“ ... If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand...” —Revelation 14:9
Satan is the dragon that sought to destroy Christ at His birth (see Revelation 12:9). He works through agents to carry out his purposes. His chief agent in making war on Christ and His people in the early Christian Era was the Roman Empire, a pagan power. Thus while the dragon, primarily, represents Satan, it is, in a secondary sense, a symbol of pagan Rome.
Revelation 13:1-10 describes another beast, “like unto a leopard,” to which the dragon gave “his power, and his seat, and great authority.” This symbol as most Protestants have believed, represents the papacy, which succeeded to the power and seat and authority once held by the ancient Roman empire. Of the leopard like beast it is declared: “And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, tongues, and nations.” This prophecy points to the papacy.
The accession of the Roman Church to power marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. Faith was transferred from Christ, the true foundation, to the pope of Rome. The law of God was trampled in the dust, while the traditions and customs of men were exalted. The churches that were under the rule of the papacy were early compelled to honor the Sunday as a holy day. The papal leaders demanded not only that Sunday be hallowed, but that the Sabbath be profaned. It was only by fleeing from the power of Rome that any could obey God’s law in peace.
Now began the 1,260 years* of papal oppression foretold in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation (see Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5-7). Christians were forced to choose either to yield their integrity and accept the papal ceremonies and worship, or to wear away their lives in dungeons or suffer death by the rack, the flames, or the headsman’s ax.
“Power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.”* And, says the prophet, “I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death.” The forty and two months are the time during which the papal power was to oppress God’s people. This period began with the supremacy of the papacy, A.D. 538, and terminated in 1798. At that time the pope was made captive by the French army, the papal power received its deadly wound, and the prediction was fulfilled.
At this point another symbol is introduced. Says the prophet: “I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb” (verse 11). Both the appearance of this beast and the manner of its rise indicate that the nation it represents is unlike those displayed under the preceding symbols. The great kingdoms that have ruled the world were presented to the prophet Daniel as beasts of prey, rising when “the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea” (Daniel 7:2) In Revelation 17 angel explained that waters represent “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Revelation 17:15). Winds are a symbol of strife (see Jeremiah 25:30-33). The four winds of heaven striving upon the great sea represent the terrible scenes of conquest and revolution by which kingdoms have attained to power.
But the beast with lamblike horns was seen “coming up out of the earth.” Instead of overthrowing other powers to establish itself, the nation thus represented must arise in territory largely uninhabited, and grow up gradually and peacefully. It could not, then, arise amid the crowded, struggling nationalities of the Old World—that turbulent sea of “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.”
What nation of the New World was in 1798 rising into power, giving promise of strength and greatness, and attracting the world’s attention? Only one nation meets the specifications of this prophecy—the United States of America. The beast was seen “coming up out of the earth.” The word here rendered “coming up” literally signifies “to grow or spring up as a plant.”
“And he had two horns like a lamb.” The lamblike horns indicate youth, innocence, and gentleness, fitly representing the character of the United States when presented to the prophet as “coming up” in 1798. Among the Christian exiles who first fled to America and sought refuge from royal oppression and priestly intolerance were many who determined to establish a government upon the broad foundation of civil and religious liberty. Their views found place in the Declaration of Independence, which sets forth the great truth that “all men are created equal” and endowed with the inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And the Constitution guarantees to the people the right of self-government, providing that representative elected by the popular vote shall enact and administer the laws. Freedom of religious faith was also granted, every man being permitted to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. Republicanism [as a system of government] and Protestantism became the fundamental principles of the nation. These principles are the secret of its power and prosperity. Oppressed and downtrodden people throughout Christendom have turned to this land with interest and hope. Millions have sought its shores, and the United States has risen to a place among the most powerful nations of the earth.
But the beast with lamblike horns “spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed; ... saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live” (Revelation 13:11-14).
The lamblike horns and dragon voice of the symbol point to a striking contradiction between the professions and the practice of the nation thus represented. The “speaking” of the nation is the action of its legislative and judicial authorities. The prediction that it will speak “as a dragon” and exercise “all the power of the first beast” plainly foretells a development of the spirit of intolerance and persecution that was manifested by the nations represented by the dragon and the leopardlike beast. And the statement that the beast with two horns “causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast” indicates that the authority of this nation is to be exercised in enforcing some observance which shall be an act of homage to the papacy.
Such action would be directly contrary to the principles of this government, to the genius of its free institutions, to the direct and solemn avowals of the Declaration of Independence, and to the Constitution. The founders of the nation wisely sought to guard against the employment of secular power on the part of the church, with its inevitable result—intolerance, and persecution. The Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States.” Only in flagrant violation of these safeguards to liberty, can any religious observance be enforced by civil authority.
For the United States to form an image of the beast, the religious power must so control the civil government that the authority of the state will be employed by the church to accomplish her own ends. Whenever the church has obtained secular power, she has exercised it to punish dissent from her doctrines and restrict liberty of conscience.
Originally at variance in doctrine, most Protestant churches now share a strong and growing sentiment in favor of union based upon common points of belief. To secure such a union, the discussion of subjects upon which all are not agreed—however important they might be from a Bible standpoint— must necessarily be waived. When an evangelical alliance and universal creed are fully established, then the use of force in the effort to secure complete uniformity is only a step away.
Forty-two months is three and a half years, or 1,260 days, which represent 1,260 prophetic years (note: in Bible prophecy a day stands for a year (Ezekiel 4:6; Numbers 14:34)).
When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.
The third angel's warning is: "If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God." "The beast" mentioned in this message, whose worship is enforced by the two-horned beast, is the first, or leopardlike beast of Revelation 13 -- the papacy. The "image to the beast" represents that form of apostate Protestantism which will be developed when the Protestant churches shall seek the aid of the civil power for the enforcement of their dogmas.
After the warning against the worship of the beast and his image the prophecy declares: "Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." Since those who keep God's commandments are thus placed in contrast with those that worship the beast and his image and receive his mark, it follows that the keeping of God's law, on the one hand, and its violation, on the other, will make the distinction between the worshipers of God and the worshipers of the beast.