The Beast of Revelation 13 (Part 1)
After Satan was hurled to Earth, we were warned that he would furiously war against Christians. The history of the church over the last 2000 years confirms this to be the case.
America was founded on Christian values, and because God often intervened in our nation’s spiritual development, we eventually became the world’s center of Christianity. Satan has always schemed to destroy anything God raises up. In this last generation, two unique things happened in our history: first, we became the greatest superpower in the history of mankind; and second, even though there are now hundreds of thousands of churches in America, thousands of evangelistic outreach ministries and the Bible taught everyday throughout our nation on radio and TV, our moral values have deteriorated more in this last generation than in all of the years combined since the beginning of our country.
Knowing these things, we should at least consider the possibility of America fitting into the Revelation 13 “spiritual warfare” prophecy about the last days. Could our nation be the “beast” or superpower that this chapter says eventually overcomes the testimony of Christians in the last days?
There is a sure way to find out. It is to put this possibility to a sound scriptural test.
Before I do that, I want to lay out some basic guidelines for use when interpreting prophetic Scriptures.
1. There is no higher authority for understanding God’s Word than to refer to other Scriptures where a similar word or phrase is used. This is what Jesus often did. This is the most important guideline, because we are going to the source of that inspiration rather than simply using speculation and conjecture to try to interpret. If an interpretation holds for one passage, it should for another as well. What’s more, the Word of God is absolutely accurate. We may not always understand everything it says, but we should not try to come up with an idea unless it can be documented accurately with Scripture.
2. In order to understand a word or passage, it is often necessary to study the original language in which it was written. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek. Difficult passages often require learning what that word or phrase meant to the Hebrew or Greek author who wrote it. This is especially true with prophetic words and phrases.
3. Historical evidence either confirms that a prophecy has already been fulfilled or is yet to be. Prophesies are statements about future events. Either they have happened as foretold, or they haven’t. The evidence should be conclusive.
4. Words in prophecy sometimes are used differently than their literal meaning. A word in prophecy may have a symbolic meaning rather than a concrete one. This will become evident as we proceed.
The Revelation 13 depiction of the “beast” is one of the most detailed and exacting descriptions of anything in the Bible. Evidently God did not want any mistake being made as to its identity. There are many theories today on the identity of this “beast,” in Revelation 13, but I couldn’t find any that can say they have run a scriptural test on each word and phrase to confirm their view.
Identifying the Beast of Revelation 13
John prophesies, “And the dragon [Satan] stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name” (Revelation 13:1). Although these words seem difficult, if not impossible to decipher, they are actually a blessing from the Lord to keep us from being misled. A careful reading of this verse reveals six distinct elements we need to test to determine the identity of this “beast” or superpower. If I can demonstrate that since World War II, America began fulfilling all of John’s prophecies about this “beast” in Revelation 13, then the enemy has come up with a most deceptive method to keep Christians in America from fulfilling our mission to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world in these last days.
The six descriptive words and phrases in this verse are: (1) “beast”; (2) “coming out of the sea”; (3) “ten horns”; (4) “seven heads”; (5) “ten crowns on his horns”; and (6) “on each head a blasphemous name.”
Test #1: the “beast.” The actual meaning of “beast” as used in prophecy should be abundantly clear. Remember that God’s inspired Word is the highest authority anyone can use to determine the meaning of a word in Scripture.
Fortunately, the Old Testament prophet Daniel speaks of “beasts” in chapter seven, and he is actually told the meaning by an angel. I suggest reading all of Daniel 7, but here are some highlights that help determine the meaning of this word “beast” in prophecy.
“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. Daniel said: ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea’” (Daniel 7:1-3). “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. I approached one of those standing there and asked him the true meaning of all this. So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth” (Daniel 7:15-17).
According to the interpretation given to Daniel, the word “beast” in prophetic Scripture refers to a kingdom, an empire, or what we would call a superpower. Elsewhere in the Book of Daniel, the four “beasts” he saw are described as the superpowers of Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece (under Alexander the Great) and the Roman Empire. In the first part of chapter seven Daniel also describes three of the “beasts” as wild animals—a lion, bear and leopard. Note that John uses all three of these animals in Revelation 13:2 to describe the “beast” he saw, indicating that the Revelation 13 involves “beast” is the greatest superpower in the history of mankind. This is what America has become in this last generation.
Daniel used the word “beast” to describe the recognized world powers, and John uses this word in the same way when writing about a superpower that will rise up in the era of those who give testimony to Jesus Christ in the last days. America passes the test of being a “beast,” in a prophetic sense, because we have become that world superpower.
Let me pause briefly to explain something. The “beast” in Revelation 13 is often said to refer to a man. Some Bible translations actually refer to this “beast” as a man; other versions call it an entity or superpower. For example, the King James and New International Versions use the masculine pronouns “he,” “his” and “him,” when referring to the “beast,” which suggests the “beast” is a man. The Revised Standard Version, Philips and others use the neuter pronoun “it,” and “its” when referring to the “beast,” which indicates the “beast” is a superpower, not a person.
To properly interpret the word, I contacted a seminary professor with a doctorate in Greek. Were the pronouns “he,” “his,” and “him” correct, or were “it” and “its” correct? The noun translated “beast” in Revelation 13 is the Greek word onpiov.
The Greek word avrov is the pronoun Revelation 13 uses to reference the “beast.” To be grammatically correct, a pronoun must be of the same gender as the noun it refers to. If the original Greek word used for “beast” is masculine gender, then “he,” “his” and “him” are the correct pronouns; if the original Greek word is neuter gender, then “it” and “its” are the proper translation.
The Greek word for “beast” in Revelation 13 is neuter gender, so “it” and “its” are the correct pronouns. This is a grammatical fact. Most publishers agree that to use the masculine gender pronouns “he,” “his,” and “him” when referring to the word “beast” is an inaccurate translation (see Zondervan Publishing House, Greek-English New Testament, Grand Rapids, MI, 1975, p. 751). Let me repeat: The Greek word for “beast” is neuter gender, so the proper rendering of John’s writing is the pronouns “it” and “its.” Thus, like Daniel, John likely used the word “beast” to refer to a superpower, not an individual.
Interpreting John’s use of the prophetic word “beast” to mean a superpower is also consistent with the first guideline, which is to use other Scriptures—in this case, the Book of Daniel. Granted, superpowers have leaders, even as Babylon did in Daniel’s day. But it would be an error to see this passage as first referring to a person instead of a superpower.
My next BLOG will begin with Test #2 from The Beast of Revelation 13 (Part 2); watch for it in December, 2010.Tags: Alexander the Great, authority, avrov, Babylon, beast, Christianity, coming out of the sea, evangelistic outreach, foretold, four kingdoms that will rise from the earth, Greece, Greek, guideline, Hebrew, identity of the beast, inspiration, interpreting prophetic Scriptures, last days, light of the world, Media-Persia, moral values, neuter gender, New Testament, Old Testament, on each head a blasphemous name, onpiov, prophecy, Revelation 13, Roman Empire, salt of the earth, satan, seven heads, spiritual development, spiritual warfare, superpower, symbolic meaning, ten crowns on his horns, ten horns, Word of God