A life of exile

We shall now take another tour into a different book of the Bible - the book of Daniel - in order to understand better the political system and events that surround the last seven years of world history, which we are referring to as the period of the "tribulation". We are going to begin with King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel, chapter two. In the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, Daniel had been exiled to Babylon, along with the king himself, the royal court and the majority of the rest of the population. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, decided to bring to his own court some of the most academically able and capable young men - men from the royal family and the nobility of Judah. Daniel was one of those chosen. Nebuchadnezzar provided the best of everything for them – education, food and living conditions. In return, he expected them to be prepared to serve and follow instructions, as and when they were given. It would have been extremely easy for these men to accept all that had been provided for them and turn their backs on their own culture and faith. Initially, many of them did.

For example, food from Nebuchadnezzar’s table would have been considered "unclean" by the exiled Jews because part of it would have been offered to idols. Many of the chosen, young men set aside their principles but Daniel was different. His family had taught him from an early age to love and trust in God, so he chose - along with three others – to ask to be fed on nothing but vegetables and to be given only water to drink. In response, God blessed Daniel and his three friends and prospered them in their health so that, after just ten days, they were clearly doing better than every other person in their group. The result was that, with the King’s approval, this diet was continued and extended to all the other students!

Daniel’s determination to follow God’s ways, rather than to succumb to the trappings of the wealthy nation in which he now lived, formed the pattern for his life. He determined always to love God and to put Him first in whatever he did – even when it appeared that, because of his stand, he could lose his life. As a result of Daniel’s faithfulness, God began to do amazing things in his life. Daniel was academically bright and, along with his three friends, could understand all kinds of literature and learning, but Daniel was also given the unique ability to interpret visions and dreams. Nebuchadnezzar himself talked to these young men. He tested them and discovered that they were ten times more able in wisdom and understanding than all the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.

The hazards of a royal advisor

This ability to decipher dreams was given at a time when Nebuchadnezzar and his successors (later kings of Babylon) had been given dreams by God which could not be understood by the regular, court officials: the magicians, enchanters and astrologers on whom the king relied for advicer and so-called "spiritual wisdom". Nebuchadnezzar was no fool and, in order to ensure that he was not going to be duped by his advisors, he insisted that they first had to tell him what he had been dreaming. (Daniel 2:1-6)

The royal advisors undoubtedly dabbled in the "dark arts". They would have been skilled in creating illusions and even using satanic powers to bamboozle the gullible, but the king's dream had come from God Himself, so his advisors had no idea what it was about. Serving a king in those days was a hazardous business. The rewards were amazing but the punishments for failure were drastic and invariably fatal. So it was in this case and, when the royal advisors could not meet the king's demands, the order went out to put them all to death.

Although, up to this point, Daniel and his friends had not been invited to assist, they were still classed as "royal advisors" and the commander of the guard was dispatched to round them up for execution as well. Daniel didn't lose his cool but used "wisdom and tact" to ask what was going on and why. The guard commander explained the situation and Daniel then went to the king to ask for some time to prepare an answer. The king granted his request and Daniel returned immediately to his friends to ask them to pray urgently for God's mercy and help.

God answers Daniel's prayer

During the night that followed, God answered their prayers and gave Daniel both the content of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and its meaning. (Daniel 2:17-19) God will always answer prayer. He longs to have a relationship with His people and will hold nothing back from us! Prayer is simply a conversation - a dialogue - with God. We can pour out our hearts to Him and receive His answers to our requests. He is ready and willing to walk through the rest of our lives with us as a friend who is closer than a brother!

Daniel made his choice as a young man - probably still a "teenager" - to get to know the living God: to put aside his own selfish interests and to follow God wherever it might lead him. It wasn't an easy journey. It began with exile from his own country to a foreign land with foreign customs and unknown gods. Daniel had intelligence and a privileged background, but he still found himself in a dangerous situation where compromise could have been fatal. However, Daniel resolved to hold fast to his faith in God and to continue to keep God's standards and principles. And God blessed his faithfulness!

The same can be true for us. God knows us; where we live and the state of our heart. We may feel that we don't have Daniel's gifts. We may be struggling with lethargy, laziness, fear or unbelief, but it is never too late to turn to God and choose to give ourselves to Him. God has amazing plans for our lives. (Jeremiah 29:10-14) “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8) He can provide us with the wisdom and discernment we need, at exactly the required time, to enable and equip us to speak into the lives of a individuals, groups, churches or even nations! Instead of thinking that "God cannot use someone like me", we just need to say that we’re available and then "dare to be a Daniel"!

Nebuchadnezzar's dream

Before doing anything else, Daniel thanks God for the answer to their prayers. He acknowledges God's sovereign control over the activities of all mankind and His knowledge of everything, past and present. How often do we receive an answer to our prayers, but then immediately pass on to thinking about our next need or concern? Let's emulate Daniel's example and take the time to thank God properly when He responds to us!

Daniel asks to see the king and the king asks Daniel if he has an answer for him. Daniel took this opportunity to explain that only God could reveal such mysteries. He emphasises that the dream was God's way of communicating directly with Nebuchadnezzar what was going to happen in the future. (Nebuchadnezzar had been thinking about this before he had his dream. Daniel 2:29) Daniel explains that he did not use his own wisdom or skill to discern what the dream was or what it was about; he was given the substance and meaning of the dream by God, who wanted Nebuchadnezzar to understand what was going to happen in the future.

What the king saw

Daniel then relates what Nebuchadnezzar saw: an enormous statue in the form of a human figure and built out of different materials. He identifies five sections of the statue, starting at the top with the softest (but heaviest) material - gold - and continuing through the chest and arms (silver), abdomen and thighs (bronze) and lower legs (iron) to feet and toes (iron mixed with clay). These materials become progressively lighter from top to bottom. As the king was looking at this statue and wondering what it was, a piece of uncut stone came flying through the air and struck the feet and toes of the statue, smashing them to pieces. The whole statue then fell apart and crumbled away into powder before being blown away by the wind. Finally, the piece of rock that was thrown began to grow. It went on growing and growing, until it becomes "a huge mountain" that filled the whole earth.

The meaning of the dream

Daniel then explained that the dream was about five kingdoms: Nebuchadnezzar's own kingdom that was already in place and four kingdoms still to come. Earlier, the prophet, Jeremiah, had warned the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon that Nebuchadnezzar would be given sovereignty over "the entire earth" (the extent of the world of which they had knowledge at that time). (Jeremiah 27:6-7) Now his prophecy had been fulfilled and Nebuchadnezzar was a king like none that had gone before. His dominion extended even to "the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky", echoing God's own charge to Adam at creation. (Genesis 1:26)

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom will be replaced by three other kingdoms in turn, each of which will be a great empire in its own way, before being replaced by a final kingdom - the kingdom of heaven - that will never be destroyed or replaced but will sweep aside all the earlier kingdoms and itself endure for ever. Daniel made no attempt to describe the intervening three kingdoms, but these are generally agreed to refer to the Medes and Persians (the chest and arms), the Greeks (abdomen and thighs) and the Romans (legs, feet and toes). The table below sets this out visually for clarity.

Whose vision?  Nebuchadnezzar  Daniel  Daniel    
   Daniel, chapter 2  Daniel, chapter 7  Daniel, chapter 8    
Subject? Vision of a great statue  Vision of wild animals  Vision of domestic animals    
 Number        Dates Kingdom
 1  The head of gold (Nebuchadnezzar)  Lion    626 - 539 BC  Babylon (Daniel 2:37-38)
 2  Chest and arms of silver  Bear  Ram  539 - 330 BC  Medo-Persia (Daniel 8:20)
 3  Abdomen and thighs  Leopard  Bear  330 - 63 BC  Greece (Daniel 8:21)
4  Legs of iron and feet of iron with clay Terrifying and powerful beast    63 BC onwards  Rome


Christian believers have reached different conclusions about the fifth kingdom - the kingdom of heaven. Most agree that it does indeed represent the kingdom of heaven, with Christ as its king, but some believe that the rock represents the "church universal" - the bride of Christ - that was founded after Jesus' resurrection and ascension to heaven. Others believe that it represents the kingdom that will be established when Christ comes (with His bride) at His second coming.

Daniel's dream

In chapter seven of his book, Daniel describes a dream which he himself had much later. According to the date he gives ("in the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon"), this would have been some fifty years after the dreams that Nebuchadnezzar had. However, it is generally agreed that this dream refers to the same subject: the four kingdoms - Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome - together represented by the giant statue. Daniel's dream consists of two visions: the first involves four wild animals, whilst the second has just two, domesticated animals. (The table above indicates how they relate back to Nebuchadnezzar's dream.)

Four beasts

Daniel’s first vision is outlined in chapter seven. (Daniel 7:1-8) He describes four wild animals, three of which he identified, but the fourth of which was so horrific that he described it simply as "terrifying and frightening and very powerful". The first three animals refer to the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece, all of which have now passed away. But it is the fourth (terrifying and frightening) beast which we shall now look at more closely. This beast was entirely different from the others, being much more complex. (Daniel 7:7-8) It had certain characteristics that we need to notice:

  • It was powerful, dreadful and strong.
  • It had iron teeth that devoured.
  • It trampled what was left with its feet.
  • It had ten horns (symbolising ten kings).
  • A small horn arose from among the ten, three of which were uprooted.
  • In the small horn were eyes like those of a man.
  • In the small horn was a mouth that could speak and it spoke "great things" - i.e., boastfully.

So who or what was this beast? Again, opinions over the years have varied but, with the first three beasts apparently corresponding with Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece, it seems consistent to identify this fourth beast with the Roman Empire. Certainly, all that we know about that empire would fit with Daniel's vision here: Rome had no interest in bringing enlightenment or civilisation to the nations that it conquered. It was ruthless in its destruction of other nations, killing thousands of captives and enslaving many, many more - all to serve its own imperial ambitions.

Furthermore, unlike the preceding three empires, Rome did not give way to another empire as such. The city of Rome was sacked by Visigoths in AD 410, but they were comprised of many different tribes that were unable to unite amongst themselves. What happened instead is that several different nations emerged across the area that we now call "Europe". Based on Daniel's vision, many now see something akin to the Roman Empire being reconstituted in Europe and, although the various incarnations of the European Economic Community and now the European Union do not match the arithmetic of "horns" (observed by Daniel and each representing a nation or kingdom), it is suggested that a future alliance may well correspond more closely to the details of what Daniel saw.

The fifth kingdom

In his vision, Daniel then found himself apparently in heaven, where he saw "one like a son of man" being led into the presence of "the Ancient of Days" and given "authority, glory and sovereign power". Given that Jesus used this name ("Son of Man") extensively during His first time on earth, we can safely see this as Jesus being given authority to rule over "an everlasting dominion that will not pass away - a kingdom that will never be destroyed" - the kingdom of heaven. Daniel then asks "one of those standing there" to explain about the fourth beast because it really troubled him. In particular, he wanted to know about the small horn which was different and had human eyes and a mouth. Daniel is told that this leader will "speak against the Most High and oppress His holy people and try to change the set times and the laws". (Daniel 7:25) The indications are that this is most likely to be the antichrist. The description certainly fits all the characteristics we anticipate him to have: he will speak against Christians and will seek to change God’s law by which the Jewish people live. The believers left on earth at that time will be given into his hand for "a time" (one year) "plus times" (two years) "plus half a time" (six months), making a total of three and a half years in all. This matches the remaining half of the seven years of the "tribulation".

Two more animals

Daniel is then given a second vision that refers back to the second and third kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. What he now sees are two domesticated animals: a ram and a goat. The ram (symbolising the kingdom of Medo-Persia) is attacked by the goat (symbolising the growing Greek empire). (See the table above.) Somewhat unusually, the goat has only a single horn (probably representing Alexander the Great). This horn is broken off at the height of its power and produces four more horns. Alexander the Great was incredibly successful in his military conquests, but became obsessed with his own magnificence and turned to a life of dissipation and debauchery, from which he died when still only thirty-three years old. His empire was then divided into four main territories, although it took some twenty years to achieve this arrangement.

From one of these four new rulers emerged yet another one, "which started small but grew in power to the South, to the East and toward the 'Beautiful Land'". (Daniel 8:9) This sounds very similar to the situation in Daniel's first vision, where a small horn arose from amongst the ten original horns, supplanting three of them. However, there are significant differences between the two visions and it is generally thought that the "little horn" in Daniel's second vision can be identified as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the eighth king of the Seleucid dynasty, who was a particularly nasty and vicious ruler and took it upon himself to destroy the Jewish faith. He conquered Israel, set himself up as "God", stopped the daily sacrifices in the temple and set up an altar to Zeus in its place, on which pigs were offered as sacrifices.

We can equate "the Beautiful Land" with Israel and see, from history, that this part of Daniel's second vision was fulfilled (in December 168 BC) by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus apparently refers to this incident when he talks about the end of the world and of being able to see "standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet, Daniel". (Matthew 24:15) From this we can conclude that the "little horn" seen by Daniel in his second vision (Antiochus) was a prototype for the "little horn" seen in his first vision (Antichrist). The antichrist will do something very similar in the last part of the "tribulation", setting up in "the holy place" an "abomination to cause desolation".

The distant future

In chapter ten, Daniel sees another vision which continues through the chapter eleven and verse thirty-five. This spells out in great detail the events leading up to the defiling of the temple by Antiochus IV in 168 BC. From then onwards, however, Daniel's attention is turned to the more distant future. In describing the king who "will do as he pleases", who "will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods" describes the antichrist. He will put down rebellions from the North and the South and overcome all countries in the Middle East except "Edom, Moab and Ammon" - broadly speaking, the area we now know as Jordan. He will eventually meet his end at "the beautiful, holy mountain", which we understand to signify Mt Moriah or the "Temple Mount" in Jerusalem.

In the last chapter (twelve) of his book, the revelation that Daniel has been given is summarised with a dire warning, but also an amazing promise. The warning concerns the intense persecution of his people which will reach its ghastly climax at the end of the period of "tribulation". It will be "a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then". However, it is immediately followed by a promise of deliverance. (Daniel 12:1)

The promise includes one of the few clear references in the Old Testament concerning a resurrection to eternal life. (Daniel 12:2) There will be rewards for "those who are wise" and "those who lead many to righteousness". The New Testament writers talk extensively about resurrection, linking it to Jesus Himself and talking about our need to be identified with Him in His death and resurrection. However, this passage in Daniel gives a firm indication that a similar experience awaits those who lived before Jesus was born as the "Son of Man".

Daniel is anxious to know, "how long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?" The answer he is given relates strictly to the length of the persecution that the Jewish people will suffer during the second half of the "tribulation": three and a half years. Daniel wanted to know more, but was told: "Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end". (Daniel 12:9)

This is good advice for us too. Like Daniel, we need to make our decision to follow Jesus, no matter what the cost. To do so is wisdom. We also need to make the most of the time that we have to share with others the good news about Jesus Christ - to lead many to righteousness. Jesus may return before we reach the end of our lives but, if not, we shall rest and then, at the end of days, rise to receive our allotted inheritance. (Daniel 12:13)

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