“it struck the image on its feet.” It has been historically believed that the legs of iron and feet of iron and clay in Daniel’s vision refer to the Roman Empire. There are a number of reasons why people believe this; for example, Rome was divided into two parts, Western and Eastern Rome, which at first glance seems to match the two legs of the image. Furthermore, we Westerners tend to focus on Rome. However, the Bible never says the fourth kingdom is Rome, and there are a number of reasons why the Roman Empire is not the best choice. To us, the Islamic “kingdom” (“empire”), the Caliphate, is much more likely than Rome (by the way, the Islamic Empire is also divided into two major parts).
One of the reasons Rome cannot be the fourth kingdom is that the vision was given to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and Rome never controlled Babylon. In the vision, Daniel was explaining to Nebuchadnezzar the “kingdoms” that would arise after him (we often refer to these “kingdoms” as “empires”). Thus, the vision focuses upon kingdoms that were in the area of Babylon. There were many ancient empires that arose around the world that were arguably as great as Babylon, but they were not part of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision because they were not in the area of Babylon. We would argue that Rome, to the west of Babylon, was one of those empires not included in the vision. The empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece all controlled Babylon and are the first three empires of the vision—the head of gold, chest of silver, and belly and thighs of bronze.
Another reason that Rome is not a good candidate for the fourth empire in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision is that this fourth empire, or “fourth beast,” is specifically said on three different occasions to be “different from all the others” (Daniel 7:7, 19, 23). It will devour, crush, and trample all the other kingdoms. But Rome was not different from the kingdoms that came before it, and it did not devour, crush, and trample the kingdoms it conquered. On the contrary, Rome assimilated the kingdoms it conquered and adopted much from them, including art, music, athletics, religion, language, and more. In fact, the most widely spoken language of the Roman empire was Greek, not Latin. But the Islamic empire is different from the kingdoms that came before it. Islam is so strict that no other worship is tolerated, Arabic is the dominant language, and almost everything in the culture from dress, to art, and even to personal sexual behavior, is strictly limited to what Islamic law allows. The countries that have been conquered by Islam have quickly succumbed to its strict regulations.
Another reason that the Roman Empire is not a good candidate for the fourth kingdom is that the fourth empire will exist when Christ fights the Battle of Armageddon and conquers the earth (Dan. 2:44). But the Roman Empire does not exist now, and it seems quite impossible that it would arise in these last days. The great empire that arose in the area of Babylon after Greece, and that will almost certainly exist at the time of Christ’s return, is the Islamic Empire, .
Some defenders of the Rome theory say that the fourth empire will be the Roman Catholic Church, but that does not fit with the details given in the Bible. The fourth empire in Daniel is an actual empire that conquers others and crushes and smashes them. But the Roman Catholic Church is not that kind of empire. Many different religions and cultures exist even where Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. Furthermore, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are moving in the opposite direction of Daniel’s prophecy. Instead of being vehemently against other religions and crushing them, the Catholic Church is becoming more welcoming of other religions and beliefs, even to the point of Pope Francis saying he would baptize aliens if they came to earth (May 2014).
Another thing about Nebuchadnezzar’s vision is that during the time of the fourth empire, “a stone was cut out, but not by human hands” and it smashes the fourth empire (Dan. 2:34). The “stone” is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and he will destroy the fourth empire, which at that time will be ruled by the Antichrist. Yet Daniel goes on to say that when that fourth empire is destroyed, all the empires before it will be destroyed also (Dan. 2:35). This has caused some commentators to suggest that all of the four empires exist together, but it is clear that they do not, they succeed one another (Dan. 2:39; 7:4-7). How then are they all destroyed when the Messiah conquers the earth and smashes the fourth kingdom? The answer is that although the Islamic Empire covers the land area of the Babylonian Empire before it, here on earth there are still vestiges of all the ungodly earthly kingdoms that have existed until now. Some remnants of those kingdoms are small, but they are still there. Furthermore, and more to the point, the spiritual influences that have existed from one ungodly kingdom to another still exist. The Devil and his demons, who promote things such things as idolatry, strife, sexual perversion, and general ungodliness, continue to exist and persist in kingdom after kingdom. But when Christ conquers the earth and sets up his kingdom, it will fill the earth (cp. Ps. 2:8; 66:4; 72:8-11; Dan. 2:35, 44; 7:14; Zech. 9:10), and the evil influences of the Devil and his demons will be done away with (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). The ungodliness that has characterized all earthly kingdoms will all be swept away when Christ conquers the earth.
In closing, we should address an issue that has been pointed out by those commentators who wish to defend that the legs of iron are Rome. Those commentators generally assert that the point of Nebuchadnezzar’s vison was the control of Jerusalem, not the control of the area of Babylon. We would first point out that the Bible never says that; it is only an assumption made because in general Israel and Jerusalem are major topics of prophecy. Besides, it does not appear that Israel was of great concern in Nebuchadnezzar’s mind when he had the vision, especially not at that early time in his life. However, if Jerusalem is in mind in the vision, the Islamic Empire still makes more sense as a fulfillment of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision than the Roman Empire does, and for a couple different reasons.
For one thing, the legs of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue do not match the history of Rome. The Western Roman Empire started long before the Eastern Roman Empire and ceased to exist long before the Eastern Empire ceased to exist. The Western Roman Empire started in 27 BC (although the conquest of Israel by the Roman Republic was in 63 BC). Western Rome declined for years, but formally ended in 476 AD. The Eastern Roman Empire, usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire, started in 330 AD, when the Roman emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from the city of Rome to Constantinople. The Byzantines lost control of Israel in 638 when the Muslims took control of it. Thus, it is hard to see how Western Rome and Eastern Rome can be portrayed as two legs of Nebuchadnezzar’s image when historically they only co-existed for less than 150 years. The image would be standing first on one leg, then on the other leg. In contrast, the division in the Islamic Empire into two major sects started in the first generation after the death of Mohammad, and continued throughout the Caliphate and still exists today. If the fourth beast is the Islamic Empire, then the two legs are equal and appropriate.
Also, the Islamic Empire would be a better fit for Nebuchadnezzar’s vision because it has controlled Jerusalem longer than Rome did. The Romans conquered Israel in 63 BC when Rome was still a Republic. Then starting in 27 BC the Western Roman Empire, based out of Rome, and then later the Eastern Roman Empire, based out of Constantinople, controlled Israel until 638 AD, when the Muslims took control of it (there had been a minor disruption of Roman control, from 614 to 629 AD, when the Persians controlled Jerusalem). However, the Muslim control over Jerusalem, starting in 638 AD, was considerably longer than Rome’s control.
Although Jerusalem was ruled by Muslims from Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, and Turkey at different times, Israel was under Muslim control from 638 AD until the Christians conquered Jerusalem in 1099 AD, in the First Crusade. However, the Christians who organized and led the Crusades were not from Eastern Rome, they were from places like Belgium, France, and England, in what had once been Western Rome but was no longer Western Rome, so they were not technically “Romans,” even though some people from Eastern Rome joined that crusade. The Christians and Muslims exchanged rule over various cities in Israel for almost two hundred years through the nine distinct Crusades, and when the crusaders were in control of Jerusalem, it was called “the Kingdom of Jerusalem” or sometimes “the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.”
The time the Christians were in control of Jerusalem and the time the Muslims were in control of it was pretty evenly split during the time of the crusaders, with the Christians dominating the first half of the time, and the Muslims dominating the second half. Then, in 1291 AD, the Muslim ruler Saladin gained and kept control of Israel. In 1798 Napoleon entered Palestine, and although he captured a few cities, he never ousted the Muslims from Jerusalem or most of Israel, and he withdrew to Egypt the following year. The Muslims kept control of Israel until 1917, when the British took control after WWI.
Thus, although Western and Eastern Rome controlled Israel for some 700 years, the Muslims controlled Israel for almost 1,200 years. So, if Nebuchadnezzar’s vision is about Jerusalem, the Islamic empire is still a better choice than Rome, especially given that the fourth empire will be around and in control of Jerusalem when Christ conquers the earth. Islam is indeed well positioned to take control of much of the world. David Garrison writes: “The House of Islam, Dar al-Islam in Arabic, is the name Muslims give to an invisible religious empire that stretches from West Africa to the Indonesian archipelago, encompassing 49 nations and 1.6 billion people. Dwarfing the size of any previous earthly kingdom, Islam directs the spiritual affairs of nearly a quarter of the world’s population” (A Wind in the House of Islam, WIGTake Resources, Monument, CO, 2014, p. 5). If the Antichrist gains control of that empire, he will be powerful indeed.