The Worship of the “Wild Beast”—Why True Christians Refuse
CAN you imagine large numbers of men and women of all races and nationalities worshiping a seven-headed wild beast? That may seem like a strange question. Yet it is one drawn, not from the realm of fiction, but from reality. The most tragic aspect is that there are persons who resort to brutalities in an effort to force others to worship the “wild beast.”
That “wild beast” was seen in vision by the Christian apostle John back in the first century C.E. Describing it, John wrote: “I saw a wild beast ascending out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, and upon its horns ten diadems, but upon its heads blasphemous names. Now the wild beast that I saw was like a leopard, but its feet were as those of a bear, and its mouth was as a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave to the beast its power and its throne and great authority.” (Rev. 13:1, 2) Regarding the extent of that authority, we read: “Authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all those who dwell on the earth will worship it.”—Rev. 13:7, 8.
There is no question about the identity of the “dragon.” Earlier, the apostle John referred to “the great dragon” as “the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Rev. 12:9) But just what is the “wild beast” that derives its authority from the Devil?
THE “WILD BEAST” IDENTIFIED
Over the years Bible scholars have concerned themselves with this question. One of these, Charles John Ellicott, back in the nineteenth century edited eight volumes of commentary covering the whole Bible. In a condensed version of Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, we find the following explanation of the “wild beast ascending out of the sea”:
“The sea represents the great, restless mass of human kind. The individuals, like larger and smaller waves, make up this great ocean-like mass of men, swayed by impulse or passion. . . . The wild beast is always the figure of the kingdoms of this world—i.e., the kingdoms which are founded on passion or selfishness. They are seven in number, as the beast has seven heads. We read afterward of seven mountains. These world powers are spoken of as mountains for their strength and stability; as heads of the wild beast because, though separate, they are inspired by the dragon spirit, the spirit of utter enmity to the rule of the Righteous King. In [Revelation] 17:10 we read that five are fallen, one was in possession of power, and the seventh had not yet arisen. The key is thus placed in our hands. The sixth head is imperial Rome.”
This commentary is based on clues that the Bible itself provides. The Scriptures speak of the sea, or waters, as representing “peoples and crowds and nations and tongues.” (Rev. 17:15) We also read: “The wicked are like the sea that is being tossed, when it is unable to calm down, the waters of which keep tossing up seaweed and mire.” (Isa. 57:20) As to the beast that came out of that “sea,” the Bible book of Daniel provides helpful information to make positive identification. There we find a description of four beasts—a lion, a bear, a leopard and a creature that is terrifying in appearance. These four beasts are identified as kings or kingdoms. The lion represents Babylon; the bear, Medo-Persia, and the leopard, Greece. (Dan. 7:2-7, 17, 18) By the time the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, the world powers of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece had fallen, as also had the great powers of Egypt and Assyria before them. Accordingly, the “wild beast” must represent the great political system that has ruled over mankind through its successive seven heads, starting with the world power of Egypt.
An event during the earthly life of Jesus Christ proves that Satan has indeed been the one behind the beastly ruling powers. The Bible reports: “The Devil took [Jesus] along to an unusually high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him: ‘All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.’” (Matt. 4:8, 9) By reason of his controlling “the kingdoms of the world,” the adversary could offer them to Jesus Christ. The Son of God did not deny that the Devil was in position to give him these kingdoms. In fact, Jesus later told his disciples: “There is a judging of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.”—John 12:31.
The book of Revelation reveals that pressures would be applied to earth’s inhabitants to become worshipers of the Devil-controlled “wild beast.” We are informed that all persons would be put under compulsion—“the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, that they should give these a mark in their right hand or upon their forehead, and that nobody might be able to buy or sell except a person having the mark, the name of the wild beast or the number of its name.”—Rev. 13:16, 17.
The “mark” of the beast would identify the one having it as belonging to that “wild beast,” giving it full support. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary notes that the mark ‘surely means the acquiescence to the principles of this tyrannical world-power.’
Now the question is, Could a true Christian give his full assent to the “wild beast”? Not if he wants to remain loyal to Jehovah God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 13:8 states that the ‘name of not one of the worshipers of the wild beast stands written in the scroll of life of the Lamb.’
EARLY CHRISTIANS STOOD FIRM
The conduct of early Christians toward the sixth head of the “wild beast,” Rome, shows that they firmly believed this. Of course, those Christians were not disrespectful to the ruling authorities. They recognized that the Roman Empire existed due to God’s permission. Furthermore, those in governing authority had a measure of God-given conscience and, therefore, provided beneficial services for all, including Christians. Among such services were the maintenance of a legal system, the building and upkeep of roads, protection from criminals and illegal mobs, and the like. With a good conscience, therefore, Christians paid taxes and tribute. Never did they rise up in revolt against the secular authority.—Compare Romans 13:1-7.
Even those who renounced Christianity, when faced with the threat of death, acknowledged that they had been taught to live exemplary lives. In a letter to Emperor Trajan, Pliny wrote:
“Others, named by an informer, at first acknowledged themselves Christians, and then denied it, declaring that though they had been Christians, they had renounced their profession, some three years ago, others still longer, and some even twenty years ago. All these worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and at the same time execrated Christ. And this was the account which they gave me of the nature of the religion they once had professed, whether it deserves the name of crime or error; namely, that they were accustomed on a stated day to assemble . . . binding themselves as with a solemn oath not to commit any kind of wickedness; to be guilty neither of theft, robbery, nor adultery; never to break a promise, or to keep back a deposit when called upon.”
Truly, the Roman Empire had nothing to fear from such law-abiding people. Nevertheless, the mere profession of being a Christian was then punishable by death. Answering Pliny’s letter about handling cases involving Christians, Emperor Trajan wrote:
“These people are not to be hunted up by informers; but if accused and convicted, let them be executed; yet with this restriction, that if any renounce the profession of Christianity, and give proof of it by offering supplication to our gods, however suspicious their past conduct may have been, they shall be pardoned on their repentance.”
Yes, just one small gesture could make the difference between life and execution. In many cases Christians could have saved their life by putting a pinch of incense on an altar standing before the image of the ruling emperor. Yet true Christians would not compromise. They did not submit to the wishes of the sixth head of the “wild beast.”
To many people today the stand of true Christians would not make sense. We read in the book The Beginnings of the Christian Religion:
“The act of emperor worship consisted in sprinkling a few grains of incense or a few drops of wine on an altar which stood before an image of the emperor. Perhaps at our long remove from the situation we see in the act nothing different from . . . lifting the hand in salute to the flag or to some distinguished ruler of state, an expression of courtesy, respect, and patriotism. Possibly a good many people in the first century felt just that way about it but not so the Christians. They viewed the whole matter as one of religious worship, acknowledging the emperor as a deity and therefore being disloyal to God and Christ, and they refused to do it.”
But why did not the sixth head of the “wild beast” respect the conscience of Christians? It had nothing to fear from them. They were obeying the command of their Lord: “Pay back . . . Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matt. 22:21) The sixth head of the “wild beast,” however, was not satisfied with receiving what rightly belonged to it. That sixth head wanted also what belonged to God. The aforementioned book continues:
“Because they refused [Christians] were regarded as politically disloyal. The reason why Christians were persecuted was precisely that they were considered enemies of the state because they would not join in emperor worship. It was such worship that helped bind into a real unity the widely divergent elements that made up the Roman empire.”
Note that, in the final analysis, the point at issue was political loyalty to the state—a loyalty that put the state ahead of God and made the state the supreme authority. The sixth head of the “wild beast” did not object to the religious professions of its subjects so long as they venerated Caesar. But it would not tolerate anyone’s giving exclusive devotion to the Creator of heaven and earth. Hence, that sixth head seized for itself the position of a god and demanded to be acknowledged as such. True Christians simply could not go along with such presumptuousness. They viewed themselves as being accountable to an authority higher than that of the state, namely, to God and Christ.
WORSHIP OF THE “WILD BEAST” TODAY
In modern times, the Christian body, known world wide as Jehovah’s Witnesses, has experienced from the “wild beast” the same things as first-century Christians. Take the African country of Malawi, for example. There all citizens have been required to become members of the country’s only existing political party, the “Malawi Congress Party.” A membership card costing about twenty-five cents (U.S.) identifies the bearer as ‘acquiescing to the principles of the ruling political party,’ especially to the Life President, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda. How are the people of Malawi to view the purchase of a “Party Card”? An official circular issued on August 27, 1975, says: “This is the one way in which we people of this country can show appreciation to our Life Leader, the Ngwazi [Dr. Banda] for developing this country of Malawi.” Accordingly, refusal to buy a “Party Card” is viewed as a lack of appreciation—an act of disloyalty to Life President Dr. Banda. The fact that the person refusing to buy a “Party Card” is a law-abiding citizen who truly loves his fellowmen is not taken into consideration. In the eyes of the Malawi government, the individual is a criminal, not deserving of any legal protection.
As a result, men and women who, for conscience’ sake, refused to buy “Party Cards” have suffered terrible persecution. Many have had their homes burned and their belongings seized. They have been severely beaten, often to the point of unconsciousness. Shocking indignities have been perpetrated against them, including sexual abuses. Some have been killed. Thousands have been herded into concentration camps. Infants have been taken from their mothers and later some of these have died because of not being given proper attention.
Many persons would probably say that it would surely be better just to buy the “Party Card” and thus avoid trouble. Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, of course, do not expect all people to understand their position nor are they interested in forcing their conscientious objections on others. In that respect, all they desire is to be allowed to live morally clean lives, to be able to demonstrate, by word and action, depth of concern for their fellowmen, and to have the freedom to give God exclusive devotion.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses they value their relationship to God and Christ above everything else. Were they to identify themselves as giving unquestioning support to any political arrangement, they would be acting contrary to the Bible’s teaching that all human governmental systems exist by God’s toleration only until such time as he chooses to replace them by his kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ. (Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14) Jehovah’s Witnesses have promised to give unqualified allegiance exclusively to God and Christ. Any act on their part that would indicate otherwise, therefore, would be an act of disloyalty. Such an act would be taking away from God and Christ their rightful due and so would be worship of the “wild beast.”
Moreover, the provisions for life come, not from the political state, but from God. The Christian apostle Paul told the men of Lystra: “In the past generations [God] permitted all the nations to go on in their ways, although, indeed, he did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts to the full with food and good cheer.”—Acts 14:16, 17.
Hence, whenever the enjoyment of God’s provisions is made dependent solely upon expressions of prescribed allegiance to the governmental authority (as, for example, compulsory membership in the ruling political party), the state, by falsely representing itself as the source of all good things, makes itself a god. Those who support the state’s policy in this regard, either voluntarily or under compulsion, become worshipers of the “wild beast.” They give their assent to the wild beast’s disregard for the true God and to all the brutalities that it commits against those who give Him exclusive devotion.
The answer as to why true Christians cannot and will not worship the “wild beast” is, therefore, simple. The wild beast is not entitled to such worship. No matter how insignificant the act required may seem, a Christian’s engaging in such worship would mean his being disloyal to God and Christ. True Christians will, instead, show unbreakable devotion to the Giver of life and to his Son’s kingdom.