Nebuchadnezzar's Nightmare


One of the most important signs that we have entered the Last Days is the emergence of world government. The first halting steps in that direction followed World War I, when the nations weary of defending democracy banded together to form the League of Nations, intended to prevent another world war. Although the first experiment in world government failed, the second—the body known as the United Nations, founded after World War II—has established itself as a major force in world politics. As we will show, it is no coincidence that the United Nations came into being just before the formation of the modern Jewish state. Although individually these events are arresting signs of the times, together their significance is impossible to deny.

The sign of world government depends on the correct interpretation of a difficult prophecy in the Book of Daniel. In the sixth century B.C., God caused the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar to have a strange, disquieting dream about things to come. God then gave the interpretation to Daniel, a young Jewish prophet who was a captive in Babylon. Daniel told the king,

31 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.

32 This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,

33 His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.

34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.

35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

Daniel 2:31-35

In his dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a huge and terrible image of a man. Its head was of gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of brass, its legs of iron, and its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. The king then saw an enormous stone strike the image on the feet and crush it into a fine chaff that was carried away by the wind. The stone grew into a mountain filling the earth.

God revealed through his servant Daniel that the various parts of the image represented a succession of great kingdoms. In the end, all these kingdoms created by human striving after greatness and glory would be utterly destroyed. In their place would come a final kingdom that would cover the earth and stand forever.

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

Daniel 2:44

The ruler of this kingdom compared to a stone would be Christ, like a stone Himself (Isa. 28:16; Psa. 118:22; Isa. 8:14).

According to Daniel, the first kingdom was Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar.

And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.

Daniel 2:38

It was fitting that Babylon should be pictured as the head of the image because, for thousands of years, Babylon provided intellectual leadership for the ancient world. Babylon was where polytheistic religion originated. The most famous and influential law code in the ancient Middle East was promulgated by the Babylonian king Hammurapi.

But why a golden head? Under its most powerful ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian Empire amassed great wealth. Nebuchadnezzar made lavish use of gold in decorating his palace and the public buildings of Babylon. In the temple of Marduk, for example, the idol as well as the furniture were made of solid gold. We learn in Daniel 3 that Nebuchadnezzar erected a huge golden image in the plain of Dura.

The next kingdom was the Medo-Persian Empire, depicted as breast and arms of silver. Two peoples—the Medes and the Persians (symbolized by the arms)—came together to rule over one empire (symbolized by the breast). Within the breast resides the heart, ever regarded as the seat of love and compassion (Deut. 6:5). It was the Medo-Persians who compassionately ended the captivity of the Jews, allowing them to return home from the far-flung places where Nebuchadnezzar had resettled them.

The wealth of the Persian rulers was unprecedented. An efficient system of taxation enabled them to collect great revenues from their vast territories. This wealth consisted mainly of silver. The book of Esther corroborates the importance of silver in the Persian Empire. We read there that the villainous Haman offered to pay ten thousand talents of silver if King Ahasuerus would order the destruction of the Jews (Est. 3:9).

The Greek Empire established by Alexander the Great was the belly and thighs of the image. As the seat of physical appetites, the midsection of the body is a good symbol for the Greek nations, which ardently pursued all forms of sensual pleasure. Their love of visual beauty inspired outstanding achievement in the arts and architecture. Yet their cruder desires were no less compelling. Greek society became a cesspool of carnal excess, including drunkenness, prostitution, and homosexuality.

The word for "brass" is properly translated "bronze." The Greeks were skillful workers of bronze. According to the Book of Ezekiel, Javan (another name for Greece) traded "persons of men and vessels of brass [bronze]" at the international market at Tyre (Ezek. 27:13). Greek soldiers were well protected by bronze armor pieces for the legs, the torso, and the head. They thus had a pronounced advantage over the Persians, who had only some iron scales on their tunics. Without his superiority in armor, Alexander probably could not have conquered the Persian Empire as quickly as he did.

The legs of the image represented the immensely strong Roman Empire. Just as the legs are the most muscular region of the body, so Rome was mightier than the kingdoms preceding it.

The legs were made of iron, another symbol of strength.

And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.

Daniel 2:40

The mighty Roman legions that subdued the world were sheathed in iron armor. Each soldier wore an iron breastplate and an iron helmet and carried an iron shield. He wielded two iron swords and a javelin with an iron tip.

As a body divides at the legs, so the Roman Empire was divided. Originally, the empire united two regions with very different political and cultural traditions. The eastern region was Greek, and the western was Latin. Eventually, the empire separated into two rival kingdoms, the western under the rule of Rome and the eastern under the rule of Byzantium.


The Fifth Kingdom


The fifth kingdom corresponds to the feet and toes of the great image.

41 And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.

42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.

Daniel 2:41-42

For two reasons, the fifth kingdom cannot be a kingdom of the past.

  1. Neither Rome nor any other kingdom of the past was ever divided into ten parts. Yet such a division must exist during the period of history symbolized by the toes.
  2. Daniel said that when the stone fell, it struck the image upon its feet (Dan. 2:34). The stone represented the everlasting kingdom of God, and the falling of the stone pictured God's intervention in history to set up His kingdom in place of the degenerate kingdoms of the earth. That intervention will be the Second Coming of Christ. Hence, the fifth kingdom, the kingdom corresponding to the feet of the image, must be in existence at Christ's return.

Upon its demise over 1500 years ago, the Roman Empire was not succeeded by any empire still in existence today. Since the fifth kingdom will exist at Christ's return, it is evident that the fifth kingdom does not issue directly from the fourth. An interval of many years must fall between them. In other words, between the legs and feet of the image there must be a large gap of time, a gap of more than 1500 years separating ancient history from modern history.

What about all the intervening centuries? Why are they left out of the picture? The answer is that the dream in Daniel 2 retains the historical perspective found throughout the book. All the visions in the book notice only those historical periods when the nation of Israel exists. All are blind to events between the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the recent formation of Israel in 1948. The reason is that the special purpose of these visions is to show God's dealings not with mankind as a whole, but with His own people, the Jews. The five kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar's dream are the five kingdoms that would exercise authority over the Jews until the end of history.


An Unusual Kingdom


Since the Jewish nation reappeared over fifty years ago, the fifth kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar's dream must exist already. What kingdom or political entity in the modern world could possibly embody the fifth kingdom? To answer that question, let us look at some of its characteristics.

  1. The kingdom exercises, or attempts to exercise, authority over the nation of Israel.
  2. The two distinct feet suggest an obvious division within the kingdom.
  3. Each foot quite naturally is a continuation of one leg.
  4. The feet and toes are made partly of iron and partly of clay.
  5. The iron is strong.
  6. The clay is weak.

The only political institution today that could possibly satisfy these requirements is the United Nations. We will show how the U.N. fits each one.

  1. Although Israel is a sovereign, independent nation, it belongs to the U.N., and the U.N. is the only political entity that could exercise or attempt to exercise authority over it. For two reasons we can say that the U.N. is sovereign over Israel.
    1. The U.N. has sought to exercise sovereignty through a multitude of Security Council resolutions making demands on the Jewish state. The Security Council has regarded these resolutions as having the force of law. One government cannot write law for another unless the second falls under the sovereignty of the first.
    2. The sovereignty of the U.N. is not merely theoretical. It has the power to enforce its resolutions. It has never taken action against Israel because the United States would never have consented to it. Yet the U.N. does have the ability and authority to wield military force under circumstances specified in its charter. One legal expert has stated, “According to its [the charter’s] provisions, the Security Council, after having determined that a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression has occurred, may, if necessary, take military enforcement action involving the armed forces of the Member States” (1).

  2. Only an unusual kingdom could survive being divided into two parts. From its founding in 1945 until the dissolution of Soviet Communism in 1991, the members of the United Nations sorted themselves into two rival camps: the pro-Communist bloc and the anti-Communist bloc. Even nations that tried to remain neutral actually leaned one way or the other. These two sides waged what came to be known as the Cold War, describing their uneasy coexistence marked by mutual distrust and hostility. The division of the fifth kingdom into two feet thus pictures the two great opposing alliances on the world stage during the first forty-six years of the United Nations.

  3. We saw earlier that the legs of the image represent the division of the Roman Empire into eastern and western civilizations and ultimately into two rival empires. Yet each foot is a continuation of a leg. Thus, if the United Nations is the fifth kingdom, the same east-west dichotomy should have continued somehow in the two great alliances of member states during the Cold War. In fact, many of the states in the anti-Communist bloc fell within, or originated from nations within, the former Western Roman Empire. The large majority of pro-Communist states, on the other hand, lay to the east, some within the former Eastern Roman Empire. In recognition of how the pro-Communist and anti-Communist nations were distributed geographically, the people of the world often referred to them simply as the East and the West. Cultural heritages also linked the Cold War powers to their Roman past. For example, the Russian alphabet is based on the Greek alphabet, and the Russian Orthodox Church derives from the Byzantine Church. The languages of many western nations come, in some degree, from Latin, and all the state churches of Western Europe are offshoots of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.

  4. In each foot of the image there is both iron and clay. This mixture of materials suggests that each involves a blending of two dissimilar cultures. The culture symbolized as iron would develop from ancient Roman culture. In other words, it would be European. The culture symbolized as clay would be non-European. Indeed, each side in the Cold War embraced both European and non-European nations.

  5. Daniel said that the fifth kingdom would have within it the strength of iron. History confirms the prediction. During the Cold War, the iron nations (the nations with a European heritage) were by far the stronger component of each bloc. Their military superiority was a byproduct of superior industry and technology. "The strength of iron" may be an oblique reference to the nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the leading European nations. With few exceptions, the only nations that were able during this period to join the nuclear club, so called, were European.

  6. The use of clay—a cheap, fragile material—to represent the culture of non-European nations shows how Nebuchadnezzar would have evaluated them. He would have thought their armies weak and their governments worthless. During the Cold War, it was true of non-European nations generally that they were mired in great poverty, in the inability of their rulers to govern effectively, and in lack of military might.

We conclude that the two feet of the image in Daniel 2 present a vivid picture of events on the world scene during the first forty-six years of the United Nations and that the United Nations is, in fact, the fifth kingdom foreseen by the prophecy.


Events Giving Rise to the Period of the Feet and Toes


In the years from 1945 to 1948, a series of momentous developments radically redirected the history of the world. The United States introduced nuclear weapons, World War II ended in victory for the allies, and the nations of the world gathered to sign the U.N. charter. The student of Bible prophecy has no trouble explaining why these developments coincided. Israel is the key to the puzzle. When God was ready to revitalize Israel, He brought the world into a new political order that would further His plans for the Jewish people. He wanted Israel to become a nation again, and He wanted the new nation to continue and prosper, yet He did not want Israel to achieve a stable peace with her neighbors.

In an attempt to stop the reemergence of Israel at the appointed time, Satan, within the decade before 1948, incited the Nazis to destroy millions of Jews, but he failed in his goal to exterminate the Jews altogether.

Notice the geopolitical shape of the world after World War II. The signing of the U.N. charter created an organization that could sanction Israel's return to nationhood. Yet the war had played out in such a way that the world was left under the de facto domination of two great powers, the Soviet Union and the United States. The conflicting ideologies of these supernations made them bitter enemies, each seeking to enlarge its own might and influence at the expense of the other, and the nuclear weapons on both sides held the antagonists in a protracted stalemate. In consequence, the world was henceforth divided into two rival alliances. One side during the Cold War was supportive of Israel, the other of Israel's neighbors. Thus, although Israel became strong, Israel never became secure.

The creation of the U.N., the division of the world into two opposing but equally balanced political blocs, and the founding of Israel were nearly simultaneous events, showing God's power to make history conform exactly to prophecy, for the outgrowth of these events was a kingdom with all the properties of the fifth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar's dream.

With the downfall of Russian Communism in 1991, the Cold War came to an end. Thenceforward, the world was no longer divided into two opposing camps appropriately symbolized by two feet. In just a few years, the political scene changed drastically. History moved down to the very bottom of the dream image and entered the time of the toes.

Footnotes

  1. Bruno Simma, “NATO, the UN and the Use of Force: Legal Aspects,” European Journal of International Law 10 (1999): 1-22, European Journal of International Law, Web, March 25, 2013.