Bible prophecy clearly shows that Jesus Christ will return to establish the Kingdom of God, a literal world-ruling kingdom, on earth. This hope is so fundamental that Jesus instructed Christians to regularly pray, "Your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). Prophecies throughout the Bible give many details about Christ's return and conditions in the world leading up to that event.
However, one little—understood fact prophetically highlighted in the Bible is that a new superpower will emerge on the world scene shortly before His return. It will, in fact, fight Jesus Christ at His return, only to be destroyed—but not before this superpower reshapes today's geopolitical landscape in ways that will shock and surprise the entire world.
Understanding of future empires revealed
The rise of this final world superpower is foretold primarily in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. We'll begin with what God revealed to the prophet Daniel in Old Testament times.
Daniel 2 records that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a gigantic image of a man, with different parts of the image composed of different metals—gold, silver, bronze, iron, and iron mixed with clay. None of the king's astrologers, advisors or wise men could interpret the meaning of the dream until Daniel, to whom God had revealed its meaning, stepped forward.
Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that "there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets" and that He had made known to the king what would happen in the future (Daniel 2:28-29). Daniel then went on to explain that a series of empires would arise to dominate the Holy Land and much of the known world of their day.
The image's head of gold, Daniel explained, represented Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian Empire: "You are this head of gold" (Daniel 2:38). After Babylon, "another kingdom inferior to yours," Daniel told the king, would arise, followed by a "third kingdom of bronze," and finally a fourth kingdom "as strong as iron," which would "break in pieces and crush all the others" (Daniel 2:39-40).
From history we know that these next three kingdoms after Babylon were the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great and his successors, and the Roman Empire.
All were the superpowers of their day. Rome indeed broke in pieces and crushed all its competitors in building the greatest empire the world had ever seen up until that time. (Although we won't go into it for lack of space, Daniel 7 contains a similar prophecy of these four empires, symbolized by beasts described as being like a lion, a bear, a leopard and a fourth beast unlike the others.)
Fast-forward to the end time
The feet and toes of the image Nebuchadnezzar saw were composed "partly of potter's clay and partly of iron," meaning "the kingdom shall be divided...partly strong and partly fragile." This means it would be made up of people who "will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay" (Daniel 2:41-43).
The timeline represented by this image began with the head in Nebuchadnezzar's day. Continuing that timeline from head to toes, the image represented, after Babylon, the Persian, Greek and Roman Empires that would follow, each in its own era. But regarding the last of these great empires drawing to a close, we see another dramatic symbol introduced into the vision.
Describing the time represented by the feet of iron mixed with clay, Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar: "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...The rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35, New International Version, emphasis added throughout unless otherwise noted).
What does this mean?
Daniel went on to explain this symbolism: "In the time of those kings [the leaders of the mixture of people represented by the iron and clay], 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. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands" (Daniel 2:44-45, NIV).
This "kingdom that will never be destroyed," we know from many other prophecies, is the Kingdom of God, which Jesus Christ will establish on earth at His return. This is confirmed by the triumphant announcement that accompanies His return as recorded in Revelation 11:15: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (NIV).
We see here that, odd as it may sound, Daniel's prophecy reveals that the fourth empire—the Roman Empire—will exist in some form and be destroyed at Christ's return to earth! As we will see, a comparison of several Bible prophecies with secular history will show how astoundingly accurate those prophecies have proved to be!
More details in the book of Revelation
Revelation, the final prophetic book of the Bible, reveals more details about this fourth and final empire. In Revelation 13, John records a vision he saw of "a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns" (Revelation 13:1). This beast, representing a final empire or geopolitical superpower, has characteristics of a leopard, bear and lion (verse 2)—showing continuity with the ancient gentile empires of Babylon, Persia and Greece, symbolized by these same animals in Daniel's vision found in Daniel 7.
As Rome had swallowed up and incorporated characteristics of these earlier empires, so does this final great empire, represented by a beast in John's vision, incorporate characteristics of the creatures that represented these earlier empires as seen by Daniel.
Why is this final empire represented as a beast? It's because ultimately its actions are more like a powerful and vicious animal than a human being. Whereas a person can be open to the guidance of God and exercise qualities such as compassion, care and concern for others, an animal is driven primarily by the motivations of self-preservation, power and control.
And indeed we see that these have been the motivations of most human governments throughout history. Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and countless other kingdoms, empires and governments have wielded their power to attack, oppress and enslave others so they could preserve their power and control. So a "beast" is indeed a fitting symbol for a world empire—particularly one such as this.
"The dragon"—Satan the devil (see Revelation 12:9)—is the unseen supernatural influence at work behind the scenes in this final world superpower (Revelation 13:2). And it will wield enormous influence over the world in the end time. All the world will marvel and follow it (Revelation 13:3). People will say: "Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" (Revelation 13:4). It will appear invincible and unstoppable.
With Satan behind it, this power will "make war against the saints"—killing and persecuting the faithful servants of God. So great will be the dominance of this beast that it will have "authority over every tribe, people, language and nation" and "all inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast" (Revelation 13:7-8, NIV).
Centuries of history bear record of man's unjust rule without the guidance of God. Like its ancient predecessor, this end-time system will set itself against God, ruthlessly suppressing His truth and attacking those who faithfully serve Him.
All signs point to Rome
Do other signs lead us to identify this final world superpower as a modern-day incarnation of the Roman Empire? In addition to what we have seen above, many other Bible indicators point in that direction.
One is found in verses 3 and 12, where it is stated that this beast has a "deadly wound" that is healed. Prophetically, what does this mean?
After years of decline, the Roman Empire indeed received a "deadly wound" in A.D. 476 when Rome's Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by Germanic tribes led by Odoacer. But that was not the end of the Roman Empire. As we will see, that "wound" was indeed healed and the empire would rise again—and again and again through history.
In Revelation 17 this beast appears again, in another form, here linked with a powerful and influential church called a "great harlot" (verse 1). (To learn more, see "Europe: A New Superpower on the Rise.") This fallen woman, representing a great false church, sits on "seven hills" (Revelation 17:9, NIV). Rome, of course, is famously known as "the City of Seven Hills."
Bible prophecy sometimes has dual meanings. Hills or mountains are also prophetically symbolic of governments or kingdoms, as is the case here.
We see that verse 10 speaks of seven kings—leaders of governments or kingdoms—of which "five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come," who will "continue a short time." Allied with this final seventh king will be 10 other leaders or rulers who will "receive authority for one hour [symbolic of a short time] as kings with the beast" and "give their power and authority to the beast" (Revelation 17:12-13).
Crucial to understanding the time frame of these final events is Revelation 17:14 : "These [the 10 allied rulers or leaders] will make war with the Lamb [Jesus Christ], and the Lamb will overcome them..." As with Daniel's prophecy discussed earlier, we see that this final empire, characterized as a beast, exists at the time of Jesus Christ's return and is destroyed by Him.
A study of history shows the fulfillment of these remarkable prophecies. After Rome's "deadly wound" of A.D. 476, that wound was indeed healed. Following that would come seven "kings" or leaders of revivals of the Roman Empire in cooperation with the Roman church. Let's see how this was fulfilled in recorded history and what lies ahead yet to be fulfilled.
Justinian's Imperial Restoration
After Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed, less than a century passed before Justinian, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperor, ruling from Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), committed himself to restoring the empire in the West, launching what would be known to history as the "Imperial Restoration."
William Langer's An Encyclopedia of World History states, "Justinian's whole policy was directed toward the establishment of the absolute power of the emperor and toward the revival of a universal, Christian Roman Empire" (1960, p. 172). This same work refers to Justinian's "grandiose reconstruction of the Roman empire."
The Roman church hierarchy played a key role in this revival. As historian Will Durant points out, "In 554 Justinian promulgated a decree requiring that ‘fit and proper persons, able to administer local government, be chosen as governors of the provinces by the bishops and chief persons of each province'" (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4: The Age of Faith, 1950, pp. 519-520, emphasis in original).
The Roman Empire was alive again, having experienced its first of several revivals in league with the church. However, in the process of time, this imperial revival waned and gradually fell apart. Six more revivals were to follow Justinian's restoration.
Charlemagne, Holy Roman emperor
The second of these prophesied revivals or resurrections of the Roman Empire occurred at the time of Charlemagne—Charles the Great—who was crowned by Pope Leo III in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome in A.D. 800. This act was indicative of the power and influence the Roman church would hold over the empire in future years, when emperors would receive the title Holy Roman emperor.
Langer's Encyclopedia of World History refers to this time as the "Revival of the Roman Empire in the West" (p. 155), adding that "Charlemagne's rule was a theocracy."
If there is any doubt that the Roman Empire was very much alive through Charlemagne's revival, he adopted as his official title, "Charles, the most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman Empire."
Otto I, "the Great Emperor"
After Charlemagne's death, his empire was divided among his grandsons, and although the imperial title continued, the empire disintegrated and remained weak and divided until the time of Otto the Great.
The new emperor of the German nation united the imperial realm mostly by conquest. He received the title of Roman emperor in A.D. 962 when he was crowned by Pope John XII. This marked the third of seven prophesied revivals or resurrections of the original Roman Empire.
According to Langer's Encyclopedia of World History, Otto's "coronation by the pope as Roman Emperor marked the revival of the Roman Empire" (p. 216). His Latin-inscribed seal read Otto Imperator Augustus—"Otto the Great Emperor."
The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, in a 2007 special edition on history, made the following observation about the German emperor: "Otto called himself...ruler of the Roman Empire, even though it came to an end a few centuries earlier. Charlemagne had already carried such a title.
"A belief spread about by Christians was that the Roman Empire would last until the end of the world. The prophet Daniel from the Old Testament prophesied of four world empires; then the anti-Christ would come. According to the configuration of the time, the Roman Empire would be the fourth empire. According to this interpretation, Otto saved the people and as such highlighted the claim to be over all other rulers in Europe" (p. 28).
Although the medieval concept of prophetic events as noted here was somewhat muddled, it does show that the idea of the Roman Empire as a contemporary power, and one that would exist at the time of the end of this age, was a well-established concept.
Charles V, on whose empire the sun never set
Although Otto passed from the scene, his empire lasted for almost three centuries before being divided by rival factions.
This was followed, after nearly two decades without an emperor, by Rudolph I of the Habsburg family becoming "King of the Romans" in 1273—this distinction being used for those assuming the imperial throne without official coronation in Rome by the pope (as circumstances often prevented this from happening right away or at all). This title gave way in 1508 to Elected Emperor of the Romans, and emperors ceased making the journey to Rome. Only one was crowned by the pope—Charles V of the house of Habsburg in 1530 (all the elected emperors between 1438 and 1740 being of this royal family).
From his father, Charles inherited the vast Habsburg possessions of Central Europe, Germany and Italy. From his mother, daughter of the famed Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, he inherited Spain and its American possessions. Ruling over an empire on which the sun never set—an empire even larger than ancient Rome's—he was the most powerful man in the world.
Determined to realize the age-old dream of a unified Europe, Charles V's reign was the pinnacle of the fourth prophesied revival of the Roman Empire. "One of the greatest of the kings of Spain and Holy Roman emperor, [Charles V] was perhaps the last emperor to attempt to realize the medieval idea of a unified empire embracing the entire Christian world" (The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. 2, "Charles V").
However, major challenges thwarted his vision. In the course of his reign he fought against France, the Ottoman Empire of Suleiman the Magnificent, Protestants, and even forces of the pope. He eventually abdicated in 1556, leaving his Spanish possessions to his son Philip II and his Central European holdings to his brother Ferdinand.
Napoleon, rival of Charlemagne and Alexander
One of history's most famous figures, Napoleon Bonaparte, was to lead the fifth prophesied attempt to resurrect the Roman Empire with the endorsement of the Roman church. As Will Durant observed, Napoleon "dreamt of rivaling Charlemagne and uniting Western Europe . . . then of following Constantine . . . to the capture of Constantinople . . . and proposed to rival Alexander by conquering India" (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 11: The Age of Napoleon, 1975, pp. 242-243). At the height of his power he ruled 70 million subjects across the European continent.
Born on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, Napoleon began to make a name for himself in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Having received a military education in France, he quickly proved himself a military genius in campaign after campaign.
But military power wasn't enough to satisfy his ambitions. In 1799 Napoleon maneuvered himself into France's top political position. In 1804 he crowned himself emperor of France, and later that year was crowned Emperor Napoleon I by Pope Pius II at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Before long his military conquests led him to rule Europe from the Elbe River to the Atlantic Ocean, as well as over Spanish and French territories in the New World—the greater part of the Americas.
Looking to Rome and Charlemagne for inspiration, Napoleon determined to unify Europe under his reign. However, his great ambitions proved his undoing. Plans to invade Britain fell apart after his navy was defeated by Admiral Lord Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805. In 1812 his invasion of Russia proved disastrous, with the loss of more than half a million men. Forced to abdicate his throne, he was sent into exile in 1814.
With this, the fifth revival of the Roman Empire drew to a close. But this was not the end of imperialist attempts to unify Europe.
German and Italian dreams
Germany as we know it is a relatively modern creation. Before Napoleon, there were literally hundreds of small German states, each ruled by its own prince, duke or king. Austria and Prussia were the most dominant. In the 19th century Otto von Bismarck managed to unite most German territories under the Prussian Hohenzollern dynasty, with others allied with Austria.
In 1870 both groups of German states fought together against France, and in 1871 Prussia's King William (or Wilhelm) was proclaimed emperor of Germany in the French palace of Versailles. His title, kaiser, harkened back to the Roman title caesar (as did the Russian title czar). Centuries earlier Otto the Great had established the first great German empire—the First Reich. Now Germany had its Second Reich.
German dreams of a greater empire inevitably led to more war. In 1914 the First World War broke out, a conflagration that took the lives of millions and transformed the face of Europe. But when it ended four years later, major problems remained. In the coming years two new strongmen would arise with new dreams to unite Europe and expand beyond—Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany. Both these men signed agreements with the Roman church that gave legitimacy to their fascist regimes.
Declaring the reappearance of the Roman Empire, Mussolini formed an alliance with Hitler, bringing about the Rome-Berlin Axis. Adolf Hitler proudly proclaimed Germany's Third Reich, envisioning a new German empire that would rival the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation established by Otto the Great. The sixth of the seven imperial revivals foretold in Revelation 17 was under way.
From 1939 until 1945 the Allied and Axis powers fought the Second World War, battling and bloodying each other across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Germany's dream of a Europe united under a new empire almost succeeded, and at a horrendous cost. As in World War I, millions perished and Europe was again left in ruins.
Back to the future
In the devastated aftermath of World War II, it seemed unimaginable that Europe could rise again. Its cities had been bombed and battered to rubble, its infrastructure had been shattered, its economy was in shambles and millions of its citizens were dead or maimed.
Yet Europe has risen. The 27-member European Union has grown to become the world's largest economy and its biggest trading power. The EU has its own president and foreign minister. It is quickly developing global political power to match its economic clout. Military power will surely follow its expanding economic and political might.
But it is not yet as it will be.
Returning to Revelation 17, we see that John "marveled with great amazement" at the vision he had seen of the woman and the beast (Revelation 17:6). An angel then explained to John that "the beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit..." When they see it, people "will marvel... when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is" (verse 8).
What does such unusual wording mean?
Having gone through this historical background, we can now understand how an empire could once exist, then disappear, then reappear in a somewhat different form. The fact that this beast, symbolic of an empire, "was, and is not, and yet is" tells us that the Roman Empire, which does not exist at this time as such, will be restored yet again in the near future.
It "was," meaning it existed in the past, it currently "is not," meaning it doesn't exist at this moment, and "yet is," for it remains an undercurrent in European politics, and "will ascend out of the bottomless pit"—meaning it is destined to rise yet again.
Revelation 17:10 prophesies that there would be seven kings or rulers who would lead resurrections of the Roman Empire in cooperation with the Roman church. History shows that this development has occurred six times in the past. A final revival, linked in prophecy to God's intervention in human affairs with Christ's return, lies ahead.
In 1957 six Western European nations—West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium—came together to create the European Economic Community through the Treaty of Rome. These groundbreaking steps toward European unification were taken in the ancient capital city of the Roman Empire and home to one of the world's oldest and major religions.
Paul Henri Spaak, former secretary-general of NATO, later remarked on that signing in a BBC documentary: "We felt like Romans on that day... we were consciously recreating the Roman Empire once more."
Europe's long dream of unity retains its hold on European leaders. Although slow to come together, and certainly not yet in its final form, that union will emerge as a global superpower that will stun and shock the world.
Again, Revelation 17:12-13 tells us of an alliance of 10 "kings"—which today could refer to presidents, premiers or prime ministers—who "will give their power and authority to the beast" in a final union of nations. Little do they know how monstrously evil their creation will become, ultimately plunging the world into catastrophe.
The next verse clearly states the time setting for this prophecy: "These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them..." The Lamb, of course, is Jesus Christ. He will not return until this prophecy of 10 rulers who form an end-time superpower is fulfilled. Yet all indications are that His return must be soon—and the appearance of this empire will of course be even sooner.
As history shows, the Roman Empire has fallen, risen and fallen several times in the past. Be assured that it will rise once more, yet soon afterward will be destroyed and replaced by the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, which will never be destroyed!
This is what Bible prophecy reveals regarding the end time as it focuses on events in Europe. The foundation is laid, the structure is being built, and the time for the final revival of the Roman Empire draws ever closer.
Will you be ready to face these events that are destined to transform the world?