To the apostle John on the isle of Patmos were opened scenes of deep and thrilling interest in the experience of the church. Subjects of intense interest and vast importance were presented to him in figures and symbols, that the people of God might become intelligent concerning the perils and conflicts before them. The history of the Christian world to the very close of time was revealed to John. With great clearness he saw the position, dangers, conflicts, and final deliverance of the people of God. He records the closing message which is to ripen the harvest of earth, either as sheaves for the heavenly garner, or as fagots for the fires of the last day.
In vision John beheld the trials which God’s people would endure for the truth’s sake. He saw their unyielding firmness in obeying the commandments of God, in the face of the oppressive powers that sought to force them into disobedience, and he saw their final triumph over the beast and his image.
Under the symbols of a great red dragon, a leopard-like beast, and a beast with lamblike horns, the earthly governments which would especially engage in trampling upon God’s law and persecuting His people, were presented to John. The war is carried on till the close of time. The people of God, symbolized by a holy woman and her children, were represented as greatly in the minority. In the last days only a remnant still existed. Of these John speaks as they “which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Through paganism, and then through the Papacy, Satan exerted his power for many centuries in an effort to blot from the earth God’s faithful witnesses. Pagans and papists were actuated by the same dragon spirit. They differed only in that the Papacy, making a pretense of serving God, was the more dangerous and cruel foe. Through the agency of Romanism, Satan took the world captive. The professed church of God was swept into the ranks of this delusion, and for more than a thousand years the people of God suffered under the dragon’s ire. And when the Papacy, robbed of its strength, was forced to desist from persecution, John beheld a new power coming up to echo the dragon’s voice, and carry forward the same cruel and blasphemous work. This power, the last that is to wage war against the church and the law of God, was symbolized by a beast with lamblike horns. The beasts preceding it had risen from the sea, but this came up out of the earth, representing the peaceful rise of the nation which is symbolized. The “two horns like a lamb” well represent the character of the United States Government, as expressed in its two fundamental principles, Republicanism and Protestantism. These principles are the secret of our power and prosperity as a nation. Those who first found an asylum on the shores of America rejoiced that they had reached a country free from the arrogant claims of popery and the tyranny of kingly rule. They determined to establish a government upon the broad foundation of civil and religious liberty.
But the stern tracing of the prophetic pencil reveals a change in this peaceful scene. The beast with lamblike horns speaks with the voice of a dragon, and “exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him.” Prophecy declares that he will say to them that dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast, and that “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; 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.” Thus Protestantism follows in the steps of the Papacy.
It is at this time that the third angel is seen flying in the midst of heaven, proclaiming: “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation.” “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” In marked contrast to the world stands the little company who will not swerve from their allegiance to God. These are they of whom Isaiah speaks as repairing the breach which had been made in the law of God, they who are building the old waste places, raising up the foundation of many generations.
The most solemn warning and the most awful threatening ever addressed to mortals is that contained in the third angel’s message. The sin that calls down the wrath of God unmixed with mercy must be of the most heinous character. Is the world to be left in darkness as to the nature of this sin?—Most assuredly not. God does not deal thus with His creatures. His wrath is never visited upon sins of ignorance. Before His judgments are brought upon the earth, the light in regard to this sin must be presented to the world, that man may know why these judgments are to be inflicted, and may have opportunity to escape them.