Eschatology Lesson 1: The Oikumene (Daniel 2)


The Oikumene
Wednesday, March 13th, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA

Daniel 2:31-45

31 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32 This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33 His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. 34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

36 This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. 37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 38 And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. 39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. 40 And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. 41 And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. 43 And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. 44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. 45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.


Since we are in the middle of working through the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, I wanted to use this time to study some of the Old Testament background and prophecies that the coming of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD fulfill. Tonight, I want to consider two questions that the book of Daniel answers for us.

  1. What is the oikumene?
  2. When must the kingdom of God arrive in history?

#1 – What is the oikumene?

The Greek work οἰκουμένη is a very important term in eschatology, and one cannot understand biblical eschatology without first grasping its signification.

  • There are three basic definitions for οἰκουμένη:
    • 1. It refers to the earth or whole world in its broadest and most generic sense.
      • OT Examples: LXX versions of Psalm 18:15, Ps. 50:12, Ps. 93:1.NT Examples: Acts 17:31, Heb. 1:6, Heb. 2:5.
      2. It can refer to the inhabited earth or dwelling places of man. Perhaps what we would call “civilization.”
      • Examples: Is. 13:11, Is. 62:4, Pr. 8:31, Ps. 98:9, etc.
    • 3. Overlapping with definition #2, oikumene can also have the added specificity of referring to the nations of the world empire established by God in Daniel 2. By the time of the New Testament, this refers to all the nations under the authority of the Roman Empire.
      • Examples: Luke 2:1, Acts 11:28, Acts 19:29, Acts 24:5, etc.
  • The establishment of this spiritual-political world empire (oikumene definition #3) is described in Daniel 2:38, “And wheresoever the children of men dwell (LXX reads, “ἐν πάσῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπων”), the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.”
    • This use of oikumene occurs again twice in the LXX of Daniel 3:2 to refer to the “provinces” under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule.
  • Summary takeaway: What is often translated as “world” in our English Bibles is not referring to the whole world and every person alive, it often refers to the limited scope of all nations under the God-ordained emperor (Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Artaxerxes, Caesar, etc.).
    • After the fall of the Jerusalem and the end of the Judean kings (586 BC), Nebuchadnezzar is God’s servant (Jeremiah 27:6-8) who rules over the world. When these kingdoms apostatize and persecute the saints, God removes them and sets up a new power to rule (Is. 45:1, 2 Chr. 36:23). This is the essence of the visions and events in Daniel 2-7.

God’s dealings with His covenant people develops under three broad categories:

  1. The Tribal Era. From Abraham to David. Ruled by elders.
  2. The City/Nation Era. From David to Exile. Ruled by king in capital city.
  3. The Imperial (oikumene) Era. From Exile to Christ’s kingdom. Ruled by Emperor over many nations.

One of the ways this shift from a National Era to an Imperial Era is signified is by the change in the language used to write Scripture. The Old Testament is written in Hebrew, but Daniel 2-7 is written in Aramaic/Syriac.

  • Aramaic was the lingua franca or common tongue of the world at that time (eventually it would be Greek, and then Latin, and now English). These chapters record the course of world history and God’s judgments upon the world from Daniel’s day (603 BC) up to the end of the world/oikumene around 70 AD.

Summary: The statue in Daniel 2 is an image of this Oikumene/Empire that God is establishing. It begins with Nebuchadnezzar/Babylon (Gold Head), then passes to Cyrus/Persia (Silver Breast and Arms), then passes to Alexander and the Greeks (Brass Belly and Thighs), then passes to Caesar and the Romans (Iron Legs and Iron Feet mixed with clay), and concludes with the stone not cut with human hands (the Kingdom of God) arriving and filling the whole earth.

  • This vision tells us when the kingdom of God arrives in history. And Daniel 9 gives specific details (after both Block 1 of 49 years plus Block 2 of 62 weeks/434years). Basically after 54 BC, the Jews could expect and be looking for the Messiah.

#2 – When must the kingdom of God arrive in history?

According to Daniel 2, Daniel 7, and Daniel 9, God’s kingdom arrives and is given to the saints/Son of Man during the reign of the 4th beast/kingdom. Pious Jews knew this, as the events surrounding Christ’s birth records (ex. the wise men in Matthew 2, Simeon and Anna in Luke 2:25-40).

Daniel’s prophecies describe the intertestamental period and gives us the historical context for the events of the New Testament. This is the context for understanding passages like the Olivet Discourse and the “coming of the Son of Man” which is itself a reference to Daniel 7:13-14.

#3 – Further Reflections on the Nebuchadnezzar Image

  1. The Statue is picture of God’s kingdom/temple during the Restoration Era.
    • The metals (gold, silver, bronze, iron) recall the materials used to build the Tabernacle and Temple. The Image is the new temple/dwelling place in which God’s people will spread out, evangelize, and bear witness. In Daniel 7, these kingdoms are pictures of cherubic beasts.
  2. The progression of metals from gold to silver to bronze to iron, has multiple meanings.
    1. While this is a decline in value per unit of weight, it is an increase in practical utility. The size of these empires expands (not contracts) with each successive power.
    1. It also suggests a decline in holiness and faithfulness to God as time goes by. Nebuchadnezzar was converted (Daniel 4), Cyrus decreed the end of exile and rebuilding of Jerusalem, but by the time the Greeks and Romans are in power, there is less fear of God in the empire.
  3. The Statue is One despite having a plurality of rulers/metals/beasts.
    1. Each new power consumes/assimilates what was prior. Note that when God’s kingdom comes, it shatters the whole image simultaneously (Dan. 2:44). Likewise, the four cherubic beasts of Daniel 7 are assimilated into the one Roman Sea Beast of Revelation 13. Their spiritual dominion is taken away (Dan. 7:12), but their lives (civilizations) are prolonged.
  4. This Statue and prophecy teaches us about the nature of God’s kingdom. It is a stone that grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth. Postmil!
    1. It is a spiritual dominion that has visible earthly effects. As Dan. 7:14 describes, “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
    1. Just as Nebuchadnezzar/Cyrus/Artaxerxes/Caesar ruled over many nations, tribes, languages, etc. so also Christ and the saints with him have this dominion now (Ps. 2, Ps. 72, Ps. 110). All human rulers are required to submit to Christ’s spiritual rule and kiss the Son lest he be angry. God established and removed pagan rulers in times past, and he does the same today.
    1. Jesus Christ is the stone cut without human hands who descends from heaven. Upon this rock, the church is built and grows as living stones into a new holy mountain and temple for God.