Parallel with the period of Israel’s captivity, scattering, and final tribulation, run what our Lord calls “the times of the Gentiles.” (Luke 21:24.) Of these much is written in the prophecies of Daniel, and to this book it is that Christ Himself refers, when speaking of the period of Israel’s oppression under Gentile supremacy. (See Matt. 24:15.)
The promise made to Israel under the law, and conditional upon their obedience, was that they should be “set on high above all the nations of the earth;” that in everything they should be manifestly a blessed people. All the people of the earth were to see that they were called by the name of the Lord; and to be afraid of them. They were to be the head, and not the tail; to be above only, and not beneath. (See Deut. 28:1-14.) But on account of their subsequent disobedience and utter apostasy from Jehovah, they forfeited all these blessings, and, instead thereof, the curses that follow in Deut. 28 have come upon them to the full. It was not until after long trial, during the times of the Judges and of the Kings— after many warnings by prophets, many partial judgments and deliverances—that finally the threatened scattering and captivity took place, first of the ten tribes (see 2 Kings 15:29 and 18:9-12) and then of the remaining two; viz., Judah and Benjamin. (See 2 Kings 25:1, 2, and 2 Chron. 36:15-21.) “Thus was the wrath of the Lord kindled against His people, so that He abhorred His own inheritance. And He gave them into the hand of the heathen; so that they that hated them ruled over them.” (Ps. 106:40, 41.)
It is of this period of the supremacy of Gentile power, called by the Lord the times of the Gentiles, that the book of Daniel principally treats. We have there recorded two distinct visions, each of which embraces the whole period, from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to the second coming of the Lord Jesus to execute judgment upon the nations.
The first of these is that which was given in a dream to king Nebuchadnezzar himself (Dan. 2:31): “Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”
The interpretation that follows is plain and explicit. The head of gold represents Nebuchadnezzar himself. “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, strength, and glory. Thou art this head of gold.”
After him was to arise another kingdom, inferior— the inferiority consisting probably in the fact that the dominion was less immediately conferred by God—represented by the silver, then a third represented by brass, and a fourth by iron, and lastly, the deterioration still continuing, this fourth kingdom assumes the form of a mixture of iron and clay. That these kingdoms were the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman, there can be no doubt—indeed, upon this all are agreed. (See Dan. 2:38, 5:28, 8:21, Luke 3.)
More details are given in the interpretation by Daniel as to the fourth kingdom than any of the others. In the course of its duration it undergoes a change in its character, the clay being introduced in the feet and toes, and not before.
It is upon this fourth kingdom, in its final form, that the stone falls. The stone is one throughout Scripture, the same that, being rejected by the builders, is made the Head of the Corner, and which shall grind to powder all upon whom it shall fall. The end of Gentile supremacy is thus shown to be in judgment, by the setting up of “a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”
It is thus that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. Vainly do we search in Scripture for a prophecy that can in any degree justify the commonly received opinion, that a change will be effected, by the “leavening” (?) power of the gospel, aided by education, science, political and sanitary reform, in the character of the kingdoms of this world. The boasted progress of the nineteenth century rather betrays, to the opened eye, that development of pride and blasphemy, of absence of natural affection, of fierce and high-minded assertion, each class of its own rights, that surely indicates the last days. Nor is it without significance that in these nationalities of Europe which occupy the sphere of the ancient Roman empire, there should, at the present time, be such an accession of the republican element, and even of that lower form of the lowest of all government — the communist, that has shown too plainly in France its hideous character. But as the purely autocratic form of government was typified by the Head of Gold, we may safely conclude that the lowest form of democratic government is typified by the clay. And how evident it is that the iron sway of Roman imperial authority is being broken up by the introduction of the democratic element—that the two have no cohesion, that the interests of the whole are sacrificed to the interests of the party. The kingdom is partly strong and partly broken already, and even thus shall it be when the Stone shall fall and make the whole as the chaff upon the summer threshing-floor.
Answering to the vision given to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel has also a vision—embracing under the figure of four beasts —the same kingdoms and periods that to Nebuchadnezzar appeared as a magnificent image, of which himself was the head.
There is nothing to the eye of faith that can please or attract, in all the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them. Satan might show them to the Lord Jesus, and offer them by way of temptation; but to Him and to every son of God with anointed eyes they are “great beasts,” wild, untameable, cruel, and monstrous; and the fourth is the most dreadful, and terrible, and strong of all.
Of the fourth beast, as of the fourth section of the image, more detail is given than of the others. And it is in the days of this beast that the thrones are cast down, and the Ancient of days is seen sitting upon His throne. “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.” (Read Dan. 7:1-11.) At the same time there is given to the Son of man “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, and nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Ver. 14.)
And again (verse 23), “The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth,… and the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them,… and he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: … but the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, … and the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”
Turning from Daniel to the book of Revelation, we find again the Gentile power represented by beasts. (See chaps, 13:and xvii.) But here the first three beasts of the vision in Daniel have no place—they having passed away in the time when the book of Revelation was written.
Consequently in this book we have, with fuller details, that which answers to the fourth section of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, and to the fourth beast in Daniel’s vision; and here, as in those previous prophecies, judgment is executed upon the beast (which retains all its enmity to God up to the close of its existence upon earth), by the Lord Jesus Christ, in person, coming from heaven, accompanied by the saints, He being now “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” and the saints—the armies, clothed in fine linen and associated with Him in all His judgment and victory, (See Rev. 19:11-21.)
It is well to see beneath the garb of seemingly honest inquiry after truth, the real character of the governments of the present day, and their various political creeds. They are all utterly godless; they all deny the Lordship of Christ; under the veil of liberty they are gradually, with one consent, becoming first tolerant of all religions, next sceptical of all, then infidel, and lastly, openly anti-christian, intolerant towards truth, persecuting to the death God’s witnesses, and worshipping the devil incarnate in the person of “the man of sin.”
Such is the course of this world; already Satan is its god and prince, its religious and its political head. A Christian has no more to do with the world’s politics than with the world’s religion. His path is that of strangership here—like the Lord Himself—who walked apart from all the political questions of His day, disputing not the claims of Caesar, nor contending for the emancipation of His nation, but looking for the joy that was set before Him at God’s right hand.