(Reading time: 10 minutes)
The Bible describes a new kingdom that will arise in the end times with political, military and economic power. To secure its control over the earth, it’ll try crushing both Jews and Christians who continue giving their allegiance to God. This entity would eventually dominate the world and exterminate all opposition unless Jesus personally returned to earth and destroyed it.
The Old and New Testaments give us images of this entity, referring to it as a beast, a horn, a man, an animal and so on. In this article we’ll examine scriptures that describe this entity and speculate about what it may be.
Let us begin by examining Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about a large statue of a man. Its head was pure gold, its chest and arms were silver, its belly and thighs bronze, its legs iron, and its feet a combination of iron and baked clay. A rock struck the feet of the statue, causing the entire statue to crumble, then the rock became a huge mountain that filled the earth. Daniel then told Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation.
“Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold” (Dan. 2:37-38).
The Israelites were captives in Babylon from 605 BC to 536 BC, and Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon during most of that time (626 BC to 539 BC). Israelites from the royal family and nobility were taken to Babylon to serve in the king’s palace, which is how Daniel came to serve Nebuchadnezzar.
The empire has been known throughout history as the most glorious of the empires. Nebuchadnezzar made the capital one of the wonders of the world, with an elevated procession street decorated with glazed tiles portraying life-sized lions, lush parks irrigated by canals, and the famous hanging gardens. This empire was the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
“After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours” (v. 39), represented by the chest and arms made of silver. Silver is valuable, but inferior to gold. Do the two arms imply that this kingdom will have two parts? Historically, we know that the Medo-Persian empire followed the Babylonian. Cyrus the Great united the Media and Persian empires, so the dream was correct: the empire would consist of two parts. The Medo-Persian empire occupied Israel from 536 BC to 333 BC.
“Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth” (v. 39); this was the Greek empire. Alexander the Great began a military campaign that in only ten years conquered the civilized world from Greece to India. The reference to the kingdom ruling “the whole earth” is typical hyperbole of that time and shouldn’t be taken literally. The Greek empire occupied Israel from 333 BC to 167 BC.
“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” (v. 40). The word “finally” isn’t in the Hebrew text. The translators may have inserted it to make the verse more readable and identify this as the last empire of the dream.
I think the sequence also identifies another empire, but doesn’t discuss it as a separate entity. History reveals that the fourth empire, the statue’s iron legs, was the Roman empire. It was a ruthless empire, crushing all the nations it conquered, as Daniel predicted. Rome conquered Greece in 146 BC, then gradually conquered the entire Greek empire. Rome occupied Israel from 37 BC to 70 AD, when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel ceased to exist as a nation. The statue in the dream had two legs, implying there would be two parts of the kingdom, and the Roman empire did in fact split in 395 AD. The western part was called the Roman empire and it lasted until 476 AD. The eastern part was the Byzantine empire, which lasted until 1453 AD.
What is the significance of the four historic empires in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? They weren’t the only large empires of history, and they weren’t the only empires that existed during that period of history. They were, however, the foreign empires that affected Israel from the time of Daniel until the nation’s destruction in 70 AD.
Daniel’s description of the statue continues. “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. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 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” (vv. 41-43).
Daniel doesn’t call this a fifth empire, but he gives it a unique identity (toes) and composition (iron and clay). This entity will be the next empire to affect Israel, which became a nation again in 1948.
Daniel repeatedly says this empire consists of two elements that don’t mix: baked clay and iron. He explains this by saying the people will be a mixture and won’t remain united. This could imply that the empire will be a mixture of races, people or nations. He clearly states it’ll be a divided kingdom and there will be a lack of unity, indicating conflict of some kind. In spite of its internal problems, however, it’ll crush and break nations as the legs of iron did. The fact that the statue’s toes represent this empire suggests there will be ten parts. We’ll see that the number ten is significant in other prophecies about this empire, too.
In my opinion, this fifth empire won’t be a revived Roman empire as many believe. Each of the historical empires in the statue was separate from the previous one; none of them came out of its predecessor. So there is no reason to believe the fifth one will come out of the fourth.
The original Roman empire split into western and eastern empires. If the fifth empire is to consist of nations from the Roman empire, then shouldn’t five nations (toes from one foot) come from the western empire, and five nations (toes from the other foot) come from the eastern? That is, five nations would be from southwestern Europe, Britain and the northern coast of Africa, and five would be from the area of Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Egypt. Yet the traditional interpretation of a revived Roman empire has all ten of the nations (toes) coming from the western empire, which is only one leg.
I realize every analogy has its limitations, including the human statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. None of the empires in the dream grew out of the previous one as one part of a human body is attached to or grows out of another. The image of the statue was accurate enough, however, to identify two of the empires as having two parts: arms for the Medo-Persian, and legs for the Roman. So we can expect the fifth empire to represent ten entities, whether nations or people. But I think there is no reason to believe the ten will be from the old Roman empire, either the western or eastern part.
I also am convinced the fifth empire isn’t the European Union. Many believe that the EU (European Union) is the revived Roman empire, but several of the EU members lie outside the boundaries of the old Roman empire. People from those countries might have migrated from territory originally occupied by Rome, but I think there are other reasons the EU couldn’t be the fifth empire.
First, there are more than ten members of the EU. When the EU formed in 1957, then known as the European Community, it had only six members. Three more nations joined in 1973 and one in 1981, raising the total to ten and convincing Christians worldwide that the EC would become the “beast.” But two more nations joined in the late 1980’s, raising the total to 12 and of this writing in 2012, there are 27 member nations. Second, the primary function of the EU is the economic development of its members, not world domination, and there is little talk of a united military force.
The EU’s goals are nothing at all like those of a military or political world empire and it has many more than ten members, so it’s an unlikely candidate for the fifth empire of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
The book of Revelation provides an image that may be relevant. “I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (Rev. 6:1-2).
This is the first of what frequently is called the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first clue to his identity is his white horse. Typically, the color white represent purity or righteousness. The rider held a bow, the kind used for shooting arrows, which suggests combat or military conflict. The rider receives a crown, the original language suggesting the kind received as a prize or a symbol of successful activity. This isn’t the kind of crown worn by a king or ruler. Finally, it says he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest, or he went out conquering and to conquer, depending on the Bible translation. This says it’s his nature to conquer, he intends to do so and he’s been victorious in the past.
There is a religion today that meets all these criteria. It presents itself as pure and righteous, is very aggressive — even militant — has been victorious in the past and is determined to conquer. That religion is Islam. In fact, Muslim clerics identify the white horse and rider in Revelation 6:2 as Islam.
As an interesting side note, Revelation 6 describes four horses with riders, each horse a different color, and Zechariah 6 describes powerful horses pulling four chariots, each set of horses a different color. Revelation 6 and Zechariah 6 both include white horses. Zechariah describes the white horses as charging toward the west. What region of the earth is Islam currently focusing on? The West.
It’s significant that fundamentalist Muslims are promoting reestablishment of the Caliphate to reunite and govern the Muslim world. The Caliphate would be governed by the Caliph, a single individual, who would oversee a governing body which could have ten members.
There are branches of Islam with slightly different beliefs, causing internal conflicts such as that between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims. Yet a common belief is the importance of recreating a Middle East Islamic crescent to include the land of Israel.
Considering all of this, it’s possible Islam fits the description not only of the white horse and rider of Revelation 6, but also the fifth empire of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The dream seems to describe five major world empires that would affect the nation or land of Israel. The fifth empire apparently will have ten members of a governing body yet won’t be strongly united.
The fifth empire of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream may be Islam, rather than a Revived Roman Empire.
What is the world kingdom of the last days as described in Bible prophecy? A world government, a revived Roman Empire, the European Union?