In Defense of Rome
By D. G. Alley
If you get your baseline interpretation of a prophecy wrong, then everything that is later built on that baseline is likely to be wrong, too.
Consider what the Jews of Jesus’ day had wrong. They had the prophecy of Daniel 9:27 that said that a future ruler would come into the temple and set up an Abomination of Desolation. When Antiochus Epiphanes did just that, the Jews apparently thought that he had fulfilled the prophecy. They even instituted a holiday, called Hanukkah, to celebrate the cleansing of the temple afterward. It doesn’t appear that anybody realized that the prophecy had not been fulfilled by Antiochus until Jesus told his disciples that the prophesied event still lay in the future (Matt 24:15).
Satan had instigated what I will call a prophecy trap. He caused something to happen that superficially looked like the fulfillment of prophecy, and everybody bought into it, even though some of the details were wrong. In the case of Antiochus, what he did happened at least a hundred and sixty years too soon to match the prophecy. But it was conveniently available and known to all, so it was accepted by most. And after a few years, it had become tradition, and could no longer be debated.
Later on, Satan set up another prophecy trap. Titus and his Roman legions put down a rebellion in Jerusalem in 70 AD. In the process of subduing the city, the legions destroyed the temple. Today, almost two thousand years later, many prophecy scholars look at that event and conclude that it is a fulfillment of part of Daniel 9:26, which says:
26 After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.
27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him."
Titus was not “the ruler who will come.” That dubious honor still awaits the coming of the antichrist. But, the destruction of the temple by those Roman legions is conveniently available and known to all, so many people conclude that that event simply must be the fulfillment of the prophecy. Even though it happened at the wrong time. Again.
Verses 26 and 27 above are an overview of the seventieth week of Daniel. They are not a step-by-step chronology, because the end is mentioned before the covenant is confirmed. The prophecy is not saying that if you can find a destruction of the temple at some random time in history, then you can look at the people who destroyed it to find out the nationality of the future antichrist. It is saying that when the antichrist does come on the scene, his people are going to destroy the city and the sanctuary. Again.
Nevertheless, since those Roman soldiers did destroy the temple, many people today blithely assume that they must be “the people of the ruler that will come,” and therefore the antichrist will be from the area of the Roman Empire, specifically, Europe. But that’s like thinking that the soldiers at Valley Forge during the American Revolution were Barack Obama’s people. Obviously they weren’t. They were George Washington’s people. Similarly, the Antichrist will have his own people. According to the book of Revelation, they will take his mark and behead people in his name, and they will be alive at the same time he will be. Not two thousand years earlier.
Satan, the deceiver, is probably still laughing at the people who have fallen for this prophecy trap.
What other traditional interpretations of prophecy have been made void by the facts of history over the last two thousand years? Let’s look.
37 You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory;
38 in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.
39 "After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth.
40 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.
41 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.
42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.
43 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.
44 "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands-- a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. "The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy."
Notice that although Daniel says that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom of Babylonia is the first kingdom, represented by the head of gold, he doesn’t actually name the other three. Thus, we have to try and identify them ourselves.
The second kingdom, represented by the chest and arms of silver, is usually thought to be the Medo-Persian Empire, because they came in and conquered the Babylonian Empire during the reign of Nabonidus and his son and heir Belshazzar.
The third kingdom, represented by the belly and thighs of silver, is usually thought to be the empire of Alexander the Great, who came in from the west and conquered the Persian Empire, and all the way to the Indus Valley.
The fourth kingdom, represented by the legs of iron and the feet partly of iron and partly of clay, is usually thought to be the Roman Empire, because they conquered the four smaller empires that Alexander’s empire was divided into.
When we look at the history of the world, we can easily see that the Medo-Persians and the Greeks look to be good choices for the second and third kingdoms mentioned by Daniel. But there are two big problems with the Roman Empire. The first problem is, the Roman Empire is gone. It didn’t last long enough to get struck by the stone that was cut without human hands. And the second problem is, the Roman Empire didn’t come after Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire.
You’re probably wondering what I mean by that last statement, because Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire obviously pre-dated the Roman Empire. Allow me, however, to address problem one first.
Problem One, the Roman Empire is gone. Then, why was it selected in the first place? The answer is, it was conveniently available, and known to all who had any interest in the matter. And no other good candidates were. You see, the Roman Empire was still present at the time the selection was made. Consider Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible, who lived from AD 347 to 420. In his commentary on the Book of Daniel, Jerome mentioned that he agreed with some of his predecessors that the Roman Empire was the fourth kingdom represented by Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.
So, if you want to debate about whether the Roman Empire is the correct selection or not, you are going up against over 1600 years of church tradition, and disputing with the opinions of some of the most august of the church fathers. To his credit, Jerome also mentioned in his Daniel commentary that he expected the Roman Empire to endure until the last days, and get struck by the stone, which was probably a reasonable expectation at the time.
Nevertheless, the Roman Empire is still gone.
Since the Roman Empire did not endure until the last days, prophecy scholars have made an accommodation to the facts of history. They point to Titus’ Roman legions mentioned above, and argue that since they are the ‘people of the ruler who will come,’ the Roman Empire must somehow be ‘revived.’ Obviously, that argument is flawed. Since the passage does not point to a Roman antichrist, it cannot be used to prove that the Roman Empire will be revived. Additionally, Daniel mentioned no such thing. There is no hint whatsoever in his interpretation that the fourth kingdom would go away, and then be revived. The simple, most obvious reading of Daniel’s interpretation would indicate that the fourth kingdom would endure until the stone strikes it in the last days. The simple most obvious conclusion would therefore be that the fourth kingdom is some entity other than the Roman Empire.
Problem Two, the Roman Empire didn’t follow Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire. Let us begin by looking at the prologue to Daniel’s interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
27 Daniel replied, "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about,
28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these:
29 "As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen.
30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.
Daniel indicates that Nebuchadnezzar was lying on his bed wondering about the future, and that it was his thoughts that had been answered.
Was he worrying about the future of the poor little kingdom of Judah, which he had conquered only a few years before? Probably not. Was it the northern kingdom of Israel that had been wiped out by the Assyrians over a hundred earlier? Doubtful. How about the peninsula of Italy? Nope, not that either. Maybe he was considering the island of Japan, or perhaps Great Britain, both of which carved out empires later on. No, he had probably never heard of either one of them.
Nebuchadnezzar would have been thinking about the future of his own kingdom and empire, Babylonia. And it was his thoughts that Daniel said the dream was an answer to.
Now, it is certainly true that the Medes and the Persians conquered the Babylonians a number of years after Nebuchadnezzar had died. And afterward, Alexander and his Greeks conquered the Medo-Persian Empire and beyond. But did the Romans?
No, not really. After Alexander died, his conquests were divided up between some of his generals. Ptolemy, for instance, ended up with Egypt, and his descendants ruled there for generations. Seleucus got Syria, the land of Israel, and the lands to the east, the heartland of the old Babylonian and Persian Empires. However, by the time the Romans came on the scene and took control of the Seleucid Empire, that empire had already lost control of Babylon and Persia. The Romans got Israel and Syria from the Seleucids, but not Babylonia. Now, to be sure, the Romans did manage to battle their way into Babylon in around AD 100, but, due to a fast moving plague in their legions, they hastily decided to conclude a peace treaty, then they beat feet out of the area. After WW1, the British were in control of the area of Babylon for longer than the Romans ever were. But almost nobody seriously considers the British Empire to be Daniel’s fourth kingdom.
So, yes, the Romans came after Nebuchadnezzar in history, but they didn’t follow him in Babylon.
The Roman Empire is gone, and the arguments for its ‘revival’ are baseless. The Roman Empire is therefore another prophecy trap, and many have fallen into it.
Then, who is the fourth kingdom? Who conquered the land of Babylon, and has endured until the end times? Who was as strong as iron, that it would crush and break the previous kingdoms? And who is partly strong and partly brittle, and will not remain united?
Well, what does history tell us?
In the seventh century AD, the militant religion of Islam conquered the entire region, and it is still there. It has survived two invasions of the Mongols, and even when the British were in control of the land of Babylon after the First World War, Islam was still there. The religious empire of Islam conquered all of the previous empire, that of Alexander, reaching from the borders of Hungary all the way to the Indus valley. It took not only the Egypt of the Ptolemies, but all of North Africa. And it has endured to the end times. It is a divided kingdom, with some nations strong, and some weak. It has crushed and broken the previous empires, and replaced their cultures with its own, through the forced imposition of Islam and sharia law. And it is still there.
It would appear that Rome was never in view in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Therefore, any interpretation based on the idea that Rome was the fourth kingdom would be in error. This includes the idea that the antichrist will arise from Europe, or more specifically, from a European Union that constitutes some sort of ‘revival’ of the old Roman Empire.
Of course, that should have been obvious all along. Daniel chapter 8 tells us that the antichrist will come from one of the four empires that Alexander’s empire was broken up into after his death.
8 The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.
9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful
10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.
11 It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of his sanctuary was brought low.
12 Because of rebellion, the host and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.
Alexander owned Greece,
Macedonia, Thrace, and all the lands east and south. He never conquered the rest of Europe. So, if you’re looking for a European antichrist, don’t bother looking west of Greece or north of Macedonia. The antichrist will originate from somewhere in the lands that Alexander conquered.