The Beasts of the Apocalypse—What Do They Mean?
ON SATURDAY, June 15, 1985, the afternoon sun shone brightly on the United Nations buildings in New York. As usual, a stream of visitors had come to see the impressive complex, and many could not hide their admiration for all the things they saw.
Thus far, though, the United Nations seems a long way from uniting the nations. As an official guide said that afternoon: “There have been 150 wars since World War II, with more than 20 million people killed. There is no world government yet. This is probably the closest thing to it.” Is world government, then, an elusive dream? Believe it or not, the answer can be found by examining the beasts of the Apocalypse.
Some Bible commentators see no prophetic meaning in the beasts of the book of Revelation. Rather, they apply them to events that took place while the apostle John was still alive. For example, The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its discussion of the beasts of the Apocalypse, says: “It was the custom of apocalyptic writers . . . to cast their visions into the form of prophecies and give them the appearance of being the work of an earlier date.”
But the apostle John declared: “By inspiration I came to be in the Lord’s day.” (Revelation 1:10) Yes, the book of Revelation focuses, not on past history, but on a future “day” when the Lord Jesus Christ would commence ruling from heaven. According to Revelation chapter 6, “the Lord’s day” is marked by world war, widespread food shortages, and deadly disease. The events witnessed on earth during this 20th century are convincing proof that we have been living in “the Lord’s day” since 1914.—Revelation 6:1-8.*
In that historic year, Jesus Christ commenced his Kingdom rule. (Revelation 11:15, 18) The beasts of the Apocalypse must therefore be prominent after that date. Indeed, these beasts picture enemies of God that hinder people from looking to God’s Kingdom as the only arrangement that will satisfy mankind’s desire for peace. These enemies include a dragon and three wild beasts. Let us examine them in order of appearance.
The Great Dragon
“Look!” exclaimed John, “a great fiery-colored dragon, with seven heads and ten horns.” What does this great dragon picture? John himself explains that it represents none other than Satan the Devil. According to John’s vision, this dragon fiercely opposed the birth of God’s heavenly Kingdom in 1914. The result? “So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.”—Revelation 12:3, 7-9.
John shows that this would have dire effects on mankind. “Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” (Revelation 12:12) Though confined to the vicinity of the earth, Satan is still bent on interfering with God’s established Kingdom. He does this by misleading mankind, using three wild beasts. Consider John’s description of the first of these.
The Sea Beast
“I saw a wild beast ascending out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads . . . 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.”—Revelation 13:1, 2.
What does this monstrous animal picture? Under inspiration, John provides an important clue: “Authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.” (Revelation 13:7) What exercises authority over every person living on earth? Only one thing: the worldwide system of political rulership. Does this system really receive authority from “the dragon,” Satan? The Bible answers yes. For example, the apostle John said: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” No wonder Satan, while tempting Jesus in the wilderness, offered him authority over “all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth” and claimed: “[This authority] has been delivered to me.”—1 John 5:19; Luke 4:5, 6.
What, though, is pictured by those seven heads? John was shown another monstrous beast that was virtually a mirror image of this one. It also had seven heads. The heads of the image were explained as representing “seven kings,” or world powers, of which “five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet arrived.” (Revelation 17:9, 10) Five world powers emerged in Bible history before John’s day: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. Rome, the sixth, was still in power when John was alive.
What was the seventh head? Since the vision had to do with “the Lord’s day,” it must refer to the world power that stands in Rome’s position of power during these last days since 1914. History reveals this to be a dual world power composed of Britain and the United States of America. Before 1914, Britain had built the biggest empire the world had ever seen. During the 19th century, it had also formed strong diplomatic and trade ties with the United States. These two countries fought side by side during World Wars I and II, and their special relationship has continued until today. In 1982, United States President Reagan spoke to the British parliament about “our two countries’ remarkable friendship.” More recently, in February 1985, the British prime minister addressed the two houses of the United States Congress and said: “May our two kindred nations go forward together . . . firm of purpose, sharing in faith, . . . as we approach the third millennium of the Christian era.”
Because of its great influence on world affairs, the Anglo-American dual world power is pictured separately in the book of Revelation. How? By the second of the beasts of the Apocalypse.
The Land Beast
“And I saw another wild beast,” writes John, “ascending out of the earth, and it had two horns like a lamb, but it began speaking as a dragon.” By claiming to be Christian and nonaggressive, the Anglo-American world power puts on a lamblike appearance. But it has really acted like a dragon. How? By colonizing many nations and greedily exploiting the earth’s resources. Also, “it makes the earth and those who dwell in it worship the first wild beast, whose deathstroke got healed. And it . . . tells those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the wild beast.” (Revelation 13:3, 11-15) How was this fulfilled?
Satan’s worldwide political system suffered a “deathstroke” during the first world war. To prevent such a thing from happening again, Britain and America promoted “worship” of the political system. They did this by getting the nations “to make an image to the wild beast.” How did this happen?
Toward the end of the first world war, President Wilson of the United States began a crusade in favor of the newly proposed League of Nations. To this end, he told the delegates to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919: “Representatives of the United States support this great project for a League of Nations. We regard it as the keystone of the whole programme which expressed our purpose . . . in this war. . . . We are here to see, in short, that the very foundations of this war are swept away.”
After President Wilson finished his speech, none other than the British prime minister, Lloyd George, spoke: “I arise to second this resolution. After the noble speech of the President of the United States I feel that no observations are needed in order to commend this resolution to the Conference, and I . . . state how emphatically the people of the British Empire are behind this proposal.”
Later that year, at a meeting in London to support ratification of the League of Nations, a letter was read from the King of Great Britain: “We have won the war. That is a great achievement. But it is not enough. We fought to gain a lasting peace, and it is our supreme duty to take every measure to secure it. For that, nothing is more essential than a strong and enduring League of Nations. . . . I commend this cause to all citizens of the Empire, so that, with the help of all other men of good-will, a buttress and a sure defense of peace, to the glory of God . . . may be established.”
On January 16, 1920, the League of Nations was established with a membership of 42 countries. By 1934 it embraced 58 countries. The two-horned land beast had succeeded in getting the world “to make an image to the wild beast.” This image, or representation of Satan’s worldwide political system, is depicted by the final beast of the Apocalypse.
The Scarlet Beast
Here is John’s description of this final beast: “A scarlet-colored wild beast that was full of blasphemous names and that had seven heads and ten horns.” Regarding this beast, John was told: “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. . . . It is also itself an eighth king.” (Revelation 17:3, 8, 11) True to this description, the League of Nations tried to act like a world power on the world scene. However, it failed to prevent World War II, which started in 1939. The beast disappeared, as it were, into the abyss.
During World War II, the Anglo-American world power worked hard to revive that international organization. In 1941 the prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, held secret talks with President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States on board a ship in the Atlantic ocean. They made a joint declaration about “their hopes for a better future for the world” and “the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security.” The following year in Washington, D.C., 26 nations subscribed to this Anglo-American proposal in what was called the “Declaration by United Nations.” This led to the creation of the United Nations organization on October 24, 1945. The scarlet beast had ascended out of the abyss with a new name. At present, 159 nations have joined this organization, which, they hope, will perpetuate the now-existing system of human political rulership.
All of this, however, leaves out of account the Messianic Kingdom of God, established in heaven in 1914. Every human on earth must choose between rulership by God and rulership by man. Soon, the scarlet beast, along with all human governments, will be involved in a battle with God’s installed King, Jesus Christ. The result? “Because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb [Jesus Christ] will conquer them.” Yes, the scarlet beast together with the entire system of human government will ‘go off into destruction.’—Revelation 17:11, 14; see also Daniel 2:44.
What a blessing it will then be not to have been misled by the dragon and his three beasts! Those who have proved themselves loyal subjects of God’s Kingdom will survive to become part of “a new earth.” God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:3, 4) Hence, subject yourself to God’s Kingdom, the only effective world government. Then you, too, will be in line to enjoy these everlasting blessings.
This point was discussed in greater detail in the January 1 and the January 15 issues of The Watchtower.