Jonathan Welton, the author of the book “Raptureless,” has created a neat illustration of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation of it in Daniel 2. I very much agree with the main conclusion: “The kingdom is present; the kingdom is growing. We are in the kingdom age… and we are the King’s ambassadors.”
Daniel 2:44 is indeed a pivotal verse, as it states clearly the timing for the setting up of God’s eternal kingdom:
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”
As many scholars agree, Rome was the fourth kingdom depicted in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision. Rome was preceded by Nebuchadnezzar’s own Babylonian kingdom (#1), Medo-Persia (#2), and Greece (#3). These were successive empires, and the Roman empire ceased to exist in 476 AD (Sources: BBC History, History Learning Site, Rome.Info, Wikipedia, About.com’s Ancient History). Daniel, a true and faithful prophet, recorded that God’s kingdom would be set up before all four of those kingdoms ceased to exist.
By the year 600 AD the final earthly kingdom revealed in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision had been gone for more than 100 years. By 1500 AD that fourth kingdom had already been gone for a full millennium (1000 years). What are we to make, then, of popular teachings which say that, as of the year 2014, God has not yet set up His kingdom? We are now 1538 years beyond the parameters of Daniel’s prophecy: “And in the days of these kings…” If God’s kingdom has not yet been established, it would seem that Daniel was not a true prophet.
The problem, however, is not with Daniel, but rather with premillennialism and any other school of thought which says that God’s kingdom is not yet here, or that when it comes it will take on earthly characteristics (e.g. a temple and a spiritual headquarters in Jerusalem, Israel) that the world has not yet seen.
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Daniel 7 Reveals the Timing of the Kingdom
Coming back to Daniel, he later had a vision of four beasts, the fourth of which was “dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong,” and having 10 horns (Daniel 7:7). Daniel also foresaw “One like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven” to the Ancient of Days – a picture of Jesus’ ascension.
“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
In the rest of the chapter, Daniel sees or is told three times that the kingdom would be given into the hands of the saints:
“But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (verse 18).
“I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” (verses 21-22).
“Then the saints shall be given into [the fourth beast’s] hand for a time and times and half a time. But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him” (verses 25-27).
Parallel to this is Revelation 13:1-8, where John also saw a beast with 10 horns speaking blasphemous things and making war with the saints and overcoming them for 42 months (which is equal to 3.5 years, and also equal to Daniel’s “time and times and half a time”). In our study of Revelation, we saw how this was fulfilled in Nero and his 3.5 year campaign of persecution against Christians in the Roman empire from November 64 AD – June 68 AD (see here and here). In Daniel 7 then, we first see that Jesus received the kingdom immediately after His ascension, and then we see that God’s kingdom was set up and given into the hands of His people during the days of the fourth kingdom/beast, Rome.
The Gospels Reveal the Timing of the Kingdom
John the Baptist and Jesus, in their day, repeatedly proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand. Then Jesus told His disciples (Matthew 16:27-28) and the crowds (Mark 8:34-9:1) that He would come in His kingdom while some of them were still alive.
“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:27-28; see also Matthew 10:23).
In Luke 21 Jesus described a series of events which were to occur before the temple would fall (Luke 21:5-7) and before His generation would pass away (Luke 21:32). According to Jesus, when His disciples saw those things take place, they could be sure that God’s kingdom was near.
“Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near‘” (Luke 21:29-31).
Matthew 21: The Parable of the Tenants
The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) is also important in regard to when God’s kingdom was to be established, and we see in this parable a parallel to Daniel 7. Jesus, speaking to the chief priests and elders of the people (Matt. 21:23), exposes the vinedressers (the stewards) of God’s vineyard for their long-term persecution, beating, and killing of God’s servants, and for finally conspiring to kill Him and attempt to seize His inheritance. Jesus continued the discussion in this way:
“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:40-44).
Jesus thus proclaimed that the kingdom would be taken away from the corrupt Jewish religious leaders at the time of their judgment for shedding the blood of God’s saints and God’s Son. (This judgment was to fall upon Jesus’ own generation, according to Matthew 23:29-37.) It was at this time that the kingdom would be given to a fruit-bearing nation, the church.
As in Daniel 2, Jesus is the rock that crushes His opponents. In this case, faithless Israel, except for a remnant, had set itself up in opposition to Him, and the Rock would fall and “grind him to powder.” This happened with the destruction of Jerusalem, Israel, and the temple in 70 AD. At the same time, Jesus is a mighty Rock and fortress for those who trust in Him.
Hebrews 12 Reveals the Timing of the Kingdom
The author of Hebrews spoke of the kingdom that his audience was receiving in the first century (Hebrews 12:28), and he pointed out that it was a kingdom which could not be shaken, unlike those things made with hands which could and would be shaken (verses 26-27). I believe this was a reference, in particular, to the temple in Jerusalem, the worship center for old covenant Judaism. The context bears this idea out. Ten verses earlier we read that the saints had not come to Mount Sinai, where the old covenant had been established (verse 18), but they had “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant…” (verses 22-24). If we compare this with Galatians 4:21-31, we see that earthly Jerusalem was in bondage and was about to be cast out (verses 25 and 30), but the heavenly Jerusalem is said to be the mother of God’s people (verse 26). Here is what Hebrews 12 has to say:
For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:18-29)
1. Daniel 2 reveals that God would set up His kingdom before Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome had all expired as kingdoms/empires.
2. Daniel 7 reveals that Jesus would receive His kingdom at the time of His ascension to His Father’s throne. It also confirms that God’s kingdom would be put into the hands of His people, the church, during the time of the Roman empire and immediately following a vicious campaign of persecution meant to eradicate the church.
3. John the Baptist and Jesus repeatedly proclaimed that the kingdom of God was near in their day. Jesus promised to come in His kingdom while some of His disciples were still alive, and He revealed that His kingdom would be given to His church at the same time it was taken away from rebellious Israel at the time of their judgment.
4. Hebrews 12 reveals that God’s people were receiving an unshakable kingdom in the first century, and that they would receive it at a time when all that could be shaken would be shaken.
The nation of Israel, as a whole, was found unworthy to steward God’s kingdom. Jesus, on the other hand, was perfectly obedient, laid down His life, rose again, and was found worthy to receive the kingdom. He came to take it out of the hands of Israel’s leaders, and He placed it into the hands of His church. We have been given the privilege of being the stewards of God’s kingdom. How much is the church being limited in its ability to spread God’s kingdom, and walk in its realities and power, because of the pervasive belief that it hasn’t even come yet?
God’s kingdom has come, and God’s kingdom will remain forever.
For the record, I agree with everything in Jonathan Welton’s illustration except for this statement:
“Since Jesus (the Rock) crashed into the feet of the statue in His first coming, the kingdom has been present and growing all the way until His second coming.”