Two Strikes: A Modest Eschatological Proposal
Most of us, from a very young age, have been familiar with the great statue of Nebuchadnezzar's dream:
"This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay." (Daniel 2:32-33)
What Nebuchadnezzar had seen was a succession of four empires. A Stone arrives toward the end of his vision and breaks the statue to pieces, "and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35). The meaning of the dream was revealed to the prophet, and the Stone in particular has ever since been of great interest to the Church:
"And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." (Daniel 2:44)
The Stone strikes the statue, the Kingdom of God is established, and "all these kingdoms" crumbled to dust, and "no place was found for them" (Daniel 2:34). There is an emphatic finality in the phrase, "no place was found for them." They are gone, for they have become "like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away."
Daniel's Subtle Clue
The common interpretation is pretty straightforward: after a succession of four empires (Daniel 2:37-44), the Stone is clearly the Church growing up into a global earthly entity, covering the earth like a mountain, the fifth kingdom in a succession of kingdoms. The rise of the Church after the Roman empire is very clearly depicted in the historical record, and the prophetic record seems to indicate exactly that.
Or does it?
Had Daniel only recorded two chapters, there would not be much more to discuss. But in Daniel 7, the prophet records a very subtle observation that has great bearing on the meaning of Daniel 2.
In Daniel 7, the prophet's dream also depicts a series of four empires, after which the saints take possession of the kingdom, just as in Daniel 2:
"These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever." (Daniel 7:17-18)
So far so good. Just like in Daniel 2, there are four empires in a row, and then the saints appear to get the fifth kingdom. And just as the impact of the Stone in Daniel 2 strikes the Fourth Empire, the "body" of the Fourth Empire of Daniel 7 is burned up and destroyed as well. A judgment against the fourth empire seems to be the harbinger of the rise of the Church to global prominence.
But in Chapter 7, Daniel adds an additional detail that gives us pause. He does not say that the Fourth Empire and all the preceding empires with it are utterly removed after the judgment against the fourth empire. Instead he says quite the opposite. Those preceding empires are not immediately destroyed at all, and in stark contrast with Daniel 2, they live on:
"I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time." (Daniel 7:11-12)
Contrast the finality of the statement regarding the other kingdoms in Daniel 2 after the fourth empire is struck...
"... no place was found for them" (Daniel 2:34).
... with the extension of life for the other kingdoms described in Daniel 7 after the fourth empire is burned up ...
"... yet their lives were prolonged ..." (Daniel 7:11-12)
We suggest that if their lives were prolonged, then clearly a "place" was indeed found for them, and if "no place was found for them" then their lives were not prolonged. The two depictions seem to be at odds with each other, unless we have been looking at it the wrong way.
And there must be another way of looking at it. The Daniel of chapter 2 and the Daniel of chapter 7 received similar revelations from the same source (Daniel 2:28, 7:16). There would be Four Kingdoms on earth, and then "the God of heaven [shall] set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed" (Daniel 2:37-44). There are Four Kingdoms to come on earth, but "the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom" (Daniel 7:17-18). These are very consistent statements.
Then why the subtle discrepancy? Why, after the impact of the Stone against the fourth empire in Daniel 2, are the preceding empires removed, but after the destruction of the fourth empire of Daniel 7, the preceding empires live on?
The Interim Kingdom
There is, of course, no real discrepancy at all. After the fourth kingdom of Daniel 7, an antagonist arises, "a little horn" that comes up from among the remnants of the fourth empire (Daniel 7:8). That "little horn" has an earthly dominion (Daniel 7:21-26), speaks arrogantly against God (Daniel 7:8,11,25), and makes war against the saints and prevails (Daniel 7:21,25). That "little horn" shares the same attributes with the Sea Beast of Revelation 13, which also has an earthly dominion (Revelation 13:7), speaks arrogantly against God (Revelation 13:5), and makes war against the saints and prevails (Revelation 13:7). And most importantly, the Sea Beast of Revelation 13 is comprised of all the preceding empires of Daniel's vision of chapter 7 (Revelation 13:2).
Our point here is that the Little Horn of Daniel 7 is a conglomeration of "all these kingdoms" of Daniel 2:44, the manifestation of "the rest of the beasts" in Daniel 7. It is through the "little horn"—the Sea Beast of Revelation 13—that the lives of "the rest of the beasts" were prolonged. And thus, we have a very subtle but meaningful clue from the hand of the prophet. If the lives of "the rest of the beasts" were prolonged after the judgment against the fourth empire (Daniel 7:12), then Daniel 7:12 must necessarily occur after the impact of the Stone against the fourth empire in Daniel 2:34. And if Daniel 2:35 says the preceding empires are completely and utterly destroyed, then Daniel 2:35 must necessarily occur after Daniel 7:12 which says they were allowed to live on. That places Daniel 7:12 squarely between Daniel 2:34 and Daniel 2:35.
To put it another way, the "little horn" of Daniel 7—which is none other than Sea Beast of Revelation 13—must arise between Daniel 2:34 and 2:35 as the fifth earthly empire in the succession of Daniel's visions, and thus, Daniel 2:34 and 2:35 must depict two separate strikes of the Stone. In fact, the verses are written that way. Daniel 2:34 says the Stone struck and broke only the iron and clay feet to pieces, and Daniel 2:35 and 2:45 say that the Stone broke all of them to pieces at once, grinding them to chaff. Those are two different impacts of the Stone against the statue.
The Earthly Kingdom of the Saints
Part of the reason the Stone has historically been interpreted as the fifth earthly empire in succession is because Daniel 2:34-35 is interpreted as a single strike during the Roman Empire, and the Stone is depicted as filling "the whole earth" immediately following that strike. But what is notable is that the Kingdom the saints inherit after four preceding kingdoms is not earthly, but heavenly. Notice the language used in both chapters to describe the kingdom received by the saints "in the days of these kings" of the feet of the statue:
"And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom..." (Daniel 2:44)
"These ... are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom ..." (Daniel 7:18)
There is no mention of an earthly kingdom for the saints, and we know that the kingdom Jesus came announcing during the fourth empire was "not of this world" (John 18:36). The kingdom the saints receive during the fourth empire is heavenly.
But at the end of the visions, there is a sudden and perceptible shift in the language used to describe the kingdom given to the saints. It is finally earthly, "under heaven," filling "the whole earth":
"... and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth." (Daniel 2:35)
"...and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High..." (Daniel 7:27)
Notably, the kingdom of the saints does not fill "the whole earth" immediately after the Stone strikes the feet, but only after "all these kingdoms" are broken to pieces and consumed and "no place was found for them" (Daniel 2:35,44-45). The saints are not given a kingdom "under the whole heaven" immediately after the fourth beast is destroyed, but only after the dominion of the little horn is consumed and destroyed to the uttermost (Daniel 7:26). Then, and only then, does the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth. Only after the fifth empire's dominion is taken away. The Church will be the sixth earthly empire of Daniel's visions, not the fifth. The fifth earthly empire is the earthly dominion of the Little Horn, not the kingdom of the saints.
Two Strikes of the Stone
By evaluating Daniel 2 and 7 together, we find that chapter 2 depicts an initial strike of the Stone against the fourth empire, and the saints of God receiving a heavenly kingdom, and chapter 7 depicts an initial judgment against the fourth empire, and the Little Horn receiving an earthly kingdom. Revelation 13 depicts that Little Horn as the manifestation of all the preceding empires, which are given a prolongation of life after the judgment against the fourth empire (Daniel 7:12). Only much later, after all the empires are ground to dust by the second strike of the Stone (Daniel 2:35) at the destruction of the Little Horn (Daniel 7:26) do the saints actually receive an earthly kingdom.
In short, the saints of God do not receive the fifth earthly kingdom of Daniel's visions, but rather the sixth. It is not the Church but rather the Little Horn of Daniel 7, the Beast of Revelation 13:2, that receives the fifth earthly kingdom immediately following the Roman empire.
The significance of this to the Christian is that a cursory reading of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 without first harmonizing them may mislead one into expecting an earthly Christianized kingdom immediately following the Roman empire. Many a student of Scripture and history has stumbled at that very point, thinking that Daniel 2:34-35 depicted a single strike, and thus that the politically influential Roman Church State arising from the fragments of the Roman Empire was the manifestation of the Stone filling the whole earth.
However, when Daniel 2:34-35 are seen to depict two separate strikes of the Stone, it becomes clear that we should not expect or seek an earthy kingdom immediately after the Roman Empire. In fact, to the contrary, Daniel and Revelation warn sternly against that expectation, and admonish us not to seek an earthly kingdom until after the Little Horn is utterly and finally removed from the earth. Only then do the saints receive an earthly kingdom.
And thus, we offer this modest eschatological proposal: Daniel 2 depicts not one, but two, separate strikes of the Stone. The fifth empire of Daniel's visions, therefore, was not the Church but rather the very thing the Church was warned to avoid.