The literature in our reading is often called “apocalyptic,” the revealing of the future. It has much in common with drama, for the reader is called upon to envision the images as if it were a play or (in our own day, a movie), and the result is really awesome – depending on the creativity of your imagination.
But a danger exists: the danger of getting lost in the details of the vision and trying to give each part of the vision a meaning. For example: what does it mean that the lion had its wings torn off?
The answer is, it may have little meaning at all beyond the loss of its power. This is one of the characteristics of “dramatic” literature in the Bible. It is filled with color, but much of it is just that: color. The intended point(s) is always explained and should be the area of focus. The four creatures represent four world empires that will arise.
The message for God’s people is that the days of glory, promised by the prophets, are sill a way off, coming in the days of the last empire amid great persecution. God’s people should remember that God is in control of all these events, trust Him and obey Him. They should not take refuge in the power of any earthly kingdom, for they all will fall.
You’ve already been introduced to the idea of four coming empires in chapter two. As you read this section, the other empires (except for Rome) will all be named. You will also notice commonalities (time, times and half a time can be 3 ½ times, 2300 evenings and mornings equals 1150 days, or 3 ½ years, middle of seven is 3 ½). These all simply serve as threads to hold the visions together.