I am a (critical) supporter of the European Union. I believe it would be good if the EU were further enlarged—in a responsible tempo—and that, eventually, the countries in the Balkan and Turkey become full members. Of course, ‘Brussels’ irritates me from time to time—and not only when I am stuck in the traffic in Brussels, when all 27 government leaders of EU with their motorcades want to leave the center of the Belgian capital at the same moment (as I experienced a few weeks ago). And yes, it seems to me that things in ‘Brussels’ could be quite a bit less bureaucratic. No ‘normal’ human being (except the French) can understand why the entire circus needs to move for a few days on a regular basis to Strasbourg. Last year I was given a tour through the European parliament and the enormous adjacent office building. That left me with the definite impression that this must indeed by a very costly business! But, nonetheless, I am convinced that the European Union (including the euro) has brought us many good things, and it is important that we do not allow this to be destroyed by temporary setbacks (such as the Greek crisis).
I suppose some of my readers do not share this view but rather wholeheartedly agree with the speech that David Cameron gave a few days ago. And I know that some Seventh-day Adventists reject all attempts to unify Europe, since the Bible indicates that this is a project that is doomed to fail. They point to the dream of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar as described and interpreted in Daniel chapter 2. De different metals of which the big statue in the king’s dream is composed point to a succession of world powers: Babylon (the head of gold), Medo-Persia (the breast and the arms of silvers), Greece (the belly and thighs of brass), and Rome (the iron legs). The statue has ten toes, of iron mixed with clay. According to the traditional interpretation, these toes symbolize the divided Europe, subsequent to Roman times, which will never again be a solid unity (iron and clay simply do not result in a strong substance!). That division will last until a large stone, that continues to become larger, strikes at the feet of the statue and causes its total destruction. This symbolizes the divine intervention at the end of time, when the return of Christ inaugurates a kingdom of a totally different order. Ergo: all attempts to create unity in Europe are doomed to fail, and should therefore be vigorously condemned—like David Cameron did.
This conclusion, that we should not lend support to a certain project, because the return of Christ will put an end to it, seems rather questionable (to say the least). For this kind of reasoning would paralyze all our human efforts to be good stewards and to care for this earth as best as we can. But there is another important aspect.
A precise ‘historicist’ interpretation of biblical prophecy is surrounded by many problems. This is even true for a relatively ‘simple’ prophecy as that concerning the statue of Daniel 2. Very few Biblical exegetes would deny that Daniel, chapter 2, points to a series of political powers. But those who believe that the book of Daniel originated in the Seleucid period (second century BC), will make another list than those who continue to uphold a sixth century BC origin of this prophetic document. Seventh-day Adventists belong to the latter category, but they must be aware that this is nowadays a minority position.
Even when we stick to the traditional Adventist interpretation, we must face some significant questions when dealing with the identity of the ‘ten toes’. In the early days of Adventism men like Uriah Smith and Louis Conradi knew exactly what powers the prophet was alluding to: Huns, Ostragoths, Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, Suevi, Burgundians, Heruli, Anglo-Saxons, and Lombards. However, already towards the end of the nineteenth century Adventist preachers and scholars were no longer united on this issue. Moreover, a few hours with some history books will show us that there were far more than ten important tribes in the area that was once covered by Rome. In fact, the statue should have had at least some twenty toes! Of course, one can solve this problem by arguing that the number ‘ten’ ought to be seen as symbolic.
When six countries created the EU, some predicted that it would evolve in an alliance of ten nations that would, however, at some moment, be dissolved. When the EU grew (presently comprising 27 countries) this ceased to be a credible theory. Another issue that some felt needed to be looked at was the fact that today’s world is much larger that the area that was once covered by the ancient empires. Anyone who discusses world powers today will also have to mention the USA, China, etc. Therefore, some interpreters think that the ten toes refer to ten influential regions in the world, rather than to ten countries.
Whatever be the case, many agree: Prophecy tells us that the attempts to create greater political and economic unity in the world will ultimately fail. Therefore, the speech of the British prime ministers David Cameron of last week wis good news: He helps to make the prophecy come true. And the earlier the EU will be blown to pieces, the better it is. For that would be a clear end time signal that the coming of Christ is at hand.
Through the years I have become ever more hesitant in defending a purely historicist approach to apocalyptic prophecy as the only possible method. Prophetic writings, such as Daniel and the Revelation, are not primarily meant as history lessons. Yes, certainly, they have a message for us who live in the twenty-first century. But our task is not to use these writings to construct theories about the future of the euro and the future of ‘Europe’. The focus in Daniel 2 is not on the different metallic parts of the statue, but on the stone. The message is: God will intervene. The kingdom of God is not a fairy tale or some pie in the sky. It is coming! And the rest is relatively unimportant. The fact that I wholeheartedly believe in that stone is the reason why Adventism continues to be my spiritual home. (And in future elections I will again vote for a pro-Europe party!).