There are plenty of ideas about how the world will end—and most of them are wrong. The Bible does say that, at the end of human history, there will be lots of problems on planet Earth. Among other things, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; (Luke 21:10), and “on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (verses 25 and 26).
Yeah, that’s a whole lot of trouble. But here’s the thing: people won’t have been nuked off the planet, because the Bible also says “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (verse 27)! All the trouble is about to end!
So even though times will be bad, you don’t need to worry about a planet-ending nuclear explosion. The real battle is taking place between spiritual forces, and we can’t see them! So, rather than sweat too much about the future, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen” (Luke 21:36). That way, when whatever is going to happen does happen, with God on your side, you’ll be just fine.
“Belteshazzar!” he called, using the Babylonian name the king had given Daniel. He continued with the Babylonian names of the other three men: “Shadrach! Meschach! Abednego! I am commanded to conduct all four of you to the king’s prison cells—you are under arrest!”
“What?” Daniel, the natural spokesman of the group, stood. “Arrest? What have we done?”
The commander shrugged. “Our orders are to arrest every wise man, every scholar, every astrologer, every magician in the palace—and beyond. You are all under a death sentence.”
“Death?” Now the other three men were on their feet too. “We have done nothing deserving of death.”
“Those are my orders.”
Daniel stepped closer to Arioch and tried to look through the veil of authority the man wore. Arioch was a friend; he had helped them many times in their early years at the Babylonian court.
“Please be forthright with us, Arioch,” Daniel stated. “What is this all about?”
Arioch sighed and spread his hands in a gesture of confusion. “Honestly, I don’t know much. The king called a number of his wise men to his audience chamber early this morning, asking them to interpret a dream. When they were unable to do so, he declared that every wise man in Babylon was under a sentence of death.”
Arioch’s eyes met Daniel’s, neither man able to say what he was thinking: the death decree sounded like something a spoiled 2-year-old would have come up with. Unfortunately, kings with absolute power over vast empires often act like spoiled children, King Nebuchadnezzar perhaps even more than most others. He was used to being obeyed; he was used to his underlings finding instant solutions to his problems.
Still, this must have been a very important dream. Even Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t fly into this kind of royal rage over nothing, Daniel thought.
Sending up a quick, silent prayer, Daniel spoke again. “Is there any possibility the king might delay his sentence to give another of his wise men a chance to interpret the dream?” Daniel asked.
Arioch hesitated. “I don’t know. I can find out. Do you think you can help?”
“None of us can do anything on our own,” Daniel said, “but the God we serve is powerful, and He often speaks to our people through dreams and visions. It’s possible He may give us wisdom to help the king if we can learn more about the dream.”
“I’ll get word to the king. This chamber will be guarded while I go—do not try to leave,” Arioch warned.
The four men waited, silent and tense, for the next hour. They talked little among themselves; each prayed quietly.
When Arioch came again, his face was unreadable. “I have good news and bad news for you,” he told Daniel and his friends. “The good news is that the king is willing to see you to find out if you can interpret his dream.”
“Praise God!” Daniel said. “And the bad news?”
Arioch smiled a wry smile. “I learned a little more about this dream the king wanted his wise men and astrologers to interpret,” he said.
Daniel expected to hear the details from the king himself, but he couldn’t resist asking, “So? What was it about?”
“Nobody knows,” Arioch said, “including the king. He claims he can’t remember the details of the dream at all—only that he believes it was tremendously important, and it left him deeply troubled. He needs a wise man to tell him what the dream was and then tell him the meaning.”
“That’s incredible!” Hananiah put in.
“That’s what the other wise men thought,” the commander said. His manner relaxed now that he was no longer there to arrest them. “I thought perhaps you could make up something to tell the king, but I guess that won’t work now.”
“No, it certainly won’t,” Daniel agreed. “We’ve all had dreams and forgotten them in the morning. But we all know that if something reminds a person of their dream, they’ll recognize and recall it at once. If someone made up a false dream, the king would know right away that it was false. When he hears the true dream, he’ll recognize it.”
“You say when he hears about his dream,” Arioch pointed out. “Do you really think you can do this?”
“Not I—not any of us,” Daniel said again. “But if the God of heaven wants the king of Babylon to know what he dreamed last night, God will reveal it.”
When Daniel arrived with Arioch at the king’s audience chamber, Nebuchadnezzar looked agitated.
Daniel bowed respectfully. “My lord king, I request that you suspend the death sentence on your wise men for just a little longer. I wish to ask the God I serve to reveal your dream and its meaning.”
“Do you really think you can do this?” Nebuchadnezzar said, echoing Arioch’s words as he peered at Daniel with keen eyes.
“I can do nothing, my lord king,” Daniel said. “But the God of heaven reveals dreams to whomever He chooses. If He will show me your dream and its meaning, I can help you. Just give me a little more time.”
“Till tomorrow! No longer!” the king declared. Daniel hurried back to his friends. “Today we will all fast and pray. Let’s ask God earnestly to reveal this dream and spare our lives.”
The four young men knelt in prayer and continued that way most of the day. As the hours slipped by with no message from heaven, no vision from God, Daniel’s heart began to sink. He and his friends—along with all of Babylon’s wise men—would lie under sentence of death tomorrow if this dream did not become clear.
“Trust God,” Hananiah told him. “Our lives are in His hand. If He wishes to reveal the dream, He will. If He wants to save us some other way, He is able. And if He allows us to die now, then that, too, will somehow be to His glory.” Daniel nodded, encouraged by his friend’s faith.
Finally, tired, the four went to their separate chambers to rest. Daniel couldn’t help hoping that God would send him a dream, just as He had sent one to Nebuchadnezzar the night before—a second dream as a key to unlock the first.
But it was a hot night, and Daniel found himself puzzling over the problem of the king’s dream instead of sleeping. He tossed and turned in his bed. Finally, exhausted, he fell asleep.
Sometime during the darkness of that night, Daniel opened his eyes to find himself standing on a vast empty plain. No human being, no buildings, nothing at all punctuated the blank, open landscape. Turning, he saw just one object rising up on the horizon—one massive structure that towered over the whole plain. It was a statue of a man, immense and regal-looking, larger than any statue Daniel had ever seen.
The statue was made not of stone but of metal—many different metals. The head was shining gold; the chest and arms gleamed silver. The stomach and thighs of the statue were made of yellowish brass, and the legs consisted of dull black iron.
At first Daniel couldn’t see what the massive feet were made of, but as he moved closer, he saw they were a mixture of—could it be?—iron and clay. How could any sculptor get clay to stick to iron? The mottled unstable-looking feet somehow supported this whole vast image.
Daniel moved back again, craning his neck to get a good view of this huge creation that dominated the skyline. For long moments he stood staring at it, thinking nothing, only taking in the power and majesty of the statue.
Then, suddenly, he saw something else. Out above the horizon something was hurtling from the sky toward the image. It was a rock. It had appeared out of nowhere; no one had thrown it; yet it was flying directly toward the feet of the great statue.
Daniel shuddered at the impact as the rock struck the statue’s feet. The clay shattered; shards of iron flew in all directions. The image swayed for a second, then fell headlong to the ground. As it struck, the whole thing shattered as if it were all made of clay rather than of strong unyielding metal. The entire image dissolved into a pile of shards like a shattered earthen pot.
A strong wind, which had appeared as suddenly as the rock, swept across the plain and tossed the broken pieces like grass in a breeze, swirling them away. A moment later not a trace of the gigantic statue was left.
Just one thing now stood on the plain: the rock that had shattered the image. As Daniel watched, the rock began to swell and grow like a living thing. It grew quickly, shooting upward like a mountain, spreading outward like the roots of a giant stone tree. It filled the whole plain—the whole world. It rushed toward Daniel with a roar as if he, too, would be swallowed up . . .
Daniel sat up, breathing heavily, in his bed. It was the king’s dream. Daniel knew, as certainly as he knew his own name, that the dream he had just experienced was the same one that had disturbed King Nebuchadnezzar’s slumber the night before.
No wonder the king had been unable to dismiss it, though he could not recall it! Not only was the image in the dream vivid and its destruction strange, but along with the dream came a feeling of excitement, of fear, and yet of hope—a mix of emotions that Daniel couldn’t tie into the dream’s scenes themselves,yet which must be linked to its meaning.
“Thank You, Lord,” he breathed. “Now, will You show me what it means?”
Daniel tried to relax and call the picture of the great statue to mind again. He found he didn’t have to scramble for interpretations or come up with any explanation. As simply and clearly as if it were written on a page in front of him, he could see the meaning of each part of the dream as it appeared in his mind. He had no doubt at all that God was putting the dream’s interpretation into his mind.
When it was all clear—and how brilliantly clear, how wonderfully exciting, it was!— Daniel got up. It was still an hour or more before dawn, yet he could sleep no more.
He sent a servant to waken his three friends. When they arrived at his chambers, Daniel shared with them what he had seen in his dream and the meaning God had revealed to him. All four men fell to their knees for a heartfelt session of praise. Not only had God saved their lives; God was using Daniel to reveal things to the king that would affect the course of history!
“I wonder how the king will react?” Mishael said later, as they ate a hasty morning meal before Arioch came to bring Daniel before the king. “After all, the dream does predict that his kingdom won’t last forever—and every king wants to believe that it will.”
Daniel shrugged. “Maybe he’ll put me to death after all. But it doesn’t matter. I feel absolutely certain that this is a message from God, and I’m doing His will by delivering it. As you said last night, Hananiah, all the rest is in His hands.”
A few hours later Daniel stood again before King Nebuchadnezzar—this time in a private chamber. As Daniel told the king what he had dreamed, he saw the reaction he had expected on Nebuchadnezzar’s face. The king nodded, smiling.
“Yes, yes, that’s it!” he breathed as Daniel listed the metals that made up the different parts of the image. His eyes widened as Daniel told about the great rock and how it grew, and again he nodded.
“I saw it; I saw it just so,” he told Daniel. “I am amazed. But what about the meaning?”
Daniel spoke slowly, choosing his words with care. Kings expected to be flattered, not told that their kingdoms would someday crumble and be replaced. “You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.”1
Nebuchadnezzar leaned forward in his seat, a pleased smile on his face, hanging on to Daniel’s every word. Daniel drew a deep breath and went on.
“After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others.
“Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it. . . . This kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. . . . The people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.”2
The chamber was silent. The king’s smile had vanished, but he did not look angry, only serious. He was still nodding; he might not like to hear of his empire’s eventual fall, but the interpretation clearly made sense to him.
“What about the stone?” he broke in as Daniel paused. “I still remember how it grew and filled the whole scene.”
“In the days of those last kingdoms,” Daniel said, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
“This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”3
Daniel fell silent. There was nothing more to say: this was all God had revealed to him, and he certainly wasn’t going to add his own words to God’s. How would the king react?
What Nebuchadnezzar did took Daniel completely by surprise—even though he’d long believed that nothing this impulsive monarch did could shock him. King Nebuchadnezzar rose from his chair, only to drop to his knees before Daniel, bowing his head as a deep gesture of respect and honor.
In Babylon everyone bowed before the king—and the king bowed to no one but the gods. Yet Nebuchadnezzar was not really kneeling before Daniel, the Jewish exile, but before Daniel’s God, the ruler of all the earth.
“Surely,” the king exclaimed, “your god is the god of gods and the lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”4
In the days following that meeting, Daniel was given honor and power beyond anything he’d ever imagined. He was whisked from a lowly place in the king’s service to the highest circles of power in the land.
Yet often, as he paused from his duties for his regular hours of prayer, his thoughts turned back to the great image and the great picture of future events God had painted in a dream. When and how would all these things happen? And what part might he, Daniel, have to play in God’s great plan?
1Daniel 2:37, 38.
3Verses 44, 45.
What Does the Dream Mean?
Head of Gold:
Babylon, 605-539 B.C.
On the plain of Dura, Hananiah—known as Shadrach to those around him in the Babylonian court—stood with his friends Mishael and Azariah. Daniel, the fourth member of their close-knit group of exiles from Judah, was absent that day. King Nebuchadnezzar had sent him far away on an important mission.
Daniel had risen high in the king’s favor since he had interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. They had all received new honors and new riches.
For a while after the dream, King Nebuchadnezzar had seemed to believe its message and had even been interested in learning more about the God of the Hebrews, the God who had interpreted his dream.
But the king’s self-centered, power-hungry nature had been coming back in full strength. For months he’d had sculptors working on a gigantic statue of solid gold.
The haughty king had thought, My dream told me that I would be only the golden head in a whole progression of world kingdoms. But I challenge fate and the gods! I will re-create this image in solid gold to show that my kingdom will never end!
So governors, administrators, and officials from all over the empire were assembled at Dura that day to bow down and show homage to this great statue, a monument to King Nebuchadnezzar’s belief that he would rule forever. For anyone who refused to bow, the penalty was death—death in a blazing furnace.
Hananiah, who knew that as a servant of the God of Israel he would never bow to any foreign idol, drew his cloak a little more tightly around him and looked at his friends. In a moment the musicians would strike up the music ordering the crowd to fall to its knees—and the servants of God would remain standing. What would happen then?
It was hard to imagine at that moment that the kingdom of Babylon would ever be destroyed. It was the world’s mightiest nation. Its armies had crushed surrounding countries. The wealth of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom—lavishly displayed in the capital city of Babylon with its glorious temples and its famous hanging gardens—was the talk of the whole world. No wonder such a king found it hard to believe he’d ever be defeated.
But the God who rescued the three Jewish exiles from the fiery furnace had plans King Nebuchadnezzar could not have foreseen.
The great kingdom of Babylon would survive for just two more generations. By the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, the mighty army of Cyrus the Medo-Persian was knocking at the gates.
Chest of Silver:
Medo-Persia, 539-331 B.C.
The prophet Daniel himself—by now an old man—was in town on the very night when the Medo-Persian empire overthrew the city of Babylon, fulfilling the first part of his prophecy King Belshazzar was throwing a banquet that night when suddenly, horrified, he saw a disembodied hand writing unfamiliar words on the palace wall. All the guests were thrown into confusion until someone thought to send for Daniel.
Daniel was able to read the strange words—Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin —and to tell the king their meaning. Once again it was a message from God: the days of the Babylonian king had come to an end. He had been “weighed on the scales and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). The kingdom would fall into the hands of the Medes and Persians. That very night the city fell and the prophecy came true.
Under the Persian king Cyrus the Jewish exiles were allowed to return home to Judah and try to rebuild their land. Many chose to return—but many others stayed and made Persia their home.
One of those was a young Jewish girl named Esther, who found herself caught up in a chain of events that led her to become the wife of King Xerxes. Esther stood in the courtyard before the Gate of All Lands in her husband’s summer palace at Parsa. The gate was flanked by two huge winged bulls bearing the inscription: “I am Xerxes the mighty, king of kings.”
King of kings—that was the title by which the Persian emperors were known. Yet it was also, and more truly, the title of the God of her people, the God of Israel. He was the true King of kings, the one who controlled the destiny of all people in all lands.
Esther, feeling very alone and frightened, sent up a desperate prayer: “Lord God of Israel, I don’t understand why You have placed me in this position of power or what role You have for me to play here. Do You have a purpose for my life, even here in a foreign monarch’s court?”
God was indeed guiding Esther—just as He guides all of human history. The book of Esther tells us how this Jewish teenager was in the right place at the right time to save her people from a bloodbath of destruction.
Later, in the reign of King Artaxerxes, God used two more faithful Jews who served in the king’s palace—Ezra and Nehemiah—to help bring His law back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple there.
Yet even the mighty Medo-Persian empire couldn’t last forever. King Xerxes tried to push his empire westward to conquer Greece and failed. The Greek city-states were disunited at that time and tended to fight among themselves. But 150 years later they were united under a powerful young general who became known to history as Alexander the Great.
Belly and Thighs of Brass:
Greece, 331-168 B.C.
Alexander the Great’s armies conquered most of the then-known world, including Medo-Persia. Alexander himself died in 323 B.C. at just 33 years of age. Before his death he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer (or so he thought).
The empire Alexander left behind him lasted until 168 years before the birth of Jesus. Greek culture laid the foundations for our modern world. Democracy, the system of government now used in much of the world, began in ancient Greece.
Philosophers today still debate the ideas of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, the ancient Greek thinkers. Greek art and Greek literature have influenced the way people paint, write, and think from their time to the present.
Also in our modern world, every four years athletes from around the world gather to continue a tradition that began in ancient Greece: the Olympic Games. Young Greek men competed in races and other athletic contests in honor of Zeus and the other gods who, the Greeks believed, lived on Mount Olympus.
Greece continued to be the most important world power for more than 150 years after Alexander—until an even bigger power came along. One country after another fell to the mighty armies of Rome.
About this time, the leader of an incredibly dedicated Jewish army arrived on the scene.
“We must rid this land of sacrilege!” cried Judas Maccabaeus. Fed up with the foreign ways of worship that had been forced upon God’s people, this man led an army bent on dealing with the problem. In the end, the worship of God was restored at the Temple. Today, the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah remembers that event.
Legs of Iron:
Rome, 168 B.C. – A.D. 476
Claudia stood with her back straight, showing no fear, but her heart raced. Across the river, the dull glow of a smoldering fire lit up the night sky. Rome was burning.
With her fellow Christians, she joined hands and prayed for the people suffering and dying in the city. Surely the Lord Jesus would soon return to end this terrible suffering! Claudia and her family had heard the message of Jesus preached by Peter, who had been one of Jesus’ followers himself, and later by the great missionary preacher Paul. Those two great leaders had recently died, leaving the Christian church in Rome to face an uncertain future.
Within a matter of days the future became far more frightening than anything they had imagined.
Life for Christians in Rome was already difficult: they faced suspicion and distrust. But now, in the aftermath of the fire, everyone was looking for someone to blame. The emperor Nero had declared that Christians were to blame for the devastation.
Soon everyone in the Christian community became used to tales of terror: Christians were being dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, forced into circus rings with hungry lions, or crucified as the Lord Jesus had been.
Claudia and some friends and family hid in the catacombs (underground cemetery) beneath the city. As they waited and prayed for deliverance, they repeated to each other Jesus’ words: “Blessed are you when people persecute you because of Me, for great is your reward in heaven.”
The Roman empire was the mightiest the world had ever known—truly an empire of iron. For more than 600 years Rome ruled the known world, conquering territories that hadn’t even been heard of in Daniel’s day. Jesus was born in Israel when it was an occupied Roman colony. He died on a Roman cross—the most common form of execution for criminals and troublemakers.
Romans would often leave bodies to rot on crosses as a reminder to those who saw them: don’t mess with the Roman government.
Despite persecution, the religion of Jesus’ followers—“Christianity,” as it came to be called—spread like wildfire throughout the Roman world. By A.D. 312 the emperor Constantine had experienced something of a conversion, and Christianity became the official religion of the empire.
But with power came corruption. As the Christian church joined hands with the powerful but cruel Roman government, it began more and more to imitate that government and use its methods.
Feet of Iron and Clay:
The Modern World, A.D. 476-Present
The mighty Roman Empire finally fell, weakened by corruption within and attacked by enemies from outside. The barbarian tribes of Europe rebelled against Roman rule and finally conquered the city of Rome itself.
With no central government and no common language or civilization, the Western world began to look like the iron-and-clay feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. Some countries were strong, some weak. A brand of Christianity was woven into the government of Rome, but like iron and clay, the two did not mix well.
Throughout the time period we call the Middle Ages, there was one power that united many people—the Roman Catholic Church. As monks and missionaries traveled the world, more and more people became Christian.
But in many countries “Christian” armies forced people to convert to Christianity at the edge of a sword. And the same church whose early heroes had died at the hand of the Roman emperor Nero now put to death people who protested against what the church had become and tried to return to Jesus’ original message in the Bible.
These protestors, or “Protestants,” suffered for their faith, but they led to the Reformation of the 1500s and 1600s, when new church groups sprang up and tried to lead Christians back to “the Bible and the Bible only.”
For more than 1,500 years we’ve been living in the feet of the image. Our modern world is still a collection of countries, some weak, some strong, not tied together by any single powerful world empire or king.
Today many people believe we are “living in the toes” of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. According to the vision, we are literally on the edge of eternity. So what happens next?
The Great Stone:
still to come
Kyle and Jenna sat with their parents beside a small fire, shivering in the cold night air. Over the past months they’d gotten used to living in mountain campsites, having hardly enough to eat, staying on the run. It wasn’t safe to be a follower of God’s Word anymore.
Things had happened so quickly. Kyle could still remember being in elementary school and not having a care in the world. Now, when he should have been a high school freshman, his whole world had fallen apart.
New laws made religious freedom just a dream of the past. The world was pulling together, people said, to fight crime, disease, and terrorism.
One new law was aimed at forcing people to turn back to God. But the drive for unity meant that anyone who thought or worshiped differently was pushed to the edges.
The only things that kept Kyle and Jenna’s world together were the love and unity of their family and their church family. Fellow Christians who’d once been just faces in the next pew were now like brothers and sisters. They’d been through so much together. When would the trouble end?
“Look!” Jenna said, pointing skyward. Kyle followed his sister’s glance, expecting to see military or police helicopters. Instead he saw something else: a small cloud that, instead of moving across the sky like other clouds, seemed to be rushing directly toward them.
The people around them were gradually noticing the unusual cloud. Mom was already on her feet, her hands lifted to heaven. “Praise Jesus!” she cried.
A few feet away, someone else shouted, “This is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us!” Kyle and Jenna were standing too now. Kyle felt a rush of excitement and joy. For so long this day had been just a dream; sometimes he’d even had trouble believing it would come. But now it was here. Jesus was coming!
Already the cloud was filling the sky. Kyle could actually see angels, hear trumpets. The long wait was over. It was time to go home.
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44, 45).
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
No fear, angels near
Ever been scared about being a Christian in the end-times of earth’s history?
You can ditch your fear.
“Could men see with heavenly vision, they would behold companies of heavenly angels that excel in strength stationed about those who have kept the word of Christ’s patience. . . .
“The heavenly sentinels, faithful to their trust, continue their watch. . . . none can pass the mighty guardians stationed about every faithful soul.
“Some are assailed in their flight from the cities and villages; but the swords raised against them break and fall powerless as a straw. Others are defended by angels in the form of men of war” (The Great Controversy, pp. 630, 631).
Photo by Gonzalo G. Useta