Daniel 2 and the Antichrist

Category: The End Times 191 4

One of the most interesting and popular topics about the End Times is the identity and origin of the Antichrist.[1] Scripture does not give us a lot of information about this ruler who will make an appearance shortly before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Views range from the idea that there will not be an Antichrist, to the belief that the Antichrist lived two thousand years ago or more, and to the most common views that he will rise in the future. For the latter, there are two popular interpretations: that the Antichrist will come from a revived Roman Empire or that he will be a Muslim from the Middle East. This article will examine Daniel 2 and its relationship to a futuristic Antichrist. I have two articles that discuss if Daniel 2 was fulfilled before or during the time of Christ. I have found problems with both views.

An Overview of Daniel 2

Daniel 2 gives the reader details about a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (c. 634-562 BC). In this dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a large statue which was divided into five different sections. Confused about the meaning of the dream, he called in astrologers, magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers to interpret the dream for him. However, he was out of luck as they could not do so. Instead, the prophet Daniel was brought before the king to tell him the meaning of the statue.

The statue in the dream was divided into five parts: a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs (calves) of iron, and feet mixed with iron and clay. A rock then struck the statue on its feet and destroyed the entire statue.

The different layers of the statue represented different empires that were going to emerge throughout history. The head of gold was the Babylonian Empire (626-539 BC). This was the empire that Nebuchadnezzar ruled over. The chest and arms of silver were the Medo-Persian Empire (c. 550-330 BC), which rose out of modern-day Iran. It was the Medes and Persians who conquered the Babylonian Empire. The belly and thighs of bronze were the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great (330-30 BC).[2] The following maps show the extent of these three empires.

The Babylonian Empire
The Babylonian Empire
The Medo-Persian Empire
The Medo-Persian Empire
The Empire of Alexander the Great
The Empire of Alexander the Great

The legs of iron represent another kingdom, one that comes after the Greeks. The most common interpretation for the legs of iron is that they represent the Roman Empire.[3] The feet and toes of the statue were made up of both iron and clay. The feet were mixed because it will be “a divided kingdom; yet it will have some strength of iron in it…this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle…the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay” (2:41-43) The ten toes are interpreted to be ten kings that will arise out of the fourth kingdom – the legs of iron. Interpretations of the feet are that they either represent a divided Roman Empire (after 395 AD) or the revived Roman Empire of the Antichrist.[4] A second interpretation of the legs is the Islamic Caliphate that existed from 632-1924. The feet and toes would then be either the Middle East today or a future revived Caliphate.

Daniel 2 finishes by saying:

44 “In the time of those kings [the ten toes], 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 its interpretation is trustworthy.”

The passage finishes up with God destroying the statue during the time of the last kingdom (the feet) and sets up his kingdom on this earth (the rock that becomes the mountain).

Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD
Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD

Crushing the Other Kingdoms

We now come to the big question: Are the legs and feet Roman or Islamic? This is a controversial issue that is surrounded with emotions. This article will examine two important issues with identifying the correct interpretation. First, what is meant by Daniel 2:40 which teaches that the fourth kingdom will crush the first three empires? Second, we will go more in-depth with the division of the legs.

Daniel 2:40 says that the kingdom of iron will “crush and break all the others [the first three kingdoms].” The first three kingdoms (Babylon, Persia, and Greece) were Middle Eastern Empires (see the maps above). They included modern-day nations from Egypt and Turkey all the way to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan (plus others). Advocates of an Islamic Antichrist argue that these kingdoms were never completely conquered by Rome. In fact, a huge portion of the Persian and Greek Empires remained permanently outside of Roman power, and Rome would only conquer about one-third of these two kingdoms. Rome never crushed these empires which is a requirement for the identification of the fourth kingdom.[5]

Believers in a Roman Antichrist can respond to this charge in a few different ways. First, Rome did conquer Greece and Babylon. There was one Roman emperor who would invade and conquer Babylon, and that was Trajan (who ruled from 98-117 AD). However, this did not last long. Scholar Herbert W. Benario says of Trajan’s war in Mesopotamia:

“In 114 [AD] [Trajan] attacked the enemy through Armenia and then, over three more years, turned east and south, passing through Mesopotamia and taking Babylon and the capital of Ctesiphon. He then is said to have reached the Persian Gulf and to have lamented that he was too old to go further in Alexander’s footsteps.”

Benario continues:

“The territories, however, which had been handily won, were much more difficult to hold. Uprisings among the conquered peoples, and particularly among the Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora, caused him to gradually resign Roman rule over these newly-established provinces as he returned westward. The revolts were brutally suppressed. In [mid-117], Trajan, now a sick man, was slowly returning to Italy, having left Hadrian in command in the east, when he died in Selinus of Cilicia [in modern-day Turkey] on August 9, having designated Hadrian as his successor while on his death bed…Among Hadrian’s first acts was to give up all of Trajan’s eastern conquests.”[6]

Although one could say that Rome conquered Babylon,[7] it cannot be argued that Rome crushed Persia. The Persian Empire (called the Parthian and Sasanian Empires during this period) was the major enemy of Rome. Although the Romans tried desperately to conquer Persia, they never did.[8]

Second, it is argued that the description of the fourth kingdom as “crushing” its opponents is an accurate description of how the Roman army dealt with its enemies.[9] Wood adds that Rome crushed Persia since Greece conquered it and Rome, in turn, took over Greece.[10] However, this is not what Daniel 2:40 is teaching. It says that the fourth kingdom would crush the earlier empires (Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece). Although Rome was destructive and conquered Greece (who crushed Persia), Rome did not conquer the Persian Empire, but the latter was instead Rome’s greatest enemy.

Third, Leon Wood argues that the “fourth kingdom must be Rome, for it succeeded Greece.”[11] This is a good point but Daniel 2:40 is clear that the fourth kingdom would crush the first three and Rome never did that. Remember that Persia continued to exist alongside the Roman Empire. It can also be argued that the Islamic Empire succeeded the first three kingdoms since Islam was the government that finally overthrew the Persians in the mid-seventh century and even went on to conquer Greece centuries later (I will speak more about Wood’s argument in the next section).

A second argument is brought up by advocates of a Islamic Antichrist. The word “crushed” in this verse could be interpreted that the kingdom of iron will “crush” the previous three kingdoms by conquering them culturally and religiously, not just geographically. Writer Joel Richardson thinks that “to crush” could be expanded to include these two criteria.

The argument goes something like this. The Roman Empire never destroyed the cultures it conquered. It never abolished religion or imposed a new language. Instead, the Romans tolerated the cultures that it conquered and even improved them by adding laws, creating order, and building roads and infrastructure. Roman law and military even created the Pax Romana (which means “Roman peace”). Although the Roman legions could be brutal when putting down rebellions, overall the time of the Roman Empire was quite peaceful for most of those people living within its borders. This contradicts the fact that the fourth kingdom in Daniel 2 will “crush” its enemies.[12]

Only the Islamic Caliphate would go on to crush and erase the cultures and religions that it conquered. The very word Islam means “submission.” The religious ideology of Islam dominates every facet of a person’s life, both public and private. In fact, Richardson says, “Islam is the epitome of a totalitarian ideology.” It imposed the Arabic language everywhere it spread. Although the Turks and Persians did not speak Arabic, they have Arabized their own languages in accordance with Islam.[13] Islam has imposed not only the Arab language but also all aspects of Arab culture and religion on those it has conquered.[14] This has even occurred in the Western World where Muslims are currently becoming a larger part of the population. The historic London Borough of Tower Hamlets has become a home to many Muslims in London. This has seen the elimination of many Christian sites. One site is the St. Mary’s Churchyard, a monastery which dates back to the year 1122. It is now Altab Ali Park. On the corner of this park is what is known as the Shaheed Minar (“Martyr Monument”). It is a replica of a national monument in Dhaka, Bangladesh.[15]

This argument is interesting and does make the Islamic Antichrist theory look promising. However, this interpretation may not be the kind of “crush” that Daniel had in mind. Either way Daniel 2:40 is clear that the fourth kingdom had to crush the first three and the Roman Empire does have difficulty fulfilling that part of the prophecy. It is especially important that the major enemy of the Romans was Persia. In this case, Islam does fit Daniel 2:40 better than Rome does.

Islamic Caliphate in 661 AD. Notice that it covered the same basic area as the Babylonian, Persian, and Greek Empires.
Islamic Caliphate in 661 AD. Notice that it covered the same basic area as the Babylonian, Persian, and Greek Empires.

The Division of the Legs of Iron

One of the major arguments mentioned above for a Roman Antichrist was that the Rome came chronologically after the Greek Empire. However, there is a problem with this. The kingdom of iron is spilt into two sections: two legs. This is commonly interpreted to indicate the division between east and west. This fits, according to many, the Roman Empire because it was divided into a western section (Western Europe and western North Africa) and an eastern section (Greece, the Middle East, and Egypt).[16]

However, there is a huge problem with this kind of thinking. The two legs of iron emerge from the two thighs which in themselves extend from the belly. Remember that it is the Greek Empire that is divided between the belly and thighs. This indicates two periods in the history of the Greek Empire.

It is likely that the belly represents Alexander the Great. Alexander was strong and had complete control over his kingdom (as the abdominal muscles are the core/center of the human body). After he died, his empire was divided into four kingdoms. However, only two of them had importance in the history of Israel – the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. The Ptolemies ruled Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, and other parts of North Africa. This was the western section of Alexander’s empire. The Seleucids ruled Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and most points eastward toward India. This is the eastern section.

The kingdom of iron will come out of the two divisions of the Greek Empire,[17] and the feet and toes will emerge out of the kingdom of iron. This seems to indicate that five of the ten kings will emerge from the western part of Alexander’s empire while the other five will come out of the eastern part. The ten kings of the feet of the statue reappear in Daniel 7:7, 20; and Revelation 13:1; 17:12-14. Revelation 16:12 tells us about how the Euphrates River will dry up so that the kings of the East can come westward to Armageddon (v. 16). The context seems to point to the kings of the East being identified with the kings that emerge from the Beast.

This presents a major problem for a Roman Antichrist. Why would the western and eastern portions of the Greek Empire (both Middle Eastern) shift into Western and Eastern Europe for the legs of iron (if it is Rome), but shift back to the Middle East for the feet and toes? Daniel 2 seems to point to the fact that the kingdom of iron will emerge in the same area as the Ptolemies and Seleucids.

Conclusion

This article examined two interpretations concerning Daniel 2. The first is that the Antichrist will emerge from the Roman Empire. The second is that the Antichrist will come from the Middle East. According to the latter, there are two major problems with the Antichrist coming from Europe. First, the Roman Empire never “crushed” the Persian Empire, which is a requirement of the fourth kingdom. Second, that the kingdom of the Antichrist is divided into eastern and western sections of the Middle East as Alexander the Great’s kingdom was.

What do you think? Is this different from what you normally thought about Daniel 2 and the Antichrist? Do you agree with it?

[1] This is a revision of an article originally published on April 15, 2013.

[2] John Walvoord. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971). 66. John C. Whitcomb. Daniel. Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1985). 45. Leon Wood. A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973). 68. John MacArthur. The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005). 951-952. David R. Reagan. Daniel: His End Time Prophecies.” http://www.lamblion.com/articles/articles_general8.php. Accessed January 21, 2014. Sinclair B. Ferguson. Daniel. In the “New Bible Commentary.” Ed. D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Motyer, and G.J. Wenham. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994). 750.

[3] Walvoord says that it is “obvious that they represent Rome (p. 68). See also Wood, 68. Whitcomb, 46. MacArthur, 951-952. Reagan. Sinclair, 750.

[4] Whitcomb, 49-56. Walvoord, 74. MacArthur, 951-952. Reagan. Wood, however, believes that the feet and toes point to a weakened Rome caused by “a deterioration of moral fiber among the people.” See Wood, 69-70.

[5] Joel Richardson. Mideast Beast (Washington D.C.: WND Books, 2012), 58-59. Walid Shoebat, with Joel Richardson. God’s War on Terror (Top Executive Media, 2008). 310, 312-314.

[6] Herbert W. Benario. “Trajan (A.D. 98-117).” In the An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors. http://www.luc.edu/roman-emperors/trajan.htm. Accessed January 21, 2014.

[7] Shoebat notes that although Rome invaded Babylon, the Romans never fully controlled the entire region. At best, “the Roman Empire is essentially a mere footnote in Babylonian/Mesopotamian history…” (p. 312)

[8] Shoebat, 313.

[9] Whitcomb, 48-49. Walvoord, 68-69. Wood, 69.

[10] Wood, 69.

[11] Ibid., 68.

[12] Richardson, 59-61.

[13] Although this has changed for Turkey in the past century.

[14] Richardson, 64. Shoebat, 316. Shoebat says, “It is crucial for Westerners to understand that the fundamental duty of Islam is to Arabize the world – to unite humanity under one language, one government, and one religion: Islam. It is an attempt to reverse what God did at the Tower of Babel.”

[15] Ibid. 63.

[16] Walvoord, for example, believes that Rome continues the two-fold division of the Ptolemies and Seleucids (p. 73).

[17] Shoebat, 311.

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