Several important details surface immediately. First, it is an image. The second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) describes God's revulsion of images of any kind used in worship. Although no one is seen worshipping this image, the idea that what this image represents is contrary to God is definitely present.
Second, the image's body parts are formed from different materials in descending value (Daniel 2:39). Gold is more valuable than silver, which is more valuable than bronze, etc. Finally, it ends in iron mixed with clay, an amalgam that is practically worthless and useless. However, the order of these materials increases in hardness with the exception of the iron-clay mixture (verses 40-43). This symbolizes two aspects of the same idea: While the spiritual, moral, or cultural qualities of these empires decline, their military or political power increases as one empire overthrows another.
Third, the progression from head to toes conveys the movement of time. Though these empires overlap to a small degree as one rises and another falls, their dominance in world affairs is successive. This is clearly shown in Daniel's explanation: "But after you shall arise another kingdom . . . then another" (verse 39). Thus, we should expect to be able to follow this prophecy on a historical time-line except where it continues into the future.
Fourth, the body parts themselves describe traits of the empires they symbolize. The head of the image shows a monolithic structure of government which determines the course of the body, just as in the symbolism of Christ being the Head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18). The two arms and two legs indicate divisions of government or bases of power. Ten toes of inconsistent materials symbolize a weak-strong and possibly short confederation.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part One): 'Head of Gold'
When Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he was the head of gold, it shows us a biblical principle that a king in prophecy represents the entire kingdom. In verses 39-40, "after you" indicates four successive world-ruling empires from the time of the Chaldean empire of Nebuchadnezzar until the return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We see in overview an outline of world history from a Gentile perspective, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar and coming all the way down through the various kingdoms until the image is struck on the foot by the Stone, representing the Kingdom of God, or Christ.
This prophecy brings us right into our present time—the time of the end—the time when can expect that the Stone, sometime in the not-too-distant future, will strike this image on the feet. We can look for that last empire, represented by the feet and toes, to exist today, or either be coming together, or will shortly be coming together. History has shown that these four empires, beginning with the head of gold, to be the Chaldean (the head of gold), the Medo-Persian (the chest and arms of silver), the Greco-Macedonian (the belly and thighs of brass), and the Roman (the legs and feet of iron) empires. The Roman Empire existed from 31 BC to AD 476. Secular history shows that the Vandals defeated Rome, but Rome was revived and re-established as "the Holy Roman Empire" under Emperor Justinian in AD 554.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 1)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Daniel 2:35: