Question: "What is the little horn in the book of Daniel?"
Answer: In one of his visions, the prophet Daniel sees a “little horn” that grows out of a terrible beast (Daniel 7:8). The emergence of the little horn, its unusual form, and its behavior cause Daniel to wonder greatly. Fortunately for him and for us, the vision is explained.
Before we examine the little horn, we’ll take a quick look at the whole of Daniel’s vision. The prophet sees four beasts (Daniel 7:1–7) representing four kingdoms (verse 17). The first three beasts represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece.
The fourth and final beast that Daniel sees is the most dreadful—“terrifying and frightening and very powerful” (Daniel 7:7). This fourth beast has “bronze claws” (verse 19) and “large iron teeth” with which it annihilates its prey (verse 7). Daniel sees that the terrible beast has ten horns. As he ponders the meaning of the horns, a little horn begins to grow from the midst of the ten. This little horn is quite unusual. As it emerges, three of the original horns are plucked out by the roots. Daniel sees that the little horn has “eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully” (Daniel 7:8). The proud, boastful words of the little horn continue until the day of judgment (verses 9–10). At that time, “the beast was slain and its body . . . thrown into the blazing fire” (verse 11). That is the end of the little horn.
Daniel is troubled by the vision of the beast and the little horn, and he asks specifically about it (Daniel 7:19). An angel explains: the beast’s ten horns are ten kings who will arise from that kingdom (verse 24). A horn in the Bible is often a symbol of strength and authority (see Psalm 89:24 and 132:17). The little, boastful horn with a human mouth and eyes represents a specific king; at his rise to power, three of the original kings will fall. This evil king pictured as the little horn “will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people” (Daniel 7:25). He will seek to change times and laws, and he will exert oppressive power over God’s people for three and a half years (verse 25).
The fourth beast that Daniel saw was the Roman Empire, the world kingdom that would arise after Greece. The little horn that Daniel saw is a world leader especially noted for his blasphemies and the scope of his power. Because this little horn is ruling at the time Judgment Day comes, we identify it as the Antichrist, the “ruler who will come” who sets up the abomination in Daniel 9:27. The mention of three and a half years corresponds with the duration of the Antichrist’s rule in Revelation 11:2; 12:14; and 13:5.
The little horn emerges from the fourth beast, a fact that suggests that, in the end times, there will be a “revival” of the old Roman Empire. This restoration, whatever form it takes, will feature a coalition of ten world leaders. The Antichrist will make his move to the top at the expense of three of those leaders, and he will eventually wield global authority. A true tyrant, the Antichrist will seek to control every aspect of life (see Revelation 13:16–17). He will even demand to be worshiped (verse 15).
The little horn of Daniel 7 is the same as the first beast of Revelation 13. The beast in Revelation also has ten horns. And, like the little horn of Daniel’s fourth beast, John’s beast “was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies. . . . It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name” (Revelation 13:5–6).
In summary, the little horn that Daniel sees is the Antichrist, a world leader who rises to power from within a league of ten future kings. This little horn will blaspheme God and persecute God’s people during the tribulation, right up until the second coming of the Lord Jesus. At that time, the Antichrist’s “power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever” (Daniel 7:26), and Jesus will establish His millennial kingdom. The reign of the Antichrist is limited: forty-two months, and no more (Revelation 13:5). The little horn will lose his war against God. His boastful blasphemy and wanton violence are only temporary. The reign of Christ is eternal.