The Bible teaches that the Roman Empire will become divided (not conquered) and during that time a stone will strike the image. First, let us examine the identity and timing of the stone that strikes the feet of that image.
What is the "stone" and when does it strike?4
God showed Daniel an outline of history in which a towering statue is struck down and crushed by a stone; "and the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Dan. 2:35). The meaning of this vision is the restoration of Eden under the King, as Daniel explained: "In the days of those kings [i.e., during the period of the Roman Empire] 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" (Dan. 2:44). Christ, the Second Adam, will perform the task assigned to the First Adam, causing the Holy Mountain to grow and encompass the entire world.
In a later vision Daniel actually foresaw Christ's enthronement as the promised King:
I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a Kingdom, That all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His Kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)
It is commonly assumed today that this text describes the Second Coming, and thus that Christ's Kingdom (often called the Millennium) begins only after His Return. Of course, this ignores the fact that Daniel had already prophesied the Kingdom beginning in the days of the Roman Empire. But notice exactly what Daniel says: Christ is seen going up, not down! The Son of man is going to the Ancient of Days, not coming from Him! He is not descending in clouds to the earth, but ascending in clouds to His Father! Daniel was not predicting the Second Coming of Christ, but rather the climax of the First Advent, in which, after atoning for sins and defeating death and Satan, the Lord ascended on the clouds of heaven to be seated on His glorious throne at His Father's right hand. It is noteworthy too that Daniel used the term Son of Man, the expression Jesus later adopted to describe Himself. Clearly, we should understand Son of Man to mean simply Son of Adamó-in other words, the Second Adam. Christ came as the Son of Man, the Second Man (1st Cor. 15:47), to accomplish the task assigned to the First Man. He came to be the King.
This is the constant message of the Gospels. Matthew's account of the Nativity records the story of the magi from the east coming to worship the King, and Herod's jealous attempt to destroy Him as a rival to his own unjust dominion. Instead, Christ escapes and it is Herod who dies (Matt. 2). Immediately, Matthew's history jumps 30 years ahead to clinch his point:
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:1-2).
Matthew then turns to the ministry of Jesus, giving us a summary of His basic message to Israel: "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17). "And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people" (Matt. 4:23). A simple glance at a concordance will reveal how central the gospel of the Kingdom was to Jesus' program. And note well that the Kingdom was not some far-off millennium thousands of years in the future, after the Second Coming. Jesus announced: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Jesus clearly told Israel to repent now, because the Kingdom was coming soon. The Kingdom was at hand. He was bringing it in right before their eyes (see Matt. 12:28; Luke 10:9-11; 17:21), and soon would ascend to the Father to sit on the throne of the Kingdom. This is why He told His disciples:
Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom (Matt. 16:28).
Was Jesus right or wrong? In terms of some modern teachers, Jesus was mistaken. And this was no slight miscalculation: Jesus missed the mark by thousands of years! Can we trust Him as Lord and Savior, and still hold that he was wrong, or that somehow His prophecy got derailed? Jesus was not just a man, like the First Adam. He is God, the Lord of heaven and earth; and if He sets out to bring in the Kingdom, can anything stop Him? Even the crucifixion was not a setback, for it was a crucial aspect of His plan. That is why he said, "I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" (John 10:17-18). We must believe what Jesus said: within the lifetime of those who were listening to Him, He would come in His Kingdom. And that is exactly what He did, culminating in His ascension to His heavenly throne.
Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, Matthew says, specifically fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of the Kingdom's inauguration:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation,
humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. ... And He will speak peace to the nations;
and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
(Zech. 9:9-10; cf. Matt. 21:5)
The Apostle Peter understood that the meaning of the Ascension was Christ's enthronement in heaven. Citing a prophecy of King David, Peter said:
And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne; he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: "The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.'" Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:30-36).
It is crucial to understand the Bible's own interpretation of the throne of Christ. David was prophesying about Christ's throne in heaven. It is the heavenly enthronement that King David foretold, Peter told his audience on the Day of Pentecost. From His throne in heaven, Christ is already ruling the world.
The Apostle Paul agreed: at Christ's Ascension, he wrote, God "seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet" (Eph. 1:20-22). Now, if Christ is seated now above all rule and authority and power and dominion, if all things are now under His feet, why are some Christians waiting for His Kingdom to begin? According to Paul, God "delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son" (Col. 1:13). The Bible says the Kingdom has arrived; some modern theologians say it hasn't. Is there really any question about whom we should believe?
The original promise of the Gospel was contained in God's curse upon the serpent, that the Seed of the Woman would crush his head (Gen. 3:15). Accordingly, when Jesus came He immediately began winning victories over Satan and his demonic legions, singlehandedly engaging them in combat and effectively banishing them from the land, along with disease and death. An all-out warfare was waged during Christ's ministry, with Satan continually losing ground and running for cover. After observing His disciples on a successful mission, Jesus exulted: "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you" (Luke 10:18-19). He explained His victories over the demons by telling His audience that "the Kingdom of God has come upon you." He continued: "How can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house" (Matt. 12:28-29). That is exactly what Jesus was doing in the world. He was binding Satan, the "strong man," in order to plunder his house," to steal men back from the devil.
The definitive defeat of Satan occurred in Christ's death and resurrection. Again and again the apostles assured the early Christians of the fact of Christ's victory over the devil. Through His finished work, Paul said, the Lord Jesus "disarmed the rulers and authorities"; "He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them" (Col. 2:15). The New Testament unquestionably teaches that through Christ's bursting the bonds of death Satan was rendered powerless (Heb. 2:14). John wrote that "the Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the work of the devil" (1st John 3:8). Again, we must note that this is in the past tense. It is an accomplished fact. This is not a prophecy about the Second Coming. It is a statement of fact about Christ's First Advent. Christ came to bind and disarm Satan, to render him powerless, to destroy his works, and to establish His own rule as universal King, as God had intended from the beginning. According to the Bible, Christ actually fulfilled what He had set out to do; Scripture regards Satan as a defeated enemy, one who must flee when Christians oppose him, one who is unable to resist the victorious onslaught of Christ's army. The gates of his city are doomed to collapse before the relentless attacks of the Church (Matt. 16:18).
At this point some will object: "If Jesus is King now, why aren't all the nations converted? Why is there so much ungodliness? Why isn't everything perfect?" In the first place, there's no if about it. Jesus is the King, and His Kingdom has arrived. The Bible says so. In the second place, things will never be "perfect" before the Last Judgment.
Third, although the Kingdom was established definitively in the finished work of Christ, it is established progressively throughout history (until it is established finally on the Last Day). On the one hand, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is now ruling the nations with a rod of iron; He is now seated in power above all other rulers in heaven and earth, possessing all authority. On the other hand, the Bible also teaches that the Kingdom develops progressively, growing stronger and more powerful as time goes on. The same letter to the Ephesians that tells us of Christ's absolute rule over creation (1:20-22), assuring us that we are reigning with Him (2:6), also commands us to put on armor for battle against the devil (6:10-17). There is no contradiction here-ójust two aspects of the same reality. And the fact that Jesus is now ruling as King of kings is precisely the reason why we can have confidence of victory in our conflict with evil. We can experience progressive triumph now, because Jesus Christ definitively triumphed over Satan in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Jesus told two parables which illustrate the Kingdom's growth. Matthew tells us:
He presented another parable to them, saying, "The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches."
The Kingdom was established when Christ came. But it has not yet reached its full development. Like the mustard tree, it started out small, but will grow to enormous size (just as the stone Daniel saw became a mountain and filled the whole earth). The Kingdom will grow in size, spreading everywhere, until the knowledge of God covers the earth, as the waters cover the sea. The Kingdom's growth will be extensive.
He spoke another parable to them, "The Kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened" (Matt. 13:31-33).
But the Kingdom will also grow intensively. Like leaven in bread, it will transform the world, as surely as it transforms individual lives. Christ has planted into the world His gospel, the power of God unto salvation. Like yeast, the power of the Kingdom will continue to work "until all is leavened."
What are the "feet of clay mixed with iron"?
As noted earlier, the Bible says the feet are part of the same iron kingdom (Rome), but with an element of clay mixed in. Who is the clay? First, we must understand that the book of Daniel was written by a Jew for the Jews, and it describes the experience of the Jews during their covenant relationship with God. The entire focus of the book is on the Jews and their interaction with various world powers that would possess the land God had promised them. In accordance with that understanding, we must interpret the image of Daniel 2 in the context of the time frame of the Jewish nation. Therefore, we must look for an interpretation of the feet as a power that interacts with the Jewish nation prior to its destruction in 70 AD.
Second, we must ask who the readers of the book of Daniel would recognize as the "clay". Two major prophets that preceeded Daniel both spoke of clay in their prophetic writings. In Isaiah we find:
But now, O LORD, thou [art] our father; we [the Jews] [are] the clay... (Isa. 64:8)
Jeremiah quotes God saying:
Behold, as the clay [is] in the potter's hand, so [are] ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
To the Hebrews, clay was not only a symbol of mankind (Job 10:9, 33:6; Isa. 29:16, 45:9), but more specifically, it represented Israel (Isa. 64:8; Jer. 18:4-6). Daniel's reference to clay would be understood as a reference to their own nation. As John Evans notes, "the feet of clay symbolize the incorporation into the Roman Empire of a discordant element that undermined its cohesiveness, namely the Jews."5
Did the Jews form a union with Rome? They most certainly did when the Roman Senate designated a Jew named Herod as the "King of the Jews" in 40 BC (which became effective in 37 BC). This period ended in 33 AD when the stone (Jesus Christ), the "King of the Jews", strikes the death-blow to the feet of the Jewish/Roman union "in the days of those kings" (Herod and Caesar) by His Resurrection and Ascension. It is also at this time that the Jewish leaders reject the rule of Jesus and accept the rule of Caesar: "We have no king but Caesar." (John 19:15) The kingdom of God was established in 33 AD and went forth like a white horse to conquer. It spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire, culminating in the nominal conversion of Emporer Constantine (ruled 306-337) to Christianity. Afterwards, nearly ever Roman Emporer in both the western and eastern branches of the empire was a Christian. In fact, Theodosius I (ruled 379-395) outlawed paganism and made Christianity the state religion.6
Christianity has continued to press forward on the spiritual battleground as nation after nation has fallen under the influence of Christianity. Eventually Christ's kingdom will fill the whole earth, thus bringing this prophecy to complete fruition.
Interestingly enough, this view matches the visual representation of the image in an astonishing way. The length of each section of the body is roughly synonomous with the amount of time that the Jewsish nation was ruled by each foreign power:
- The head, a relatively short section of the body, equates to 66 years of Babylonian rule
- The chest, the longest section, stretching from the neck to the stomach, equates to 207 years of Persian rule
- The mid-section, stretching from the stomach to the upper thighs, another large section, equates to 177 years of Greek rule
- The legs, stretching from the lower thighs to the ankles, represents 127 years of Roman rule
- The ankles and feet, a relatively short section about the same size as the head, equates to 69 years of Roman/Jewish rule