Back in the “Dark Ages,” during my freshman year in college, I took a class on Daniel and Revelation that was taught by Morris Lewis, the college’s religion professor. I’ve been interested in prophecy ever since, especially Daniel and Revelation. I’m fascinated by the symbolism—beasts, crowns, horns, stars, Babylon, and Armageddon.
Revelation 13 especially gets a lot of attention these days from conservative Christians. This chapter describes two powerful beasts that will dominate the world at the end of time. One beast rises out of the sea, and the other rises out of the land. For a century and a half, Seventh-day Adventists have identified the land beast as the United States of America. In this article I will analyze the scriptural basis for that conclusion. Four characteristics of the land beast support this interpretation.
The land beast is a beast
It sounds simple enough, almost redundant, to say that the land beast is a beast—kind of like saying that a sheep is a sheep. Nevertheless, we need to pay attention to the fact that the land beast is a beast because, in Bible prophecy, a beast represents a nation—a major political power in the world.
How do we know? The best evidence is a dream God gave to the prophet Daniel about four great beasts that rose out of the sea: a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a very strange beast that I’ll call a dragon. The angel who interpreted Daniel’s dream told him that these four great beasts represented “ ‘ “four kingdoms that will rise from the earth” ’ ” (Daniel 7:17). Many interpreters of Daniel’s prophecies understand these beasts to represent the ancient kingdoms of Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Thus, the fact that the land beast is a beast suggests that it also represents a political power, and Seventh-day Adventists have concluded that the United States is that political power.
Of course, one could argue that the land beast represented the Roman Empire in John’s day or any major political power during the 2,000 years since. On what basis can we conclude that it represents the United States? There is additional evidence.
The land beast has global authority
Revelation 13 provides a couple of clues that the land beast has global political authority. It says that this beast “made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast” (verse 12). The land beast has the political clout that is required to enforce false worship, not just within its own borders but also on “the earth and its inhabitants.” That’s global authority. The Bible also says that the land beast “deceived the inhabitants of the earth” and “ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (verse 14). The land beast clearly has global political authority. To put it in today’s terms, the land beast is a global superpower.
However, the fact that the land beast is a global superpower is still not sufficient evidence to identify it as the United States because, at the time John wrote Revelation, Rome was also a superpower. Within the past several hundred years, both France and England have been major world superpowers. And in the twentieth century, the Soviet Union was a global superpower. So, the land beast, as a global superpower could represent any of these—Rome, France, England, or the Soviet Union. We need additional evidence in order to identify the land beast as the United States.
The land beast is an end-time power
Revelation 13:16, 17 says that the land beast will force all classes of people to “receive a mark on [their] right hand or on [their] forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast.” Revelation 16 provides us with some additional information about this “mark of the beast” that will help us in our quest to identify the land beast in chapter 13. Revelation 16 describes seven plagues that will break out in the world just before Christ’s second coming. And, according to verse 2, the first plague will fall on “the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.”
Since the seven plagues are the last events to happen in the world before the second coming of Christ, and since the first one falls only on those who have the mark of the beast, it’s obvious that this mark is an end-time phenomenon. Therefore, the land beast that enforces the mark must be an end-time superpower.
We at Signs of the Times® take the position that we today live in the end time. Therefore, the land beast must represent a nation that exists during the years just preceding the second coming of Christ. The nations other than the United States that I mentioned above are no longer superpowers, so they do not match Revelation’s description of the land beast. On the other hand, the United States is an end-time superpower, and thus it fulfills this specification of the prophecy.
One other very significant point of evidence clearly establishes the United States as the land beast of Revelation 13:11–18.
The land beast is a Christian power
The word lamb occurs 31 times in Revelation, and in every instance but one, it is a symbol of Christ. The one exception is Revelation 13:11, which describes the land beast as having “two horns like a lamb.” The land beast is not Jesus Christ—it couldn’t possibly be, the way it persecutes Christ’s true worshipers (verses 15–17). Nevertheless, it is “like a lamb.” Applying this to a nation, we can say that the nation represented by the land beast is a professedly Christian nation.
When we put together the four characteristics of the land beast, it becomes very evident that it represents the United States:
- The land beast is a political power in the world—a nation.
- It has global authority—it is a global superpower.
- It is an end-time superpower.
- It is a Christian nation.
Only one nation in the world during the past 2,000 years fits all of these specifications: the United States of America. There are no other candidates.
If the land beast describes the United States during the end time, we can draw two other significant conclusions about the future of this country.
A union of church and state. The United States Constitution requires that religion and government remain separate from each other. While Christianity is the dominant religion in America, it has never been the nation’s official, legal religion. However, if the land beast of Revelation 13 is the United States, we can conclude that this nation’s historic separation between government and religion will end someday, because the land beast will enforce a particular form of worship.
A persecuting power. Revelation says that the land beast will enforce its false worship with an iron fist. Anyone who refuses to receive the mark of the beast will be barred from carrying out any economic activity—he or she will not be allowed to buy or sell. In fact, those who refuse to worship in the politically correct manner will be threatened with death!
There was religious persecution during the colonial period in America. However, for more than 200 years, the United States has staunchly defended the rights of people to believe and practice the religions of their choice. America has been a land of religious freedom. To many people, it seems impossible that this country could ever be anything but a defender of liberty in matters of faith.
That actually is a very dangerous view because it easily leads to complacency, assuming that what has been always will be. Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist in the United States during the Civil War era, said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” That is a very true statement. If we fail in our vigilance, the United States could very well turn on its historical principle of religious freedom.
Indeed, there is evidence that this is happening even now. I am frankly troubled by the profound hostility some Christians in America hold toward the principle of church-state separation, which is the foundation of religious freedom. Church-state separation simply means that government and religion operate in distinctive spheres, each recognizing the unique responsibilities of the other. They are separate in the sense that neither should ever control the other.
And yet history shows that the line of separation is not neatly drawn. Challenging issues sometimes bring the policies of the state into direct conflict with the values of the church and vice versa. It is at this intersection of public and private life that the judicial branch of government seeks to protect the church from the state and the state from the church, preserving both the rights of government and liberty of conscience. This is a difficult balancing act. On the whole, however, throughout American history, the Court has stayed fairly close to the middle. And this is why America is still a land of religious freedom.
Should the United States ever abandon its commitment to the principle of church-state separation, persecution of dissenters will inevitably follow. Revelation’s prophecy about the land beast suggests that this will indeed happen someday. However, we should defend, for as long as possible, the principle that government and religion operate in separate spheres, neither dictating the laws that govern the other.
Eternal vigilance will always be the price of liberty.