We recently received a question concerning the fulfillment of Daniel 2:44, as to how it can be said that the establishment of the church crushed and brought an end to earthly kingdoms.
When Daniel gave Nebuchadnezzar the divine interpretation of the king’s dream, he said:
“And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”
A reader asked:
“The phrase in [Daniel] 2:44 that I don’t understand is: ‘it (this kingdom God was going to set up) will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms.’
Please explain how the church fulfilled this prediction."
Some may speculate that either the church did not accomplish what God promised, or we need to interpret “kingdom” in this passage as something other than the church (i.e., a millennial kingdom yet in the future). This idea represents a false dichotomy, for the thought has not exhausted all options, nor has it considered all relevant Bible teaching.
First, we must consider that these prophetic symbols of Daniel 2:44 do not represent the most exhaustive or comprehensive treatment on the church in Scripture. Ideas conveyed in the prophecy, in seed or picture form, are fully revealed and explained in the New Testament.
Second, the kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar’s image were human in origin, temporary, and were overcome by each succeeding kingdom. Such is the nature of human institutions. The stone, cut out of the mountain not made with hands, was divine in origin, eternal, and unconquerable.
The emphasis on the kingdom of God in Daniel 2:44 pertains to the time and certainty of its establishment, its divine origin, its eternal nature, and its unconquerable status — as Jesus said, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:19).
Third, it is apparent that we must assess the kingdom of God differently than we do earthly kingdoms. Earthly kingdoms dominate by physical force while the kingdom of God conquers individuals in a spiritual way, bringing them into voluntary submission to the King of Kings (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Similarly, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven. It works silently, unostentatiously, yet progressively (Matthew 13:33). The New Testament nowhere teaches that we are to look for a superpower kingdom of God that would dominate the world as it now is, having accomplished world-domination through some literal, Armageddon-like conquest.
Fourth, “in the days of these kings” (i.e., Acts 2) the God of heaven did set up his kingdom. This was the beginning — not the end — although its ultimate success was foreseen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Daniel 2:44 revealed a time indicator as to when the kingdom of God would begin its small footprint in the world, which would be followed by progressive, amazing growth. This amazing growth, and the assimilation of the kingdoms of men, were sure to follow. How long it would take for the stone to grow into a mountain that filled the earth is not the focus. The establishment of the plan of God would surely bring about its divine design in God’s way and time (cf. John 18:36), and the certainty and reality of the accomplishment of God’s plan is the point. Its commencement is what is indicated relative to the days of the Roman Empire.
Fifth, what was established “in the days of those kings” was the beginning of the unique way in which God’s kingdom would supplant the kingdoms of men. The prophecy does not indicate that the end result would be accomplished in one day, or that the establishment of the kingdom would overthrow all governments immediately, or that it would conquer in the same way that earthly kingdoms subdue one another. Rather, the prediction pertains to the certainty of God’s unavoidable rule, as he is the God of Heaven, and when such would commence.
Sixth, observe how these truths are substantiated by clear New Testament teaching — that God’s spiritual plan is progressive, accomplished over the course of time. The Bible teaches that Jesus destroyed him who had the power over death, that is the devil (Hebrews 2:14), through the cross. But the devil still stalks humanity (1 Peter 5:8), and the last enemy (i.e., death) has not been done away with yet (1 Corinthians 15:26). Either Christ destroyed the devil, or he didn’t, right? Such a question represents a narrow view of the plan of God. Victory, Paul says, will be accomplished in “the end,” through the resurrection. But it will only be accomplished in “the end,” because of what Jesus did at “the beginning.”
The kingdom of God will reach its ultimate goal when the Lord returns. “But he must reign until all his enemies have been put under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). This reign began with the first coming of the Lord and the establishment of his church (Matthew 16:18-19; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9).
We must then observe the progressive growth of the kingdom toward the divine goal. The redemptive plan will be realized when the Lord appears a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him unto salvation (Hebrews 9:28). The “time-lapse” is a focus of mockers, but God’s “delay” is an opportunity for men to repent (2 Peter 3:1ff).
Characteristic of some biblical prophecy, we see the big picture in symbolic form. We see events that are separated by hundreds or thousands of years, unfold in an instant — in a single verse — in a biblical prophecy. This helps us focus on the realities and certainties of God’s plan, which from our point of view, appears to be so obscure, as evil seems to have its way in the world. In spite of the way things seem to us, God is in control.
This question gets to the heart of the book of Daniel and the Bible as a whole. From man’s point of view, he may not think that what has been promised has been fulfilled. He may look for another “interpretation.” Looking through human eyes, he is tempted to assess the plan of God and say, “Well, the church certainly can’t be the fulfillment of this, because it has not conquered the world.” Our worldly view is not the standard by which the church of Christ is judged. We must rely on him, trust in him, and know that what God accomplished on Calvary through his Son will conclude in the conquest of Christ over all his enemies, when he comes again. We know that, not because of what we observe, but because of what God has said. He rules in the kingdoms of men, has inaugurated his kingdom, and it shall stand forever.