Daniel and the Universal Kingdom
Daniel 2 contains a fascinating prophecy which speaks of God’s plan to set up a Kingdom upon earth that is not of human origin and will come to cover the whole earth. Christians as far back as the Early Church Fathers have interpreted this prophecy as referring to the Catholic Church being established by Christ, expanding all over the world, and lasting forever. After reflecting upon the prophecy, I see no other plausible interpretation. Let me explain my thoughts.
Back at the Babylonian Exile, God caused the Emperor Nebuchadnezzar to have a mysterious dream which only the Prophet Daniel could explain. In verses 2:31-45, Daniel interprets the dream in some pretty plain terms.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was of a large statue that was divided into Five Sections: the statue’s Head was made of Gold, the Chest was made of Silver, the Lower Torso was made of Bronze, the Legs were made of Iron, and the Feet were made of an Iron-Clay mix (2:31-33). Then he saw “a stone not cut by human hands” was hurled down from the sky and struck the statue at the Feet, reducing it to pieces, and this stone went on to become “a great mountain that filled the whole earth” (2:34-35).
That was the dream which Daniel was then given the task to explain.
Daniel begins by telling King Nebuchadnezzar that he and his Babylonian Empire are the Head made of Gold (2:37-38). Then Daniel says another Empire will arise, not as fancy as Gold (i.e. Silver), and this second Empire will take over and become the new world super power. After that, a third Empire, the Kingdom of Bronze will succeed the Kingdom of Silver. This third Empire will be succeeded by a Kingdom of Iron, followed lastly by a Kingdom of Iron-Clay, which signifies “a divided kingdom” (2:41), partly strong and partly weak (2:42). And it will be in the time of this Iron-Clay divided Empire that God will set up His Kingdom which will never be destroyed, and in fact will shatter all kingdoms that stand in its way (2:43-45).
It really isn’t difficult to make a coherent interpretation of what Daniel is talking about. We know from the text that the sections of the Body represent a succession of world Empires and that the clock starts with the Babylonian Empire. We also know from other parts of the Bible as well as undisputed world history that the Persian Empire came in and replaced Babylon, and after that Alexander the Great came in and replaced the Persian Empire with his Greek Empire. The next big Empire to immediately come along was the Roman Empire, which we all know was the big dog at the time of Christ. As the Roman Empire began to erode, it eventually broke into two Empires, an Eastern (Byzantine) and a Western (Latin), starting around the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. It was about this time that Christianity began making huge growth in the public sphere such that we see Christianity as a force to be reckoned with among the pagan remnants. And as we know, Christianity ended up long outlasting the Roman Empire(s) and that Christianity grew and grew to spread all over the world.
For apologetics purposes, we should note that the only “candidate” that fits this prophecy/interpretation is the Catholic Church. We see how the Catholic Church was around at this time and that this is the time when the Catholic Church began to grow in influence. There is no Protestant denomination that really fits as even a possible candidate. No Protestant denomination was around at the time frame of AD300-400, and Protestantism usually explains the Reformation was necessary because the Gospel started to become more and more lost over the centuries as Catholicism grew — despite the fact this Prophecy says these “dark ages” were going to be the time when the Church really begins to spread its wings!
The only ways I see a Protestant not being indicted by this Prophecy is to try and claim a different timeline or different Empires, but this is too tall of an order to fill. For example, what succession of Empires comes close to fitting the Five that were just mentioned? And the way the timeline goes, if you start the Kingdom of God too late down the centuries, e.g. starting at the time of the Reformation, then you have to both explain away the influence of Christianity during the “dark ages” of AD400-1400, as well as explain which Protestant denomination really comes close to modeling an united heavenly Kingdom that spreads all over the world. For those Protestants who say the Church went underground all this time, that certainly doesn’t fit the description that this Kingdom would be like a huge mountain that covers the earth, an image impossible for anyone to not see!
In conclusion, any attempts to get around the plain, straightforward traditional Catholic interpretation will cause more problems than it solves, leaving the Catholic Church as the most obvious candidate of this Scriptural Prophecy.
END NOTE: The above apologetic also works very effectively against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who officially teach the same succession as the above, but they say the Iron-Clay Empire represents the British-American Empire, which is when the Watchtower comes on the scene. This interpretation suffers from the flaw of leaving a 1500 year gap between the last two Empires, conveniently side-stepping the disastrous implications to JW theology. To add to this, the JW interpretation has never produced a Church that fits the description of one which will cover the whole world, putting them in a similar dilemma to any given Protestant denomination.