“And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.” Daniel 2:40
The fourth kingdom was the Roman Kingdom (63BC – AD 475) The Roman Empire was the human political entity that God used to prepare the world for the birth of the Messiah and for the spread of the gospel.
At the end of the Old Testament, Israel had returned from exile, Jerusalem had been rebuilt, and the temple had been reconstructed and was functioning again. The world power was the Medo-Persian Empire. In the 400 years between the testaments, the Greek Empire rose to prominence under Alexander and then splintered upon his death. Israel was persecuted by the Seleucids, one of the splinter kingdoms of the Greek Empire based in Syria. The Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes was especially brutal. He enforced Hellenization of the Jews and profaned the temple. His actions led to the Maccabean revolt in which Israel expelled the Greeks and gained their independence. During the time of revolt, the Maccabees were supported by the up-and-coming Romans. As the power of Rome grew, it became an empire and swallowed up Israel/Palestine. The Jews were allowed to maintain their religious practices as long as they did not make trouble for Rome. One of the priorities of the Roman Empire was peace, which it accomplished with an iron hand.
The Roman authorities demanded absolute allegiance to Rome first and foremost. Because of the Jews’ longstanding “tradition” of monotheism, they were exempted from offering sacrifices to the emperor. Initially, Christians were considered members of a sect of Judaism and were given the same exemption. However, Jews began to more forcefully distance themselves from Christians, and Rome started to take a harder look at Christians. By the second century, Christians were persecuted as enemies of the state because of their refusal to honor the emperor as a deity. Daniel prophesied a fifth kingdom, the Revived Roman Kingdom which consisted of the ten nations.