Daniel 2 and 7 teach that there will be four empires that rise up in world history, one after another.
In chapter 7, Daniel sees four empires symbolized by four “beasts” that come up out of the “great sea,” which is the Mediterranean.(1) However, God violently defeats the last kingdom and its leader. Furthermore, the Messiah comes on the clouds and reigns forever and ever.
Daniel 2 describes the same four kingdoms, but from a different angle. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a giant statue. A rock hits the statue, causing it to come crashing down. Then the rock grows into a big mountain, filling the whole earth. Daniel interprets this dream for the king, telling him that each part of the statue’s body represents one of the four empires. The rock that hits the statue represents God’s kingdom. This will be global and will never be replaced by another kingdom.
But who are these four empires? Daniel 2 tells us plainly that the first empire is King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Daniel 5 tells us that the Medo-Persian Empire came after the Babylonian Empire. Furthermore, Daniel 8 also says that Greece came after the Medo-Persian Empire. This leaves the fourth empire, which came after Greece. This was none other than the Roman empire.
Furthermore, imagery from Daniel 7 match what we know of the empires that came after Babylon. This leaves the “fourth kingdom,” which is the Roman Empire. The “fourth kingdom” is terrifying, ruthless, and violent, just as the Bible depicts it. This description matches what we know of the historical Roman Empire. History tells us that this is empire #4, if Babylon is empire #1.
Who are the Four Empires?
From Daniel 2, we know that the first kingdom is the Babylonian empire. This corresponds to the the first beast in Daniel 7, where a lion stands up, and is given the mind of a man. This image also symbolizes Babylon, for two reasons. First, a lion was one of the main national symbols of Babylon.(1) Second, because of his arrogance, God caused king Nebuchadnezzar to lose his mind. He went out and ate grass like an ox for seven years. But once the seven years were up, he stood up, and his mind and his kingdom were restored to him. In the vision, the lion stands up and is given a mind like a man. This symbolism matches king Nebuchadnezzar perfectly.
The same is true of the Medo-Persian empire, which came after the Babylonian empire. The vision depicts it as a bear that’s raised up on one side. The Medo-Persian empire was lopsided, with the Persian “half” being much bigger than the “Medes” half. (1) Furthermore, the third kingdom is represented by a leopard with four wings and four heads. Leopards are really fast, and would be even faster if they had four wings! This symbol accurately describes the speed at which Alexander the Great conquered the known world. The four heads of the leopard represent his four generals that took his place after he died. (1)
The fourth kingdom is not described as any specific animal. It is terrifying, ruthless and violent, breaking everything to pieces. This matches what we know of the historical Roman Empire. It came after the Greek empire, brutally conquering everyone into submission. Furthermore, it was much bigger than the first three.
A Theological Conundrum
Conservative Bible scholars are in broad agreement that the fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire. The final ruler of the Roman Empire is destroyed when God sets up an eternal kingdom. But this poses a serious problem. The Roman Empire doesn’t exist anymore. The final ruler of the Roman Empire was not violently destroyed by God. Instead, Rome gradually disintegrated. Furthermore, God did not set up a global kingdoms where ALL dominions serve God and his people, like Daniel 7:27 says.
Did God’s word fail?
Daniel 7 tells us that the Messiah comes on the clouds of heaven when the Roman Empire is about to be destroyed. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion,which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” This is the exact same wording Jesus uses to describe his second coming. Jesus says, "and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
The Roman Empire is defeated at the Second Coming of Christ. In order for the Roman Empire to be defeated at Jesus’ return, the Roman Empire must be reborn prior to the Second Coming of Christ. The end-time stage of the Roman Empire is what theologians call the “revived Roman Empire.” Well known pastor and theologian, John MacArthur, said in 1980 that “there will be a revival of the Roman Empire.”
Gaps in Prophecy
You might find this strange, since the Bible depicts the Roman Empire as one beast, without implying any kind of gap between the historical Roman Empire and the end times Roman Empire. If this bothers you, consider the fact that many prophecies about the coming of Jesus talked about the suffering servant and conquering king in the same passage. This led the disciples to be confused, thinking that he would set up his glorious kingdom right after his resurrection.
Yet the prophecies about the suffering servant were fulfilled at Christ’s first coming. The prophecies about the conquering king won’t be fulfilled until the Second Coming. As we now know, these two events are separated by nearly 2000 years, at least. As a result, we know that all the prophecies about Jesus will be literally fulfilled at different times.
The same is true of the Roman Empire, which has two stages separated by a long period of time. As we will see later, Daniel 2 implies that the Roman Empire will have two stages.
There are other examples of large gaps in prophecy, such as the rebirth of Israel itself. So this concept of a “revived” Roman Empire is consistent with how God often goes about fulfilling prophecy.
Where is the End Times Roman Empire?
The final ruler of the revived Roman Empire is called the Antichrist. But where is the revived Roman Empire located? We know from this map where the historical Roman Empire existed. But can we be more specific on the location of the end-times Roman Empire? Though the Antichrist eventually takes over the whole world, on which part of this map does he start out at?
Daniel 11:36-45 describe the personality and military conquests of the Antichrist. The Antichrist is attacked by someone north of Israel. Theologians usually often identify this with Russia. (1) The Antichrist is attacked by Egypt, which is south of Israel. During his counterattack, the Antichrist sweeps through the countries and invades Israel as well. He then goes on to take over Egypt, Libya, and other parts of north Africa. But if the Antichrist goes to war with all of these places, then where is he attacking from? Where is his home-base, from which he conducts his military operations? The only place left, is Western Europe.
We already know that we are in the last days because Israel has been reborn as a nation. Nevertheless, if end-time Israel already exists, it’s probably a safe bet that the revived Roman Empire isn’t far behind.
- Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. CO Springs, CO: Victor, an Imprint of Cook Communications Ministries, 2004. Old Testament Edition
- Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”