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The Bible mentions a number of kingdoms and empires. The following overview outlines which nations played what roles in the history of the Bible and reviews the future prophesied roles of some major nations.
The rise and fall of mighty kingdoms and vast empires is primarily described in the Bible, through the lens of their relationship to biblical Israel and Judah.
The ancient empire of Egypt enslaved the people of Israel for many years before God called Moses and delivered them by devastating plagues. Although the plagues crippled Egypt it remained a key nation in the region and, in its stronger periods exercised influence to the north, at times cooperating with and at times hostile to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
While Israel was in Egypt it grew into a nation of two to three million people, and when God . delivered them from the Egyptian bondage, He gave them the land of Canaan as He had promised Abraham (Genesis 12:7).
Approximately four hundred years later, during the reigns of King David and his son,Solomon, Israel reached the apex of its power. But its influence sharply declined after Solomon’s reign because of disobedience to God, resulting in the kingdom splitting in two. The northern 10 tribes retained the name “house of Israel” and the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin with a large part of Levi were known as the “house of Judah.” These two nations fought with each other as much as with the surrounding nations and were eventually punished by God by being invaded and exiled from their land by the empires of Assyria and Babylon.
The Assyrian Empire was largely situated in the area of modern-day Iraq. It served as “the rod of [God’s] anger” (Isaiah 10:5) attacking and deporting many Israelites from the northern ten tribes. Later the Assyrians also invaded Judah, exiling many of its people and putting Jerusalem under siege until God intervened, devastating the Assyrian forces and delivering Jerusalem.
After the Assyrian invasion was thwarted, Judah continued as a kingdom for more than a century, until Judah’s disobedience brought defeat and exile at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in about 587 B.C.
God used Daniel, one of the captives taken to Babylon, to reveal prophecies of the next several thousand years. Daniel 2 and 7 accurately foretold the fall of Babylon to Persia, the fall of Persia to Greece and the fall of Greece to Rome. Daniel then outlined the numerous revivals of the Roman Empire, and their eventual demise at the coming of the final superpower—the Kingdom of God, to be established on earth at Jesus Christ’s return.
Major elements of the Babylonian religion and culture influenced each of these successive kingdoms. Thus, the last end-time human superpower before Christ’s return is also referred to as Babylon (Revelation 17:3-6), because many of ancient Babylon’s false religious practices still permeate Christianity today. Babylon, like Assyria before it, was defeated and destroyed because of its pride against God. In a show of God’s judgment, the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon in a single night (Daniel 5:30-31).
The Persian Empire, centered in what is today Iran, tended to tolerate the religions of its subjects, allowing for some restoration of Jewish worship. The exiles of Judah were permitted by special decrees from three different Persian kings to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. In order to fulfill the messianic prophecies through Jesus Christ, the people of Judah needed to be resettled in the land of Israel. God is always in control of human affairs and the Persian Empire repositioned Judah for the coming of the Messiah. Then the Greek and Roman empires paved the way for the spread of the gospel in other critical ways.
Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire, and Greek then became the common language of the known world, continuing into the period of Roman dominance. This augmented the rapid spread of the gospel both in spoken and written word, with the New Testament being written and preserved in Greek.
When Alexander died, his empire eventually split into four parts, with two most prominent. The Seleucid Dynasty ruled over Greater Syria, including the lands of Assyria, Babylon and Persia. The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled over Egypt. These two powers alternately dominated the resettled Jews in the Holy Land. Syrian Greek rule was characterized by cruelty and disrespect for the religious practices of the Jews, particularly under Antiochus Epiphanes, leading to the Jewish revolt around 167 B.C. Greek influence then continued to gradually decline until the Romans rose to power, conquering Jerusalem in 63 B.C.
Rome was the fourth and final beast of Daniel’s visions. Its military supremacy assisted the spread of the gospel in two vital ways. The efficiency of its armies depended on an extensive system of roads, allowing a speedy response to threats, and also providing easy travel for the Apostles. Secondly, the regional peace and stability throughout the Roman world, known as the Pax Romana (“Peace of Rome”), established an environment in which the early Church could grow.
The Roman Empire did not end with the fall of Rome in the West in A.D. 476, and it didn’t end with the fall of the eastern capital of Constantinople nearly 1,000 years later—or with the end of the Holy Roman Empire a few centuries after that. Daniel prophesied the Roman Empire would undergo 10 resurrections, continuing until Christ’s return, with the most recent being the rise of Hitler’s Germany. The last seven of these resurrections would be in concert with a false religious power.
The vision of Daniel 2 ends with a stone striking the feet and toes of the statue which represented the four great gentile empires beginning in Daniel’s day and continuing till Christ’s return. This rock that strikes the statue is none other than the returning Jesus Christ: “In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and…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 eternal Kingdom of God.
Beyond Today Magazine (Mar- April 2018)