Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Daniel 2 -“What shall be in the Latter Days”

Originally published in: The Bible Magazine

The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar II

It was around the year 600BC that one of the world’s most powerful men, Nebuchadnezzar son of Nabopolassar King of Babylon, had an amazing prophecy revealed to him in a dream. Through this dream the almighty Creator revealed the blueprint of His purpose with the Kingdom of men and showed what state it would be in when His son returns to the earth. This prophecy is one of the most exciting and essential for any student of the Bible to get to grips with. It gives us the framework for the “latter days” – into which all other Bible prophecies relating to this period will fit. It describes the great controversy that will soon be fought out on the earth – the Kingdom of men in defiance of the Kingdom of God.
The purpose of the revelation of the prophecy is very important for us to appreciate. In v26-29 Daniel explains why God revealed these things to Nebuchadnezzar. Before going to sleep, Nebuchadnezzar had been wondering what would eventually happen to his kingdom (v29) and the dream was an answer to this question. The prophecy was revealed to show how Nebuchadnezzar’s empire and power would be handed down to various other kingdoms, until something completely different would replace it upon the earth. By revealing this, God also showed that He is in supreme control over human affairs – He is watching and guiding world events down through time. This knowledge should be of immense comfort to all who follow after the God of Israel (see also Daniel 4:32).
We are specifically told that the dream would reveal to Nebuchadnezzar what was to happen during a Biblically defined era known as “the latter days” (v28). When considered carefully, we discover a very significant series of events which will occur during this time period – some of these events are set out below:
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The events depicted in the dramatic dream of Daniel 2 can also be included.

The dream

The dream recorded in v31-35 is amazingly simple. It consisted of a metallic image with a head of gold, a chest and arms of silver, a belly and thighs of brass, two legs of iron and feet made of iron and clay. A stone then strikes the image violently on the feet – breaking the feet to pieces and causing the image to tumble. The other pieces of the image are  broken up into very small pieces and the wind blows them away. Finally the stone grows to fill the whole earth. On first reading this may appear very peculiar – however the Scriptures reveal the dream’s interpretation to us.

 The interpretation

So what did the dream mean? Well it had two functions. Not only did the dream show what was to happen to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom in “the latter days” but it would also reveal a continual historic outline of the various phases of that kingdom down through time.
From v36-45 we read how each metal represented a successive kingdom or empire and when compared with history, we can see how accurate this prophecy was. Nebuchadnezzar is told “thou art this head of gold” (v38). Therefore, the Babylonian Empire (or “Neo-Babylonian Empire” as it is called in scholarly circles) that lasted between 626 BC – 539 BC approx, was depicted by the head of gold. The next empire was the silver Medo-Persian (or “Achaemenid”) Empire which is referred to in Daniel 8:20 and 11:2 – this empire lasted up until 330BC. Following this, the Greek (or Macedon) Empire arose as outlined in Daniel  8 and 11 and this is represented by the bronze. This empire would exist until approximately 146BC when Andriscus of Macedon was defeated by the power of the Roman Republic and Macedon became a province of the Roman Empire. The last of the world empires was the Roman – depicted by the iron.
After this fourth empire there would be no fifth. The fourth empire would be split into fragments with some strong and some weak countries – its territory would no longer be dominated by one single empire.

The inferiority

As we read through the interpretation, it is inferred that each subsequent kingdom would be “inferior” to the one it replaced (e.g. v39). With each successive empire growing in territory, what can this “inferiority” mean? By looking elsewhere in Daniel, we discover that this refers to the diluting of the powers of rulership. For example we read this about Nebuchadnezzar in Dan 5:19, “whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive”. In other words he had supreme control. However when we come to the next empire, Scripture records that the king was bound by law, even if he himself wished to overturn it, e.g. “the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.” (Dan 6:15). Thus we see that the power of the king was diminished. In the next two empires power would be further diluted from the leader – with more powers given to politicians. Eventually in the interpretation of the feet phase, we are met with this curious statement: “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.” Here, the iron is referred to as “they”? Who might these be? Bearing in mind that the metals of the image initially refer to the rulership (“Thou art this head of gold” Dan 2:38) “they” relate to the rulership of the Kingdom of men of the time. This is described as mixing with the “clay” or “seed of men”. Clay is often used in Scripture to represent man (for example Job 10:9, 13:12, 33:6, Isa 45:9, Jer 18:6) and is used here to denote the “common people” in the Kingdom of men. This mixing between rulership powers and common people is an apt description of the system of democracy.
We are told that this style of government was not to be successful – “they shall not cleave one to another” (Dan 2:43). Here we see the Divine commentary on man’s system of power and authority. Democracy is indeed an “inferior” system, as it allows men to inject their own fallible ideas. The truth is not a democracy – it’s a Theocracy. Yahweh is our King and His word alone should be what we follow no matter what the majority of men decree (Psalm 74:12).

The Criteria of Interpretation

Sometimes we can be a little vague in regard to this prophecy’s basis of interpretation but it is important that we have a clear understanding on this in order to be able to show forth the wonder of the prophecy to others. As far as the writer is aware, there are three main suggestions of how to interpret the prophecy and these are briefly reviewed below:

Suggestion 1 – Ruling over Israel

The metals represent x4 powers who would all control Israel when the Jews were in their land. The initial problem with this, is that it is not the explanation provided by God when the interpretation is given in the  passage. In addition there are certain historical complications with this – whilst it’s true that Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome controlled Israel, both the Ottoman and British Empires also held the land of Israel when there was a minority of Jews present. Therefore although God is always interested in Israel, this cannot be the criteria that is meant in the prophecy because it does not measure up to the historical record. If this criteria was meant surely two additional metals would be in the image, one for the Ottomans and one for the British.

Suggestion 2 – Ruling over Babylon

Another possibility is that the prophecy relates directly to the territory of the land of Babylon. This can initially seem to fit with the interpretation given in Daniel 2, however it does not match with history. The Ottoman Empire had dominance over the territory of Babylon and therefore again an additional metal would be required in the image if this was the correct criteria.

Suggestion 3 – The Principle of Inheritance

The final and only suggestion which fits, is that the prophecy is dealing with what we could call the “principle of inheritance”. In other words, the initial prophecy related to the territory and influence of Babylon. The Medes and Persians would then take over this territory including the capital. They “inherited” the Kingdom of men. Next the Greeks came – again taking the capital of the Medes and Persians and dominating the territories once controlled by the Persian kings. Next the Romans would come and take the kingdom of the Greeks – absorbing it into their empire and making it a province. No other power would come to inherit the Kingdom of men from the Romans. The Roman territory would disintegrate and split into some weak and some strong. This idea of the “principle of inheritance” fits the context and words of Scripture – the dream was given to show what would happen to the Babylonian Empire (Dan 2:29,37,38) and the dream follows the line of inheritance from that empire. This explanation also agrees with the realities of history.

The stone and the mountain

So who, or what, is the stone which is “cut out without hands” in v34? The Bible tells us in:
Matthew 21:42-44 “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: …and whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder”.
Here we have the Spirit Word connecting the person of Christ to the stone of Daniel 2. Christ was created without “human hands” due to the nature of his virgin birth. However we also know from other prophecies that at the time of Armageddon and the destruction of the image, the saints (the immortalised believers in Christ), will also be with him (Zech 14:5).
Therefore the stone represents the authority of God manifested in Christ and the saints in the latter days. This authority, once positioned in Jerusalem will grow until it spreads across the whole globe and this is depicted in the growth of the stone to fill the whole earth as a great mountain.
The mountain is clearly a symbol of the Kingdom of God as outlined in v44. This kingdom will be established upon the ruins of the Kingdom of men. What a wonderful illustration that the Kingdom of God will be on the earth – the restored kingdom of Israel. Not a ruling of Christ in our hearts, not the current influence of the apostate church, not life as an immortal being playing a harp in the clouds but a tangible kingdom on the earth where men once ruled. It’s capital at Jerusalem with Christ sitting on the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32), Israel being the principle dominion (Micah 4:8) and the other nations of the world accepting his rule and being subject to HIs authority (Zech 14:16-19, Psalm 72:8-11).
The idea of the mountain of Yahweh is also used literally in prophecies about the latter days relating to the Kingdom of God. For example:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days [Heb: latter days], that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” Isaiah 2:2

The destruction of the image

Verses 34 and 35 depict a two phase destruction of the image. Firstly in v34 we read of the stone smiting the image on the feet which initially breaks them in pieces. The next phase is in v35, which tells us that after the smiting of the feet, comes a more systematic breaking of the “iron, the clay, the brass, the silver and the gold” until they become like the “chaff of the summer threshing floors” and blow away.
These two phases of destruction form a framework for the interpretation of latter day prophecy. Firstly there is to be an initial battle – Armageddon – where the armies of the Kingdom of men gather against Israel but are destroyed by Christ and the saints. This is prophesied of in Daniel 11, Ezekiel 38, Joel 3, Zechariah 14 etc. When pieced together, all the territories of the attacking nations listed in these prophecies correlate to the united territories of the ancient Kingdoms of men and tie in perfectly with the framework depicted here in Daniel 2.
The second phase is when the gospel is preached to all nations and they are given the option to accept this gospel and the authority of Christ (Rev 14:6-7, Psalm 2:10-12). Those who accept (like Tarshish see Isaiah 60:9, Psalm 72:10) will become subject to the dominion of Christ. However, there will be some nations who will not accept – especially those following the teachings of the apostate church – who, if they continue to spout out their current line of thought, will declare Christ as the “antichrist”. Following the sequence revealed in Revelation 14, this false system (termed Babylon) will then be removed (see v8) and then further opportunity for nations to submit will be given (see v9) before those nations who still reject the truth are also removed. These events are the breaking up of the image into pieces after the initial smiting.

The uniting of the territories

The events which occur in the feet phase also show us that although this dream has aspects of a continual historic timeline; when Christ returns, all the metals will be present “together” (v35). We understand this to mean that at some point in the “latter days” the image will “stand”. It can therefore be deduced, that all the territories dominated by the ancient empires must be united together in the “latter days”. They will all join together in opposition of Christ. This is also described in Ezekiel 38 and Revelation 17. Any interpretation of the great controversy of the latter days has to sit within this framework provided in Daniel 2 – it cannot be a a local, Arab conflict for example. The controversy described in the prophets has to relate to the territories of the Kingdom of men – which will be wiped out by the stone power.

Current Events

It is very clear that we are indeed in the feet phase of the prophecy – the Roman Empire having been divided up hundreds of years ago. We know that we have entered into the time period of “the latter days” – as Israel has been regathered to their land (see Hosea 3:5). In addition to this, we have begun to see the uniting of the territories of the image occurring in our days. We can see this development mainly in Europe but we can expect to see unification spreading east. Russia is currently championing the “Eurasion Union” – a project similar to the EU – and has even indicated that it might wish to join Europe at some stage in the future. However we must remember, that by the time the stone appears in the political heavens to smite the image, the saints will already be with Christ (Zech 14:5). Therefore we do not know how much of the union we will see before we are taken to judgment. We really are just one tick of the clock away from the return of our master.

The wonder of the prophecy

This amazing prophecy really is something which we, as mere humans, can be astounded by, because it teaches us so many things. It shows us:
  • The framework of God’s purpose with the Gentiles down through time – the fact that God is in control
  • That the Bible is inspired by almighty God – as no human could have foreseen these events to such a degree of accuracy
  • That we are in the “latter days”, the final phase of Gentile rule on earth and that very soon the political system around us will be changed
  • That God’s kingdom will indeed be on the earth
Many people today think that to believe in an almighty God is to escape into a fantasy world. People who hold such faith are often considered weak and gullible. Professed Christians are often unable to explain or provide support for their beliefs when challenged by atheists. However our faith is not a “blind faith”, it is a faith based upon God’s word, the Bible, which has tangible evidence as to its authority. Fulfilled prophecy helps us to see that this is no ordinary book. How could a man know that starting with the ancient kingdom of Babylon, the Kingdom of men would be successively superseded by four world empires one from another; and that the fourth empire would disintegrate into smaller territories with weak and strong nations? As these are now facts of history, the only logical conclusion is that this is a Divine revelation and that it would be foolish to discount the unfulfilled aspects of the prophecy – for it stands to reason that they will also come to pass. Jesus will return to the earth and God’s kingdom will indeed soon be here. This is not a “blind” faith but a faith based on logical reasoning from God’s word – by which we are convinced of the truth we hold.
How amazing it is that this prophecy has been fulfilled across thousands of years affecting millions of humans. We are living at the end of the timeline and have the benefit of being able to look back over human history to see the truth of the Bible vindicated. Surely, as we await the final fulfilment of this prophecy, we can be stirred up to follow God’s ways in our life and indeed adopt the words of the prayer of Daniel and reflect them to our heavenly Father: “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: 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: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.”