Daniel's Interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's Dream
Kingdoms revealed in advance until the coming of the Messiah's kingdom

Many Bible skeptics have tried to dismiss the book of Daniel as a late composition, perhaps second century B.C., because it is so accurate in prophesying the future. According to these non-believers, the only way that Daniel could have foretold the coming kingdoms, following that of Nebuchadnezzar, is that it had to have been written after it happened. One of the earliest known skeptics, Porphyry, writing in the third century A.D., also arrived at this conclusion because he believed that future prediction in prophecy was impossible. In reality, wording choices within the text, including calling Nebuchadnezzar "the king of kings", are reflective of someone writing many centuries earlier utilizing terminology of that era. As more inscriptions and materials from the period have been found, they have confirmed that Daniel was one who knew and wrote in both Hebrew and pre-Hellenistic Aramaic, as can be seen from his word choices. In very few places, some have tried to say that spelling choices show a later date, yet updating and correcting spelling to current usage is commonly found in manuscript transmission to allow the immediate reader to understand and better recognize what the word is.

Fragments of the book of Daniel, found at the Dead Sea, date back to the second century B.C. and show how the book was revered and utilized as Scriptures. Additionally, they are copies showing that they are derived from an earlier edition. If Daniel was a late forgery, as the skeptics profess, it would never have gained widespread acceptance as Scriptures in a short period of time (assuming that the Jews would even accept or promote a forgery as such). It had to have been written earlier, and if any earlier, then some of it had to be a future prophecy that was later fulfilled. Logically, if some of it is a valid future prophecy, then why not all of it? Their reason for dismissing it falls.

Before considering the timeframes referenced in this prophecy of the sixth century B.C., take time to read the entire passage:

Daniel 2:29-45 "As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.

31 "You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue - an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 "This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. 37 You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 38 in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.

39 "After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. 40 Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron - for iron breaks and smashes everything - and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. 41 Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. 42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

44 "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands - a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

"The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy." (NIV)

Part 1 - Head of Gold (Daniel 2:32a, 37-38)

The text clearly states that King Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold. This ruler of the Babylonian empire reigned from circa 605 B.C. to 562 B.C., but if we use dating in terms of his dynasty's control over the Jewish world, 586 B.C. to 539/538 B.C. would better encompass the "kingdom" of gold.

Part 2 - Chest and arms of Silver (Daniel 2:32b, 39a)

This piece of the prophecy was very soon to be fulfilled, thus acting as a testable authentication of Daniel as a prophet by the people. The kingdom of silver, inferior to Nebuchadnezzar's, is that of the Medes and Persians, biblically associated with the rulers Cyrus and Darius. That the vision used the chest and arms, two different yet adjoining parts to represent this kingdom is likely with intent. With the fall of Babylon in 539 (or perhaps 538 B.C.), Cyrus' kingdom - built with a joining of the Medes and Persians - began the Persian (Achaemenian) Empire. The power of this empire in regards to Israel, dates from 539/538 to 332 B.C.

Part 3 - Stomach and thighs of Brass (Daniel 2:32c, 39b)

The empire of Alexander the Great and his successors came almost two centuries after the time of Daniel. With it, the culture of Greece swept through the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world. The death of Alexander resulted in an empire that was divided politically yet united in Hellenistic culture. The Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties, as such, were a cultural continuation of Alexander the Great's. The dynasty of the Ptolemy's was founded by a general who had been under Alexander and continued rule over Egypt as Pharaohs. The dynasty of Seleucus, another military leader under Alexander, ruled from the Mediterranean to the eastern extents of the earlier Babylonian empire (almost to India). Both the Ptolemy's and Seleucid's sought to exercise control over Israel, which was a border area for both kingdoms. The time period represented by Alexander's kingdom and subsequent daughter kingdoms is 332 B.C. until 63 B.C. (Some use slightly earlier or later dates for the latter, but I use 63 B.C. as a definitive date for when Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans).

Part 4 - Legs of Iron and feet of Iron and Clay (Daniel 2:33)

The Roman Empire was the fourth kingdom in view. The strongest of the metals listed, iron symbolized the amazing strength and power of Rome. Seemingly unconquerable and expanding throughout the known world, the empire ended up fragmenting. The greatest of this fragmentation was the east versus the west, with Constantinople and Rome subsequently having competing claims. The vision's mixture of Iron and clay showed how fragile and apt to break the remaining pieces became. Roman rule came to Israel in 63 B.C. As for an end date for the Roman Empire, many can be given. The Western empire perhaps could date to 476 A.D. following the fall of Rome. The Eastern Empire likewise could date to 1453 A.D. following the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims. Others see no end to the Roman Empire as pieces of it continue in various forms even to the present, including through the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church.

Part 5 - The Messianic Kingdom of the Stone

Daniel 2:44-45 "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands - a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. (NIV)

There is no question that this prophecy refers to a coming Messianic kingdom - something that both Christians and Jews will agree to. Dispute arises in regards to interpretation of what is meant by this kingdom. Those who are postmillennialists and amillennialists see complete fulfillment of the establishment of Christ's kingdom at his first coming. Premillennialists and other chiliasts see this as a partial fulfillment expecting the fullness of this kingdom only at the Second Advent or return of Jesus Christ.1

The Rock is clearly shown to not be established by humans but by God himself. With the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ in A.D. 31, this kingdom could be said to have begun "in the time of those kings," if the "those" generally refers to the era of all the kings referenced by the statue.  The "kingdom" in this view would be spiritual and not physical.  Preterists agree with this view and tend to claim a full fulfillment of this prophecy by A.D. 70 with the destruction of the temple.

Some passages do point to a spiritual kingdom, but not to the exclusion of a later physical kingdom:

Matthew 21:42-44 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? 43 "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." (NIV)

This, too, is the kingdom which Isaiah also foresaw in Old Testament times.

Isaiah 2:1-4 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (NIV)

Unless taken somewhat figuratively, Isaiah's vision of the future kingdom seems to better point to a future and more complete fulfillment of a visible Messianic kingdom.  This aligns with Daniel where the text better allows for later kings, represented by the feet, who will be ruling when Jesus returns to establish his physical kingdom.  All the kingdoms prior were physical, from head to legs, so too will be the eternal kingdom of our Lord.

End Notes

1. It is certain that the church is an aspect of Christ's kingdom. This is clearly seen in a number of verses...

John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (NIV)

Acts 1:3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (NIV)

Acts 20:25 "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. (NIV)

Colossians 1:13-14 For he [Jesus] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (NIV)

1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (NIV)

The dispute is whether the internal kingdom which exists within the church is the totality of Christ's kingdom on earth. Their greatest argument, that the kingdom will have a future more visible fulfillment, is founded in the fact that each of the kingdoms previously referenced in Daniel's prophecy had a very visible external political domain. Revelation 20:1-6 provides a Scriptural basis for placing this external kingdom into a millennial reign of Christ. Revelation 19:11-21 also provides a sudden destruction of the remaining kingdoms of earth (successors of Rome), in a single act, preparing the way for the immediate establishment of the final kingdom of Christ.

For those who claim that the church will conquer the world (a view that exists in both Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives), Scriptures rather infers that the end will come with great apostasy. This would require God's intervention to setup a final visible kingdom.

Luke 18:7-8 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (NIV)

2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (NIV)

2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (NIV)

The parable of the wheat and tares (weeds) in Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43 also doesn't show a church that has removed the weeds or rules over them. It is Christ at the end of the age that purifies His kingdom.

Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2008, 2013.