Nebuchadnezzar was one the most powerful successful kings in human history. Around 606 BC he had two dreams. The first one he sent for all his wise men to tell him the meaning of the dream, or lose their lives. The wise men failed but Daniel interpreted the dream. The dream was of a giant made of different materials from head to foot, starting with a gold head, through silver and iron, down to feet made of clay and iron.
The interpretation of the first dream was that the golden head was Babylon, the Medes and Persians under Cyrus would replace Babylon. They would be followed by the Greek empire under Alexander the Great which would be replaced by the Romans, symbolized by legs of iron mixed with clay.
A stone would end it all. This dream was God’s first warning to Nebuchadnezzar that He is the One Who causes kingdoms to rise and fall, and He would bring these other empires after him.
The Babylonian Empire that stretched from North Africa across the Middle East to the West of Asia.
The Babylonian Empire-Head of Gold:
The Babylonian Empire which is symbolized by the head of gold was by far the most powerful of the four empires. It is located where modern–day Iraq is now. According to historians—it ruled the world for only seventy years. After the seventy years the Babylonian empire fell to the Medes and Persians exactly as Jeremiah had prophesied. (See Jeremiah 25:12-14)
Around 538 B.C., the Medo-Persian army, led by King Cyrus, captured the city of Babylon. While the city was being conquered by the army, King Belshazzar was busy enjoying himself with a banquet using the sacred vessels that were stolen from Solomon’s Temple. He, the Babylonians, and their wives defiled the Temple vessels by drinking wine from them and then a hand supernaturally sent from the presence of the Most High God, appeared and began writing mysterious words on the wall:
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” Mene means “numbered”—God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end. Tekel means “weighed”—you’ve weighed on the balances and are found wanting. Parsin means “divided”—your kingdom and your kingship are divided and given to the Medes and Persians. This was also foretold by the prophet Isaiah:
Babylon has fallen, has fallen! And all the graven images of her gods lie shattered on the ground in my vision! (Isaiah 21:9)
These words could not be understood by the Babylonians, neither could they understand the prophetic implications of these words. God gave only Daniel the ability to interpret this message of doom to Babylon. All the wise men, the magicians, and the Chaldeans could not translate these three words yet their education in languages was the same as Daniel.
How did this happen? The answer is, only the man of God, who knew God intimately through daily fellowship and communion with Him, could interpret these words. The Bible says, “Call unto Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3). After the collapse of its army and capital that was besieged by the Persians armies, Babylon became part of the new Medo-Persian Empire.
The ancient Medo-Persian Empire, the second world empire that was prophesied by Daniel
The Medo-Persian Empire –Chest of Silver
The second world empire, the Medo–Persian Empire, was represented by the chest of silver. Cyrus the Great founded the Persian kingdom and ruled from 549 to 530 B.C. He created a powerful military and wealthy empire.
In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus authorized the return of the Jewish captives to Palestine thereby fulfilling the prophecy that had been given through Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 25: 11-14) The troops of Cyrus the Great entered Babylon in 539 B.C. and killed Belshazzar, who was the last Babylonian ruler. King Cyrus who was a heathen ruler and a non-Jew was used by God to return the Jews to their homeland.
Cyrus might have been shown the prophecy that was spoken by Isaiah before his birth and written over a century earlier, which predicted that Cyrus himself would help the Jews return to Jerusalem.
Who says of Cyrus, he is My shepherd (ruler), and he shall perform all My pleasure and fulfill all My purpose–even saying of Jerusalem, she shall [again] be built, and of the temple, your foundation shall again be laid. (Isaiah 44:28)
Cyrus gave the proclamation allowing their return, and he gave them money, protection and the Temple articles taken by Nebuchadnezzar. This proclamation allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple as described in the book of Ezra chapter 1:1-4
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.
Cyrus became the king over the entire region that was once Babylon, this empire had taken Israelites captive from the southern kingdom in 586 B.C. Therefore, when the Medo-Persian Empire came to power, King Cyrus’s proclamation of freedom went to all the original 12 tribes, but only Judah and Benjamin responded and returned to rebuild God’s Temple.
The vast Medo-Persian Empire included all the area shown on the following map and more. Some historians note that many exiles however preferred the comfort and security they had in Babylon to the dangerous trip back to Jerusalem, and they decided to stay in Babylon.
After only 207 years of military dominance, the Medo-Persian Empire was destroyed by the Greeks. Daniel described this in a vision he recorded how a rapidly moving male goat, that represented the Greek Empire, would destroy the slower two-horned ram, which represented the Medo- Persian Empire.
The ram which you saw, having the two horns—they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king. (Daniel 8:20-21)
The Greek Empire ruled the known world from the borders of India to Eastern Europe from 331 B.C to 63 B.C.
The Greek Empire—Thighs of Bronze
Greece was the third world empire. It was much stronger than the Medo-Persian Empire, under the leadership of Alexander the Great. He conquered the world from the Mediterranean Sea to India in the east to Egypt and Greece in the west, and when he discovered that there were no more lands to conquer he sat down and wept!
It is reported by historians that he did it with only thirty-two thousand soldiers and five thousand Calvary. He reportedly died prematurely at the age of 33 around 323 B.C and his kingdom was divided into four parts.
Daniel prophesied that, “Therefore the male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken, and in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven. (Daniel 8:8) When Alexander died, his enormous empire that was based on city-states was divided between his four generals in Egypt and Palestine, Syria, present-day Turkish part of Asia Minor and Greece/Macedonia, exactly as Daniel had prophesied almost three centuries earlier.
The Greek Empire in its four divisions ruled the world from India to Eastern Europe from 331 B.C. until 63 B.C. The strongest kingdoms that emerged from these four were Syria and Egypt. Alexander conquered the ancient seaport of Tyre in Lebanon in 332 B.C. Again the prophet Ezekiel had prophesied two centuries earlier that this would happen. (See Ezekiel 26:7-14)
From Tyre, Alexander moved south intending to destroy the city of Jerusalem, because the Jewish leaders had resisted an agreement set on conditions to surrender. According to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, as Alexander approached Jerusalem, he was met by a delegation of Jewish representatives, including the high priest. Alexander was shocked when the high priest bowed to him and proceeded to tell him that centuries earlier Daniel has foretold his invasion of Asia and his military success.
The high priest told Alexander that God had revealed to Daniel three centuries earlier that a great king would arise from Greece to conquer the entire world. When he showed the Greek king the prophecies of Daniel, Alexander was stunned. The Greek empire’s culture and language was dominant and influential in the world for almost 300 years.
According to prophecy expert Grant R. Jeffrey, “the Greek king was so impressed by the supernatural revelation concerning himself and his growing empire that he honored the high priest’s gesture of submission—and Jerusalem was spared….. Alexander then worshipped in the Temple and gave orders that both Jerusalem and Israel were to be treated with great leniency. Alexander also decreed that the Jews should not be subject to the heavy tribute that he exacted from the conquered peoples in the rest of his empire.”
Meanwhile, the two kingdoms, Egypt under Ptolemy I and Seleucus Nictor controlled large areas of the south and north of Israel. These two kingdoms fought against each other for control over Israel during the next 200 years.
Israel finally established its independence through a military rebellion against the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes who had attacked Israel and overthrew Israel’s high priest, killed more than forty thousand Jews, looted the Temple, and replaced the worship of God with a Greek form of worship.
Through a series of miraculous deliverances from God, the small underground Jewish forces succeeded in 165 B.C. by defeating the massive Syrian armies after three years of war. At that time Israel recovered a measure of its political independence for at least 100 years, until the Roman conquest of Israel in 63 B.C.
The ancient Roman Empire covered much of North Africa, the Middle East, West Asia and Europe.
The Roman Empire—Legs of Iron
The fourth great Roman Empire was divided first into two legs, corresponding to the eastern and western Roman empires. It was represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream by the two legs of iron that broke in pieces all that stood before it. A great part of the world had become part and subject to the Roman Empire, when Jesus Christ made His appearance upon the earth. The Jews themselves had got fed up of the Roman rulers.
They wanted Jesus to free Israel from Roman power and then become their king. So when they were assembled, they asked Him, Lord, is this the time when You will reestablish the kingdom and restore it to Israel? He said to them, it is not for you to become acquainted with and know what time brings [the things and events of time and their definite periods] or fixed years and seasons (their critical niche in time), which the Father has appointed (fixed and reserved) by His own choice and authority and personal power. But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth. (Acts 1:6-8 AMP)
The Jews at that time were governed by Herod the Great, who was a Jew in outward profession but devoid of morals and practice. He revolted from the laws of his country, and corrupted their ancient constitution, by the introduction of foreign practices, while those religious observances which used to lead the multitudes to piety were now neglected. So the Jews looked for deliverer, but not for such a one as God had promised.
Instead of a meek and spiritual Savior, they expected a formidable and warlike prince, to break off their chains, and set them at liberty from the Roman yoke. As the Lord had promised they exercised their ministry, during several years, at Jerusalem, and brought to a sufficient degree of consistence and maturity the Christian churches which were founded in Palestine and the adjacent countries, they extended their views further, carried the divine lamp of the gospel to all nations of the world, and saw their labors, crowned almost everywhere, with the most abundant fruits.
For several centuries the Roman Empire ruled half of England in the north, to north Africa in the south, and from Spain in the west to Persia in the east. The empire was led by General Pompey the Great who arrogantly entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple and gave orders to those that had the charge of the temple to cleanse it, and to bring what offerings the law required to God. He restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus because of his role in hindering the Jews in the country from giving Aristobulus any assistance in his war against him.
The Roman Empire’s military prowess and efficient police and judicial system removed the former laws and ancient customs of the defeated kingdoms that it had united into an enormous political and military machine. The Roman judicial system became so well developed that after two thousand years, it is still influencing the entire European and American legislative and governmental institutions.
During its time, transportation was greatly efficient that it is still known by that famous phrase, “All roads lead to Rome.” These roads were vital in that they easily allowed the Roman army to quickly subjugate any attempt at rebellion against the central government. Another notable achievement was that only two languages were used, Latin and Greek which made it possible for people to understand each other throughout the whole empire.
The empire was divided into two kingdoms during Constantine’s reign. The western empire was based in Rome, and the eastern empire was based in the capital of Constantinople. The Roman Empire lasted for about 500 years, far longer than any other empire. The western empire finally ceased to exist when it was defeated by the Goths around 476 AD.
Whereas the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire, continued for another thousand years through the middle ages in the territories of Turkey, Syria, North Africa, Spain and some parts of Italy, until it was defeated by the Turks in 1453.
But since the rise and fall of the ancient Roman Empire probably more than two thousand years ago, everyone who has tried in establishing this empire to replace the ancient Roman Empire has failed. There was Napoleon, Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler all tried and failed to create a fifth world empire.
The Revived Roman Empire– Feet of Iron & Clay
The final part of Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream concerned the final stage of the four world empires, when the fourth empire, Rome would rise again. It is depicted by ten toes and feet mixed with iron and clay which represent 10 regional global governments. Many biblical scholars have defined this Revived Roman Empire as the territory that the first Roman Empire occupied, especially in light of the European Union.
It’s probably the last empire before the return of Jesus Christ and will presumably be headquartered at the Vatican in Rome. Until the uniting of Europe in 1993 with the Treaty of Maastricht, a revived Roman Empire fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy didn’t appear it would ever happen.
More recently, Joel Richardson and other scholars have concluded that the prophesied ten nation confederacy will be a coalition of Muslim nations surrounding Israel. Whether the prophesied ten nation confederacy is European based or Muslim Middle East nations, time will tell.
But why would it be a feet of iron mixed with clay? Because the feet of clay and iron suggested that this ten kingdom, or ten nation regional global governments would not stick together because it is impossible to mix clay with iron or weakness with strength.
Most Biblical prophecy interpreters believe there will never be unity in the European Union, which has been evidenced recently by currents events and chaos in the euro zone most notably in Greece and other nations.
So if you are distressed by what’s going on in the world today: wars and rumours of war, prosperity of evil leaders, injustice….etc, remember that God, not world leaders, decides the outcome of history. He governs the world according to His purposes. Those who trust in God and have put their faith in the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ are members of His indestructible Kingdom and are secure in Him.
The eternal kingdom of God, the Messianic kingdom will extend over the whole earth and all who reject Jesus, the Messiah, the Stone, will be crushed. And whoever falls on this Stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom It falls will be crushed to powder and It will winnow him, scattering him like dust. (Matthew 21:44)