Ezra’s second dream in the field involves an eagle with twelve wings and three heads (11:1-35). The heads and the wings mutate in various ways throughout the dream, some becoming dominant while others wither and become puny. Ezra hears a voice from the body of the eagle rather than from one of the mouths. As Ezra watches this eagle, a creature like a lion appeared and addressed the eagle (11:36-46). The lion-creature says the eagle is the last of the four beasts which remain (probably referring to Daniel 7). The eagle has judged the earth, but not with truth, therefore it will be judged by the Most High. As the lion is speaking, the eagle’s heads disappears and the body of the eagle burns up and the earth is terrified (12:1-3).
Ezra is perplexed and asks the Lord for an interpretation of this vision (12:4-9). The Lord speaks to Ezra and confirms the eagle is the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision (12:10-39). The wings are twelve kings which will reign over it, and the three heads are the final three kings which will arise in the final days. One will be poisoned while the other two die by the sword. These are probably to be taken as Roman emperors, although which is to be the start of the sequence is always a problem (Julius, Augustus, etc.) and if the three minor rulers are to be included in the sequence (Cf. Revelation 18 where there are a series of ten kings). The lion is the Messiah (12:32, cf. Rev. 5:5), who comes at the end of days from the line of David. He will denounce the final beast and deliver the remnant of the people of the Lord and make them joyful in the end on the Day of Judgment.
Since Ezra has been gone from the people from some time, the people make a search for him. When they discover him the field, they ask him how they have offended him (12:40-45). Ezra tells them to take courage because the Most High has not forgotten them in their struggle. He has been praying to the Lord on behalf of the desolation of Zion and will stay in the field another seven days (12:46-51).
Given the predominant imagery of an eagle, this vision seems to make the final empire in Daniel’s vision the Romans and describes the Messiah as overcoming the Romans and judging them for their ungodliness. The identity of the four kingdoms in Daniel is a debated subject, many scholars take the fourth empire to be Greece, especially in the light of chapter 11 and the predictions of Antiochus IV Epiphanies and Seleucid meddling in the politics of Palestine. Others take the fourth empire as Rome, arguing Rome is by far the most powerful and dominate of world empires. Collins (OTP 1:550 note b) considers 4 Ezra a re-interpretation of Daniel, applying the fourth beast to Rome; I would be inclined to see 4 Ezra as confirming the fact Daniel’s fourth beast is Rome.
This prophecy was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem by a Jew who desired to comfort other Jewish readers. God is aware of the evil of Rome, the fall has been predicted long ago by Daniel. Eventually the Messiah will come to deliver the Jews from the oppression of Rome. It is possible this hope existed well before A.D. 70, especially during the ministry of Jesus. We know there were a few small scale rebellions in the early part of the first century (Judas the Galilean in A.D. 6, for example) as well as several false messiahs.
4 Ezra represents a messianic hope for delivery from Rome some 70 years after the time of Jesus, but it may reflect a more long standing hope for deliverance. It was well known that after the fall of Jerusalem there were three generations, about 70 years, before the Temple was rebuilt. 4 Ezra seems to represent the thinking of people living in the “three generations” between A.D. 70 and the messianic fervor of A.D. 135. If there was an expectation for the Messiah even after the fall of Jerusalem, it is little wonder the Jews (Pharisees and disciples both) misunderstood Jesus as messiah. Certainly Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, but the method for establishing the kingdom was not exactly what they may have had in mind.
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