The Christian History of the Four Beast Empires--Part 4
Apr 16, 2013
The Grecian Empire of Alexander the Great broke apart after his untimely death in 323 B.C. and was divided among his four generals. Two of them, Syria to the north of Judea, and Egypt to the south, fought each other for 150 years for control of Judea.
Syria’s kings adopted the religion of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 341-270 B.C. He witnessed Alexander’s conquest and the subsequent breakup of the Empire. When Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria attempted to force Judea to convert to his religion, the king made the mistake of turning the temple in Jerusalem into an Epicurean shrine. The Judeans revolted and overthrew their rule in 163 B.C. Syria never recovered.
Judea was then independent for a full century, ruled by the Hasmonean dynasty of priest-kings. This was an interim between the domination of Greece and that of Rome. In 63 B.C. Rome arose and took control of Judea when the army of Pompey took Jerusalem. He actually went into the temple looking for gold, but in the Most Holy Place he found only a stone marking the place where the Ark of the Covenant should have stood.
The Ark had never been placed in that temple, because it had disappeared with Jeremiah when the first temple had been destroyed.
“… no small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none; for Pompey went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also, and saw all that which was unlawful for any other men to see, but only for the high priests. There were in that temple the golden table, the holy candlestick, and the pouring vessels, and a great quantity of spices; and besides these there were among the treasures two thousand talents of sacred money; yet did Pompey touch nothing of all this, on account of his regard to religion; and in this point also he acted in a manner that was worthy of his virtue.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XIV, iii, 4)
No mention was made of the Ark of the Covenant, nor of the mercy seat on which the blood was to be sprinkled each year on the Day of Atonement. It makes us wonder how the high priest conducted the Day of Atonement, for it could hardly be fulfilled apart from sprinkling blood on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14, 15).
This shows the inadequacy of that second temple, which was only a temporary structure for the people to gather until the coming of the Messiah, the embodiment of the true Ark.
63 B.C. marks the beginning of the fourth beast kingdom, dating from its dominion over Jerusalem and the temple. Yet there is little evidence that the people understood the prophecies of Daniel by this time. Having gained their independence for a century, they thought that God had given them the right to perpetual freedom. For this reason, the Judeans chafed under Roman rule, believing that God wanted them to be free and would help them in such efforts.
Many rose up claiming to be the Messiah who would set the nation free of Rome. With the rise of each self-proclaimed “messiah,” the Romans would institute more security measures, until the people groaned under the oppression. But instead of changing their view of prophecy, they blamed the Romans for their troubles. It appears that Daniel’s prophecies were forgotten, for they acted as if there were no iron kingdom prophesied in Scripture. They were caught up in the expectation of a coming messiah, who would not only set them free, but would place them at the top of the nations.
Thus, when Jesus arrived, He did not meet their expectations, for He came, not as a great military leader, but as a humble servant who submitted to Rome, knowing that God had raised up this iron kingdom to rule Judea for its allotted time. Jesus was thus rejected by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, even though they saw His miracles and knew that He was indeed the Messiah (Matthew 21:38).
The Jewish Professor H. Graetz confirms this, saying,
“From Jesus the zealots could not look for deeds of heroism, for, instead of inspiring his followers with hatred of Rome, he advocated peace, and in his contempt for mammon admonished them to submit willingly to the Roman tax-gatherers. . . . These startling peculiarities, which seemed to contradict the preconceived idea of the Messianic character, caused the higher and the learned classes to be coldly indifferent to him, and it is certain that he met with no friendly reception in Jerusalem.” (History of the Jews, Vol. II, p. 162)
Perhaps even more astounding was the fact that Rome nearly accepted Jesus as the Messiah. About 200 A.D. the Roman lawyer, Tertullian, who had access to the archives of the Empire, wrote about Tiberius Caesar, who was the Emperor from 14-37 A.D. during the time of Christ’s ministry on earth. Tertullian says that Tiberius had heard from his intelligence organization of the miraculous works and wisdom of Jesus. He then proposed a bill in the Roman Senate to accept Jesus as a god—in other words, to make Jesus the head of a religion that was recognized legally by the Empire. Tertullian says,
“Tiberius accordingly, in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ’s divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favor of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinions, threatening wrath against all accusers of the Christians.” (Tertullian, Apology, V)
It was not in the divine plan for Jesus Christ to be accepted by the iron kingdom during His earthly ministry. If He had been proclaimed a god by the Roman senate, then the priests in Jerusalem would not have dared to crucify Him. Without His death and resurrection, Christianity itself would have no genuine foundation.
By Roman law, all bills had to originate with the Senate. So when Tiberius proposed a bill making Jesus a god, the Senate, being jealous of its rights, rejected the bill. This left Jesus vulnerable when the priests wanted to put Him to death. Tertullian says again in chapter 21 of the same writing,
“All these things Pilate did to Christ; and now in fact a Christian in his own convictions, he sent word of Him to the reigning Caesar, who was at the time Tiberius. Yes, and the Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars.”
The Roman Empire considered Christianity to be a sect of Judaism until the Apostle Paul’s appearance before Nero in 63 A.D. In that appearance, Paul, with the help of Seneca, Nero’s former tutor, argued that Christianity was a separate belief system. Paul was set free at that time to make his long-anticipated missionary journey to Spain and Britain. But when Rome re-classified Christianity, making it a distinct religion, Rome began to require that Christians sacrifice to Caesar. This they refused to do, and this made Christianity a religio illicita. Christianity lost its standing as a recognized religion in the Roman Empire.
Persecution followed for the next 2½ centuries, culminating in the horrendous persecution of Emperor Diocletian, which began in 303 A.D. Diocletian retired in 305, due to mental illness, and was replaced first by Maximian and then by Licinius, who ruled the eastern half of the empire.
At the same time Constantius died. He had been the ruler of the Northwest portion of the Roman Empire, including Britain, Gaul and Spain. His son, Constantine, replaced him. Both Constantius and Constantine did all that they could to minimize the persecution of the Christians in the territories under their control. Constantine went further by overcoming the other caesars and finally reuniting the Empire under one head.
In each victory, he put an end to the persecution in all the territory that he conquered. Thus, over a period of seven years the persecution gradually ceased. In 311 Constantine and Licinius issued a joint Edict of Toleration, granting people religious freedom. This applied to all of the Roman Empire except for the far east in Armenia and Anatolia, where Maximian yet ruled.
In 313 Constantine and Licinius issued a joint letter to be circulated among the governors of the East, declaring religious toleration for all. This was known as the Edict of Milan. It officially made Christianity a legalized religion and removed from the Church the requirement to sacrifice to pagan gods or to Caesar. This process of establishing religious toleration occurred over a seven-year period from 306-313.
From then on, the Roman Empire began to transition into a Christian Empire. In 381 Emperor Theodosius outlawed animal sacrifices, thus depriving pagans of religious freedom. In 391 Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. In this manner, the great iron kingdom came to recognize Jesus Christ, even as the previous beast empires had done in times past.
Unfortunately, as with the previous beast empires, the iron kingdom reverted to its old beastly ways, even while claiming to spread Christianity throughout the world. Instead of conquering the world through the power of the Holy Spirit, they conquered by the sword and by force. And so we see that all four of the beast empires experienced their moment of truth, but then reverted back to their normal political and military conquests. In other words, their “beast” heart was not changed, for it was too soon for the Stone Kingdom to arise.
The City of Rome itself was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths under Alaric. This shocked the Christians, who believed that such a thing could never happen as long as Rome was a Christian city. Just nineteen years earlier, in 391, the Roman Empire had been proclaimed a Christian Empire. The sacking of Rome in 410 ought to have been a wake-up call that something was wrong. Augustine immediately wrote a book, The City of God, to show that the true City of God was the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, and that men should not lose faith over the fall of the earthly city of Rome.
Christians seemed to believe that the proclamation of Rome as a Christian Empire ended the iron kingdom as such. The few who had read the prophecies of Daniel expected Christian Rome to be the Stone Kingdom. Few understood the prophecies, for not many would have expected the Bishop of Rome to be the “little horn.” How could a Christian leader, supposedly elected by the Holy Spirit, be an extension of the iron kingdom, having the heart of a beast?
Beasts eat or trample the grass. God said in Isaiah 40:6, “all flesh is grass,” and this is confirmed in 1 Peter 1:24. Hence, when empires devour other nations, or trample them under foot, they show that they have the heart of beasts. This is a direct contrast to the heart of God and the mind of Christ. Their methods of conquest manifest their hearts.
Though Rome claimed to be Christian, it was Christian in appearance only, for its armies continued to conquer and devour nations and people, even as the beast empires had done in previous centuries.
After 410, the Western Roman Empire continued to be overrun for many years and the finally collapsed completely in 476. It should be understood, however, that the political capital of the Roman Empire had been moved from Rome to Constantinople back in 330 A.D. Hence, the sacking of Rome, though traumatic, did not overthrow its capital. Not even the collapse of the Western portion of the Roman Empire in 476 put an end to the Empire, for the East continued for another thousand years.
There were two legs on this iron statue. The West fell first, but the East lasted until 1453. Yet during the interim, the Bishop of Rome became more and more powerful, first in his spiritual influence, but in time laying claim also to earthly and political sovereignty. This gave rise to the “little horn” of Daniel 7:8, which protruded from the forehead of the iron beast.
The history of the Roman Church, led by the bishops of Rome, fulfill the prophecies of Daniel’s “little horn.” It too (as an institution) proved to have the heart of a beast, as any honest historian can see. Nonetheless, like all the beast empires, it has ruled over many good people and genuine believers. And like all the beast empires, the little horn has also seen its moment of truth.
This is the fourth part of a series titled "The Christian History of the Four Beast Empires." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones