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Biblical Prophecy and the United Nations

The United Nations has its supporters and detractors. The supporters wish to strengthen and improve this institution as a means of handling global problems. Its detractors sometimes accuse the United Nations of ineffectiveness. They call it a bloated bureaucracy. Such accusations are legitimate, though treatable.

A segment of the population opposes the UN for another reason. In their eyes, this institution is linked symbolically with passages in the Bible that refer to Satan and the Final Days. From that perspective, the UN's deficiencies are untreatable.

How does a UN supporter deal with criticisms which depend upon symbolic interpretation of religious texts? Not well, I'm afraid. Biblical prophecy is, by its nature, ambiguous and difficult to fathom.

Most prophecies linked to the United Nations are found in the Book of Revelation or in the books of Ezekiel and Daniel. The prophet Daniel wrote of a vision concerning "four huge beasts" that came out of the sea: a lion with eagle's wings, a crouching bear, a leopard with four wings, and a "fourth beast, dreadful and grisly, exceedingly strong, with great iron teeth and bronze claws." This last-named beast also had ten horns in its head and another, smaller horn growing up between them.

The four beasts are symbolic representations of kingdoms that existed more than two thousand years ago. Some say they represent political institutions in our own time. In Daniel, we read that the fourth beast "hurl(ed) defiance at the Most High", that its ten horns signified ten kingdoms, and that the fourth beast managed to "devour the whole earth." Clearly this beast was evil. Its ability to "devour the whole earth" suggests a political order encompassing the entire earth.

Jumping ahead to the 13th chapter of the book of Revelation, we read of another beast coming out the sea that had ten horns and seven heads. This beast had the separate features of a lion, bear, and leopard. One of its seven heads, which appeared to be mortally wounded, was miraculously healed. A dragon, which had done battle with the Archangel Michael, was explicitly identified as Satan. It conferred "power and rule" upon the beast.

For forty-two months this beast, the Anti-Christ, was "allowed to wage war on God's people and to defeat them, and was granted authority over every tribe and people, language and nation." Again, the beast's universal authority suggests the United Nations, though the healed head injury and the forty-two months of rule do not apply. Neither does the idea that this political entity waged war on God's people. The UN did conduct a war to combat North Korea's invasion of the south in 1950 but a truce has since been arranged.

Certain prophetic details do ring a bell. The lion and the bear as contemporary political symbols refer to Great Britain and Russia . A Jewish state has been reborn in Palestine after two thousand years. On the other hand, the earth's political universe has become increasingly democratic, so that references to kingdoms, thrones, and the like seem out of date.

The Book of Revelation speaks of a second beast coming out of the earth that "had two horns like a lamb's but spoke like a dragon." This second beast persuaded men to worship the first one by performing miracles. It erected a statue of the first beast to be worshiped. All who refused to worship the beast were put to death. There was a rule that individuals needed to have the mark of the beast on their forehead or right hand to buy or sell merchandise. The number of the beast's name was 666.

This second beast seems to be a worldwide religious entity corresponding to nothing in the modern world. With the possible exception of Buddha, the Madonna and child, or the Crucifix, people seldom worship statues any more. People do not have commercial symbols stamped in their heads or hands; and the relationship between the name of an evil political ruler and the number six-sixty-six is unclear. These features have no plausible connection with the United Nations.

A third negative figure in the Book of Revelation is the "whore of Babylon", identified as a great commercial city, drunk with the blood of God's people (Israel) and those loyal to Jesus. In view of the fact that Revelation was written around 95 A.D., this city would seem to be Rome, capital of the Roman empire. A generation earlier, the emperor Nero had set fire to Rome and blamed it on the Christians. One would be hard-pressed to find a resemblance to any city in the modern world.

Armageddon is a place, near Megiddo in northern Israel, where, according to Revelation, the three evil entities - Satan, the Anti-Christ, and the false prophet - assemble the kings of the earth to do battle against God. An angel first cries out that Babylon the Great has fallen. Before the heavenly reign is to begin, the Lamb - Jesus - hosts a great wedding feast. Then the heavens open, exposing a rider on a white horse with a sword protruding from his mouth, as the armies of earthly kings wait.

This rider is called "the Word of God, King of kings, and Lord of lords". In a flash, he and his army do battle with the beast and kings of the earth. The beast and the false prophet are taken prisoner and then hurled into a lake of fire. Birds feast on the flesh of fallen soldiers. Then an angel comes down from heaven to seize the dragon, Satan, and lock him up for a thousand years while the Messiah reigns.

So where does this story leave us with respect to the United Nations? Christians will be wanting to support the right side when the final showdown occurs between God and Satan. Is the United Nations to be a player in that event? While some find points of congruence between scriptural passages and events in our time, others believe that the Book of Revelation was a coded message to the endangered Christian churches of Asia Minor in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.

Any worldwide political institution is suspect from the perspective of persons looking for apocalyptic meaning. The European Union seems a preferred candidate for the role of the beast, both because its ten heads once corresponded to the ten member states and because a united Europe seems to resurrect the Roman imperial state. Some Protestant zealots associate the negative power with the Roman Catholic church or with its leader, the Pope. Any connection to global religiosity or to the Jewish people or the state of Israel will arouse apocalyptic suspicions.

A problem is that, while the Messiah was to be a "prince of peace", the bloody predictions found in the Book of Revelation lend support to policies of conflict and war. The majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, reportedly told the Israeli Knesset: "There is no middle ground, no moderate position worth taking" in the struggle of God's people against Satan. When President Bush asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, a hundred thousand email messages flooded the White House to protest the request. Bush never repeated it.

The prophet Daniel foretold a peace negotiation that would lead to the destruction of many people in Israel and elsewhere. (Daniel 9: 26-27) "We have made a treaty with Death and signed a pact with Sheol ... for we have taken refuge in lies and sheltered behind falsehood." (Isaiah 28: 15) Are not the French, Germans, and other Europeans pressuring Israel to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians, some ask? The Anti-Christ will pose as a man of peace while, in fact, he unleashes the prophesied period of tribulation. America should not join in cries for a false peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. That is a conclusion sometimes reached by interpreters of Biblical prophecy.

The United Nations, being an institution primarily devoted to peace, does not come off well in that environment. Its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism seems to mark it as an enemy of Israel and the Jewish people. The Bush Administration's choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, prides himself on having worked successfully to rescind that declaration. Former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms describes Bolton as ''the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon."

As far as prophecy is concerned, a certain line is crossed - in my mind at least - when evil qualities are ascribed to a person, institution, or group because someone finds similarities with passages of scripture. Biblical interpretation then becomes an exercise in defamation. While Jesus preached an ethic of love, the dark ruminations in Revelation as interpreted by many today lead to increased levels of mistrust in the world.

For Christian believers, a reasonable policy might be to heed Jesus' own words concerning the Final Days. There would be wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and signs in the skies that alert believers to the impending event. But Jesus also warned his followers against believing all the doomsayers' predictions. "But about that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven," he said.

With respect to those who brand the United Nations a manifestation of Satan's power, we have St. Peter's cautionary word that "no one can interpret any prophecy of Scripture by himself. For it was not through any human whim that men prophesied of old ... but impelled by the Holy Spirit..." In other words, ordinary men may point out similarities between scriptural passages and current events but only divinely inspired persons can speak with authority on such matters. Those who link Satan with the United Nations should be asked: By what authority do you speak?

In Biblical times, the gravest danger to humanity came from violence carried out by large political empires. Today this danger comes from the possibility of nuclear warfare, chemical or biological warfare, terrorism, drug-resistant diseases, severe climate alteration, pollution of the environment, and exhaustion of water and petroleum supplies. These are problems which must be addressed collectively. Because many of these problems exist on a global scale, there needs to be an entity enjoying sufficient political authority and power to treat them at that level. For the time being, that entity is the United Nations. It is a human institution to be sure, but also one deserving of support.

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