Apocalyptic writing is best understood when we interpret it in the light of the past. It tells us to fear God, not man, because “man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9). Consider Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as recorded in the book of Daniel, chapter two:
‘You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 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. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff … The wind swept them away without a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.’ [Daniel 2:31-35].
According to Daniel, the great statue represents the empires of mankind, starting with the gold head that represented the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar. (Daniel 2:38). The two silver arms represented the dual Medo-Persian Empire, which was larger than Babylon, but not as brilliant. The bronze torso represented the Greek Empires started by Alexander the Great. And the two iron legs represented the Roman Empire: Iron symbolized strength and longevity.
The feet of iron and baked clay represent a divided kingdom. (Daniel 2:41). Unlike the previous great imperial powers, which were very centralized, Western civilization has always been divided. “And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united.” (Daniel 2:43). Daniel prophesied that this kingdom after Rome would “have the strength of iron in it” and would “be partly strong and partly brittle.” (Daniel 2:41, 42). And, we see in our world that some countries are strong like iron while others are as weak as baked clay.
This revelation becomes powerful to us as we look at the past and see it fulfilled in our history. It doesn’t reveal the future so much as it reveals to us that God is in control. In this way, God assures us that his Messiah is coming and his coming will be awesome.
After our divided kingdom, the final kingdom to appear in the dream is the rock that is not made by human hands. It hits the feet, destroys the entire statute, and replaces it by filling up the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34, 35). “In the times of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 2:44).
Did Nebuchadnezzar learn anything from his dream? Well, the next part of his story is about the image of gold and the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar promptly erected a statute that was made of gold from head to toe, and ordered everyone to worship it. He was trying to show that his golden kingdom would last until judgement day. He did not learn.
We learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that no matter how man rages, or how much power he has, he cannot frustrate the will of God. Babylon fell. Rome fell. And our divided world too will fall. Therefore, we should not put our hope or trust in the things of this world.
Apocalyptic writing is clear about only one future rule: that of the Messiah. (Isaiah 9:7). The purpose of apocalyptic writing is not really to warn us about Greece or Rome or even a future world government, but rather it is to warn us about God, his judgement, and the need to believe in him for our salvation. Jesus is coming again.
copyright © 2001 Rick T. @ vdma.wordpress.com
Notes: This article was first published in the St. Peter Church newsletter, June-July 2001 A.D. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, New International Version © 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society.