A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
In the updated commentary on Rev. 17-18 I recently posted, I briefly summarized two major opinions concerning the end times world government. The view that it will be a revival of the Biblical Roman Empire has been universally accepted among believers for generations, but recent world events have caused some to propose an alternative in the form of an Islamic Empire.
The purpose of this study is to is to look at these alternatives in greater detail than I was able to do in the Rev. 17-18 commentary and see if we can come to a conclusion about which is more likely, because as I think you’ll see they both have some pretty compelling support.
The Roman View
The Roman view comes primarily from studies of Daniel 2 and its companion Daniel 7. Daniel 2 contains a description of an enormous poly-metallic statue. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon saw it in a dream shortly after he had consolidated his rule over the known world with the defeat of both Assyria and Egypt in the Battle of Carchemish in 606 BC.
Remembering stories his grandfather had told him about the riches of Israel (Isaiah 39:1-2) Nebuchadnezzar had laid siege to Jerusalem before returning to Babylon. Since they were outnumbered by the superior Babylonian forces, King Jehoiakim pledged Judah’s loyalty to Babylon and agreed to pay an annual tribute to avoid being conquered. As was customary in those days, Nebuchadnezzar took hostages from the royal family to insure Judah’s faithfulness to the agreement and headed back to Babylon.
Among the hostages were Daniel and his three friends, known by their Babylonian names as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were all probably in their late teens at the time and Nebuchadnezzar was likely only a few years older. He had the four Jewish boys enrolled in a training program to help them learn the ways of Babylon and was amazed when they quickly excelled in every area of their training.
The meaning of the dream continued to evade him and when none of the wise men he had inherited from his late father could interpret it he became angry and threatened to have them all executed. But the Lord gave Daniel its meaning and he agreed to interpret it for the young king, earning him and his friends positions of great influence among the king’s advisors.
You can read Daniel’s interpretation of the dream in Daniel 2:31-45. For our purposes here it’s enough to say that the statue represented four kingdoms who would control the world during a period of time known as Gentile Dominion. This period would last from Nebuchadnezzar’s time to the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom.
Daniel said the head of the statue, made of gold, represented Babylon, the first Kingdom of Gentile Dominion. The chest and arms of silver represented a kingdom that would rise after Babylon, to be followed by a third one, the belly and thighs of bronze, and finally the legs of iron with feet of iron mixed with clay, which spoke of the final kingdom. After that God will set up a kingdom of His own that will never be destroyed or given to another people (Daniel 2:36-44).
Most scholars agree on the identities of the two kingdoms that followed Babylon. In Daniel 8 we can read of a vision Daniel saw just before Babylon was conquered, where they were made known to him. Daniel was told in effect they would be Medo-Persia and Greece (Daniel 8:20-21). He lived to see the Medes and Persians conquer Babylon, and knew from the vision that Greece would conquer Persia. This is confirmed by the historical record, which shows that events unfolded just as Daniel’s vision had indicated. That left only the fourth kingdom unknown to Daniel.
Daniel 2 described Gentile Dominion from man’s perspective, a bright, shiny statue constructed mostly of precious metals. Before looking at the 4th Kingdom, lets skip forward to Daniel 7 and see God’s view of these kingdoms, which is a series of voracious beasts. By laying it alongside Daniel 2 and using Daniel 8 for further clarification, we can see what Daniel saw.
Daniel 7:4 depicts Babylon as a lion with the wings of an eagle. It morphed into a man that represents Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon’s most powerful king. Daniel 7:5 tells us the next beast was a bear, representing Medo Persia. In Daniel 7:6 the third kingdom appeared to Daniel in the form of a winged leopard with four heads. This is a model of Greece under Alexander and the four generals who succeeded him.
By way of additional confirmation, Josephus recorded a supernaturally ordained meeting between Alexander the Great and Jeduah, the reigning High Priest of Israel at the time. Alexander was making his way south toward Egypt, conquering nation after nation as he did. When he came to Jerusalem, the High Priest and his retinue, in their finest robes, opened the gates and met him outside the city, as God had told them to do. Alexander had previously seen this exact event in a dream and took its fulfillment as a sign from God. He spared the city and offered sacrifices in the Temple. When Jeduah opened the scroll of Daniel and read to Alexander portions of what we know as Daniel 8, written 200 years earlier, Alexander correctly interpreted it as referring to him (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, chapter 8).
The Empire that followed Greece was Rome, and that’s how the identity of the 4th kingdom, represented by the legs of iron in the statue and the terrifying, frightening beast of Daniel 7:7, was determined in the Roman view. Proponents say Rome was never conquered, but transformed itself into the Holy Roman Empire that finally became the Catholic Church, which is still a powerful force in the world with over a billion members and wealth beyond measure. During that time, various components of the old Roman Empire (Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, France, and especially Great Britain) were recognized as having world wide influence. They say an end times version of the Roman Empire will appear again at the end of the age to preside over world affairs. This empire is represented by the feet and toes of the statue.
In the Roman view, the end times Empire will likely be some form of the European Union from which the anti-Christ will emerge to rule the world during Daniel’s 70th Week. This opinion is supported by the fact that in Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) the angel Gabriel said in effect that the anti-Christ would be someone from the people who would destroy the city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (Temple). History shows that this happened while Rome was in the process of putting down Jewish rebellions in 69-70 and 135 AD.
The Islamic View
The Roman and Islamic views agree through the first three kingdoms, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. But then they differ. The Islamic view skips right over Rome and says the next empire to occupy the territory of Babylon, Persia and Greece was the Ottoman Empire that reigned supreme in the region from the 13th Century until 1923. Islamic proponents point out that the Roman Empire didn’t fit either the geographical footprint of the preceding kingdoms or the description of the terrifying and powerful 4th beast. It expanded mostly to the west, and didn’t crush or devour its victims or trample them underfoot (Daniel 7:7) but allowed the nations it conquered to retain their own religions and customs. For example the Greek religion and culture had a powerful and lasting influence that overlapped the Roman Empire by hundreds of years. And until they took up arms against Rome, the Jews lived a relatively autonomous existence.
The Islamic view also disputes the opinion that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, saying the Romans leaders actually tried to prevent the destruction but the predominantly middle Eastern conscripts that made up the “enlisted” ranks simply disobeyed their leaders and sacked the city and temple of their ancient enemy. Therefore it was the ancestors of the Arabs who would later become adherents of Islam who fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy by destroying the city and the sanctuary. That means the anti-Christ will come out of Islam, not Western Europe.
And finally, the Islamic view holds that the Roman position is Western in its orientation whereas the Bible has always focused on the Middle East. Its advocates note that references to an Islamic Caliphate are becoming steadily more noticeable in Middle Eastern discourse. They say Muslim groups in the region are working harder than ever to re-establish this caliphate. These include such varied groups as the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Hamas, as well as the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and even the government of Turkey. Therefore the end times Empire will in effect be a revived Ottoman Empire, from which an Islamic world leader will emerge to rule during Daniel’s 70th Week.
So Which Is It?
As we’ve seen, the actual identity of the fourth Kingdom was never given to Daniel. For centuries the vast majority of scholars have assumed it was Rome because of the historical realities. Rome directly followed Greece, the Romans clearly took credit for destroying the Temple in 70 AD and the City of Jerusalem in 135 AD, and Rome was the kingdom in power when John wrote the Revelation. In Rev. 17:9-10 he said,
“This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while.”
Both views agree that the five kings who had fallen at the time of John’s writing are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The one in power at the time was obviously Rome, but the seventh one was and is still in the future. As we saw above, Daniel’s prophecies focused on the time of Gentile Dominion that began with Babylon and includes only four kingdoms before the kingdom of God is established. By comparing Rev. 17:9-10 with Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 we can see Daniel’s fourth Kingdom had to be Rome and it has to appear in two forms to be John’s 6th and 7th kings.
By the way, the Greek word John used in Rev. 17:9-10 was kings, not kingdoms, but scholars have assumed John was referring to the most prominent ruler of each, since they all had more than one. For example, at the time of John’s writing (about 95 AD) the Roman Emperor was Domitian, the 11th man to occupy its throne.
This prompts two questions. Is the coming one also a kingdom even though John called him a king and used a personal pronoun in referring to him? And in Rev. 17:11 John referred to the beast as an eighth king, this time using a personal noun (when used metaphorically the word beast refers to a brutal or savage man) and personal pronouns (he, his). Is he a king, or another kingdom?
And there are others. Both these views have strong supporting features but neither is conclusive. For example, is the end times empire world wide or just regional? Both the Roman view and the Islamic view have a decidedly regional focus. What about the rest of the world? The Book of Revelation makes strong suggestions that the whole world will be involved.
And what about the religious aspect of the end times? Rev. 13:8 says all the inhabitants of Earth will worship the anti-Christ. Currently there are 2.2 billion “Christians” on Earth. Will those who are left after the rapture suddenly convert to Islam as the Islamic view requires? Or will the world’s 1.6 billion followers of Islam abandon Allah for a Western European Messiah as the Roman view would have us believe?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Islam will no longer be a viable religious force after the Battle of Ezekiel 38. Rough estimates indicate that as little as 15% of the Islamic world will be represented by the forces aligned against Israel, and remember it’s only their soldiers who die in battle, not their total populations.
And those who say that Islam will cease to exist after the Battle of Ezekiel 38 because its outcome will prove their god isn’t real simply don’t understand the emotional and spiritual foundation of religion. Remember, only Christians and Jews have a God who has proved His existence beyond question, but other religions have flourished through out the age of man despite their lack of such evidence.
Speaking of which, what about the billions of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others? Some of them are as passionate about their faith as anyone. They aren’t going to easily abandon their long held beliefs either.
So both the Roman and Islamic views leave unanswered questions. But there is a supernatural movement taking place on Earth today that addresses these questions. It’s already impacting millions and is growing rapidly all around the globe. Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, New Agers, the Eastern religions and others have all been able to embrace this movement with out denying their strongly held beliefs. It claims the power to bring all the world’s religions together and reconcile all the apparently conflicting prophecies about End Times religion. This movement will be the topic of our conclusion next week. Until then, you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah 08-11-12