Daniel the Prophet
The prophet Daniel was inspired by God to make some wonderful prophecies about the Kingdom of God. His prophecies span human history from his own days to the eventual setting up of God’s Kingdom, future.
In chapter 2 he interprets a dream in which Nebuchadnezzar, the founder of the Babylonian Empire, saw a great statue in human form. There is something appropriate about Nebuchadnezzar seeing, what Daniel subsequently calls “the kingdom of men” in human form, for earthly despots worship the work of their own hands, and that was true of King Nebuchadnezzar. One day he overlooked Babylon and proudly made this assessment:
The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon , that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).
The King’s Dream
One night this mighty king had a dream that deeply disturbed him. In his dream, which he couldn’t remember at first, at least he said he couldn’t, he saw a huge multi-metalled monster. It took the prophet Daniel to interpret it as follows:
The image which Nebuchadnezzar saw had a head of gold ( Babylon ), breast and arms of silver ( Persia ), belly and thighs of brass ( Greece ), and legs of iron ( Rome ). The feet of the image were part of iron and part of clay, representing the divided state of the world that was to follow the break-up of the Roman Empire .
Nebuchadnezzar kept looking until he saw a stone cut out of the mountain with no human assistance, which struck the image on the feet and broke them in pieces. Then the whole image collapsed and all the gold, silver, brass and iron become like chaff and was swept away by the wind. The little stone, however, became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. Read about it for yourself in Daniel 2:31-45.
The image represented the kingdom of men, which was due to pass through several different phases as one Empire followed another. The stone to be cut out of the mountain “without hands”, was a representation of something that would be provided without human aid. That it was not of human providing can only refer to the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born by the operation of the Holy Spirit – the power of God – acting upon Mary his mother.
The key to the entire prophetic dream is to be found in verse 44:
“In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever”
This coming Kingdom is the Kingdom of God on earth – the kingdom for which the Lord Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ).
Daniel’s Own Vision
In chapter 7 of his prophecy Daniel records how he himself had a vision. Whereas Nebuchadnezzar had seen four great world empires, represented by the figure of a man, Daniel saw them from a different perspective. He saw them as four wild beasts that tore and devoured one another in their endeavour to establish their dominion. He saw the same four great empires that
Nebuchadnezzar had been shown but this time they were represented as follows:
- a lion ( Babylon )
- a bear ( Persia )
- a Leopard ( Greece )
- a dreadful fourth beast ( Rome ) that was different from all the others (Daniel 7:1-7).
The outcome of the vision was, however, just as in Daniel chapter 2. This is what Daniel saw:
“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him. Then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13 ,14).
That these words will ultimately find their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ, he himself confirmed for he said, quoting these words:
“I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
Exile in Babylon
The prophet was in Babylon when he had that vision, for he had been exiled some years before, and during the time that he prophesied in Babylon the entire Kingdom of Judah came to an end and for seventy long years its people were to be in captivity. One of the Psalms reflects the spirit of faithful people at that time when it records them saying:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive required of us a song, and those who plundered us required of us mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth – If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalm 137:1-6).
At the end of the seventy years, however, in fulfilment of the word of God, Cyrus, the Persian, issued a decree allowing the people to return to their land (Ezra 1:1-4). It has to be remembered that what they formed when they returned was what has been termed “the Commonwealth of Judah”. It was not a kingdom, because God had said that David’s throne should be no more “until he come whose right it is”(Ezekiel 21:27).
Return from Babylon
The history of this return from exile is recorded in the Book of Ezra. The Jews returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the Governor, and Joshua the High Priest and they began the work of rebuilding the Temple at Jerusalem. However, they met opposition from the Samaritans and inhabitants of the land who had been transplanted there as part of the Assyrian policy of mass deportation of peoples that they conquered and although the foundation of the house was laid the work then ceased.
It was about 16 years later that the people were stirred by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to begin building again and eventually the city was rebuilt and the temple completed, although it was but a poor comparison with the magnificent structure that Solomon had built.
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe the changing circumstances of the people of Israel at this period of their history and how, in the face of adverse circumstances, they eventually re-established themselves in the land. Nehemiah is concerned with events some 80 years after they first returned and in his days the last of the Old Testament prophets, Malachi, delivered his message.
One other Old Testament Book was written about this time and that was the Book of Esther. It tells how, through the advancement of Esther to be Queen to the Persian monarch, Ahasuerus, the Jews were delivered out of the hand of Haman, a nobleman who had determined to destroy them.
The book is a vivid illustration of the manner in which God will fulfil His word and preserve the identity of His people for “though I make a full end of all nations whither I have driven thee yet will I not make a full end of thee”
Last Three Prophets
These last three prophets – Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi – have much to say that is relevant to the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the outworking of the purpose of God in human history. We give below a selection of the things they had to say:
Because the people saw this temple as nothing compared with the house that Solomon had built (Hagg.2:3), God prophesied that:
“I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations (the Lord Jesus Christ) shall come and I will fill this house with glory saith the LORD of Hosts…. the glory of the latter house shall be greater then that of the former, saith the LORD of Hosts and in this place will I give peace, says the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:7-9).
This “latter temple” is the House of God that “shall be established on the top of the mountains” (Isaiah 2:2) when the kingdom of God is set up.
Zechariah prophesied of a time still future when the people of Israel ;
“Will look on me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
That will be the time when they will be reconciled to the Lord Jesus Christ and accept him as their Messiah.
In his 14th chapter, Zechariah foretold a time when God “will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle” and the outcome will be that “the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle” (14:3). The outcome will be the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth, as Zechariah says:
“The LORD shall be King over al the earth. In that day it shall be – “ the LORD is one,” and his name one” (14:9).
New Testament Forerunner
All of this forms a challenging description of events which are yet future in the earth. They look to the Second Coming to earth of the Lord Jesus, when he will come in power and glory to reign as King from Jerusalem . But the last prophecy in the Old Testament also anticipates his first Coming, when he was to be born at Bethlehem and when he would come to minister to Israel.
Before Jesus began to preach, there was another prophet who went before him. Malachi had said this must happen, as follows:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. behold, he is coming,” says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1).
These words are quoted in the New Testament (see Matthew 11:10 and Mark 1:2) as words that were fulfilled in the work of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord Jesus. So, with the work of Malachi, Old Testament prophecy came to an end and for 400 years there was no Divine Revelation given.
But then the darkness of the prophetic night was pierced. John the Baptist was like a burning and a shining light, and he heralded “the light of the world”. The work of John and the Lord Jesus thus bring us to the last 27 books of the Bible – the New Testament Scriptures.