The Beast of Revelation as an Extraterrestrial
The following is a curated reproduction of an electrifying discourse by Joseph Smith that he gave just a year previous to his death as preserved in the Documentary History of the Church volume 5 pages 339 – 345. The text is formatted for ease of study and is supplemented in places with extracts from notes taken by original attendees, explanatory footnotes, and comments by the author. The intent of these additions is to aid the reader in analyzing and thereby comprehending the original intent and meaning of Joseph Smith’s words, which is done while giving the reader full access to Joseph’s original sermon (reproduced in full here) with which the reader may check to the integrity and soundness of said analysis (organized verse for verse below).
As a bit of foreword for what is to follow, it should be noted that it has been the custom of many a Latter-day Saint to quote the prophet Joseph Smith in severely truncated statements devoid of their original meaning, as with snippets from his letter to Nancy Rigdon, Sidney Rigdon’s daughter, wherein he explained the propriety of entering into patriarchal marriage with her (the oft quoted phrase in this case is “Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.”) By itself these trimmings of the prophet’s words are certainly powerful in their own right, but in the light of the greater message being conveyed they are worth far more in their weight of instruction. Another prime example of this practice is the following orphaned quote:
“The book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written.”
After reading that isolated clause, the student and teacher in a given Sunday School class may be impressed with the prophet’s great powers of mind that allowed him to comprehend the shrouded and symbolic truths of that mysterious book; however, in the context of the sermon in which the phrase was given, the meaning of the sentence transforms into something completely different. This essay will aid the reader in comprehending that Joseph was quite literal in his statement: the Book of Revelation is plain for it makes no claim to hidden symbolism and thus should be interpreted plainly as it is written. Joseph supports this idea throughout by contrasting John’s revelation to that of Daniel, which is explicitly not to be read plainly as angels are required to explain to Daniel its meaning.
May the spirit of God enlighten the understanding, worlds without end.
General Conference address by President Joseph Smith, April 8th 1843, Nauvoo, Illinois (emphasis added):
The subject I intend to speak upon this morning is one that I have seldom touched upon since I commenced my ministry in the Church. It is a subject of great speculation, as well amongst the elders of this Church, as among the divines of the day: it is in relation to the beasts spoken of by John the Revelator.…
When God made use of the figure of a beast in visions to the prophets He did it to represent those kingdoms which had degenerated and become corrupt, savage and beast-like in their dispositions, even the degenerate kingdoms of the wicked world.…
Daniel says…when he saw the vision of the four beasts:
“I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things. [And he said to me:] ‘These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever’” (Daniel 7:15-18)….
The angel interpreted the vision to Daniel…. You there see that the beasts are spoken of to represent the kingdoms of the world, the inhabitants whereof were beastly and abominable characters; they were murderers, corrupt, carnivorous, and brutal in their dispositions. The lion, the bear, the leopard, and the ten-horned beast represented the kingdoms of the world, says Daniel; for I refer to the prophets to qualify my observations which I make….
There is a grand difference and distinction between the visions and figures spoken of by the ancient prophets, and those spoken of in the revelations of John.
The things which John saw had no allusion to the scenes of the days of Adam, Enoch, Abraham or Jesus, only so far as is plainly represented by John, and clearly set forth by him. John saw that only which was lying in futurity and which was shortly to come to pass. See Revelation 1:1-3,7 which is a key to the whole subject:
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John: who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of his prophecy and keep those things that are written therein: for the time is at hand…. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen” (Revelation 1:1-3,7, emphasis added).
Also Revelation 4:1:
“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven; and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter” (Revelation 4:1, emphasis added)….
Now, I make this declaration, that those things which John saw in heaven had no allusion to anything that had been on the earth previous to that time, because they were the representation of ‘things which must shortly come to pass,’ and not of what has already transpired. John saw beasts that had to do with things on the earth, but not in past ages. The beasts which John saw had to devour the inhabitants of the earth in days to come….
The book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written…. What John saw and speaks of were things which he saw in heaven.… Daniel did not see an actual bear or a lion, but the images or figures of those beasts…. But John saw the actual beast in heaven, showing to John that beasts did actually exist there, and not to represent figures of things on the earth…. John saw curious looking beasts in heaven. (Sermon continues after the break.)
The Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary demonstrates that the term “heaven” was used in Joseph Smith’s day to designate any portion of the regions above the earth, including what is modernly termed outer space. The same book shows that the term “space” had no place in describing the regions between stars and planets, due perhaps on the notion that an ether existed in which the stars and planets shined and moved. With this in mind, it is possible to substitute the modern word of “space” with Joseph Smith’s “heaven” to render an image as literal to present day readers as would have been conveyed by the prophet to his contemporary hearers. As the antiquated term “heaven” would have included not only intermediate ether between the worlds but also the variegated worlds themselves, a mixture of modern terms may be most appropriate to represent the prophet’s images as he saw them:
“What John saw and speaks of were things which he saw in space; those which Daniel saw were on and pertaining to earth…. John saw the actual beast in other worlds1, showing to John that beasts did actually exist there…. John saw curious looking beasts in the cosmos.”
He saw every creature that was in heaven—all the beasts, fowls and fish in heaven—actually there, giving glory to God. How do you prove it?
“And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Revelation 5:13).
I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms, that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this—strange beasts of which we have no conception: all might be seen in heaven. The grand secret was to show John what there was in heaven. John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them.2
Says one, “I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.” Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them.
The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God….
The prophet here establishes a grand notion that should not escape the notice of great doctrinal pronouncements such as were common in his later discourses such as the King Follet funeral address. Joseph explains that not only is there salvation for beasts on the earth (a wild notion among religionists by itself) but that there are glorified, intelligent beings that are not human from countless other worlds. To the Latter-day Saint, the prophet has just pronounced that angels needn’t be restricted to those who bear the image of God in body whether humanoid or not. And he is about to give one of those non-human angels a prominent role in future events (remembering that angels can fall from their station3). Joseph reads the following:
“And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and
the dragon[the devil]4 gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
“And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped
the dragon[the devil] which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
“And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:1-8).
John says, ‘And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed; and all the world wondered after the beast.’ Some spiritualizers say the beast that received the wound was Nebuchadnezzar, some Constantine, some Mohammed, and others the Roman Catholic Church; but we will look at what John saw in relation to this beast…. Now it was a beast that John saw in heaven, and he was then speaking of “things which must shortly come to pass;” and consequently the beast John saw could not be Nebuchadnezzar. The beast John saw was an actual beast, and an actual intelligent being gives him his power, and his seat, and great authority.5 It was not to represent a beast in heaven: it was an angel in heaven who has power in the last days to do a work.
[Again, John says,] ‘All the world wondered after the beast,’ Nebuchadnezzar and Constantine the Great not excepted. And if the beast was all the world, how could the world wonder after the beast? It must have been a wonderful beast to cause all human beings to wonder after it; and I will venture to say that when God allows the old devil to give power to the beast to destroy the inhabitants of the earth, all will wonder.6 Verse four reads, ‘And they worshiped the dragon which gave power unto the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying. Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’…Suppose we admit that it means the kingdoms of the world, what propriety would there be in saying, Who is able to make war with my great big self? If these spiritualized interpretations are true, the book contradicts itself in almost every verse. But they are not true.
…The beasts which John saw and speaks of being in heaven, were actually living in heaven, and were actually to have power given to them over the inhabitants of the earth, precisely according to the plain reading of the revelations. I give this as a key to the elders of Israel. The independent beast is a beast that dwells in heaven, abstract [apart] from the human family…. I have said more than I ever did before.
It would be pertinent to again aid in the modern interpretation of Joseph’s startling sermon by introducing modern vocabulary to its message of scriptural literalness:
“The beasts which John saw and speaks of being in the cosmos, were actually living in other worlds, and were actually to have power given to them over the inhabitants of the earth, precisely according to the plain reading of the revelations. I give this as a key to the elders of Israel.
“The independent beast is a beast that dwells in outer space, apart from the human family.”
This final pronouncement is perhaps stranger to the sentiments of modern audiences than those of Joseph’s day, for the modern era is one marked by the obsession with science fiction movies that so frequently depict the visitation of strange beasts from space. In Joseph’s day, his sermon may have elicited laughter from critics but solemn reflection by his followers who could understand the scriptures as he did; in the present age, it would not be unreasonable to believe that saints and critics alike would join in contemptuous laughter of these “sci fi” teachings. Truly, all the world will have reason to wonder when in a coming day truth becomes stranger than fiction.
Comparison of Relevant Scriptural Passages and Discourse Highlights
Revelation of the Future Only
“John saw that only which was lying in futurity and which was shortly to come to pass.”
1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
Beasts May Be Saved and Become Angels
“The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere.”
“The beasts which John saw and speaks of being in heaven, were actually living in heaven, and were actually to have power given to them over the inhabitants of the earth”
Revelation 4:6-7; 5:8-9,11,13
6 And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
A Beast Comes to Man in Power
“The beast that rose up out of the sea should be translated the image of a beast, as I have referred to it in Daniel’s vision.” [Apparently verse 1 has reference to a separate item in the beast visions.]
“The beast John saw was an actual beast, and an actual intelligent being gives him his power, and his seat, and great authority.”
“Suppose we admit that it means the kingdoms of the world, what propriety would there be in saying, Who is able to make war with my great big self? If these spiritualized interpretations are true, the book contradicts itself in almost every verse. But they are not true.”
“The independent beast is a beast that dwells in heaven, abstract [apart] from the human family.”
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.
2 And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.
5 And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
- George Laub reported the following doctrinal notes from Hyrum Smith in a discourse given later in the same month in which Joseph gave the one analyzed herein (April 27th, 1843). It confirms that Joseph’s conception of Heaven comprised of worlds in space:
“In my Father’s house are many mantions [sic], or in my Father’s world are meny [sic] worlds. I will goe [sic] & prepar [sic] a place for you, & then if there are meny [sic] worlds then there must be meny [sic] gods.… but the foolish understand not these things for this world was paternd [sic] after the former world or after Mansions above.”↩
- Joseph Smith diary kept by Willard Richards: “God will glorify himself with all these animals.”↩
- “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7-8, emphasis added; see also Genesis 6:1-4; Luke 10:18).↩
- Later in the discourse (omitted in the body of this essay) the prophet clarified: “The translators have used the term ‘dragon’ for devil…. There is a mistranslation of the word dragon…. The original word signifies the devil, and not dragon, as translated. In chapter 12, verse 9, it reads, ‘That old serpent, called the devil,’ and it ought to be translated devil in this case, and not dragon. It is sometimes translated Apollyon.”↩
- The William Clayton Report reads thus: “the beast was an actual b[east] to which power was to be given an intelligent being in heaven.” This does not make it clear whether the beast was the intelligent being in itself or whether the devil who gives him power is an intelligent being. Since the latter is obvious, it is the author’s opinion that the beast is the character whom the prophet is calling an intelligent being, as this would support his notion that the beast is an angel among animals.
That said, it is interesting to note that the devil gives “his power, and his seat, and great authority” to the beast. Who better to deliver the world to a destructive power than he who claims the whole of it? The beast inherits a scam from the devil since his claim to the world is not only contested but also to be rightfully restored to the true Christ at His coming shortly after.↩
- The William Clayton Report reads thus: “All the world wondered after the be[ast] and if the beast was the world how could the world wonder after the beast. nebucha [sic] & constantine [sic] not excepted. it must have been a [being] that the humman [sic] being wondered after. When God gives power to a beast to destroy all will wonder.” This confirms the language employed by the prophet to emphasize that the beast is not human.↩