In Part 6, we got a handle on the text of Daniel 2. What then are we to make of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream?
Who are these kingdoms?
You may have a Bible whose editors provide headings for each kingdom but we should first make some preliminary big picture observations (remember the box top!).
1. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represents the general flow of history from Babylong to the onset of the Messianic kingdom. It doesn’t include every single detail or turn of the screw. And not every detail of the dream necessarily corresponds to a certain detail in history. It depicts a big picture landscape of where history is headed from Nebuchadnezzar’s time to the time when Messiah establishes his forever kingdom.
2. Whatever we make of the kingdoms they are all part of one single, great statue (v31). In other words, we can debate three of the kingdoms but we cannot debate what they represent. They are all part of one unified enemy of God. When God destroyed the feet the whole structure fell into one pile of dust (v35).
Historians parse the kingdoms and categorize them. Theologians see them all as part of one entity: the City of Man who stands against against and ultimately falls by the hand of God. The man-fashioned metals represent man’s attempt to establish his kingdom and legacy, but the “unworked” stone (i.e. from God, not man) destroys all of man’s attempts to rule the earth.
That’s the point. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t tease out all the particulars because you can get the whole picture.
Now, who are these kingdoms? The first is obviously Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon (v38). There is no debating that.
After Babylon history provides us four choices: Media, Persia, Greece and Rome. Therefore we have four candidates to fill three spots. Really smart people disagree on who fills those spots. I’m not one of them and can only muster a blue-collar run at it.
The longstanding “default” position has been to consider Rome the fourth kingdom. This makes the second kingdom Medo-Persia (combined in history and in Daniel) and the third kingdom Greece (which did proverbially rule the earth under Alexander the Great, and who died on his way to conquering India).
Therefore I join most in assuming the order to be Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. It’s during Roman rule, with Christ’s first coming, that God set up his Messianic kingdom that lasts forever.
(If you are dispensationalist you consider the fourth kingdom to be a renewed Roman empire in the future, somehow related to ten kings (or “toes” of v42). Therefore, you fit a 2,100-year-or-so gap between v39 and v40. The stone crushing the statue is Christ returning to defeat neo-Rome some time in the future and establish his millennial reign over all the earth in a literal geo-political fashion.)
Again, the particulars are not as important as the whole. They all join to depict man’s attempt to rule the earth rather than submitting to God’s rule.
We can all agree the most important kingdom in the dream (and in history!) is God’s kingdom. So what is it? When is it? Where is it?
God’s Kingdom in Jesus Christ
God’s kingdom has come in Jesus Christ. That is, we are not in a 2,100-year holding pattern waiting on Daniel 2.44-45 to happen. It’s already begun. The God of heaven has already established his kingdom. This means we must be able to connect this kingdom in Daniel 2.35, 44-45 to Jesus’ first coming. I would submit that’s exactly the connection the NT leads to make.
1. The NT draws on the “stone” motif to describe Jesus’ ministry begun at his first advent (see 1 Pt 2.6-8; cf. Is 28.16; Mt 21.42; Acts 4.11).
2. God promised David a “son” who would be king of God’s people forever (2 Sam 7.16). Gabriel informed Mary she would soon be pregnant with the one who “will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (Lk 1.32-33). Mary would give birth to God’s forever King.
3. The undercurrent of Jesus’ preaching and ministry was “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1.15; cf. Lk 17.20-21; Jn 18.36-37).
4. But has Jesus been enthroned as king already or is he merely “heir apparent” to the throne in some future event? After his resurrection Jesus announced to his disciples, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28.18; cf. 1 Cor 15.25). That sounds like transfer of power! The writer of Hebrews considered the seat Jesus took at the right hand of the Majesty on High to be his throne (Heb 1.8; cf., Ps 45.6). Further in Hebrews, the writer applied Ps 2.7 to Jesus as having happened when Jesus ascended into heaven (Heb 1.5).
5. If Jesus is now enthroned then we should expect certain enemies to have been defeated. That’s what Nebuchadnezzar dreamed, so who did Jesus crush when he came the first time? God unveiled the hope of his calling, riches of his glory and greatness of his power “when he raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 2.20-23; see also Col 2.15).
So at the cross and resurrection Jesus defeated any and all who would set themselves up against God. If we see Nebuchadnezzar’s statue as the composite of mankind’s attempt to rule the earth (the City of Man) then the Risen Christ has already proven himself victorious over all-comers.
God’s Kingdom in Christ on Display in the Church
When we talk about kings and kingdoms then we naturally think about a capital, flag, army, land, economy, language, organization. If Jesus is a king with a kingdom then where is all the stuff we’d expect of it? Where is his reign on display in the world? What was true of God’s kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is true in some sense of the church now. John referred to those God loves and released from sin by Christ’s blood as a kingdom (Rev 1.6). Therefore, can we say of the church what Nebuchadnezzar saw to be true of God’s Messianic kingdom? Yes.
The church is of divine origin. Nebuchadnezzar saw a kingdom no man established. The God of heaven founded it. Jesus told Pilate his kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18.36f.). It does not come from man or function according to man’s strength or ingenuity. Paul emphasized God populates and grows Christ’s kingdom (1 Cor 1.30; 3.6). The church therefore is not governed or sustained by those things that affect earthly kingdoms (military, money, mutiny, mortality, etc.).
The church exists because God causes it to survive. We must recover the glory of the church that does not rely on clever marketing, strong personalities or nifty gimmicks like earthly kingdoms do. We don’t play by the same rules or wield the same weapons as earthly kingdoms do. The church relies solely on the grace of God to have a people for himself through faith in Jesus Christ. How, pray tell, can a kingdom still now exist and thrive 2,000 years without ever having a capital, currency, army, language or flag apart from God’s divine sovereignty? This was the “mystery” Paul said God was unlocking through the gospel of Jesus Christ for all who believe in him.
The church is indestructible. Nebuchadnezzar saw a kingdom that would never be destroyed. It would endure forever. Jesus was quite clear when he said he would build his church “and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Mt 16.18). Christians receive “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb 12.28). The strongest of nations have come and gone, and will continue to come and go. But in the end there will be one kingdom standing: Christ’s kingdom. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11.15).
So the church is under no threat of extinction. Governments can pass any law they want against the church, but they will not snuff her out. Rome tried for centuries but now Rome is dust in the wind and the church of Christ remains. So will it be for everyone who attempts to put a lid on Christ and his people.
The church is global. Nebuchadnezzar saw a kingdom that “filled the whole earth.” This is pregnant language because it echoes the creation mandate to Adam (Gen 1.28) and its reiteration to Noah (Gen 9.1, 7). They were to be fruitful and fill the earth with the worship and glory of God. Everywhere people were to be a witness to God’s greatness. Adam and Noah failed.
But One would come (the Second Adam and New Noah) who would not fail to fill the earth with God’s greatness. He would make sure God was glorified and obeyed throughout the earth. He would succeed in making disciples from all the nations (Mt 28.18-20). Nebuchadnezzar saw a stone that grew into a great mountain and filled the earth. There’s one problem: stones don’t grow. You don’t plant a stone and get more stones. How could this be unless what Nebuchadnezzar saw was a “living stone”? This is precisely how Peter described Jesus and the church in 1 Pt 2.4-5.
Jesus promised that his followers would be his witnesses “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1.8). And lo and behold, Paul commended the Romans because their faith was “being proclaimed through the whole world” (Rom 1.8). Paul told the Colossians the gospel was “constantly bearing fruit and increasing” in all the world (Col 1.6). What did John envision in heaven but the saints who the Lamb “purchased for God with Your blood from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5.9-10).
So Christ’s kingdom has no borders or geographical limits. His kingdom spans the globe. It fills the earth in that there is a witness in virtually every corner of the world.
The church is a permanent possession. Nebuchadnezzar saw a kingdom that would not be “left for another people.” In other words, the church of Jesus Christ is it. There will be no kingdom found anywhere apart from Christ. His kingdom will never be stewarded by Mohammed, Buddha or any other iteration of Babylonian gods.
God will not bequeath his kingdom to any other heir than Jesus and his joint-heirs by faith. God will not give up his love and protection for the church to the care of anyone else. The church will never be taken over by anyone other than Jesus. We, the church, are a people for God’s own possession (1 Pt 2.9) and God doesn’t share his people with anyone!
The church is powerful. Nebuchadnezzar saw a kingdom that will crush and outlast all other kingdoms. There is no nation that can keep the gospel of Christ from invading its borders. In many countries, the church is able to what no military, diplomacy, treaties or trade negotiations can do.
Paul wrote, “. . . the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3.10). We think we’d like to see all the spooky stuff going on in the unseen heavenly realm. In reality, it’s that realm that sits with baited breath to see what God is doing through the church!
Herman Ridderbos summarized nicely in The Coming of the Kingdom:
. . . the kingdom is revealed in the [church]. . . in its redeeming and saving significance, in all the gifts and treasures promised and granted now already in and through Christ.
What Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream Means for the Non-Christian
If you are not a Christian, then you’d better be a part of God’s kingdom or else! “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Ps 2.10-12).
In other words, if you think you’re going to get in God’s kingdom by any other means other than worship of Christ then think again. If you doubt God is doing anything or that he’s really serious about his kingdom, then you should seriously consider why there is a church at all.
How do you become part of God’s kingdom? You must be a part of Christ. You must repent from your rebellion against God’s rule and subject yourself to the kind and beneficent rule of King Jesus. The world in which you take so much comfort will one day be a pile of dust, blowing in the wind. And all that will remain of anything good will be Christ ruling his people in a new creation.
You must confess that all wisdom and power belong to God; that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ alone governs and directs history; that we are all accountable to this God for our lives; that this God has forgiven every sin of and granted every spiritual blessing to those who “kiss the Son.”
What Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream Means for the Christian
Brothers and sisters, do you realize what you’re a part of? You are a part of something huge!
We have inherited such a weak view of the church that we don’t see it in kingdom terms anymore. Babylon has become more than just where we live, but has become our life. Church is something we just fit in until God does something at the end of time. We’ve bought into this idea that the “end times” are about God doing something really big in the Middle East. So we bide our time and watch CNN and read the headlines. In the meantime, we putz around here until something earth-shaking happens there.
But the angels in heaven aren’t trained on the Middle East or rising political movement. They’re trained on the church to see what God is doing the advance the kingdom of Christ to its appointed end: when all the universe is the temple of God.
But, dear Christian, you are Christ’s and brothers/sisters of the King, sons/daughters of God Most High. You are part of a global, invincible, powerful kingdom. Let’s act like it!