How to interpret the prophecy of Daniel chapters 2 and 7 through 12 is one of the keys to understanding some difficult passages in the New Testament, namely Matthew 24, otherwise known as the Mount of Olives Discourse, and much of the book of Revelation.
I have a longer commentary on Daniel called, In the Days of These Kings …, which you can read for more information. For our purposes here, we will look here briefly at Daniel chapters 2 and 7 in which Daniel relates a dream that had been troubling the King of Babylon, Nebuchanezzar:
“You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:31-35).
Although there are some minor variations in interpretation here, it is generally thought that the four kingdoms in Daniel 2 refer to the Babylonian or Chaldean Empire, then the Empire divided between the conquering Medes and Persians, the third kingdom refers to the conquest of the world by Alexander the Great, and the fourth kingdom refers to the successors of Alexander, the kings of Syria and Egypt, and the entire Greco-Roman period up until the time of the Roman Empire.
Now one might ask, “What does this have to do with the time when Jesus Christ would set up a future messianic kingdom?” The answer comes when we read Daniel’s interpretation of the Kings’ dream when he describes the overthrow of the fourth kingdom.
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
And in the days of these kings means simply, in the days of the Roman Empire. At that time, the kingdom of God would be brought to earth by Jesus Christ and would never be destroyed. Not only would this messianic kingdom be invincible from attack, but it would also overthrow kingdoms of this world and they would become part of the kingdom of God and of His Christ (Rev 11:15).
The question answered by this verse is when God would set up a kingdom on earth. He would set up His kingdom “in the days of these kings.”
We see the fulfillment of this prophecy in the Gospels. In fact, Luke begins his Gospel with an account of Jesus birth: “And it came to pass that in those days … [of] Caesar Augustus” (Luke 2:1).
Likewise, the beginning of Christ’s ministry began “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1). The writers of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke especially, take pains to identify the coming of Christ in the days of the reigns of the Roman Caesars.
Luke purposefully references Daniel, in order to answer the question, “When will Christ and the kingdom of God come on earth?”
The answer, “And it came to pass that in those days … [of] Caesar Augustus” certainly echoes Daniel’s prophecy, “In the days of these kings…” In other words, in the days of the Roman Caesars.
This is further revealed in the next verse of Daniel 2.
“Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold – the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure” (Daniel 2:45).
A stone made without hands does not refer to Jesus the Messiah himself at the time of the Second Coming as many futurists have imagined. But it is stated plainly in the previous verse that the stone is the kingdom of God.
And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed …
This kingdom appeared in the days of the Roman Empire at the coming of Christ. The idea that the Messiah was to appear in the days of the Roman Empire is further illuminated in Daniel 7.
I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13,14).
The Son of Man speaks of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is fully God and fully man. In the Gospels, Jesus identities himself as the “Son of man” in order to identify himself as the Messiah.
Dominion, and glory, and a kingdom speaks of Christ being given the keys of the kingdom by God the Father when he sat down at the right hand of God after His resurrection and ascension. This kingdom is not a future kingdom. It began in the days of the Roman Empire. It overcame Rome and will overcome all the kingdoms of this world. It will last forever.
We see this image of Jesus as the exalted King, “one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven,” throughout the New Testament.
When Jesus stood before the High Priest on trial and was asked if he was the Christ:
Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
When Stephen was stoned to death becoming the first Christian martyr:
But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55)
And finally John, in the book of Revelation, uses Daniel’s image of a Son of Man Coming on the Clouds of Heaven:
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen (Revelation 1:7).
And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:12-14).
While there are many conflicting eschatological theories attempting to make sense out the difficult texts of Daniel and the book of Revelation, we can be sure of two things by comparing the consistent imagery of the Bible and using the historical grammatical hermeneutic. In other words, scripture must interpret scripture.
- The Son of Man is none other than Jesus Christ who came in the days of the Roman Empire.
- Jesus came to set up the kingdom of God on earth “in the days of these kings” – in the days of the Roman Caesars.
Thus Christ’s victorious kingdom is not an earthly kingdom that will appear only at the Second Coming sometime in the future. It is a heavenly kingdom that has it’s footstool on earth in the here and now.