One of the main selling points of Dispensationalism is their claim to take the Old Testament seriously. While I heartily embrace this noble intention, Dispensationalists regularly fail to realize their goal. This is especially noticeable in the book of Daniel.
I am going to attempt a few posts that survey of some of the important eschatological passages in the book of Daniel. Let’s start with Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in chapter 2 of Daniel.
Daniel describes Nebuchadnezzar’s vision:
“You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay” (Daniel 2:31-33).
Head = Gold
Chest & Arms = Silver
Belly & Thighs = Bronze
Legs = Iron
Feet = Iron and Clay
Daniel goes on to describe what happens to this image:
“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 2:34-35).
To summarize: a stone strikes the feet, and the whole image is shattered. The stone becomes a great mountain which fills the whole earth.
Daniel then gives the interpretation:
“You are this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38).
Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold.
“But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours” (Daniel 2:39a).
Notice that Daniel says, “another kingdom,” meaning that he is speaking not just of persons, but of kingdoms. So, the head of gold is not just Nebuchadnezzar, but also his kingdom, Babylon.
The next kingdom, the chest and arms of silver, must refer to Persia, which conquered Babylon.
“Then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth” (Daniel 2:39b).
The third kingdom is the third part of the image, the belly and thighs of bronze. This must refer to Greece, which conquered Persia.
“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” (Daniel 2:40).
The fourth kingdom is the fourth part of the statue, the legs of iron. This must refer to Rome, which conquered Greece.
Daniel adds these details:
“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).
Notice that Daniel is still describing the fourth kingdom. Although it starts out strong (iron), it becomes a mixture of strength and fragility because the iron and clay cannot adhere to one another. This describes the latter stages of the Roman empire.
Daniel then describes the stone cut without hands:
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold--the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure” (Daniel 2:44-45).
In the days of the Roman empire, God will set up his kingdom, which is unconquerable, universal, unbreakable, and unending. A natural reading of the text understands that the kingdom which succeeds Rome is the kingdom of God. The catalyst for this kingdom is the stone cut out without hands, which is obviously a reference to Jesus Christ.
This is precisely what happened. John and Jesus announced the nearness of the kingdom. Following his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended to the throne of the kingdom, which he has been ruling ever since.
Thus, we are given a succession of five kingdoms: Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and the kingdom of Christ.
Despite Daniel’s interpretation of the vision, Dispensationalists insist that the kingdom of Christ has not yet come; it is still future. Some Dispensationalists argue that we are still under the Roman Empire, which is odd considering Rome crumbled 1500 years ago.
Others Dispensationalists argue that we are in limbo between the “first” Roman empire (legs of iron) and the “revived” Roman empire (feet of iron and clay). Yet, this belies a straight-forward reading of the text. The legs and the feet describe two phases of the same kingdom: a strong phase and a weak phase. Dispensationalists insert the entire church age between the legs and the feet.
Here we see a recurring difficulty that Dispensationalists have with Daniel: they manipulate Daniel’s timetable with the insertion of gaps. By inserting gaps, they are rejecting Daniel’s eschatology.