A brief history of the futureThe prophecies of Daniel and Revelation
When Daniel was younger, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had a dream. The vision was also given to Daniel. He saw a great metallic idol. It had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, stomach and thighs of brass, and legs of iron. The iron continued through to the toes but was mingled with clay from the feet downwards.
The idol was destroyed by a stone that fell upon its feet. The stone then grew into a large mountain, ultimately filling the earth. The story is given in the second chapter of Daniel.
Towards the end of Daniel’s life, he saw a second vision which paralleled the meaning of the first. This was a vision of four fantastic beasts arising from the sea in succession (Daniel 7).
Both these visions were interpreted as four great kingdoms or empires which would succeed each other. The legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with clay were counted as one iron kingdom, but having two phases.
The first kingdom, the golden head, was identified with Nebuchadnezzar, representing the Babylonian Empire.
In both visions, it is the fourth and last kingdom that is emphasised as the most dangerous.
Hippolytus understood that Rome would enter a phase where an Antichrist would arise amidst the ten kingdoms that were to come. The apostle Paul showed this power would arise out of a great apostasy and “falling away” in the church, and would promote itself within historical “Christianity”:
2 Thessalonians 2:4
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
History shows that the conversion of Imperial Rome into a paganised and quickly corrupted form of Christianity set the scene for the rise of the papacy and a Roman Catholic Europe.
The vision of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, or idol, is intended to be a very simplified grand chart of the future from the time of Daniel. It is a broad outline of history, given to the King of Babylon as he lay upon his bed and wondered what the future might hold.
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.
When we look at what actually happened in history we find that the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the empire of the Medes and Persians (the silver kingdom). Alexander the Great in turn conquered the Persian Empire and established the Grecian Empire (the brass kingdom). This divided and continued until overtaken by the Roman Empire (the iron kingdom). The iron of Rome’s influence continued in the mingled Romano-Germanic nations of Western Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
A look at the timeline shows that the first three empires occupied only about one fifth of the time between Daniel’s era and ours.
The movement of the Huns displaced the Gothic peoples north of the Empire. They in turn moved down into the Empire and mingled with its people. The central Roman Empire became occupied by the Goths, who established a de facto rule over the area, even though ostensibly ruled over by Theodosius from Constantinople.
This relative calm continued until the death of Theodosius. Shortly after, the Goths poured into the Western Empire, and the breaking up of the Western Empire began.
The Roman Empire broke up into a number of mingled Romano/Germanic kingdoms.
Daniel 2:42-43 (ERV)
The toes of the statue were partly iron and partly clay. So the fourth kingdom will be partly strong like iron and partly weak like clay. You saw the iron mixed with clay, but iron and clay don’t completely mix together. In the same way the people of the fourth kingdom will be a mixture. They will not be united as one people.
The Western Empire came to its end in AD476, and was broken up into the nominal ten kingdoms of Europe. While borders and countries have been in continual flux, that basic arrangement of partly strong, partly weak European nations and mingled people has continued ever since. As the Dark Ages descended upon Europe with the breakup of the Western Empire, Rome again rose to a long dominance in a new and different form under the papacy.
God would eventually take away the dominion of Rome “to consume and to destroy it unto the end” (Daniel 7:26). While the hold of Rome and the papacy over the kingdoms of Western Europe was to be weakened and consumed, it would not be destroyed completely until the return of Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 2:8
And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
The consuming by the “spirit of his mouth”, or the Word of God, may be considered to have begun with the Reformation in the early 1500s. The political and temporal fortunes of Rome suffered irreparable damage in the French and European Revolutions of the 1800s. Europe has continued in flux and war since, always “partly strong and partly broken”, attempting to unify, but never succeeding for long. The various players, both religious and political, will remain in this state until the return of Jesus Christ.
The book of Daniel itself records the overthrow of Babylon (the gold) by the Medo/Persian empire (the silver). Daniel also records a vision that directly names the “King of Greece” (the brass) as the one who will overthrow the “Kings of Media and Persia”. The New Testament records the Roman Empire in power at the time of Jesus, after the power of Greece is overcome in turn.
Determining where the brass completely gives way to the iron is instructive, and we will look at that in the next few slides.
Claudius Ptolemy was a Greco-Roman mathematician and astronomer who died around AD168. He preserved a list of kings from earlier sources that demonstrates the change of empires from 747 BC until his time.
The Canon of Kings was a dated list of kings used by ancient astronomers as a convenient means to date astronomical phenomena, such as eclipses. The Canon was preserved by the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, and is thus known sometimes as Ptolemy’s Canon. It is one of the most important bases for our knowledge of ancient chronology.
Beginning with the Babylonians, he lists the reigns of their kings until their overthrow by Persia.
In a “coincidence” of history, Jesus Christ, destined to be the King of the eternal Stone Kingdom to come, was born in the reign of Augustus.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
What God often does in prophecy is to give more detail as time goes on and necessity requires it. The series of approximately 21 visions in the book of Revelation, given at the beginning of the Iron kingdom, is intended to give us a basic timeframe of where we are in history. We can check off the fulfilled events in this last empire just as we have checked off the fulfilled empires that went before it.
The gradual fulfillment of those visions has been traced throughout the New Testament age by many. If the visions have been traced accurately, we now unavoidably appear to be in the final scene – the Seventh Vial of the Seventh Trumpet of the Seventh Seal.
Daniel’s visions of the metallic idol and the four beasts are both interpreted as a chronological succession of empires. If we understand the subject matter of Revelation’s visions to concern the Iron legs of the image and the fourth fantastic beast, and we understand them to be in chronological order also, the interpretation is not only more logical, but more simple and more easily demonstrated. Not only do the interpretations have to fit the symbolism of the visions, they also have to do so in the right order.
This is one of the great strengths of the “continual historicist” understanding. Like the cuttings on a key, we must have the right fit in the right place to unlock the meaning. The more numerous the cuttings, or more characters in a password, or more visions in the series, the less chance of a random unlocking, or fudged interpretation. History being in the past means the main events and important eras are already known. This makes it much easier to determine if we have the correct fit.
The red area corresponds to the rise and dominance of papal Rome and the Islamic empires throughout the Dark Ages. Both were destined to be gradually consumed and weakened before the end of the age.
The extended eras of the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets in the east, and the simultaneous dominance of the Iron and Clay kingdoms in the west are the only visions to have definite prophetic timeframes included with them. A glance at the timeline shows this may have been necessary to confirm both their correct interpretation and their extended duration when compared with the other shorter visions.
While Jesus said we “know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” yet he also prophesied while on earth of the era that would lead up to his coming, and said,
And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. … So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ was given by him to reveal, and his Spirit to show us “things to come”. God has not left his people without hope or a basic outline and timeframe of his plan.
2 Peter 1:19
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.