LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S DREAM, PART 5

 

Its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:33–35, NKJV)

 

The explanation of the first three kingdoms making up the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is straight-forward and agreed upon by most Bible commentators; but, as to this fourth kingdom there is much controversy. It is obvious from the explanation of the first three kingdoms, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek, this part of the image must be the Roman Empire, which was in power from 146 B.C. to 475 A.D. Commentators are agreed that this is the Roman Empire, but as to how it fits into this prophecy, there is a great deal of disagreement. Even among preachers and teachers of the Church of God Reformation there have been differing opinions.

The Roman Empire takes its name from its capital city, Rome. Rome was founded between 754 B.C. and 752 B.C., depending upon the historian writing its history. The founder was Romulus, who built a castle and a few small huts on Mount Paletine on the banks of the Tiber River, about sixteen miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, particularly, the Tyrrhenian Sea.

This village grew into a city and as it gained strength, this city extended its influence further on the Italian peninsula. It was ruled by a series of seven kings from 752 B.C. to 509 B.C. The first king was Romulus, who reigned from 752 to 715 B.C. He was followed by Numa Puplius, 715 to 672; Tullus Hostilius, 675 to 640; Ancus Martius, 640 to 616; Tarquinius Priscus, 616 to 578; Servius Tullius, 578–509; and finally Tarquinius Superbus, also known as Tarquin the Proud, 509 B.C., who was a tyrant and had assassinated his predecessor, Servius Tullius. He was deposed and banished from Rome.

The Republic began in 509 B.C. after Tarquin the Proud was banished. The period of the Republic lasted from 509 to 31 B.C. Originally, two consuls were elected from the patrician families. The two consuls had equal authority and functioned as co-kings, each being a check on the other. Eventually, the common people forced the patricians to create the office of tribune, which was to be chosen from among the plebians. The number of consuls increased over time so that by 449 B.C. there were ten that functioned like a senate. This arrangement continued until Augustus took the power of the tribune on himself alone in 31 B.C. and reigned as Emperor.

During the time of the Republic, Rome expanded its influence across the Italian peninsula. The Punic Wars took place between 264 and 146 B.C. in which Rome expanded its influence beyond the Italian peninsula and took on the nature of the Roman Empire. The year 146 B.C. marked the end of the Greek Empire with the destruction of Carthage during the Third Punic War, and Rome had spread its power and control from the western Mediterranean east into Syria and Palestine.

Between 63 B.C. and 31 B.C. there was a period of civil war in the Empire. The First Triumvirate was formed to rule the senate in 60 B.C. and consisted of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Caesar was assassinated by Pompey in 44 B.C. The Second Triumvirate, consisting of Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus, took power in 43 B.C. This Triumvirate put down the opposition, defeating Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in 42 B.C. The Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. resulted in Octavian becoming sole ruler and marked the formal beginning of the Roman Empire. Octavian took the name Augustus and used the name Caesar to designate himself as the Emperor.

The Roman Empire continued from 31 B.C. to 476 A.D. in the west, and to 602 A.D. in the east. In the west, there were eighty-four Emperors in nine Dynasties.

Augustus was the first Emperor and reigned from January 16, 27 B.C. to August 19, 14 A.D. He was Emperor at the time Christ was born. Tiberius was the second Emperor, reigning from September 18, 14 A.D. to March 16, 37 A.D. He was Emperor at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the Day of Pentecost when the Christian Church was born. The last Emperor was Romulus Augustulus, who reigned from October 31, 475 to September 4, 476 A.D.

There was a division within the Empire under Diocletian in the late Third Century. He chose to rule in the east while Maximian ruled in the west. The Emperor Constantine moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople in 330 A.D. From about 347 to 457 A.D., Emperors ruled either from the west or the east and in 457 A.D. there was a permanent division of the Roman Empire into the Western Empire and the Eastern Empire, sometimes called the Byzantine Empire.

The Eastern Empire had Constantinople for its capital city. The Eastern Empire had ten Emperors in two Dynasties. Its first Emperor was Leo I, who reigned from February 7, 457 to January 18, 474. The Eastern Empire effectively came to its end in 602 A.D. under the reign of Maurice, who reigned from August 14, 582 to November 22, 602.

After the fall of the Western Empire in 476, the Western Empire fell into ten divisions among the barbarian tribes. Of the ten divisions, seven survived in areas we recognize as modern nations. The Alemanni took over what is now Germany; the Franks, Spain; the Burgundians, Switzerland; the Suevi, Portugal; the Visigoths, Spain; the Anglo-Saxons, England; and the Lombards, Italy. The Heruli were defeated by the Lombards and exterminated in 493. The Vandals occupied Spain and North Africa and were exterminated in 534. The Ostrogoths established a kingdom in Italy and were defeated by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian in about 538 and later absorbed into in the Lombards.

 

And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others. Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay. (Daniel 2:40–43, NKJV)

 

Daniel explains this part of the image seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Commentators are agreed that this part of the image is the Roman Empire but much controversy exists over how the Roman Empire fits into this prophecy.

Some commentators interpret the two legs of the image as the division of the Roman Empire into the Western and Eastern Empires. Many commentators view the two feet consisting of ten toes as the ten divisions of the Roman Empire after its fall in 476 A.D. However, these commentators are projecting their doctrinal positions into the prophecy rather than letting the prophecy inform their doctrine.

The first principle of Daniel’s prophecies is that they reveal the history of the four worldwide empires from Babylon to Rome only as they impact the Jewish people of the Old Testament. The Roman Empire straddles the Old Testament and the New Testament, but we can consider only that history of the Empire that impacts the Jewish people up to the time of Christ. We cannot project this prophecy into the history of the Christian Church or to the Second Advent of Christ.

This part of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is made up of the legs and feet of the image. We have seen its head, its chest and arms, and its belly and thighs; the remainder of the image had to be legs and feet. The picture of two legs and ten toes cannot mean the political divisions of the Empire as these took place well into the Christian Era, which would be contrary to the first principle of the prophecy. It also conflicts with history and we cannot accept an interpretation that conflicts with history. History is fact and events in history cannot be changed to accommodate a particular theology or eschatological viewpoint.

The legs cannot be interpreted as the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. The iron legs appear immediately in the dream as two legs. The historical fact is that Rome did not begin in a divided state; it began as a monarchy in 754 B.C., became a Republic in 509 B.C., and an Empire in 31 B.C. Even at the time it conquered the Greek Empire, it was not itself a divided empire. It did not divide into the Western and Eastern Empires until 457 A.D. To claim that the legs indicate the divided Empire would require a gap of six hundred and three years between the Greek Empire, the bronze belly and thighs, and the legs of the image.

Most dispensational premillennialists interpret the toes of the image as the divisions of the Roman Empire after its fall in 476 A.D. This cannot be so as only the Western Empire fell in 476; the Eastern Empire carried on for another one hundred twenty-six years. To interpret the toes in this manner would require that all ten toes be on one foot. Furthermore, not all ten of the barbarian kingdoms survived as three of them were exterminated or absorbed. This would require that the foot with the ten toes would have to had have three of them cut off; but, this is not seen in the dream and cannot be true.

The reason this is important to understand is that dispensational premillennial teaching understands the ten kingdoms coming together as the reconstitution of the Roman Empire just prior to the second advent of Christ. There is the tendency among these millennialists to see the European Union as this coming together.

The dispensational millennialists see the stone that strikes the image as the kingdom of God, which it is. However, since the stone strikes the image in the feet, these millennialists believe that the kingdom of God has not yet come and that it can only come after the reconstitution of the Roman Empire. Again, this is contrary to the first principle of Daniel’s prophecies and it cannot be true.

So, what is the meaning of the legs and the feet? How do we interpret them when we know they represent the Roman Empire? And, has the kingdom of God come, or do we have to wait until a future millennium? We will answer these questions in the next chapter.