Do Daniel 2 and 7 predict events of our day, such as the rise of the European Community? Where might the United States and Russia fit into this scheme? Let’s begin with a brief summary of Daniel 2 and 7.
Daniel 2 describes a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonian empire, which Daniel the prophet interpreted. Nebuchadnezzar had seen an enormous statue. It had a head of gold, arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron — with feet of iron and clay (2:31-33). A “cut out” rock struck the statue on its feet and caused it to fall down and break into pieces. The wind swept away the debris, and the rock that struck the statue “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (2:34-35).
In Daniel 7, it is Daniel who has a dream. He sees four beasts coming up out of the sea that look similar to the following animals (with certain strange additions): a lion, a bear and a leopard. The fourth beast was terrifying and didn’t look like any natural animal. This beast had ten horns and large iron teeth (7:4-7). Daniel then saw a vision of the Son of Man, to whom was given “authority, glory and sovereign power” and “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him” (7:13-14). His dominion was to be everlasting, and his kingdom would never be destroyed.
In each case the vision was clearly interpreted. Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that the statue’s parts — the head, chest and arms, belly and thigh, legs and feet — represented four successive world-ruling kingdoms (2:36-36). When the last of the four kingdoms is ruling the earth, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (2:44). This kingdom will “crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (2:44). This is the kingdom to be established by the “rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands” (2:45). Nebuchadnezzar is told that this “will take place in the future” (2:45).
In chapter 7, Daniel said: “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. I approached one of those standing there and asked him the true meaning of all this” (7:15). The interpretation Daniel was given of his dream corresponds to the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2. The four beasts are four kingdoms. The fourth beast is different from the other three and most terrifying (7:15). In this vision, the ten horns (who are ten kings) arise at the “end time” when “the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High” (7:27). This becomes an everlasting kingdom. (Daniel 2 and 7 add some other details, such as the mention of “another king,” but the above gives a general outline of these chapters.)
Almost all scholars agree that Daniel 2 and 7 describe four empires ruling one after another. These are the empires of the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks and Macedonians, and then the Romans. These four worldly empires of ungodly resistance are overthrown by a fifth “empire” that will be established on earth to enforce God’s righteousness, peace and mercy. This fifth empire is established by the “rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands” (Daniel 2:45), or the Son of man in Daniel 7. This Messiah, this Rock, will destroy all earthly empires and will rule the final kingdom of righteousness with the saints.
Most of the material in Daniel 2 and 7 is historical narrative. In terms of major “world-ruling” empires around the Mediterranean and extending through the Fertile Crescent to present-day Iran, Daniel 2 and 7 record what we know of history. From a secular political point of view, the “fifth kingdom” of the Messiah has not been established in any obvious, world-crushing way. The New Testament seems to place this occurrence at the time of Jesus’ return in glory (1 Corinthians 15:23-27; Revelation 11:15-18 with 19:6-16).
Christians have speculated since at least the early second century about the time and manner of the “end time,” the destruction of this world’s kingdoms, and the coming of Jesus in glory. Here is where they have gone wrong: Those who have engaged in speculative prophecy have almost always seen “the end” as coming in their time in a visible manner. They have looked at the events occurring in their day and have tried to fit them into what is described in Daniel 2 and 7, as well as the book of Revelation. “The end” has not arrived and the Messiah (Jesus) has not come in some world-shattering way; this shows that all such speculative prophecy has been wrong, based on a wrong premise. The Rock has arrived, the Roman empire has been shattered, and the wind is slowly blowing away the debris. The kingdom of Christ is growing, but it does not look like the evil empires of this world.
With hindsight as our guide, we see that it does little if any good to speculate about how or when “the end” of the “kingdom of this world” might occur. (Such speculation, when dogmatically stated, can damage people’s lives.) To ask how this or that nation — such as the United States — “fits into” biblical prophecy is to ask a question that cannot be answered with any guarantee — or perhaps should not be asked. It is, in a manner of speaking, an illegitimate question. It is asking for something that God did not choose to give us. He has told us that “this world” will be overthrown, but he has not told us exactly how or when.
With that in mind, we take a broader view of biblical prophecy. It avoids the setting of dates or any attempts to set out a “blueprint” of prophecy that would explain current world events in an apocalyptic manner. Rather, the church puts its faith in the fact of Jesus’ future coming in glory. It leaves the “how” and “when” to the authority, wisdom and purpose of God (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:6-8).