Thanksgiving Revelation Blues

Albrecht Dürer, "The Sea Monster and the Beast with the Lamb’s Horn", 1497–1498. Woodcut, Staatkuche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, Germany. See more at

The beast is on the move, ladies and gentlemen, but it's not too late to prepare for the eschaton, the end of the world.

That's the message I brought home last weekend from “Startling Prophecies for America,” a three-part seminar on the apocalypse as referenced in the Bible, presented by pastor Steve Wohlberg, in, of all places, the Whitmore Community Center, out here in eastern Shasta County in the middle of nowhere where I live.

I'll be honest. I'm not a practicing Christian. But things sometimes get a little boring out here since we've gotten rid of the satellite dish, and I figured a little fire and brimstone might do me some good.

But just a little. I watched all three parts of Wohlberg's presentation on YouTube prior to the event but attended only the second session, “America in Bible Prophecy,” in person at the community center Saturday afternoon. The longer you hang out with Christians in real time, the higher the risk of attempted conversion, and I'm not presently in the market.

The center was full-up with about 70 people, men and women, most of whom I guessed were from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church just down the street in Whitmore. Wohlberg is an Adventist pastor who also runs White Horse Media, which specializes in apocalyptic literature and videos. The audience members were mostly older than my 57 years and dressed nicer, like they'd just come from Saturday service. About half of us were armed with pens and notebooks, as Wohlberg covers a lot of biblical ground in his presentations, which are more history lesson than sermon.

Drawing upon the words of the New Testament prophet John in Revelation 13, as well as Daniel 7 from the Old Testament, Wohlberg makes the case that we're mistaken if we picture “the beast” or the “anti-Christ” as an individual entity,  à la Damien Thorne in those Omen movies. Instead, the two beasts that arise in Revelation 13, one from the sea and one from the land, represent religious and political entities that threatened God's kingdom on earth, circa 600 BC to 100 AD. Here are the relevant passages:

Revelation 13:1: And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

Revelation 13:11: And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

The first beast, the one with the seven heads and ten horns, is also mentioned in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, which takes place some 150 years before Christ.

Daniel 7:8: While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

In Wohlberg's interpretation, this little horn with eyes and a mouth like a human being is none other than the pope, which, by extension, makes the first beast, the one that rose from the sea, the Roman Catholic Church. This is by no means an original interpretation. It goes back more than a 500 years, predating the Protestant Reformation, as I'll discuss below.

Squeezing the United States out of Revelation's second beast requires a little more scriptural artistry, but Wohlberg is up to the task. The “land” the second beast has arisen from represents the frontier. The fact that there are no crowns on its horns (as on beast No. 1) means it's not a monarchy. We're getting warmer. The two horns themselves represent the separation of church and state. Glory, hallelujah! America is in the Bible!

Pastor Steve Wohlberg, director of White Horse Media

To demonstrate how the prophecy is playing out in real time, Wohlberg points to former President Barack Obama's 2015 endorsement of Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, which in Wohlberg's view granted the pontiff “full moral authority” over the entire planet. President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord is therefore seen as a positive development by Wohlberg, even though he believes we're definitely still living in the end times.

Thus the apocalyptic vision informs the worldview of Wohlberg, and who knows how many other Christians. Such beliefs may seem arcane to non-believers today, but as historian Arthur H. Williamson points out, not too many centuries ago, they helped overturn the tyrannical rule of the Holy Roman Empire and spark the Enlightenment.

“Today, few people accept the notion that the world is about to end through a prophesied supernatural act,” Williamson writes in Apocalypse Then: Prophecy and the Making of the Modern World. “And yet this has not always been the case. Between 1500 and 1800, many of Europe's and America's most creative minds (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish) believed that they were living in the latter days of the world and the culmination of human history.”

Full disclosure: Williamson is professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, where I once took his popular European history course. We've stayed connected over the years. Author of six historical books, his work is about as secular as it gets, which may make his primary conclusions about apocalyptic prophesy and its role in our cultural history appear counter-intuitive.

“The apocalypse underwrote the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the British Revolution in the seventeenth century, and the American Revolution in the eighteenth century,” he writes. “Moreover, it proved a crucial catalyst in the emergence of liberal values, political democracy, and even modern science. There is nothing in the least liberal, democratic or scientific about the apocalypse, but none of these developments would have occurred without it.”

As Williamson notes, the prophecies of Daniel in the Old Testament and John in Revelation played important roles in these developments. Daniel channeled an ancient Babylonian king to add historical depth and veracity to his vision of beasts and falling empires followed by the arrival of a messiah and a millennium of peace. John was clearly referring to the prophesied (by Daniel) fall of the Roman empire—by no means holy in the first century—in the immediate decades following the resurrection.

I'm over-simplifying more than a little bit, but this notion of civilization's fall at the hands of a political or religious power, followed by the rise of a new, improved civilization, eventually came to inform our notion of historical progress. Prior to that, during medieval times, we were captives in the Great Chain of Being, flies trapped in the amber of its fixed hierarchies of God, clergy, nobility, peasant. Change was impossible.

Martin Luther, the Gutenberg bible and increasing literacy among elites and the general population eventually helped overturn the old world order 500 years ago. As Williamson points out, illustrations depicting the multi-headed beast with its horns and papal crown—like the woodcut heading this article—were the memes of their time, effectively communicating the Holy Roman empire's ungodliness to the general public.

Five centuries later, with the Catholic Church now in a much diminished role historically, you'd think Protestants, especially newer denominations like the Seventh-Day Adventists, would have gotten over the whole, “The pope is the anti-Christ” thing. Apparently, we're in no such luck. Heck, they're all still arguing over who moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.

I've got no dog in that fight, but I've kind of taken to Wohlberg's interpretation of America as the second beast mentioned by John in Revelation 13, with horns like a lamb and the voice of a dragon.

While the lamb signifies that this nation rising at the end of time is Christian-friendly, in the Bible, the beast is always a hypocrite.

“Our country is making high claims, but its actions are quite different,” Wohlberg says.

But instead of separation between church and state, might not the two horns on this seemingly pious beast's head—I imagine it covered with long, fine, golden fleece, like our president's—represent our two morally bankrupt political parties, that speak singularly in the dragon's forked tongue?

That sounds like a fairly accurate description of where America is today to me. Who knows? This prophecy stuff may turn out to be more accurate than it's cracked up to be. At any rate, as we approach our first Thanksgiving with President Trump, it does indeed sometimes feel as if we're living through the end times. If history is any guide, we will survive this time period and come out the other side the better for it.

In the meantime, a little praying probably wouldn't hurt.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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27 Responses

  1. john says:

    Very entertaining

  2. conservative says:

    Seventh Day Adventists are America’s large, well studied population known for longevity. In Loma Linda, vegetarians who observe live about seven years longer than other Californians. They have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, diabetic leg amputation, renal failure requiring hemodialysis, etc.

    Longevity is well studied in Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia. LDS in Utah, compared to non-LDS in Utah, also have remarkable longevity.

    I wish the medical profession would do more research on how to educate patients to follow a healthier lifestyle, especially at the earliest stage of metabolic syndrome when they start to gain weight and blood pressure rises, years before prediabetes usually appears. Primary Care docs especially should study longevity and lifestyle modification.

  3. conservative says:

    I wish there were another way other than religion to get people to adopt healthier lifestyles over decades. Observational studies are the only practical way to study longevity. It is impossible to randomly assign patients to a smoking, drinking, meat eating lifestyle, have them follow it for decades, then measure outcomes. Prospective, randomized studies are the gold standard.

    Doctors should be educating patients concerned about Alzheimer’s disease about the populations with the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease. For example, Nigerians’ largely vegetarian lifestyle gives them a very low rate of Alzheimer’s disease while Americans with Nigerian genetics have a very high rate. There are large differences between Japanese and Japanese who emigrated to the U.S. and adopted the American diet.

  4. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    When I was 13 I decided to plow through the entire Bible, cover to cover. I found much of the Old Testament to be horrifying, but I developed a longstanding love of Ecclesiastes, which I still dip into from time to time. When it came to the New Testament, I went through the books of the Gospel thinking: “All familiar territory, with some nice core teachings, but I have some nagging questions about the logic of the sacrificial outcome.” The following chapters—Paul’s letters and such—came off as filler.

    Then I encountered The Book of Revelations. Where some churches apparently focus on Revelations, mine seemed to ignore it. I was encountering it with fresh eyes, and my reaction (in the current parlance) was: WTF? The Bible ends with THIS?

    It wasn’t until decades later that I learned that The Revelations’ inclusion in the Bible had been subject to a lot of vigorous debate in the early Church of the West, and rejected by the Church of the East. And that Luther, kicking off the Protestant Reformation, had largely dismissed it. Calvin flat-out ignored it—the only book of the Bible he ignored in his writings. I’ve also encountered speculation that The Revelations might have been inspired by hallucinations caused by ergot fungus in the author’s the grain supply.

    Anyway, we got a great traditional gospel song out of it: “John the Revelator.”

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Williamson’s book, which is pretty damned pricey on Amazon, presents a detailed account of how Luther and others deployed the apocalypse against the Church 1500 to 1800. It’s fascinating how these ancient tales are woven into our psyches, whether we’re believers or not. It’s hard to imagine a world where the concept “apocalypse” doesn’t exist, since that’s what we’ve grown up in, but apparently there was once no “end time.” Just an endless cycle.

      I’ve read the bible all the way through several times, and I keep one handy for reference (although the web is much better for looking verses up). I’ve never found too much comfort in it one way or the other. I hope that doesn’t make me a beast.

    • Jeffrey Needle says:

      I sure wish people who claim to know the Bible would figure out the name of the last book is “Revelation,” not “Revelations.” Just look it up — it’s simple.

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        Reminds me that it’s not Daylight Savings Time but Daylight Saving Time. And there’s no “s” on backward or forward. And while I’m at it, farther and further don’t have the same meaning and are not interchangeable. Reason enough not to buy a Ford whose motto is, “Drive Further.” Where do they dig up their advertisement writers? Must have gone online and ended up talking with an East Indian.

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        Jeffrey — Sorry if my use of the plural pained you, but I never claimed any kind of expertise. It’s been decades since I’ve read “The Revelation,” and I was going on memory.

        Also, no need to be such a pilkunnussija, even in the face of my horrific error.

  5. Beverly Stafford says:

    I commend you for sitting through the presentation. I fear I would have been squirming in my seat.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Actually, Steve Wohlberg is a pleasant speaker to listen to, he knows his material well, he’s not didactic, he’s polite. I think he could make it a little more exciting, frankly. It was much more like a lecture than a sermon. Of course, if I’d gone to all three sessions and hung out, I’d probably be converted by now, so I kept my distance.

  6. Robert Scheide Sr. says:

    Religion of any flavor are not on my menu. I was raised Roman Catholic and once even believed I would become a priest. Several life events have since soured me on all religion.. The Catholic church of my day didn’t believe in birth control and my mom after she had my little sister could not get permission to use birth control essentially sentenced her to death with another pregnancy. My sister was born with no grey matter of the brain, she never walked, talked and probably not much of anything.. I loved her above all else.. The church stated that she was probably so afflict for something my mother had done wrong..While in
    Catholic school a nun said one day was not in a Luthern church when the day before she had said God was everywhere, I challenged her of course and once again Mom had to visit the head nun.. Later in life my best friend also a Catholic fell in love with a non catholic girl, the church thru every obstacle possible to prevent their marriage ..They married out side the church, his mother and father didn’t attend the wedding and never set foot in their house during their life and on top of that the priest of my parish said anyone who attended the wedding or sent a present to them was in a state of sin..I walked out of that church and out of the Catholic church forever.

    Tried a lot of religions since, none seemed to work for me. In 1987 I had a heart attack and a quad bypass, actually checked out of this world briefly, viewed as a real out of body experience actually sent me back to searching religions again.. Met some really dedicated religious folk and tried to assimilate but life for me required much more than doing religion every day… so once again I quit searching.

    Now that I have fewer days left than I have spent on this earth I face the end..
    Where my ashes will rejoin the sea from which we came and that is all I need.
    Those with religion have their rewards and I hope they won’t be disappointed.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Yep, I know you’re not fond of the Catholic Church, dad, and you’ve definitely got your reasons. I remember you and mom sent us to Sunday school for a little while, but we never were a religious family. Which, I think, makes us like most modern families nowadays. Being the superstitious sort, I’m glad you guys had me baptized. Doesn’t that mean I’ll go to heaven, as long as I don’t kill anyone?

    • Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

      I hate that clergy used religion to guilt and demoralize women who miscarried babies and declared that even “wine-stains” were a message from God for sins of the mother. I remember my mother counseling young women against that nonsense. If you are indoctrinated in a religion it’s hard to gain a perspective of logic and science about such a life event and misinformation can poison your life.

  7. Steve Jepson says:

    “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”- Mark Twain

  8. Common Sense says:

    Over 300 Christian Theologians Challenge The Corruption Of U.S. Christianity.

  9. cheyenne says:

    On the marque of the Paramount Café in Cheyenne Sunday morning,
    “I don’t need an inspirational message,
    I need a cup of coffee”.

  10. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thank you for a great article R.V. I’m as influenced by Revelation as I am by books by Rene’ Descartes. I’m curious as to why these startling revelation interpretations are about America (I’m assuming the U.S and not Canada or Mexico or Central or South America) instead of any of the other 194 countries in the world. Again, great article.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I think if you accept the historical interpretation that “the beast” actually refers to centers of secular and religious power, and their rise leads to the collapse and rebirth of civilization, just about anyone can use Revelation to frame their own geographic territory’s history. You are correct that it fits in really well with the idea of “American exceptionalism.”

  11. Adrienne says:

    ,I well remember when I was a little girl during World War II , the minister of our church talking about Gog and Magog being Russia and Berlin and the seven horns that are talked about was Rome therefore the Catholic Church . In my mind I’ve always hung in with what my mother used to say : ” you can prove anything you want from the Bible , after all, the Bible says that Judas went out and hang himself . It also says ‘ go thou and do likewise ‘ and further it says ‘ whatsoever thou doest, do quickly’….” It’s all in how you cut and paste.

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