Ask Steve: Daniel and the Time of the Gentiles

 

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The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters

by Albert Mohler

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Question: Steve, I am trying to understand the book of Daniel. Can you give me a brief overview of the book and what the prophet Daniel taught the Jewish people concerning “the time of the Gentiles”?

Answer:  The book of Daniel falls into the genre category of prophecy. It centers on the life of the Jewish exile Daniel, who resided in Babylon and was even promoted to a position of high honor in the Babylonian court. During this time, Daniel received a series of visions from the Lord concerning events that will transpire until the end of time, and even helped to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dreams through the aid of God’s revelation. These visions showed “the time of the Gentiles,” which is the period of time that Gentile nations would be world powers, and Israel as subjects, until the final kingdom of God is established in Zion, making Jerusalem and the Messiah’s rule the dominant world power thereafter. The fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenant depends on Israel’s repentance in the last days, which makes the topic of “the time of the Gentiles” important to the study of Israel’s future restoration and salvation. 

The dominant theme that the book of Daniel taught the Jewish people concerning the time of the Gentiles was the succession of Gentile empires that will dominate the world before the establishment of God’s final empire. In chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon received a frightening dream and sought for an interpretation of it (v. 3). When the sorcerers and the Chaldeans failed to properly interpret the meaning of the dream, Nebuchadnezzar had the men slain (v. 12-13). The king eventually learned of Daniel’s keen ability to interpret dreams (v. 16) and called upon him to undertake the task.

When he stood before the king, Daniel not only revealed the object of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (the single great statue), but gave the meaning behind it. The first part of the statue (the head of gold) represented the kingdom of Babylon(v. 37). The silver breast and arms represented the next world empire that came after and conquered Babylon, which was the Medo-Persian Empire (v. 39). The bronze belly and thighs represented the following world empire, which was the Grecian empire (v. 39b). The legs of iron represented the world empire that followed the Grecian empire, which was Rome(v. 40). This fourth entity was so strong that it crushed and broke all the previous empires in pieces (v. 40b). The feet and toes made of potter’s clay and iron represents the fifth and final Gentile power, which is a sort of revived Roman Empire, which has not come to pass yet in world history. When this event does come to pass in some specified time in history (during the time of the 7-Year Tribulation depicted in the book of Revelation and Matthew 24), then another event happens: a stone that is cut out of the mountain without hands crushes the iron, bronze, clay, and the silver (v. 45), symbolizing the destruction of the final Roman Empire and essentially all Gentile kingdoms thereafter. In its place, there is a divine kingdom that is set up by God, which is essentially the kingdom of God that comes to earth, which Jesus often spoke of in the Gospels. It is described as an empire that will endure forever and not coincide with other existing Gentile powers (v. 44). Daniel described this prophetic vision as things that will take place in the future (v. 45), which describes the major kingdoms in the time of the Gentiles and how they will come to an end by the destroying hand of God Himself.

The succession of Gentile world powers was reaffirmed through Daniel’s latter dream regarding the future and the time of the Gentiles. This vision is clearly presented in Daniel 7. The chapter introduces us to a dream that Daniel had, in which he saw four great beasts coming up from the sea, different from one another (v. 3). The first one was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle, which represented Babylon(v. 4). The second beast looked like a bear, and it devoured the meat of its fallen enemy (v. 5). This beast represented Medo-Persia. The third beast looked like a leopard, which had four heads, and four wings on its back (v. 6). This represented Greece, the four heads representing the 4 generals who divided the kingdom after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. The fourth beast was depicted as dreadful, strong, and had large iron teeth (v. 7). This represented the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day. This empire did not die, but continues to live on in a divided status until the end of time, when a conspicuous little horn will arise and bring power back to this empire over the world (v. 8). This represents the final world empire operated by the Beast of Revelation 13.

In chapter 8, Daniel received a dream that described specific Gentile rulers who would come into power. He saw a ram (the Medo-Persian Empire) that was struck down by a male goat (Greece) with a conspicuous horn (Alexander the Great) between his eyes (v. 6). This conspicuous horn was eventually shattered, signifying the death of Alexander. The four horns that came up out of its place represented the four generals who became kings over 4 sectors of the Grecian empire. The small horn of verse 9 represented the coming of Antiochus Epiphanes, who greatly persecuted the Jewish people. Like Antiochus, the Beast of the final world empire is also identified as a little horn, which shows that Antiochus prefigured the final Antichrist who will oppress and persecute Israel during the Great Tribulation until the Messiah finally comes to finally do away with Gentile domination.

In conclusion, the prophetic message involving the “time of the Gentiles” is a fascinating subject that has much to do with Israel’s future and the coming messianic kingdom. Despite Gentile domination and the horrors that Israel experienced and will undergo until the end of time, there is the hope of deliverance, spiritual salvation, and national restoration in that the Son of Man will defeat the Gentile powers and set up His righteous kingdom that will rule dominate the earth. Thus, the book of Daniel is a prophetic book that marvelously explores the greatness of God’s sovereignty and His control of all future events toward a meaningful and glorious end. 

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