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The Bible recounts the rise and fall of mighty kingdoms and empires, primarily through the lens of their relationship to biblical Israel and Judah.
Egypt is one of the oldest documented empires. It enslaved Israel for more than two centuries before God delivered them through Moses and brought devastating plagues on their oppressors. Although this crippled Egypt, it remained a key player in the region for some years. At times it cooperated with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and at other times there were hostilities.
After Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt, God gave them the land of Canaan as He had promised Abraham (Genesis 12:7), but it took another 400 years before they became a major power.
During the reign of King David and his son, Solomon, Israel peaked in power and influence. It was ideally situated at the junction of Europe, Africa and Asia and this positioning on the important trade routes made the country very prosperous.
A rapid decline took place after Solomon’s reign because of disobedience to God’s law and the nation eventually split into two. The northern 10 tribes retained the name “house of Israel” and the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin and part of Levi became known as the “house of Judah.”
The kingdom of Israel quickly abandoned the worship of God, while the kingdom of Judah vacillated for decades at the whims of her kings. As a result, God eventually allowed the two nations to be conquered and exiled by the empires of Assyria and Babylon.
The Assyrian Empire, situated northeast of Israel in what is largely modern-day Iraq, served as “the rod of [God’s] anger” (Isaiah 10:5). Its destruction and deportation of Israel came at the height of its influence as a superpower. Later the Assyrians also besieged Jerusalem, but God intervened, devastating the Assyrian forces and delivering Jerusalem. In time God also brought judgment on the Assyrians when the Babylonian empire conquered them.
Situated southeast of Assyria, the Babylonian empire was the next to emerge. After the Assyrian invasion was thwarted, Judah continued as a kingdom for more than a century until continued disobedience brought defeat and exile at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in about 587 B.C.
God used the prophet Daniel, a captive in Babylon, to reveal several thousand years of Bible prophecy. Daniel chapters 2 and 7 prophesied the fall of Babylon to Persia, the fall of Persia to Greece, the fall of Greece to Rome, the numerous revivals of the Roman Empire, and finally the establishment of God’s Kingdom at Jesus Christ’s return.
Elements of the Babylonian religion and culture continued on through each of these kingdoms. Thus, the end-time human superpower is also referred to as Babylon (Revelation 17:3-6), and many of ancient Babylon’s false religious practices still permeate Christianity today.
Like Assyria, Babylon was destroyed because of its pride against God by the Medo-Persian Empire in a single night (Daniel 5:30-31).
The Persian Empire, centred in what is today Iran, was religiously tolerant, permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, fulfilling messianic prophecies that Judah would be resettled in the land of Israel.
The Persian Empire positioned Judah for the coming of the Messiah, but the Greek and Roman empires paved the way for the spread of the Gospel message in other critical ways.
Persia was overthrown when Alexander the Great became the ruler of Greece. While Babylon and Persia had striven for political control and wealth, neither imposed cultural domination as Alexander’s Hellenistic Empire did. Greek became the common language of the known world, allowing for the rapid spread of the Gospel, with the New Testament being written and preserved in Greek.
When Alexander died, his empire was split into four parts, with two of these most prominent. The Seleucid Dynasty ruled over Greater Syria, including the lands of Assyria, Babylon and Persia. And the Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled over Egypt. These alternately dominated the resettled Jews in the Holy Land. The Syrian Greek rule became characterized by cruelty and flagrant disrespect for Jewish religious practices, particularly under Antiochus Epiphanes, leading to a Jewish revolt around 167 B.C.
Rome was the fourth and final empire of Daniel’s visions, and its military supremacy assisted the spread of the gospel in two ways. An extensive system of roads, allowing Roman armies to quickly respond to threats, also meant safe travel for the apostles, and the peace throughout the empire, known as the Pax Romana, provided a conducive environment for the growth of the early Church.
The Roman Empire did not end with the fall of Rome in the West in A.D. 476, or the fall of the eastern capital of Constantinople nearly 1,000 years later, or even with the end of the Holy Roman Empire a few centuries after that. According to Daniel, the Roman Empire would undergo 10 resurrections, the last seven of them in concert with a false religious power, right up until the time of Jesus Christ’s second coming!
The vision of Daniel 2 ends with a stone striking the statue representing the succession of four great gentile empires starting in Daniel’s day and continuing until the end time. The stone strikes the feet and toes of this image, its final stage, with Daniel revealing: “In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; ...it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
The grand climax of Daniel’s prophecy is the establishment of the Kingdom of God—the true final world superpower that will endure forever. The Rock that struck the statue is none other than Jesus Christ!
Beyond Today Magazine