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The iron kingdom of Rome was the last empire that was truly united. After this, all attempts to unite various nations into one empire failed to re-establish the strength and unity of the Roman Empire. For this reason, Daniel said, the feet of iron and clay “will be a divided kingdom” (Daniel 2:41) and “will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery” (Daniel 2:43).
Rome itself began to splinter as early as 364 A.D. before finally collapsing in 476. The empire was actually divided by Diocletian into four parts in 285, but was reunited by Constantine in 325. When Constantine died in 337, the empire was split again, this time between the two sons of Constantine and their cousins, but by 340 the empire was reunited under one head once again.
In 364 two brothers named Valentinian and Valens divided the empire after the death of the emperor, Jovian. Then a huge earthquake in the Mediterranean Sea in 365 caused a tsunami that wiped out all of the Roman colonies in North Africa, killing untold millions of people. This was followed by the disastrous Battle of Adrianople in 378.
The next year Theodosius became the last sole emperor of Rome (379-395), and when he died, the empire was divided between his two sons. This division between the Eastern and Western Roman Empire turned out to be permanent, and when Rome fell in 476, it is understood that it was only the Western Roman Empire that fell. The Eastern Empire lasted until 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks.
At this point we see the two “legs” of the iron kingdom emerge, even though Daniel’s prophecy does not focus on any such distinction.
The Non-Cohesive Feet
The “feet” of the image emerged in 527 when Justinian the Great took the throne in Constantinople. He changed the Roman calendar to start with the birth of Christ, rather than the birth of Rome, and he changed the entire legal system to reflect a combination of Roman and Christian law by the end of 534 A.D. His new legal system became the basis of European law that exists to this day. That legal system established the Feudal System, which enslaved and impoverished the common people for centuries.
When the Christian emperor Justinian put his empire under Church Law, he did not realize that he had set up a power-sharing arrangement with the Roman Bishop (or Pope). Church law was, after all, the venue of the religious authorities, and the Pope was the highest authority in issuing decrees and interpreting their meaning. Hence, as it turned out, Justinian became a mere enforcer of Church law as decreed by the Pope, and therefore he unwittingly became the servant of the Pope.
In 536 Justinian sent for Pope Agapetus, who obeyed the order but who then forced the emperor to submit to his own order deposing Anthimus, Patriarch of Constantinople on charges of supporting heretics. Justinian’s wife, Theodora, had supported Anthimus’ appointment as Patriarch a year earlier, and Justinian himself tried to defend Anthimus against Pope Agapetus’ charges. Louis Marie de Cormenin tells us,
Justinian, convinced by the reasoning of the prelates, abandoned himself to his resentment against Agapetus, and at the first conference he had with the pontiff, said to him with emotion: “I am determined to reject your unjust pretentions, holy father, and no longer to weigh them. Receive us to your communion, or prepare to go into exile.” This threat did not alarm Agapetus, who replied boldly: “It is true, I deceived myself, my lord, when I was received by you with so much earnestness. I hoped to find a Christian emperor, and I have met with a new Diocletian. Well! Let Diocletian learn that the bishop of Rome does not fear his threats, and refuses to submit to his orders.” [History of the Popes, Vol. 1, p. 109]
Justinian then called for a meeting between the two adversaries, where Anthimus was asked if he believed in the two natures of Christ—which was the main issue.
Anthimus replied to the arguments of the pontiff, and concluded by declaring that Jesus Christ did not possess two natures. Agapetus, in a fury, hurled anathemas against Anthimus, Severus, Peter of Apama, Zora, and several other prelates, whose names would have rested in oblivion but for the excommunication. Then he obtained from the monarch an order for the deposition of Anthimus and consecrated the new patriarch of Constantinople. [Cormenin, p. 109]
This incident, which occurred just two years after the new laws had gone into effect, put the emperor into the position as executioner of Church law as defined by the Roman Pope. It proved that spiritual power was greater than temporal power, as long as the emperors were “Christians.” Any Christian—including an emperor—had to submit to the beliefs and decrees of the Roman bishop in order to maintain his position as “orthodox” and thus escape excommunication.
A new phase of history thus arose with the Law Code of Justinian (529-534 A.D.). Not only did it change the laws of the empire to reflect Church law, but it also placed the Roman popes above that of kings and emperors. This fulfilled the “feet” portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Even so, the new kingdom was always wracked by divisions in Church doctrine as well as in the political situation throughout the centuries.
The Ten Toes
Daniel 2:41 speaks of “the feet and toes” as being made of the iron-and-clay mixture, but verse 42 singles out the “toes” themselves as being distinct from the feet. Daniel omits any reference to the number of toes, but we may see it implied here.
Because the toes are distinctly connected to Rome, rather than to Greece (or to any of the previous empires), we may conclude that the ten toes really apply to the Western Roman Empire only, even though nature shows five toes on each foot. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream speaks only of “toes,” but in Daniel 7 the Roman “beast” empire is pictured having ten horns (Daniel 7:7, 20). This is the equivalent of the ten toes in Daniel 2:42.
We will say more about this when we study Daniel 7, but for now we may point out that Daniel 7:24 is the divine interpretation of the ten horns: “As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings [or kingdoms] will arise.” Kings and kingdoms are interchangeable in the text, since they come from the same word both in Aramaic and later in Greek.
The Western Roman Empire consisted of ten main people (or tribes): Anglo-Saxons (including Heruli), Franks, Burgundians, Alamanni, Lombards, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Bavarians, Suevi, and Vandals.
In recent years the rise of the Futurist view of prophecy has caused many to declare that the European Union would be the fulfillment of the ten toes prophecy. This view, however, was largely abandoned after the EU included more than ten nations. They now number 28 nations. Nonetheless, the EU is the latest attempt to unify the feet of iron mixed with clay. Current events show that the EU is fracturing and will not succeed in its goal, for it is still part of Nebuchadnezzar’s image of the kingdoms of men.
The Kingdom of God
Daniel 2:44 speaks of the final stage of world history, saying,
44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.
The feet and toes of the image are the end of man’s kingdoms, because it is obvious that there are no more appendages on this image. The “stone” is not part of the image itself but comes as a separate kingdom to crush the kingdoms of men and end their dominion. Whereas the kingdoms of men come to an end, the stone “will itself endure forever.”
The Kingdom of God is not based upon fleshly dominion, but rather the rule of Christ. Daniel 2:44 says obscurely, “that kingdom will not be left for another people.” But later these people are described more definitively in Daniel 7:27 as “the saints of the Most High.” While some have attempted to limit these “saints” to genealogical Israelites or Judahites, the New Testament shows us that the saints include all believers—or more specifically, all overcomers.
Paul uses the legal definition of a Jew (Judahite) in Romans 2:28, 29, saying,
28 For he is NOT a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he IS a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise [i.e., his Judah identity; Judah means “praise”] is not from men, but from God.
Likewise, Paul also applies the term “Israel” in its original legal definition, saying in Romans 9:6-8,
6 … For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
In other words, just because someone can claim physical descent from Abraham or Israel, it does not necessarily mean that they are truly Israelites. Those born after the flesh are not the children of God, but those who are “the children of the promise.” The children of promise, Paul says, are represented by Isaac, who was indeed the promised child (Galatians 4:28).
The children of the flesh are those who adhere to the Old Covenant, which was established by man’s vow (promise) in Exodus 19:8. The New Covenant, however, was established by the promises of God, given to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and even to Moses in the second covenant in Deuteronomy 29:1, 10-15. In verses 12 and 13, we read,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Here we see that it required a second covenant—on the order of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to establish them “as His people.” Without that second covenant, the Israelites were not truly His people, because they had all violated the first covenant. The first covenant predicated their status as “His people” upon their own vow of obedience.
The power of the flesh cannot make men God’s people. Neither can genealogy give a person the status as a Judahite or an Israelite in the eyes of God. For purposes of national identification, men have used these terms to describe whole nations or tribes, and even Scripture of necessity uses these definitions. But in the end, there is a higher definition and application of these terms, and Paul recognizes these in his writings. So he writes in Galatians 3:28, 29,
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Hence, the interpretation of the statement in Daniel 2:44, “that kingdom will not be left for another people,” refers to the followers of Christ. Daniel’s further definition of these as “saints of the Most High” is clearer but one must go to the New Testament to obtain the clearest view of Daniel’s statements.
Daniel 2:45 concludes,
45 Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true, and its interpretation is trustworthy.
Daniel’s prophecies of future kingdoms are the bane of atheism and skepticism. Many have claimed that Daniel’s prophecies were written after the facts by men who lived long after the time of Daniel himself. But the prophecies describe kingdoms all the way to the present time, as we will see. Since the book of Daniel was already part of the canon of Scripture well before the birth of Christ and before the rise of Rome itself, the skeptics have no firm ground for trying to refute the prophecies.