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Two historical phases of the Roman Empire (book excerpt)

The idea that the Roman Empire still exists today is not strange. Ample support exists for it in the Bible and world history. Two historical phases of the single Roman Empire are depicted in Daniel 2, the first phase of iron and the second phase of iron and clay.

Interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel foresaw four gentile kingdoms symbolized by “an enormous, dazzling statue” (Daniel 2:31 NIV) shaped like a human. He describes the fourth kingdom (which Bible prophecy scholars generally agree is the Roman Empire) in Daniel 2:33 and 40–43 (KJV). Then in Daniel 7:7–8 and 19 (KJV), he foresaw the same fourth kingdom as a fourth great beast. Daniel was given the meaning or interpretation concerning the fourth beast in Daniel 7:23–25 (KJV). Finally, the fourth kingdom or beast is described in Revelation 13:2 (KJV) as an amalgamation of the three preceding gentile kingdoms of Greece (leopard), Medo-Persia (bear), and Babylon (lion).[1]

The prophecies mentioned above indicate that the fourth kingdom (or Roman Empire) is a single kingdom that will exist in two different phases in history. First, it will be a united kingdom that is “strong as iron,” one that breaks into “pieces” all the “others” (Daniel 2:40 NIV); the “others” being remnants of territories formerly occupied by the three previous kingdoms of Greece, Medo-Persia, and Babylon.[2] This first phase is symbolized by the unity, strength, and brutality of “iron” (Daniel 2:33 KJV) that were typical of the Roman Empire during the early centuries of its rule in the ancient Mediterranean region. Writing around AD 400, St. Jerome confirms that “all nations” had (by his time) been conquered or subjugated by the Romans and that the three previous kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece “are all included in the one Empire of the Romans.”[3] Thus, by AD 400, the Roman Empire had subdued and absorbed the remnants of the three previous gentile kingdoms. (See Figure 8.) Iron represents the strength and authority of Roman monarchs (or crowns)[4] in the Roman West, which has continued (in combination with the clay of democracy) in the governments of at least ten Roman Western European successor kingdoms (all of which are former monarchies).

Next, Daniel foretells that a later, second phase of the Roman Empire will exist as a “divided,” weaker kingdom, ultimately comprised of ten separate nations with mixed governments and peoples, as symbolized by its feet and toes of iron and clay (Daniel 2:41–43 KJV); and that in its divided stage, the fourth kingdom will devour, trample, and crush (NIV)–or devour, break, stamp, and tread (KJV)–the “whole earth” (Daniel 7:7, 23 NIV and KJV), not just the Mediterranean area. Meadowcroft affirms that “the spirit of disharmony [or division] within [the iron and clay phase of] the [Roman] empire . . . is crucial” to the interpretation of Daniel 2.[5] History reveals a couple of things: (1) this division of the Roman Empire into “a number of separate States” occurred “[t]hroughout the Middle Ages . . . in western Europe”;[6] and (2) this second divided phase of the Roman Empire as a globe trampler began in . . ..

Thus, chapter 2 of Daniel describes two historical phases of a single continuing fourth kingdom or civilization, the Roman Empire, which has flowed through history like a long, wide and far-reaching river. The first phase of this metaphorical “river” was a broad, unbroken stream that conquered the Mediterranean world, while the second phase of the same river has (over centuries of time) put off at least ten distributaries during its expanding, [dominating and] continuing flow around the world. . ..

[1]. Bible commentators link the fourth kingdom (or beast) of Daniel 2 and 7 with the beast of Revelation 13:1–2 (KJV). KJV Study Bible, 2148, footnote 13:1-3; NIV Study Bible, 2165, footnote 13:1.

[2]. See Davidson, Daniel Revisited, 38 of 266 on Nook Color digital reader. Osbon affirms that “Rome was emphatically an iron kingdom. It literally and most emphatically ‘broke in pieces and bruised’ the kingdoms which had preceded it.” Osbon, Daniel Verified in History and Chronology, 52.

[3]. Jerome’s Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 70 of 170 on Nook Color digital reader.

[4]. Bishop, “Times of the Gentiles,” 108–09 of 440 on Nook Color digital reader. Gaebelein agrees that “iron represents the monarchical form of government.” Gaebelein, The Prophet Daniel, 23 of 129 on Nook Color digital reader.

[5]. Meadowcroft, Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel, 194, emphasis added.

[6]. The Cambridge Modern History Atlas, 1, emphasis added.

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