Historically, the church has had very little trouble identifying the time periods of the Gold, Silver, and Brass of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. The time periods of the Lion, the Bear, and the Leopard are as easily identifiable in Daniel 7, as are those of the Ram and the He-goat in Daniel 8. Those figures represent a series of world empires, each dominating the world in succession—Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece.
Part of what makes their identification so simple is that the Scriptures identify the succession of empires for us. Babylon is the “head of Gold” (Daniel 2:38), after which “shall arise another kingdom … and another” (Daniel 2:39). The Scriptures inform us that the successor to Babylon is the Medo-Persian empire, for Belshazzar’s kingdom was “given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:28). Likewise, in Daniel 8, the Ram with two horns represents “the kings of Media and Persia” (Daniel 8:20). In that dynasty, the Medes came up first, and the Persians “came up last” (Daniel 8:3). The He-goat after them is “the king of Grecia” (Daniel 8:21). Daniel 11:1-3 explains again, in narrative style, the transition from Medes, to Persians to Greeks, as well as Daniel’s position within that chronology.
From that point forward, however, the interpretive challenge increases considerably. After the Greek Leopard in Daniel 7, there is “a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly” (Daniel 7:7), which is usually taken, as we take it, to refer to the Roman Empire. The Fourth Beast is depicted as a body with ten horns (Daniel 7:7), which is suggestive of two distinct periods of Roman rule—one period of unity and one of fragmentation.
But in Daniel 2, after the Greek “belly and thighs of brass” (Daniel 2:32), there is a Fourth Kingdom that begins as Iron Legs, transitions to Iron & Clay Feet (Daniel 2:33), and finally to Iron & Clay Toes (Daniel 2:41-42). We also take that Fourth Kingdom to refer to the Roman Empire. Under that imagery, there are three distinct periods—the Legs when it is “strong as iron” (Daniel 2:40), the Feet when “they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another” (Daniel 2:43), and the Toes when “the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken” (Daniel 2:42).
It is in the attempt to harmonize these two depictions of the Fourth Empire that the interpretive challenge emerges. Under both figures, the fourth empire starts out exceptionally strong (Daniel 2:40, 7:7), and under both, the fourth empire ends in fragments. But in Daniel 2, before the fourth empire is finally broken into Toes, it undergoes a transition from being strong Legs of Iron, to being only partly strong Feet of Iron & Clay. Understanding the timing of that transition from Legs to Feet is of critical importance to the eschatologist, not least because Daniel informs us that during the Feet, “in the days of these kings,” something of tremendous significance to God’s people was going to occur (Daniel 2:34,44). And yet, identifying that transition from Legs to Feet has been a chronic eschatological challenge.
By way of example from the Early Church, Justin Martyr (100 – 165 A.D.) thought that Jesus had manifested as the Stone at His first advent (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapters 32, 34 & 36). From his perspective, the period of Iron must have ended before Jesus was even born, and His earthly lifetime must have occurred within the period of the Iron & Clay Feet.
But Hippolytus (170 – 235 A.D.) believed that he was currently living during the period of Iron Legs, and that the period of Iron & Clay Feet was right around the corner:
“Then he says: ‘A fourth beast, dreadful and terrible; it had iron teeth and claws of brass’ And who are these but the Romans? Which (kingdom) is meant by the iron— the kingdom which is now established; for the legs of that (image) were of iron. And after this, what remains, beloved, but the toes of the feet of the image, in which part is iron and part clay, mixed together?” (Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 25)
With these different views on the chronology of the Fourth Kingdom came significantly different views on the chronology of the impact of the Stone. Justin thought that “the times [are] now running on to their consummation” because the Stone had long since come (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 32). Hippolytus, on the other hand, thought he was approaching the end because the Stone was just about to arrive:
“After this, then, what remains, beloved, but the toes of the feet of the image, in which part shall be of iron and part of clay mixed together? … And after him [Antichrist] it remains thatthe stoneshall come from heaven...” (Hippolytus, Fragments, On Daniel, Second Fragment, paragraph 2)
These two writers are cited for illustrative purposes only, and neither Justin nor Hippolytus can be said to represent the view of the Early Church. In fact, there was no coherent position on this within the Early Church at all. We believe the absence of a coherent position may be attributed to the fact that the early writers attempted to interpret the meaning of the Stone’s arrival without first attempting to determine the time spans signified by the Legs, Feet and Toes. If they did not know the time spans, they could have no way of determining when the Stone was to strike the Feet, and thus had no way of understanding the significance of its impact.
It is on this specific eschatological point that the timing of the Revelation to John on Patmos is so helpful. As we showed in Part 1, the external testimony on the dating of John’s Revelation is contradictory and indeterminate. Some literary evidence points to a late-1st century vision, and other literary evidence points to the mid-1st century, and none of it can be considered determinative. It has therefore been our aim in this series to confirm the date of John’s vision from the Scriptures, and to identify the transitions from Legs to Feet to Toes in the Fourth Kingdom of Daniel 2. Once those dates are known, the timing and meaning of the impact of the Stone can be understood, and as we shall see, Revelation 17 helps us considerably.
As we noted in Part 1, we are given a clue to the significance of the transition from the Legs by Daniel’s description of the Feet. The period of Iron signifies a time when the Fourth Empire was as strong as Iron, while the period of Iron & Clay signifies a time when “they shall not cleave one to another” for “they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men” (Daniel 2:43). The transition from Legs to Feet is therefore indicated by a transition from an unmingled to a mingled state. Because neither the Iron period, nor any of the preceding empires of Brass, Silver and Gold are characterized as “mingled,” the Iron period must share an attribute with the preceding kingdoms that the Iron & Clay period does not. As we showed in Part 1, in Daniel’s narratives, “unmingled” is taken to refer to the continuity of a royal family line, and a “mingled” condition is taken to refer to when that line becomes mingled with commoners and foreigners.
With the exception of Alexander—a point Daniel’s narrator makes an effort to highlight (Daniel 11:4)—all the other empires of note handed their kingdoms from father to son within a single family line. The Babylonian empire was ruled by a succession of royalty descended from Nebuchadnezzar, for his son was king after him (Daniel 5:2). Then the Medes reigned, passing the kingdom from father to son, for Darius was “the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes” (Daniel 9:1), and then the Persians reigned passing the kingdom from father to son (see Ezra 4:5-6 and this list of Persian Kings). Alexander’s reign serves as the exception to this rule, as he did not pass the kingdom to his sons. Alexander’s successors then did the same as his predecessors, handing their kingdoms down within the family line, as can be seen by the narrative of Daniel 11:5-39. As we showed in The Single Frame Hypothesis, Alexander’s kingdom indeed was “plucked up, even for others beside those” (Daniel 11:4).
Thus it is notable that when the Greek period fades and the Roman empire rises, the first emperors after Julius Cæsar—the “first king” of the Roman empire—were all in some way related to him:
Julius Caesar, (declared Dictator perpetuo in 44 B.C.)
— Civil Wars (44 – 27 B.C.) —
Augustus (27 B.C. – 14 A.D.), Julius’ grand-nephew
Tiberius (14 – 37 A.D.), Augustus’ step-son
Caligula (37 – 41 A.D.), Tiberius’ grand-nephew
Claudius (41 – 54 A.D.), Caligula’s uncle
Nero (54 – 68 A.D.), Claudius’ grand-nephew
Galba (68-69 A.D.), related to Julius by marriage and adoption
We note for emphasis that the Scripture’s identification of Cæsar Augustus (Luke 2:1), Cæsar Tiberius (Luke 3:1) and Caesar Claudius (Acts 11:28), necessarily ties them all to the first Cæsar, Julius himself, and their enumeration must begin with him. These Cæsars of the Roman Empire bear a resemblance to the succession of kings of Babylon and Medo-Persia as well as the Diadochi after Alexander, because succession was a family matter.
After Galba, the Cæsars began to come from a diverse and frequently common and non-Roman lineage, although some came from the original line (e.g., Nerva, 96 – 98 A.D.). Thus, it is with Galba’s successor that the imperial line began to be “mingled.” The first seven Emperors of Rome therefore constitute the Iron period, and the succeeding emperors constitute the Iron & Clay. This information aids us greatly in understanding the date of John’s vision in Revelation.
When we turn to Revelation 17, we find that John’s narrator is ever eager to describe to him his chronological position within Daniel’s eschatological timeline. As we discussed in Part 2, in Revelation 17:3 the Scarlet Beast appears by the absence of any crowns to be chronologically between the Serpent of Revelation 12:3 and the Sea Beast of Revelation 13:1. Additionally, John is informed of his chronological position by the fact that the Scarlet Beast “was,” “is not,” “shall ascend” in the future, and yet “is” now (Revelation 17:8). Finally, John is informed that he is receiving the apocalyptic vision between the fifth and seventh kings (Revelation 17:10). Thus, John is three times in this chapter alone reminded of the unique chronological time period in which he was receiving the vision. Clearly, John was to understand and record for us not only the “where” and “why” of his vision (Revelation 1:3,9), but also the “when” of it, too. The “when” of it is very important indeed.
We believe that because John’s vision is so thoroughly Danielic, Daniel is therefore our best instructor on determining the meaning of the seven kings of Revelation 17. As we noted in Part 4, Daniel’s narrator uses the same method to instruct him of his own chronological place in the prophecy as John’s narrator does in Revelation 17:10. Both narrators identify a sequence of actual kings as well as each scribe’s own personal chronography in relation to those kings:
“Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia. And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. ” (Daniel 11:2-3)
“And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.” (Revelation 17:10).
As Daniel was informed of a succession of literal kings and his own place in the unfolding chronology, so too was John. As Daniel was writing on the verge of an eschatological transition—from the Persian Empire to the Greek, from the Silver to the Brass, from the Ram to the He-goat, from the Bear to the Leopard—so too was John on the verge of an eschatological transition. What John was about to witness was the transition from the Legs to the Feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, and it was a significant transition indeed. As Daniel and Jesus both inform us, it is during the period of the Feet that one of the most eagerly anticipated events in all of eschatology was to occur: the transfer of the kingdom.
Daniel mentions the transfer in Daniel 2:44, and as we noted in Part 3, Jesus invested considerable time in His explanation of its timing (see Matthew 21:33-43). Shortly after Jerusalem was to be surrounded with armies, God would “miserably destroy” its current tenants (Matthew 21:41), “burn up their city” (Matthew 22:7), slay those “which would not that I should reign over them” (Luke 19:27), desolate their house (Matthew 23:37-38), take their kingdom away, and give it “to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:42-43). In keeping with the imagery of Daniel 2:34-35, Jesus identifies the period of that Kingdom transfer with the impact of the Stone on the Feet of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:42-44)
That language in verse 44 is straight from Daniel 2, in which a Stone strikes the feet and breaks them to pieces (Daniel 2:34) and then grinds everything to dust (Daniel 2:35). Daniel places both the impact of the Stone (Daniel 2:34) and the transfer of the kingdom (Daniel 2:44) in the period of the Iron & Clay Feet. Jesus does precisely the same thing in Matthew 21:42-44, using very Danielic language to do it.
As we noted in Part 3, Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the subsequent ministry of His apostles, was entirely passive toward the Roman Empire, and therefore cannot be construed as a judgment against, or fragmentation of, the Fourth Empire. Jesus’ entire earthly ministry, and that of most of His apostles, by all outward appearances, took place during the period of the Iron Legs. One thing Jesus and His apostles never did was “smite” the Roman empire or break it in pieces. Jesus’ testimony, together with Daniel’s explanation of the events to occur in the period of the Iron & Clay, therefore places the destruction of Jerusalem after the Iron period, and during the period of the Feet. That, too, helps us identify the significance of the first seven kings of the Roman empire.
Just as Daniel had been writing chapter 11 when the Silver was about to yield to Brass, John was writing Revelation as the Iron was about to become mixed with Clay. The Legs were about to transition to Feet. Importantly, that places John’s vision during the reign of Nero, the sixth Cæsar of the Iron period of Rome. The Iron Legs end with the death of Galba in 69 A.D., and the Iron & Clay Feet begin with his successor, Otho. Jerusalem would be destroyed, the holy house desolated, and the kingdom transferred, the next year. Thus began the period of the Feet and the transfer of the Kingdom, as both Daniel and Jesus had prophesied.
It is only by determining the chronology of the Legs, Feet and Toes of the Fourth Empire that the significance of the first impact of the Stone emerges. As Justin and Hippolytus demonstrated, if we presume to know the meaning of the Stone without first determining the timing of its impact, the result is incoherence. Because the Stone strikes the statue in the period of the Feet, this interpretation corrects Justin Martyr’s belief that the Iron period ended before Jesus’ incarnation, but it also corrects Hippolytus’ belief that the Iron period had continued well into the third century. When the chronology of the Legs, Feet and Toes is thus determined, the meaning of the strike depicted in Daniel 2:34 becomes clear. The Scriptures inform us of the transition from Legs to Feet in 69 A.D., and thus place the impact of the Stone sometime after that transition, but prior the Toes. In fact, it is because of the impact of the Stone that the statue has Toes at all.
As we noted in our series, The Fifth Empire, the statue of Daniel 2 is not depicted with Toes until after the first strike of the Stone, for the Stone strikes the Feet “and brake them to pieces” (Daniel 2:34). It is only then that Daniel proceeds to inform us of the significance of the Toes, which signify that the fourth kingdom is “partly broken” (Daniel 2:42). It is the impact of the Stone that breaks the Feet and creates the Toes.
As we showed in our article, Do Not Weep For Nicomedia, it was by Jesus’ opening of the Seals of Revelation 6 that the Roman empire, already weakened by becoming mingled “with the seed of men” (Daniel 2:43), was finally broken into its constituent fragments under the reorganization by Diocletian. Reeling from the crushing effects of the first two Seals, Diocletian reorganized the empire into four Tetrarchs ruling over 12 dioceses in 293 A.D.. Over the course of the 4th century, those twelve dioceses were further reorganized into 13, three of which were claimed by Roman Catholicism by its appropriation of the three Petrine Sees in 382 A.D.: Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, which by then were the capital cities of their three respective dioceses of Italy, Egypt and Oriens. We explained this fulfillment of Daniel 7 in our two articles, A See of One, and The Fourteenth Diocese.
The significance of this to our discussion on the Legs of Iron is that it shows that the impact of the Stone in Daniel 2:34, as directed against the Feet of the Fourth Empire, does not signify Jesus’ incarnation (as with Justin). As we can see, Jesus was born during the Iron period, and such an impact would have struck the Legs rather than the Feet. The impact of the Stone in Daniel 2:34 also cannot signify His return (as with Hippolytus). That would have the Stone impact in the period of the Toes, a chronological impossibility, for the Toes themselves do not emerge until after the Stone has broken the Feet into their constituent pieces.
It was also our intent in this series to answer a standard objection to the identification of the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 as seven literal kings. As we noted in Part 4, one historicist rejected such an interpretation, asking, “what would be the point of ending with Galba? What would be the point of the prophecy?” (John Pickle, Who are These Seven Kings?). Indeed, in isolation, Revelation 17:10 offers no obvious context for the sequence of kings, except that they are Roman. However, once that sequence of kings is understood to refer to the period of the Iron Legs, “the point of ending with Galba” becomes quite obvious.
This interpretation also corrects the Preterist position that identifies Nero as the Antichrist, for Nero’s reign was in the period of the Iron Legs, but Antichrist must of necessity arise in the period of the Toes. That disqualifies Nero entirely.
The interpretation also corrects two inconsistencies in what E. B. Elliott called the “generally received Protestant interpretation.” His interpretation understands the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 as seven successive forms of Roman government (Elliott, Horæ Apocalypticæ, vol iii, 98). As we noted in Part 4, the Beasts and Metals of Daniel 2, 7 and 8 signified a succession of empires, not a succession of forms of government.
Elliott’s erroneous interpretation is grounded on the non sequitur that because Daniel had prophesied a succession of empires with varying forms of government (kings and cæsars), Daniel can be said to have prophesied a succession of forms of government. By that method, the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 are taken, on Daniel’s high authority, to refer to a succession of forms of Roman government.
To illustrate the fallacy of that approach, we note that the successive empires of Daniel 2, 7 and 8 were also fulfilled in governments of increasingly westerly longitudes: from Babylon, to Greece and finally to Italy. Since Daniel’s prophecies of successive empires were fulfilled in kingdoms of increasingly westerly longitude, are we therefore free to conclude that Daniel had prophesied a longitudinal succession of empires, and then impose that rule on Revelation 17? If we were to say that the seven kings of Revelation 17 must, on Daniel’s high authority, represent a westerly, longitudinal succession of seven kingdoms, those of Elliott’s school would be justifiably critical of the approach. Yet Elliott’s method is no different, and it is not hermeneutically sound. His error was that he took a secondary, but historical, attribute of the prophesied kingdoms (their forms of government) and made it central to the fulfillment of the prophesy. Yet the prophecy would have been fulfilled independently of the forms of government.
That is the first inconsistency in the “generally received Protestant interpretation.” We covered the second in Part 5. As we noted there, Daniel deals with each Empire in Daniel 2, 7 and 8 as it becomes relevant to the narrative, rising to conquer, reigning and then falling to its successor. In every account, the sequence identifies events within the time period from Nebuchadnezzar’s rise in 605 B.C. to the establishment and eventual fall of the Roman Empire. The first king of each empire is depicted as the first king of relevance to the narrative, not the first actual king of each nascent kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar was not the first in his line, yet Daniel makes Nebuchadnezzar Babylon’s first king, the head of gold (Daniel 2:38) with his rise to dominance in 605 B.C.. The Medes came to power between 616 and 605 B.C., yet Daniel makes Darius the Mede their first king after the death of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:28-31). There were Persian kings before 538 B.C., yet as far as Daniel is concerned, Cyrus the Great was the first king of Persia. Alexander the Great was part of a long line of Greek kings dating back to 496 B.C., but Gabriel refers to Alexander as the “first king” of Greece (Daniel 8:21).
When Elliott takes the seven kings of Revelation 17 to be seven forms of Roman government, he expands the period of Roman relevance well beyond any Danielic precedent, placing Rome’s first king all the way back in 753 B.C. when Rome was but a tiny village on a remote Mediterranean hillside, almost 150 years before the rise of Nebuchadnezzar. That, too, is a departure from Danielic consistency and continuity, for Elliott’s chronology of “first kings” would therefore be, in order of their appearance, Rome, Babylon, Media, Persia and Greece. There is no justifiable hermeneutical reason for making the “first king” of the Roman nation its first “form of government” when Daniel consistently lists the “first king” as each succeeding empire’s first ruler during the period depicted by each beast or metal. In a Danielic prophetic narrative and chronology, Julius Cæsar is the “first king” of the Roman empire, not Romulus as Elliott would have it.
We note as well that the historical series of “forms of government” is not at all clear from the historical record, and does not match Elliott’s listing. For example, Elliott cites Livius and Tacitus to support his interpretation of a succession of six forms of government up to the time of John’s vision: Kings, Consuls, Dictators, Decemvirs, Military Tribunes and Emperors (Elliott, Horæ Apocalypticæ, vol iii, 96, 98). But Tacitus actually lists seven forms of government, not six, for that same period: Kings, Consuls, Dictators, Decemvirs, Military Tribunes, Despots (which was a return to the Dictatorship) and Princes, by which he refers to the Emperors (Tacitus, Annals, 1.1). Livius, on the other hand marks the transition from Kings to Consuls (Livus, Book 1:60.3), from Consuls to Decemvirs, and back to Consuls again (Livius, Book 3:33.1-1), followed by Military Tribunes (Livius, Book 4:7.1). Neither Livius nor Tacitus provide the listing that Elliott reconstructed, and together they represent a succession of forms of government that go well beyond the six Elliott identifies, since there were apparently two distinct periods of Consuls (per Livius) and two distinct periods of Dictators (per Tacitus).
For these reasons—his illicit method of imposing “forms of government” on Revelation 17:10, the inconsistent, non-Danielic chronology that results, and the lack of historical support for his proposed succession of “forms”—Elliott’s interpretation of the seven kings was found wanting in Part 4 and Part 5.
On one final note, we will address a common objection to the identification of the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 as the kings of the Iron Period of the Roman Empire. That objection is based on the next verse:
“And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.” (Revelation 17:11)
Would this not make Otho the beast of Revelation 17? After all, according to this sequence, Otho is the eighth Roman emperor. The misperception originates from the way the verse is rendered in English. In Revelation 17:10, each king is identified by a definite article:
“five (οἱ πέντε) are fallen, and one (ὁ εἷς) is, and the other (ὁ ἄλλος) is not yet come.”
Thus, the literal rendering of Revelation 17:10 is “the five are fallen, the one is, and the other is not yet come.” That convention is abandoned in the next verse and no definite article is used to modify “eighth” even though it is used in reference to the beast and to the seven. In other words, Revelation 17:11 does not refer to the eighth king, but rather, an eighth king:
“the beast (τὸ θηρίον) that was, and is not, even he is an eighth (ὄγδοός), and is of the seven (τῶν ἑπτά)”
Contrast this with Luke 1:59, a reference to the eighth day (τῇ ὀγδόῃ), in which the definite article is not lacking.
The significance to our understanding of Revelation 17 is that the Beast is not the eighth Roman emperor, but is an eighth that may be grouped with the kings of the Iron period. Indeed, just as the Sea Beast of Revelation 13 is comprised of the three preceding empires—the Lion, the Bear and the Leopard—it also has elements of the form of the fourth Beast of Daniel 7. The Antichrist emerges from among the horns of Daniel 7:7-8, is “of the seven” kings of the Iron period (Revelation 17:11), and is comprised of the three preceding empires as well (Revelation 13:2). Thus, as we also noted in The Fifth Empire, the second judicial movement of the Stone is against the all the materials together—Iron, Clay, Brass, Silver and Gold (Daniel 2:35)—for it is directed against Antichrist, which is comprised of all the materials together. Thus, it is true that Antichrist rose up as an eighth emperor of the Roman empire, but it is not identified in the Scriptures as the eighth.
In any case, the Church historically has had very little trouble identifying the time periods of the Gold, Silver, and Brass of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 because the time periods are depicted for us in the Scriptures. As it turns out, the time periods of the Iron and Iron & Clay, the Legs, Feet and Toes, are provided in the Scriptures as well. That information from the Scriptures aids us greatly in understanding the period of Jesus’ earthly life, the timing of Jerusalem’s destruction, the transfer of the kingdom in the Danielic chronology, significance of the impact of the Stone and the fragmentation of the fourth empire in Daniel 2:34, the rise of Antichrist and his ultimate destruction in Daniel 2:35, and not insignificantly, the timing of the book of Revelation within the Iron period, under the reign of Nero.