Daniel was a teenage captive in Babylon when God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a disturbing dream (Daniel 2). It became a nightmare when he could not remember it or understand its mysterious meaning. Tormented, he demanded his wise men tell him both the dream and its interpretation. When they failed, he furiously ordered them all to be executed, including Daniel.
Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, delivered the dreadful news. Arioch means “lion-like” and is a fitting type of our adversary who roams about “as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pt. 5:8). Satan is an executioner who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy our souls. What do you do when a lion tries to destroy you? Do what Daniel did—appeal to a bigger lion, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah! When Daniel prayed, God answered by giving him the same dream Nebuchadnezzar had (Dan. 2:17-19). Daniel showed class and character by appealing for all the wise men of Babylon to be spared instead of just saving his own skin (Dan. 2:24).
Daniel rushed to the palace where he told the king’s dream in vivid detail: “You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! . . . This image’s head was of fine 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 clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces . . . And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:31-35).
This metallic image depicted the four major empires that ruled the world in Bible times plus one future kingdom to come. Nebuchadnezzar saw these kingdoms as an image of coveted metals because, from man’s perspective, earthly kingdoms are impressive. Daniel later saw them as ferocious beasts because, from God’s perspective, earthly kingdoms are wild and destructive (Dan. 7:3, 17). While man’s kingdoms seem powerful, wealthy, and glorious, they have an ugly, beastly nature. They are cruel, corrupt, bloodthirsty, power hungry, and brutal. Man’s kingdoms are built by conquest, war, and bloodshed, and on the sweat, tears, and taxes of their subjects. God’s kingdom, in contrast, is built on the lamb-like nature of His agape love.
The five kingdoms were represented by one image in the dream because they are all of the same spirit. One thing many Gentile kingdoms have in common is their hatred for and persecution against Jews and Christians—from the Pharoah’s of ancient Egypt who enslaved and killed the Hebrews, to the Caesars of Rome who executed Christians for sport, to the hellish deathcamps of Hitler’s Nazis regime, to the killing of Christians by terrorists today. The same sinister spirit spurs the racial hatred of white supremacists, the KKK, neo-Nazis, Antifa, ISIS, Jihadists, and other radical groups. This demonic hatred is fueled by the spirit of Antichrist which pervades this fallen world (1 Jn. 2:18; 4:3).
Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar, “You are this head of gold” (Dan. 2:38). God allowed him to build a splendid kingdom, unprecedented in its power, wealth, scope, and scale. Ancient Babylon was situated 30 miles southwest of present-day Bagdad, Iraq. It was protected by massive walls featuring 100 gates of brass and 250 watchtowers. The famous Ishtar Gate was decorated with enameled dragons, bulls, and lions. The Euphrates River ran under the wall dividing the city into two parts. The Ziggurat, a seven-story, pyramid-shaped temple to Merodach, was one of over fifty temples and was supposedly the rebuilt Tower of Babel. Nebuchadnezzar also built the Hanging Gardens, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, for his wife, Amyitis. This multi-tiered palace featured lush vegetation on its terraces, luxury apartments, and an elaborate irrigation system. Babylon became the envy of the world during Nebuchadnezzar’s 43-year reign.
“After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours” (Dan. 2:39). The chest and arms of silver on the image represented the Medo-Persian empire. They captured Babylon by re-routing the Euphrates River and invading the city under the wall via the riverbed. This happened on the very night Daniel interpreted the divine, handwritten message on the wall to King Belshazzar (Dan. 5:25-31). Just as silver is inferior to gold, Persia was inferior to Babylon. Babylon was run by the absolute rule of kings, whereas the Medes and Persians were a law-governed people. For instance, King Darius was powerless to overturn the law he signed that sent Daniel to the lion’s den for praying (Dan. 6:5, 8-10, 15). The two arms on the image symbolize the two people groups involved which alternated kings—the first was Darius, a Median, who was succeeded by Cyrus, a Persian, and so on.
“Then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth” (Dan. 2:39). The belly and thighs of brass on the image represented the Grecian Empire, led by Alexander the Great. It overthrew the Persian Empire in 331 B.C. and possessed more territory than its predecessors. After Phillip II, King of Macedon, was assassinated in 336 B.C., his son, Alexander, took the world by storm. Some say he wept when there was nothing left to conquer. In the summer of 323 B.C., he contracted fever and died at age 32. Without a clear successor, his power was divided among his four generals (Dan. 8:5-8, 21-22) and the Grecian Empire slowly declined.
“The fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron . . . that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others” (Dan. 2:40). The legs of iron on the image represent the Roman Empire. Just as legs contain the strongest bones and muscles in the body and as iron is stronger than most other metals, Rome was the strongest of these kingdoms. By sheer military might and brute force they crushed their opponents into submission. They were extremely barbaric and cruel, crucifying hundreds of thousands of their enemies.
All the kingdoms mentioned so far are history to us but, remember, it was prophecy to Daniel. This dream has already been fulfilled—except for the final part. A fifth and unnamed kingdom is symbolized by the feet of iron mixed with clay which will rise to power in the last days (Dan. 2:41-43). Eschatology experts believe the ten toes on the feet of the image represent ten kings who will ally with the Antichrist. (Some scholars believe they correspond to the ten horns on the dragon of Revelation 12:3 and the ten horns on the beast in Revelation 13:1 and 17:3). Some speculate that these kingdoms will rise from the European Common Market. Time will tell. The iron mixed with clay speaks of stronger kingdoms uniting with weaker nations, possibly monarchies allying with democracies.
“And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35). This stone clearly represents the kingdom of God. This kingdom is Satan’s worst nightmare and all the kingdoms he manipulates. Notice the stone “was cut out without hands” (Dan. 2:34). This is not man-made; it is God-made! Also, notice the stone “smote the image upon his feet” meaning this will occur in the last days—“In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed . . . and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44). Furthermore, the stone became a great mountain and filled the whole earth representing the rapid expansion of God’s kingdom. It started small as a spiritual kingdom with Christ and a few followers, but it will ultimately manifest as a literal kingdom conquering all the kingdoms of this world (Rev. 19:11-21).
Jesus gave two parables to illustrate this point: He compared God’s kingdom to a tiny mustard seed which becomes a great tree (Mt. 13:31-32). He also compared it to leaven or yeast, which a woman hid in meal (dough) until it permeated all of it (Mt. 13:33). This describes the “quick work” God will do in the last days to establish His kingdom here on earth. Is it possible we are living in the generation when the stone will smite the feet of the image? Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmare will soon become a reality, and, to the true church, it will be a dream come true when all “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15) Daniel means “God is my Judge” and He alone has the final verdict in the affairs of men. Nations and kings are pawns on His chessboard which He maneuvers to serve His purpose. No wonder Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come!” “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)