(47) The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed – Daniel 2:44

When we open the New Testament and read the accounts of the life of Jesus we find a very different world from the one we left in the days of Nehemiah and Malachi. What happened in the intervening four hundred years?

When King Nebuchadnezzar had the troubling dream which he couldn’t remember in the morning, he threatened to kill all his wise men until Daniel stepped in to offer the interpretation. Standing before the powerful king Daniel told him that no one could tell him his dream apart from God. He then said that God had “shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come” (Daniel 2:28).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was of a giant statue with a head of gold, a chest of silver, thighs of bronze and legs of iron mixed with clay. While Nebuchadnezzar watched, the statue was destroyed by a rock that had not been cut by human hands which struck the image and broke it in pieces and reduced the metals to dust that was blown away by the wind. But the rock “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35). Strange things happen in dreams but in this case Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that it had meaning.

The statue represented four kingdoms. His kingdom, the Babylonian Empire, was the golden head, signifying its great splendour. It would be followed by three other kingdoms that would each have less splendour but greater strength, as represented by the types of metals which decreased in value as they increased in strength. During the time of the fourth kingdom God would “set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 2:44).

The second kingdom was the Medes and Persians that overthrew the Babylonians at the end of Daniel’s life and which ruled the land of Israel during the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. This empire survived about two hundred years until it was overthrown by the third empire, Greece.

Alexander the Great became king of Macedon at the age of twenty and conquered the entire Middle East from Greece to India and down through Israel into Egypt before he died at the age of thirty-two. His desire was to take Greek culture to the world and, despite his kingdom splitting into four after his death, his legacy was a common international culture which included Greek as the international language. The Old Testament was translated into Greek around 250BC (a translation known as the Septuagint, meaning seventy, as the translation was made by seventy Jewish scholars) and the New Testament was written in Greek, enabling a rapid spread of the account of Jesus’ life.

The fourth kingdom was Rome which conquered the Jewish nation after a period of independence. This was the most powerful of all the empires in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and the most enduring. Times of peace are rare in history but under Roman rule there was a period of about two hundred years of peace and stability starting a few decades before Jesus was born. The result of this was that his message spread rapidly on Roman roads, along its sea routes and via its postal system, all unimpeded by wars.

The four hundred years of silence between the Old and New Testaments was a time when God prepared the world for the most important event in human history, when God himself came to earth as a baby and died to bring in the New Covenant which offered forgiveness for all and to establish the kingdom of God that will never be destroyed.

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