Prophecies in Daniel
Nebuchadnezzar's imageThe kingdoms of man and God
Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.
Nebuchadnezzar II, the king of Babylon, had a dream – a literal dream. He dreamed of a great idol, awe-inspiring and brilliant. It had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, loins and thighs of brass, and legs of iron. The feet were partly iron and partly clay.
As the king watched, a stone, cut out from a mountain without hands, struck the idol upon its feet, and broke it to pieces. The iron, clay, brass, silver, and gold disintegrated and blew away like straw on the wind. The stone grew into a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
This dream was also given to Daniel, and he interpreted it for the king. The vision was a far-reaching prophecy, giving a basic chart and outline of four great kingdoms of man, and one of God. The first four kingdoms would rise and fall in succession, but the final kingdom would be far greater than them all, and would never fall to another. (You can read the entire biblical passage either in a pop-up here or at the bottom of this page.)
This vision, given in the earlier life of Daniel, was paralleled by another towards the end of his life. The parallel vision was the vision of the four fantastic beasts which arose from a stormy sea. You can read about it in Daniel chapter seven. These four beasts symbolised the same succession of four empires represented in the metallic idol. And the vision also describes the kingdom of God which supersedes them. That prophecy adds detail which will be discussed on a separate page (The Four Beasts).
The first empire was Babylon, directly identified by Daniel as the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar – the head of gold. The book of Daniel, as well as history, records the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian Empire. This is the second empire, represented by the chest and arms of silver. A later prophecy in Daniel (that of the ram and the he-goat in chapter eight) directly identifies the third kingdom of brass as that of Greece. The last empire, represented by the iron legs, is Rome. The Roman Empire was established by Augustus, after he defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and brought the remainder of the Greek power to its close.
It is a notable fact that Jesus Christ was born in the reign of Augustus, who was the founder of the Roman Empire.
The representation of the empires of man as an image, or idol, indicates a man-made system of government and religion. It has no power to save mankind, and though appearing glorious and awe-inspiring in some respects, it is false, it is empty, and inevitably, it comes to an end.
The stone which destroyed the image was “cut out without hands”. It was what the Bible refers to as the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God. Its origin is not of earth, but of heaven.
The succession of materials in the idol – gold, silver, brass, iron, iron and clay – indicates a degradation in value, a degeneration, and a hardening over time. Its final state is “mingled” with other peoples, “partly strong, and partly broken”, inherently divided, and brittle. It does not adhere together well.
The specific gravity, or relative density, of the metals also decreases from top to bottom, as does their malleability (their ability to be changed easily into a new shape). At the same time, their susceptibility to corrosion increases. (The “brass” in the King James Version is either copper, or one of its alloys, bronze or brass.)
There is a deterioration of glory and suitability in the systems of rule these materials represent.
The fourth and fifth kingdoms
Daniel makes clear in the interpretation of this dream, that the idol represented four kingdoms, not five. However, the fourth kingdom of iron would have two phases in its history. The iron of the legs continues through the feet and toes, but these are mingled with clay. Rome is the iron thread throughout these phases, but the Roman Empire in the west was invaded by the Goths, the Vandals, and the Huns, and broken up into the nations of Europe. These kingdoms became Roman Catholic, and were dominated by papal Rome during the Dark Ages. The iron legs, and the iron-and-clay feet represent pagan and papal Rome – two idolatrous systems of rule and religion.
Jesus Christ, who is the King of Kings, and King of the Kingdom of God, is destined to return and bring to an end this entire succession of empires. He is the Stone which in the vision “smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces”. Jesus, whose first coming coincided with the beginning of the iron Empire of Rome, brings at his second coming its final destruction.
Rome in its revived papal and pseudo-Christian form, sought to take the place of the fifth kingdom, the kingdom of God, but history and the prophecy has shown it to be only the second phase of the fourth.
The four kingdoms – a timelineEach kingdom successively lasted longer than the last, but the Iron kingdom was to extend in its two phases, Imperial Rome and Catholic Europe, throughout the Gospel Age – the New Testament era. It is bracketed by Christ's first and second comings. This kingdom is emphasised in prophecy because it affects the Church as well as Israel.
The iron becomes mingled with clayShortly before the fall of the Western Empire of Rome, Rome became divided into East and West. The Eastern Empire, which continued for some time, dwindled and eventually came to a end with the fall of Constantinople. But the original homeland of Rome, and the city of Rome itself, became the revived seat of power of the kingdoms of Europe, under the political and religious sway of the papacy.
Daniel's parallel visionsDaniel saw two visions that paralleled each other, one as a young man, and one as an old man. The metallic idol of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, with its four metals of gold, silver, brass, and iron corresponds to the four beast empires of Daniel's later vision. And the stone that destroyed the idol corresponds to the eternal kingdom of the “Son of man” who comes with “the clouds of heaven”.
The Four Kingdoms of Man
Head of gold
In the vision of the metallic idol, Babylon is represented by the golden head. It was the empire, under Nebuchadnezzar II, that took the kingdom of Judah into captivity. It was the first of the series of idolatrous empires that would tread down both the Old and New Testament peoples of God until the time of the end.
Its position as head indicates an influence and control over the rest of the image, and this is seen in the final manifestation of these kingdoms in the iron-and-clay feet – represented in Revelation as “Mystery (or spiritual), Babylon the Great”.
It corresponds in Daniel's later vision to the lion with eagle's wings.
Chest and arms of silver
The second kingdom, represented by the chest and arms of silver, is the Medo-Persian Empire. Daniel records the overthrow of Babylon by this empire, and Daniel's life continues under it. It was noted merely to be “a kingdom inferior to thee”, as silver is to gold, a detail which may have helped mollify Nebuchadnezzar's consideration of the interpretation. In area, riches, and power it was likely greater than Babylon, but in character and morality the empire waned after its beginning. Its power and internal strength degenerated and weakened. It suffered many defeats. Decay and corruption enfeebled its kings and people.
Yet it was important in the restoration of Judah to Jerusalem, and in the rebuilding era of the temple.
It corresponds in Daniel's later vision to the devouring bear with three ribs between its teeth.
Belly and thighs of brass
The third kingdom of brass was the empire of Greece. Elsewhere in Daniel, in the prophecy of the ram and the he-goat, an angel specifically designates the conqueror of Persia to be a notable King of Greece. This king would rapidly and furiously break and crush the Persian Empire. This empire would bear rule over all the land. The king who conquered the Persian Empire was Alexander the Great.
The Greek culture and language spread throughout the area of the empire, and the Old Testament was translated into Greek. This enabled a knowledge of the scriptures and the prophecies to spread more widely throughout the world and prepared the way for a more rapid dissemination of the gospel in the New Testament era.
This empire corresponds to the leopard with four heads and four wings in Daniel's later vision.
Legs of iron
The last remnant of the Grecian power came to an end with the defeat of Cleopatra by Octavian. He named himself Augustus, and founded the Roman Empire. In his reign, Jesus Christ was born. The Empire is represented by the iron legs, and feet of iron and clay. Though having unified and divided phases it is nevertheless viewed as one kingdom – the fourth kingdom. It was a kingdom with the character of iron, great in strength, breaking and subduing others.
After the division of the Roman Empire into the Western Empire and Eastern Empire, the Western half was broken up into the ten kingdoms of Europe by the barbarian invasions in the fifth century. The Romans became mingled with other peoples, and Europe became a mixture of nations, some strong, some broken, always in flux, but always numbering around ten in the area of the old Western Empire. Attempts to completely unify it have never lasted long.
The power of Rome was revived in the papacy which held both temporal and religious power among the ten kingdoms of Europe.
The pagan and papal phases of Rome correspond to the diverse beast with ten horns in the later vision of Daniel.
The Kingdom of God
Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.
Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.
. . . . .
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.
Daniel 2:34–35, 44–45
THE STONE, which is Christ in his coming and kingdom, is cut out without the hands of man – it is not of man. It breaks the old rule and order of mankind so completely they are reduced to dust and blown away never to be found again.
Jesus said in reference to himself,
What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
And the apostle Peter also spoke of Christ, this stone, as precious to the believer, but a “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” to the disobedient.
Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
1 Peter 2:6-8
This dual nature of the stone, in being both the destruction of the evil, and the foundation of all future growth and glory comes to a climax at Christ's return. The second coming of Jesus Christ will not be as his first. From the time of his return – the falling of the stone – he will “put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24), and “judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:1).
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:
2 Thessalonians 1:7-11
It brings both ending and beginning.
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
A fearful day for some, but a day of great promise for others. A sudden day for all:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
2 Peter 3:10-13
For those who have followed Christ, a day of resurrection and change:
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
And an entrance into the everlasting Kingdom of God:
For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:11
More detail …
The Visions of Daniel and the Revelation ExplainedE.P. Cachemaille, c.1917
Daniel and the RevelationJoseph Tanner, 1898
Daniel 2Nebuchadnezzar's dream
1 And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him.
2 Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king.
3 And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream.
4 Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation.
5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill.
6 But if ye shew the dream, and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive of me gifts and rewards and great honour: therefore shew me the dream, and the interpretation thereof.
7 They answered again and said, Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation of it.
8 The king answered and said, I know of certainty that ye would gain the time, because ye see the thing is gone from me.
9 But if ye will not make known unto me the dream, there is but one decree for you: for ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, till the time be changed: therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that ye can shew me the interpretation thereof.
10 The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king's matter: therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean.
11 And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.
12 For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.
13 And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain.
14 Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king's guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon:
15 He answered and said to Arioch the king's captain, Why is the decree so hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel.
16 Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation.
17 Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions:
18 That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
19 Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.
20 Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his:
21 And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:
22 He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.
23 I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter.
24 Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will shew unto the king the interpretation.
25 Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste, and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation.
26 The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?
27 Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king;
28 But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these;
29 As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass.
30 But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart.
31 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.
32 This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,
33 His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.
34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.
35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.
36 This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.
37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.
38 And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.
39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.
40 And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.
41 And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.
42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.
43 And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.
44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.
46 Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him.
47 The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.
48 Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.
49 Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.