The kingdoms (and democracies) of this world are filled with broken promises, hypocrisy, corruption and violence. Slavery and genocide are as old as the pyramids of Egypt. Pharaoh cared nothing for “human rights.” The pages of history are filled with like-minded despots, some better, some worse.
Three thousand years ago, the Creator of the Universe began to prepare mankind for a better type of government, for a kingdom under His control. In a most unusual move, God used the likes of Saddam Hussein to bring this revelation.
Saddam Hussein considers himself a successor of Nebuchadnezzar. Modern Iraq sits on some of the same territory as the ancient Babylonian Empire. Saddam would very much like to do to Israel today what Nebuchadnezzar did back then. However, Nebuchadnezzar, unlike Hussein, was a special vessel utilized by God to punish Israel. Nebuchadnezzar was also a special vessel used of God to receive one of the greatest dreams of all times. Not that he understood a word of it. In fact, he could not even remember it.
Nebuchadnezzar, like many modern politicians, called in his astrologers for consultation. He asked them to tell him what he had dreamed. The astrologers, of course, asked the king to tell them the dream so that they could give the interpretation. However, Nebuchadnezzar had much more common sense than many church members today. He told them, “Tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation” (Daniel 2:9).
All the “wise men” of Babylonia would have been put to death had not Daniel come to the rescue. Daniel agreed that the astrologers were incapable of making the dream known. As they themselves had said, “There is not a man on earth who can tell the king’s matter… there is no other who can tell it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (verses 10,11). The astrologers were wrong in that last point. The God of heaven did dwell with the prophets of Israel. Thus, Daniel, inspired by God, explained the dream.
An awesome image… head of gold… chest of silver… belly of bronze… legs of iron. Then there was an extraordinary stone. After crushing the awesome image, this stone became such a great mountain that it filled the entire earth.
Daniel made it plain to Nebuchadnezzar: “You [are] this head of gold” (verse 38). Daniel continued, “after you shall arise another kingdom… then another, a third kingdom… And the fourth kingdom… [and last of all] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom” (verses 39, 40, 44). Five kingdoms in all. By saying a third and fourth kingdom, it is clear that the golden head is more than just king Nebuchadnezzar. The head includes the entire kingdom of Babylon. Five kingdoms in all: four of this world and one of heaven.
The identity of the first four kingdoms is the simplest part of the prophecy. Practically all Bible believers, from ancient to modern times, agree that they are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. The book of Daniel itself furnishes information on the first three. As we have seen, Daniel identifies the first kingdom with Nebuchadnezzar.
Who has not heard the picturesque expression: “He saw the handwriting on the wall”? However, for Belshazzar, king of Babylon, it was more than picturesque. He was so terrified when he saw part of a hand writing on the wall that his knees were knocking together. Included in Daniel’s explanation of the writing were these words: “Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:28). Thus, the second kingdom is that of the Medes and Persians, a fact also confirmed in historical records outside the Bible.
Outside the Bible, the third kingdom is easily confirmed to be Greece. The book of Daniel agrees. In chapter 8 is found the vision of how a goat totally overpowered and trampled a ram. Verses 20 and 21 point out: “The ram… the kings of Media and Persia. And the male goat [is] the kingdom of Greece.” Positive identification.
The book of Daniel does not identify the fourth kingdom; but any student of history knows that the Roman Empire was next on the scene. It was Rome that was in power when Jesus of Nazareth walked this earth. Thus, the great image of Daniel 2 outlines the movement of world empires from the time of Daniel to the time of Christ: Babylon, Medo-Persia (often just called Persia), Greece and Rome.
GOD’S ETERNAL KINGDOM
As interesting as these ancient kingdoms may be, what Christians are concerned about is the fifth kingdom. The first four kingdoms are just temporary results of worldly politics. The fifth kingdom is both divine and eternal.
Several things can be learned about the fifth kingdom from the prophecy itself. The actual fulfillment of the prophecy of the fifth kingdom is not the subject of this Insight. (Watch for future Insights.) The purpose now is to learn everything we can from the prophecy itself, so that we are better prepared to examine claims of fulfillment.
The Nature of the Kingdom: Whatever influence God may have exercised in and through them, it is nevertheless obvious that Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome were worldly kingdoms. They were set up by human power with human aims. They conquered and maintained control by force of arms. They were ruled over by pagans who had little or no knowledge of the God of the universe. They were concerned with the affairs of this world. They are all four together represented by the awesome image.
The fifth kingdom, however, was not a fifth part of the great image. No! It was not to be the next stage in the progression of the kingdoms of this world. The prophecy makes a great distinction when it introduces the fifth kingdom with these words: “a stone was cut out without hands” (2:34).
Reminds us of 2 Corinthians 5:1: “For we know that if our earthly house, [this] tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Reminds us of Colossians 2:11,12: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism.” Reminds us of Hebrews 9:11: “But Christ came [as] High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.”
“Not made with hands” in these three texts refers to that which is not of this world, that which is spiritual, that which is heavenly. Daniel further brought this out in his explanation of the fifth kingdom: “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom” (verse 44).
The Power of the Kingdom: This prophecy does not detail the activities of the fifth kingdom. Nevertheless, it does deal with the relationship of the fifth kingdom to the first four. One of the major points of the prophecy is that the fifth kingdom would destroy the other four.
The stone “struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found… it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (verses 34,35,44).
Notice that the prophecy does not say that the stone will destroy all the kingdoms of the world; it speaks of “all these kingdoms,” that is Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. It is somewhat of a puzzle to understand how the stone would destroy all four kingdoms. In history, did not each successive kingdom destroy the one preceding it? In one sense, certainly yes. However, in another sense, it might be considered that each kingdom absorbed the previous kingdom so that some of the elements of the former kingdoms continued on.
On the other hand, the scenario might just be a necessary part of the imagery. Seldom, if ever, can any single illustration portray all the possible details of reality. Nebuchadnezzar saw one complete image, even though it represented four periods of history. He did not first see just a head, which afterward was destroyed by a breast, etc. It was one complete image. Thus, when the legs and feet were destroyed, a consistent imagery would show the entire image being destroyed. It seems to this writer that nothing more can be forced into the imagery.
The prophecy says that the stone “struck the image on its feet of iron and clay.” That clearly means that the destruction took place during the latter part of the latter kingdom, Rome. The Roman Empire would be overcome and dissolved. Even though the fifth kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, “cut out without hands,” yet it would have a definite destructive effect upon the fourth worldly kingdom.
The Extent of the Kingdom: At first, the fifth kingdom is represented as no larger than a stone. However, this stone “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (verse 35). Daniel gives no further details about this growth. Was it rapid or was it very gradual? The text does not say.
What is made plain is that in time this kingdom–God’s kingdom–would fill the entire earth. It would be a worldwide kingdom. It’s territory would not be anything at all like the kingdom of Israel, which was limited to a small piece of land in the Middle East. This writer has attempted to make some calculations as to the extent of Solomon’s kingdom at its height, including territories subject to him. It would seem it could not have been more than 60,000 sq. mi. That is tiny. Nearly half of the states in the United States are larger than that!
In great contrast to this Old Testament kingdom of Israel, the fifth kingdom of Daniel’s prophecy would be worldwide in its scope.
The Duration of the Kingdom: “A kingdom which shall never be destroyed… It shall stand forever,” declared Daniel (verse 44). Not for a century; not for five centuries; not even for a mere millennium (one thousand years).
This fifth kingdom is an eternal, never-ending kingdom, standing forever and ever. This is in direct contrast to the four kingdoms of this world. The second kingdom overcomes the first; the third overcomes the second, and so forth. So is the march of history. The Roman Empire lasted for a full half millennium; but Rome, too, fell. In recent years, before our very eyes, we have seen the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union, an empire that lasted for only 70 years.
The kingdom of God was prophesied to last, not for 70 years, nor for half a millennium, nor for a full millennium, nor even for as long as the world stands. It was prophesied to be a kingdom to last forever. One day the earth itself will be destroyed; but God’s kingdom is “a kingdom which shall never be destroyed… It shall stand forever.”
The Arrival of the Kingdom: Of utmost interest and importance in this prophecy is that it foretells the time of the arrival of God’s kingdom. Not the precise date, but a specific time frame nevertheless. What other prophecy in the Old Testament so clearly connects God’s promised kingdom to a specific period of time in history? “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom” (2:44). In the days of which kings? It would be profitable to review the context of Daniel’s explanation:
“Now we will tell the interpretation… the God of heaven has given you a kingdom… after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron… Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided… the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile… And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom” (verses 36-44).
Before God’s kingdom, there would be only four worldly kingdoms. There is much explanation of the fourth kingdom. Clay is mixed in, but the iron is still there. The kingdom is partly strong and partly fragile, but it is still the fourth kingdom. The expression “the kingdom” is used twice when speaking of the feet and toes. But it does not say “another kingdom” or “a fifth kingdom.” Rather, it says “the kingdom” because the fourth kingdom is still in view. In short, the image portrays only four kingdoms.
The four kingdoms are Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. No one claims that the eternal kingdom of God was set up in the days of the Babylonian Empire, nor of the Persian or Grecian empires. That leaves us with only one possibility: the Roman Empire, during which time Jesus of Nazareth was born, crucified and resurrected.
The Roman Empire lasted for about 500 years. Finally, in 476 A.D. it came to an end. The last Roman Emperor, a lad, was brushed aside when the German leader Odovacar made himself king of Italy. True, the Empire continued in the East, with Constantinople as the capital. Some call this the Eastern Roman Empire. Others more correctly call it the Byzantine Empire. It was not Roman. Rome was “West” and Latin; Constantinople was “East” and Greek. Indeed, part of the time, Constantinople actually ruled Rome. The “Roman” Empire was gone. If by “Roman Empire” one means the Empire that was ruled by Romans from Rome, it was dead in 476 A.D.
The year 476 A.D. is thus the total and final ending date for Nebuchadnezzar’s image. Since the prophecy foretold that God’s Kingdom (the stone) would smite and destroy the image, God’s Kingdom must have come into existence sometime before 476 A.D. Only thus could it fulfill the words: “in the days of these kings.”
CHAPTER 7– THE FIVE KINGDOMS REVISITED
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 does not stand alone. In chapter 7, Daniel records related visions of his own which God granted half a century later. Daniel was told that four beasts represent four kings (7:17) or kingdoms (7:23). However, chapter 7 does not openly identify any of the kingdoms; so, where does the prophecy begin? One must return to Daniel 2.
Both chapters predict four earthly kingdoms. In addition, since both prophecies were made during the time of the Babylonian Empire, they both have the same historical setting. There is thus every reason to believe that the four kingdoms in the two prophecies are the same four kingdoms. Indeed, there is no reason to believe otherwise.
Since Daniel 2 positively identifies the first kingdom as the Babylonian power, this becomes the only meaningful place to begin in chapter 7. Using this clue of similarity as the starting point, the other details of the beasts in Daniel 7 fall into place. Thus, the lion is Babylon, the bear is Persia, the leopard is Greece and the terrible beast is Rome.
On the other hand, there are important differences between chapters 2 and 7. To attempt to totally intertwine their details results only in confusion. Chapter 7 is more extensive; it focuses on matters not contemplated in chapter 2. Its fulfillment extends into later periods of history.
A comparison may be made with Jesus’ three parables in Luke 15. The parable of the lost sheep and lost coin teach the loving care of the one who seeks the lost. The parable of the lost boy, on the other hand, tells how the boy had to come to his senses and make a decision. The lost sheep did nothing to be saved, much less the lost coin. However, man’s free will and choice are not the subject of these two parables.
The third parable contemplates important truths which are not contemplated in the first two. The three parables are surely similar, but it would be a distortion of truth to even ask what the first two parables teach about freedom of will in salvation. That question is entirely outside the scope of the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. So it is with the four-kingdom image of Daniel 2 and the four beasts of Daniel 7. There are truths in chapter 7 which are not at all contemplated in chapter 2.
The Fourth Kingdom is a Divided Kingdom: As a case in point, the “ten horns” of chapter 7 take us into territory not contemplated in chapter 2. Chapter 2, indeed, speaks of a “divided” kingdom. A careful Bible student, however, will notice that this division has nothing to do with the ten toes. The image has ten toes simply because it is the image of a man. Its ten toes have no more prophetic meaning than do its ten fingers.
The prophecy in chapter 2 clearly identifies what division is contemplated: “Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided… And [as] the toes of the feet [were] partly of iron and partly of clay, [so] the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile” (Daniel 2:41-42). The division–the partly and partly–is not the ten toes, but rather the iron and the clay, the strong and the fragile.
Many students of the Word understand that the ten horns and especially the “little horn” of the terrible beast in chapter 7 take us prophetically into history after the fall of the Roman Empire. That is to say, Rome continues, but in a different form. Many of us see clearly that this “little horn” represents the ecclesiastical power that arose in Rome upon the ashes of the Roman Empire.
However, nothing of this is contemplated in the image of chapter 2, in the same manner that the parable of the lost coin in no way relates to the question of man’s free will. There is nothing in chapter 2 which deals in any way with what would happen in Rome after the fall of the Roman Empire. All that is contemplated is the Roman Empire itself and its fall. Whatever the prophet had in mind by the iron and the clay, it was to be a mixture of strength and weakness within that fourth–Roman–Empire.
More Details on God’s Kingdom: Also, concerning the kingdom of God, there are various elements in chapter 7 which are not dealt with in chapter 2. Only one such element will be discussed here: information about the circumstances surrounding the King receiving the kingdom.
“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, [One] like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion [is] an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom [the] [one]
Which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13,14).
The “Son of Man” is pictured as “coming with the clouds of heaven.” But where is He “coming” to? Note that He is not coming to earth. Rather, He is coming “to” the “Ancient of Days,” the Father. The “Son” comes with the clouds, is brought to the Father and is then and there given dominion, glory and an everlasting kingdom. These details are of the utmost importance when studying “the kingdom” in the New Testament.
The prophecies of Daniel are one of the major reasons the Jews of Jesus’ day were anticipating the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth. No study of the “kingdom” in the New Testament is complete without a careful consideration of the background furnished in the Old Testament prophecies. Hopefully, all those who are reading these words are far more interested in the Kingdom of Heaven than they are in the kingdoms of this world, whether headquartered in Babylon, Rome, Washington or anywhere else.
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)