Still under the threat of death along with all the wise men of Babylon Daniel reveals the dream to king Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel begins by revealing what the king saw; a statue of four different materials in four different parts. This statue is destroyed by a stone that becomes a great mountain and filled the whole earth. God’s sovereignty, a theme of the book as a whole, runs through the chapter and the dream. Nebuchadnezzar by contrast is troubled because he thinks he is in control but he isn't God is. This dream confronts Nebuchadnezzar with the truth that for all his great power and influence his power is given by God.
Daniel then interprets the dream for Nebuchadnezzar in verse 36 and following; the Gold Head is Babylon (37-38), interestingly Nebuchadnezzar may well have had this statue in mind when he builds his image in chapter 3. The other kingdoms that follow are probably: the Silver chest and arms the Medo-Persian Empire, the bronze belly and thighs Greece, and the clay and iron feet the Roman empire.
No matter what the debate about who exactly the kingdoms are the emphasis in the passage is on what happens next. The rock, not made by human hands - in other words made by God - which in contrast to the other transient kingdoms is eternal. Interestingly it is a kingdom that begins (v44) during the times of those other kingdoms and kings. It is a kingdom that will be eternal, is established by God (34, 44), is victorious (34), indestructible and infallible, (35) and universal.
God’s kingdom is not that of Cyrus, it’s not the remnant returned to Jerusalem, for they are then ruled over by Greece, and Rome. It is seen in the establishment of God’s kingdom in Jesus.
The message of the dream is one of hope and encouragement for Daniel and his friends and for all the exiles; God is sovereign, he is in control and he is working to establish his eternal kingdom.
It is also a warning for Nebuchadnezzar, his power has been given to him by God and on matter how things appear his kingdom will not last for ever. The dream clearly confronts Nebuchadnezzar with the real King and the real Kingdom. Yet the chapter ends somewhat dispiritingly with a non-conversion: Neb now knows of God, he is awed but he is not converted. Though Daniel and his friends for their faithfulness to God are rewarded - they go from death row (13) to the kings court (49).
The encouragement for us is that we are part of the stone kingdom, a kingdom which is being established though it looks small and will one day, when Christ comes again, fill the whole world. Will we live life in the light of the stone kingdom we are called to be part of?