When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, created a dazzling, 90-foot image made of solid gold, he gathered the leaders of his country to bow before it in worship. At the sound of music, every official was to fall prostrate on the plain of Dura and show divine honor to the self-centered monarch—on pain of death by fire in a furnace.
But three young Hebrew men refused. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not bow down and worship the image. Even after being given a second chance, they wouldn’t budge. It so angered Nebuchadnezzar that he asked his soldiers to heat the furnace seven times hotter. The furnace was so raging hot that when the soldiers threw in the young Hebrews, they themselves perished.
But what the king saw next shook him to the core. There were not only three men in the furnace—there were four! And they were all moving about, unharmed. The king declared, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25). God Himself saved these courageous young men because they refused to dishonor Him.
Someday, all God’s people will be confronted with the same choice as these three men: to obey the voice of a man or the Word of God.
The Connection to Revelation
There’s a link between the story in Daniel 3 and the book of Revelation.
Notice how John describes this last-day evil power: “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Revelation 13:15).
It’s an echo of the account of the three worthy Hebrews. In the final days of Earth’s history, God’s people will be coerced once more to worship a false image or be slain. They will be forced to choose between following God’s law or man’s law. So, who is this “beast” that produces this end-time false image?
Identifying the Beast
The Bible tells us what beasts represent in prophecy. Notice these examples:
- “The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth” (Daniel 7:23, emphasis added).
- “These great beasts, which are four, are four kings” (7:17, emphasis added).
- “And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece” (8:21, emphasis added).
A beast in Bible prophecy represents a political power, like a kingdom or a government. In the same way that we represent governments today with animals—the United States with an eagle, Russia with a bear, etc.—God used symbols of beasts to represent kingdoms. One particular beast is focused on above all the rest. Notice what the Bible says:
Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”
And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. …
He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666 (Revelation 13:1–8, 15–18).
From these verses, we find God-given clues that help to determine what this beast is.
Ten Characteristics of the Beast
There are 10 characteristics of this beast that can be found in these passages. Carefully studying each one will help determine the identity of the beast.
- This beast rises up out of the sea (v. 1).
- This beast receives its power, throne, and authority from the dragon (v. 2).
- This beast is guilty of blasphemy (vv. 1, 5, 6).
- This beast once ruled for 42 prophetic months (v. 5).
- This beast receives a deadly wound that heals (v. 3).
- This beast turns into a worldwide power (vv. 3, 7).
- This beast is a religious power (vv. 4, 8).
- This beast persecutes God’s people (v. 7).
- This beast has a mysterious number, 666 (v. 18).
- This beast is led by a man (v. 18).
There is only a single power on earth that perfectly fits all 10 of these identifying marks: the papacy. Let’s carefully review each of these points one at a time.
1. RISES FROM THE SEA
The Bible says from where this beast comes: “I saw a beast rising up out of the sea” (v. 1). What does the sea represent in Bible prophecy? Notice: “The waters which you saw … are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (17:15, emphasis added). Bible prophecy tells us that water represents great multitudes of people—in other words, heavily populated areas.
This means that the beast emerged from among established nations in a densely populated area of the world; that is, where the vast majority of people lived. The papacy arose from the multitude of peoples who had settled in Western Europe, which confirms point one.
2. EMPOWERED BY THE DRAGON
The beast gets its power from someone else: “The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority” (13:2). Who is the dragon? “The great dragon … [is] called the Devil and Satan” (12:9). How do we know who the dragon gave power to? Scripture tells us that the dragon orchestrated an attempt on Jesus’ life when the Son of God was just a child (vv. 3–5). And we know that it was Herod, a king in the Ancient Roman Empire, who destroyed “all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16), in an effort to kill the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In other words, the dragon empowered the kingdom of Rome to enact this heinous deed.
Scripture also tells us that the dragon was behind the persecution of God’s people during a certain period in history. Revelation 12:13 states, “The dragon … persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child.” In the Bible, a woman can also symbolize a church (Jeremiah 3:20; 6:2; 2 Corinthians 11:2). The church of the Child from Revelation 12—that is, Christ—would naturally be the Christian church. Now, this persecution went on “for a time and times and half a time” (Revelation 12:14) and is infamously known in history as the Dark Ages, a time when the Roman Catholic Church slaughtered millions for their Christian faith. Out of this age of terror was born the Protestant Reformation. (For a detailed explanation of this time prophecy, see Point Four.)
Note that the dragon has been working through the Roman Empire throughout history, when it was an ancient pagan nation and also after it evolved into a religious power. One historian put it this way: “The Roman church … pushed itself into the place of the Roman World-Empire, of which it is the actual continuation. … The Pope, who calls himself ‘King’ and ‘Pontifex Maximus,’ is Caesar’s successor.”
As we can see, the dragon has worked through Rome multiple times, in both its pagan and its papal incarnations. Clearly, point two also fits the papacy.
3. SPEAKS BLASPHEMY
We learn more about this beast by what comes from its mouth: “He was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies. … Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven” (Revelation 13:5, 6).
Blasphemy, according to Scripture, is when a human claims to forgive sins (Luke 5:21) and also claims to be God (John 10:33). Here’s how the Catholic catechism describes the work of the priest: “Does the Priest truly forgive the sins, or does he only declare that they are remitted? The Priest does really and truly forgive the sins in virtue of the power given to him by Christ.”
Furthermore, the papacy claims that the pope is equal with God. Pope Leo XIII said, “We [the popes] hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty.” Here is another startling statement describing the pope: “Thou … art another God on earth.” We can see that point three matches the papacy as well.
4. RULED 42 MONTHS
The Bible tells us how long this first beast would rule uncontested: “And he was given authority to continue for forty-two months” (Revelation 13:5). This prophecy is also referred to in other places in Scripture as 1,260 days (11:3; 12:6). Here are two important facts to note about time prophecies in the Bible: One, they are calculated using the 30-day Jewish calendar. Two, we know from Ezekiel 4:6 that a prophetic day in Scripture equals one literal year. So, these 1,260 prophetic days are actually 1,260 literal years.
Historians indicate that papal Rome became an official worldwide power in ad 538, when the papacy defeated its only remaining opposing power, the Ostrogoths, and was able to enact a decree made five years earlier in ad 533 by the Emperor Justinian, thereby legally making the pope the supreme ruler of all churches. Then, in 1798, the authority of the papacy was forcibly removed when Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Napoleon’s general, took the pope captive. The time period between ad 538 and 1798 is exactly 1,260 years, thus proving that point four fits the papacy.
5. DEADLY WOUND HEALED
The Bible indicates that something happened to the beast after the 42 prophetic months: “And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed” (Revelation 13:3, emphasis added). After the pope’s captivity in 1798, he died in France. Nearly half of Europe believed this was the end of the papacy. But in contrast, the Bible predicted that the influence and power of the papacy would be restored.
Most people readily acknowledge that today the papacy is one of the most influential powers on earth and that the pope’s influence is only growing—just as the prophecy predicted. Millions look to the papacy for spiritual direction, world unity, peace, and hope. One Vatican insider, Malachi Martin, shared that Pope John Paul II was “the most visible and well-known human being of the twentieth century[,] …. [had] established personal relationships with the governmental leaders in all 91 countries[,] …. [and was] the world’s first fully fledged geopolitical leader.” In just several decades since the publication of Martin’s tell-all, the pope’s influence has multiplied. For instance, in 2020 alone, Pope Francis launched the Council for Inclusive Capitalism with the Vatican, involving Fortune 500 companies, and has played a vital role in the United Nations’s climate plans. Point five matches the papacy.
6. WORLDWIDE POWER
This beast has global influence: “Authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Revelation 13:7, emphasis added). There is no question that during the Dark Ages, the papacy dominated the world scene. And as we have just learned, even after receiving its deadly wound, the papacy has been steadily climbing to the height of its previous power. Truly, in recent years, it seems more plausible that one day soon, “all the world [will marvel] and [follow] the beast” (v. 3). Additionally, did you know that the word “catholic” actually means “universal”? Point six certainly fits the papacy.
7. A RELIGIOUS POWER
Revelation also tells us that this beast is a religious power. In fact, five times in Revelation 13, the word “worship” is associated with this beast, clearly showing that this power is intimately involved in spiritual matters (vv. 4, 8, 12, 15). There is no doubt that the papacy aligns with point seven.
8. MAKES WAR WITH THE SAINTS
What is the relationship of the beast to God’s people? “It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them” (v. 7). History plainly shows that the papacy persecuted and destroyed conscientious Christians, who it labeled as heretics. One of the most well-known of these time periods, the Dark Ages, you were already introduced to in Points Two and Four. Many historians indicate that more than 50 million Christians died during that time. Even though the pope has asked that the Catholic Church be forgiven for these killings, it still remains true that it massacred millions. So, we can know that Point eight also fits the papacy.
9/10. A MAN AND A NUMBER
The Bible also identifies the beast with a mysterious number of a man: “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666” (v. 18). One of the unique facets about the Roman Empire is that its numeric system was comprised of the same elements as its alphabet; in other words, several of its letters were also numbers. In fact, we still use this system of Roman numerals today.
But who is the man, and what is his number? The man we think about when we think of the papacy is naturally the pope. One of the official titles of the pope is Vicarius Filii Dei, Latin for “Vicar of the Son of God.” Adding up the Roman numeral values of this papal title equal 666, exactly the sum identified in Revelation. And so, it is without a doubt that both points nine and ten apply to the pope.
This means that all ten characteristics found in Revelation 13:1–8, 15–18 fit the papacy.
A Final Word
We must add one more point. There are many sincere and godly Roman Catholics counted by God as His children. So also, there have been many courageous and kindly popes who have loved God. This article in no way is an attack on our Catholic friends. In reality, it is simultaneously a defense for the veracity of the Bible and a strike against Satan, who is bent on tearing down that defense.
Thank God for revealing the devil’s evil plans to us in Scripture. The Bible’s prophecies have never been wrong; there is a beast who has been and is currently working with the dragon to destroy the people of God. This concerns all those who are genuinely seeking to follow the true God of the Bible, including those within the Catholic Church.
Will you follow Jesus wherever He leads?
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 Adolph Harnack, What Is Christianity? Lectures Delivered in the University of Berlin during the Winter-Term 1899–1900, trans. Thomas Bailey Saunders, rev. ed. (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1902), 270.
 Joseph Deharbe, A Complete Catechism of the Catholic Religion, trans. John Fander (New York: Schwartz, Kirwin & Fauss, 1912), 279.
 The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1903), 304.
 Philippe Labbe and Gabriel Cossart, eds., Sacrosancta Concilia Ad Regiam Editionem Exacta Quae Olim Quarta Parte Prodit Auctior [History of the Councils], vol. XIX, col. 761 (Venice: 1732), quoted in Alexander Hislop, The Light of Prophecy Let in on the Dark Places of the Papacy (Edinburgh: William Whyte and Co., 1846), 91.
 Joseph Rickaby, “The Modern Papacy,” in Lectures on the History of Religions, vol. 3 (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1910), 1.
 Malachi Martin, The Keys of This Blood: The Struggle for World Dominion between Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Capitalist West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), 123, 143, 490.