Peace, Security, and the ‘Image of the Beast’
“And he carried me away in the power of the spirit into a wilderness. And I caught sight of a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored wild beast that was full of blasphemous names and that had seven heads and ten horns.”—REVELATION 17:3.
1. Why is John’s vision of a seven-headed, ten-horned beast of concern to us?
THE apostle John saw this frightening beast in a divinely inspired vision. But John is not the only one to have seen it. In all likelihood, you, too, have seen it, or at least read about it in the newspapers. Did you recognize it?
2, 3. What series of creatures did John see in his vision?
2 Of course, when we today see this beast, it does not have the appearance that John described. What John saw was symbolic of something that would exist on earth “in the Lord’s day.” (Revelation 1:10) Today we see its fulfillment. The repellent shape of the beast that John saw reflects Jehovah’s view of what it represents—it is repugnant to Him! John had already witnessed in his vision Satan the Devil cast down to the earth “having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” (Revelation 12:12) He had also seen the political systems of Satan’s world represented as a monstrous beast with seven heads and ten horns ascending out of the “sea” of humanity. (Revelation 13:2; 17:15; Isaiah 57:20; Luke 4:5, 6) This beast had authority over all mankind, and people were forced to submit to the ‘mark of the beast’ in their right hand or upon their forehead, signifying their support for it.—Revelation 13:7, 16, 17.
3 John had watched as men made an image of this beast. (Revelation 13:14, 15) It is this image that he saw in the above vision described in Revelation chapter 17. This seven-headed, ten-horned “image” will play an important part in future events; so it is vital for us to identify it. How can we do that?
The “Image” of the Beast Today
4, 5. What did the heads of the visionary beast represent?
4 An angel gave John some information that helps us. He said: “The seven heads mean seven mountains, where the woman sits on top. And there are seven kings: five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet arrived, but when he does arrive he must remain a short while.” (Revelation 17:9, 10) The mention of “kings” and “mountains”—which in the Bible can often represent political powers—indicates that the heads of the beast represent governments. (Jeremiah 51:25) Which seven governments are involved?
5 Well, five had already fallen in John’s day, one still existed, and one was to come. In Bible history, five major empires flourished, oppressed God’s people, and then fell before John’s day: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. When John was alive, the Roman empire was in power. Centuries after John’s death, the Roman empire passed from the scene as the dominant world power and was eventually replaced by the British empire. Soon this empire’s western colonies gained independence and came to act closely with Britain to form the Anglo-American world power. This is the “king” that had “not yet arrived” in John’s day. What was the relationship between the beast that John saw and the seven empires represented by its heads? “It is also itself an eighth king, but springs from the seven.”—Revelation 17:11.
6. (a) What did the horns of the beast mean? (b) In what way had they “not yet received a kingdom”?
6 Remember, too, that the beast had ten horns. About these, the angel said: “The ten horns that you saw mean ten kings, who have not yet received a kingdom, but they do receive authority as kings one hour with the wild beast.” (Revelation 17:12) In the Bible, the number ten represents completeness as to things on earth. Therefore, these horns symbolize all the governmental powers earth wide that support the wild beast for a short time (“one hour”) during “the Lord’s day.” They include the seventh world power, as well as the modern governments that have descended from the other six ‘heads of the beast,’ though these six are no longer world powers. These “kings” did not exist in John’s day.* Now that they have gained authority, they “give their power and authority to the wild beast.”—Revelation 17:13.
7, 8. (a) What is the beast that John saw, as described in Revelation chapter 17? (b) How is it related to the heads and the horns?
7 Do you recognize the beast now? Yes, it is the same as “the disgusting thing that causes desolation” that began as the League of Nations and that now exists as the United Nations. (Matthew 24:15; Daniel 12:11) How does this organization ‘spring from the seven world powers’? In the sense that the whole beastlike organization, like an eighth power, is brought into existence by already existing governments, with the Anglo-American world power being its chief sponsor and supporter.
8 In addition, as the angel told John, all the “ten horns” give “power and authority to the wild beast.” (Revelation 17:13) In fact, without support from the governments represented by the heads and the horns, the beast would be powerless. Why? Because it is merely an image. (Revelation 13:14) Like all images, it is powerless in itself. (Isaiah 44:14-17) Any life that it has comes from its supporters. (Revelation 13:15) At times some of these have taken decisive action through the United Nations, as, for example, during the Korean War.
9. How is our identification of the beast confirmed?
9 Our identification of this beast is confirmed by some further details given by the angel: “The wild beast that you saw was, but is not, and yet is about to ascend out of the abyss, and it is to go off into destruction.” (Revelation 17:8) This has already been fulfilled in part. The second world war effectively killed the League of Nations. In 1942, when Jehovah’s Witnesses came to understand this prophecy clearly, it could be said of the League-beast: “It ‘is not.’”* But in 1945 it ‘ascended out of the abyss’ as the United Nations organization. Will it succeed in its mission to bring peace and security? The prophecy says no. Rather, it is “to go off into destruction.”
The Rider of the Beast
10, 11. (a) Who was riding the beast in John’s vision? (b) How has this feature of the vision been fulfilled in modern times?
10 Did you notice something else about the beast? There was a “woman” riding it. She is identified as the worldwide empire of false religion, “Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth.” (Revelation 17:3-5, 15) Have the world’s religions ‘ridden’ both organizations, trying to guide their course? Yes, particularly the religions of Christendom.
11 For example, Dutch correspondent Pierre van Paassen described the “something akin to religious enthusiasm” of the representatives of the Protestant churches of America, Britain, and the Scandinavian countries who attended sessions of the League of Nations. In 1945 the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America declared: “We are determined to work for the continued expansion of the curative and creative functions of the United Nations Organization.” In 1965 Pope Paul VI declared that he saw in the organization “the reflection of the loving and transcendent design of God for the progress of the human family on earth—a reflection in which We see the message of the Gospel which is heavenly become earthly.” Indeed, religious leaders have made that organization “full of blasphemous names.”—Revelation 17:3; compare Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14.
No Force for Peace
12. What has been the relationship of the United Nations organization’s supporters and God’s Kingdom?
12 The United Nations does not enjoy good relations with God’s Kingdom. In fact, its supporters oppose that Kingdom. The angel told John: “[The ten horns] will battle with the Lamb, but, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb will conquer them. Also, those called and chosen and faithful with him will do so.” (Revelation 17:14) True to the prophecy, the nations have persistently ‘battled with the Lamb’ throughout this time of the end, opposing and persecuting those who act as ambassadors of his Kingdom. The Lamb, though, is unconquerable, and so are his servants on earth who continue preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom despite bannings, imprisonments, and even death.—Matthew 10:16-18; John 16:33; 1 John 5:4.
13. Why could the United Nations never be a force for real peace?
13 In truth, the United Nations could never be a force for real peace. Its rider, “Babylon the Great,” is one of the most wicked war makers in history, and she is “drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:6) The wars of the nations who support that organization have soaked the earth in blood. (Matthew 24:6, 7) And the power behind them, Satan the Devil, “the great dragon,” is no peacemaker. (Revelation 12:9, 17; 13:2) Mankind will never enjoy security as long as these entities exist. They will have to be removed.
The Necessary Steps Toward Peace
14. (a) In John’s vision, what happened to the rider of the beast? (b) How will this be fulfilled?
14 The first to go is false religion, in a most unexpected way. This is the way it happens: “The ten horns that you saw, and the wild beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire.” What a shock to mankind! (Revelation 17:16; 18:9-19) It is the destructive, nationalistic “horns,” prominent in the United Nations organization, that will devastate her. How remarkably this reminds us of Jesus’ prophecy that “the disgusting thing” would desolate “Jerusalem”! (Mark 13:14-20; Luke 21:20) However, while it is the nations that perform this execution, they are really carrying out God’s judgment on “the great harlot,” including Christendom. The result? False religion “will never be found again.”—Revelation 17:1; 18:21.
15, 16. (a) What is the “great tribulation”? (b) What will it result in? (c) How will Satan be prevented from ruining the peace prospects of mankind?
15 Jesus said that the destruction of Christendom would be the start of a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Matthew 24:15, 21) As the tribulation continues, God’s Kingdom will execute judgment on all the political and commercial parts of Satan’s organization. (Daniel 2:44) John now sees the King in action: “I saw the heaven opened, and, look! a white horse. And the one seated upon it is called Faithful and True, and he judges and carries on war in righteousness.” Ranged against him are the political nations of the earth along with the ‘image of the beast.’ The result of the war? Once again, destruction for the peace destroyers!—Revelation 19:11, 19-21.
16 That will leave just one great obstacle to peace: Satan the Devil himself. John goes on to describe the incapacitating of this great enemy of mankind: “I saw an angel coming down out of heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he seized the dragon, the original serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”—Revelation 20:1-3.
A Time of Choice
17. What steps should be taken now by individuals who desire to see real peace?
17 What a time of changes for mankind! But while organizations and governments are being removed, what happens to individuals is largely a matter of their own choice. In an expression of love, Jehovah decreed: “In all the nations the good news has to be preached first,” before the great tribulation. (Mark 13:10) Peace lovers are invited to “get out of” Babylon the Great. (Revelation 18:4) Those in Christendom are urged to ‘flee to the mountains.’ (Luke 21:21) Those who submit to God’s Kingdom must avoid having ‘the mark of the beast.’ (Revelation 14:9-12; John 17:15, 16) A great crowd of such righthearted ones will “come out of the great tribulation.” (Revelation 7:9-14) In fact, no one necessarily has to perish along with Satan’s system.—Proverbs 2:21, 22.
18, 19. (a) What can be said about when the great tribulation will break out? (b) How are Christians now preparing themselves for that time?
18 When will these earth-shaking events take place? Well, the “good news” is being heard around the world today. “The disgusting thing” is in place. (Matthew 24:14-16) In fact, the ‘image of the beast,’ already in the second stage of its existence, is now due to “go off into destruction.” (Revelation 17:8) The fulfillment of the “sign” shows that we have been living in the time of Jesus’ presence for 71 years, since 1914. (Matthew 24:3) Jesus said: “When you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matthew 24:33, 34) Hence, the “great tribulation” must be very close. Can we be more precise than that? Not at this time.
19 The apostle Paul foretold: “Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3) So the great tribulation will be a shocking surprise to mankind in general. It will not, however, be a shock for Christians. They know that it is coming, and they follow Jesus’ counsel: “Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur.”—Luke 21:36.
20. Why at this time can Christians not say when the great tribulation will come?
20 Nevertheless, Christians cannot say in advance exactly when the great tribulation will strike. Jehovah has not revealed “that day or the hour.” (Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:42) Thus when, for example, the United Nations declares the year 1986 an “International Year of Peace,” Christians watch the event with interest. But they cannot say in advance whether this will prove to be the fulfillment of Paul’s words quoted above. They are, though, grateful that Jehovah has enabled them to discern the significance of the ‘image of the beast’ and “the disgusting thing that causes desolation.” Thus they see this organization the way Jehovah sees it and are not misled by its efforts to bring peace.
21. (a) What peace do Christians enjoy even now? (b) To what can they confidently look forward?
21 Those who do “keep awake” and submit themselves to God’s Kingdom enjoy peace even now. Jehovah, “the God of peace,” is with them and gives them “the peace of God that excels all thought.” (Philippians 4:7, 9) Moreover, they look forward to the not-too-distant time when the whole earth will enjoy the fulfillment of Isaiah’s beautiful prophecy: “The work of the true righteousness must become peace; and the service of the true righteousness, quietness and security to time indefinite. And my people must dwell in a peaceful abiding place and in residences of full confidence and in undisturbed resting-places.” (Isaiah 32:16-18) This will be security on a worldwide scale. (Isaiah 11:9) And it will be real peace because Jehovah himself will be its author.
The political scene today is quite different from that of John’s day. Very few member nations of the UN even existed back then. Hence, it is true to say that they had “not yet received a kingdom.” There are a few exceptions, such as Egypt. But even in these lands, the power structure has changed so much over the centuries that the angel’s comment is still true: The governments now in power had “not yet received a kingdom” in John’s day.
While World War II was escalating in all its fury, the president of the Watch Tower Society, on September 20, 1942, delivered to the New World Theocratic Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses the speech “Peace—Can It Last?” Therein, he showed from Revelation chapter 17 that, contrary to the expectation of many, World War II would not culminate in Armageddon. First the ‘peace beast’ must rise again from the abyss of inactivity to rule for a figurative “one hour” with the political powers.
Do You Recall?
□ What are some characteristics of the beast of Revelation 17?
□ What does this beast represent?
□ Why can this figurative beast never bring peace?
□ How will God’s Kingdom finally bring peace and security to mankind?
□ How may individuals benefit from this knowledge?
[Blurb on page 15]
Pope Paul VI saw in the United Nations “the reflection of the loving and transcendent design of God for the progress of the human family”
[Picture on page 17]
Peace lovers are urged to “get out of” Babylon the Great