The State of Israel has just finished the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with his cabinet after it was over and expressed thanksgiving, especially to the Israeli security forces, that there were no violent incidents during the holiday. He called Israel an “island of tranquility [amid] the storm raging around us.” He said, “This is not self-evident given the storm raging around us. We are watching over Israel, an island of tranquility, quiet and security, which also stems from our responsible and balanced policy and the very professional and vigorous action—only some of which is known to the public—by all of the security arms.” Prime Minister Netanyahu did employ the Iron Dome Rock Defense Battery around Jerusalem, however. And if the United States attacks Syria, Israel will immediately deploy its anti-missile systems and troop reinforcements. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few days or weeks or months in the Middle East. I don’t want to sound too apocalyptic about the current crisis with Syria, but there are two things to remember. First, the increasing radicalization of Middle Eastern politics – the rise of militant Islam – does not seem like a pattern that can be reversed. And it’s not just Middle Eastern Arab countries; it’s spreading to all of North Africa. And second, we never know when the trigger point is going to occur that will plunge us into the world’s final conflict.
Well, if you want to understand biblical prophecy, the most basic framework is given in Daniel 2. This is the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and let me give you a date—600 years before Christ, 600 B.C. That’s the approximate date, in round numbers and easy to remember, when it comes to Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. In Daniel, chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that disturbs him very much. It was a nightmare and it left him very troubled. Verse 1 says: His mind was troubled and he could not sleep. He summoned his advisors and the Magi, the wise men of Babylon but they could not tell him his dream or what it meant. In fury, he ordered them to be executed. Daniel and his three friends were among those to be killed. But Daniel asked for time, and he and his friends prayed, and God revealed the dream and its interpretation to Daniel. And this dream is foundational to biblical prophecy. Let’s resume our study in Daniel 2:24. In Verses 24 – 28, Daniel came before the king. And in verse 29 he said: As Your Majesty was lying there, 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 anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind. Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.
There’s something about a very large statute that inspires us. Most of the great statutes of the world are in Asia. In preparation for this message I looked up the largest statutes on earth, and the largest one is an image of Buddha in China that stands over 500 feet tall. The tallest 37 statutes in the world are almost all in Asia, and many of them are of the Buddha. Way down on the list is Number 38 is the Statute of Liberty, which stands just over 300 feet all and is the largest statute in the United States. But since we’re most familiar with the Statute of Liberty, you might use that as an image to help you visualize what Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream. If you’ve been to Liberty Island, you know how overwhelming it feels to stand there and look up at this enormous statute. But imagine how you would feel if you were standing there, and the statute collapsed and started tumbling toward you. That was the king’s dream.
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.
Now, here was the terrifying part: While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statute on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron and clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that stuck the statute became a huge mountain that filled the whole earth.
All that is sufficiently dramatic and visual and self-explanatory. But what does it mean? Well, we don’t have to guess about it. Daniel proceeds to give us the interpretation. Look at verse 36: This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. Your Majesty, you 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 all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold.
So the head of gold represents the Babylonian Empire, which was headquartered in our modern-day Iraq. In terms of prophetic history, this is the first of the world’s great empires. We can’t go to Babylon right now and see the ruins because the area is too dangerous; I wish we could. But we can go to the great museums of the world and see some of the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar’s Empire, and they are fabulous. But it didn’t last very long. It was started by Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, but it was his son, Nebuchadnezzar who lasted on the throne for 43 years and turned the city of Babylon into the greatest city the world had ever seen up to that time. But after Nebuchadnezzar there was a series of weak Babylonian leaders and the empire declined. Look at verse 39:
After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours. This was a prophecy of the Persian Empire or the Medo-Persian (Achaemenid) Empire. In the year 539 BC, the city of Babylon was seized by the Persians. The story of the fall of Babylon is actually told in three chapters later in Daniel 5, and happened when Daniel is an old man. The Empire became the greatest empire the world had ever seen up to that point. It stretched from Greece across the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East and all the way to the Indus River, which marks the border of India. So you can say the Medo-Persian Empire stretched from Greece to India—over two million square miles and was inhabited by over ten million people. The greatest leader was Cyrus the Great, one of the most magnificent rulers in the history of the world. He loved gardens and to this day many of the gardens in the Middle East follow the designs created by Cyrus. Roads were built and a remarkable postal system was developed. Slavery was greatly reduced and women’s rights were enhanced. The Persian Empire lasted for over 200 years, about the same amount of time the United States has been an independent nation. What happened to it? Well, let’s continue reading.
Verse 39: Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. This is a reference to the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great. You recall I said the Persian Empire stretched from Greece to India. Well, the area of Greece was home to a brilliant leader named Philip of Macedon who expanded his empire but was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. His 20-year-old son Alexander became king and in thirteen years he conquered the world, from Greece to India. But he drank himself to death and died at age 32 or 33. At the time of his death he held in his hands more power than any other man in history had possessed. Aristotle had tutored Alexander, who became a fierce proponent of the Greek culture. He spread the Greek language all over the earth, and that’s why the New Testament was written in Greek. Alexander’s empire broke apart at the time of his death and there followed many years of warfare and conflict. Then a fourth great empire rose to dominate the world—Rome. Look at verse 40: 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 others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes…
Now, this is very important. Daniel makes specific reference here to the feet and toes of this statute: Two feet and ten toes. 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.
Now, look at verse 42: 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.
Verse 44: In the time of those kings [ten kings represented by the ten toes] 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 bonze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
Now the primary interpretation is that in the days of the Roman Empire, Jesus Christ was born—the Rock cut without hands. All the way through the Bible, Jesus Christ is pictured as a rock. That is one of the premier symbols of Christ in the Bible. First Corinthians 10 says: “That Rock is Christ.” So in the days of the Roman Empire, Jesus came and established His kingdom, which has spread over all the earth.
But there’s something more here. This is another application of what we call the “double fulfillment of prophecy.” We get some help in interpreting this vision by looking at Daniel 7. Let’s turn there for a moment. Here we have another vision in the book of Daniel, which is going to cover the same territory. Instead of a statute with four sections, Daniel seems four beasts come out of the ocean. The first represented the Babylonian Empire. The second represented the Persian Empire. The third represented the Greek Empire. And the fourth represented the Roman Empire. But like overlays in a textbook, more details are given. Look at how the Fourth Empire is described, in Daniel 7:7: 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. Like the ten toes on the statute. As Daniel understood it, these will be ten kings who will rule in a federation at the end of time, and the Antichrist will come to dominate this confederation. And that’s when Christ comes again and sets up His eternal kingdom.
So here is what we have. According to Ephesians 3, the ancient prophets were never told about the age of grace or the age of the church. There is a gap of at least 2000 years. But just as Christ came during the days of the Roman Empire, so when He comes again there will be a new and terrible form of the Roman Empire in existence, dominated by the antichrist. And when Jesus comes, He will be like a rock cut without human hands that will strike the structure of human history and bring it all crashing down until it is blown away like chaff from the threshing floor.
According to Daniel 2, history will be dominated by four great empires—Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, followed by an age of grace in which the church will take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And then there will be a revival in some way of the Roman Empire made up of ten nations or ten kings or ten provinces. And over those the antichrist will gain control. But when Christ comes again the course of human history will be shattered and He will be king of all the earth and of all of eternity. Now it seems to me that with the Arab oil money and with the Islamic takeover of North Africa and with what’s happening in Libya (including Benghazi) and Egypt and Iraq and Iran and Syria—with the growing Muslim presence in Europe—the pieces are coming together again. I can’t show you ten exact kings or dominions or provinces. These may not form until after the rapture of the church. But the pieces are all assembling themselves in the providence of God for some kind of revival of the Fourth Empire. So we have: Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and a gap for the age of the church, followed by the revival of the ten-sectioned Fourth Empire. And as soon as times reach their fulfillment, Christ will come like a rock tumbling from heaven and strike the glorious statute of dubious human history and achievement and establish a kingdom that will never end.