Cliff's Edge

Rome Alone

Keeping the cross and the focal point of any interpretation is a sure winner

Clifford Goldstein
Rome Alone

Our prophetic scenario rests on the foundation given in Daniel 2, an unbroken sequence of five kingdoms: Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, Rome, and God’s eternal kingdom. Weaken or destroy that foundation, and you weaken or destroy our prophetic message.

I have on occasion, though, come across some among us who, however (I believe) unwittingly, push an interpretation of Daniel 2 that, if accepted, would wreak havoc on our eschatology.

What is that interpretation, and why it is wrong?

For starters, as Adventists we are pretty much alone in Christendom with our “historicist” approach to interpreting Daniel. The two most common interpretive schools, “preterism” and “futurism “ dominate how Christians view the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

Futurism, by far the most pervasive, has captivated conservative Christianity’s theological imagination, as seen for instance in the pandemic popularity of the Left Behind series, which has recently done to Western (particularly American) Christianity what Hal Lindsey’s with his The Late Great Planet Earth did to it in the 1970s and 80s, and that is—deceive it. However varying the strains, most futurists follow a basic scenario. Severing the final week of the 70-week prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 from the first 69 weeks, they then place that last week, which they view as seven years (at least they got the day-year principle right), into our future, a time when the anti-Christ, still unknown, will unleash the “Great Tribulation.” Faithful Christians, having already been secretly raptured to heaven, will be spared the tribulation, though 144,000 Jewish believers in Jesus, virgins all, will preach the gospel to the world during that time. Other events include a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, with animal sacrifices until the anti-Christ stops them—“he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease” (Dan. 9:27)—and worldwide persecution of the Jews begins, but then Jesus returns and establishes His 1,000 year reign of peace on earth.

In contrast, preterism dominates the Christian scholarly world, particularly the liberal wing, and it is often premised on the idea that the biblical prophets can’t tell the future but, as in the case of Daniel (who, they claim, didn’t live in the time of Babylon), told tales—such as the three Hebrews in the fire, or Daniel in the lion’s den—in order to encourage second century BC Jews facing persecution from Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (died 164 BC). In fact, preterism, for Daniel at least (for Revelation, they claim it was dealing with Pagan Rome), ends the prophecies with the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, that is, almost two centuries before Jesus, including, even especially, Daniel 8 and the cleansing of the sanctuary (Dan. 8:14). This is the view that most every Bible commentary (except ours) in the past hundred years takes, which puts us, as I said, pretty much alone in viewing Daniel as we do.

 Now, fitting neither futurism nor preterism is this other view occasionally promulgated among us. And that is: the stone cut out without hands in Daniel 2:34, which smashed the statue—that was Jesus on the cross. That was Jesus’ victorious death at Calvary over the forces of evil. You know, “having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15) and the like.

Of course, who doesn’t like a cross-centered interpretation of anything from the Old Testament? Keeping the cross and the focal point of any interpretation is a sure winner. Who wants to diss that?

The only problem is the text itself. What does it say that the stone cut out without hands did to the elements of the statue, exactly? It says that it broke them into pieces, and that “the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found” (Dan. 2:35).

After the wind carried the pieces away, “no trace of them was found.” No trace? (The Aramaic reads more literally: “and all trace was not found of them.”) Am I missing something here? Is not the fourth kingdom, depicted as iron and then as iron mixed with clay (Dan. 2:33; 40–43) still here? Are not other earthly powers still in existence? How, then, could this be the cross?

Daniel 2, with its sequential progression of four worldly empires—Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome—followed by God’s eternal kingdom, forms the paradigm that Daniel 7 and 8 follow, only in more detail (with Babylon left out of Daniel 8). The crucial point is this: in all three chapters, only one power arises after ancient Greece and exists until the supernatural destruction of the world at the end (Dan. 2:34, 35, 44; 7:14, 26, 27; 8:25).

In Daniel 2, though the emphasis is more political than religious, the iron that arises after ancient Greece remains, but now in the feet and toes, until the supernatural end of the world. In Daniel 7, the beast power, the fourth beast, which arises after ancient Greece remains—even if the focus is on the little horn, which is part of the fourth beast—until supernaturally destroyed at the end. In Daniel 8, the power that arises after ancient Greece, the little horn, exists until supernaturally destroyed at the end as well (See Dan. 8:17, 19, 24). 

What power arose after ancient Greece and exists to this day? It’s solely, totally, and only Rome (first pagan then Papal). Rome is all it ever was and ever will be, until the end of this world despite numerous attempts to identify it as something else, anything else, actually. One might need faith to believe in the resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming, but who needs faith to see that the final worldly kingdom, the one arising after ancient Greece and extending to the end, is Rome alone? Keeping this interpretation foundational will protect you from a host of errors, especially Antiochus as the final earthly power.

That’s why this Jesus-death-at-the-cross interpretation of the stone cut out without hands in Daniel 2, if accepted, all but destroys this paradigm, which is crucial to our end-time scenario, in which imagery from these Daniel chapters, particularly Daniel 7, reappears in Revelation 13, depicting Rome’s continued activity in the last days. In contrast, ending Daniel 2 with the cross undermines our interpretation, which is so central to the three angels’ messages. Fortunately, Daniel 2:35, if interpreted for what it says, still points to Jesus–but Jesus at His second coming, not the first, exactly as we believe.

Clifford Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide.