Here is an excellent commentary on everything I have been considering about chapter 7. I've vacillated between the traditional and alternative perspectives and now am in the alternative camp.
In Revelation 13 the lion, leopard and bear are combined in one conglomerate beast whereas in Daniel 7 the three beasts are presented separately. This is one evidence among others to show that these visions are meant to apply now, and not thousands of years ago. Almost all Bible commentaries place the fulfillment of Daniel 7 in the distant past. The lion is Babylon, the bear Medo-Persia, the leopard Greece, the unnamed beast Rome. And these explanations would be fine if there were not reasons from the text of the Bible itself indicating that the visions should apply now.
The first reason comes from a comparison of the visions of Daniel 7 and Revelation 13. Because of the obvious parallel of these visions (see the chart on page 82) it makes sense to interpret them in tandem. In Daniel 7 the animals are presented individually. In such a presentation it is natural to conclude, as commentators always have, that the animals refer to successive empires. Medo-Persia followed Babylon, just as the bear followed the lion. But when we see the lion, bear and leopard rolled into one beast in Revelation 13, the symbolism is telling us that all three of the powers represented here are existing at the same time. The explanation we presented in chapter two takes that into account.
Since we gave evidence in that chapter to interpret the unnamed beast of Revelation 13 as the United States, then if the visions of Daniel 7 and Revelation 13 are parallel, then we would expect that the unnamed beast in Daniel 7 is also the United States. Before pursuing that, let us look at a few more evidences from the text indicating that this prophecy of Daniel 7 should be patient of another interpretation beyond the traditional interpretation which places it in the past.
In verse 17 of Daniel 7 the interpreting angel, probably Gabriel, tells Daniel (and now the rest of us who are also listening) that these four beasts are four kingdoms which "will arise from the earth." We are being told about beasts which arise in the future. But at the very time the angel was telling Daniel these things, Babylon was about to fall. It was not about to "arise" in the future. This is very crucial Biblical evidence begging for an alternative explanation for this chapter than the traditional outlay of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.
Another textual evidence to look beyond the traditional explanation of this chapter comes from verse 7. We read there:
After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast…and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it… (Dan 7:7)
At face value, the expression "the beasts that were before it" seems to mean the beasts that came before it in time. That is, first the lion came and went, then the bear came and went, then the leopard came and went and now the fourth beast is appearing. But the Hebrew word qodam, translated "before," more perfectly means "in the presence of." Thus, what Daniel is telling us is that all these animals were before him at the same time. Lion, bear, leopard, and fourth beast are all standing together at the same time. Thus, as in Revelation 13, we can conclude that these animals represent nations existing at the same time. The language of the prophecy fits better with a future, simultaneous application of the symbols than the traditional sequential, chronological one.
Another indication that this prophecy refers to the end of time, and not to thousands of years ago, come in verses 21 and 22:.......
The "horn" referred to above comes from the fourth beast, and is seen "making war" with God’s people ("the saints") right until the final judgment at which time "the saints possessed the kingdom," a reference to the Age to Come. But if the fourth beast represents Rome, this prophecy is false, because Rome is not still persecuting Christians.
.... The beast power would be persecuting the people of God until the Lord executes judgment at the end of time, as described in this chapter:
Thrones were set up while I was watching, and the Eternal God took his place. His clothing and his hair were white as snow. His throne was a blazing fire with fiery wheels, and flames were dashing out from all around him. Countless thousands were standing there to serve him. The time of judgment began, and the books were opened. I watched closely to see what would happen to this smaller horn because of the arrogant things it was saying. Then before my very eyes, the fourth beast was killed and its body destroyed by fire. The other three beasts had their authority taken from them…(Dan 7:9-12)