Daniel's prophetic work began when Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream. This Babylonian ruler asked his magicians to tell him both his dream and its interpretation. God put it into Nebuchadnezzar's mind to demand of them something that is humanly impossible—to require them to tell him what he had dreamed.
Daniel was not only able to describe the king's dream but to explain its prophetic meaning.
What did Nebuchadnezzar see in his dream?
"You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue-an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure 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 baked clay" (Daniel 2:31-33, New International Version).
What did the statue's parts, composed of various materials, symbolize?
"This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory . . . You are that head of gold. After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others" (Daniel 2:36-40, NIV).
Students of prophecy and history generally agree that the parts of the statue refer to the four empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome (Persia and Greece are even identified by name in Daniel 8:20-21). Daniel, in another vision in chapter 7, saw these kingdoms as wild beasts that devour other nations.
The four kingdoms dominated the course of events in the Near East during their rule. The Roman Empire ultimately grew to encompass most of the territory from the Near East through the westernmost parts of Europe. Rome grew infamous for its intense persecution of Jews and Christians.
Although none of these kingdoms controlled every part of the world, their ideas have greatly influenced civilization ever since. This is particularly true of Greece and Rome, whose cultures and ideas have shaped much of the governmental, educational, social and religious thinking and practices of the Western world.
What will happen to the kingdoms represented by the statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream?
"While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35, NIV).
In Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the whole statue crumbled when the "rock [that] was cut out, but not by human hands" struck and shattered its feet. Its tiny fragments blew away like dust "so that no trace of them was found." The kingdoms of man operating under the influence and guidance of Satan will come to the same end. They are destined to be utterly destroyed and forgotten.
What will follow the destruction of this Satan-influenced civilization?
"In the time of those kings, 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" (Daniel 2:44, NIV).
The kingdom God will establish will transcend all human efforts. God will establish on earth His civilization, rejected by mankind from the beginning. The Interpreter's Bible, speaking of this kingdom, says:
"Its standing 'for ever' is the universality of the kingdom in time (Daniel 7:14) just as the mountain filling the earth was its universality in space. The term 'for ever' lifts the kingdom out of time into eternity. The world periods have ended and the timeless kingdom which has no ending is to be introduced. Each of those world periods was succeeded by another, but this kingdom will have no successors."
Jesus Christ will replace the kingdoms of this world with the Kingdom His Father will give Him at His return—the Kingdom of God. This is the good news of Daniel's prophecy and the same good news Jesus preached. This is what His gospel is about. This is the message He commanded His disciples to preach to the world.
How certain is the prophecy?
". . . 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).
Daniel's prophecies about the Kingdom came at a critical time in the history of ancient Israel. The Israelites had lost their sovereignty through captivity. Yet in the midst of their calamity and ruin God revealed to them, through His prophets, that a restoration of the people and nation of Israel would occur under the rule of the Messiah (Jeremiah 23:5-8).