Have we rightly understood Europe’s role in Daniel 2?

Revisiting the statue

Frank M. Hasel
Have we rightly understood Europe’s role in Daniel 2?
Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Have political events disproved our traditional Adventist interpretation of the prophetic message of Daniel 2? The feet and toes of the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw in the dream represent the European nations that follow the dominant iron Roman Empire (Dan. 2:41, 42). The Bible tells us that “they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay” (verse 43). How does this picture square with the geopolitical reality in the twenty-first century?

The Specter of Unity

We are fascinated with the economic strength of the European Union and see it as a prime example of political unity. In 2012 the European Union was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for having contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe for more than six decades. The European Union appears as strong and cohesive as never before. Rather than falling apart, one could observe an impressive conglomeration of the European nations. Considering these indisputable political facts, how can we maintain that the biblical interpretation of Daniel 2 is still valid? Haven’t political events invalidated the statements of Daniel 2? In addition, our interpretation of the biblical prophetic message of Daniel appears rather Eurocentric. What about all the other great nations and highly developed civilizations of the world—from Asia to South America to Africa—that are not mentioned in Scripture? Does not the Bible display a rather limited ethnocentric perspective in which White European nations dominate the picture and feature prominently in our interpretation?

Knowing somewhat the European mentality and dynamic (because I grew up in central Europe and lived there for many years), I disagreed with the perception of Europe as being solidly unified. And history validated Scripture. In 2020 Brexit occurred and sent shock waves all over Europe and around the world. What was noticeable only for the perceptive observer of European political events became an undisputed fact with the decision of the majority of the British people who were Euro skeptics and who voted to withdraw from the European Union. Rapid political events had overturned what otherwise appeared to be a solid European union and gave the biblical message of Daniel 2 an unexpected confirmation. National pride and pervasive nationalistic feelings are very much alive today, and not just in Europe! They foster dangerous prejudices and often jeopardize political and ecclesiastical unity.

Divine Intervention

Since the British Brexit, some have promoted a “poetically licensed” version of the rock in Daniel 2 and have proposed that Britain is the “rock” that is bearing down upon Europe and ultimately will be the chief cause of its complete obliteration. Such a nationalistic interpretation of biblical symbolism does not do justice to the divine interpretation that the biblical text provides for us. In Daniel 2 the rock that is “cut without hands” does not end just the European Union. The Bible specifically tells us that “the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold” (verse 45) are affected. In other words, it is not just a divided Europe that is put to an end, but all the metals and materials that are mentioned in Daniel 2. They represent influential political and religious authorities throughout history that threaten God’s people. God tells us that He will put an end to these human powers and establish His kingdom that “shall never be destroyed” and that “shall not be left to other people.” God “shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and [God’s kingdom] shall stand forever” (verse 44).

Is this biblical interpretation Eurocentric and biased because it discriminates against other cultures and nations? Not at all. First, not all nations mentioned in Daniel 2 are European nations. The dream in Daniel 2 starts out with Babylon and Medo-Persia, and only then do we see Greece and Rome emerge. These major nations are prophetically mentioned in Scripture, not because other advanced civilizations did not exist, but because these nations play a unique and significant role in connection with the history of God’s people. The religious-political powers that grow out of them will continue to play an important role in the end-time events of earth’s history. What began in Babylon and continued with Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome widens to a global dimension that encompasses all the earth and will culminate in the glorious return of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven. In an age in which large segments of society are deeply worried about a climate crisis that threatens to toss the world into an ecological disaster beyond all expectations and in which many are afraid that the end of the world will be ushered in through a terminal nuclear catastrophe, Daniel 2 reminds us that the history of this earth is in God’s hands and that we don’t have to fear the future. While there will be tribulations, wars, famines, and natural disasters at the end of time (see Matt. 24 and Luke 21), the Bible tells us that the end of this globe will be initiated without human hands. There will be a supernatural end to earth’s history. Daniel 2 reminds us that the final kingdom is no earthly kingdom, but an eternal kingdom that is established by God Himself. This is good news that we can proclaim with confidence. While natural disasters, famines, earthquakes, floods, and wars will appear with increasing intensity, we can have hope, because Jesus will establish His eternal kingdom. He is the hope of the world. He is the way, the truth, and the life, which will never end.

Frank M. Hasel

Frank M. Hasel is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference in Silver Spring, Mary-land.