Return of the King
by Mark Sweetnam, Dec 2013
Nebuchadnezzar, king of the mighty Babylonian empire, lay in his bed which was as luxurious and comfortable as befitted the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world. But as far as Nebuchadnezzar’s sleep was concerned, he might as well have been lying on a bed of nails. No matter how he twisted or turned, “his sleep brake from him” (Dan 2:1), and try though he might, he could get no rest. Sleepless nights were not unknown in Nebuchadnezzar’s experience. The care of administering the massive empire was enough to see to that. But on this occasion, it was not the planning of fresh conquests, the faltering fortunes of a military campaign, or the intricate webs of court intrigue; it was a strange and troubling dream that kept Nebuchadnezzar from sleeping.
In his dream, he had seen a great image of “excellent brightness” and a “terrible form” (Dan 2:31). “This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay” (vv32, 33). It was an arresting sight. As Nebuchadnezzar saw it in his dream, he must have wondered at the intricacy in its design. The form of this image and every lineament of its surface spoke eloquently of human endeavor and achievement. And yet, even in sleep, the king must have noted with unease the insecure footing on which the whole image stood; a brittle basis of iron and pottery, immiscible and uncombined.
The king’s vague feelings of unease were soon alarmingly exacerbated. The fragility of the image was about to be fully exposed. And it was not the passage of time, or the attrition of the elements, that would bring about the collapse. The king saw “a stone cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 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” (vv34, 35). In contrast to the image, with its unmistakable signs of human design and execution, this stone was utterly apart from any human intervention. It had the power to bring all the works of man into devastation and dust. Faced with such a scene, it is no wonder Nebuchadnezzar’s sleep broke from him.
Nebuchadnezzar sought in vain among the wise men of Babylon for an interpretation of his dream. After all of their wisdom proved unequal to the task, Daniel stepped forward to tell the dream and its interpretation. He explained that the image offered a summary of world history, the different and deteriorating metals representing the successive empires that would hold the dominion of the globe in their hands. Then, he explained the significance of the stone cut out without hands. “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 forever” (2:44). The day would come when the long history of human rule would be brought to a crushing end.
In the previous article in this series we considered some of the military maneuvers that will take place as the hand of God arranges the nations for His purpose. We learned that an attack on the land of Israel by the united forces of the northern and southern powers will be utterly routed by divine intervention. The western power, led by the Beast, will respond ferociously to the aggression from the north and the south, and his armies will invade Israel, before cutting a conquering swath southwards. His progress will be halted by news of a massive invading army from the east, and he will “go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many” (Dan 11:44). Thus will the words of God be fulfilled: “I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle” (Zech 14:2).
These warring global superpowers will meet at Jerusalem. This great conflict is Armageddon, the battle of Megiddo. Great armies will face each other, with weapons set, ready to lock horns in a battle to the death, a climactic conflict for total global supremacy. But as the armies wait for the word of command, a celestial convulsion will signal the arrival of a new combatant. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt 24:29-30). Men will stare aghast as they see heaven opened, and “behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev 19:11–14).
Many artists have tried to capture something of the dramatic impact of this scene. We can be sure, however, that none of these efforts have succeeded in imparting a fraction of the impact of this arrival. The King of kings and Lord of lords leads His army forth, conquering, and to conquer. All of man’s military might will stand utterly abashed in the face of such a force. And yet, there will be no surrender. Instead, “the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies” will turn their artillery heavenward in one last futile effort to “make war against Him that sat on the horse and against His army” (Rev 19:19). But not a missile will be launched, not a shot fired. The Beast and the False Prophet will be “cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (v20). Their followers will be “slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of His mouth” (v21).
The conquering Christ will return in glorious triumph to the very point from which He left earth for heaven: “And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (Zech 14:4).
He will then return to the city of the great king. Battered by the armies of the centuries, this venerable city has seen many remarkable days. But nothing that she has seen will compare with this day. As Christ draws near, the glorious call and counter-call of Psalm 24 will ring out amongst the Judean rocks: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.”