The prophecies of Daniel describes the end time of the Christian Church, how the good and truth of Christianity would successively degenerate into a false religious system for the sake of power or in a dead religion of faith alone. This is described in Matthew 24 as the "abomination of desolation" standing in the holy place. Jesus also declared that "no stone" of the temple would be left standing, signifying that at the end the truths of the Christian church would be overthrown by falsehoods. That the Christian church would become corrupt in the end times is declared in Luke:
Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)The "earth" does not signify the physical earth - spiritually the "earth" signifies the church on earth which is conjoined with God's kingdom in heaven. Thus in the spiritual sense, the kingdoms of the "earth" in prophecy do not signify literal kingdoms, but different states of the Christian church.
The complete and true restoration of the Christian Church is accomplished at the end by a final judgment and heavenly revelation which is known as the "Second Coming." The Second Coming is not a literal Second Coming from the sky, but a spiritual revelation that restores Christianity. This is described in the blog post Is the Second Coming a Physical Event or Spiritual Event?. This revelation of the Second Coming was given in waking visions to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century, who revealed the spiritual meaning of the prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse.
THE LITERAL VS. SPIRITUAL INTERPRETATION
The prophecy of the four beasts that come out of the sea in Daniel 7 is a parallel prophecy to Nebuchadnezzar's vision of a statue in Daniel 2, which is described in the blog post The Spiritual Meaning of Daniel's Prophecy of the Statue of Nebuchadnezzar. Similar to Daniel 2, the most popular interpretation is the literal one, which assigns each beast to a political empire (e.g., see Daniel 7: Four Beasts and a Little Horn):
Below shows a table of the typical literal interpretation of this prophecy:
Beast of Daniel's Vision
Lion with wings removed
Bear eating three ribs
with four wings and four heads
Divided into four kingdoms
Beast of iron teeth
Kingdoms of Europe
The Papacy or (always future) Antichrist
After the Roman Empire, there are two schools of thought: the historicist, which assigns the little horn to the Papacy that arose out of the Roman Empire, or the futurist, which always assigns end times to an unspecified future, but always future.
This is the literal interpretation, but scripture has two levels of meaning: the literal sense and the spiritual sense. These literal historical empires that were foretold correspond to the future states of the Christian Church:
"What Daniel prophesied respecting the four kingdoms (chap. ii. 37-46; vii. 17 to the end), and respecting the kingdoms of Media and Persia (chap. viii. 20 to the end), and respecting the kingdoms of the king of the south and the king of the north (chap. xi); and what John also prophesied in the Apocalypse concerning kings and kingdoms, have no other signification: by kingdoms there only the states of the church as to truths and falsities are meant. States of rulers and of the kingdoms of the earth in the sense of the letter, are states of the church and of the Lord's kingdom in the internal sense; in which sense there are none other than spiritual and celestial things: for the Lord's Word, viewed in itself, is only spiritual and celestial; but that it may be read and apprehended by man, whatever he may be, things of heaven are set forth by those of the earth." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2547.4)The literal historicist interpretation, which applied many of the prophecies of Daniel to the Papacy, is correct and corresponds to the spiritual meaning which describes the corruption of the church due to those who wish to gain power through means of religion:
"A church is brought to an end by various means, especially by such as cause falsity to appear as truth; and when falsity appears to be truth, then the good which in itself is good and is called spiritual, is found no more. The good which is then believed to be good, is only natural, which a moral life produces. The reason that truth and together with it good are brought to an end, is chiefly in the two natural loves that are diametrically opposed to the two spiritual, and are called love of self and love of the world. Love of self when it reigns, is opposed to love to God, and love of the world when it reigns is opposed to love toward the neighbor. Love of self is to wish well to one's self alone, and not to another but for the sake of self; the same may be said of the love of the world; and these loves, where they have been fed, spread like gangrene through the body, and successively consume all things thereof. That such love has invaded the churches, is clearly manifest from Babylon and the description of it (Gen. xi. 1-9; Isa. xiii.; xiv.; xlvii; Jer. 1.; also Dan. ii. 31-47; iii. 1-7, and following; v.; vi. 8-28; vii. 1-14; and in the Apoc. xvii. and xviii., in both from beginning to end); for Babylon has at last so exalted itself as not only to have transferred the Lord's Divine power to itself, but also to be striving with the utmost zeal to grasp all the riches of the world." (True Christian Religion, n. 754)
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE FOUR BEASTS
That the four beasts have a spiritual meaning can be seen in Hos. 13:7-8, which in one short passage mentions the four beasts of Daniel:
So I will be like a lion to them; I will lurk like a leopard on the path. I will attack them like a bear robbed of her cubs and tear open the rib cage over their hearts. I will devour them there like a lioness, like a wild beast that would rip them open (Hos. 13:7-8).This is the punishment for Ephraim that had departed from worshiping one God and followed idols. In a more universal sense, the four beasts describe the successive states of the church:
- The lion that is transformed into a man represents the first establishment of the church, in which people are regenerated into the image of God through the power of truth, signified by the lion.
- The second state is represented by a bear, in which the Word is read but not understood.
- The third state is represented by a leopard, in which the Word is falsified.
- The fourth state is the destruction of all good and truth in the Church.
These successive states are similar to the four horseman of the Apocalypse, which also signify four successive states in the degeneration of the church (see The Prophecy of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.) The literal sense corresponds to these spiritual states in the following manner:
- During the Babylonian captivity, the Jews withdrew from their idolatrous practices and returned to following the law of Moses.
- During the Medo-Persian Empire, there was a resurgence of the ancient monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism. It was likely followed as a tradition. Likewise during this time Jews started to develop their own traditions.
- During the Grecian Empire, the false religion of Greek idolatry was propagated with the spread of Hellenistic culture across the Middle East.
- The Roman Empire invaded Palestine and destroyed the Jewish temple, and for the first three centuries attempted to suppress the spread of Christianity.
When the literal sense is elevated to the spiritual sense, the prophecy becomes universal and thus applicable to one's spiritual state. This is not just a prophecy about historical empires. The meaning of the four beasts are described in the following passage:
"By these four beasts the successive states of the church are described, from its first unto its last, until it is altogether vastated as to every good and truth of the Word; after which is the coming of the Lord. By the lion is signified the Divine truth of the Word in its first state, and the establishment of the church by it; which is meant by his being lifted up from the earth, and set up upon his feet as a man, and a man's heart given to him. By the bear the second state of the church is described, which is, that the Word is read indeed, but is not understood: by the three ribs between his teeth are signified appearances and fallacies; and by much flesh the literal sense of the Word as a whole is signified. The third state of the church is described by the leopard, by which the Word falsified as to its truths is signified: by the four wings upon its back, as of birds, confirmations of falsity are signified. The fourth or last state of the church is described by the beast which was terrible and formidable, by which the destruction of all truth and good is signified; therefore it is said that it broke in pieces and devoured, and trampled the residue with its feet." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 574)This is what the prophecy means in general, now let's examine the spiritual meaning of the prophecy in more detail.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE LION
A lion, in general, signifies the power of truth, thus the lion is often at gateways or entrances as protection against the falsehoods of evil. For it to be changed from a beast into a man signifies spiritual regeneration, as a beast signifies one's lower carnal desires:
"Four beasts came up out of the sea, diverse one from another, the first was like a lion, but it had eagle's wings. I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand upon its feet like a man, and a man's heart was given to it (vii. 3, 4). The first state of the church is what is described by a lion which had eagle's wings, and the eagle's wings there are rational things from one's own, on the taking away of which, rational and voluntary things from the Divine are given, which are signified by its being taken up from the earth, and made to stand upon its feet like a man, and having a man's heart given to it." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3901.4)As to why eagles represent one's rational sight, Swedenborg explains further:
"...by eagles are signified man's rationals, which when predicated of the good, are true rationals; but when predicated of the evil, are false rationals, or reasonings. Birds in general signify man's thoughts, in both good and bad senses (n. 40, 745, 776, 866, 991, 3219); and every species has a special signification. Eagles because they fly high and see sharply, signify rationals." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3901.1)This Swedenborg then proves by quoting several passages of scripture. Without revelation, man is left to his own false reasoning, and this is removed by the power of truth. Without knowing the spiritual sense, no one can explain why eagle's wings are removed from a lion which then becomes a man, nor can anyone explain in detail what this prophecy of Daniel truly means.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE BEAR
A bear signifies those who read the Word, but do not understand it, and thus distort the Word by their own fallacies:
"they are signified by a bear, who read the Word, and do not understand it; hence they have fallacies. That these are signified by bears, was made manifest to me from bears seen in the spiritual world, and from certain ones there clothed in bearskin; all of whom were those who read the Word, and did not see any doctrinal truth there; as also those who confirmed the appearances of truth therein, whence are fallacies. There appear hurtful bears, and harmless bears, and also white ones; but they are distinguished by their heads: those who are harmless have heads like the heads of calves or sheep. Such persons or things are signified by bears in the following passages: As a bear, lying in wait for me, he hath overturned my paths; the lion in the coverts hath turned aside my ways; he hath made me desolate (Lam. iii. 8-11). I will meet him like a bear bereaved, and I will consume him there like a huge lion; the wild beast of the field shall tear them (Hos. xiii. 7, 8). The calf and the young lion shall lie down, and the cow and the bear shall feed (Isa. xi. 6, 7). The second beast coming up out of the sea was like unto a bear, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth (Dan. vii. 5). The same is signified by the lion and bear which David smote, taking it by the beard (1 Sam. xvii. 34-37; likewise 2 Sam. xvii. 8). The lion and bear are mentioned in these places, because falsity destroying the truth of the Word is signified by the lion; and by the bear are signified fallacies, which also destroy, but not to such a degree; therefore it is said in Amos, The day of Jehovah, a day of darkness and not of light, is as he who flees from a lion and falls upon a bear (v. 18, 19). We read in the second book of Kings, that Elisha was mocked by children, and called bald; and that on that account forty-two children were torn in pieces by two she-bears out of the forest (ii. 23, 24). This was done because Elisha represented the Lord as to the Word (n. 298); and because baldness signified the Word without the sense of the letter, and thus not any thing (n. 4, 7); the number forty-two signified blasphemy (n. 583); and the she-bears signified the literal sense of the Word, read indeed, but not understood." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 573)The following passage describes the ribs in the mouth of the bear:
"This second beast, which was "like to a bear," signifies the falsification of the truth of the Word, the power of which still remains in the sense of the letter. The eagerness to falsify its goods is signified by "raising itself upon one side." The "three ribs in the mouth between the teeth" signify the knowledges of truth from the Word in abundance, which are perverted by reasonings from fallacies; and "to devour much flesh" signifies the destruction of good by falsities, and the appropriation of evil... the ribs represented the knowledges that they had drawn from the Word while in the world" (Apocalypse Explained, n. 781.13, 15)It at first seems strange that ribs in the mouth represent knowledges derived from the Word, but this kind of symbolic imagery can be seen in Ezekiel and Revelation, where Ezekiel and John are commanded to eat a scroll (Ezek. 3:1-3, Rev. 10:10). It is more clearly stated by Jesus who said, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Knowledge is food to the mind, and once implanted and acknowledged it forms how we act. But why is it specifically three ribs? This is explained in another passage, where a rib is taken from Adam and formed into a woman:
"And Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he fell asleep; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in the place thereof. By the rib, which is a bone of the breast, man's proprium is meant, in which there is little vitality, and yet a proprium which is dear to him; by the flesh in place of the rib, is meant a proprium in which there is vitality. By a deep sleep the state is meant into which he was let in order that he might seem to himself to have a proprium — a state which is a semblance of sleep; for in that state he knows not but that he lives, thinks, speaks, and acts from himself. And when he begins to know that this is false, he arouses as from sleep and becomes wakeful." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 147)The rib, being a bone, signifies what is derived from the self or one's own, which Swedenborg calls "proprium." Bones signify one's own self which is dead, but flesh added to the bones signify what is living from the Lord, which is described in a vision in Ezekiel 37 where flesh is added to bones and they become living people. Thus for the bear to "devour flesh" from the ribs signifies to distort the Word in its most literal sense from one's own self understanding.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE LEOPARD
A leopard with its spots signify false heresies which destroy the truths of the church:
"And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, signifies heresy destructive of the church, because from the truths of the Word falsified. By beasts in general are signified men as to their affections (n. 567); and by a leopard the affection or lust of falsifying the truths of the Word is signified. And because it is a ferocious beast, and slaughters harmless animals, it signifies also heresy destructive of the church. That the truths of the Word falsified are signified by a leopard, is from his black and white spots; and by the black spots falsities are signified, and by the white among them truth is signified. Hence, as it is a ferocious and cruel beast, by it are signified the truths of the Word falsified, and so destroyed. The same things are signified by a leopard in the following passages: Can the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots? Then may ye also be able to do good, who have been taught to do evil (Jer. xiii. 23). A lion out of the forest hath smitten the nobles, a wolf of the plains shall spoil them, the leopard is watching against their cities; every one who goeth out shall be torn in pieces, because their backslidings are increased (Jer. v. 6). A leopard watching against their cities means against the truths of doctrine: a city is doctrine (n. 194). Because they have forgotten Me, I will therefore be to them as a lion, and as a leopard by the way will I observe them (Hos. xiii. 5-7); a way also signifies truth (n. 176). The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard with the kid (Isa. xi. 6). Here the Lord's kingdom which is coming is treated of: the kid is the genuine truth of the church; the leopard is the same falsified." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 572)The leopard has four wings, which similar to the eagle's wings of the lion signify false reasonings that are confirmed:
"The successive devastation of the church is here depicted by "the four beasts coming up out of the sea," and this third beast, which was "like a leopard," has a similar signification as the leopard here treated of in the Apocalypse, namely, reasonings that are discordant and yet appear as if coherent; "which had four wings like birds' wings upon its back" signifies appearing like the understanding of good and truth from the application thereto of the sense of the letter of the Word." (Apocalypse Explained, n. 780.9)
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE FOURTH BEAST
The fourth beast signifies the state of the church that destroys all that remains of what is good and true in it for the desire of self rule:
"The fourth beast coming up out of the sea shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down and break it in pieces (vii. 23). This beast, too, signifies the love of ruling over the whole heaven and the whole earth, which love those have who are of Babylon (see above, n. 316c, 556a); therefore "to devour," "to tread down," and "to break in pieces the earth," signifies to destroy the church utterly. Who does not see that no beast is to come up out of the sea and devour and tread down and break in pieces the whole earth, but that it is some evil and diabolical love that will do thus to the church?" (Apocalypse Explained, n. 697.5)
The iron teeth by which the beast devours signifies the understanding drawn from the external senses which falsifies the truth, which Swedenborg shows from multiple passages. Those who argue from appearances destroy spiritual truths:
"Since sensual men do not see any truth in its light, but argue and wrangle about every thing as to whether it is so, and these altercations in the hells are heard out of them as gnashings of teeth, which in themselves are the collisions of falsity and truth, it is manifest what is signified by the gnashing of teeth (Matt. viii. 12; xiii. 42, 50; xxii. 13; xxiv. 51; xxv. 30; Luke xiii. 28): and in a measure what by gnashing with the teeth (Job xvi. 9; Ps. xxxv. 16; xxxvii. 12; cxii. 10; Mic. iii. 5; Lam. ii. 16)." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 435).For the beast to trample everything with its feet, signifies that in this state the church had become completely natural opposed to the spiritual, and destroyed spiritual things from their own natural desires:
"The natural man, which is also the external man, is purified, when he shuns the evils which the spiritual or internal man sees are evils and are to be shunned. Now as by the feet is meant man's natural, and this perverts all things if it is not washed or purified, the Lord therefore says, If thy foot cause thee to offend, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life halt, than to have two feet, and be cast into hell into the unquenchable fire (Mark ix. 45). The foot is not here meant, but the natural man. The like is meant by treading down with the feet the good of the pastures, and by troubling the waters with the feet (Ezek. xxxii. 2; xxxiv. 18, 19; Dan. vii. 7, 19; and elsewhere)." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 49)
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE TEN HORNS
Horns appear in multiple passages of scripture, and in every case a horn spiritually signifies the power of truth fighting against falsehood, or in the opposite sense the power of falsity fighting against truth.
"The things which were here seen by Daniel, as the beast, the teeth of iron, the horn in which were eyes, and the horns that spoke, and those which made war with the saints, and that which spoke against the Most High, signify the state of falsity and of heresies within the church. That horns signify falsity powerful and prevailing, may be evident only from this, that eyes are attributed to them, that is, understanding (n. 2701); and that they spoke, and even against the Most High. By the kingdoms and kings are not signified kingdoms and kings, but the teachings of falsity; as may be evident from their signification in the Word, as the teachings of truth, and in the opposite sense the teachings of falsity (see n. 1672, 2015, 2069, 2547)." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2832.13)The horns are called "kings," as kings represent those who have an internal understanding of the truth, or falsehood. This can be seen in Proverbs:
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out (Pr. 25:2)In ancient times kings were those who had an understanding of the law and upheld the law, thus their office is a symbol of those who are in the power from truth, or in the opposite sense, the power from falsity. In the explanation of the 10 horned dragon in the book of Revelation, it is revealed that these 10 kings are those who have power from teaching that faith alone saves:
"And ten horns, signifies much power. A horn signifies power (n. 270); and ten signifies much (n. 101). It is said that the dragon had much power, because the salvation of man by faith alone without the works of the law, which faith is meant by the dragon, captivates minds and then confirmations are convincing. For it captivates, because when a man hears that the condemnation of the law is taken away, and that by mere faith in this, the Lord's merit is imputed to him, he can indulge in the pleasures of his mind and body, without fear of hell. From this is the power which is signified by the dragon's ten horns. That he has had such power is evidently manifest from the reception of that faith in the whole Reformed Christian world." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 539)
""The dragon" had such power because "the dragon" means such as have separated faith from the goods of charity, which are works, and have confirmed this by the sense of the letter of the Word, which they thus twist from its genuine sense, and as it were draw it down from heaven; and because at the end of the church, which the Apocalypse treats of, there is no charity, therefore the dragon then has power; for at the end of the church every one wishes to live for himself, for the world, and according to his own bent, and few wish to live for the Lord, for heaven and eternal life; and the principle of faith alone, which is faith separated from charity, favors the former life, and like the current of a river draws in and carries away all to thus believing and living. This is why "the dragon," which signifies such persons and such things, was seen to have "ten horns."" (Apocalypse Explained, n. 716)
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE LITTLE HORN
The 10 horns of the beast signify those who are in faith alone, especially those among the Protestant Churches. Afterwards comes a little horn, that uproots three of the previous 10 horns. The little horn is given eyes and a mouth speaking great things, indicating the little horn refers to those who teach faith alone, whereas the 10 horns refers to those who believe it from among the laity:
""The ten horns" signify falsities of every kind, for "ten" means all; therefore it is further said, that "the ten horns are ten kings," for "kings" signify truths, and in a contrary sense, as here, falsities. "The little horn that came up among them, before which three of the former horns were plucked up by the roots," signifies the complete perversion of the Word by the application of the sense of its letter to confirm the love of dominion. This horn is called "little," because it does not appear that the Word is perverted; and what does not appear before the sight of man's spirit, or before his understanding, is regarded either as nothing, or as little. In the spiritual world such is the appearance of things that are apprehended by a few only. "The three horns that were plucked up by the roots before it," signify the truths of the Word there that have been thus destroyed by falsifications; these truths are also signified by the "three kings" that were humbled by the horn, "three" not meaning three, but what is full, thus that truths were completely destroyed. As that "horn" signifies the perversion of the Word in respect to the sense of its letter, and as this sense appears before the eyes of men as if it were to be understood thus and not otherwise, and therefore not to be gainsaid by any one, it is said of this horn, "that in it there were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things," "eyes" signify understanding, and "eyes like the eyes of a man" an understanding as if of truth, and "mouth" signifies thought and speech from that understanding. From this it can now be seen what is meant by all and by each of the particulars here mentioned; as by "the beast coming up out of the sea, who had ten horns and teeth of iron, and devoured and brake in pieces;" by "the little horn that came up among them, before which three of the horns were plucked up by the roots, in which were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things;" also by "it made war with the saints and prevailed against them," and "it spake words against the Most High;" and "the horns were so many kings."" (Apocalypse Explained, n. 316.15)The meaning of the little horn is more clearly specified in Swedenborg's explanation of the prophecy of Daniel 8, in which it is clearly shown from the symbolism that the "little horn" refers to those who teach that salvation is from faith alone. It is called "little" because so few see it: many Protestants tend to take this truth to be self-evident and attack anything that opposes it. That the little horn refers to those who believe in faith alone is shown by the fact that it plucked up three horns by the roots. The horns represent the power of falsehood, but the ground in which they are embedded represent love or charity; uprooting them is to separate faith from charity. The word "pluck up by the roots" can be translated as "hough" or "hamstring" and is found in curse upon Simeon and Levi in Gen. 49:7, who signify those who separate faith from charity:
"And in their good pleasure they houghed [hamstrung] an ox. That this signifies that from depraved will they altogether weakened the external good of charity, is evident from the signification of good pleasure, as the will, here a depraved will; and from the signification of houghing, as weakening; and from the signification of an ox, as the natural or external good of charity (see n. 2180, 2566, 2781). That here an ox is spoken of, and just before a man, is because by a man is signified the truth of faith and by an ox the good of charity" (Heavenly Arcana, n. 6357).This was a curse upon the brothers Simeon and Levi, because as brothers they represented faith separate from charity:
"Simeon and Levi are brethren. That this signifies faith in the will and charity, here the opposite, because faith separate from charity, is evident from the representation of Simeon, as faith in the will (see n. 3869-3872, 4497, 4502, 4503, 5482, 5626, 5630); and from the representation of Levi, as charity (n. 3875, 3877), but here the opposite, because faith separate from charity" (Heavenly Arcana, n. 6357)Faith alone, or faith separate from charity, destroys are spiritual knowledges which are signified by stars, thus the little horn is said to trample upon them (see Heavenly Arcana, n. 1807.6). This passage where three horns are overthrown by the little horn corresponds with a third of the stars that are swept away by the tail of the dragon and cast down to the earth in the book of Revelation:
"And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them unto the earth, signifies that by falsifications of the truths of the Word, they have discarded from the church all spiritual knowledges of good and truth, and have utterly destroyed them by applications to falsities. By the tail, where those are treated of who have confirmed heresies from the Word, the truths of the Word falsified are signified (n. 438). By stars the spiritual knowledges of good and truth are signified (n. 51, 420). By a third part is signified all (n. 400, 505): and by drawing down from heaven and casting to the earth is signified to discard from the church and to destroy utterly" (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 541)The dragon, beast and false prophet in the book of Revelation represent, in a symbolic sense, a false system of Christianity, one in which everything is placed in belief alone, and where three gods are worshiped in place of one God in Jesus Christ (see The Prophecy of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.)
When studying prophecy, don't be deceived by all too literal interpretations of prophecies that apply them to political events. All of scripture relates to the Lord and His kingdom, and His kingdom on earth is the church. When our minds become elevated above the literal sense, the prophecy of Daniel becomes universal and applicable, and with this insight and understanding one can then discern falsehoods that put people under a blind religious faith of darkness.