by James A. Ayars | 25 July 2023 |
Historically, Seventh-day Adventists equated the two-horned lamb-like, dragon-speaking beast rising from the earth in Revelation 13:11-18 with the United States. The two horns represented Protestantism and Republicanism. The earth represented a wilderness area from which the United States arose.
The United States would be “lamb-like” in its beginnings, but would ultimately become a persecuting power, speaking like the dragon of Revelation 12. Apostate Protestantism, using civil power, would unite with spiritualism and Roman Catholicism. A sign of this unification would be the enforcement of Sunday sacredness on pain of death.
There are several problems with this interpretation, however. Current scholarship has rediscovered the intertextuality of the Messianic allusions in the Old Testament and Messianic expectations of first-century Judaism as the primary sources for all of the narratives in the Apocalypse.
Our pioneers with their historicist assumptions failed to see the intertextual parallelisms between the two-horned beast of Revelation 13:11ff and the narratives of King Nebuchadnezzar (hereinafter called “King Nebi” for short) in Daniel 2, 3, and 7. They interpreted metaphorically, rather than intertextually.
To understand this beast, we need to travel back to the Plain of Dura, where King Nebi coerced the people from his conquered realms to demonstrate their loyalty to him by worshiping his image.
This was nothing new; the custom is seen as far back as Sargon I (c. 1900 B.C.). Sargon’s Clay chronicles describe how, after conquering the Hittites, he required all the people to bow down to his effigy as an act of loyalty to him. King Nebi was only doing what his predecessors had done.
King Nebi (technically NABU-CHUDURI-USER) was named after the Babylonian god Nabu, the god of prophecy and writing. Babylonian statues of Nabu always portray him with two horns. The icon for Nabu carved onto Babylonian boundary stones is a two-horned ram rising up from the earth next to an altar with a writing stylus. King Nebi’s name meant “Nabu, guard my borders.”
In Daniel 2, King Nebi dreamed of an image with a golden head, silver chest, bronze torso, iron legs, and mixed iron and clay feet, symbols of nations which historically harassed God’s people — Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, followed by the divided nations of the world. After a stone smashed the image, it became a mighty mountain encompassing the whole earth — the Kingdom of God.
Keep in mind that in ancient times the words “earth” and “sea” did not mean what they mean today. The “earth” belonged to God and His people, the realm of the civilized (see Psalm 24:1-2); the “sea” was the realm of all of the enemies of the “earth dwellers”—the Philistines with their fish-god Dagon, enemies of Israel, were called “the Sea Peoples.”
Daniel 7 reiterates the nations of Daniel 2: the sea-sourced winged lion, limping bear, four-headed leopard, iron-toothed dragon, the little horn, the Son of man and the Kingdom of God. Daniel 7 expands upon King Nebi’s dream in Daniel 2.
Revelation 13 combines the four beasts into a single beast, including the seven heads and ten horns. The sea-sourced beast of Revelation 13:1-10, like the four sea-sourced beasts of Daniel 7, attacks and deceives God’s people who dwell on the “earth.”
The Apocalyptist takes us behind the scenes to the evil power energizing Babylon. Revelation 12:1ff shows us the dragon waiting to destroy the Messianic man-child born of the cosmic woman clothed with the sun and standing on the full moon (a description of the nighttime sky on the eve of Passover).
The dragon is defined as “…that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…” [Revelation 12:9]. The “ancient serpent” takes us to Genesis 3 and the fall of mankind. “Devil” takes us to the wilderness of Christ’s temptations [Matthew 4; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13]. “Satan” takes us back to Zechariah 3 where the Messianic Angel of the Lord defends Joshua the high priest against Satan’s accusations [Zechariah 3:1ff; Revelation 12:10-11; 1 John 2:1-2].
Nabu, not America
The earth-sourced two-horned beast like a lamb draws our attention back to King Nebi, who was named for Nabu, the Babylonian god of prophecy, and who set up an image to himself paralleled by the beasts of Daniel 7. Our three heroes of Daniel 3 were literally “upstanding” in the field in their refusal to honor King Nebi’s effigy/idol, just as the end-time saints will also do.
The two-horned beast like a lamb refers, then, to the Babylonian god Nabu — the Babylonian god of prophecy, who is called the “false prophet” throughout the rest of the Apocalypse [see Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10]. Nebu sets up, like King Nebi, an image to the ruling religious-geo-political composite beast of Revelation 13:1-10, demanding that all people of the world worship it, thereby showing their loyalty to the evil trinity of the dragon, beast, and false prophet.
The scenes in Revelation 12-13 are an apocalyptic reinterpretation of the scenes in Daniel 2, 3, and 7.
Notice that in Revelation 13, the apocalyptic Nabu personates Christ—he looks like the Lamb, yet speaks like the dragon. Notice also that this false prophet also parodies God’s two witnesses standing before the Lord of the Earth in Revelation 11, doing wonders—even calling fire down from heaven!
This brings us to the Second Angel’s Message — “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality” [Revelation 14:8 ESV]. This is the battle cry of the Lamb against Babylon.
While the demonic trio coerces “every tribe and people and language and nation” to worship them [Revelation 13:7-8], the Lamb on Mount Zion sends out His three angels to the same melting pot, proclaiming the Eternal Gospel to “every nation and tribe and language and people” [Revelation 14:6]. He announces judgment against Babylon, the primary enemy in Revelation 12-20 encompassing the demonic trio — “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth…” [Revelation 14:7; compare with Exodus 20:8-11].
Like Daniel and his three friends, the last-day saints worship the only true God, the Creator of heaven and earth, on His day — the Sabbath. The saints follow no earthly petty politicians, or political parties! The Third Angel follows the Second with the pronouncement of God’s wrath upon all who worship the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet instead of the only true God [Revelation 14:9-11].
An intertextual parallel we should notice as we listen to the Three Angels’ Messages is the evil parody of the first four commandments: The beast demands worship as god (a violation of the first commandment), the lamb-like beast creates a graven image (in violation of the second commandment), and the three blaspheme the name of God (in violation of the third commandment) and bear the numerical base-six numbering system of Babylon — 666 (as opposed to the seven-fold patterns of the Old Testament, especially the fourth commandment).
The demonic trinity of Revelation 12-13 is an evil parody of the true Trinity: The dragon aspires to be like God (Isaiah 14:12ff), and then gives his “authority” to the composite beast who suffered a mortal wound, yet lived (just as the Father gave all authority to His Son, who died for us, yet lives), and the lamb-like Beast who directs the focus of worship to the image of the beast (just as the Holy Spirit directs our attention to the Son of God).
The focus of these apocalyptic narratives, then, is not strictly on the United States (although the United States will surely play a major role in the drama), but upon an impostor who looks and sounds like Jesus Christ, but decrees all of the deceptions of the dragon. Ellen White understood this:
“As the crowning act in the great drama of deception, Satan himself will personate Christ… Satan will manifest himself among men as a majestic being of dazzling brightness, resembling the description of the Son of God given by John in the Revelation. Revelation 1:13-15.” (The Great Controversy, p. 624.)
“In the future, Satan will come down with great power, to work signs and wonders. He will bring fire down from heaven in the presence of his devotees, and, to those who allowed themselves to be led away from the only true foundation — the word of God, — will give proof of his authority. He will deceive if possible the very elect.” (The Southern Watchman, March 1, 1904.)
In summary, we need to rethink our interpretations of Revelation 12-13 intertextually, rather than metaphorically as our pioneers mistakenly did.
Jim Ayars retired from pastoral ministry after 56 years. He sang bass with the King’s Heralds for 28 years, and was a research assistant at the Voice of Prophecy for H.M.S.Richards Sr. He speaks and reads Hebrew and NT Greek fluently, and is currently writing an intertextual commentary on the apocalypse. He lives in Sebring, Florida, with his wife, Jean, where he plays classical and folk guitar, and the great highland bagpipes for fun.