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After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words. (Daniel 7:7–8, NKJV)


Most of the vision in the seventh chapter of Daniel pertains to the fourth beast, the Roman Empire. Initially we learn of the cruel and vicious nature of this beast, but our focus is quickly shifted to a unique feature that rises from the midst of its ten horns. Daniel calls this a little horn. This little horn is the subject of much discussion in prophecy literature and it is usually interpreted in one of two ways. Some writers see this horn as Antiochus Epiphanes and others see it as the development of the Papal office in the Roman Catholic Church.

Antiochus IV, called Epiphanes, was one of the Seleucid Kings. He was a Greek who reigned over the Seleucid Empire, one of the divisions of the Greek Empire after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 b.c. Antiochus reigned 148 years later, from 175–164 b.c. During his reign he was vicious in persecuting the Jews. A short account of his attack on Jerusalem is given in 2 Maccabees 5:11–14 that provides us with just a hint of his cruelty.


When these happenings were reported to the king, he thought that Judea was in revolt. Raging like a wild animal, he set out from Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm. He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery.


He not only hated the Jews, he hated their religion and he hated their God. We find another brief example in 2 Maccabees 6:1–11 that illustrates this all too clearly.


Not long after this the king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God; also to profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus, and that on Mount Gerizim to Zeus the Hospitable, as the inhabitants of the place requested...They also brought into the temple things that were forbidden, so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings prohibited by the laws. A man could not keep the sabbath or celebrate the traditional feasts, nor even admit that he was a Jew. At the suggestion of the citizens of Ptolemais, a decree was issued ordering the neighboring Greek cities to act in the same way against the Jews: oblige them to partake of the sacrifices, and put to death those who would not consent to adopt the customs of the Greeks. It was obvious, therefore, that disaster impended. Thus, two women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall. Others, who had assembled in nearby caves to observe the sabbath in secret, were betrayed to Philip and all burned to death


Some of the things said about the little horn in Daniel’s dream seem to apply to Antiochus, but it cannot be him because the fourth beast is the Roman Empire and Antiochus was part of the third beast, the leopard we know as the Greek Empire. Scholars who believe the little horn to be Antiochus make this interpretation fit Daniel’s prophecy by identifying the fourth beast with the Greek Empire. How can they do this when they know the first beast, the lion, is Babylon? The prophecy has two beasts between the lion and the fourth beast but there was only one kingdom between the Babylonians and the Greeks, the Medo-Persian kingdom. They solve this problem by counting the Medes and the Persians as two separate kingdoms. The Medes originally were a separate kingdom and as such did rebel against the Babylonians; however, the Babylonians were conquered, not by the Medes, but by the Medes and Persians under the leadership of Cyrus the Persian. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was a template for Daniel’s prophecy, and making the four beasts in his prophecy Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece is not in agreement with the template. Furthermore, the Roman Empire is missing from this explanation; but, as we will learn in a following chapter, the Roman Empire is essential to this prophecy as it predicts the coming of Messiah.

The second interpretation of the little horn as the origin of the Papal office in the Roman Catholic Church is more common among prophecy teachers. Under this interpretation, the ten horns of the beast are said to represent the then barbarian kingdoms that overthrew the Western Roman Empire. The problem we encounter with this explanation is to identify which of the barbarian kingdoms were uprooted by the Pope and what time in history this occurred.

One explanation offered is that the displaced three horns all reside on the Italian peninsula. Adam Clarke in his Commentary records an explanation offered by some proponents of this explanation. According to them, one uprooted horn was the exarchate (or bishopric) of Ravenna, which was given to Pope Steven II by the king of France in 755 a.d. Ravenna is an area in northeast Italy and the city of Ravenna once was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. The second horn is the kingdom of the Lombards, which was given to the Pope by Charlemagne in 774 a.d. The third horn is the state of Rome, which was given to the Pope some time during the reign of Lewis the Pious the son of Charlemagne, who reigned from 814–833 a.d. As with Antiochus, there are things said about the Papal office that seem to fit the description and activities of the little horn but the problem with this explanation is that it violates the first principle of the prophecies of Daniel. Daniel’s prophecies concern the four world-wide kingdoms and their impact on the land of the Jews to the coming of Messiah.

The Church of God Reformation Movement in its prophetic teaching held to the Papal explanation of the little horn. In doing this, they somewhat followed the Adventist approach wherein they used the little horn prophecy to substantiate the reckoning of prophetic time to justify their movement and their 1844 date for the coming of Christ. The Church of God teachers modified the reckoning by the use of a different starting date to arrive at 1880 as the prophetic year for the opening of the Sixth Seal of the Book of Revelation and the restoration of the biblical church. With all respect due these godly men, their attempt at a scholarly study of this subject was overshadowed by the zeal of their vision. They often cite history but they seldom give academic citations. This is not a serious problem, but it does present difficulties for the generations of those that followed. These brethren were so convinced of the truth, as they saw it, that they felt the documentation was not important, especially because they believed that the coming of Christ was imminent and documentation did not matter. They did not commit pious fraud, as some would accuse them, they just allowed their conviction to guide their studies and in the process they overlooked some very basic things, such as the first principle of Daniel’s prophecies. I will offer just a few examples of our traditional teaching on the little horn.

Herbert Riggle writes about the little horn in his book The Christian Church, identifying it with the Papal office:


This was Rome. She was the fourth universal kingdom which reigned over the world. She devoured, broke in pieces, and crushed the nations with her iron rule. The ten horns are ten kings. These were the ten divided kingdoms which grew out of the Roman empire. Next came up a “little horn.” This was popery. Popery grew out of heathen Rome. Three of the ten were plucked up by this one. These were Heruli, Ostrogoths, and Lombards


Brother Riggle provides no documentation for his statement, although he undoubtedly had a source. His selection of the Heruli, Ostrogoths, and Lombards as the three horns that were uprooted is similar to what Adam Clarke documents in his Commentary, although they are not quite the same, and Brother Riggle provides no explanation as to why these are the three horns. He asserts that “popery” is the little horn and gives no evidence as to how he came to this conclusion. Undoubtedly, this concept had been preached so much prior to his writing the book that it became an assumed fact.


F. G. Smith was the foremost teacher of prophecy in the early days of the Church of God Reformation Movement. He wrote several books on prophecy including The Revelation Explained, The Last Reformation, and a summary of all his prophetic teaching in Prophetic Lectures on Daniel and the Revelation. Brother Smith was highly intelligent, but he fell into the trap of making his doctrine proof of historic fact as seen in this statement from Prophetic Lectures:


The fourth beast of Daniel—Rome—coincides with the dragon of Revelation 12—which was pagan Rome, at the time the woman or the true church was introduced. In Revelation, Rome was shown in two forms: first, as a dragon; second, as a beast, indicating the two prevailing consecutive religions in Rome, pagan and papal. In Daniel both are combined in one animal, the fourth beast being Rome pagan, and the diverse “little horn: out of that beast signifying the Papacy


His doctrine is that the red dragon of the twelfth chapter of Revelation is pagan Rome and the leopard-like beast of the thirteenth chapter is papal Rome, Roman Catholicism. He comes to a logical conclusion about the fourth beast of the seventh chapter of Daniel: If Rome has pagan and papal sides in the Revelation it must have the same pagan and papal sides in the seventh chapter of Daniel. In this same work, Brother Smith asserts, “And these historic facts prove the first beast of Revelation 13, as well as the little horn of Daniel 7, to be the Papacy.” Unfortunately his gives no real facts to support the assertion; apparently, to him the assertion is the fact.

In the 1930s and 1940s issues arose in the Church of God Reformation Movement concerning church organization and matters of standards of dress and entertainment. Eventually, a minister by the name of W. S. Goodnight began teaching that prophetic history had moved from the Sixth Seal to the Seventh Seal of the Book of Revelation and that the issues in dispute were evidence of apostasy within the Movement. Goodnight and G. W. Pendleton started a holiness-prophecy paper they called “The Seventh Trumpet Message” in which they spoke out against the apostasy they had seen. Also very much a part of their message was a new or expanded approach to prophecy teaching. Their approach demonstrated, in their thinking, that the Book of Revelation foretold this apostasy, but most of the underlying teaching remained the same as before, including the identity of the little horn in Daniel’s prophecy.

Three ministers collaborated to write a book defending the Seventh Trumpet Message and its conclusion on the apostasy of the Movement. Along with this conclusion also came the assumption, or the assertion, that congregations that accepted and followed the Seventh Trumpet Message were faithful remnants of the Church of God Movement. J. F. Lawson, P. D. Turnbow, and D. W. Rogers authored the book The Revelation with Gospel and Prophecy in which they cite the papal-little horn identity.


Since the ten horns are ten kings and three of them were plucked up by the roots (Daniel 7:8), these three, surely, would be the kings of the three kingdoms that were subdued into the Roman Kingdom, namely the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, and the Grecian. Then Daniel saw a little horn coming up, which had the eyes of a man. This little horn, according to our former interpretations which we believe to be correct, is typical of Papal Rome which followed Pagan Rome. If the three first horns were typical of kings for the three subdued into the Roman kingdom, then the fourth horn would stand for the king of Pagan Rome, and since Pagan Rome was defeated in overthrowing the church of the morning and Christianity eventually won out in the 270-year conflict, the little horn must have originated from the fourth horn


The claim is made that the three plucked up horns are the kings of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. Their evidence for this is the subjection of these kingdoms by the Romans. Their reasoning, however sincere, is incorrect because the kingdoms appear sequentially in Daniel’s dream and individual kingdoms are subdued and absorbed by the kingdom following them. Furthermore, this approach begs the question, “What are the other seven kingdoms?”

They jump from the subjugation of these three kingdoms to the little horn that comes out of a fourth horn, which they identify as pagan Rome. Their conclusion is that this little horn is papal Rome because it came out of this fourth horn, pagan Rome. At this point, four of the ten horns have been identified as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome; again, the question unanswered is, “What are the other six kingdoms?” These kingdoms never are identified in the book.

The second half of the last sentence in the paragraph from their book does not make sense. In all probability it is a misprint or whichever minister wrote this section of the book thought he wrote something that made sense but did not check his work.


. . . since Pagan Rome was defeated in overthrowing the church of the morning and Christianity eventually won out in the 270-year conflict, the little horn must have originated from the fourth horn.

What the writer was trying to say was that the early church overcame Pagan Rome after a conflict that lasted for 270 years. In the absence of civil authority, the church gained influence to the degree that it became the de facto government, which was the beginning of the little horn, the papal office. They add a little more fuel to the fire:


Since this little horn power was typical of Papal Rome, and Papal Rome was the general outcome of Pagan Rome, we note that the spirit of Daniel 7 was carried up into the Papal beast of Revelation 13.


The brethren here make the same connection of the dragon of Revelation chapter twelve and the leopard-like beast of chapter thirteen as did F. G. Smith. Unlike Smith, these brethren jump directly from Daniel chapter seven to 1880 without blinking an eye.


In Daniel 7:10, 26 mention is made that the “judgment is set.” This little horn power made war with the saints and prevailed against them till the Judgment was set, and the Ancient of days came. Surely this is in the evening of time. It could not have been back in the morning church age for 270 years for the little horn had not yet appeared


They bring up the judgment brought upon the little horn by the Person called Ancient of Days. Their conclusion is that this judgment takes place in the evening of time, which is Church of God talk for the Sixth and Seventh Seal periods in the Book of Revelation. The 270 years mentioned here and in the previous quotation refers to the year 270 a.d., which appears on the Revelation charts used by Church of God prophecy teachers. The logic behind their statement is that, since Papalism did not exist until after the year 270 and since the little horn is Papalism, the judgment from the Ancient of Days could not have happened until after the year 270. It was held by Church of God prophecy teachers that the restoration of the biblical church in 1880 was God’s judgment against spiritual Babylon, which to them meant Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. So, these well-meaning brethren jumped to the conclusion that Daniel’s prophecy in chapter seven reaches all the way to our present time.

In conclusion, the little horn is neither Antiochus nor the papal office. It is a person that actually lived in history. Keep in mind the first principle of Daniel’s prophecies: they concern the four world-wide empires from Babylon to Rome and their impact on the land of the Jews. As we begin to consider who this person really is, remember that Daniel shows him to be in conflict with the Ancient of Days. When we identify the Ancient of Days, the identity of the little horn will become obvious.