Four Great Empires in Bible Prophecy

We live in a world of uncertainty. As much as everyone strives to attain a degree of security, changing circumstances and unfolding events prove all too truly that certainty and security are very illusive things. Looking back in history, we see that nations that once dominated the world’s political scene, seemingly secure in their position of strength, have vanished, leaving almost no trace of their once proud existence. Others, while remaining, are but a shadow of their former greatness.

Amidst the uncertainty of this life, God would not leave His people confused or misled. He has spoken to us through His prophets, giving us waymarks, like road signs, illuminating the way before us. As we observe how all things work according to God’s great plan and recognize that He has planned all the events long before they take place, we gain a great deal of comfort and strength. We can rest in the knowledge that because He is in control of our world and our lives, He has made provisions for every situation.

At the time that Daniel was given the vision recorded in the the seventh chapter of Daniel, the kingdom of Babylon was soon to pass away. It was during the reign of Belshazzar that it fell to the Medes and Persians, and it was during the first year of his very short reign that Daniel received the vision.

Picture cartoons are a very popular and effective method of communicating a thought or an idea that, in most cases, could not be said as well in words, or if it could be, would require many words to do so. We are familiar with some of the symbols that are used. Frequently animal symbols are used to represent either political parties or nations. So it was with some of the visions that Daniel was given. In the vision recorded in chapter 7, the Lord showed him the future of the world, representing the various world powers as animals with characteristics that revealed something about the nations they represented.

“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts. Daniel spoke, saying, ‘I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.’ ” Daniel 7:1–3

Four Winds on the Great Sea

It was while the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea, that these beasts arose. Using the Bible to interpret itself, we are able to understand what these prophetic symbols represent.

“ ‘Against Elam I will bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and scatter them toward all those winds; there shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go. For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies and before those who seek their life. I will bring disaster upon them, My fierce anger,’ says the LORD; ‘And I will send the sword after them until I have consumed them.’ ” Jeremiah 49:36–37

Clearly, in speaking of the fate that was about to befall Elam, the idea of winds equates with strife and war. In a sense, it also represents God’s judgments as He works through strife and war, as well as natural disasters, to accomplish His purpose among the nations. (See Jeremiah 18:15–17; Job 21:17–18)

In Revelation 17 is the record of a vision given to the apostle John. In the early part of that chapter, he was shown a desolate woman who, it is said, sits upon many waters. (See Revelation 17:1) A few verses later the symbol of water is explained to John. “Then he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.’ ” Revelation 17:15 The beasts arising while the winds strive on the waters would, therefore, represent the rise of nations or empires as the result of war between nations and peoples.

That the word kings represents kingdoms and is used interchangeably is explained in verses 23 and 24. Since four universal kingdoms were introduced in chapter 2, covering all the time from Daniel to the time that Christ will establish His universal kingdom, we may know that these four beasts, or animals, represent the same kingdoms, telling the same story but from a different perspective so as to give other details.

A Lion Emerges

“The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings.” Daniel 7:4

To Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon had been represented as the head of gold. To Daniel the same power is represented as a lion with eagle’s wings. Here is combined the strength of the king of the forest with the swiftness of the king of birds. Over fifty years before, Jeremiah had likened Babylon to a lion and described her horses as having the swiftness of eagles. (See Jeremiah 4:6–7, 13; Habakkuk 1:6–10)

While Daniel watched this scene, the wings of the lion were removed, it was made to stand upon its feet, and a man’s heart was given it. Jeremiah 17:9 describes what the heart of a man is like without Christ. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

The lion shorn of its wings represented Babylon at the time of the vision; its strength was gone; it was abandoned of God, and Belshazzar, a very weak king, stood at the head of the government.

Habakkuk gives the reason for this weakness. “For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful; their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. Their horses also are swifter than leopards, and more fierce than evening wolves. Their chargers charge ahead; their cavalry comes from afar; they fly as the eagle that hastens to eat. . . . Then his mind changes, and he transgresses; he commits offense, ascribing this power to his god.” Habakkuk 1:6–8, 11

It was in imputing to their gods the power of the God of heaven that the unpardonable sin was committed. It was not that the king was in ignorance with regard to the God of heaven; for on the fateful night that Babylon fell, Daniel was summoned to interpret the writing on the palace wall. He began by reminding Belshazzar of God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar and of the utter contempt he had shown toward the God of heaven in drinking to his own gods from the vessels taken from His house, while knowing all of God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar in the past. (See Daniel 5:17–27)

Medo-Persia as a World Power

“And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’ ” Daniel 7:5

The Medes and Persians, a cruel people (see Isaiah 13:17–18), were represented by the bear. Just as the bear was said to be raised up on one side, the Persians were ever the dominant power; and soon after the fall of Babylon, nothing more is said of the Medes.

“After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.” Daniel 7:6

Greece Conquers With Speed

The third power, that depicting Greece, is represented by a leopard with four heads and four wings. Just as one pair of wings represented the speed with which Babylon moved, the speed with which Alexander the Great moved his armies could only be represented by two pair of wings. In an amazingly short period of time he had conquered the whole then-known world. No sooner had he accomplished this feat than he died, leaving no successor to his throne. For the next twenty years the nation was involved in war to determine who would ascend to the throne. Finally a solution was devised whereby four of the generals divided the empire into four parts, with each retaining a portion. The northern part of the empire was taken by Lysimachus, the eastern by Seleucus, the western by Cassander, and the southern by Ptolemy.

Notice that the angel told Daniel, “As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.” Daniel 7:12. Each one, rather than being destroyed, was merged into the succeeding power; and its characteristics and principles were represented in each succeeding power until the end of time. This is why it was stated in Daniel 2 that at the time the Rock struck the image on the feet, it destroyed the gold, the silver, the brass, and the iron. Though each of the powers represented by the various metals no longer existed as a ruling power, the characteristics of those powers were still present in the feet of the image.

The Great and Terrible Beast

“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.” Daniel 7:7. In religion, Rome renewed all of the religious errors of Babylon. In education she perpetuated the errors of Greece, and in cruelty she followed in the footsteps of Medo-Persia. There was found no beast of the earth by which she could be represented; she was the epitome of all of the worst characteristics of the beasts to precede her.

Ten Horns Emerge

As the prophet continued to watch, ten horns, representing ten kings, sprang up out of this beast, thus corresponding to the feet of iron and clay seen in the vision of the image in Daniel 2. Each of the preceding kingdoms had fallen to some strong power; but with Rome, this was not the case. Hordes of barbarians from northern Europe and Asia, striking blow after blow, swept over the empire. Slowly the government was broken, the cities sacked, and Rome sank into decay. Out of this decay arose the nations that became the nation-states of Europe.

Rome fell because she presumed to war against Christ and to hold authority over His followers. Out of the ruins of pagan Rome was to come a power that would continue this warfare and would, for a time, prevail over them. Daniel 7:21

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