A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
(I first posted this three part study in 2006. Here’s part 1 of an updated version. Parts 2 and 3 will be posted on Nov. 23 and Nov. 30)
From about 1,000 to 900 BC Israel had been the most feared and admired nation on Earth. Then, following Solomon’s death and the civil war that ensued, the nation had fallen from its exalted position into a kingdom divided over idolatry. Israel’s enemies saw their chance and took it. First the Northern Kingdom was conquered in 721BC by Assyria and then the Southern Kingdom was carried away into slavery 100 years later at the hands of the King of Babylon.
Thus began The Times Of The Gentiles. Also known as Gentile Dominion, it will span over 2600 years from the Babylonian Captivity to the Millennial Kingdom as one gentile empire after another has had a hand at ruling the world, often subjugating Jerusalem in the process. Jesus said, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24) and so it has been. Israel’s recapture of the entire City of Jerusalem in June of 1967 and the events of our time are signs that the end of Gentile Dominion is upon us, but I don’t think the Lord’s prophecy will be completely fulfilled until He comes back. In Rev. 11:2 we’re told the Gentiles will be trampling on the Holy City until the end of the Great Tribulation.
Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 give us two different overviews of Gentile world government during this period, man’s and God’s. As you can imagine they’re substantially different. We’ll look at things from man’s perspective first.
Our study opens in chapter 2 as Daniel, having been taken hostage to Babylon as a teenager and groomed to become an adviser to the King, finds himself fighting for his life. If he can’t interpret the King’s troubling dream, he and his friends will be brutally executed. There’s just one catch. The King won’t tell him what the dream was.
Fortunately there is One who will. Let’s look in.
The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”
Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these: (Daniel 2:26-28)
Daniel had prayed that God would reveal the dream and its interpretation to him. Reasoning that God would not have brought him to a place of influence in the court of Israel’s conqueror just to be executed, he has committed himself to meeting the king’s impossible challenge and asked for God’s help. Now it’s show time.
“As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind. (Daniel 2:29-30)
The King’s motives are revealed. He had refused to disclose the dream’s contents because he didn’t trust his advisers. Someone who can tell him both the dream and its interpretation will have proven himself both knowledgeable and trustworthy.
“You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 3:31-35)
I can imagine that the King was on the edge of his throne staring intently into Daniel’s eyes as he came to the realization that Daniel had just described his dream to the last detail. In fact, I’ll bet that Daniel had the entire court’s full attention, because one look at the King’s face told them all that he was saving their lives as well as his own. Now for the interpretation.
“This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold. (Daniel 2:36-38)
Babylon was the country we know as Iraq today. Jeremiah, a contemporary of Daniel’s who wrote from Jerusalem, had told envoys from each of Israel’s neighbors that God was giving them two choices; surrender to the King of Babylon and live, or fight and die. God had chosen King Nebuchadnezzar to punish Israel’s enemies for their past treacheries at the same time that he brought the judgment God decreed against Israel because of their idolatry (Jeremiah 27:1-11). As a result, Babylon has wound up ruling the entire Middle East. But Daniel has just informed the King that any place on Earth that he desires will be given into his hands. Even the animals have been made subject to him. Nebuchadnezzar, representing Babylon, is the statue’s head of gold.
“After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay. (Daniel 2:39-43)
Knowing our history makes accurately interpreting this passage possible. Babylon was conquered by a coalition of the Medes (today’s Kurds) and the Persians (Iran) at the end of the seventy-year period set aside for Israel’s captivity. They’re the chest and arms of silver. The Greek armies under Alexander conquered Persia and are represented by the belly and thighs of bronze. The legs of iron are the Eastern and Western divisions of the Roman Empire that displaced the Greeks, and from this point on we’ve switched from history to prophecy. The Roman Empire was never really conquered, but collapsed under the weight of its own decay, transforming itself from a political entity to a religious one in the process. The Holy Roman Empire held sway over the known world well into the middle ages. Since then several of its components have had their time in the sun; Spain, England, and most recently England’s former colony, the USA.
That leaves the 10 toes, a kingdom not yet in power, whose arrival on the world scene will be characterized by a coming together and splitting apart of groups uncomfortable with each other, as symbolized by the mixture of iron and clay.
Remember, in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the statue had two legs, pointing to the Roman Empire’s two divisions. The Eastern leg is currently represented by the Muslim countries of the Middle East, while the Western leg is called the European Union today. The nations of both legs are having problems that prevent them from uniting with each other. In the west the problems are financial, pitting richer countries against poorer ones, and the east they’re religious, with Sunni and Shiite Muslims at odds. Since each leg is having trouble, you can see why any attempt at unifying the two legs will be imperfect at best.
The clay in the mixture refers to pottery made of the recycled shards or broken pieces of different kinds of pottery ground into dust again and mixed with water to make a clay like substance. When dried, it was very brittle and easily broken. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream it’s meant to dramatize the difficulty the end times Empire represented by the ten toes will have in staying together.
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.” (Daniel 2:44-45)
During the time of the 10 toes, the Lord will bring His greatest and final judgment upon the Earth. Every last vestige of the Gentile kingdoms will be destroyed, and the Lord Himself will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Nor will it ever fall into the hands of others.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court. (Daniel 2:46-49)
And so begins Daniel’s remarkable career as chief adviser to first the King of Babylon, and then the King of Persia.
I said earlier that this vision represents man’s view of Gentile Dominion as a mixture of shiny and precious metals. While each metal is less valuable than its predecessor, indicating a decline in the quality of its rule, each one is also harder and therefore stronger, showing it to be more powerful than the kingdom it replaced.
Next we’ll look at these same four kingdoms from God’s perspective, and as I told you, it’ll be way different.
Daniel’s Dream of Four Beasts
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. (Daniel 7:1-3)
The vision in Daniel 7 occurred 50 years after Daniel 2. Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, and Daniel was now an old man. The four winds of heaven symbolize a sovereign act of God, and the fact that these beasts come up from the sea hints that they represent the wickedness of Gentile Dominion. (Isaiah 57:20-21)
“The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it. (Dan. 7:4)
Babylon’s symbol was the winged lion. Being made into a man makes it represent the King.
“And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’ (Dan. 7:5)
The bear symbolizes the Medo-Persian coalition. Though Media was the senior partner Persia became the stronger one, which is shown by one side being raised above the other. The three ribs are Persia’s three major conquests, Lydia in 546BC, Babylon in 539, and Egypt in 525.
“After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. (Dan. 7:6)
The leopard is Greece. The four wings represent the speed with which Alexander conquered the known world. It took him only 10 years. The four heads are his four generals who took the kingdom upon Alexander’s death and divided it among themselves.
“After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. (Dan. 7:7)
This beast is so strange and terrifying to Daniel that it didn’t look like anything he’s seen before. It’s iron teeth recall the legs of iron from Daniel 2:40. Rome was a powerful Empire that brooked no resistance. In the reference to the 10 horns we again jump from history to prophecy, from the ancient Roman Empire to its revival in our times.
“While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully. (Dan. 7:8)
Here’s the origin of one of the anti-Christ’s titles, the Little Horn. Notice that he’s not one of the original 10 horns, but comes from among them. A horn symbolizes power or authority when used symbolically. To me this means that the anti-Christ doesn’t start out as part of the official leadership, but comes from a less significant status outside the centers of power to depose three of the existing leaders and assume their authority. If I’m correct, look for the anti-Christ to burst on the scene suddenly from a previously unimportant segment of the Empire rather than from among its current leaders.
Daniel saw an angel in the vision who was also observing things. When he asked him about the fourth kingdom and the little horn, he was given this explanation:
‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. (Daniel 7:23-25)
It’s obviously an End Times reference and includes the 3 ½ year duration of the Great Tribulation (time, times and half a time) during which the Little Horn will gain control of the entire world, taking over from the 10 kings. As Paul later confirmed he will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped. (2 Thes. 2:4). Revelation 13:7 tells us he’ll make war against Tribulation believers and overcome them. Revelation 17:13 says the ten kings will give their power and authority to him during the time of the Great Tribulation These clues all point us to the anti-Christ, who will be different from the other kings in that he will be indwelt by Satan himself.
“As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. (Dan. 7:9-10)
But while the anti-Christ consolidates his power on Earth, a Greater Power is advancing His plan in Heaven. The phrase “Ancient of Days” is a title used of God that only appears in Daniel 7. The lines are being drawn for the climactic battle for Planet Earth. The “thousands upon thousands” attending Him likely represent the angelic host. Ten thousand was the biggest number they had in those days, so Daniel used that number multiplied by itself to describe a multitude no one can count, perhaps a reference to the raptured Church. John borrowed this illustration to describe the scene before the throne in Rev. 5:11.
And notice the plural thrones. Daniel was having a peek at the End Times and saw a hint of the thrones of the 24 elders. None of the other Old Testament views of God’s Throne mention the additional thrones because they all occur in real time, and these thrones were not in view until Rev. 4. This little insight argues against the opinion of some theologians that the 24 thrones are occupied by an otherwise unidentified order of angels who assist God in governing the Universe. The fact that they don’t appear in Old Testament accounts, but do appear when the End of the Age is the context implies that another level of government has been added since the cross. It could only be the Church. In Ephesians 1:20 Paul said Christ has been raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God, and in Ephesians 2:6 he said we’ve been raised up with Christ and seated with Him there, too.
“Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) (Daniel 7:11-12)
Rev. 19:20 tells of the anti-Christ and false prophet being thrown into the lake of fire, and their armies being destroyed. Remember, in Daniel 7 the horn is the anti-Christ and the beasts represent empires. Babylon, Persia, and Greece no longer enjoy dominion over the world, but their modern counterparts are still around and will be destroyed during the Great Tribulation.
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
And finally, the culmination of human history. Dominion over Planet Earth, which Adam lost to Satan, has been regained by the Son of God, never to be lost again. He’ll rule and reign with His Church forever.
A period of history seen from man’s perspective as a beautiful statue of shiny and precious metals in Daniel 2 is described by God as it really is, a series of voracious beasts who oppress and devour mankind and oppose every effort by God to free us.
You and I have come in on the tail end of this. We weren’t here to see it’s beginning like Daniel was, but because of his description we’re better able to recognize our world for what it is and correctly identify the signs that tell us that the end is near. Next time, Chapters 8 and 9 and another model of the anti-Christ. See you then. 11-16-13