In the book of Acts, there is a very famous scene with the apostle Peter praying about midday on the rooftop and he falls into a trance and sees a vision from heaven. In the vision, the heavens opened and he saw a large sheet descend from heaven full of animals. At first Peter was “GREATLY PERPLEXED” and kept wondering and thinking about the meaning of the vision.
He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (Acts 10:11-13)
Why would God not just speak to Peter in more direct, simpler ways? Why the obscurity and cryptogram? Does God want to teach Peter how to “break the code”?
I imagine that Peter was very sure God was trying to get his attention about some “important matter” but it was blurred, for time being. We will come to learn, however, that God was speaking to Peter in one of His most favorite ways when talking about the future: by symbols!
What God is after when showing us the future is to always get BEHIND the symbol to the REALITY that the symbol describes. God does not want Peter to dwell on the large sheet and four footed animals but move PAST the symbol to the reality! God wants Peter to understand and experience that He is a God of ALL nations and that wants His sons and daughters to go into ALL the world and preach the gospel!
“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)
Peter was being SET UP BY GOD for an encounter that started with a vision but continues with three Gentile men knocking on his door the very next moment. As the picture from the vision unfolds this helped him move along the path to a fuller understanding that God was after something new. When Peter stepped into Cornelius’ house he crossed over a line that has meant the salvation of millions and millions of Gentiles!
Symbols serve to keep the future a shrouded mystery and demand that our relationship with Jesus be strong and alive for revelation. Reading books like Daniel, Revelation and Zechariah are not like reading the Gospels, 1-2 Kings or the book of Acts. They require a special connection with the Holy Spirit to uncover the true meaning of the passage! On this point Daniel serves as a good role model:
“I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this, So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things… Then I desired to know the exact meaning of the fourth beast.” (Daniel 7:16,19)
Bill Johnson, of Bethel Church, offers this advise when it comes to living by Divine inspiration: “We have to live by both Principle, the written Word and Presence, the fresh word through revelation by the Spirit. Living by Principle keeps us from shipwreck but living by Presence will get us His revelation.”
For a deeper experience with symbols let’s turn to one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible and see what we can do to “search out its exact meaning”. But before we do that, however, spend a minute of two seeking His face and His Presence!
“Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.”
Here is a short list of ways to break down this text and search after the exact meaning:
1. Beast out of the [Great] Sea – (cf. Daniel 7:2 KJV) This helps us with location. i.e. Mediterranean Sea
2. Ten horns and seven heads – 10 kings and 7 kings
In Rev. 17 we find that the “seven heads… are also seven kings” and that the “ten horns you saw are ten kings”. According to Daniel 7, kings and kingdoms are used interchangeably.
3. On his horns were ten diadems – symbols of authority.
The ten diadems of the beast express his rule over a group of ten kings/kingdoms.
4. On his heads were blasphemous names – symbols that speak of the character of the beast.
The seven heads of the beast each advertise blasphemy against God. This speaks of more than the beast’s message; it speaks of his character. He is a blasphemer, who speaks against God. (David Guzik)
5. The beast was like [the body of] a leopard – The leopard is a symbol of Greece (education, reason, logic, beauty, subtly)
For more descriptions and definitions of the leopard, bear and lion see Daniel’s four beast in Dan. 7. See also the ram and goat in Dan. 8.
6. His feet were like those of a bear – Medo/Persia (massive army, “war-like”)
7. His mouth like the mouth of a lion – Babylon (the golden head)
8. The dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.
A family resemblance between the dragon and the beast is evident. The dragon in chapter 12 had “seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads” (12:3), while the beast from the sea in chapter 13 has ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns. Only the number and placement of the crowns vary. (IVP New Testament Commentaries)
If you have not looked at this chapter before, I want to point you in the direction that God is here describing the future antichrist, who will one day appear on the scene in a revised Roman Empire as a King.
Is this beast with 10 horns and seven heads the future Antichrist? YES, I believe it is.
“The Beast is worshiped as a god; but people never worship an empire as such; neither do they make a succession of emperors into an object of religious devotion. The paying of divine homage to kings has been a common thing in the world’s history, but it has always been rendered to individuals.” (Seiss)
Well, how is that for a start? Be sure of this, that the closer we get to the last days our discernment will move up a notch or two.
“Both the Old and New Testament give clues concerning the last days and, as those times get nearer, the clues become plainer.” (Alexander Fraser)
“The continued presence of a foreigner seems to me to produce an evil effect. The native genius is cramped by his presence, and cannot work with him. The Christians tend to sit still and let him do everything for them, denying all responsibility…I should feel disposed to group all foreigners together in one place to avoid having them reside in more places than can be helped. A visit of two or three months stirs up the Church. Long continued residence stifles it.”
Roland Allen, Ministry of the Spirit, 1902