Going it Alone in Interpreting the Book of Revelation, Part 3: The False Prophet and the Beasts

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By Scott S. Mitchell

Identifying the False Prophet of the Book of Revelation

The phrase “false prophet” is mentioned three times in the Book of Revelation (see 16:13, 19:20 and 20:10).  The phrase draws particular attention to itself because its singular form distinguishes it from the plural phrase “false prophets” which Jesus warned against and which is found in six different New Testament passages.   Since John himself refers to the “many false prophets” in 1 John 4:1, his use of the singular term in Revelation, preceded by the word “the,” suggests he is referring to one man who is the most famous and dangerous of all false prophets who would threaten Christianity.  John appears to expect the reader will naturally identify one false prophet among many anonymous and generic ones because of the former’s superior notoriety.

As was pointed out in Part 1 of this essay,  the Book of Mormon establishes that the Book of Revelation uniquely foretells and symbolizes the momentous events of the last days.  The effect of the false prophet on those last days events events therefore makes identifying him especially worthy of our attention.  The singular false prophet is characterized in John’s vision as inspiring devils to work “miracles” in the last days that impress many around the world, including “kings.”   The biblical scholars behind the New Revised Standard Version, New International Version and New American Standard Bible all agree that the word “miracles” isn’t an accurate translation of the Greek.  They hold that the better  translation in the context of the false prophet’s action is “signs,” or “portents”–impressive demonstrations of power suggesting present and future success.  The Greek word is “semeion,” Strong’s Concordance number 4592, which Strong’s renders as meaning “sign” most often, but also “miracle”, “signal” or “mark.”

Thus, to identify the false prophet, we should look for someone who lived during the last two thousand years after Christ, was and is more famous than anyone else because of his purported prophetic calling,  and who posed enough of a threat to Christianity (and to Jews, which would also explain mention of him in a revelation to a Jew like John) to merit three separate singular references in a book that characteristically focuses on groups of people unless the individuals are gods or angels.  He should be also be someone whose doings have huge implications for the events immediately preceding the second coming of Christ.  Given these criteria, it’s hard not to turn our attention to Muhammad.  In fact, Muhammad is the man who is known today as “the prophet Muhammad” to the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims.  Even people belonging to the rest of the world’s religions are aware that because of his preeminence among Muslims, he is the person most associated with the word “prophet.”  Islam declares him to be the foremost prophet of all prophets in world history.  Supposedly he is God’s favorite, and no one else comes close, including Jesus.

The belief in Muhammad’s enhanced stature among prophets is so central to Islam that the religion cannot exist without it.  Indeed, the Qur’an is claimed by Muslims to have been dictated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel speaking on behalf of God, so Muhammad becomes the sole source of Islamic scripture.  The Hadith, which doesn’t purport to be scripture but is Islam’s second most important book, is a collection of traditions containing sayings attributed to  Muhammad which, with accounts of his daily practice (the Sunna), constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Qur’an.  The Hadith exists because Muhammad is considered the most important, wise and inspired man in world history–a perfect model for the rest of us humans.  If Islam didn’t purport to possess history’s foremost man, the religion would have nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the seed of Abraham.

History shows that Muhammad himself recognized the need to redefine Jesus in order to establish his own primacy.  Muhammad lived from approximately 570 to 632 A.D., and was familiar with the both the Old and New Testaments.  The Qur’an refers to Jesus and his mother often, so much so that it’s impossible not to recognize Muhammad’s admiration for both of them.  The Qur’an acknowledges Jesus’ virgin birth and the many miracles performed by him, as well as his status as a true messenger from God who is to be glorified in the hereafter.   But Muhammad nevertheless attempts to diminish Jesus by 1) denying that he was the son of God (see Qur’an 9:30-31); 2) denying that he was crucified and resurrected (Qur’an 4:157, 5:110; these verses also show that Muhammad claimed Jesus was taken into heaven without tasting death, but left confusing evidence behind which led Christians to believe he’d been killed and had resurrected), and 3) denying that he was a messenger any different than other prophets who had preceded him (Qur’an 5:75).  He adds to this diminution by quoting Jesus to have said that part of his mission was to “give good tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad [Muhammad]” (Qur’an 61:6).  The Islamic scripture Muhammad purported to reveal to the world therefore repeatedly exalts Muhammad over Jesus as God’s messenger to mankind, whereas Jesus is portrayed as being impressive, but in the end just another of God’s messengers to Israel.

Needless to say, if Jesus didn’t die or resurrect, much less give up his own life for mankind when his divinity allowed him the option of preventing bodily harm to himself, he could not be the Savior of the world, nor could he be credited with bringing about the resurrection of all Earth’s inhabitants.  For Muhammad to nullify this aspect of Jesus’s mission was to nullify Christianity itself, rendering it devoid of a core message or even a reason to believe in the resurrection.  (Interestingly, for all his scolding of the Jews, which pervades Qur’anic verses, Muhammad seems willing to accept the Jewish claim that Jesus didn’t resurrect.  He isn’t above adopting Jewish writings when it suits his purpose in exposing what he portrays as Israel’s or Christianity’s infidelity to God.)

Muhammad’s reputation and stature, then, are built, and fully dependent on, his tearing down of Christ’s and Christianity’s central message and his own self-elevation as the world’s foremost expounder of religious truths.  He cannot be the world’s most important man with Christ’s divine Sonship, atonement and resurrection casting shade on his own lesser accomplishments.  So, he removes Jesus, while in his writings outwardly praising him.  He is a false prophet not only because he claims revelations he never received, teaches untrue doctrines and history and denies Christ’s salvific accomplishments, but also because he pretends to be Jesus’s ally while acting as his rival.

So, while Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and other world religions can exist without directly discrediting Christ, the religion founded by Mohammad cannot.  To ensure its own prosperity, it must bring about Christianity’s demise.  As Muhammad might explain it, while Jesus was an unusually powerful messenger of God’s word, that doesn’t mean Christians understand Jesus’s message as well as Muhammad did.  The destruction of Christianity is justified by the imperative of spreading Muhammad’s superior understanding of God’s ways to the world.  

If John in his vision of future events saw one particular false prophet who would mount a disproportionately great existential challenge to the kingdom of God on earth, it seems impossible he could have found a better candidate than Muhammad.

The Signs or Portents from the Beast and the False Prophet

As noted above, the false prophet is described as performing signs or portents which convince others of his greatness and rally them to his cause before he is eventually cast into hell.  He does this together with a second evil beast John sees.  (The first beast, which John saw “rise up out of the sea” and possesses seven heads and ten horns, will be discussed later.)  It possesses two horns like a lamb but speaks as a dragon.  This beast is seen by John “coming up out of the earth” (See Revelation 13:11, 16:14 and 19:20.)  One of these signs, attributed to the second beast in Rev. 13:13, is described as making fire come down from heaven in the sight of all.  What might this refer to?  I offer two possibilities:  It could be the bombing of the World Trade Center, an enormously significant event in world history and viewed everywhere televisions existed, wherein fire was started 1000 feet in the air and literally descended downward as it burned through the two towers.  Another possibility is the future dropping of a nuclear bomb by forces inspired by Mohammad wherein the bomb’s fervent heat burns its target.

Identifying the Beast with Two Horn Associated with the False Prophet

Whom might we identify as the beast responsible for these signs with whom the false prophet is linked in all three scriptural references to him?  I identify the forces of radical Islam–they who actively seek the physical destruction of Christians, Jews, and even insufficiently radical Muslims in their quest to rule the world.  Perhaps this beast’s two horns (see Rev. 13:11) represent the Shiite and Sunni branches of the faith.  Perhaps  it is seen coming up out of the earth because Islam was born in Arabia, as opposed to having been associated with the nations which line the Meditterranean Sea.  Despite its outward appearance as a lamb-like creature, it speaks and acts like a dragon, and the dragon represents Satan (see Rev. 12:9)  As it’s described in Revelation 13, it is a true beast—vicious, heartless and feral.  Radical Islam is uncontrolled in many cases by its own religious leaders, and its bloodlust no longer recognizes or is restrained by even the low standards of the Qur’an, which are discussed hereinafter.  As its destructive march continues, radical Islam convinces growing numbers of people and their leaders that it is unstoppable, will eventually rule the world, and to ensure survival, must be joined or acquiesced to.  Those who watch the news or read the newspaper become desensitized to radical Islam’s murder, oppression and injustice and misogyny; bombings or shootings that kill only a handful of innocent people draw yawns and the observation that at least it wasn’t hundreds or thousands who died like last time.  Also, this beast gives all religions a bad name as critics assert that religion itself, no matter how mild and peace-loving its individual adherents may be, is the source of the evil manifested by the beast.

The Relationship between Muhammad and Radical Islam Signified by the Beast’s Relationship to the False Prophet

What signs or portents were directly attributable to Muhammad which eventually set the pattern for the actions of radical Islam?  From Islam’s inception, it practiced the violent conquest of those who didn’t immediately support the rapid expansion of its political hegemony.  Its brutality allowed it to spread quickly, as it recognized no rules of engagement and didn’t require defensive justifications to destroy its neighbors.  Why did it develop that way?

During the last ten years of his life, Muhammed and his early converts began conducting raids on caravans which entailed robbery and murder.  Eventually, though, his bands began invading cities.  In 627 A.D., five years before Muhammad’s death,

Muslims besieged Banu Qurayza, the remaining major Jewish tribe in Medina. The Banu Qurayza surrendered and all the men were beheaded, apart from a few who converted to Islam, while all the women and children were enslaved.  In dealing with Muhammad’s treatment of the Jews of Medina, aside from political explanations, western historians and biographers have explained it as “the punishment of the Medina Jews, who were invited to convert and refused, perfectly exemplify the Quran’s tales of what happened to those who rejected the prophets of old.”1  

The prospect of a man claiming the mantle of prophet and leading the spread of Islam through violence had thus begun, and this movement, together with its culture of violence, has continued for the last 1,400 years.

It’s extremely important to understand this about Muhammad’s actions, and the actions of radical Islam that followed his own:  Robbery, plunder and murder against fellow Muslims find no specific justification in the Qur’an.  To the extent that Muhammad engaged in these activities, which he definitely did, he did so hypocritically and without his own scriptural authority.  But the passages of the Qur’an cover the ideological map so completely that if you try, you can find many verses to support your actions no matter how good or evil your intentions are.  There’s something there for your every mood, whether you feel like dispensing kindness, robbing others to enrich yourself, or murdering those who oppose you or don’t enthusiastically enough support you.  In the end, if the person declaring what’s scripture and what isn’t is the same person who declares himself God’s preeminent prophet in world history, the only kind of scriptures a reader won’t find in the Qur’an are those that condemn Muhammad’s actions or elevate any other person to Muhammad’s own level of chosenness.

So, while one may wonder whether robbery, plunder and enslavement against non-Muslims are endorsed in the Qur’an, the question of whether they are appropriate is avoided by the Qur’an’s many semantic explanations that whatever God gives to Muhammad in the prosecution of religious purposes is an authorized gift.  

Murder of non-Muslims, however, does find considerable support in the Islamic scripture.  In my own copy of the Qur’an, this fact is best demonstrated not by looking up references in the Index to “Jihad,” but by reading the many references under the Index entries “Fighting (and striving) in the cause of God” and “Warfare.”  The many verses listed under those two subjects will never be confused with the Beatitudes.  One of the first passages I read under “Warfare,” Qur’an 9:5, reads:

[After the four month peace treaty with the “Pagans” expires] then fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every strategem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers [as prescribed by Islam] and practice regular charity [i.e., pay their new Muslim bosses], then open the way for them; for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. 

Throughout the Qur’an, Muhammad urged his followers to fight militarily, promising Allah’s blessings upon them if they did so.  The fight was to be carried to “Unbelievers,” and “Pagans”; in other words, non-Muslims, whose egregious offense was that they weren’t born Muslim, and hadn’t yet been converted.  So, not only had Muhammad with his own version of scripture nullified Jesus’ atonement and resurrection, his “gospel” contemplated a posture of violent aggression toward all those not closely allied with himself.  Unless they converted, of course.  So many Qur’anic verses were so opposite of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and to the Nephites that they gave almost unlimited latitude for any kind of behavior.  Despite the respect Muhammad expressed for Jesus, and despite his tendency to partially borrow some of Jesus’s teachings and give them a minority voice in the Qur’an, it’s no stretch, based on the majority of his teachings and the actions he inspired, to call him an Antichrist.  He certainly is the founder of the world’s greatest physical threat to Christian nations.

The Violent History of Radical Islam

Three of the first four caliphs (successors) to Muhammad after his death in 632 A.D.  were murdered by rival Muslim factions, and through approximately 1250 A.D., many caliphs suffered the same fate.  Nevertheless, Islam spread rapidly through the Middle East due to its aggressive military conquests of surrounding city states and entire nations.  Conversion was not accomplished through missionaries proselyting, but by the sword. The Muslims first branched out from Arabia and invaded Persia and the southern territories of the Eastern Roman Empire such as Syria.  They conquered Palestine by 637, Egypt in 642, Cyprus in 649, and the rest of North Africa by 698.2   Then,

Muslims invaded Spain in 711 slaughtering and enslaving; they burned convents and monasteries, raped and beheaded and even crucified people.  France was invaded was invaded in 721, and all of Europe was in danger of being overrun, but Charles Martel stopped them at the Battle of Tours [also known as the Battle of Poitiers] in 732.3

By 900 A.D., employing beheadings, torture, rape, mass enslavement, plunder, piracy, the forcing of women into prostitution and of males into the conquerors’ militaries, the Arabic Islamic empire had spread from the western edge of modern India to the west coast of Portugal, though Spain and Portugal then represented its only lasting penetration into Europe.  The methods of subjection were used against Christians and Jews, but against resistant Muslims as well.  Non-Muslim historians who have written contemporaneously or retrospectively of Islam’s spread are unanimous in chronicling the physical brutality used by its warriors to bring as much of the world as they could under a single set of beliefs.  No culture of tolerance toward other religions existed among the purveyors of this militant Islam.  The whole point of the conquests was to prevent religious diversity and tolerance, and to prevent acceptance of any prophet as equaling or surpassing the stature of Muhammad.  The unapologetic goal was one universal caliphate.

The Muslim Turks of  Anatolia (modern Turkey) began their own Islamic empire-building around the beginning of the 14th Century, and using the same tactics as their Arab predecessors, they both continued the forced spread of Islam and in most areas supplanted the Arab Muslims who had ruled before them.   This conquest eventually resulted in the Ottoman Empire, which successfully seized Christian eastern European countries that had previously remained outside the reach of Islamic hegemony.  When these Anatolian Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453, they killed 40,000 Christians, including men, women and children.  The bloodletting only stopped because the Muslim conquerors determined that selling their new subjects into slavery would be more profitable than merely killing them.  Similarly, surviving women could be, and were, added to the harems of the sultan and his men.  In the years thereafter, the Ottomans kidnapped children and conscripted them into the military, which then used them as soldiers to fight Christians in the lands yet to be conquered.  Another practice sometimes employed to obtain more soldiers was to raise taxes so high that parents would be forced to sell their male children to the government.

The Ottoman Empire, of of the most powerful states in the world during the 15th and 16th centuries . . . came to an end only in 1922, when it was replaced by the Turkish Republic [1923] and various successor states in southeastern Europe and the Middle East.  At its height it included most of southeastern Europe to the gates of Vienna, including modern Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania, Greece, and Ukraine; Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Egypt, North Africa as far west of Algeria; and most of the Arabian Peninsula.5

 

Although the Muslim-run Ottoman empire, which was allied with Germany during World War I, became a casualty of that war, the practice of spreading Islam through any means possible, including murder, was dormant only briefly.  By the time Israel was officially established as a nation in 1948, movements within Islamic nations of the Middle East had recommenced attempts to establish a worldwide caliphate.  In this reborn effort, if Islam’s forces lacked the means to defeat Israel and its Christian allies militarily, terrorism became a new tool whereby perceived Jewish, Christian, Hindu or insufficiently radical Muslim enemies could be intimidated into submission by the threat of surprise mass murders using bombs.  If bombs couldn’t be had, assault rifles and knives were acceptable; if towers, large buildings or public squares couldn’t be bombed, cafes and airplanes would do.  The death toll of infidels would be lower, but the glorious work of Jihad against non-Muslims would still move forward.

With radical Islam’s renewed and accelerated jihadist efforts over the last three decades, mass murder of infidels has once again become common throughout the world, but particularly in the United States, Europe, Israel, and in Muslim countries in the Middle East, southern Asia and southeast Asia.  Those captured in fighting or simply kidnapped have been subjected to  torture and beheadings. Predictably, people around the world have come to fear, and make concessions to, the ever more strident demands of radical Muslims.  Political leaders and journalists alike have been afraid to blame radical Islam for its deeds, fearing that they themselves will be targeted as anti-Muslim.  Radical Islam’s influence has become an existential threat to many nations.  It is today no more controllable by appeals to morality than a hungry hyena is controlled by reading it the Sermon on the Mount.

Peace-loving Muslims, who still constitute the majority of the faith’s adherents, despise the actions of their radical counterparts.  But they, too, are too afraid of reprisals by militants to strongly denounce them as bloodthirsty murderers or try to appeal to their religious morality to restrain them.  Radical Islam is truly a beast, and I hypothesize it’s the beast associated with the false prophet which John saw in vision.

My Proposed Identification of the Beast with Seven Heads and Ten Horns and Prediction of Future Events

In Rev. 13:1-8 a fearsome beast with seven heads and ten horns is seen by John rising up out of the sea.  The name of blasphemy is written on its head, and crowns sit atop the horns.  The beast’s body parts combine those of a leopard, bear and lion, and he is given great power by the dragon which is identified as Satan.  The beast speaks blasphemies against God and those who dwell in heaven, and because of its great power people are too intimidated to resist it in war.  It makes war with the saints and overcomes them Accordingly, for 42 months it is given power over “all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”  Additionally, all who aren’t saved by the Lamb (Jesus Christ) are not only ruled by this beast but worship him.  Importantly, one of this beast’s head appear to die, but then appears healed and alive again.  The second beast causes people to honor and worship first beast, and exercises the same power exhibited by the first beast.6

The Bible actually provides helpful explanations as to what this beast represents.  This beast is a composite of the four beasts Daniel saw in vision as described in Daniel 7.  An explanation of Daniel’s beast is given there, and an explanation of Revelation’s beast is given in Rev. Chapter 17.  The seven heads are seven “mountains,” or lands.  “Mount” or “mountain” can carry the meaning of “land of” in the Old Testament, such as in “mount Gilead” or “mount Ephraim” and that usage is adopted here.  They are also kingdoms.  They appear to be nations and peoples of the Mediterranean world.

I offer one possible interpretation of the seven-headed beast, though it’s a limited one.  The beast represents foreign empires or kingdoms around the Mediterranean which have ruled over the Israelites since they became a people.  The beast rises out of the sea because the kingdoms all border the sea John is familiar with.  The first head is Egypt, the second Assyria, the third Babylonia, the fourth is Greece under Alexander the Great and his successors, and the fifth is the Roman Empire.  The sixth is the important one, because it is militant Islam, starting with Muhammad and lasting all the way through World War I.  World War I appears to kill that head, but shortly after its apparent death, it is revived and re-embarks on its attempts to conquer the world.  The seventh head is the British Empire, but it lasts a short period only and voluntarily relinquishes its control over Israel and the surrounding people.  Immediately radical Islam re-emerges and through terrorism and then war, it temporarily grabs control over Israel and its allies.  It is the eighth head, a reiteration of the sixth one.  The period of time John sees covers 2000 years, words he uses in the present tense don’t mean they are contemporaneous to him writing Revelation.

Whether the allies of Israel mentioned above are limited to the world of the eastern hemisphere, or whether the beast exercises control over the Americas as well, I express no opinion.  John spoke only of the lands with which he was familiar, so to him, the whole world could have been the world of northern Africa, Europe and the Middle East.  Biblical writers exhibited no knowledge of the Americas’ existence, though Isaiah seems to have known there were “isles of the sea” in unknown places from which the lost tribes of Israel would eventually gather.

If I am right, then the second beast, which seeks to carry forward the aims of the beast from the sea, consists of modern radical Islam attempting to re-establish a worldwide caliphate ruled by a Muslim government.  This is what existed and ruled the Holy Land from the time of Islam’s founding through the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century.  And apparently, the beast succeeds in re-establishing  a short-lived Muslim kingdom (perhaps lasting 42 months) during which the world John knew is under a Muslim religious and political government.  The only nations that don’t fall temporarily under the beast’s control are Christian ones (but which nations can still be called Christian is not easily determined).  Then Christ comes, the beast is vanquished, and the Millennial era begins.  All is truly well in Zion.

Interpretation of the Whore Riding on the Beast, and Prediction of Coming Events

Though the whore’s relationship with the beast, which is discussed in Revelation 17, isn’t the topic of this essay, I will state briefly what I think is portrayed.  The whore represents the corrupt historical leadership and practices of the Catholic Church, situated in and ruling from Rome.  The Book of Mormon makes that clear, as demonstrated in an essay elsewhere on this website here.  The whore throughout history has had an uneasy co-existence with militant Islam, but has taken for granted that it would always be protected against the latter’s attempts to destroy it.  The beast (a government run by radical Islam) co-exists with the whore in the Mediterranean world, but has always planned to destroy it, and eventually it does.  It burns Rome, or at least the Vatican, and this constitutes the final blow that fells it.  (Current scandals relating to sexual immorality of priests and misappropriation of church moneys are already wreaking havoc with the Roman Catholic Church, and even a well-intentioned, reform-minded pope won’t be able to prevent the coming collapse.)    That hasn’t happened yet, but will, right before Christ comes.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Excerpted from Wikipedia article “Military career of Muhammad” at en.wikipedia.org.)

2. Michael D. Fortner, The Beast and False Prophet Revealed (Lawton: Trumpet Press, 2019)p. 35.  While I quote Fortner’s work several times in this essay, I disagree with many of his conclusions.  I have cited his writings only on points that are easily corroborated through other sources and which do not represent his mere opinions or interpretations of Revelation’s passages.

3. Fortner, Ibid, p. 38.

4. Fortner, Ibid., p. 51-54.  Though radical Islam has somewhat reversed this process today by paying the families of young males who agree to become suicide bombers, the shocking evil of the practice remains.

5.  Excerpted quotation from “The Ottoman Empire” article in Encyclopedia Brittannica,  as quoted in Fortner, Ibid., p. 53.

6.  Though the number 666 is associated with this beast, I won’t address in this essay my interpretation of why that number is used to identify it.  I do have a tentative theory on this point, but am still researching the issue to see if previously unconsidered possibilities emerge.  My tentative theory is shared by no one, as far as I know, but is based on an analysis of the context and significance of 666 when the number is used in 1 Kings 10:14.  Readers who seek further discussion of this question are encouraged to contact me through the Comments tab on the LAMP website or at kmitch3018@aol.com.

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