Thursday, June 10, 2010

Symbolism in Revelation: the Mark of the Beast and the Locusts of War

The Mark of the Beast

I suppose everyone has to take his or her turn trying to interpret the imagery of Revelation, particularly the mark of the beast.  People like to point to RFID chips and implantable chips as examples of the mark of the beast.  I think there is a much simpler way to read it.
16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
  17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)
I think body-part symbolism is being used here.
  • Hands = work  (Hands are used for manual labor)
  • Forehead = thoughts
When people receive the mark of the beast, I think it means the way they work and the way they think has been corrupted, so that in everything they do or think, it is obvious (as if they were marked) that they are motivated by unrighteous desires.  When too many people do business using unrighteous methods, it becomes very difficult to do business any other way.  The ones with the money say, “It’s my way or the highway.”   Those who don’t want to be corrupted are automatically marginalized. 

The Locusts of War from Revelations 9:1-10

Now we’re going to go to a completely different chapter and look at some verses that usually have stumped people.  Many people like to try to match the strange imagery up with modern methods of warfare, but I’m going try to try to stick with simple spiritual symbols that teach spiritual truths.
1 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
a star fall from heaven = Satan fell from heaven
key of the bottomless pit = authority to command all hell
  2 And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
smoke from the bottomless pit = temptations  (Think of the mists of darkness from Lehi’s dream)
smoke darkening the sun and the air = obscuring the source of light (the Lord), making it feel like a dark, stormy world
  3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
Locusts = devouring and destroying multitudes (armies/mobs/crowds/ organizations/groups) that seem unstoppable in the aggregate because of their numbers
locusts from the smoke = devouring and destroying multitudes formed because of great temptations 
given power as scorpions have power = power to sting (persecute, torment)
4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
 locusts commanded to not hurt the grass, any green things, trees… If we wanted to find a literal interpretation, we might say that these multitudes are ultra-worried about preserving the environment.  But this doesn’t have spiritual universality, so I reject this interpretation.   A spiritual interpretation is that these multitudes do not hurt those sealed in their foreheads (those who are spiritually alive like a green tree or green grass).

Interesting that ordinary locusts go straight for the green things.  These locusts specifically avoid green things.  (They only hurt those who aren’t sealed in their foreheads.  They go for the spiritually dead.)  (This nugget suggested by*
  5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.
locusts with scorpion power = multitudes that sting (persecute and torment)
locusts not permitted to kill, only sting = multitudes not permitted to kill, only persecute
  6 And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
  7 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
locusts shaped like horses prepared to battle = fierce multitudes prepared to fight.  They work through horses, meaning things that serve them by increasing their abilities.
crowns = ruling powers
head= thoughts
locusts with crowns like gold on their head = multitudes that think they have power over everything, think they are the best (pride)
locusts with the faces of men = multitudes led by individual leaders
  8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
faces of men with hair like women =  shame  (“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14))  (This is the best I can do for now.  Your suggestions are welcome.)
Teeth like lions = very violent way of talking, very mean
  9 And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.
Breastplates like iron = very hardhearted
Sound = rumors or warnings
Wings = power.  Lots of times in the scriptures, wings are used to suggest heavenly powers.  (“And the sound of the cherubims’ wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaketh.” (Ezekiel 10:5) “I will bear him up as on eagles’ wings” (D&C 124:18)  Yet in this case, I think the wings are not necessarily representative of heavenly powers.  Think hellish powers instead.
Sound of wings = rumors of power 
Sound of wings like sound of chariots of many horses running to battle = they make everyone think that they are very powerful and about to come and completely destroy them with superior force and technology
  10 And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months. (Revelation 9:1-10)
Tails = followers.  (Just like a tail follows an animal, people follow a leader)
Tails like scorpions = followers that sting (persecute) and poison? (embitter against the truth)
Stinging tails with power to hurt men five months = persecution that hurts for a long time and takes a while to heal from

Now lets go on to another section of the same chapter..  Revelations 9:17-19
17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
Horses = a domesticated animal/tool that can be useful for service in peace or in war.  They magnify a man’s speed, power, and height.   In this scripture horses have been trained for war.
Breastplates = the condition of their hearts.  Their hearts are guarded by a thick shell.
Breastplates of fire = angry (and destructive) hearts
Jacinth = a red-orange gem  (possibly communicating qualities of attractive sparkly-ness, but still rock hard; the color may further highlight anger)
Breastplates of jacinth = hard-hearted, angry
Brimstone = sulpher (stinky like rotten eggs)  torment (Brimstone is always paired with fire to refer to eternal torment.)
Breastplates of brimstone = tormented hearts
breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone  = angry, hard-hearted, tormented hearts
heads of the horses = ?? Hmmm.  This one threw me for a loop for a little bit.  If heads represented thoughts and horses were domesticated animals or tools, I wondered, how can tools of men think?  Then I realized that a modern equivalent could be the computer, which helps men generate ideas and solutions.   Computer programs simulate, allowing planning, designing, and other thought-oriented tasks.  Computers, like horses, augment men’s power to do things.  They can be used for peace or war. 
Lions = an animal naturally violent, fierce, predatory
Heads of horses like heads of lions = domesticated tools trained to serve for violence, ferocity, and predation
  18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
out of their mouths = words
fire = anger, persecution
smoke = temptation
brimstone = sulpher, stinky-like-rotten-eggs torment
third part of men killed by fire, smoke, brimstone = many died spiritually
19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. (Revelation 9:17-19)
Power in their mouth = power from strong words
Power in their tails = power because of how many people follow them
Tails like serpents = followers who tempt like Satan (serpent in the Garden of Eden)
Tails had heads = followers have their own evil ideas as well


This is the best interpretation I can give of these verses now.  I have tried to stay true to simplicity of spiritual meaning.   The large view that we get of these verses is much the same as that seen by Nephi:
  • multitudes fighting and tormenting each other because of their wickedness and susceptibility to temptation,
  • multitudes using their tools to prey on each other,
  • multitudes persecuting one another, tempting one another, and causing many to die spiritually.
The word of hope from these verses is that if we keep ourselves as green trees (spiritually alive) (sealed with name of God in our foreheads) we will stay safe.

*The webpage I cited as a source now does not exist. However, to claim ownership of the idea would still be dishonest, therefore, I have left defunct address up as a memorial to the original source.


Russ said...

One of the problems with the book of Revelation is we do not have an explanation of the symbolism. I find it amusing when people take Revelation literally like some evangelicals. I can't wait to see the ten headed monster coming out of the ocean with mens faces. [sighhh]
You have done very well at explaining the symbols used. I do sometimes wish that there was an explanation like in Nephi's vision. Perhaps there was and it was taken out by the monks over the centuries.

Michaela Stephens said...

I think the warning at the end of Revelation probably was scary enough that no one dared to take anything out or add anything in.

As for wacky interpretations, I went looking on the internet after I posted this just to see what there was out there.. and yes, there was wackiness galore.

Anthony E. Larson said...

Where to begin? (Sigh!)

I despair that my fellow Latter-day Saints would engage in the same folly of prophetic interpretation as our misguided Christian cousins. That's what you've done here.

The Lord told Joseph Smith that the other denominations were wrong. Period. End of discussion. Yet, we persist in using their methodology by trying to find geopolitical and spiritual interpretation in prophecy.

When will we learn to take God and Joseph Smith at their word? If all Christian sects were declared by Christ to be in error when he appeared in the Sacred Grove, why do we persist in following their flawed interpretive model where prophecy is concerned? Huh?

As Russ noted, it is all about symbolism. But you have not done well at explaining it. To understand the systematic symbolism used by all the prophets, we must turn to Joseph Smith, the first prophet, seer and revelator of this dispensation, rather than the "wacky interpretations" of our Christian cousins. Joseph gave us the keys. We've simply overlooked them. We don't see them for what they are.

May I respectfully suggest you immerse yourself in ancient cosmological history, as Joseph did, to understand all prophecy. That's why he studied the Egyptian religious traditions, as outlined in Joseph's Pearl of Great Price facsimile explanations.

I urge you to read my blog post entitled, "Prophecy for Dummies" as a starting point. While my explanations may seem equally "wacky" at first blush (grin), I submit that they will become more and more relevant as you move forward.

Joseph Smith gave us the keys. (See my post series entitled, "Keys to Prophecy.") If we had not abandoned them for the silly methodology of modern millenialist ministers (the path you chose), we would have been far better off where prophetic interpretation is concerned.

Anonymous said...

Nice write up.I admire the fact that You have chosen to address issues that many people have chosen to ignore.I would love to recommend another write up about the beast to You and Your readers which i feel might be helpful:

Michaela Stephens said...

Anthony, thank you for visiting and reading, even you were dissatisfied. If you want to share your interpretation, you are welcome to. Forgive me if I don't quite understand how the cosmological symbolism (as mentioned in your post "Prophecy for Dummies") helps in interpreting these sections of Revelation that I have written about.

Anonymous, thank you for visiting and reading. I did find it interesting to read the write-up you recommended, even if I disagreed with some things. It is always interesting to read other people's views.

Ramona Gordy said...

Thank you for your post.I am a new member to the LDS church,I come from a "Southern Baptist" background,and I remember being totally terrified of the interpretations of "the Beast" and the "mark",the anti-Christ and my all time favs the four horseman. I really love this church and I love the intellect of "this people" in this church. The views you have expressed make sense in the context of our society now. I am sure that more info will follow.The Lord encourages us to search the scriptures to determine their validity.In the words of countless missionaries, pray for validation of the truth. I will do just that. In a multitude of counsel,we can gain insight.I enjoy your blog,it is very educational.

Kenny said...

I think your interpretation of the hands as symbol for work (labor) can similarly be interpreted as your "works" (behavior, what you do), which is what I think you probably meant anyway. Gerald N. Lund wrote a great article called "Understanding Scriptural Symbols" in the October 1986 Ensign. I recommend it!

Michaela Stephens said...

RGG, I'm glad my post helped you. Thanks for stopping by.

Kenny, thanks for the link to the article. I found it very interesting.