“river of fire.” When fire appears in Scripture in connection with God, sometimes it is associated with light and protection (Exod. 13:21), or with the blessing and acceptance of God (Lev. 9:24; 1 Kings 18:38). At other times, however, fire is associated with judgment (Lev. 10:1-2; Num. 16:35; Rev. 20:10; 20:14-15). God’s presence is often associated with fire (Exod. 19:18), and God’s presence, while a blessing, is often dangerous and mysterious. God is portrayed as a jealous God and a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). Here in Daniel 7 there is a river of fire, sometimes translated a “fiery stream” coming forth from His throne, and since the scene is a scene of judgment, it reminds us of the fire that destroys the enemies of God. Like Aslan the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia, God is “righteous” and “just,” but He is not necessarily “safe,” and He is not to be trifled with.
God standing in heaven, or sitting on His throne in heaven, occurs several times in Scripture. In Genesis 28:13 Yahweh is standing in heaven, but what He is standing on is not described. Isaiah 6:1 shows God seated on a throne in heaven, but what it is sitting on is not described. In Exodus 24:10 God is standing on, or seated on a throne on, a pavement like a sapphire (or lapis lazuli). Ezekiel 1:26-28 shows God on a throne, and the throne is like sapphire (or lapis lazuli), but the pavement it is on is simply referred to as an “expanse,” “dome” or “platform.” When Stephen sees God, He is apparently seated on His throne, because Jesus is “standing” at the right side of God (Acts 7:56). However, in Stephen’s vision, neither the throne nor the pavement it is sitting on is described. In Revelation 4:2-5:13 we see God on His throne, along with 24 other thrones. Lightning and thunder come from God’s throne (Rev. 4:5), and before it (and perhaps under it) is a pavement like a sea of glass like crystal. The sea of glass, but this time mixed with fire, occurs in Revelation 15:2.
Daniel 7 portrays a scene of judgment, and Daniel 7:9-10 shows God on a throne, and his throne and its wheels were ablaze and flaming with fire. Furthermore, something unique to Daniel is that there is a river of fire flowing from God’s throne. The fire in these verses is significant, because it is the fire of God that destroys the enemies of God (Heb. 10:27), and the unsaved are burned up in a lake of fire and burning sulfur (Rev. 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).
In contrast to God’s throne in this judgment scene, in the Millennial Kingdom, after Jesus conquers the earth and sets up his kingdom, a river of life will flow from God’s Temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 47:1-9 shows the river that flows east from the Temple into the Dead Sea. Zechariah 14:8 shows that the river actually flows both to the west to the Mediterranean Sea and to the east to the Dead Sea. So there is a huge difference between the river of fire that flows from God’s throne during the time of judgment and the river of living water that flows from the Temple in the Millennial Kingdom.
It is speculation, but it is perhaps possible, that the “river of fire” that flows from God’s throne at the time of the Judgment in Daniel 7, which is associated with the end of the Tribulation, eventually forms the lake of fire. The river of fire has to flow somewhere, and there is no indication it burns out on its own. Furthermore, there is no mention of the lake of fire any time before this river of fire comes from God’s throne here in Daniel. There is no lake of fire mentioned anywhere in Scripture before the Tribulation period, and no one, no human or demon, was thrown into the fire before the Battle of Armageddon. Therefore Scripture does not express a need for the lake of fire before this judgment in Daniel 7 and the Battle of Armageddon. But if this river of fire formed and flowed into the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation, that would explain where the lake of fire came from and why it is not mentioned before the book of Revelation. There will be a need for the lake of fire immediately after the Battle of Armageddon, because the Antichrist and false prophet will be thrown into it right after being defeated in the Battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:20), and then very shortly after that the people who lived through the Tribulation period but whom Jesus judges as unrighteous in the Sheep and Goat judgment will be thrown into the lake of fire as well (Matt. 25:41, 46). Eventually, all the unsaved will be thrown into the lake of fire and annihilated.
[People in the lake of fire do not burn forever; they burn up. For more on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”.]
“stood before him.” It was a common custom that rulers sat while the subjects of the rulers stood before them. (See commentary on Isaiah 14:13, “sit”).
“the court was seated.” God has an inner circle of spirit beings who help Him administer His creation, and these spirit judges seem to be part of that divine council. Here in Daniel 7, God gave Daniel a vision of the Last Days, and Daniel 7:10 and 7:26 portray the heavenly court that will convene at that time, headed up by “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9), who is God. In Daniel 7:8, the man known as the “Little Horn,” one of the biblical titles for the person commonly known as the Antichrist, is speaking arrogantly against God. During those Last Days, God will sit with other spirit judges, likely His divine council or part of that group, and give judgment concerning the Antichrist.
This heavenly court, and its judgment of the Antichrist is shown again in Daniel 7:26: “But the court will sit, and his [the Antichrist] power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.” Since this court will judge the Antichrist who will be defeated in the Battle of Armageddon and thrown into the lake of fire immediately following that battle, it is likely that this court in Daniel is the same judges who sit on thrones in Revelation 20:4 and judge those who get up in the First Resurrection (and it seems logical that the judges in Daniel 7:10 are not only the judges in Rev. 20:4, but the “elders” in Rev. 4:4).
[See commentary on Revelation 20:4 for more information on the judges in that verse; and commentary on Revelation 4:4 for information on the 24 spirit elders.]
We see in Daniel 7:9 that God is not the only one who has a throne. There are other thrones for other judges. The Aramaic word translated “court” in Daniel 7:10 and 7:26 is divn (#01780 דִּין), and in this context it refers to a council of judges (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon; Holladay Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon). God could rule and judge on His own, but He does not want to operate that way; He works in cooperation with His created beings to maintain order in the universe.
[For more on God’s divine council, see commentary on Genesis 1:26.]