Empires Come and Go

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From ancient Babylon to modern Europe, 6,000 years of civilization have seen the ebb and flow of once-great and newly great world powers—with one prophesied yet to come.


Not long ago, the United States was the unchallenged world superpower. Will the U.S. remain on top, or will it fall as so many others have before, while other nations rise? Have we learned the lessons of history?

Can any nation or empire long endure? For more than 200 years, the United States has been a great power on the world scene.  But in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union, and in the wake of the global war on terror, we have seen the U.S. declining, while other powerful nations or alliances—such as China and the European Union—exercise ever more political, economic and military power.  Can the U.S. remain a leading nation for much longer?

The world-ruling empires of the past no longer exist. The great Babylonian Empire, for example, conquered many nations, including the kingdom of Judah in the Middle East. The historian Herodotus wrote, "In addition to its enormous size, Babylon surpasses in splendour any city of the known world" (The Histories, Book One, section 178).

What happened to that powerful empire? Babylon's depravity led to God's judgment. Will God soon judge the United States?

Empires Past and Present

The prophet Daniel, in the pages of your Bible, foretold the rise and fall of other vast empires. He predicted the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. What happened to the ancient Roman Empire? That mighty empire lasted for more than 500 years on the heels of the Roman Republic, but finally came to its end in 476ad. Historian Edward Gibbon summarized the causes of the empire's fall. "After a diligent inquiry, I can discern four principal causes for the ruin of Rome, which continued to operate in a period of more than a thousand years. I. The injuries of time and nature. II. The hostile attacks of the barbarians and Christians. III. The use and abuse of materials. And IV. The domestic quarrels of the Romans" (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 71).

Modern empires, too, have come and gone. In the 20th century, the German "Third Reich" attacked with military blitzkrieg and extended its rule over much of Europe and North Africa. Adolf Hitler's ambitions included the conquest of the Soviet Union, but he failed. Allied armies vanquished the Third Reich. The Soviet Union, or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, consisted of 15 republics spanning 11,000 miles from east to west. This great superpower reveled in its communist ideology. It fought for the hearts of nations and peoples all over the world—and ultimately, it failed.

Now, that once-mighty power has shattered into 15 struggling nation-states, with twelve tied together in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Who could have predicted the demise of such a great superpower? You might be surprised to learn that a small group of biblically based Christians understood all along that Eastern Europe would eventually escape the iron grip of the Soviet Union.

How did they know? Bible prophecy predicted the rise of another great superpower, called the Beast in the book of Revelation. More than 50 years ago, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong wrote that East Germany would be rejoined to West Germany, and that Russia "will be forced to relinquish her control over Hungary, Czechoslovakia and parts of Austria" (Plain Truth, April 1952, p. 16).

Shortly after Russia's 1956 invasion of Hungary, when many "experts" believed that the "Iron Curtain" had fallen forever on the nations of Eastern Europe, the Plain Truth magazine made this amazing statement: "The way is being prepared for a colossal third force in world politics—a European Federation of Nations more powerful than either Russia or the United States!… We have shown years in advance what would happen to Russia's ill-fated Empire in Eastern Europe" (Plain Truth, December 1956, p. 3).

Will today's Western nations follow the same pattern of decline and fall as the nations that have gone before them? Will Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand decline and fall? Will the United States continue to experience more Katrina-like hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters? Will we continue to experience terrorist attacks? History and the Bible have demonstrated over and over, that when nations reject the God of creation, they will be judged. Will the Western world continue its rejection of biblical truth? The philosopher Georg Hegel observed: "What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it" (The Philosophy of History).

The history of the world is the story of nations and empires that prospered and later turned to dust. Will we learn the lessons of history? Some empires declined slowly before their demise. Others were destroyed or captured suddenly. The great empires of the past are now little more than artifacts in museums, or broken-down monuments where they once thrived. Britain once commanded the world's largest empire. By 1921, it covered about 15 million square miles—one-third of the world's total land area—and held about one-quarter of the world's population. It was said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire." After a final burst of expansion right after World War II, a process of "decolonization" began, and by 1960 the British had given up the lands that today comprise India, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia and much of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the Palestinian Mandate and parts of Egypt and Sudan. Over the last 40 years, Britain has given up most of its overseas possessions, most recently returning Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. The sun set on the British Empire long ago. So, will the superpower United States face a similar decline? Every nation—every empire—of the past has fallen, just like Greece and Rome. You can know what nations or empires will rise and fall in the 21st century. Bible prophecy reveals the future of the Western nations, if you know the key to finding the modern descendants of ancient biblical nations.

Does this surprise you? Remember, there is a God in heaven who is working out a great plan here on earth. He is giving rebellious human beings thousands of years to experiment with their own man-made religion, science, government, business, education, and social institutions. God allows people to go their own carnal way of selfishness, war, and violence, but He has a plan—and, as we see from history and Scripture, He does intervene in world events to help humanity learn lasting lessons of life and death.

Lessons Learned?

Have we learned the lessons of history? The renowned philosopher George Santayana, in his famous treatise Reason in Common Sense, wrote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Will we in the Western world learn the lessons of history? Or will we follow the pattern of all great kingdoms and empires that have come and gone before us—that rose to the heights of power and dominance, and then fell into decadence and oblivion?

The Babylonian king Belshazzar was one great ruler who should have learned the lessons of history. Yet he insisted on his own godless way of life, and led others into debauchery. His empire paid the penalty. That profound lesson is recorded in the pages of history—and in the pages of your Bible. The prophet Daniel was in the city of Babylon the night the Persian army conquered it. Through Daniel, God let king Belshazzar know what was going to happen to him and his empire. This amazing sequence of events is recorded in chapter 5 of the book of Daniel, in the famous story of the "handwriting on the wall." King Belshazzar prepared a feast—a great party—for his nobles. They drank wine out of golden vessels plundered from God's temple in Jerusalem. "In the same hour the fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other" (Daniel 5:5–6).

The king called upon Daniel to interpret this saying. What had the mysterious hand written? "And this is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. This is the interpretation of each word. mene: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; tekel: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; peres: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians" (Daniel 5:25–28). Then: "That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old" (vv. 30–31).

Today, the handwriting is on the wall for the United States and Great Britain. The warning signs are all around us, as our nations become more decadent and immoral. Yet there is still time for us to repent, nationally and individually. Will we listen to God's warnings?

In the past few years, the United States has experienced shocking disasters. On September 11, 2001, terrorists flew hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center and into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Thousands were killed in the attacks. In September 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the southern coast of the United States. The city of New Orleans was flooded. Katrina has been called the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

These disasters demonstrated how vulnerable and how unprepared we are. Can any nation afford to sustain hundreds of billions of dollars in financial loss? What lessons should we learn from these catastrophes? Are they simply an expected part of the cycle of history and nature? Or is God powerfully intervening to wake us up from our moral and spiritual decline? If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that our nations have strayed far from the God of the Bible and His Son Jesus Christ! If we in the Western world continue to ignore, despise, and reject the Ten Commandments, and the word of God, the Bible, we will face more disasters—until we realize, and act on the realization, that we need to seek God with our whole heart! The prophet Isaiah gives us this exhortation, encouragement and promise. "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6–7).

We must take spiritual action now! Of course, some hardheads will remain skeptical. But those who seek God through His word can have understanding and peace of mind.

An Ancient Lesson

We have seen that great empires do not last forever. They rise, decline and fall. Will the Western nations learn the lessons of history? King Belshazzar ignored the lessons he should have learned from his ancestor, King Nebuchadnezzar, who had ruled over the Babylonian empire. Daniel reminded Belshazzar of the lessons he should have learned from this previous king. "O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father [ancestor] a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses" (Daniel 5:18–21).

Nebuchadnezzar learned a profound lesson. He tried to rule without acknowledging God, and he suffered terribly for it! Must we also learn lessons the hard way, or will we pay attention to God, and to His word, the Bible?

When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that none of his advisors could reveal to him, the prophet Daniel not only told the king what his dream was, but he also gave its interpretation: "You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image's head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay" (Daniel 2:31–33).

The prophet Daniel told the king the dream's meaning. "You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold" (vv. 37–38).

Here, God was revealing the power and authority that He, the Creator of the universe, was giving the "head of gold"—Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. The dream, however, foretold the end of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom, and the establishment of others after his: "But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 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" (vv. 39–40).

Which empires did this dream describe? Reputable Bible scholars today agree on their identity and fulfillment. The head of gold represented the Babylonian Empire from 625bc to 539bc. This empire was replaced by the Medo-Persian Empire from 558bc to 330bc, represented by the chest and arms of silver. The belly and thighs of bronze signify the Greco-Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great from 333bc to 31bc. The two legs of iron indicate the Roman Empire from 31bc to 476ad. Finally, the ten toes, on two feet of iron mixed with ceramic clay, represent a future revival of the Roman Empire.

The dream revealed one last important detail. The four worldly kingdoms represented in Nebuchadnezzar's dream will all come to an end. They will be replaced by what we can call a fifth Kingdom—the coming Kingdom of God.

 "You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (vv. 34–35).

What is the stone that struck the image? Daniel described its meaning: "And in the days of these kings [symbolized by the ten toes] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (v. 44).

Yes, the Kingdom of God will come to this earth soon! Only God can bring us lasting peace.

Will We Repent?

Throughout the history of the world, it has been extremely rare to find any society that would turn from its evil ways. Ninevah, the capital city of ancient Assyria, along the Tigris River, was one of these few—and actually delayed God's judgment. The prophet Jonah came to the citizens of Ninevah with God's warning: "And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out and said, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!'" (Jonah 3:4). How did the Ninevites respond? Did they ignore God's prophet Jonah? No! "So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes" (vv. 5–6). Can you imagine any world leader today humbling himself in that way before God?

The Assyrians responded to Jonah's warning. They repented of their evil ways, and God spared them. This happened in the eighth century bc. God spared Ninevah for many years, and even used the nation to punish ancient Israel and bring its people into captivity. After Assyria captured the "Northern Kingdom"—Israel—that kingdom was lost to history and its peoples became known as the "lost ten tribes."

The prophet Isaiah records God's purpose in using Assyria to punish Israel. Isaiah quotes God as saying, "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, to seize the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Yet he does not mean so, nor does his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and cut off not a few nations" (Isaiah 10:5–7).

God had warned the Kingdom of Israel to repent, but its people refused to reform. So, the Assyrians conquered the ten-tribed House of Israel, and moved the captives far to the east in Assyria. Israel's final captivity took place around 721bc.

Eventually, however, Assyria returned to its carnal ways, and in 612bc God allowed the Medes to destroy Ninevah.

God had also sent His warnings to the Kingdom of Judah, but that nation also persisted in its sins. So, God used the kingdom of Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar to punish the House of Judah. A majority of Jews were deported to Babylon over a period of two decades, ending with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586bc. As a young man, Daniel and three of his friends were taken captive and trained in the culture and literature of Babylon. Those young men persisted in the godly values they had been taught in Judah, and God was able to use Daniel to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dream—and to give the good news of a coming great Kingdom that will stand forever!

Yes, the Kingdom of God will stand forever! You can count on it! That is the good news we strive to share with you in this magazine! Even if your nation does not heed God's word, you will be blessed individually if you believe and act on God's revealed truth! And that truth reveals the future of the nations descended from the "lost" ten tribes—including the U.S., Great Britain and the British-descended nations, and many of the peoples of northwest Europe. If you do not already have one, please write or call to request a free copy of our informative booklet, The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy. It reveals the biblical origins of our Western nations. Bible prophecy reveals what historians, world leaders and political analysts do not know!  But you, as a faithful student of your Bible, can understand.

As regular readers of Tomorrow's World know, much of Bible prophecy is "dual"—there is an end-time fulfillment parallel to an ancient fulfillment. Indeed, prophecy shows that the end-time descendants of Assyria will once again punish the end-time descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel. Will you be ready when this happens? Do you know the signs to watch for? Keep reading Tomorrow's World and studying your Bible, and you will learn how to understand world events in the light of Bible prophecy.

Whether or not the Western nations learn the lessons of history, and whatever our nation, you and I can repent individually—and we must. The day of God's judgment against humanity's failed ways is approaching fast. Those nations and individuals who turn to God will be blessed. What should you do? Do not wait for your nation to change. Now is the time for you to seek God with all your heart.

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