Nebuchadnezzer, King of Babylon, reigned approximately 40 years in the most prominent empire of the world in his time (605-562 BC). He had a unique dream which was interpreted by a captive Jewish youth who believed in God and longed to return to his land, the land promised to the Israelites by God Himself. Via the image, God communicates vis Daniel what was in store for His people, and others in the world through the "end of the age".
The book of Daniel (the 27th book in the Bible) is controversial amongst the intellectuals simply because they cannot believe the pin-point accuracy of its prophesies. They are convinced it was written by a "pseudo-Daniel" after the events that it foretold took place. Regretably, this is a view among many liberal Christians as well. In the context of His return to set up His Kingdom, the Lord Jesus tells His disciples to watch for a series of events. The most intense period of human existence will start after a certain event, He states, referring to what the prophet Daniel called "the abomination of desolation". The Lord's referral to Daniel is enough for me to accept the personage of Daniel and the validity of everything he wrote as divinely inspired. There is no way to write about events thousands of years in the future unless the Lord "Who knows the end from the beginning" had inspired it!
The image in the king's dream was a statue of a king constructed with diverse materials:
Head: The head was made of gold, the most pure, but softest of the metals in the statue: Babylon (Lion, came out of the sea with wings as an eagle which were plucked off when it settled on land with a man's feet and heart)
Chest and Arms: Made of silver, more corrosive than gold, but a harder metal: Medes and Persians (Bear, with one side raised up, and three tusks in its mouth)
Thighs: Bronze. Stronger than the previous two, weaker than what followed. Greece (Alexander): Leopard, four headed, with four wings on its back.
Legs: Made of iron, much stronger than silver or gold. Almost universally thought to be Rome, but this does not match it's beast description: Terrifying, frightful, very strong with iron teeth which devoured and crushed everything. Legs blend into ten toes. Ten horned, with a little horn amongst them which grew large and dominated the others
Ten Toes: - kingdom made of a alliance of ten countries : Made of a mixture of iron and clay. Materials that do not mix readily (Hebrew word: מְעָרַ֖ב a-rab). Friction and infighting among the ten
Daniel was given a vision, via the dream of the Babylonian king of what was to come in the years ahead. The vision concerned the "times of the Gentiles" and at an appointed time (the Day of the Lord) a Stone would crush the the ten toes of the image, crumbling the entire statue, and vaporizing it into dust. This Stone is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Starting in the Babylonian empire, Daniel foretold their demise and their overthrow by the Medes and Persians. Nebuchadnezzar's son did not learn the great lessons God had taught his father (who actually wrote a chapter in the Book of Daniel-- chapter 4) and lost the kingdom after a night of drunkenness and debauchery where he desecrated sacred vessels used in the
worship of the Lord in His temple in Israel. After the Medo-Persian empire Daniel foretold the meteoric rise and fall of Alexander of Greece, and the breathtaking speed of his annexation of the known world at that time. His empire broke up as quickly as it arose. One of the areas that had broken up produced a ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes, a type and shadow of the anti-christ of the last days. The Jews revolted against Antiochus' rule led by Judas Maccabees, and overthrew this tyrant. The victory is commemorated by the celebration of Hanukkah (feast of dedication of the Temple which Antiochus had desecrated and made desolate). The Lord Himself celebrated the feast in Jerusalem.
Rome took over most of Alexander's empire and were in power during Jesus' time on earth. They turned Jesus over to the Jewish authorities who requested He be crucified. Rome also destroyed Herod's temple in 70 AD, an event Jesus foretold.
The final empire Daniel foretold was the rise of the Islamic nations surrounding Israel. He saw them as a beast "devouring" and "crushing" everything in its path. Many interpretations of Daniel's image incorrectly identify the legs of iron and the final ten toes of iron and clay as the Roman empire morphing into an European union of countries that come into power and prominence in the last days. One problem with this- Rome was always a "builder". The built roads, structures, and cities so that tax revenues would be generated and return to Rome. Islam fit his description: they devoured and crushed everything in sight. The definition of their religion is "submission".
The book of Daniel (especially chapters 8-12) is the "handbook for the end times". Its detail is intricate and breathtaking. Combined with portions of Ezekiel and Isaiah, God has given His people an insight into what is coming, and what to expect. It is a "turn by turn" GPS type description. The more His people are communion with Him, the more He reveals about the truths we will need in His word. As the hymn says- "we hide in the cleft of the Rock"