The fourth empire is the Roman empire
The proof that the fourth empire is the Roman empire is found especially in Revelation 17. We will discuss this in more detail in a moment. First we must draw attention to another proof. That proof lies in the relationship between the world empires and Israel. Remarkably enough, each of the three world empires mentioned so far has ruled over Israel. That is actually why they are mentioned. A people only has a place in the Bible if it is somehow related to the history of God’s people.
Scripture confirms that the fourth empire, the Roman empire, also ruled over Israel. We read about the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus about Judea (Lk 2:11Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.) and about the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius (Lk 3:11Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,). Other places in the Gospels also prove Rome’s rule over the land of Israel (Lk 20:22-2422Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”23But He detected their trickery and said to them,24“Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.”; Jn 11:4848If we let Him [go on] like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”; 19:10,11,1510So Pilate *said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?”11Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has [the] greater sin.”15So they cried out, “Away with [Him], away with [Him], crucify Him!” Pilate *said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”). It should not surprise us that we find this back in history. In the year 63 BC Pompejus conquered Judea that after that became a Roman province.
The three preceding empires are described relatively briefly. In comparison, the description of the Roman empire is comprehensive.. This description with the explanation gives some details that show that this very empire is extraordinarily interesting. And when we see that the history of Europe is given to us in this empire, the data interest us all the more.
In the development of the Roman empire, two phases can be distinguished that are related to the division of the empire into an eastern and a western part. The Western Roman empire ceases to exist when Rome is destroyed in the year 476. It was not until 1453 that the Eastern Roman empire comes to an end, when the Turks conquer it. Of these two empires, the Western Roman empire falls within the framework of prophecy.
This leads us to the discussion of a problem that we first have to deal with, before we continue: How can the stone hit the statue at the feet, i.e. the Roman empire, when it no longer exists? As a solution to this problem, it has been thought that the stone represents Christendom, which originated through Christ. Then, with the advent of Christendom, the dream of Nebuchadnezzar must have been fulfilled.
But the coming of Christ, and with Him Christendom, did not destroy the empire. As for Christ, the opposite is true. That empire has killed Christ. But Christendom cannot be the fulfilment either. The dream shows the crushing of the statue as a sudden thing, after which the stone fills all the earth. Who would dare to state that Christendom suddenly attacked the Roman empire and then gained general rule over the world?
The fourth empire is still to come
This means that this fourth empire still has to come. But how is that possible? It has existed anyway and now it no longer exists, isn’t it? The solution to this problem is found in Revelation 17, already mentioned. There we read of the beast representing the Roman empire (Dan 7:7-87After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.8While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great [boasts].; Rev 13:1-111And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns [were] ten diadems, and on his heads [were] blasphemous names.2And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like [those] of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.3[I saw] one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed [and followed] after the beast;4they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”5There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him.6And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, [that is,] those who dwell in heaven.7It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him.8All who dwell on the earth will worship him, [everyone] whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.9If anyone has an ear, let him hear.10If anyone [is destined] for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.11Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon.): “It was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss” (Rev 17:88“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.). Not only is the empire itself divided into two parts, east and west, but the history of the empire also consists of two parts, that is, two phases. The first phase of the empire is past, it “was”. And at present the empire does not exist, “and is not”. The second phase is still the future, “and is about to come up out of the abyss”.
It is clear that for the prophecy to be fulfilled, the once disappeared Western Roman empire must be restored. This restoration is still future, but this future has come very close! During the course of history several people have tried to restore this empire to its former glory. Powerful rulers such as Napoleon and Hitler all tried to revive this empire by force. It did not work. The empire will therefore not be established by force and conquest, but by that ten kings will voluntarily give their power to an autocrat (Rev 17:12-1312The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.13These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.).
The legs, the feet and the toes
These ten kings are already symbolically indicated in the statue. If we still look for a moment at the part of the statue representing the Roman empire, the legs and the feet, we can see in the two legs and the two feet with the ten toes the two phases of the Roman empire. The two legs are a picture of the two parts of the former Roman empire, that is the Western Roman empire and the Eastern Roman empire. The ten toes represent the division of the empire in the future.
It points out that in its final phase this kingdom will be composed of ten kingdoms, according to the ten toes (cf. Dan 7:2424As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings.). The future empire will consist of ten parts, each with a king, a situation that the empire never knew in its former existence. If these ten parts of Europe have voluntarily joined together, that empire will be destroyed by the coming of Christ, for He, and no one else, is represented in the stone that rolls off the mountain.
The toes are not only made of iron, but of iron and clay. This indicates a binding of something hard like iron with something brittle like clay. Iron and clay are two elements that by their nature cannot be mixed. They both maintain their own characteristics. It is a hard and at the same time a brittle kingdom. The performance is hard, but it is not a compact unit. We can think of the democratic principle that is incompatible with authoritarian state power that wants to act with military force. These things are reflected in the current drive towards one Europe.
Clay also represents man, where we can think of individualism, self-interest, personal freedom and participation. We see that also clearly present in Europe. We see the power of the great whole on the one hand, and the maintenance of national interests on the other.
Incidentally, the decline and finally the fall of the once mighty Roman empire has been a subject of study for many historians. Their amazement is at a different level than that of John. We have already talked about one of the suggested causes of the fall of the Roman empire, Christendom. Some other causes are mentioned in a booklet edited by Donald Kagan, ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Why Did it Collapse?’. In it a number of historians have their say. Everyone comes to their own conclusion after research. And these conclusions are very diverse.
The one blames the downfall to a class struggle, a struggle of the slaves against the ruling class. Another believes that climatic conditions are the cause. As a result, there would have been no rain for a certain period of time, resulting in crop failures and population displacement. That would have had an effect on the strength of the army, because the growth of recruits has been halted by the withdrawal of the population. Yet another considers it possible that racial mixing has caused the decay. (Hitler may have wanted to arm himself against this last aspect when considering his measures for the maintenance and promotion of a purely Germanic or Aryan race. The idea of growing a super breed came from Heinrich Himmler, a close employee of Hitler.)
All these historians are wrong with their assumptions. Scripture is the only reliable source for history. Scripture also describes history when everything has yet to happen. That is because Scripture is the speaking of God (Rom 9:1717For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”) and God declares the end from the beginning (Isa 46:1010Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;