Understanding the Beasts of Revelation
CONCERNING God’s inspired Word we read: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) That the book of Revelation is part of that Word and given for the same purpose is clear from its opening verse: “A revelation by Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his slaves the things that must shortly take place. And he sent forth his angel and presented it in signs through him to his slave John.”—Rev. 1:1.
Among the signs given in the book of Revelation concerning which many inquire as to their meaning are certain beasts described therein: “A great fiery-colored dragon,” “a wild beast ascending out of the sea,” “another wild beast” that “had two horns like a lamb,” and “a scarlet-colored wild beast.”—Rev. 12:3; 13:1, 11; 17:3.
To understand these symbols or signs one must have a knowledge of God’s basic principles governing the interpretation and understanding of Bible prophecy as revealed in the Bible itself, chief of which is that it is God who gives the interpretations.—Gen. 40:8.
How does God provide understanding of his prophecies? By means of his Word, his holy spirit and his earthly instrument or channel. Other vital factors in understanding Bible prophecy are the time element and the mental attitude of the ones desiring to understand.
That Jehovah God himself repeatedly interpreted specific Bible prophecies by means of his Word that Word clearly shows. Thus in the Bible itself is the record of the fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the destruction, the seventy-year desolation and the restoration of Jerusalem.a And in particular does the Bible interpret ever so many of the prophecies about the Messiah by recording their fulfillment.b
The Bible itself also aids in the understanding of Bible prophecy by establishing certain principles that apply to its prophecies. For example, God gave to both Moses and Ezekiel the rule of “a day for a year.” This rule throws light on the prophecy of Daniel concerning the seventy weeks of years.—Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6; Dan. 9:24-27.
That understanding Bible prophecy also requires the enlightening power of God’s holy spirit the Scriptures likewise make clear: “God has revealed them through his spirit, for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God.” Yes, without the aid of God’s spirit, which he limits to those devoted to him, men cannot arrive at an accurate understanding of Bible prophecies.—1 Cor. 2:10.
AN EARTHLY CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION
Additionally, in interpreting Bible prophecy God has seen fit to use an earthly channel of communication. A case in point is when the governing body at Jerusalem, consisting of the apostles and older men there, showed that the coming in of the Gentiles to become members of Christ’s body was in fulfillment of Amos 9:11, 12: “In that day I shall raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and I shall certainly repair their breaches . . . to the end that they may take possession of . . . all the nations upon whom my name has been called.”—Acts 15:13-18.
Jesus indicated that God would continue to deal in this manner with his earthly servants when he foretold: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.” And in that the apostle Paul shows that ‘Christ is not divided’ and that there were to be no divisions among his followers, we must conclude that God uses only one channel at any one time.—Matt. 24:45-47; 1 Cor. 1:10-13.
That Jehovah is using such a channel today and that it is associated with the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses the facts unmistakably show. Proof of this can be seen by the message that these bear, by the fact that each one of them is a preacher of the good news, by the fruits of the spirit they produce and by their keeping separate from the world.c
THE TIME ELEMENT
“For everything there is an appointed time.” That this principle applies to the understanding of Bible prophecy is clear from the words God said to Daniel: “The words are made secret and sealed up until the time of the end.” Thus also note that the book of Revelation relates to “things that must shortly take place,” showing that it relates to things in the future. And since with God “a thousand years [is] as one day,” “shortly” may well mean a thousand years or more.—Eccl. 3:1; Dan. 12:9; Rev. 1:1; 2 Pet. 3:8.
Bearing this out are John’s further words: “By inspiration I came to be in the Lord’s day.” (Rev. 1:10) Other prophecies locate the Lord’s day as beginning in 1914. Since John saw these things occurring in the Lord’s day, we should expect them to apply particularly from 1914 onward.—Ps. 2:6-9; 110:1-3; Luke 17:26.
More than that, we find striking parallels between Jesus’ great prophecy, found at Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and Revelation. Since that prophecy, as repeatedly noted in this magazine, began to have fulfillment in the year 1914, we must conclude that its parallels in Revelation would also find fulfillment then. Compare Matthew 24:6, 7 with Revelation 6:4-6; 11:18.
That in understanding Bible prophecy the mental attitude is important is also clearly shown in the Scriptures. That is why God said to Daniel: “No wicked ones at all will understand; but the ones having insight will understand.” And that is why Jesus told the clergy of his day that because of their selfishness they were unable to grasp his message: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?”—Dan. 12:10; John 5:44.
Further, in understanding such prophecies as the beasts of Revelation we must keep in mind that it is solid spiritual food and that therefore it can be assimilated only by those who have made some progress in spiritual understanding. To illustrate: How could one appreciate that the dragon and his angels represented Satan and his demons if one did not believe in the existence of these? This principle also applies in a collective sense, for “the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” It follows that even if God’s Word itself does not interpret a prophecy we may not shut out the possibility of increased light shining upon it. With these principles in mind let us now proceed with a consideration of the beasts of Revelation.—Prov. 4:18.