If you watch History Channel documentaries, then you’ve probably come across some pretty wacky information about the Book of Revelation and the end of the world.
Before you continue reading, bracket off all that you’ve heard. Let’s look at the subject with new eyes. Let’s look at it from within the context of the Old Testament.
Everyone would agree that one of the most confusing topics of the Apocalypse is the identities of the two beasts. Is it America, a Muslim nation, Russia, China, or perhaps the UN? These guesses are misled because they do not presume that the Old Testament provides the interpretive key for the New Testament.
This is just a brief post outlining the argument which I make in my new book The Eternal City. It is an old Catholic argument – namely that the two Beasts of the Apocalypse are the two political machines responsible for the death of Christ and 100% of all Christian martyrs of the early epoch.
These two powers are Jerusalem and Rome. Of course, both forces allied to kill Christ (represented by Pontius Pilate plus the High Priest). However, this alliance continued with the martyrdom of Saint Steven, Saint James, the rest of the Apostles and then almost all the martyrs until Constantine.
If Rome is the great and terrible Beast described by Daniel, and Nero Caesar is the historical personage associated with the fierce actions of the apocalyptic Antichrist, then the Book of Revelation becomes much easier to understand in the context of history.
- The dragon of Revelation is Satan, the serpentine demon who seeks to destroy Christ and his followers.
- The terrible Beast is the Fourth Beast described by Daniel, the Roman Empire that issued the death sentence against Jesus Christ.
- The sixth king is the sixth emperor of the Roman Empire whose name adds up to 666 (Nero Caesar) and who persecuted the Christians for forty-two months—Nero Caesar who foreshadows the future political Antichrist.
- The woman who gives birth to the Messiah represents Israel but chiefly the most blessed Israelite virgin and mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- The New Jerusalem from above is the Church, for she is described as the Bride of the Lamb, the Lamb being Christ Himself.
- the beast arising from sea.
- the beast arising from the land.
The sea is a symbol of the “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Apoc 17:15). The Sea Beast is the Beast ruling the Gentile nations – the Roman Empire as we have seen before. This beast resembles the dragon and receives a head wound—a reference to the protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15, when God promised that a descendant of Eve would boot the head of the serpent.
The second beast arises from “the land.” Some translations read “the earth” but the context of the Book of Revelation reveals that “the land” is a certain place. The book of Revelation uses the expression “the inhabitants the the land” twelve times to refer to the inhabitants of Israel. The land of Palestine was promised to Abraham, received after the death of Moses, and conquered by King David. The phrase “those who live in the land” refers to the Holy Land and the Old Testament frequently employs this phrase to refer to God’s judgment against the idolatrous Israelites living in “the land.”
The beast arising out of “the land” is thus a beast arising out of the Holy Land of Israel. Those who worship this beast are “the inhabitants of the land,” again a common prophetic motif denoting idolatrous Israel.
The Land Beast had “two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon” (Apoc 13:11). In other words, this beast looks and sounds good, but it is truly evil. It is the apostate High priesthood and Levitical system of sacrifice that does not recognize the sacrifice of Christ. It’s the form of Judaism that denies the Messianic claims of King Jesus of Nazareth.
It may seem rather shocking to some readers that the Book of Revelation depicts the High Priest and the sacrificial system he represented as an apostate beast fostering worship of the Roman Empire. However, we should remember that when faced with the choice between Caesar and Christ, the chief priests and leaders of the Jewish people shouted: “We have no king but Caesar!” (Jn 19:15). In this moment, the chief priests of Israel changed their allegiance from the God of Israel to the Caesar of Rome. They bowed down to the Roman Beast of the Gentiles and in turn became the Beast of the Holy Land.
The Land Beast who represents the violent, apostate version of Israel is able to work miracles through its union with the diabolic Sea Beast of Rome. The Book of Acts depicts the enemies of the Apostles as Jewish magicians (cf. Acts 8:9-24) and as ones working in concert with Roman officials (cf. Acts 13:6-11). The Land Beast also seeks to force Christians to “worship the Sea Beast” on pain of death. The Book of Acts reveals that the persecution of the early Church was almost uniquely a Jewish persecution of the faithful in concert with Roman officials.
Just as with the trial and murder of Christ, the apostate Jewish leadership planned their persecution in league with Roman officers. Paul himself suffered because of “the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:19) and described his attackers as “wild beasts” (1 Cor 15:32).
The Book of the Apocalypse is a cosmic battle. It is a battle for the truth! The Church of Jesus Christ goes toe-to-toe with two fearsome enemies who have entered into an unholy alliance: Rome and Jerusalem. In brief, the Book of Revelation is an apocalyptic vision foretelling that the Church of Jesus Christ will overcome these two beasts and the demonic dragon behind their plots.
It is the story of how the Church overcomes the Roman Empire and becomes the Roman Catholic Church. It is also the story of how the Church overcomes apostate Jerusalem and becomes the New Jerusalem. In both instances, the Church overcomes evil through suffering.
This blog post today was excerpted from my new book The Eternal City: Rome & the Origins of Catholicism. It fast-reading, fun, and informative. It also answers questions that you’ve probably never had answered. You can read reviews and read the first few chapters over at amazon.com by clicking here.