The Lord gave the prophet Daniel a series of visions which depict the coming “kingdoms” of the earth followed by the appearance of His eternal kingdom, led by Jesus Christ. This latter-day government will replace all the world systems that came before it.
The first prophecy came in a dream God gave to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, which the Lord also revealed to Daniel. It was an image of a magnificent statue, a human figure, which depicted the great empires and governments which will rule on earth before the divine kingdom comes.
32 The head of that statue was of pure gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, and its feet partly iron and partly clay. Daniel 2:32-33 (TLV)
The power and authority of each subsequent ruler would diminish as each empire replaced the former, as indicated by its lower position on the statue and inferior metallic composition. The standard interpretation of these empires is Babylon (the head of gold), Medo-Persia under Cyrus and Darius (the arms of silver), Greece under Alexander the Great (the belly and thighs of bronze), and Rome and its present-day descendants (the legs of iron and feet of mixed iron and clay).
These will all be replaced by the coming kingdom of heaven, led by Jesus.
44 “Now in the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will this kingdom be left to another people. It will crush and bring to an end all of these kingdoms. But it will endure forever. 45 For just as you saw a stone cut out of a mountain, yet not by hands, crush the iron, bronze, clay, silver and gold, the great God has made known to the king what will happen in the future. Now the dream is certain, and its interpretation is trustworthy.” Daniel 2:44-45 (TLV)
Daniel’s visions regarding Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar confirm that the overthrow of that empire was an act by the will of God. Babylon’s replacement, Medo-Persia, was put in place through God’s hand.
Daniel’s two subsequent visions refer to Medo-Persia as a beast with attributes like a bear and a ram.
5 “And behold there before me was another beast, a second one, like a bear. It raised itself up on one side; it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’ Daniel 7:5 (TLV)
The Medo-Persian empire was a great conqueror of the known “world” of its time. Its armies were massive, moving slowly across the land and devouring it like a bear. Even soldiers’ families would accompany them, further slowing the pace of conquest. Their leaders would free the exiles of Judah which Babylon had taken, allowing them to return home to rebuild their temple and the city of Jerusalem, which Nebuchadnezzar’s armies had destroyed.
In Daniel’s third vision, he saw himself standing by the Ulai Canal in Susa, the capital of Medo-Persia. This empire would be ruled by two united-but-competing entities, the Medes and the Persians, with Persia the more powerful element. This allied kingdom would expand greatly through the subjugation of peoples to their west, north, and south, including the former Babylonian empire, Egypt, and Lydia, the three ribs.
3 I lifted up my eyes and looked up, behold, a ram with two horns was standing in front of the canal. The two horns were long but one was longer than the other, but the longer one grew up last. 4 I saw the ram charging toward the west and north and south. No animal could stand against him—none could deliver from his hand. So he did as he pleased and magnified himself. Daniel 8:3-4 (TLV)
The Medo-Persian empire would stand until 333 BC, when it would be defeated by the next great empire, Greece, under Alexander the Great.
When dealing with biblical prophecy, there will often be competing and sometimes contradictory interpretations. For instance, some see Daniel’s second prophecy about the bear as being a reference to present-day Russia, implying that his second vision is focused on the latter days, just before God installs His kingdom. This may be. Also, the Lord sometimes uses a single prophecy with both near-term and long-term fulfillments. That could also be the case here.
God chose to include this prophetic information in His word for believers to read and ponder. He does this to inform, to encourage us, and to remind us that He is still in control and that His kingdom is the one which will replace all the others, for all time. Its loving King is here and is One that each of us can reach out to today, Jesus Christ. He will never turn anyone away who comes to Him in humility and reverence, no matter our past.
Lord Jesus, we recognize You today as the One who came to earth to bear our sins upon the cross, dying for our complete purification, and rising again to give us new life. No matter what we have done, Your sacrifice on the cross is greater. Help us to follow Your light as we walk the path of Your eternal kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.