All eyes turned as an elderly man walked erectly into the brightly lit and lavishly decorated banquet room. Wine-induced laughter and loud banter—which had filled the room a mere hour ago—had abruptly given way to an eerie silence followed by subdued whisperings in the aftermath of a spine-chilling scene. During the height of the revelry, a hand had appeared out of thin air and had written on the wall a message in large letters.
The occasion was a great banquet thrown by Babylonian King Belshazzar to celebrate the invincibility of Babylon. Babylon, which had been under siege by the troops of Cyrus the Great of Persia, considered that her walls were impregnable.
So, on that evening of the new moon of the seventh month in 539bc, Babylon's powerful elite celebrated and drank toasts. Belshazzar had even insisted that the sacred vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem by his grandfather decades earlier be brought. He wanted to use them as drinking goblets. Then the handwriting on the wall appeared, and the party came to a stunned halt. The message inscribed on the wall read, "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN." The words were well-known Chaldean terms for units of weight, but their significance was utterly incomprehensible to those watching.
The elderly man summoned by the king was named Daniel. He had been brought to Babylon as a teenaged Jewish captive, and had risen to high office under Belshazzar's grandfather. Daniel proceeded to explain to the king that the God of heaven had num bered his kingdom and that it was at an end. The king had been weighed in the balance scale and found wanting. That very night his kingdom was to be delivered into the hands of the besieging Medes and Persians.
Within hours the Persian army had totally overrun the city, having entered it by coming underneath the mammoth city walls. The river, which flowed underneath the city walls, had been diverted by a canal several hours earlier. In the dark, pre-dawn hours, Persian troops marched through the dry riverbed and opened the massive city gates from the inside. Before the sun rose, they had conquered Babylon and executed King Belshazzar with a sword.
Confronted by the evening's events, Daniel's mind was drawn back to a scene that had occurred some 65 years earlier. Though he had then been a young man still in his teens, he had been brought into the presence of the ruler of what was then the most powerful country on earth. His own life, and the lives of his closest friends, had hung in the balance that day. Daniel's purpose in being brought before King Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar's grandfather, had been to interpret a baffling dream that the king had experienced a few days earlier. Daniel had boldly announced to the skeptical, agitated ruler that there is a God in heaven who is a revealer of secrets. He then presented a God-inspired interpretation of the king's strange dream.
In 604bc, the Chaldean army, under King Nebuchadnezzar, swept from Carchemish down the Jezreel Valley and captured the city of Jerusalem, reducing Judea to a tributary state. Several of the children of prominent Jewish families were taken back to Babylon as captives. During the decades that followed, one of those captives, Daniel, rose to hold high offices of trust in Babylon. The God of Israel, whom he continued to serve faithfully, gave Daniel many visions and interpretations of visions which he recorded in the book of Daniel.
Look carefully at the prophetic outline of world events that God inspired Daniel to record. The Bible really does interpret itself, and the book of Daniel is pivotal to understanding the book of Revelation and other end-time prophecies.
Daniel 2:1 describes King Nebuchadnezzar's troubling dream, hidden from the king's magicians and astrologers. They failed to recount back to him this puzzling dream. Finally Daniel came in to the king and explained to him that there is a God in heaven who is a revealer of secrets, and that He would reveal to Daniel not only the dream, but also its interpretation (v. 28). Daniel then explained to the king that in his dream he had seen a great image rising above the plains of Shinar. This mammoth image had a head of gold, shoulders and chest of silver, thighs of brass and legs of iron. The iron legs ended with feet which were composed of a mix of iron and clay (vv. 31-33). Nebuchadnezzar had in his dream watched a great stone of supernatural origin ("cut out without hands") come down from heaven and smash the image on its ten toes, at which point the whole image was turned to chaff and blew away. The stone became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth (vv. 34-35).
What did this mean? Remember that the Bible interprets itself! Daniel was inspired to tell Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:38, "You are this head of gold." He also told the king in Daniel 2:39-40 that three more kingdoms would each arise in turn after him. Daniel was inspired to record for us that four great kingdoms or empires would in succession dominate history, after which the God of heaven will set up His everlasting kingdom at the time of the final ten kings—which are represented by the toes on the feet of the "iron legs" of the fourth kingdom (vv. 41-44).
Daniel 2:28 emphasizes that the living God whom we serve is a "revealer of secrets." The king's dream was meant to reach from the days of ancient King Nebuchadnezzar to "the latter days" of this world, culminating with the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on this earth (v. 44). Have the events Daniel foretold come to pass just as he foresaw? They absolutely have, as we shall see.
In Daniel 5, we read of the events surrounding the fall of Babylon to the armies of King Cyrus the Great. The empire of the Medes and the Persians was the "second kingdom" that arose after
Babylon. History tells us that the reign of the vast-reaching Medo-Persian Empire established by King Cyrus continued just over 200 years.
Then, beginning in 333bc, the Greek forces of Alexander the Great crossed the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. Two years later, in 331bc at the Battle of Arabella, the Persian Empire collapsed and the third great world-ruling kingdom took over. This was the Greco-Macedonian Empire under Alexander the Great. The Hellenistic empires of Alexander's successors dominated the Middle East for about 300 years until they were finally swallowed up, one by one, by the fourth great world-ruling empire—the kingdom of iron.
This fourth kingdom, clearly identified in history as the Roman Empire, was prophesied to continue as two "legs" all the way down to the end-time. In that end-time, the ten toes (or kings, Daniel 2:44) would constitute the final embodiment of this system that had its origins in ancient Babylon. If we let the Bible interpret itself, this progression of four world-ruling kingdoms is clear.
In Daniel 7:1-3, we find that decades after his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream, Daniel himself had an unusual dream in which he stood staring transfixed at dark swirling clouds and a raging sea. From this stormy sea he saw "four great beasts" arise and proceed, one by one, to shore. The first was like a lion, the second like a bear and the third like a four-headed leopard. The fourth Beast was described as a terrible creature with huge iron teeth (vv. 4-7). Out of the head of this fourth Beast arose ten horns. The end of Daniel's vision revealed a time when "the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever" (Daniel 7:18). Remember, the vision in Daniel 2 also ended at the establishment of the kingdom of heaven.
Should we let our imaginations soar in trying to discern the identity of these creatures, or should we let the Bible interpret itself? According to verse 17, these four creatures which arose successively (vv. 3-7) symbolize four kings or kingdoms. According to verse 23, the fourth Beast represents the "fourth kingdom upon the earth." We have already seen from Daniel 2 a succession of four kingdoms. The scenarios recorded in both Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 recount four great world-ruling empires, which were to arise successively. Each scenario ends with the establishment of the Kingdom of God to rule the earth. Clearly these two visions are recording different details of the same set of events.
When we compare the visions of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7, we find that the first kingdom of Daniel 2—the head of gold—is equated with the lion, the king of beasts, in Daniel 7. The second kingdom—the silver of Daniel 2—is compared to a bear in Daniel 7. The third kingdom—the brass of Daniel 2—parallels the four-headed leopard in Daniel 7.
Why four heads? History records that after Alexander's death, his empire was divided among four of his generals. This four-fold division was prophesied in Daniel 8:8. All four kingdoms were Greek in culture and language. They were a divided continuation of the empire that had been unified under Alexander for less than a decade. Just as Persia's ponderous size and might was symbolized by a bear, the lightning-like quickness of Alexander's Greek armies was well described by the leopard metaphor.
Daniel 8 records more details of the interaction of the second and third kingdoms—Persia and Greece. Daniel 8:3-4 describes a two-horned ram going out to subdue everything in all directions. According to Daniel 8:20, this ram represented "the kings of Media and Persia." A powerful he-goat with one great horn coming up from between his eyes then defeated the ram completely (vv. 5-7). According to verse 21 (KJV), "the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king." After Alexander's death ("the great horn was broken" v. 8, KJV), "four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power" (v. 22, KJV). This is why, in Daniel 7, we see the third kingdom described as a four-headed creature.
These events set the stage for the fourth kingdom described in Daniel 7, too terrible to be characterized by one of the above ani mals. Daniel 2 characterizes this kingdom with two legs of iron, and Daniel 7 portrays it as a creature with huge iron teeth. Daniel 2:40 explains, "And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others." Notice what Daniel 7:19-23 reveals about this fourth kingdom. "Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet... The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces." It is this fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire that is pictured as continuing in one form or another until the time of Christ's return. Does history confirm this? Absolutely!
Just as Medo-Persia had absorbed Babylon, and Alexander the Great had absorbed the empire of the Medes and Persians, so the Romans absorbed all four of the "heads" that had sprung from Alexander's empire. When Alexander died at Babylon in 323bc, an attempt was made to hold his empire together. A regency was proclaimed to govern in the joint names of his nephew and his unborn son. This attempt failed. Within a few years, his empire was divided among four Greek generals who proclaimed themselves kings, just as Daniel had foreseen (Daniel 8:21-22).
In 307bc, Antigonus and his son Demetrius "took the title king, whereupon Ptolemy and Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachus did the same. The unity of Alexander's empire was thus openly ended" (Encyclopedia of World History, William L. Langer, 1968, p. 90).
Cassander seized Greece and Macedonia and, with the aid of Lysimachus and Seleucus, triumphed over Antigonus who was slain at the Battle of Ipsus in 301bc. In turn, however, Cassander's dynasty was overthrown in 276bc by Antigonus' grandson, Antigonus II, who established a dynasty that held Greece and Macedon until the Roman conquest in 168bc, when this area became absorbed into the Roman Empire.
Lysimachus, who seized Asia Minor and proclaimed himself king in 305BC, was eventually defeated and slain at the Battle of Corpedium in 281bc by his erstwhile ally, Seleucus. Eumenes I, the Seleucid governor of Pergamum (Asia Minor), succeeded in becoming virtually independent of the Seleucids by about 260BC. By 230bc his successor had taken the title "king." When Attalus III died in 133BC, his will left his kingdom of Pergamum and Asia Minor to the Romans. Rome had thus absorbed the second head of Daniel's leopard.
Seleucus established a kingdom which stretched eastward to Babylon and westward to Syria. The Seleucid dynasty which sprang from him continued until 64BC, when the Roman general Pompey made Syria a province in the expanding Roman Empire.
The Macedonian general Ptolemy took the title "king" at the same time as his three contemporaries, Cassander, Lysimachus and Seleucus. His kingdom was centered in Egypt and continued under his descendants down to Cleopatra's death in 30BC following her defeat by the Romans. Julius Caesar's nephew Octavian (later known as Augustus Caesar) defeated the forces of Cleopatra and Marc Antony at the Battle of Actium, and absorbed Egypt into the Roman Empire. "This brought to an end the last of the Hellenistic monarchies" (Langer, p. 97). With this conquest, all four heads of the Greco-Macedonian leopard were an integral part of the Roman Empire, the fourth Beast of Daniel 7.
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