In the Book of Daniel four long lines of prophetic symbols run from the days of the prophet down to the close of human history. The third of the series is in the eighth chapter, with an explanation of the time element extended into chapter 9. The chief symbols in chapter 8 are a ram with two horns, interpreted by the angel as representing the kingdom of Medo-Persia, and a goat with a great horn between his eyes, the goat meaning the kingdom of Greece, and the great horn being its first king, Alexander the Great. After the goat had demolished the ram, his great horn was broken; and in its place sprang up four horns, representing the quadripartite division of Alexanderís empire. Out of one of the four another horn appeared, little at first, but becoming exceeding great and doing amazing things in a deadly war against Godís holy sanctuary and His people.
In introducing his explanation of the various symbols the angel cautioned Daniel that a complete understanding would be attained only long afterward. "Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end." Daniel 8:17, R.S.V. "It pertains to the appointed time of the end." Verse 19, R.S.V. In the very last chapter the angel again declares, "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the end." Daniel 12:4, R.S.V.
From these and related passages we learn an important principle in the interpretation of the prophecies. God never intended that the prophet himself or the people of his time should understand the latter parts of any long line of prophetic symbols. This is partly because of the nature of things and partly because of divine purpose in giving these prophecies.
Each of Danielís four lines of symbols foretelling the then future history of the world begins with very simple, localized pictures; but they all become more generalized, broader in scope, and more abstract in meaning as they progress. This is because the work of God in the days of the prophet was small and local in extent, centered in the lands around the eastern end of the Mediterranean, now termed the Middle East. The organized opposition to the work of God, symbolized chiefly as wild, ravenous animals, was similarly localized. But as history unfolded, first as the result of Pentecost, and again in modern times as the result of modern mission work and the circulation of the Bible in a thousand languages and in every land and time, the work of God is today global in its extent. Similarly the devilís organized opposition to Godís work is on a worldwide scale. Hence the prophetic symbols, though beginning with objective, localized pictures like kindergarten models, given chiefly for identification purposes or for getting the inquirer on the right track, must necessarily take on more generalized significance in our day. They have to become more abstract in meaning because they have become more global in character. For these reasons alone, if for no others, the people in the days of Daniel could not be expected to understand the prophecies very far in advance. They were timed by Providence for the benefit and guidance of the people living in the time of the end.
The chief purpose of each of these time prophecies was to point toward the same end. A profusion of statements in the Bible shows that God plans to focus on the last generation of mankind a universal showdown on basic moral issues, between right and wrong, over the question of obedience or disobedience to the Creator. This final test of loyalty will not only be global in extent, but it must also be concerned with more or less abstract principles of right and wrong. All the long lines of prophecy must necessarily concentrate on the critical choices between life and death to be made by this last generation. This is why the latter parts of all of Danielís four lines of prophecy take more time and space than all the previous parts put together. It is also the reason why the Book of Revelation enlarges so much on the last parts of Danielís predictions and why so much space in the Revelation is devoted to this final crisis. Hence it could not be expected that the people in ancient times could understand very much of what this final struggle would be about. It did not particularly concern them anyway; God gave these predictions especially for the last generation. These prophecies pertain "to the appointed time of the end." (Daniel 8:19, R.S.V.)
Somebody has said that history is prophecy read backward. This may seem like a whimsical way of stating the case, but the two are certainly reciprocals, just two ways of saying that a divine Hand is managing all the affairs of the life of mankind. Then, too, symbolic prophecy has a large element of true poetry about it, divine poetry, for it portrays nations and ecclesiastical organizations as they appear to the onlooking universe in heaven.
The seventh chapter of Daniel presents four symbolic animalsóa lion, a bear, a leopard, and a fearsome nondescript beast of horrible aspect and behavior. These four symbols plainly parallel the four metals of the image of chapter 2óthe gold, the silver, the brass, and the iron. These two parallel lines of prophetic symbols accurately symbolize the successive empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Gibbon commented, "The images of gold, or silver, or brass, that might serve to represent the nations and their kings, were successively broken by the iron monarchy of Rome." But we should go to the New Testament to understand fully how the powers of earth are looked upon by God and the inhabitants of heaven. In chapter 12 of the Apocalypse (Revelation) a monstrous fiery red dragon is described as attempting to destroy the Infant Christ as soon as He was born, and then persecuting with deadly hate the church of Christ for 1260 years. With still another burst of murderous persecution at the last of time, the dragon relentlessly pursues the remnant of the womanís followers, who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." (Revelation 12:17.)
Catholics and Protestants are generally agreed that this red dragon means imperial Rome, the Rome of the Caesars. The Greek word here translated "dragon" originally meant any large reptile, such as a crocodile or a python, but eventually was used in a mythical sense, probably reminiscent of the old dinosaurs, some of which were nearly a hundred feet long and weighed as much as eight or ten elephants. The dragonís chief characteristic in prophecy is the employment of force and terror against the people of God, in contrast with the seductive deceit and cleverness of the beasts mentioned in chapter 13.
In Revelation 12:9 the dragon is identified as the devil. From this divine explanation we might infer that other symbolic beasts of the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation are also probably meant to represent the various phases of Satanís evil work in using the nations as his puppets. The evil one does not appear personally on earth, but he employs every human organization he can to oppose the work and the people of God.
God uses a different kind of animal as a symbol of His work. Throughout Old Testament times a lamb or young sheep was almost invariably used to represent Godís work or Godís plans for the human race. And in the New Testament Jesus and His work were symbolized by a lamb, its peculiar characteristic being perfect harmlessness, complete lack of self defense, and non-retaliation for injuries received or impending. What other living thing is such a perfect example of these divine traits? And how complete the antithetical contrast to the prophetic symbols chosen to portray Satan and his work!
John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." In the Revelation the ascended and glorified Christ is spoken of as a Lamb over two dozen times. Hence there can be no question about divine Inspirationís having chosen this animal as a symbol. Accordingly, all the other beasts used in prophecy may be understood in antithetical contrast to the divinely chosen symbol of a lamb to represent Christ and His work for the human race.
Three other animal symbols are found in this last half of the Revelation: two in chapter 13 and the third in chapter 17. These must be given briefly here, with fuller consideration in subsequent chapters.
The first symbol in chapter 13 is a beast with seven heads and ten horns arising out of the sea. It is described as having the body of a leopard, the feet of a bear, and the mouth of a lionónaming the symbols of Daniel 7 in reverse order. Daniel was looking at the series as reaching forward into the future, but Johns saw the same series backward. The powers represented by the leopard, the bear, and the lion had already passed into history; and this wild beast from the sea would seem to correspond to the fourth of Danielís series, the nondescript beast with great iron teeth, almost beyond description for its ferocity and cruelty. The subsequent details, however, concerning this leopard beast of Revelation 13 show that it corresponds more precisely with the arrogant, blasphemous horn growing out of Danielís nondescript beast. Both symbolize the papal form of Rome, and each is often called the antichrist, a name which may be used for convenience in our future references to it.
This leopard beast, the antichrist, carries on a blasphemous war against God for forty-two months, a period also spoken of in parallel prophecies as 1260 days or years, extending from A.D. 538 to 1798, a period and its dates so well established in prophetic studies that they do not require further discussion here.
One important point about this leopard beast with the seven heads and ten horns is given in verse 3: "And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast." The incidents here mentioned will require special attention. Attempts will later be made to show that this period between the infliction of the deadly wound and its healing corresponds to modern times and is the period spoken of in Daniel as "the time of the end." Since the deadly wound and its healing are spoken of in the same sentence, many have drawn the conclusion that the two events follow in comparatively quick succession. Instead, a century and a half have already elapsed since the deadly wound was inflicted, and we do not know how much more time is involved, for the deadly wound is still not completely healed.
The second symbol of Revelation 13 is a two-horned beast arising from the earth, which appears about the time that the preceding leopard beast went into captivity, or received its deadly wound. This two-horned beast is at first mild and gentle, for it has two horns "like a lamb." But it changes radically and finally speaks "as a dragon." In chapter 20 it is called the "false prophet," a term used in two other passages, Revelation 16:13; 19:20. It is described as acting like a deputy or partner of the leopard beast after the latter recovers from its deadly wound, its death stroke. Finally these two are both cast alive into the first lake of fire at the second coming of Christ (Revelation 19:20), proving that both exist together until the close of human history. The second lake of fire is described in Revelation 20:10 and is distinctly associated with the close of the thousand years. See Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, pp. 875, 876.
Now a prophet, whether true or false, is a religious, not a civil, official. Generally the religious element is more important than the secular in the conflict between good and evil. While a more detailed study of this feature will be given later, here it needs to be understood that the deceptive influence of this false prophet must be worldwide, for a divine warning is issued against it in chapter 14 that goes "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." Its religious influence must be different from Roman Catholicism, which is symbolized by the leopard beast. Obviously it must be some aspect of Protestantism. And since it is an evil influence, not a good one, it must be an apostate form of Protestantism. What has been termed the "Americanization of religion" must be what is meant, and the United States would be its typical representative.
But this is future. In its early stages the two lamblike horns indicate that the beast is mild and harmless. Civil and religious liberty, so characteristic of America, are most appropriately represented by the two lamblike horns of this creature. They certainly mean that at this stage of its career this two-horned beast is good, not evil. But as my good friend Frank L. Chaney has pointed out, this early, or good, stage seems to be introduced here merely for identification purposes, to get us on the right track. All that is afterward stated about this false prophet deals with its later character, when it deceives the entire world and finally speaks as a dragon.
The series of seven heads of the leopard symbolize the seven more or less successful attempts of Satan to gain control of the rulership of this world. This series could be interpreted as beginning with the first Babylonian empire under Nimrod, soon after the Tower of Babel, which with the second Babylonian empire in the time of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel constituted the first of the seven heads. Then followed Medo-Persia, Greece, and imperial Rome, making four. Papal Rome was the fifth. These would then make up the five which the angel said were fallen at the time then spoken of, which is here taken to be during the time of the deadly wound, our present age. We shall try to determine what world power is meant by No. 6, the one the angel said was then existing. Some believe that No. 7 is the image of the beast which the people are induced to make, and No. 8 the revived or rejuvenated Papacy, being just one of the seven, or No. 5 resurrected as it were to life. Or perhaps No. 8 may mean the personal appearance of Satan himself, a view held by many. These points will all be considered more fully later.
One more symbol must be included in this outline sketch, the spectacular combination of the drunken woman and the scarlet-colored beast, as given in Revelation 17. Strangely enough, this chapter seems about the last of all to be clearly understood, though when rightly interpreted, this chapter proves to be one of the most important and enlightening of all the prophecies.
Since the dragon, the leopard beast, and the scarlet beast all have the same seven heads and ten horns, it seems feasible that they must be closely related in meaning, if not in some ways identical. But the variations in the specifications about these horns and heads should be highly informative. And these variations could be taken to indicate that these three symbolic beasts represent essentially the same anti-Christian, devil-inspired powers of earth, but at successive stages in the worldís history.
The dragon has the crowns on the heads; it is a generalized symbol, applicable to the entire line of human history, but most typically representative of the terror and brute force of pagan imperial Rome. The leopard beast has the crowns on the horns and applies chiefly to the long period of 1260 years, during which the many nations of western Europe were under the domination of the Papacy. The ten horns of the scarlet beast of chapter 17 have no crowns upon them, suggesting that this vision applies at a later period, after the ten horns have ceased to do the bidding of the Papacy, a fact further suggested by the statement that these ten kings "have not yet received royal power," or the power to oppress or lord it over the minds and lives of men; "but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast." (Revelation 17:12, R.S.V.) In other words, at the time here spoken of intolerance and persecution had ceased for the time being, but would again be revived, along with the power of the beast from the abyss, the bottomless pit. And how accurately this describes our own times, when the power to persecute has been quiescent for nearly two centuries, but when the ominous signs of the revival of intolerance are visible to all! These differences regarding the crowns then suggest that the same devil-inspired, anti-Christian powers are being shown at different stages in history.
The fact that the drunken woman on the scarlet beast means a period in history down very close to the end is indicated in several other ways. It is one of the angels with the seven last plagues that shows this vision to John, and the seven last plagues apply just before the second advent. Also the fact that the woman and the beast are differentiated would seem to mean that the time here represented is when the world in general has learned to think of the church as distinct from the civil power. This intellectual and even practical distinction has come about only in modern times, the time of the end. Again, the fact that in this vision the woman and the beast are shown to the prophet in a "wilderness" (verse 3) probably means that it applies at a time when both the woman and the beast are having a "wilderness" experience, during the time of the deadly wound of the leopard beast (Revelation 13:3). This of course means modern times, the two centuries since the power to burn "heretics" was taken away from Rome. How constant have been her nostalgic complaints that she is being hindered in her divine right of ruling the world as she used to do. This is her period of widowhood (Revelation 18:7), which she hopes will soon be over. It is her "wilderness" experience.
As this is merely a preliminary outline of what will appear in more detail in subsequent pages, I shall not now give the detailed explanation of the symbols of this seventeenth chapter. The general meaning, however, is plain. The drunken woman, named Babylon the Great, means more than the Catholic Church. She represents the devilís style of false religion of all time, from Nimrodís ~first blending of civil government and religion down to the revived, or reestablished, Roman power during the very last days of human history. The scarlet beast which serves as her mount symbolizes the devilís style of civil government during the same long period of time. But, as before stated, the point of time from which the beast and its rider are seen by the apostle is our own day, the time of the end, not the time of the Roman emperors.
This time viewpoint gives us the key to unlock the paradox, the apparent flat contradiction, between verses 8 and 10. In one verse the angel explains that the beast "was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit" (verse 8), while in the other John was told concerning the seven heads or kings, "Five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come" (verse 10). In other words, No. 6 of the seven heads is reigning contemporary with the time that the beast "is not"óis out of action. The proof that the time viewpoint must be the same in both verses is seen in the fact that the two explanations are given by the same angel in the same explanation of the very same symbols. Also both verses use all three tensesópast, present, and future. But as we shall see later, this paradox is easily resolved when we get the correct point of history from which the vision is presented to the apostle.
Additional proof that the time viewpoint of this chapter is the last period of human history is found in the last part of the chapteróthe ten kings come to one mind and agree to give their royal power to the beast. Ellen G. White definitely applies this to the confederacy of the last hours of time, when the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet all unite against the King of kings and Lord of lords in the final crisis of human history. (See Manuscript 24, 1891.) This will be explained later.
This gives us a consistent and eminently reasonable interpretation of the entire seventeenth chapter of Revelation. The chapter as a whole belongs exactly where we find it, as related to the parts before and after. Its setting is the last of the last days, the last part of the time of the end. And the climax of the chapter deals with the climax of human history, when all the powers of earth reverse the policy of fragmentation and separation spoken of in the vision of Daniel 2, where it was foretold that the divisions of the Roman Empire would not cleave to one another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.
But in the final hours of time this fragmentation policy, initiated at Babel by God as a protection of His people and a partial blocking of Satanís plans, becomes reversed; and for one brief prophetic hour "the restraint which has been upon the wicked is removed, and Satan has entire control of the finally impenitent."óThe Great Controversy, p. 614. They all "have one mind" and agree to unite against God and the people of God. "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings." Revelation 17:14.
Read Chapter 3 ó The Seven Heads
| Articles Index | Time
of the End - Index
Sabbath Studies | Contact Us