Jesus Helps Us Identify the Fourth Kingdom in Daniel 2

In Daniel 2, four successive kingdoms are given in 2:32-33.

  1. Head of Gold (2:32a)
  2. Chest and Arms of Silver (2:32b)
  3. Middle and Thighs of Bronze (2:32c)
  4. Legs of Iron and Feet of Iron/Clay (2:33)

Identifying the first kingdom is easy because Daniel specifies it: “you are the head of gold,” he told Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:38). The first kingdom is Babylon. But scholars disagree on whether the second kingdom (silver) is the Medes or the Medo-Persians. If it is the Medes, then the third kingdom is Persia and the fourth is Greece. But if the silver represents the Medo-Persians, then the third kingdom is Greece and the fourth is Rome. You see the dilemma: the decision you make on the second kingdom affects everything else.

But what if Jesus can help us identify the fourth kingdom? Then, with the first and fourth kingdoms identified, the second and third kingdoms would become clear as well. In order to see this, we need to know more of the vision Daniel recounted. In 2:34, a stone came during the rule of the fourth kingdom, and in 2:44-45 this stone is interpreted to be God’s kingdom that shall never be destroyed.

In Luke 20:9-18, Jesus tells a parable of wicked tenants. A man’s tenants continued to kill servants whom he sent (see 20:10-12, 15). The scribes and chief priests realized Jesus directed the parable against them (20:19), and Jesus was casting himself in the role of the final servant (the man’s “beloved son,” 20:13) who was killed by the wicked tenants (20:15a).

The last two verses of Jesus’ parable are the key: in Luke 20:17, Jesus cited Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus used stone imagery again in 20:18: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” This language is not from Psalm 118:22 anymore but from Daniel 2. In Daniel 2:34 the stone “struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces,” and similar language can be found in 2:44-45.

Jesus is the stone. He is the stone that the builders rejected (Ps 118:22), and he is also the stone that shatters those who fall on him and those on whom he falls (Dan 2:34, 44-45). If Jesus is the fulfillment of the stone in Daniel 2, and if the stone would come during the reign of the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2, then we can identify the fourth kingdom by simply asking who was in power during the Son’s incarnation: Rome. Not Greece. If the fourth kingdom in Daniel 2 was supposed to be Greece, then either Daniel is false prophecy or Jesus has deficient hermeneutics.

Jesus applied to himself the imagery of the stone from Daniel 2, and this confirms that Rome was the fulfillment of the fourth kingdom in Daniel 2. So if the first kingdom (head of gold) was Babylon and the fourth (legs of iron and feet of iron/clay) was Rome, then we can accurately identify the second (chest and arms of silver) and third (middle and thighs of bronze):

  1. Babylon (Head of Gold)
  2. Medo-Persia (Chest and Arms of Silver)
  3. Greece (Middle and Thighs of Bronze)
  4. Rome (Legs of Iron and Feet of Iron/Clay)
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The Gospel for the Weary

Over on Mike Leake’s blog “Borrowed Light,” I’ve written a guest post about how the weary need the gospel.

Excerpt:

As you run, you will notice footprints along the way. This direction is one which Abel, Enoch, and Noah traveled (Heb 11:4-7). Abraham and Sarah walked it (11:8-19). It was the route Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph took (11:20-22). Moses and Rahab preferred it, no matter the cost (11:23-31). Countless others staked their lives on this promised road, leaving their example of faith and devotion (11:32-40). Their stories are their footprints. Their lives comprise a cloud, and you are surrounded by it.

The 10 Major Issues in Dating the Book of Revelation

As I’ve been preparing to preach a series through Revelation at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I’ve noticed that in discussions of the book’s date of composition, certain issues appear again and again. The following list is an attempt to distill what scholars sort through when they project a date for the book.

  1. The references to nearness. In Revelation 1:3, “the time is near” (cf. 22:20). Should references to nearness be taken straightforwardly as something the first readers would’ve seen fulfilled? Or do the references still point to the future even from our vantage point two thousand years after the book? Or are there degrees of fulfillment, as in some Old Testament prophecies, so that the readers should expect fulfillments both soon in their lifetimes and far into the future?
  2. The situations of the seven churches. In Revelation 2-3, seven Asian churches are addressed in seven letters. Discerning the issues in each letter, do the respective circumstances best fit a date in the late 60s or the mid-90s (the only plausible dates, in my opinion)?
  3. The testimony of Irenaeus. In Adversus Haereses 5.30.3, Irenaeus dates the visions of John’s Apocalypse near the end of Domitian’s reign (AD 81-96). The question is: how much weight should the testimony of Irenaeus be given? Some say this external evidence should be decisive, while others say it should be a factor though not decisive. And since Irenaeus didn’t write in English, have his words been accurately preserved and translated? Some people argue that it was John himself (rather than the Apocalypse) who was seen near the end of Domitian’s reign, which could mean an earlier date for the writing of Revelation. Other scholars hold firmly to the traditional translation of Irenaeus’ words.
  4. The endurance of persecution. The book of Revelation called its readers to prepare for suffering. But when in the first century was such suffering experienced? Does the book have in view what happened under Nero? Or perhaps immediately after Nero? Or later under Domitian? Scholars debate the degree of persecution under Nero and Domitian. Did persecution extend beyond Rome? Is there evidence that an emperor specifically targeted Christians? To what degree were Christians persecuted? Were there scattered pockets of persecution, or was there governmentally sanctioned persecution?
  5. The emperor cult. Does Revelation possess an awareness of the emperor cult? When did the worship of emperors begin? Did certain emperors command worship? What was the status of the emperor cult under Nero and under Domitian?
  6. The number of the beast. In Revelation 13, we find the (in)famous 666. John says, “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (13:18). But what man has the identity 666? Was it one of the emperors Nero or Vespasian or Domitian? According to some scholars, calculating the number of the beast is important because the man may be the formerly- or presently-reigning emperor when the Apocalypse was written. Or is the number about a future ruler? If John told the readers of Revelation to calculate the number, was the beast’s identity clearly known to them? If so, is the beast’s identity discernible to us or is the ability to calculate that identity now lost? And what kind of calculation is involved anyway? If John means the practice of gematria, should the calculation be with Greek letters or Hebrew letters? And are we looking for a last name, first name, or nickname? Or is the number purely symbolic, thus making mathematical calculations irrelevant? Is any proposal of an actual name simply wrongheaded?
  7. The seven kings. In Revelation 17:9-11 John says, “This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.” According to some scholars, the numbers here are symbolic and do not have historical referents. Other scholars, though, believe John is evoking an order of emperors and thus gives indication of who may be reigning when he says “five of whom have fallen” but “one is.” If the “five” can be identified, then “one” who “is” would be the emperor reigning when the Apocalypse was written. The problem, though, is identifying the first emperor in the order. Do you start with Julius Caesar or with Augustus? And do Galba, Otho, and Vitellius belong in the order, or are they omitted? Some scholars say that identifying emperors for the “seven kings” is a chasing after the wind and, instead, readers should take the numbers symbolically. If a specific order of emperors is unnecessary, Revelation 17 may not help us date the book at all.
  8. The myth of Nero’s return. Does the book of Revelation have an awareness of the Nero Redivivus, the legend that the dreaded Nero would return one day? If Revelation is aware of this myth, then a post-Neronic dating for the book is most likely. Post-Neronic, though, could mean the reign of Vespasian (pre-70 AD) or even later (post-70 AD) during the reign of Domitian. Or, if Revelation does not show semblances of the Nero Redivivus, then this issue may leave the door open for a Neronic dating, or it may mean the Nero Redivivus myth isn’t helpful to dating the book at all.
  9. The use of “Babylon.” Since many scholars agree that “Babylon” in Revelation refers to the Roman Empire, this use may indicate a post-70 AD dating. Post-70 AD Jewish literature uses “Babylon” for Rome.
  10. The mention of the temple. In Revelation 11, John was given a measuring rod and told to measure the temple. The question is whether this means the second temple was still standing and thus implying the book of Revelation was written pre-70 AD, or whether the temple language is purely symbolic (perhaps of God’s people) and thus Revelation 11 offers no help in dating the book.

There may be other issues to be considered in dating the book of Revelation as well, of course, but these ten are major players in the dating game.

Writers Who Date Revelation Pre-70 A.D.

While reading literature about the dating of Revelation, I’ve come across a number of names who dated the book before 70 A.D. Here’s a non-exhaustive list, in no particular order:

  • F. F. Bruce
  • E. Earle Ellis
  • Stephen S. Smalley
  • R. C. Sproul
  • Peter Leithart
  • J. B. Lightfoot
  • Kenneth Gentry Jr.
  • Doug Wilson
  • George Knight
  • John A. T. Robinson
  • C. F. D. Moule
  • James Jordan
  • D. Moody Smith
  • Philip E. Hughes
  • David Aune
  • Jay E. Adams
  • Greg Bahnsen
  • B. F. Westcott
  • F. J. A. Hort
  • Philip Schaff
  • Gary DeMar
  • Adam Clarke
  • Rudolf Bultmann
  • Augustus Strong
  • Hank Hanegraaff
  • Albert Schweitzer
  • C. C. Torrey
  • Keith Mathison

Any name surprise you?

The Unusual and the Unexpected: 15 Short Stories from 15 Years of Preaching

On April 18, 1999 I preached my first sermon, and this means last month marked 15 years of preaching God’s word. It is a great joy to prepare and preach a sermon, and over the years there have been many strange and memorable and unexpected events related to these opportunities. Here, in no chronological order, are 15 vignettes.

1. During one of the summer weeks of my college years, I was vacationing at a beach house with my future in-laws. On the Sunday morning of that week, at an hour so early that everyone was still asleep, I received a phone call from a church where I’d preached a few times. Their scheduled preacher had to cancel, and they needed a replacement. They didn’t know I was at a beach house, but I knew that I was within driving distance of the church service start-time. “I’ll be there,” I told them. I grabbed my Bible, pen, and paper, and went on my way, alone. For the first and last time, I put a piece of paper against the steering wheel as I drove and wrote out a sermon outline while my Bible lay open on the console.

2. I once filled in at a church whose interim pastor was away for the week. He kindly allowed me to fill his pulpit but neglected to tell me how long he usually preached. A staff member told me, “You’ll have about 15 minutes for the sermon.” I don’t remember how long my sermon was, but it definitely ended before half an hour was up. Still, I’ve never been asked back.

3. From what I can recall, I’ve only used a movie clip once. It was many years ago, during a Disciple Now. I chose a clip from Superman Returns (the Brandon Routh one) to illustrate some point about death and resurrection. In hindsight, the clip didn’t add to the message and I deemed it ultimately unnecessary. Should’ve went with Christopher Reeve.

4. Disclaimer: my wife Stacie is a huge supporter and encourager of my preaching. With that said, once after preaching at a youth lock-in, she told me to never preach my message that way again. “That was boring, you went on too long, and you tried to pack too many things into the message.” She was right. I put that sermon in the Whoops drawer.

5. While nearly running late for a church service where I was scheduled to preach, I compensated by speeding. As you might expect, I soon saw red and blue lights flashing behind me. “Where are you heading so fast?” the cop asked. Of course I told him. “To preach at a church.” My response was not greeted with sympathy–instead I received a ticket. I still made it to the service on time, accompanied by a fresh illustration.

6. I can only recall one sermon where I thought I might actually pass out because I felt bad. I persevered because it was a Christmas Eve service, though the sermon was definitely shorter than it would have been! Never had I felt so awful while preaching. I remember thinking, Lord, please keep me from throwing up. There are visitors. I guess I thought the members could handle it.

7. One evening during a mission to Cameroon, there was a spontaneous and eager gathering of people in the large house where we were staying. One of the mission leaders told me, “We’ve decided to have a worship service for them in 10 minutes. I want you to preach, so get a sermon ready.” I’d recently been studying Acts 3, so that’s the text I chose.

8. I once had to stop in the middle of my sermon to correct one of my children. My wife was out of the sanctuary at the moment, and my 5-year-old was acting up in the pew. I tried giving him some stern stares while I was preaching, but the people who didn’t see him probably just thought I was angry about what I was teaching. He was distracting me, and I could tell from people nearby that he was distracting some of them too. So I stopped and said, “Jensen.” He sat upright in shock. “I want you to settle down and sit still, now.” He came to his senses, and I continued with the message.

9. When I was on the phone with a church leader who was scheduling me to preach for their congregation, he said, “You’ll be preaching in front of cameras because the sermons are broadcast to local TV stations.” Boy was that nerve-racking! I had to be overly concerned about timing and length. Needless to say, the people watching from home probably saw me check the clock a lot.

10. While I pastored a church in Texas, I preached a message that I knew would probably go a little longer than usual. But I didn’t know how long until 12:30 pm arrived and I was only halfway through my notes. I decided I’d gone long enough, so the next Sunday I picked up where I left off. The nursery workers were glad I divided the message into two weeks.

11. When I was in college, my maternal grandfather attended a Sunday evening service where I was preaching. That was the only time he heard one of my sermons, and it was also the only time I’d ever seen him in a church.

12. One time the power to the sanctuary went out during my sermon. Since we could still see everyone, even if only dimly, I said, “Everyone stay seated. I’ll keep going.” They did, and I did.

13. I once prepared a sermon from Colossians about worshiping God through singing. The week before the message, I decided that we should flip the service order. We opened the service with the sermon and then had a time of singing after I finished. Instead of the congregation hearing “Let’s open our hymnals,” they heard “Let’s open to today’s sermon text.” After the sermon, though, the cluster of songs turned out to be a wonderful way to respond to a message about singing!

14. During my college years, I once got a call from a church in Texas that wanted a praise band and a preacher for an upcoming event. I agreed to preach. After the event was over, the person who invited me held out an envelope and said, “Split this with the band.” When I was alone I opened the envelope and pulled out the single check. I spent the next minutes trying to figure out how to split $100 among six people.

15. After a few years of preaching, I got connected with a church who needed pulpit supply for one Sunday. Turns out they needed much more than that. During the service, I led the singing from the piano, took up the offering, and preached the sermon.

I would love to hear your stories about what unusual or unexpected things may have happened before, during, or after you preached. Do share!