Rome: The Kingdom of Iron, with toes of iron and clay, the Roman Empire.

When we look at the history of the nations around Israel we can clearly see the hand of the Lord in all that was happening. First we should have a brief look at the prophecies found in Daniel. We start with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from Daniel Chapter 2.

“You saw O King, and behold, a great image. This image mighty and of exceeding brightness stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of this image was of fine gold, its chests and arms of silver, its middle and thighs bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and a partly of clay. As you look a stone was cut out by no human hand and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. Then the iron and clay, the bronze and silver and the gold, all together were broken in pieces and became like chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that no trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

The first thing we must take note of is that the image given is about kingdoms rather than individual countries. There is no trace of these kingdoms as active kingdoms on the earth today. Without going into great detail briefly these four kingdoms are as follows.

  1. The kingdom of Gold was the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar himself.
  2. The kingdom Silver was the Medo-Persian Empire.
  3. The kingdom of Bronze was the Greek or Macedonian Empire under Alexander.
  4. The Kingdom of Iron, with toes of iron and clay, was the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire

The traditional date for the foundation of the city of Rome is 753BC. It was at first ruled by seven kings from Romulus to Tarquin. They ruled from 753 B.C. to 509 B.C. when the last king was expelled from Rome. The city of Rome then became a republic governed by the upper class.  Rome was built on seven hills. Eventually the city of Rome came to control all of what we call Italy today and build an empire by conquering nearby nations until we have the Roman Empire that existed in the days of Jesus. Daniel has a set of visions that dovetailed in with that which he interpreted for Nebuchadnezzar, We read about this vision from chapter seven in his book.

  • And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another
  • The first was like a lion and it had eagles wings, Babylon
  • The second like a bear, with three ribs in its mouth, Medes and Persians
  • The third like a Leopard, with four wings on its back, The Greeks: Alexander
  • The fourth, terrifying and exceedingly strong, teeth of iron, Rome

This was the empire that Nebuchadnezzar saw, with the legs off iron and feet, a mixture of iron and clay. I am not concerned with interpreting or even understanding in depth all the symbols we are given in this passage by Daniel. What we can see is that Daniel after the telling of the vision of the four beasts goes onto talk about The Ancient of Days and The Son of Man  This surely is to be tied in with the Kingdom that is set up in the days of these four kingdoms and beasts, (Daniel 2: 44-45).

If you study these prophecies in Daniel closely, you will be amazed at how accurate they were as to the political situation that was there when these four kingdoms of Babylon. Persia, Greece and Rome held sway over the earth. They are so accurate in their predictions that some scholars claim that the book of Daniel had to be written hundreds of years after Daniel lived. They have a deficient view of the God we worship and His knowledge. We simply have to remind ourselves about what Paul teaches us about the nations, that God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling places. (Acts 17:26) We need to think about his before we look at our history and accept that God has had a hand in the foundation and end of every nation.

These prophecies in Daniel tell us that God not only knew what was going to happen in the nations but that he had his hand in everything. Rome came to power because God set the boundaries and power of the Roman Empire. He had a hand in using Rome to prepare the world for the Gospel. We will look at some of the men and how God used them to prepare the world for the Gospel. Because we are looking at a period of over 200 years all we can do is skim over what happened.

Pax Romana

After a long period of civil war in Rome Ocatavius, [later given the title Augustus] Julius Caesar’s Nephew, won and became virtual emperor He ushered in a long period of time in the Roman Empire where there was relative peace. It became safe for Christians to travel around the empire and preach the Gospel. It was during Augustus reign that God made sure that His Son would be born in Bethlehem, David’s home, as he had prophesied through Micah 5:2, Augustus decreed that all of Rome be counted or registered, (Luke 2:1-4).

There were other factors in which we can see the hand of God preparing the world for the gospel

Adoption of Greek culture

Greek influence on Rome dates from the very earliest period of her history and was first exercised through direct contact with the Greek cities of Southern Italy and Sicily. In time the Greek influence on Rome grew until by the second century BC Roman society, was largely Hellenized. [The Greeks called themselves Hellenes rather than Greek] You can see the sort of thing that happened if you think about how most Asian cultures have to a greater or lesser degree adopted much of the Western/European culture and especially the English Language. The most important thing that came out of all this was the acceptance of the Greek language as a Universal language, for God in his Wisdom was to have the New Testament written in Greek. Why Greek was more suitable than Latin I have no idea. Paul at times talks about all non-Jews [Gentiles] as Greeks. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24, Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:28)

So I would remind you about the influence Alexanders conquests had on the Roman world. One thing Alexander wanted to do was spread the Greek culture to the lands he conquered. This had strong cultural affects in each of the countries he had conquered. They set up Greek settlements in many of the lands, the most important to the church being Alexandria in Egypt. The creation and acceptance of koine (the common Greek dialect) made the expansion of Christianity and unity of the Roman Empire more easily affected.

Roman Roads

To be able to protect their empire the Romans built roads throughout their empire. Many of these roads are still in use today.  They started to build their roads in about 500BC. At the peak of Rome’s development, no fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the capital and by the late part of the empire 113 provinces were interconnected by 372 great roads. The whole comprised of more than 400,000 km of Roads, of which over 80,000 km were stone paved.  The Romans knew how to make very good concrete.

Pompey and the Pirates

We read a lot about sea travel in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in regard to Paul’s missionary journeys. It is in this area that God saw to it that it would be relatively safe to travel by sea. About 100 years or so before the gospel was to go to the world there were pirate cities which had become complete masters of trade in Italian waters. They had more than 1,000 ships and had captured 400 cities. They also attacked and plundered temples which had never been attacked before. They offered strange sacrifices at Olympus where they celebrated secret rites and mysteries. Their power extended overt the whole Mediterranean Sea with the result all navigation and all commerce was at a standstill. The senate gave Pompey an army and navy and a three year command with the task of destroying these pirate city states. He did this in 67BC. In just three months. This meant that when the Christians travelled by sea, other than storms it was safe to do so. It does not mean that there were no pirates, but no longer were there whole harbour cities of them, like we today find if we be venture to close to Somalia on the coast of Africa. Paul talks about facing perils by sea and robbers, (2 Cor 11) but he does not make direct reference to being attacked by pirates and the perils at sea mostly refer to the shipwrecks he was involved in (2 Corinthians 11: 23), It was Pompey who during his moving around against the pirates came and conquered Judea in 63BC for the Romans.

Roman Citizenship

Originally only those born in the city of Rome were considered to be Roman citizens. This of course excluded slaves. The Romans had a habit of conscripting men from the nations they conquered, into the army. There was a period of war called the Social War (91-89Bc) where the ordinary citizens in the Empire who lived outside Rome revolted and fought for the extending of Roman citizenship. So when Paul at one time was being badly treated by the Romans he could say, I am a Roman citizen, I appeal to Caesar. (Acts 25:11-12 and 28:19.)  Why is this so important? Simply because God was seeing that Paul was able to fulfil his mission of going to the Gentiles with the Gospel. (Acts 9:15) Paul is encouraged by the Lord that it is His will for him to appear before Caesar, (Acts 27:23-24). Paul had a witness to give to the Romans in Rome. It was God’s will he should go there as a prisoner, as we read in the last chapters of Acts. Even though he was under guard he was free to preach the Gospel. (Acts 28:16, 30-31) We know the Lord was able to use him even in Caesar’s household. (Philippians 4:22).

This is only a sketchy look at how God prepared the world for the Gospel and I can claim this because we have a God who has always maintained His Lordship over creation. Paul tells us that God has prepared the good works we do beforehand. (Ephesians 2:10). He did this by opening the doors for us.


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Theology Towards Maturity