4th: Rome

Vision of the Great Image—Daniel 2
Legs of Iron & Feet of Mixed Iron & Clay

Speaking of the Roman Empire, Daniel said, “And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others” (Daniel 2:40).

The Roman Empire grew under the Caesars to be a strong, ruthless dominion. It remained strong from its rise to dominance in the second century BC to the third century AD.

After the legs of iron came “the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron” (Dan. 2:41). What did Daniel say about this part? “The kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay.”

Rome, having decayed from within, was overcome by invading barbarian tribes from the north, falling officially in 476 AD.

The divided remnants of the Roman Empire remain today in the various independent states of Europe. True to the prophecy, “They will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay” (Dan. 2:43). There has been no successful effort to unite the broken fragments across Europe.

Stone statue of
Emperor Tiberius

Many would-be conquerors have tried to be that fifth world-dominating power. Napoleon tried, and failed. Mussolini tried, and failed. Stalin, Hitler, and every other would-be conqueror have failed.

Four Beasts—Daniel 7
Fierce & Powerful Beast

The fourth beast in Daniel’s vision is pictured as a beast incredibly fierce: “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet” (Dan. 7:7). While Greece was still

very strong, another power was developing in the west, and in due time came to dominate the Hellenistic kingdoms. The Roman Empire that succeeded Greece was the largest and strongest of the four, and stood the longest.

At this point in the prophecy God introduces a completely new element: a “little horn.” When the Roman Empire began to decline in the centuries after Christ, another power was quietly growing to world dominance. That power was the Roman Church. The Churches that had been founded by the Apostles of Jesus very soon started to change their teachings to appeal to the people, just as the Bible predicted (see 2 Tim. 4:3-4, 2 Thess. 2:1-4). In spite of early persecution, this new apostate Church grew rapidly, having “eyes like the eyes of a man” (Dan. 7:8); but its authority was human, not Divine, and as it grew stronger and larger, it “cast truth down to the ground” (Dan. 8:12).

Bas-relief of Marcus Aurelius’ conquest

This little horn power would “speak pompous words against the Most High” and “change times and laws” (Dan. 7:25). From Constantine (314 AD) forward, the Roman Emperors began to use the Church to unite the empire. Out of the power of the Roman Church grew a vast political-religious system that squelched all opposition and dominated western civilization for the next millennium. For a time it was called “the Holy Roman Empire,” united under the head of the Church, politically united under the emperor.

Then, like all the powers before it, it declined. The Reformation forced vast changes in the Roman Church, but it was not overthrown or superseded. As in Daniel’s vision, no fifth beast was seen coming from the sea to overthrow it. This absence of a fifth power is significant. In time the Roman system, both political and religious, became less and less dominant, just according to the “partly iron and partly clay” prophecy in Daniel 2. But it has not disappeared.

Symbol of Papal authority

Statue of a Roman Centurian, a surviving symbol of Rome’s majesty

The Roman Church is still a voice in the world and its leader is still respected. This situation is destined to continue until the arrival of Jesus Christ.

A Roman bireme (a galley with two banks of oars). Rome’s sea power in the Mediterranean had a strong impact on her longevity.