In the fall of 1979 I heard the Adventist message and read about the United States in prophecy. What helped matters along was that the very week I had my first Bible study on the link between the United States and Rome, John Paul II was on his historic tour of the United States. Imagine: the week that I first studied Revelation 13, I also saw the just-released photo of U.S. president Jimmy Carter in the White House shaking hands with the pope.
At that time the Christian Right, conservative evangelicals, were on a concerted effort to gain political power in this country. And back then they looked destined to succeed.
In short, from my perspective the prophecy looked plausible.
There was, however, one major problem: the Soviet Union. This was 1979. America was still licking its wounds from Vietnam, which—despite 50,000 dead Americans and years of napalming and poisoning the place with Agent Orange—still (with Russia’s help) went Communist. Communist uprisings unfurled in Cambodia and Laos. The Sandinistas, a bit closer to home, took power in Nicaragua. Fidel Castro was sending troops to Angola. Here was this dictator, 90 miles off our shores, and we could do nothing about him because of the Soviet Union. In Moscow, Leonid Brezhnev and his semi-Stalinist thugs still had firm control over Eastern Europe, and when later that year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, we could do nothing. From that perspective, then, the Seventh-day Adventist scenario seemed impossible.
The week I first studied Revelation 13 I saw U.S. President Jimmy Carter shaking hands with the Pope.
What—was the Soviet Union going to just disappear?
But even with these changes, something else remained unresolved in my mind. Despite the United States’ military and economic might, the nation’s institutions and political structures have always remained stable and secure, which is why it was hard to envision this country fulfilling its prophetic role as a persecutor. In Watergate, for example, Richard Nixon, the most powerful man in the world, was ousted from office without a shot being fired. Nixon made a speech, then flew away on a helicopter while Gerald Ford raised his hand and swore an oath. And that was that.
But that was then, and this is now—and who, now, in these roaring twenties, thinks such stability remains in this country? Whether on the right or the left, Republican, Democrat, Independent—who looks optimistically at our immediate future? We are watching our democracy, our democratic institutions themselves, start to disintegrate before our eyes. It’s really scary, isn’t it?
Short-term, we don’t know what will happen to our beloved country. Long-term, as the book of Revelation teaches, the lamblike beast will speak “like a dragon” (Rev. 13:11). How, exactly, such a radical change will take place, only God knows. For now, though, things have gotten bizarre in this country, socially and politically, and the institutions and processes that we once took for granted seem on the verge of collapse, even destruction.
All of which might help explain the lamblike beast speaking “like a dragon.” How so? A wounded animal, a wounded beast, can be a very dangerous creature.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book is Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity.