My daily readings this last week took me to the opening events in the Book of Daniel. Daniel was an older boy or young man taken into the Babylonian Captivity around 586 B. C. He was a G-d fearing young man and asked King Nebuchadnezzar’s stewards to be exempted from eating the king’s food since he believed doing so would violate his faith. He proposed a ten day test of a vegetable and water diet at the end of which he and his three friends were found to be healthier that the rest of the captive boys. The four of them thus found favor in the eyes of the king and were rewarded for their faithfulness.
Toward the beginning of Daniel’s account is found the narrative of a complex problem presented by Nebuchadnezzar. He had had a dream, and he required his wise men to not only interpret the dream but to tell him what the dream was first. His rationale was that only the wise who could tell the dream would truly know its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar was not pleased that none of his sages could do as he asked, so he threatened to put them all to death. When the guards came to Daniel and his friend to take them to death, Daniel, seemingly having not heard of the problem, asked for another day in which he might consult with his own G-d to find an answer and prevent his own death and those of his friends and the rest of the magi.
Daniel was given that time during which G-d revealed to him both the dream and its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream a frightening statue with a head of gold, a chest of silver, a middle and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet in an imperfect mixture of iron and clay. At the end of the dream a great stone carved not by human hands struck the image and broke it to pieces which were scattered to the wind so that none of it could be found. In place of the image, the stone became a mountain that filled the entire earth.
It was revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that the head of the image was his own great kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon. Daniel told him that after him would follow another kingdom represented by the silver chest, another by the bronze midsection, another by the iron legs until the feet, a kingdom divided since iron and clay do not mix, was left. The great crushing stone, Daniel told him, represented a kingdom that the G-d of heaven would set up, a kingdom that would crush all others and would be established forever.
The question that came to me as I read this passage, and as I have read it in the past, is “What does it mean? Who are these great kingdoms? Can we use this dream today to speak to us about God’s activity in the world?” Admittedly, I have not done any outside research into the answers to these questions, but I wold propose two possibilities, both of which should cause us to take note. I’ll pose these two as another question. Is the prophecy Messianic or of the End of Days?
A Messianic interpretation might be like this. The golden head is Babylon; the silver chest the Persians and Medes, the bronze midsection the Creeks, the iron legs the Roman Empire, and the iron and clay feet the partially restored but very divided nation of Israel. The stone not cut from human hand would parallel the stone the builders rejected, the one about Jesus speaking of Himself said, “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” The final kingdom established would be the kingdom of G-d to which Jesus referred in His conversation with Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
In an End of Days interpretation the following might be true. The bronze head we know is Babylon. That part Daniel make clear to Nebuchadnezzar. If we look at all of history from then until now the following world kingdoms might be represented by the rest of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: the silver chest is the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great, the Bronze midsection the Roman Empire which ruled from the British Isles to north Africa, the British Empire which held lands around the world, and finally the United States of America once a world power but today deeply divided in both politics and moral standards. In this possible interpretation, the divided United States of America stands as the final “kingdom” into which a great stone will roll shattering it and all the kingdoms of humanity and establishing in its place the final Kingdom of God. It would seem fully possible that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream may be fulfilled in our time; and if so, the end may soon be here.
One of the accepted tenets of the Faith is that prophecies, both of the Old Testament and of the New, have a double meaning. Many prophecies have a double fulfillment: one Messianic and the other End Times. For example, the Old Testament prophet Joel was given a vision of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which happened fifty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But a close reading of the words given to him by the Holy Spirit reveals that part of that prophecy is yet to come true. Luke recorded Peter’s sermon which connected the Pentecost flames of fire with the words of outpouring that Joel wrote. But Joel’s words also speak of “wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapors of smoke.” Quoting Joel he also said, “The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.” This second part of the prophecy is clearly unfulfilled and speaks of a day yet to come.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, then, might also be understood in like manner. The question originally asked would not be only “Messianic or End of Days?” The dream could very possibly have a Messianic interpretation in which case the dream has been fulfilled, and we are living in the age during which the stone is becoming the mountain that will end in the final establishment of the Kindom of G-d. It is also possible to find an interpretation in which the dream is not yet fully fulfilled. In either case, we may indeed be living in the end times, times that should cause us to re-awaken to G-d’s work among us, to His call to repentance, to His invitation to faith, to His commission that we be about making disciples. The answer to our question could certainly be Messianic, End of Days, or both.