In the book of Daniel, the climax of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is the rock that struck the feet of the statue, destroyed it, and then grew to be a mountain that filled the whole earth. Daniel interpreted this part of the dream, saying, “And in the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor shall it be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold.” (Daniel 2:44-45).
Understanding this is both easy and hard. The easy part is the identification of the rock with Jesus Christ. To begin with, mention of the rock unveils a rich lode of biblical imagery. The first and germinal reference is Psalms 118:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
This refers to something that happened in the building of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. The stones for the temple were quarried far from the temple site, according to detailed plans supplied by the temple architects, and they were transported to the site and assembled without the noise of stone-cutting tools. Early in the construction a stone was sent that did not seem to fit. Since the builders did not know what to do with it, they laid it aside and forgot it. Later when they came to place a large cornerstone on their now nearly completed structure and sent to the quarry for it, they were told that it was not there, that it had already been sent up. They searched for it, found the stone that had been laid aside earlier, and installed it. It fit perfectly. Thus, “the stone the builders rejected [became] the cornerstone.”
Jesus applied this and the following verse to himself, saying, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” Mathew 21:42-44.
In the New Testament, Peter quotes Matthew and Isaiah 28:16 in reference to Jesus, adding Isaiah 8:14 for good measure. “Scripture … says, ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and, ‘A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall'” I Peter 2:6-8
These passages make clear that the rock of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is Jesus Christ – a divine Christ, “not [made] by human hands” – and the mountain of the dream is His kingdom. That is the easy part of the interpretation.
The view that sees the rock that fills the earth as a future (“millennial”) reign of Christ can insist on the catastrophic aspect. Indeed, it is suggested by later books of prophecy, especially Revelation, which portrays a sudden return of Christ, a millennium, and a final judgment. If Christ is actually to rule on earth, establishing an earthly and not merely a spiritual kingdom, then other kingdoms obviously must be overthrown, and it is easy to imagine the overthrow of ten independent but confederated kingdoms.
In my opinion, the view of the dispensationalists, is the best interpretation of Daniel 2 – though I am not a dispensationalist. But I want to emphasize that the main point made by Daniel’s interpretation of this dream is not the precise period of history in which the kingdom of Christ will grow and fill the earth, or how that will happen, but rather that it will happen and that the kingdoms of this world will be scattered before it. Daniel’s real point is that of Psalms 2.
In Psalms 2 we are told how the kings and people of the earth take their stand against the Lord and his Anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains … and throw off their fetters” (verse 3). But what is the reaction of God to this act of cosmic arrogance? Does God tremble before kings like Nebuchadnezzar or the secularists of our time? Not at all! The psalm says that God laughs at their rebellion. This is the only place in the entire Bible where we are told that God laughs, and it is not a good-humored, mirthful laugh. It is a laugh of derision.
“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in His wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.” (verses 4-6)
That is Daniel’s chief message for Nebuchadnezzar and for our own time. The kingdoms of this world are powerful and sometimes even glorious – from our point of view. But even their strength is given to them by God, and just as God sets up kingdoms, so does he bring them down and dispose of them. He was to do that with Nebuchadnezzar. He has done that with all the world’s past kingdoms, and he will do it with those of our time.
For our part, the only wise course is to recognize that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Revelation 11:15) – “kiss the Son” in grateful devotion.