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Who Will Rule the World?

Who Will Rule the World?

 Chapter Nine

Who Will Rule the World?

1-3. Describe the dream and visions that Daniel had in the first year of Belshazzar’s reign.

DANIEL’S gripping prophecy now takes us back to the first year of Babylonian King Belshazzar. Daniel has long been an exile in Babylon, but never has he wavered in his integrity to Jehovah. Now in his 70’s, the faithful prophet beholds “a dream and visions of his head upon his bed.” And how those visions frighten him!—Daniel 7:1, 15.

2 “See there!” exclaims Daniel. “The four winds of the heavens were stirring up the vast sea. And four huge beasts were coming up out of the sea, each one being different from the others.” What remarkable beasts! The first is a winged lion, and the second is like a bear. Then comes a leopard with four wings and four heads! The unusually strong fourth beast has large iron teeth and ten horns. In among its ten horns rises a “small” horn having “eyes like the eyes of a man” and “a mouth speaking grandiose things.”—Daniel 7:2-8.

3 Daniel’s visions next turn heavenward. The Ancient of Days sits gloriously enthroned as Judge in the heavenly Court. ‘There are a thousand thousands that keep ministering to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand that keep standing right before him.’ Judging the beasts adversely, he takes rulership away from them and destroys the fourth beast. Lasting rulership over “the peoples, national groups and languages” is vested in “someone like a son of man.”—Daniel 7:9-14.

4. (a) To whom did Daniel turn for reliable information? (b) Why is what Daniel saw and heard that night important to us?

 4 “As for me,” says Daniel, “my spirit was distressed within on account of it, and the very visions of my head began to frighten me.” So he seeks from an angel “reliable information on all this.” The angel indeed provides him “the very interpretation of the matters.” (Daniel 7:15-28) What Daniel saw and heard that night is of great interest to us, for it outlined future world events reaching into our times, when “someone like a son of man” is given rulership over all “peoples, national groups and languages.” With the help of God’s Word and spirit, we too can understand the meaning of these prophetic visions. *


5. What does the windswept sea symbolize?

5 “Four huge beasts were coming up out of the sea,” said Daniel. (Daniel 7:3) What was symbolized by the windswept sea? Years later, the apostle John saw a seven-headed wild beast come out of the “sea.” That sea represented “peoples and crowds and nations and tongues”—the vast body of mankind estranged from God. The sea, then, is a fitting symbol of the masses of mankind alienated from God.—Revelation 13:1, 2; 17:15; Isaiah 57:20.

6. What do the four beasts picture?

6 “As for these huge beasts,” said God’s angel, “because they are four, there are four kings that will stand up from the earth.” (Daniel 7:17) Clearly, the angel identified the four beasts that Daniel saw as “four kings.” Thus, these beasts signify world powers. But which ones?

7. (a) What do certain Bible expositors say about Daniel’s dream-vision of the four beasts and King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an immense image? (b) What do each of the four metallic parts of the image represent?

 7 Bible expositors commonly link Daniel’s dream-vision of four beasts with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an immense image. For example, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states: “Chapter 7 [of Daniel] parallels chapter 2.” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says: “It is generally agreed that the succession of four Gentile dominions . . . is the same here [in Daniel chapter 7] as that contemplated in [Daniel] chapter 2.” The four world powers represented by the four metals of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream were the Babylonian Empire (gold head), Medo-Persia (silver breasts and arms), Greece (copper belly and thighs), and the Roman Empire (iron legs). * (Daniel 2:32, 33) Let us see how these kingdoms correspond to the four huge beasts that Daniel saw.


8. (a) How did Daniel describe the first beast? (b) What empire did the first beast represent, and how did it act like a lion?

8 What beasts Daniel beheld! Describing one, he said: “The first one was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I kept on beholding until its wings were plucked out, and it was lifted up from the earth and was made to stand up on two feet just like a man, and there was given to it the heart of a man.” (Daniel 7:4) This beast pictured the same rulership as that represented by the head of gold of the immense image, the Babylonian World Power (607-539 B.C.E.). Like a predatory “lion,” Babylon fiercely devoured nations, including God’s people. (Jeremiah 4:5-7; 50:17) As if with the wings of an eagle, this “lion” sped forward in aggressive conquest.—Lamentations 4:19; Habakkuk 1:6-8.

9. What changes did the lionlike beast undergo, and how did these affect it?

 9 In time, the unique winged lion had its wings “plucked out.” Near the end of King Belshazzar’s rule, Babylon lost its speed of conquest and its lionlike supremacy over the nations. It was no faster than a man on two feet. Getting “the heart of a man,” it became weak. Lacking “the heart of the lion,” Babylon could no longer behave like king “among the beasts of a forest.” (Compare 2 Samuel 17:10; Micah 5:8.) Another huge beast vanquished it.


10. What line of rulers did the “bear” symbolize?

10 “See there!” said Daniel, “another beast, a second one, it being like a bear. And on one side it was raised up, and there were three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and this is what they were saying to it, ‘Get up, eat much flesh.’” (Daniel 7:5) The king symbolized by the “bear” was the very same as that represented by the silver breasts and arms of the great image—the line of Medo-Persian rulers (539-331 B.C.E.) starting with Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great and ending with Darius III.

11. What did the symbolic bear’s being raised up on one side and its having three ribs in its mouth signify?

11 The symbolic bear was ‘raised up on one side,’ perhaps  to get ready to attack and subdue nations and thus maintain world power. Or this position may have been intended to show that the Persian line of rulers would gain the ascendancy over the sole Median king, Darius. The three ribs between the bear’s teeth could denote the three directions in which it pushed its conquests. The Medo-Persian “bear” went to the north to seize Babylon in 539 B.C.E. Then it went westward through Asia Minor and into Thrace. Finally, the “bear” went to the south to conquer Egypt. Since the number three at times symbolizes intensity, the three ribs may also emphasize the symbolic bear’s greed for conquest.

12. What resulted from the symbolic bear’s obeying the command: “Get up, eat much flesh”?

12 The “bear” assaulted nations in response to the words: “Get up, eat much flesh.” By devouring Babylon according to the divine will, Medo-Persia was in a position to perform a valuable service toward Jehovah’s people. And it did! (See “A Tolerant Monarch,” on page 149.) Through Cyrus the Great, Darius I (Darius the Great), and Artaxerxes I, Medo-Persia freed Babylon’s Jewish captives and helped them rebuild Jehovah’s temple and repair Jerusalem’s walls. In time, Medo-Persia came to rule over 127 jurisdictional districts, and Queen Esther’s husband, Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), was “king from India to Ethiopia.”  (Esther 1:1) However, the rise of another beast was in the offing.


13. (a) What did the third beast symbolize? (b) What can be said about the speed of the third beast and the domain it occupied?

13 The third beast was “like a leopard, but it had four wings of a flying creature on its back. And the beast had four heads, and there was given to it rulership indeed.” (Daniel 7:6) Like its counterpart—the copper belly and thighs of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream image—this four-winged, four-headed leopard symbolized the Macedonian, or Grecian, line of rulers starting with Alexander the Great. With the agility and speed of a leopard, Alexander moved through Asia Minor, south into Egypt, and on to the western border of India. (Compare Habakkuk 1:8.) His domain was greater than that of the “bear,” for it included Macedonia, Greece, and the Persian Empire.—See “A Young King Conquers the World,” on page 153.

14. How did the “leopard” become four-headed?

14 The “leopard” became four-headed after Alexander died in 323 B.C.E. Four of his generals eventually became his successors in different sections of his domain. Seleucus held Mesopotamia and Syria. Ptolemy controlled Egypt and Palestine. Lysimachus ruled over Asia Minor and Thrace, and Cassander got Macedonia and Greece.  (See “A Vast Kingdom Is Divided,” on page 162.) Then a new menace arose.


15. (a) Describe the fourth beast. (b) What did the fourth beast symbolize, and how did it crush and devour everything in its path?

15 Daniel described the fourth beast as “fearsome and terrible and unusually strong.” He continued: “And it had teeth of iron, big ones. It was devouring and crushing, and what was left it was treading down with its feet. And it was something different from all the other beasts that were prior to it, and it had ten horns.” (Daniel 7:7) This fearsome beast began as the political and military power of Rome. It gradually took over the four Hellenistic divisions of the Grecian Empire, and by the year 30 B.C.E., Rome had emerged as the next world power of Bible prophecy. Subjugating everything in its path by military force, the Roman Empire eventually grew to cover an area that stretched from the British Isles down across much of Europe, all the way around the Mediterranean, and beyond Babylon to the Persian Gulf.

16. What information did the angel give about the fourth beast?

16 Desiring to make certain concerning this “extraordinarily fearsome” beast, Daniel listened intently as the angel explained: “As for [its] ten horns, out of that kingdom there are ten kings that will rise up; and still another one will rise up after them, and he himself will be different from the first ones, and three kings he will humiliate.” (Daniel 7:19, 20, 24) What were these “ten horns,” or “ten kings”?

17. What do the “ten horns” of the fourth beast symbolize?

17 As Rome became more affluent and increasingly decadent because of the licentious living of its ruling class, it diminished as a military power. In time,  the decline of Rome’s military strength became clearly evident. The mighty empire eventually broke up into many kingdoms. Since the Bible often uses the number ten to denote completeness, the “ten horns” of the fourth beast represent all the kingdoms that resulted from Rome’s dissolution.—Compare Deuteronomy 4:13; Luke 15:8; 19:13, 16, 17.

18. How did Rome continue to exercise domination over Europe for centuries after the removal of its last emperor?

18 The Roman World Power, however, did not end with the removal of its last emperor in Rome in 476 C.E. For many centuries, papal Rome continued to exercise political, and especially religious, domination over Europe. It did so through the feudal system, in which most inhabitants of Europe were subject to a lord, then to a king. And all kings acknowledged the authority of the pope. Thus the Holy Roman Empire with papal Rome as its focal point dominated world affairs throughout that long period of history called the Dark Ages.

19. According to one historian, how did Rome compare with the preceding empires?

19 Who can deny that the fourth beast was “different from all the other kingdoms”? (Daniel 7:7, 19, 23) In this regard, historian H. G. Wells wrote: “This new Roman power . . . was in several respects a different thing from any of the great empires that had hitherto prevailed in the civilised world. . . . [It] incorporated nearly all the Greek people in the world, and its population was less strongly Hamitic and Semitic than that of any preceding empire . . . It was so far a new pattern in history . . . The Roman Empire was a growth, an unplanned novel growth; the Roman people found themselves engaged almost unawares in a vast administrative experiment.” Yet, the fourth beast was to have further growth.


20. What did the angel say about the outgrowth of a small horn on the head of the fourth beast?

20 “I kept on considering the horns,” said Daniel, “and, look! another horn, a small one, came up in among them, and there were three of the first horns that were plucked up from before it.” (Daniel 7:8) Concerning this outgrowth, the angel told Daniel: “Another one will rise up after them [the ten kings], and he himself will be different from the first ones, and three kings he will humiliate.” (Daniel 7:24) Who is this king, when did he rise, and what three kings did he humiliate?

21. How did Britain come to be the symbolic small horn of the fourth beast?

21 Consider the following developments. In 55 B.C.E., Roman General Julius Caesar invaded Britannia but failed to establish a permanent settlement. In 43 C.E.,  Emperor Claudius began a more permanent conquest of southern Britain. Then, in 122 C.E., Emperor Hadrian began to build a wall from the Tyne River to the Solway Firth, marking the northern limit of the Roman Empire. Early in the fifth century, the Roman legions left the island. “In the sixteenth century,” explained one historian, “England had been a second-rate power. Its wealth was slight compared with that of the Netherlands. Its population was much less than that of France. Its armed forces (including its navy) were inferior to Spain’s.” Britain evidently was an insignificant kingdom then, making up the symbolic small horn of the fourth beast. But that was to change.

22. (a) What other three horns of the fourth beast did the “small” horn overcome? (b) Britain then emerged as what?

22 In 1588, Philip II of Spain launched the Spanish Armada against Britain. This fleet of 130 ships, carrying more than 24,000 men, sailed up the English Channel, only to suffer defeat by the British navy and to fall victim to contrary winds and fierce Atlantic storms. This event “marked the decisive passing of naval superiority from Spain to England,” said one historian. In the 17th century, the Dutch developed the world’s largest merchant marine. With growing overseas colonies, however, Britain prevailed over that kingdom. During the 18th century, the British and the French fought each other in North America and India, leading to the Treaty of Paris in 1763. This treaty, said author William B. Willcox, “recognized Britain’s new position as the predominant European power in the world beyond Europe.” Britain’s supremacy was confirmed by the crushing victory over Napoléon of France in 1815 C.E. The “three kings” that Britain thus ‘humiliated’ were Spain, the Netherlands,  and France. (Daniel 7:24) As a result, Britain emerged as the world’s greatest colonial and commercial power. Yes, the “small” horn grew to become a world power!

23. In what way did the symbolic small horn “devour all the earth”?

23 The angel told Daniel that the fourth beast, or fourth kingdom, would “devour all the earth.” (Daniel 7:23) That proved true of the Roman province once known as Britannia. It eventually became the British Empire and ‘devoured all the earth.’ At one time, this empire embraced one fourth of the earth’s land surface and a fourth of its population.

24. What did a historian say about the British Empire’s being different?

24 As the Roman Empire differed from previous world powers, the king depicted by the “small” horn would also “be different from the first ones.” (Daniel 7:24) Concerning the British Empire, historian H. G. Wells noted: “Nothing of the sort has ever existed before. First and central to the whole system was the ‘crowned republic’ of the United British Kingdoms . . . No single office and no single brain had ever comprehended the British Empire as a whole. It was a mixture of growths and accumulations entirely different from anything that has ever been called an empire before.”

25. (a) In its latest development, what constitutes the symbolic small horn? (b) In what sense does the “small” horn have “eyes like the eyes of a man” and “a mouth speaking grandiose things”?

 25 There was more to the “small” horn than the British Empire. In 1783, Britain recognized the independence of its 13 American colonies. The United States of America eventually became Britain’s ally, emerging from World War II as the earth’s dominant nation. It still has strong ties with Britain. The resulting Anglo-American dual world power constitutes the ‘horn having eyes.’ Indeed, this world power is observant, astute! It ‘speaks grandiose things,’ dictating policy for much of the world and acting as its mouthpiece, or “false prophet.”—Daniel 7:8, 11, 20; Revelation 16:13; 19:20.


26. What did the angel foretell about the symbolic horn’s speech and action toward Jehovah and his servants?

26 Daniel continued to describe his vision, saying: “I kept on beholding when that very horn made war upon the holy ones, and it was prevailing against them.” (Daniel 7:21) Regarding this “horn,” or king, God’s angel foretold: “He will speak even words against the Most High, and he will harass continually the holy ones themselves of the Supreme One. And he will intend to change times and law, and they will be given into his hand for a time, and times and half a time.” (Daniel 7:25) How and when was this part of the prophecy fulfilled?

27. (a) Who are “the holy ones” persecuted by the “small” horn? (b) How did the symbolic horn intend “to change times and law”?

27 “The holy ones” persecuted by the “small” horn—the Anglo-American World Power—are Jesus’ spirit-anointed followers on earth. (Romans 1:7; 1 Peter 2:9)  For years before World War I, the remnant of these anointed ones publicly warned that 1914 would see the conclusion of “the appointed times of the nations.” (Luke 21:24) When war broke out in that year, it was evident that the “small” horn had ignored this warning, for it persisted in harassing the anointed “holy ones.” The Anglo-American World Power even opposed their efforts to carry out Jehovah’s requirement (or, “law”) that the good news of the Kingdom be preached worldwide by his witnesses. (Matthew 24:14) Thus the “small” horn attempted “to change times and law.”

28. The “time, and times and half a time” are how long?

28 Jehovah’s angel referred to a prophetic period of “a time, and times and half a time.” How long is that? Bible expositors generally agree that this expression denotes three and a half times—the sum of one time, two times, and half a time. Since Nebuchadnezzar’s “seven times” of madness amounted to seven years, the three and a half times are three and a half years. * (Daniel 4:16, 25) An American Translation reads: “They shall be handed over to him for a year, two years, and half a year.” James Moffatt’s version says: “For three years and half a year.” The same period is mentioned at Revelation 11:2-7, which states that God’s witnesses would preach dressed in sackcloth for 42 months, or 1,260 days, and then be killed. When did this time period begin and end?

29. When and how did the prophetic three and a half years begin?

29 For the anointed Christians, World War I meant a time of testing. By the end of 1914, they were expecting persecution. In fact, the very yeartext chosen for 1915 was Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Are ye able to drink  of my cup?” It was based on Matthew 20:22, King James Version. Hence, beginning in December 1914, that small band of witnesses preached “in sackcloth.”

30. How were anointed Christians harassed by the Anglo-American World Power during World War I?

30 As war fever took hold, the anointed Christians encountered mounting opposition. Some of them were imprisoned. Individuals, such as Frank Platt in England and Robert Clegg in Canada, were tortured by sadistic authorities. On February 12, 1918, the British Dominion of Canada banned the recently published seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled The Finished Mystery, as well as the tracts entitled The Bible Students Monthly. The following month, the U.S. Department of Justice pronounced the distribution of the seventh volume illegal. The result? Why, homes were searched, literature was confiscated, and Jehovah’s worshipers were arrested!

31. When and how did the “time, and times and half a time” end?

31 Harassment of God’s anointed ones climaxed on June 21, 1918, when the president, J. F. Rutherford, and prominent members of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society were sentenced on false charges to long prison terms. Intending “to change times and law,” the “small” horn had effectively killed the organized preaching work. (Revelation 11:7) So the foretold period of “a time, and times and half a time” ended in June 1918.

32. Why would you say that “the holy ones” were not wiped out by the “small” horn?

32 But “the holy ones” were not wiped out by the harassment from the “small” horn. As prophesied in the book of Revelation, after a short period of inactivity, the anointed Christians became alive and active again.  (Revelation 11:11-13) On March 26, 1919, the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and his associates were released from prison, and they were later exonerated of the false charges against them. Immediately thereafter, the anointed remnant began to reorganize for further activity. What, though, would be in store for the “small” horn?


33. (a) Who is the Ancient of Days? (b) What were the “books that were opened” in the heavenly Court?

33 After introducing the four beasts, Daniel shifts his eyes from the fourth beast to a scene in heaven. He beholds the Ancient of Days sit down on his resplendent throne as Judge. The Ancient of Days is none other than Jehovah God. (Psalm 90:2) As the heavenly Court takes its seat, Daniel sees ‘books being opened.’ (Daniel 7:9, 10) Since Jehovah’s existence extends into the infinite past, he knows all human history as if it were written in a book. He has observed all four symbolic beasts and can pass judgment upon them according to firsthand knowledge.

34, 35. What will happen to the “small” horn and other beastly powers?

34 Daniel continues: “I kept on beholding at that time because of the sound of the grandiose words that the horn was speaking; I kept on beholding until the beast was killed and its body was destroyed and it was given to the burning fire. But as for the rest of the beasts, their rulerships were taken away, and there was a lengthening in life given to them for a time and a season.” (Daniel 7:11, 12) The angel tells Daniel: “The Court itself proceeded to sit, and his own rulership they finally took away,  in order to annihilate him and to destroy him totally.”—Daniel 7:26.

35 By decree of the Great Judge, Jehovah God, the horn that blasphemed God and harassed his “holy ones” will have the same experience as the Roman Empire, which persecuted the early Christians. Its rulership will not continue. Neither will that of inferior hornlike “kings” that came out of the Roman Empire. What, though, about the rulerships derived from the previous beastly powers? As foretold, their lives were lengthened “for a time and a season.” Their territories have continued to have inhabitants to our day. Iraq, for example, occupies the territory of ancient Babylon. Persia (Iran) and Greece still exist. Remnants of these world powers are part of the United Nations. These kingdoms also will perish with the annihilation of the last world power. All human governments will be obliterated at “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” (Revelation 16:14, 16) But, then, who will rule the world?


36, 37. (a) “Someone like a son of man” refers to whom, and when and for what purpose did he appear in the heavenly Court? (b) What was established in 1914 C.E.?

36 “I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there!” exclaimed Daniel. “With the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One.” (Daniel 7:13) When on earth, Jesus Christ called himself “the Son of man,” indicating his kinship to mankind. (Matthew 16:13; 25:31) To the Sanhedrin, or Jewish high court, Jesus said: “You will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of  heaven.” (Matthew 26:64) So in Daniel’s vision, the one coming, invisible to human eyes, and gaining access to Jehovah God was the resurrected, glorified Jesus Christ. When did this occur?

37 With Jesus Christ, God has made a covenant for a Kingdom, just as he had made one with King David. (2 Samuel 7:11-16; Luke 22:28-30) When “the appointed times of the nations” ended in 1914 C.E., Jesus Christ, as David’s royal heir, could rightfully receive Kingdom rule. Daniel’s prophetic record reads: “To him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.” (Daniel 7:14) Thus the Messianic Kingdom was established in heaven in 1914. However, the rulership is given to others also.

38, 39. Who will receive everlasting rulership over the world?

38 “The holy ones of the Supreme One will receive the kingdom,” said the angel. (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27) Jesus Christ is the chief holy one. (Acts 3:14; 4:27, 30) The other “holy ones” having a share in the rulership are the 144,000 faithful spirit-anointed Christians, who are Kingdom heirs with Christ. (Romans 1:7; 8:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Peter 2:9) They are resurrected from death as immortal spirits to reign with Christ on heavenly Mount Zion. (Revelation 2:10; 14:1; 20:6) Hence, Christ Jesus and the resurrected anointed Christians will rule the world of mankind.

39 Concerning the rulership of the Son of man and the other resurrected “holy ones,” God’s angel said: “The kingdom and the rulership and the grandeur of  the kingdoms under all the heavens were given to the people who are the holy ones of the Supreme One. Their kingdom is an indefinitely lasting kingdom, and all the rulerships will serve and obey even them.” (Daniel 7:27) What blessings obedient mankind will experience under that Kingdom!

40. How can we benefit from paying attention to Daniel’s dream and visions?

40 Daniel was unaware of all the marvelous fulfillments of his God-given visions. He said: “Up to this point is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my own thoughts kept frightening me a great deal, so that my very complexion changed in me; but the matter itself I kept in my own heart.” (Daniel 7:28) We, though, live at the time when we can understand the fulfillment of what Daniel saw. Paying attention to this prophecy will strengthen our faith and bolster our conviction that Jehovah’s Messianic King will rule the world.


^ par. 4 For clarity and to avoid repetition, we will consolidate explanatory verses found at Daniel 7:15-28 with a verse-by-verse consideration of the visions recorded at Daniel 7:1-14.

^ par. 7 See Chapter 4 of this book.

^ par. 28 See Chapter 6 of this book.


• What is symbolized by each of the ‘four huge beasts coming up out of the sea’?

• What constitutes the “small” horn?

• How were “the holy ones” harassed by the symbolic small horn during World War I?

• What will happen to the symbolic small horn and the other beastly powers?

• How did you benefit from paying attention to Daniel’s dream and visions about the “four huge beasts”?

[Study Questions]

 [Box/Pictures on page 149-152]


A GREEK writer of the fifth century B.C.E. remembered him as a tolerant and ideal monarch. In the Bible he is called God’s “anointed one” and “a bird of prey” coming “from the sunrising.” (Isaiah 45:1; 46:11) The monarch thus spoken of is Cyrus the Great, of Persia.

Cyrus’ march to fame began about 560/559 B.C.E. when he succeeded his father Cambyses I to the throne of Anshan, a city or district in ancient Persia. Anshan was then under suzerainty of the Median King Astyages. Revolting against Median rulership, Cyrus won a swift victory because the army of Astyages defected. Cyrus then gained the loyalty of the Medes. Thereafter, Medes and Persians fought unitedly under his leadership. Thus came into existence the Medo-Persian rule that in time extended its domain from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River.—See map.

With the combined forces of the Medes and the Persians, Cyrus first moved to establish control over a trouble spot —the western sector of Media where the Lydian King Croesus had been expanding his domain into Median territory. Advancing to the eastern border of the Lydian Empire in Asia Minor, Cyrus defeated Croesus and captured his capital, Sardis. Cyrus then subdued the Ionian cities and placed all Asia Minor within the realm of the Medo-Persian Empire. He thereby became the major rival of Babylon and its king, Nabonidus.

Cyrus then prepared for a confrontation with mighty Babylon. And from this point forward, he figured in the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Through the prophet Isaiah, nearly two centuries earlier, Jehovah had named Cyrus as the ruler who would overthrow Babylon and liberate the Jews from bondage. It was by virtue of this advance appointment that the Scriptures refer to Cyrus as Jehovah’s “anointed one.”—Isaiah 44:26-28.

When Cyrus came up against Babylon in 539 B.C.E., he faced a formidable task. Surrounded by huge walls and a deep and broad moat formed by the river Euphrates, the city seemed impregnable. Where the Euphrates ran through Babylon, a mountainlike wall with huge copper gates ran along the banks of the river. How could Cyrus possibly take Babylon?

Over a century earlier, Jehovah had foretold “a devastation upon her waters” and had said that “they must be dried up.” (Jeremiah 50:38) True to the prophecy, Cyrus diverted  the waters of the Euphrates River a few miles north of Babylon. Then his army sloshed down the riverbed, climbed the slope leading to the wall, and entered the city easily because the copper gates had been left open. Like “a bird of prey” that swiftly pounces upon its victim, this ruler “from the sunrising”—from the east—captured Babylon in one night!

For the Jews in Babylon, Cyrus’ victory meant the arrival of the long-awaited release from captivity and the end of the 70-year desolation of their homeland. How thrilled they must have been when Cyrus issued a proclamation authorizing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple! Cyrus also restored to them the precious temple utensils that Nebuchadnezzar had carried off to Babylon, gave royal permission for importing timber from Lebanon, and authorized funds from the king’s house to cover construction expenses.—Ezra 1:1-11; 6:3-5.

Cyrus generally followed a humane and tolerant policy in dealing with the people he conquered. One reason for this behavior could have been his religion. Likely, Cyrus adhered to the teachings of the Persian prophet Zoroaster and worshiped Ahura Mazda—a god  thought to be the creator of all that is good. In his book The Zoroastrian Tradition, Farhang Mehr writes: “Zoroaster presented God as moral perfection. He told people that Ahura Mazda is not revengeful but just and, therefore, should not be feared but loved.” Belief in a god that was moral and just may have affected Cyrus’ ethics and encouraged magnanimity and fairness.

The king, however, was less tolerant of the climate in Babylon. The torrid summers there were more than he wanted to bear. So while Babylon remained a royal city of the empire, as well as a religious and cultural center, it seldom served as more than his winter capital. In fact, following the conquest of Babylon, Cyrus soon returned to his summer capital, Ecbatana, situated over 6,000 feet [some 1,900 m] above sea level, at the foot of Mount Alwand. There, the cold winters balanced by delightful summers were more to his liking. Cyrus also built an elegant palace in his earlier capital, Pasargadae (near Persepolis), 400 miles [650 km] southeast of Ecbatana. The residence there served as a retreat for him.

Cyrus thus left his mark as a brave conqueror and a tolerant monarch. His 30-year rule ended with his death in 530 B.C.E. while he was on a military campaign. His son Cambyses II succeeded him to the Persian throne.


• How did Cyrus the Persian prove to be Jehovah’s “anointed one”?

• What valuable service toward Jehovah’s people did Cyrus perform?

• How did Cyrus treat the people he conquered?


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Tomb of Cyrus, at Pasargadae


Bas-relief at Cyrus’ palace in Pasargadae

 [Box/Pictures on page 153-161]


SOME 2,300 years ago, a blond-haired military general in his 20’s stood on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. His eyes were fixed on an island-city half a mile away. Having been refused entry, the infuriated general was determined to conquer the city. His plan of attack? Construct a causeway to the island and mobilize his forces against the city. The construction of the causeway had already begun.

But a message from the great king of the Persian Empire interrupted the young general. Eager to make peace, the Persian ruler made an extraordinary offer: 10,000 talents of gold (over two billion dollars at current values), the hand in marriage of one of the king’s daughters, and dominion over the entire western part of the Persian Empire. All of this was offered in return for the king’s family, whom the general had captured.

The commander faced with the decision to accept or reject the offer was Alexander III of Macedonia. Should he accept the offer? “It was a fateful moment for the ancient world,” says historian Ulrich Wilcken. “The aftereffects of his decision, indeed, stretch through the Middle Ages down to our own day, in the East as in the West.” Before considering Alexander’s reply, let us see what events led up to this crucial moment.


Alexander was born at Pella, Macedonia, in 356 B.C.E. His father was King Philip II, and his mother, Olympias. She taught Alexander that the Macedonian kings descended from Hercules, a son of the Greek god Zeus. According to Olympias, Alexander’s ancestor was Achilles, the hero of Homer’s poem the Iliad. Being thus conditioned by his parents for conquest and kingly glory, young Alexander had little interest in other pursuits. Asked whether he would run a race in the Olympic Games, Alexander indicated that he would do so if he were to run with kings. His ambition was to perform greater acts than those of his father and to gain glory through accomplishments.

  At age 13, Alexander enjoyed the tutorship of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who helped him develop an interest in philosophy, medicine, and science. The extent to which Aristotle’s philosophical teachings shaped Alexander’s way of thinking is a matter of debate. “It seems safe to say that there was not a lot on which the two might see eye to eye,” observed Bertrand Russell, a 20th-century philosopher. “Aristotle’s political views were based on the Greek city state which was all but on the way out.” The concept of small city-state government would not have appealed to an ambitious prince wanting to build a great centralized empire. Alexander must also have been skeptical of the Aristotelian precept of treating non-Greeks as slaves, for he envisioned an empire of a flourishing partnership between the victors and the vanquished.

There is little doubt, however, that Aristotle cultivated Alexander’s interest in reading and learning. Alexander remained an avid reader throughout his life, having a special passion for Homer’s writings. It is claimed that he learned the Iliad—all 15,693 lines of poetry—by heart.

Education by Aristotle came to an abrupt end in 340 B.C.E. when the 16-year-old prince went back to Pella to rule Macedonia in the absence of his father. And the crown prince wasted no time distinguishing himself in military exploits. To the delight of Philip, he quickly put down the rebellious Thracian tribe Maedi, took their chief city by storm, and named the place Alexandroúpolis, after himself.


The assassination of Philip in 336 B.C.E. led to 20-year-old Alexander’s inheriting the throne of Macedonia. Entering Asia at the Hellespont (now the Dardanelles) in the spring  of 334 B.C.E., Alexander embarked upon a campaign of conquest with a small but efficient army of 30,000 foot soldiers and 5,000 cavalrymen. Accompanying his army were engineers, surveyors, architects, scientists, and historians.

At the Granicus River in the northwest corner of Asia Minor (now Turkey), Alexander won his first battle against the Persians. That winter he conquered western Asia Minor. The following autumn the second decisive battle with the Persians took place at Issus, in the southeastern corner of Asia Minor. With an army of about half a million men, the great Persian King Darius III came there to meet Alexander. Overconfident Darius also brought along his mother, his wife, and other members of his family so that they could witness what was to have been a spectacular victory. But the Persians were unprepared for the suddenness and vehemence of the Macedonian attack. Alexander’s forces utterly defeated the Persian army, and Darius fled, abandoning his family to Alexander’s hands.

Rather than pursuing the fleeing Persians, Alexander marched southward along the Mediterranean Coast,  conquering the bases used by the powerful Persian fleet. But the island-city of Tyre resisted the invasion. Determined to conquer it, Alexander began a siege that lasted seven months. During the siege came Darius’ peace offering mentioned earlier. So attractive were the concessions that Alexander’s trusted adviser Parmenio reportedly said: ‘Were I Alexander, I would accept.’ But the young general retorted: ‘So would I, were I Parmenio.’ Refusing to negotiate, Alexander continued with the siege and demolished that proud mistress of the sea in July 332 B.C.E.

Sparing Jerusalem, which surrendered to him, Alexander pushed south, conquering Gaza. Weary of Persian rule, Egypt welcomed him as a deliverer. At Memphis he sacrificed to the Apis bull, thus pleasing the Egyptian priests. He also founded the city of Alexandria, which later rivaled Athens as a center of learning and still bears his name.

Next, Alexander turned northeast, moving through Palestine and toward the Tigris River. In the year 331 B.C.E., he engaged in the third major battle with the Persians, at Gaugamela, not far from the crumbling ruins of Nineveh. Here Alexander’s 47,000 men overpowered a reorganized Persian army of at least 250,000! Darius fled and was later murdered by his own people.

Flushed with victory, Alexander turned south and took the Persian winter capital Babylon. He also occupied the capitals at Susa and Persepolis, seizing the immense Persian treasury and burning the great palace of Xerxes. Finally, the capital at Ecbatana  fell to him. This speedy conqueror then subdued the rest of the Persian domain, going as far to the east as the Indus River, located in modern-day Pakistan.

Upon crossing the Indus, in the region bordering the Persian province of Taxila, Alexander met a formidable rival, the Indian monarch Porus. Against him, Alexander fought his fourth and final major battle, in June 326 B.C.E. Porus’ army included 35,000 soldiers and 200 elephants, which terrified the Macedonians’ horses. The battle was fierce and bloody, but Alexander’s forces prevailed. Porus surrendered and became an ally.

More than eight years had passed since the Macedonian army had crossed into Asia, and the soldiers were weary and homesick. Unnerved by the fierce battle with Porus, they wanted to return home. Although reluctant at first, Alexander complied with their wishes. Greece had indeed become the world power. With Greek colonies established in the conquered lands, the Greek language and culture spread throughout the realm.


The adhesive that held the Macedonian army together through the years of conquest was Alexander’s personality. After battles, Alexander customarily visited the wounded, examined their injuries, praised soldiers for their valiant deeds, and honored them by a donation in keeping with their accomplishments. As for those who fell in battle, Alexander arranged a splendid burial for them. The parents and children of the fallen men were exempted from all taxes and forms of service. For diversion after battles, Alexander held games and contests. On one occasion, he even arranged a furlough for recently married men, enabling them  to spend the winter with their wives, in Macedonia. Such actions won him the affection and admiration of his men.

Regarding Alexander’s marriage to the Bactrian Princess Roxana, the Greek biographer Plutarch writes: “It was, indeed a love affair, yet it seemed at the same time to be conducive to the object he had in hand. For it gratified the conquered people to see him choose a wife from among themselves, and it made them feel the most lively affection for him, to find that in the only passion which he, the most temperate of men, was overcome by, he yet forbore till he could obtain her in a lawful and honourable way.”

Alexander also respected the marriages of others. Though the wife of King Darius was his captive, he saw to it that she was treated honorably. Similarly, upon learning that two Macedonian soldiers had abused the wives of some strangers, he ordered that they be executed if found guilty.

Like his mother, Olympias, Alexander was very religious. He would sacrifice before and after battles and consult his diviners regarding the significance of certain omens. He also consulted the oracle of Ammon, in Libya. And at Babylon he carried out the instructions of the Chaldeans regarding sacrifice, particularly to the Babylonian god Bel (Marduk).

Although Alexander was moderate in his eating habits, he eventually gave way to excesses in his drinking. He would speak extendedly over every cup of wine and boast of his achievements. One of the darkest deeds of Alexander was the murder of his friend Clitus, in a fit of drunken rage. But Alexander was so self-condemnatory that for three days he lay in his bed, partaking of neither food nor drink. Finally, his friends were able to persuade him to eat.

  As time passed, Alexander’s craving for glory brought out other undesirable traits. He began to believe false accusations readily and started to administer punishment with the greatest severity. For instance, having been led to believe that Philotas was implicated in an attempt on his life, Alexander had him and his father, Parmenio, the adviser he had once trusted, executed.


Shortly after returning to Babylon, Alexander fell victim to malarial fever, from which he never recovered. On June 13, 323 B.C.E., after having lived a mere 32 years and 8 months, Alexander surrendered to the most formidable enemy, death.

It was just as certain Indian wise men had observed: “O King Alexander, each man possesses just so much of the earth as this on which we stand; and you being a man like other men, save that you are full of activity and relentless, are roaming over all this earth far from your home, troubled yourself, and troubling others. But not so long hence you will die, and will possess just so much of the earth as suffices for your burial.”


• What was the background of Alexander the Great?

• Soon after inheriting the throne of Macedonia, upon what campaign did Alexander embark?

• Describe some of Alexander’s conquests.

• What can be said of Alexander’s personality?


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Indus River




Aristotle and his pupil Alexander

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Medal said to depict Alexander the Great

 [Box/Pictures on page 162, 163]


CONCERNING the kingdom of Alexander the Great, the Bible foretold a breakup and a division “but not to his posterity.” (Daniel 11:3, 4) Accordingly, within 14 years after Alexander’s sudden death in 323 B.C.E., his legitimate son Alexander IV and his illegitimate son Heracles were assassinated.

By the year 301 B.C.E., four of Alexander’s generals established themselves in power over the vast empire their commander had built. General Cassander took control of Macedonia and Greece. General Lysimachus received Asia Minor and Thrace. To Seleucus I Nicator went Mesopotamia and Syria. And Ptolemy Lagus, or Ptolemy I, ruled Egypt and Palestine. From Alexander’s one great kingdom thus arose four Hellenistic, or Grecian, kingdoms.

Of the four Hellenistic kingdoms, Cassander’s rule proved to be of the shortest duration. A few years after Cassander came to power, his male lineage died out, and in 285 B.C.E., Lysimachus took possession of the European part of the Greek Empire. Four years later, Lysimachus fell in battle before Seleucus I Nicator, giving him control of the major portion of the Asiatic territories. Seleucus became the first of the line of Seleucid kings in Syria. He founded Antioch in Syria and made that his new capital. Seleucus was assassinated in 281 B.C.E., but the dynasty that he established continued in power until 64 B.C.E. when Roman General Pompey made Syria a province of Rome.

  Of the four divisions of Alexander’s empire, the Ptolemaic kingdom lasted the longest. Ptolemy I assumed the title of king in 305 B.C.E. and became the first of the Macedonian kings, or Pharaohs, of Egypt. Making Alexandria the capital, he immediately began an urban-development program. One of his greatest building projects was the famous Alexandrian Library. To oversee this grand project, Ptolemy brought from Greece a noted Athenian scholar, Demetrius Phalereus. Reportedly, by the first century C.E., the library housed one million scrolls. The Ptolemaic dynasty continued to rule in Egypt until it fell to Rome in 30 B.C.E. Rome then replaced Greece as the dominant world power.


• How was Alexander’s vast empire divided?

• Until when did the line of Seleucid kings continue to rule in Syria?

• When did the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt come to an end?


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Ptolemy I

Seleucus I


Ptolemy I

Seleucus I

 [Diagram/Picture on page 139]

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The immense image (Daniel 2:31-45)

Four beasts out of the sea (Daniel 7:3-8, 17, 25)

BABYLONIA from 607 B.C.E.

MEDO-PERSIA from 539 B.C.E.

GREECE from 331 B.C.E

ROME from 30 B.C.E.


POLITICALLY DIVIDED WORLD in the time of the end

 [Full-page picture on page 128]

 [Full-page picture on page 147]