God showed Daniel the successive nations that would rule His chosen people. The first revelation occurred when Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar's dream. It disturbed the king, but he could not remember any of it. He called his counselors and asked them to relate the dream and then tell its meaning. None of them could reply.
Because Daniel was God's prophet, God used him to reveal the dream to the king. According to the account ( Dan 2:31-45), Nebuchadnezzar saw a statue made from five different substances. The head was gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, and the feet of a mixture of clay and iron. A stone cut from a mountain rolled and stuck the statue on the feet, breaking it in so many small pieces that the wind blew them all away. The stone became a mountain and filled the entire earth.
Daniel explained that the statue represented five successive kingdoms of which Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon was the first. At the time of the last of these five empires God will set up His own kingdom, which kingdom was represented by the stone. God's kingdom will destroy the worldly kingdoms and fill the whole world.
Later Daniel had his own vision in which he saw a procession of empires (Dan 7:2-27). Four different beasts ascended from the sea. The first was a lion, the second a bear, and the third a leopard with four wings on its back. The last was neither identified nor described. Probably it was the same beast John the Revelator portrayed. He said, "The beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion" (Rev 13:2). The fourth beast had characteristics of the three preceding ones. Both Daniel and John said the beast had seven heads and ten horns. In Daniel's dream an eleventh horn rose, which plucked up three of the ten horns. This "little horn," as Daniel calls him, had the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking great things. It reigned until all thrones were cast down and the "Ancient of days" appeared.
An angel interpreted the vision for Daniel, telling him that the four beasts represented four successive kingdoms. After the reign of the fourth empire a group of ten kings would arise followed by another king. The eleventh king would "make war with the saints and prevail against them" (Dan 7:21). John described the great things that the mouth that Daniel saw spoke. He said, "He opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them" (Rev 13:6-7). The oppression of the eleventh king continued until the "Ancient of days" intervened, giving the saints judgment and possession of the kingdom (Dan 7:21). Daniel prophesied that the eleventh king would reign three and one-half years, while John said he would last 42 months. In the Hebrew calendar, which had 30 days per month, both time periods are composed of 1260 days.
The early Christians taught that the dream given Nebuchadnezzar and the vision Daniel saw represented the same series of events. In the earliest commentary on the book of Daniel still extant, which was written by Hippolytus about 225 AD, the first four empires are identified as Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Rome still ruled then, but the Christians believed that its successor would be ten future contemporary kings. They, in turn, would be followed by the Antichrist. Hippolytus wrote, "The 'golden head of the image' is identical with the 'lioness,' by which the Babylonians were represented. 'The golden shoulders and the arms of silver' are the same as the 'bear,' by which the Persian and the Medes are meant. 'The belly and thighs of brass' are the 'leopard,' by which the Greeks who ruled from Alexander onwards are intended. The 'legs of iron' are the 'dreadful and terrible beast,' by which the Romans who hold the empire now are meant. The 'toes of clay and iron' are the 'ten horns' which are to be. The 'one other little horn springing up in their midst' is the 'antichrist.' The stone that 'smites the image and brakes it in pieces,' and that filled the whole earth, is Christ, who comes from heaven and brings judgement on the world."1 Hippolytus taught that the name of this Antichrist could be Latinus. He wrote, "It is manifest to all that those who at present still hold the power are Latins. If, then, we take the name as the name of a single man, it becomes Latinus."2
Hippolytus merely commented on the instruction given him by his master Irenaeus.3 This connection is important, for Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp and Polycarp was a missionary companion of John, the beloved disciple of Jesus and the author of Revelation. Since Irenaeus quotes some sayings of John, which Polycarp taught him, some of his commentary on Revelation, which Hippolytus repeated, probably originated with John.
The prophecies of Daniel, which were further described by John in Revelation, predict the rise and fall of those nations exercising authority over the saints. Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all ruled the Jews. At times their reign was benevolent and at times it was cruel. Rome also governed Christians. They were the successors to the divine covenant after the Jews rejected Jesus. Under Roman rule the Christians suffered ten different periods of intense persecution. Since the Antichrist, or little horn described by Daniel also oppressed the saints, we can conclude that the entire image Nebuchadnezzar saw represents the succession of empires that had power to oppress, persecute and scatter the people of God.
At the close of his book Daniel is told to seal up the revelation. Distressed, he asks how long until the deliverance of the saints. The Bible relates, "I Daniel looked, and, behold, there stood other two, the one on this side of the bank of the river, and the other on the other side of the bank of the river. And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders? And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth forever and ever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be fulfilled" (Dan 12:5-7).
God revealed that the authority of the little horn would end. His power over the saints would last three and one-half years, during which time the holy people would be scattered. Similarly, John says that the church would fly into the wilderness for three and one-half years (Rev 12:14). As already shown, three and one-half years is also the length of the reign of the Antichrist. John adds that it is the amount of time during which the Gentiles would tread the holy city under foot (Rev 11:2) and the two witnesses would testify (Rev 11:3).
The Reformers concluded that the Antichrist described by Daniel and John referred to the Papacy. This interpretation has many advantages. The Papacy was controlled by the Latins, thereby keeping the name Irenaeus and Hippolytus suggested. The five kingdoms reigned in succession. Persia immediately followed the reign of Babylon. Greece rose at the fall of Persia. Rome conquered Greece. It follows that the ten kings would rise when Rome fell and the Antichrist would appear while those ten still held power. Rome fell one and one-half millennia ago. Common sense suggests that the ten kings appeared then. Sir Isaac Newton in his Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, published in 1733, identified the ten kingdoms as the Vandals, Suevians, Visigoths, Allens, Burgundians, Franks, Britons, Hunns, Lombards, and Ravenna. These barbarian nations invaded and conquered parts of the Roman Empire. Some of them were descendants of Israel dispersed to Scythia. They had been free from Roman rule, but when Christianized came under the authority of the Papacy. Newton gave a detailed history of each nation and the contribution they made to the fall of Rome. Their victories preceded the rise of the Papacy with its sole authority to control kings, kingdom and saints. Under the reign of the Papacy, just like during the reign of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, seekers of God were often consigned to dungeons, torture and death.
God promised an end to the power of the little horn. His rule would last only 1260 days. Ezekiel said that each day stood for a year (Ez 4:6). When Daniel asked, "How long," he was told that at its end the Antichrist will have finished scattering the holy people. The Septuagint, the version of the Bible the early Christians used, explains the meaning of this verse by the way it renders it. It says, "It should be for a time of times and half a time: when the dispersion is ended they shall know all things." The conclusion of the 1260 prophetic days not only marks the end of both the power of the Antichrist over the saints and the flight of the church into the wilderness, but it also marks the end of the dispersion of the holy people.
The establishment of the Papacy as head of the church was made by decrees of Roman emperors between 533 and 607 AD. At least two decrees were required. Three and one-half prophetic years later, 1260 actual years, places the end of the dispersion about the time of the American revolution. The independence of the United States from the ecclesiastical and political alliances of Europe created a land of freedom so that the dispersed of Israel, whether by faith or birth, had a place of refuge to which they could flee. The Reformation perfected in the subsequent rise of America broke the power of the Papacy to scatter the people of God. The dispersion was over. The faithful could flee to the New World and there help build up the kingdom of God on earth.
1Hippolytus; On Daniel;
Bk 2; Sec 3
2Hippolytus; Treatise on Christ and Antichrist; Sec 50
3Irenaeus; Irenaeus Against Heresies; Bk 5, Ch 26-30