The Perfect Storm is the title of a recent movie based on a true story about a hapless crew on a fishing vessel that sailed into the combined force of a hurricane and another major storm. Not surprisingly, the ship and its crew members perished, disappearing in the storms' fury. Perhaps if they had faced only one of the storms they could have survived, but the power of two massive and deadly forces was simply too much for the crew to handle.
The movie stressed the unusual combination of factors that led to the tragedy. The crewmen had abundant experience, and the ship had weathered many other storms. They thought their well-equipped craft could ride out just about anything nature threw their way. But, when they faced the fury of two storms, their efforts proved futile.
The tragedy is an apt analogy for events the Bible prophesies will occur when a combination of forces is unleashed on the world in the time of the end. Just as the seasoned fishing crew assumed it could handle whatever came its way, many people assume society can handle any crisis the future brings-through scientific achievement, economic growth, military prowess and political cunning.
Political and religious leaders want their followers to believe they are amply equipped to weather any dangers. "We have been through two world wars, epidemics, the Great Depression and social upheavals," they reason, "and we have survived them all. Now that we have even more technological tools at our disposal, we can prevail over any crisis."
Thus society can lull itself into a false sense of security, thinking the world will never face a "perfect storm" of deadly events.
Prophecy enters the scene
Yet biblical prophecy foretells what we might call the perfect prophetic storm. It will come at a time when two great events will converge to overwhelm humanity.
Jesus Christ prophesied that a combination of forces would lead to what He called "great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21, emphasis added throughout).
The apostle Paul described this same future time: "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape" (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
Two incredible events will bring about the coming perfect prophetic storm. What are they? Can we avoid the brunt of their consequences?
We can be thankful that God's Word not only describes what will surely happen but shows us how to spiritually prepare for the onslaught of lethal events.
As Paul explains: "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober ... For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (verses 4-9).
What are the double prophetic storms destined to unleash the devastating end-time events from which mankind as a whole will not escape?
The first prophetic storm
In Revelation 13:1-3 Christ reveals to John the first of these two storms, the rise of the prophesied "beast":
"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" (emphasis added).
Much of the symbolism here is explained in other parts of Revelation. A similar prophetic beast appears in Revelation 17 but is ridden by a woman. "And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns" (verse 3).
What does this beast represent? "Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads [of the beast] are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while ... And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour ... These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them" (Revelation 17:9-14, New American Standard Bible).
Here we read that each of the seven heads is a symbol of a king and his kingdom (verses 9-10). Elsewhere in the Bible a mountain is also used as a symbol of a kingdom and its king (Isaiah 2:1-3; Daniel 2:35, 45). The last head, the seventh kingdom, is destined to be of short duration.
As the final, seventh head of the beast power nears, "five [kings will] have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come" (Revelation 17:10). Since the last head of this beast, along with 10 rulers, "will make war with the Lamb [Christ]," the previous six kings must have ruled in former ages (verse 14). As the end time approaches, the seventh head of the 10-horned beast is symbolic of the kingdom that will be headed by a ruler with 10 kings who will "receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast" (verse 12).
This first storm system is prophesied to astound the world by its power, which comes not so much from human might or cunning as from "the dragon," another title for Satan (Revelation 12:9). As Revelation 13:2 explains, "the dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority."
As the Bible describes, God will allow the final rebellion of mankind to take place before He sends His Son, Jesus the Messiah, to reign on earth: "For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled" (Revelation 17:17).
The second storm
The second storm system foretold for the end time is a second beast system, described in Revelation 13:"Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived" (verses 11-14).
Just as with the first system, the devil is behind the power of the second beast and gives its leader powers to deceive the world. Impressive miracles by the second beast will help persuade people to support and obey the first beast.
The second beast has horns like a lamb; that is, it seems to be as meek as a lamb but speaks "like a dragon" (verse 11), thus revealing the satanic origin of its power.
The two beasts are "the beast" and "the false prophet," respectively. They are allies at the end time, with the first governing and warring while the other manipulates the people of the world through religion.
"And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast ..." (Revelation 19:19-20).
What kind of a system does the false prophet head? Biblically, the description false prophet refers to a religious figure deceitfully claiming to represent God (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5 to understand the difference between a true and a false prophet).
Moreover the woman who rides the beast is the symbol of a false religious system based in a great city that governs much of the world. "And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth" (Revelation 17:18). So the false religious system will carefully orchestrate an alliance to rule with the kings of the earth.
To wield such influence and power, the system must be of enormous size and wealth, since the world's rulers will permit her to reign with them. This is precisely what the Bible reveals: "The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues" (verse 15). It will truly be an international religious, political and economic system spanning many nations and languages.
Protection and persecution
When these two leaders appear on the world scene, they will astonish the world, and time will be short. Soon after their appearance, persecution against the true followers of Jesus will increase. The Bible reveals through its symbols that some of the faithful will be miraculously protected while others will not.
Christ warns His disciples that some of them will be martyred (Matthew 24:9). So, although there is a promise of protection, some of Christ's brethren are destined to die as His faithful witnesses.
God gives a clear promise of protection for some in His true Church (Revelation 12:13-14). On the other hand, verse 17 shows us that Satan wars against the woman "and her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ," an obvious reference to other believers enduring Satan's wrath.
Christ knows it will be difficult to remain faithful during the end time, so He encourages His Church to hold steady. "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation 3:11).
Paul also tells us that maintaining "the love of the truth"-holding to the teachings of the Bible as opposed to the false teachings of the coming great religious system-will be crucial in the last days. He warns that some will be lost in the coming storm "because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
Another prophecy advises us that when the storm finally arrives it will be too late to prepare for it. "And he said to me, 'Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still ...' Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city" (Revelation 22:10-14).
According to this scripture, eventually the world will divide into two distinct groups: those who are obedient to God and keep His Commandments to the end and those who will remain stubbornly disobedient. Christ wants His people to be spiritually prepared, watching world events so the perfect prophetic storm will not take God's faithful by surprise.
"... Take heed to yourselves," Jesus warned, "lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:34-36).
Let's be sure we heed God's counsel. Take His warnings to heart. Begin seeking Him and preparing now so you can weather the coming perfect prophetic storm. GN