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Identifying the Beast! Part 1


Revelation chapter 13 describes two beasts–the first rising out of the sea (13:1) and the second coming out of the earth (13:11). My last article focused on the second beast; now it’s time to zero in on the first. I must warn you: This topic is shocking, controversial, and sure to stir up heated discussion. Nevertheless it must be presented faithfully, fairly, and without compromise. John wrote:

“I saw a beast rising up out of the sea” (Revelation 13:1).

Who is this beast that figures so largely in God’s last book? Those who accept a “Preterist” interpretation of Revelation generally believe the beast was the Roman emperor Nero who murdered Christians and Jews in the first century AD. Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer have recently expressed this view in Tyndale’s new prophetic novel, The Last Disciple. Gary DeMar, John Noe, Ken Gentry Jr., Samuel Frost, Kurt Simmons, and many others teach this idea. To Preterists, the beast is dead.

While Preterism is growing in strength, by far the most popular interpretation remains the “Futurist” one reflected in the bestselling Left Behind series (also published by Tyndale). According to Futurists, the beast is still on the horizon–a monster that will only lurch into action after the Rapture. Leading proponents of Futurism today are Tim LaHaye, Tommy Ice, Jack Van Impe, John Hagee, Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsey, and Irving Baxter Jr. Both Preterists and Futurists see the beast as one satanic individual; an evil person. The biggest difference is the timing of when Mr. Diabolical shows up.

So which is it? Is the beast past or future? Or could he be present? Hold onto your seats. This may surprise you, but from the time of the Reformation until the late 1800s the vast majority of Protestant scholars firmly believed the beast was snarling right in front of them. Such was the doctrine of Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, John Knox, the translators of the King James Bible, John Wesley, Sir Isaac Newton, Bishop J.C. Rylie, Thomas Cranmer, Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, and countless others. These weren’t Preterists or Futurists. They were Historicists * – meaning they saw prophecy fulfilled throughout Church history until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Let’s put emotions, personal opinion and speculation aside, and adjust our brains to facts–solid, unquestionable, irrefutable evidence. The beast rises from the sea (13:1), looks like a lion, bear, and leopard (13:2), has ten horns (13:1), a mouth speaking great things (13:5), makes war on the saints (13:7), and achieves global influence (13:7).  Daniel chapter 7 talks about the same things, describing four beasts rising from the sea (7:1-3), a lion, bear, leopard, and dragon-like animal with ten horns (7:4-7), a little horn with eyes like a man (7:8), a mouth speaking great things (7:8), which makes war on the saints (7:21). Most scholars agree–both Protestant and Catholic–that Daniel’s little horn is the same as the beast in Revelation 13:1. Each has a big mouth and makes war on the saints. These are all facts.

Here’s a key question: What is a beast? A man? A computer? The Bible provides the answer. An angelic interpreter told Daniel, “The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon the earth” (Daniel 7:23). Thus a beast is a kingdom. Period. The four beasts are four kingdoms. Daniel was living during the time of Babylon (7:1), and in fact, a winged lion was a symbol of that ancient power. Most scholars agree the lion represented Babylon, followed by Persia, then Greece, then Rome. This is basic history. Rome fell in 476 AD and was divided among ten primary nations–Vandals, Heruli, Ostrogoths, Visogoths, Franks, Anglo-Saxons, Suevi, Burgundians, Lombards, and Alemanni. Prophecy clearly predicted “the little horn” would:

  1. Rise out of the fourth beast, or Roman Empire (7:7, 8)
  2. Rise among the ten horns, in Western Europe (7:8)
  3. Have eyes like a man, or human leadership (7:8)
  4. Have a mouth speaking great things (7:8)
  5. Make war on the saints (7:21)

Thus we have Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Rome’s division, and then the little horn that is the same as the beast. Who is this horn? “Nero!” shout Preterists. “The future Antichrist!” contend Futurists. What’s wrong with this picture? The answer should be obvious. Preterists are wrong because the little horn (antichrist) especially gains power after Rome was divided into ten parts. Nero came 500 years too soon. Futurists fail because the little horn burst into strength immediately after the empire of the Caesars collapsed into ten parts. The future-beast notion sweeps 1500 years of history under the proverbial rug by expecting the little horn to rise only after Christians vanish.

Preterism’s problem:

  • Lion (Babylon)
  • Bear (Persia)
  • Leopard (Greece)
  • Dragon-like animal (Rome)
  • Ten horns (Rome’s fall and division)
  • Little horn (Nero–this doesn’t fit)

Futurism’s failure:

  • Lion (Babylon)
  • Bear (Persia)
  • Leopard (Greece)
  • Dragon-like animal (Rome)
  • Insertion of a 1500-year gap
  • Ten horns (future revived Roman Empire)
  • Little horn (future Antichrist)

Historicism’s accuracy:

  • Lion (Babylon)
  • Bear (Persia)
  • Leopard (Greece)
  • Dragon-like animal (Rome)
  • Ten horns (Rome’s fall and division)
  • Little horn (rising into strength in Europe right after Rome fell)

Who is the little horn? Ask Luther, Melanchthon, Wycliffe, Huss, Jerome, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Newton, Rylie, Cranmer, Spurgeon, and countless others. To them, the answer was obvious. They all saw a present power that started small but grew into strength immediately after Rome fell, rose up in Western Europe, had eyes like a man, a mouth speaking boastful things, and made bloody war on the saints.

It’s easy to write fiction books about an imaginary future Antichrist or a dead one. But to write non-fiction works about a present beast, especially one with global influence–this isn’t so easy. Nor is it politically correct. Yet the question Jesus Christ bids us ponder is:

What is the truth?

To be continued…

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