In today’s episode, I would like to talk about Alexander the Great in Bible prophecy. Alexander captures our imagination: A handsome young man conquering the whole world while riding on a horse. His life and works tremendously influenced our world. The Greek culture he propagated influenced all facets of our life – Philosophy, politics, arts, religion, literature, and architecture. You probably saw Parthenon and I am sure there is a building near your home modeled after Greek architecture.
Did God say anything about Alexander in the Bible? Yes, he did. Three great prophets of the Bible – Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah talked about him. If we take time to read what God had to say about Alexander, we will learn many valuable lessons.
Alexander’s life was brief. His years were 356 BC to 323 BC. Philip II, the king of Macedonia, was assassinated in 336 BC. Then his son, Alexander was promoted to his throne. Shortly thereafter, he had a burning desire to conquer the whole world. After two years, he made a big decision. He wanted to conquer the Greek’s greatest enemy – the Persian Empire. He fought and won three major battles on Darius III, the emperor of Persia. Overnight, the mighty Persian Empire came under his feet. Hundreds of kingdoms were assimilated into the Greek Empire. Thousands of people were massacred. Millions of acres of land were added to his kingdom. Millions of people became his subjects. Alexander’s Greek empire extended from Macedonia in the West all the way to North India in the east – unprecedented in its length and breadth.
The rise and fall of the great empires look unpredictable to our eyes. But for God, nothing is unpredictable, including the rise of great emperors like Alexander. Interestingly, God put his chosen nation, Israel in the cross hairs of global empires. Sumerians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, the French, the British, the Americans – all of them had to deal with the Jews and their nation, Israel.
Let us start our story in 586 BC. The Jewish people were taken as captives to Babylon. Among the prisoners was a teenager named Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon chose this handsome youngman to live in his palace. Having conquered Israel, Nebuchadnezzar filled his heart with pride and arrogance. At this time, God gave a vision to Daniel. In this vision, Daniel saw a large statue. It was enormous and awesome in appearance.
The head of the statue was made of pure gold
its chest and arms were made of silver
its belly and thighs were made of bronze
its legs were made of iron
its feet were made of iron and clay
God showed the rise and fall of the great empires of the world in this one statue. The statue represented four empires.
The head of gold represents Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire
The chest and arms of silver represent the Persian Empire
the belly and thighs of bronze represent the Grecian Empire, established by Alexander the Great. It was the largest empire in the ancient world.
God clearly told Daniel the order in which the empires of the world rise and fall. This was retold in Daniel chapter 7. Daniel was lying in bed. God gave him a dream of four mighty beasts. He saw four great beasts, each different from the others, coming out of the sea.
The first beast was a lion with the wings of an eagle. It represents the Babylonian empire.
the second beast was a bear – it represents the Persian empire.
the third beast was a leopard – it represents the Greecian empire.
the fourth beast was a terrifying and frightening animal – it represents the Roman empire.
Alexander crisscrossed the world like a hungry leopard. He consumed the kingdoms of our world like a sleepless leopard. God told these things to Daniel – 250 years before the times of Alexander.
Then let us go to Daniel chapter 8. God gave another vision to Daniel. In this vision, we get a close up view of the battle between Persia and Greece. Daniel saw a ram with two horns. Then suddenly a goat came from the west. It has a prominent horn between its two eyes. It attacked the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns.
Who was the ram? It was Persia. The two horns symbolize the Medes and Persians. Who was the goat? It was Alexander, the Great. He was described as an angry goat who runs so swiftly his feet don’t even touch the ground!
The goat attacked the ram with its mighty force. The ram was powerless. It was knocked to the ground by the irresistible force of the goat. The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off. In its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four corners of heaven.
What an accurate prediction of the rise and fall of Alexander, the Great! Like this goat he had no tide to rest his feet. He moved from battle to battle amassing victory after victory. The ram represents Darius III. He was helpless before Alexander.
For centuries, the Persians gave sleepless nights to the Greeks. They were attacking mainland Greece whenever they could. Now, Alexander wanted to give a payback to Persia. He saw the destruction of Darius III and his mighty Persian empire. This is the famous Battle of Issus. In explorations in Pompeii, in the House of the Faun, a remarkable mosaic was unearthed. It shows Alexander the Great defeating Darius on the floor. This famous battle captured the imaginations of ancient peoples of the world. In Daniel chapter 8, God clearly told Daniel that Alexander would win this battle against Darius III.
Then comes the sad news. The goat became very great. At the height of its power, its large horn was broken off and in its place four prominent horns grew up. That is exactly what happened to Alexander.
June, 323 BC. Alexander the Great died in the city of Babylon. He was only thirty three years old. He conquered the known world by this time. What killed him? There are many theories – Excessive alcoholism, poisoning by his enemies, some unknown disease? We don’t know for sure. But he died. His empire was divided among his four generals.
Thus, God revealed to Daniel the rise and fall of Alexander the Great 250 years before their happenings in world history. Here we see the amazing wisdom, foreknowledge and power of God in the history of our world.
The next prophet who speaks about Alexander was Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a contemporary of Daniel. He was also taken as a captive to Babylon. Ezekiel predicted how Alexander the Great would be used by God to punish the enemies of Israel. Israel was surrounded by nations like Philistia, Moab, Ammon, and Tyre. They saw what Babylonians did to Israel. Yet, instead of repenting of their sins, they mocked Israel and its God. They did not humble themselves before God. Prophet Ezekiel predicted their destruction. In Ezekiel chapter 26, we read about the destruction of Tyre. This pheonician kingdom was mighty and fortified. It is located on the Mediterranean sea, with part of the kingdom lying as an island into the sea. Tyre thought itself to be impregnable. Yet, God told its destruction to prophet Ezekiel.
Alexander fulfilled this prophecy in the year 322 BC. He surrounded Tyre for 7 months. With a magnificent stroke of military engineering, he built a giant causeway to the island and decimated it. Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled on that day.
The third Biblical prophet who predicted the coming of Alexander was Zechariash. The Jews spent 70 years in Babylon. Then God brought them back to their country. When they came to Jerusalem, it was a desolate place. They saw their homes buried in the ground. The temple of God was in ashes. They decided to rebuild their temple. It was not going to be easy. They faced many obstacles. They were mocked and ridiculed by their neighbors. They stopped the construction of the temple and went back to their homes. At that juncture, God sent Zechariah to encourage them.
February 15, year 519 BC.
That night God gave Zechariah 8 visions. God gave great promises to his people through these visions. The greatest of these promises was the promise of the Messiah. We read about it in Zechariah chapter 9.
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, O Daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
If you read Zechariah chapter 9, the first 8 verses talk about the deeds of Alexander the Great. Then verse 9 focuses on the Messiah. The Jewish people would think about the Messiah when they see Alexander. Prophet Zechariah contrasted Alexander with the life of Messiah.
Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah – three prophets of the Bible spoke about Alexander and his kingdom. When the Jews showed these prophecies to Alexander, he was amazed.
Great historian Flavius Josephus wrote about this in his history of the Jews. During his battles in the Middle East, on his way to Egypt, Alexander takes a detour and enters Jerusalem. High priest Jaddua gives him a warm welcome. He shows him the prophecies of the Bible. Alexander stands in amazement. He bows down and recognizes the greatness of the God of Israel. He praises God and makes a sacrifice in the Temple. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, chap.8, sec 5)
Why would Alexander spare Jerusalem? Because the prophecy must be fulfilled. Zechariah 9:8 says that Alexander would not touch the Jews and their temple during his conquests. That prophecy given to Zechariah two hundred years before was fulfilled on that day.
Zechariah knew that when the Jews looked at Alexander, they might mistake him for the Messiah. Zechariah says, don’t be fooled by Alexander. He is not your Messiah. Your Messiah will come to you on a donkey. Alexander will come to you on his horses and chariots. But your Messiah will come to you on a donkey. Alexander will come to you with pomp and pageantry. But your Messiah will come to you as a humble servant of God. This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in AD 33. He rode on a donkey as Zechariah told us.
Zechariah contrasts the lives of Alexander the Great and Jesus, the Messiah in this chapter. Alexander and Messiah weighed heavily on the Jewish consciousness. Early Christians also contemplated a lot about Alexander and Jesus. Even secular historians could not miss the connection. Scholar Ory Amitay wrote a book titled, ‘From Alexander to Jesus’. He wrote,
“Alexander and Jesus were close neighbors in the boiling matrix of God’s heroes and demons which characterized the religious life of later antiquity”
Note those words. In the religious life of antiquity, in the boiling matrix of God’s heroes and demons, Alexander and Jesus were close neighbors.
Both lived 33 years.
Both influenced the lives of millions of people
Both influenced the cultures of the civilizations
Both brought different races of people together by kinship and marriage
Both died at the height of their popularity
Both were called the sons of God
Both were worshiped as Gods
Both had global ambitions
Jesus described himself as the son of God. Alexander regarded himself as the son of Greek god, Hercules. People saw Lord Jesus Christ as the manifestation of God and worshiped him by falling on his feet. Alexander founded a new city, Alexandria and visited a shrine dedicated to the god Zeus Ammon in the Siwa Oasis. When Alexander went to the shrine, the local priests greeted him as if he were a god.
Prophet Zechariah wants to show us how different the Messiah would be to Alexander. Alexander comes to establish a human kingdom. But Jesus would come to establish a kingdom for God. Alexander built hundreds of palaces for himself. Jesus lived a very humble life. The Son of man did not have a place even to lay his head. Jesus did not even own a home for himself.
Alexander comes to kill thousands of people. Jesus will come to sacrifice his own life to save others.
Alexander will destroy the nation of Tyre. Jesus will go to Tyre and Sidon and will preach them the goodness of God’s salvation.
Alexander, as mighty as he was, will bow down his head before death. But Jesus will conquer the grave and rise to life, three days after his death.
The disciples of Alexander will fight among themselves. But the disciples of Christ will become men and women who will turn the world upside down.
Let us go to Hellespont. A narrow waterway in today’s Turkey that forms the boundary between Asia and Europe. The armies of Persia crossed it to conquer Greece. The armies of Greece crossed it to conquer Persia. Apostle Paul was called to cross it to conquer the Western Civilization for Christ.
In Acts chapter 16, we find the Apostle in the city of Troy, which features prominently in Homer’s Greek classics, Iliad and Odyssey. God gave Paul a vision in which he saw a Macedonian urging Paul to come over to Macedonia. ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’ (Acts 16:9). It was no accident that God wanted Paul to start in Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. It was in the line of fulfillment of God’s prophecies concerning the Messiah.
Go back to the Great Statue Daniel saw in his vision. A rock came out and struck the statue on its feet and broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The rock became a huge mountain. it grew and grew and filled the whole earth. Who is this rock? This rock is our Lord Jesus Christ. He will destroy the kingdoms of this world in his second coming.
Now, this does not mean Alexander had no role in the sovereign plan of God in human history. How did God use Alexander the Great? First of all, God used him as a rod in his hand to punish disobedient people. We saw that in the case of Philistines and Phoenicians as Alexander destroyed the great cities in Levant like Gaza and Tyre.
Secondly, the Greek culture propagated by Alexander also helped in the globalization of Biblical worldview. We call this Hellenization.
In 31 BC a famous battle took place at Actium, on the western coast of present-day Greece. This naval confrontation happened between the forces of Caesar Octavian on one side and Mark Antony and Cleopatra on the other. Octavian won this battle and became the first Roman emperor, as Caesar Augustus. Earlier we saw that Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. The period between 323 BC to 31 BC is known as Hellenistic Period.
It tremendously influenced our world. It also influenced Judaism and later Christianity. Alexander became a great part of Jewish eschatology.
The Ptolemies, Maccabeans, King Herod and his building projects, His temple renovation in Jerusalem, the abomination of desolation, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Dead Sea scrolls, the Aramaic language – they were all influenced by Greeks.
Alexandria – it appeals powerfully to our imagination – the city of lighthouse, the city of ancient wisdom, the city of Cleopatra, and the city of Septuagint. It was founded by Alexander in 331 BC.
In this famous city, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek in the third century before Christ. We call it ‘Septuagint’. Some of its portions were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
When Lord Jesus Christ was in this world, Judea was a part of the larger Roman empire. Greek was the lingua franca of that empire. The early Christians spoke Greek. The entire New Testament was written in Greek. Alexander was discipled under Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher. His logic influenced Christian philosophers. Apostle Paul debated Greek philosophers in Athens as we read in Acts chapter 17. The Greeks asked profound questions about human existence, meaning and purpose. The Apostles pointed them to Christ: Jesus Christ is the answer to life’s most perplexing questions.
We can see Alexander as a forerunner to Jesus. We call John the Baptist as a voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord. God used Alexander to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus. We see God’s sovereign hand in leading human history towards Christ.
In his first coming, he came on a donkey, so humble and gentle. In his second coming, he will come as a rock to crush the rebellious individuals and nations. Today, I hope you come to Christ, confess your sins, receive his forgiveness, and become a saved person. Thank you.
Paul Kattupalli MD