioned, the rise of Romulus to power as a king is believed to have been in 753 BC. The reign of Romulus was not characterized by peace. It was full of conflict and war with other tribes in the region. Romulus is believed to have died in 648 BC. He was succeeded by Numa Pompilius.

II. Numa Pompilius

The new king, Numa Pompilius, compared to Romulus, was very different in character and in the manner he ruled Rome. He was peaceful and very religious. He built religious institutions (colleges and the famous Temple of Janus).

It is Numa Pompilius who added January and February (two more months) to the calendar so that a year now consisted of 12 months![2] Note that previously, during the time of Romulus, a year consisted of 360 days. The calendar system had different number of days. Some months had more or less days than others. Numa “estimated the solar year at 365 days and the lunar year at 354 days. He doubled the difference of eleven days and instituted a leap month of 22 days to come between February and March …[He] put January as the first month, and may indeed have added the months of January and February to the calendar” (Bingley, 2017).

Numa died in 673 BC. A new king ascended to power.

III. Tullus Hostilius

This was the third king of Rome. Tullus was very unlike his predecessor – he was warlike and not religious.

Tullus was much like Romulus: “Both Tullus and Romulus supposedly carried on war with the neighbouring cities of Fidenae and Veii, doubled the number of Roman citizens, organized the army, and disappeared from earth in a storm” (Britannica Encyclopaedia, 2017). Concerning his ‘disappearance’, Tullus is said to have been struck by a lightning and reduced to ashes. The year was 642 BC.

IV. Ancus Marcius

Ancus is said to have been the fourth king of Rome. In trying to avoid  problems of the previous king (which resulted from  his earlier neglect of religion but for which he later tried to amend his ways by giving heed to the desires of the gods by giving reverence to them), after becoming king he focused on ensuring that religious rites were given their important place in society and were done correctly. To this end he ordered Pontifex Maximus[3] to publicly publish words which provided guidelines on how public religious festivals were to be performed.

At this juncture it is important to point out that in the early history of Rome ascendancy to the throne was not through ancestry. Rather, a popular or influential person would be acclaimed to the throne. Thus, although Ancus had sons at the time of his death,  a popular man by the name Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, had managed to influence people to let him become the next king.

V. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus

Lucius Tarquinius Priscus or Tarquin the Elder is said to have been the fifth king of Rome, and scholars estimate that he must have reigned from 616 to 578 BC.

Tarquin had much interest in sport and he gave it much importance in Roman society. He is said to  have built the  the first and largest stadium at Rome.

The stadium was constructed and organized in style: there was a raised seating platform for political leaders and other prominent people. There were also other sections reserved for other  private citizens.

Tarquin also introduced forms of insignia that distinguished officials and military authorities. The different forms of insignia introduced includeed  the sceptre of the king; a purple garment or mantle called the trabea;  a special chair (curule chair ) on which rulers, magistrates, and other men of authority would seat (the chair became a symbol of power); and the rings worn by senators. It is interesting to note that these carnal Roman practices later found themselves in the Christian Church system where leaders of the clergy would wear special kinds of clothing with sceptres that distinguished them from members of the laity! A true church of God consists of brothers and sisters whose only clothing is that of humility, and their sceptre of authority is the Word of God!

Tarquin the elder is believed to have been assassinated by children of Ancus Marcius (his predecessor) in 579 BC.  The children believed that they were the ones to succeed their father.

VI. Servius Tullius

Servious Tullius ruled from 575-535 BC.  He was very popular with people and  is said to have been the first king of Rome to accede without election by the senate. During his reign he improved the living standards of many plebeians.

Servius was a religious man who is known to have built temples to the god Fortuna and goddess Diana. Fortuna in Rome was the god of luck or fortune, and Diana was a goddess over hunting and nature. The goodness Diana was believed to give power to control and speak to animals.

Servius is also credited for the introduction of silver and bronze coins in Rome. However, there are no facts to support this.

Servius ruled for 44 years and was assassinated by his daughter in connivance with her husband, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.

VII. Lucius Tarquinius Superbus

The reign of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus  is dated from 534 to 509 BC. Tarquinius was an extremely proud and arrogant ruler and hence his nickname “Superbus” which means “proud”; he is actually usually referred to as Tarquin the Proud. Later on people could not bear his rule of tyranny and one, a noble man called Brutus, assassinated him. After Tarquin the Proud power was never to be in the hands of a king but two elected officials from the senate. Thus ended the period of the kings, giving way to the birth of the Roman Republic.

2. Roman Republic – Rule by Consuls

During the period of kings the Senate had only worked as an advisory council to the king, but with the founding of the republic by Lucius Junius Brutus, the man who killed Rome’s last king, it gradually grew into a powerful institution.

During the republic two officials, called Consuls, were elected by the Senate to rule Rome. As was stated earlier, the people with the privilege to voice opinion and to vote for a consul were the rich patricians. Plebeians were poor and not recognized in matters of governance. However, they were greater in number, strong-willed, and very stubborn. They increasingly became dissatisfied with the unjust system. They began to struggle for recognition. This was occurring during the time of Alexander the Great. The struggle of plebeians persisted for centuries until they prevailed to have one of the two consuls a plebeian.

During the early years of the republic, Rome only used to war with its small neighboring towns. But after the time of Alexander the Great, there was a growing desire to overcome and subdue the entire Italian peninsula. But this would not be an easy task as Grecian forces were still a power to reckon with.

One day a squadron of Roman ships  arrived at the coast of Tarentum, a wealthy Greek colony (see Fig.2 for map). This violated a treaty with the Tarentines which forbade Rome to sail on the coast. The Tarentines sunk five of the ten ships of Romans. Rome was infuriated and declared war on the Greek colony. Tarentum called for assistance from a Greek prince called Pyrrhus. In 280 BC the Pyrrhic War began.

Pyrrhic War

Pyrrhus was a skillful commander. His armies fought the Romans using elephants. They had learned using elephants from Indians. The Romans had no experience fighting warfare. They lost the initial war. However, the victory of Pyrrhus was at such a great cost (it is from this that a phrase ‘Pyrrhic victory’ was coined – a victory won at great cost).  In the course of the war he was fast running out the much needed man-power to replenish and augment his army. The Romans on the other hand had readily available manpower which always quickly replaced depleted forces.

Tired of fighting the ever-persistent Romans, Pyrrhus withdrew his forces.

The withdrawal of Pyrrhus’ army gave the Romans a leeway to take over the whole southern Italy! But the Romans were not satisfied, they also wanted Sicily, an island which yielded good crops because of its rich fertile soil (see location of Sicily on map below). However, there was a great stumbling block to acquiring this productive city – a nearby mighty city of Phoenicians called Carthage which controlled Sicily.

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Fig.2 Tarentum, Sicily, and Carthage

Rome decided to take the risk of fighting the Punics. But again, like they suffered losses in the Pyrrhic war because of their unfamiliarity with warring elephants, in the war with Punics they encountered an enemy skilled with what they were almost totally ignorant about –  sea warfare (facilitated by ships).

Punic Wars – Sicily and Carthage “stamped”!

The ships of Punics were many and well built. Romans were unaccustomed to voyages and didn’t have a well-established ship-building industry. But Rome had the persistent iron strength (as shown in Daniel’s vision) which would soon stamp (not only Sicily but) Carthage itself under its feet! And once under its feet, a people’s autonomy and identity would be crashed underneath the brazen claws of Rome.

The first war between Romans and Carthagians, often referred to as the First Punic War, occurred between 264 and 241 BC. The Romans emerged victorious and managed to annex Sicily. With the loss of Sicily Carthagians sought to occupy Spain. In Spain was a skilled Carthagian commander called Hannibal who was so angry at the humiliation Carthage had suffered by the Romans. He desired to destroy Rome at whatever cost!

Hannibal’s anger against Rome led to the  Second Punic War between 218 and 202 BC, rated as one of the deadliest in history! Hannibal decided to march from Spain and fight the Roman Republic on their homeland in Italy. But how would such a feat be accomplished when Rome controlled the Sea and had impregnable defense forces across coastal roads? He ordered his army to do the undoable  – to march through southern France, moving over the rivers, wild mountains and over to the Alps, and finally into Italy! Romans never thought an army commander would take such an extreme risk.

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Fig. 3 Hannibal’s route of Invasion

Enroute to Italy Hannibal’s troops crushed with Roman armies at Trebia in 218 BC. The following year in 217 BC he again defeated the Romans at Lake Trasimene. As his troops marched southwards in Italy, in 216, he crashed with Romans at Cannae and there he annihilated their largest army ever assembled! Rome was on the verge of destruction as most of its allies defected to fight with Hannibal. Despite this remarkable victory, however, when Rome was within his grasp, Hannibal surprisingly hesitated to move on and take over Rome. He waited for more reinforcements from Carthage and that was his undoing! In the meantime Rome restrategised.

The Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, avoided to engage with Hannibal in war. Instead Rome would take on Hannibal’s allies. A troop sent from Carthage to reinforce Hannibal was intercepted and defeated in 207 BC. Rome recaptured all cities that had defected to Carthage. Publius Cornelius Scipio, a Roman general led his army into a series of victorious battles against Carthagians. In 206 BC he destroyed a Carthagian army at Ilipa. In 204 BC he defeated Carthage  and her allies in Utica. In 202 BC at Zama, Scipio and Hannibal engaged in the final battle. Carthage lost to Rome.

In 146 BC, during the Third Punic War, even when Carthage was already hopeless, Rome crushed it without mercy. A once mighty and wealthy city was reduced to a plain. The terrible beast had “devoured and brocken in pieces”! and now established itself as the mightiest power in the world.

ROME continued to conquer more territories. It moved about subduing more territories. However, unlike Greece which respected people they had conquered by treating them equally, “all lands the Roman legions conquered…became Roman provinces, their towns occupied by Roman troops and Roman officials. These occupiers looked down on the native inhabitants, even when they were Phoenicians, Jews and Greeks…In the eyes of the Romans they were good for just one thing: paying up. They were subject to crushing taxes and had to keep sending grain to Rome – as much and as often as possible.”[4] However, a Roman citizen was treated with such respect wherever they were – whether at home in Rome or abroad in one of its provinces. “Wherever he happened to be in that vast empire , he could turn to a Roman official  and say, ‘I am a citizen of Rome!’ [and] these words had the effect of a magic formula.”[5] This can be seen in the manner Paul was treated by his arresters when he revealed that he was a Roman citizen:

And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air. The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born. Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him” (Act.22:22-29).

Roman citizens had so many privileges. The grain that was collected from defeated territories (provinces) was for Roman citizens.

As the population of Roman citizens grew there was increasing overbearing demand for more taxes on the provinces. The provinces did not always meet up these demands, much to the chagrin of the roman rulers who ever became more repressive. Back in Rome people enjoyed festivals and sport. These were not activities enjoyed by everyone – like modern football, Christmas, or Diwali.  War prisoners and slaves were made to play bloody-sport. They would be released in an arena where they would fight unto death, wrestling with dangerous wild animals or with one another. The crowds cheered, laughed and celebrated as fellow human beings fought with the sword and fangs of rapacious predators. These fighters were called gladiators.

A man who would sponsor roman sports, festivities and hand out grain to people became so much loved. This became a source of contention for influence and power as the wealthy and corrupt sought to sway public opinion to their favor.

In the course of time there arose a man who was master at pleasing people; he organized festivals and gave out gifts of grain to the people – Gaius Julius Caesar. Apart from festivities, people liked him because of his victories as an army general. He conquered more territories, including those which for a long time proved hostile and difficult like the Gauls (who lived in the region we now call France). The marching of his troops across Gaul, Britannia, and land of the Helvetii (now Switzerland) signaled a commanding presence of Rome in the world.

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Fig. 4 Sculpture of Julius Caesar by Nicolas Coustou

Gaius Julius Caeser was not only a skilled general; he was very intelligent. He had interest in matters of time and the calendar the world used. He revised the calendar so that it now had twelve months and leap years. That became to be known as the Julian Calendar. The month July came to be named after him.

With all the influence and power he wielded, Caesar would have become the emperor of Rome. But jealousy brewed in the senate. He was brutally murdered by being stabbed with daggers during a meeting in the Senate. This happened some 44 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Augustus Caesar was the new ruler of Rome. He is known to have been a wise and fair ruler. People so much loved Augustus. The month of August was named after him. He managed to become the sole ruler and authority of Rome as an emperor. This first emperor – August Caesar – was the one who ruled Rome during the time of Jesus Christ That was the beginning of the period of the emperors. Would the succeeding emperors be as calm and prudent as the first one? History was about to make a turn, to be so devastating to Christians.

….To be continued in next posting


[1] “Romans worshiped a pantheon, also thought of as a council, of 12 major gods. These 12 major gods were called the Dii Consentes. This group included six gods and six goddesses. The gods included: Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Apollo, Vulcan and Mercury. The goddesses were Juno, Minerva, Venus, Diana, Vesta and Ceres. Jupiter ruled over the Pantheon… In Roman religion, Mars was a very important god. His role was second only to Jupiter, the leader of the pantheon. … Jupiter was considered the chief, or central, guardian of Rome and was often considered to be witness to solemn oaths such as those undertaken by government officials or soldiers…Mars himself was the god of war and was, himself, seen as protector of the Roman Army. He was thought to be difficult, argumentative and unpopular among the gods, but was revered by men; especially soldiers.” (Greek Gods and Godesses, 2017).

[2] Note that originally a calendar had ten months. This can still be seen in the names of  months of our modern calender. September used to be the seventh month as the prefix of “Sept” in its name suggests. Likewise October (“Oct”) used to be the eighth month and December (“Dec”) used to be the tenth and last month.

[3] Pontifex Maximus is a title which means “greatest priest” in Latin. A person holding this office was the highest priest in Pagan Rome.

[4] and [5] Gombrich, E.H. (1985). A little History of the World. London: Yale University Presss.

 

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