Researching some basic Bible verses that relate to prophecy and millennial views will often lead to a shaking of the head, not only due to the many past blundered predictions (of which there are many) of some interpreters, but also due to the nearly comical distortions foisted upon Biblical imagery. This latter class of foibles appears most often in the long-famous array of charts produced by an earlier generation of dispensationalists, and still believed by millions of Christians due to popular fiction writers.
Of particular note for today is Clarence Larkin’s 1920 rendition of “Daniel and Revelation Compared” which includes a masterfully drafted version of the fourfold-metal image from Nebuchadnezzar’s (Neb) dream (Dan. 2), complete with a mind-numbing dispensational distortion to the picture forced by Larkin’s dispensationalism. Since the dispensational system denies that Christ’s kingdom as prophesied in Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45 was established during His first advent (and thus during the time of Rome, the fourth kingdom, with the feet of iron and clay), it requires the author to force a huge gap of time and a hiatus in the reign of this fourth kingdom, both of which are completely absent from the plain reading of the text. But being loyal to his faulty system of prophetic interpretation, Larkin drew in the great stretch-literally.
[get_product id=”131″ align=”right” “medium”]The gap in time which dispensationalism artificially imposes on the text has sometimes been known as a “parenthesis” in God’s plan for the Jews, during which time the “church age”[i] intervened. Larkin imposes this vast stretch of time on the fourth kingdom-his rendering of the image literally stretches the toes out over hundreds of years (see image above) resulting in a distorted image of a man with toes longer than the rest of his body is tall![ii] I can think of no better image than this to represent how dispensationalism distorts the message of the Bible.
Larkin (following Scofield almost verbatim) believed that when the Stone “cut out without hands” (part of Neb’s dream, Dan. 2:34) crushed the feet of the image, that this represents the Kingdom of Christ demolishing its earthly enemies suddenly, in one blow, and setting up His own worldwide kingdom completely and immediately. Calling the image that Neb dreamed of the “Colossus,” Larking writes,
The “Stone” does not fill the earth by degrees, and thus crowd the “Colossus” out, it at One Blow DEMOLISHES IT. . . . [T]he action of the “Stone” is SUDDEN and CALAMITOUS.[iii]
Scofield had previously written,
The smiting Stone (2. 34, 35) destroys the Gentile world-system (in its final form) by a sudden and irremediable blow, not by gradual processes of conversion and assimilation; . . . Such a destruction of the Gentile monarchy-system did not occur at the first advent of Christ. . . . Gentile world-dominion still continues, and the crushing blow is still suspended.[iv]
He continues with what he considers most important about his explanation: “(1) that Gentile world-power is to end in a sudden catastrophic judgment . . . ; (2) that it is suddenly followed by the kingdom of heaven, and that the God of the heavens does not set up His kingdom till after the destruction of the Gentile world-system.”[v]
It never ceases to amaze me how some interpreters pick and choose one aspect of a symbol which to take literally while treating the rest according to its obviously symbolic nature. This selective choosing is nearly always dictated by a system of belief that is already held by the interpreter and then imposed on the biblical imagery. In this case the smashing of the feet is the object of poor interpretation according to a selective and inconsistent literalism. While interpreting nearly everything else as a symbol, and in fact treating parts of it as a wax nose (I should say, wax toes), Scofield and Larkin (and others) hold this breaking to pieces of the image to necessarily mean the immediate historical dissolution of the kingdoms during the Reign of Christ.
The truth is, however, that they are not even taking this aspect of the dream literally, but rather adding ideas to it that the Bible itself does not necessitate. The text nowhere says anything about how long it takes for these kingdoms to be broken up, nor does it anywhere say that this breakup must be sudden. Nothing in the text requires that the nature and growth of the fifth kingdom (Christ’s) be understood in this way.
In fact, if anything, Daniel’s interpretation of the dream implies that Christ’s kingdom will grow into its fullness, not appear abruptly over the whole face of the earth. Verse 35 states that what starts as only a stone when it strikes the feet of the image becomes a great mountain that fills the earth: “But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” This verse at the very least allows for a gradual growth of the Kingdom, and indeed plainly reads that way. It does not, however, allow for the sudden, abrupt and calamitous appearance of a Christ’s kingdom as a great mountain since it is at first only a stone.
[get_product id=”1013″ align=”right” “medium”]Yet dispensationalists cling to this sudden and calamitous appearance of Christ’s kingdom. Even the modern “progressive” version of dispensationalism appears to hold to the sudden, catastrophic, and yet future view of Daniel’s prophecy.[vi] They cannot imagine Christ now ruling on earth (though this is exactly what Christ says in Matthew 28:18), gradually “dashing” rebellious rulers into clay shards (Ps. 2:8-9), and continually making his enemies his footstool (Ps. 110:1; 1 Cor. 15:25), yet this is exactly what Scripture teaches. The process of making His enemies his footstool, Peter says, was begun at the ascension of Christ (Acts 2:34-36; quoting Ps. 110:1), not at some yet long-distant second advent. It is only after “He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” that the “end” comes (1 Cor. 15:24), and Paul strikingly quotes Ps. 110:1 again to refer to this “abolishing” until it is accomplished (1 Cor. 15:25). So the New Testament is clear: Christ’s rule of earth and the subduing of His enemies began after the resurrection when Christ ascended and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and it will continue until all of His enemies are vanquished, at which time the victorious Christ will present the finished kingdom to His Father. There is no break in the timeline of Daniel’s vision. The stone struck during the time of the fourth kingdom-the Roman Empire-and has been growing into a great mountain ever since. The story of the image’s long toes is one tall tale.
That the distortion of the long toes is the result of an already held belief about Christ’s reign, and not derived from the Biblical text itself is seen in how a later dispensationalist, Leon Wood, reacts when he comes to this text. Instead of simply reading the text and commenting on what it says, Wood adds the header, “The restored Roman empire of future time (Dan. 2:42, 32).” The text itself just mentions a fourth kingdom which the “Stone” would strike and smash to pieces, and during the days of which “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:45). There is nothing in the text that states, implies, or even allows that this fourth kingdom be arbitrarily suspended and then “restored” in a future time. Nevertheless, Wood plants his time gap in the text to fulfill the demands of his system: “At some point in this symbolism an extended gap in time must be fixed, because by verse 44 the interpretation describes the future day of Christ’s millennial reign. . . .”[vii] Gary DeMar responds with the obvious: “no such gap is intimated by a reading of the text, nor by subsequent New Testament interpretive evidence. . . . There are no exegetical reasons to postpone the kingdom of Daniel 2.”[viii] Woods artificially imposes this gap in the text because as a dispensationalist he refuses to acknowledge that Christ currently rules earth from his throne in heaven, which rule will result in Christ’s enemies being conquered. His faulty view of the rule of Christ forces him to expect a revived Roman empire in the future. Like Larkin, he is keeping the long toes of the image stuck in the door of history for 2600 years now. He would rather distort the text than revise his sudden and catastrophic view of the reign of Christ.
[get_product id=”97″ align=”right” “medium”]This text of Daniel, then, plays a key role in determining the establishment of Christ’s rule during the time of the fourth kingdom. The dispensational idea of a huge time gap during the fourth kingdom is absent and quite disallowed by the text. The text also establishes the purpose of Christ’s rule as the complete vanquishing and replacement of the kingdoms of His earthly enemies, which purpose the dispensationalists accept. They simply cannot accept that this vanquishing happens as Christ rules earth from His seat in heaven during the age of the church, and until the task is completed. They want to see His rule imposed suddenly and catastrophically, and thus the timing must be, for them, removed to some point in the future. This belief forces them to distort the text of Daniel 2, which clearly says that Christ’s rule will be set up during the days of the kingdoms in the image. I concur with Andrew Sandlin who writes, “The expression ‘in the days of these kings” clinches the postmillennial argument.”[ix] That Christ’s rule was established at that time means that the process of that Stone becoming a great mountain must be a historical victory that is still in progress.[x]
There is more discussion to be had on this matter, particularly the aspect of gradualism, but the fact that God has already establish his “New Empire”[xi] is a fact derived from the plain reading of Daniel 2 and subsequent New Testament references to Psalm 110:1 among other verses. That this rule shall last until Christ’s enemies are “abolished” (1 Cor. 15:24) means that this work is now occurring in some way. We must make an effort to understand how this is so, rather than distorting the imagery of the Bible to fit a particular pet idea of a sudden and immediate rule. Larkin’s long-toed image stretches the truth as much as the picture. We need to return to the plain reading of the text; shun the tall tale of the long toes, and every other similar distortion.
[i] See Scofield’s note in his Reference Bible, Daniel 7:24, where he artificially imposes a hiatus between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniels “70 weeks” prophecy. Scofield says that the church age is “a period not fixed, but which has already lasted nearly 2000 years. . . . When the church age will end, and the seventieth week begin, is nowhere revealed.” It would have been wise for him to recognize that the huge gap of time he arbitrarily adds is also “nowhere revealed.”
[ii] Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth, or God’s Plan and Purpose in the Ages (Philadelphia, PA: Rev. Clarence Larking Est., 1920), 139 1/2.
[iii] Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth, or God’s Plan and Purpose in the Ages, 68.
[iv] The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), notes on Dan. 2:31.
[v] The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), notes on Dan. 2:31.
[vi] See Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton, IL: Bridgepoint/Victor Books, 1993), 224-231.
[vii] Leon J. Wood, Daniel: A Study Guide Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 39.
[viii] Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Atlanta, GA: American Visio, Inc., 1994), 231.
[ix] Andrew P. Sandlin, A Postmillennial Primer (vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Foundation, 1997), 33.
[x] For a more expanded explanation of this gradualism see Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg, NJ: Prebysterian & Reformed, 1999) 190-194.
[xi] James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007) 155-194.