Military Campaigns of the Beast?

SYNOPSIS - The language of war is used in Revelation to portray the attacks of the Dragon against the saints – Revelation 11:712:1713:7

Soldiers - Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash
The book of Revelation uses the language and imagery of war to illustrate the efforts by Satan and his earthly agents to destroy the “saints” of the “Lamb.” The book shows no interest in conventional or nuclear wars between nation-states; instead, the “Dragon” is determined to annihilate the church before his allotted time expires. To achieve victory over believers, he uses deception, compromise, and persecution. - [Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash].

In Revelation references to “war” employ the Greek verb polemeō and its noun form (polemos). For example, both words are used to describe the cosmic battle described in chapter 12 when “war (polemos) arose in heaven” between the “Dragon and his angels” and “Michael and his angels.”

From such terminology, it is easy to conclude that conventional military campaigns are portrayed. However, on closer examination, the “battles” are waged between Satan and the “Lamb” through their respective earthly followers. The Devil is expelled from the courts of heaven, so he wages brutal combat against the earthly followers of the “Lamb.”

Most relevant are the battle scenes that describe a final assault against the church by Satan just prior to the end of the age. In the interim, the cosmic battles between the “Lamb” and the “Dragon” manifest in the daily lives of Christians as they endure false teachings, deceivers, and persecution – But a day will come when the Devil assembles all his forces in a last-ditch attempt to destroy the people of God.

War with the Two Witnesses
  • (Revelation 11:7) – “And as soon as they have completed their witnessing, the wild-beast that is to come up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them, and slay them.” (The Emphasized Bible).
The “Beast” is first seen in Revelation in chapter 11 when it “ascends from the Abyss” to wage war against the “two witnesses”:
  • And when they complete their testimony, the Beast, the one that is ASCENDING out of the Abyss, will make war with them, and prevail over them, and kill them” – (Revelation 11:7).
The verb tense is noteworthy. John saw this figure “ascending” from the “Abyss,” here, described with a present tense participle - Action in progress. The ascent was an ongoing process even in John’s day.

The Greek verb rendered “prevail” or nikaō means “to conquer, overcome.” It is the same verb found in the letters to the seven churches in the several exhortations for believers “to overcome.” The ascent of the “Beast” results in “war” and “victory” over the “two witnesses.” However, it will not be released to “ascend” until the witnesses “complete” their prophetic ministry.

The “two witnesses” are not two individual men - They are identified as “two lampstands,” and in Revelation, “lampstands” represent churches. After the “Beast” “slays” them, the “inhabitants of the earth” rejoice because their prophetic words had “tormented” them - (Revelation 1:20, Zechariah 4:1-3).

The “war” with the “two witnesses” represents the persecution of the church by Satan. Although he “overcomes” and kills them, it is a hollow victory quickly overturned by the intervention of God when the seventh trumpet sounds - (Revelation 11:15-19).

War with the Woman’s Seed

In Chapter 12, Satan is defeated and cast out of heaven.  Enraged, he descends to the earth to “make war” with the “seed” of the woman; that is, with “those who are keeping the commandments of God and who have the witness of Jesus” - (Revelation 12:12-17).

The same two Greek words are used that were employed in Chapter 11 for the “war” against the “two witnesses.” The same reality is in view, though from different perspectives. As before, the forces of Satan wage “war” on followers of the “Lamb,” those “who have the witness of Jesus,” not against other nation-states.

War with the Saints

Next, John saw a “Beast ascending from the sea,” an image parallel to the “Beast ascending from the Abyss.” The same event is in view. Rather than resist the “Beast,” the “inhabitants of the earth” are overawed by its irresistible power and exclaim, “Who is like the Beast and who can make war with it?” No revolt is raised against it; no one dares to wage war against the “Beast from the sea” - (Revelation 13:1-4).
But the “Beast” launches a “military campaign,” not against other nations but against the “saints.”
Moreover, it “overcomes (nikésai) them,” meaning, it slays the “saints.” However, it can only do so when and within the limits authorized by the “Lamb” – (“It was given to the Beast…”).

This language used previously for the “war” against the “two witnesses” and the woman’s “seed” is employed in chapter 13 – Once again, the same reality is in view as before. All three passages allude to a key passage from the book of Daniel:
  • (Daniel 7:21) - “I continued looking, when THIS HORN MADE WAR WITH THE HOLY ONES,—AND PREVAILED AGAINST THEM: until that the Ancient of Days came, and justice was granted to the holy ones of the Highest,—and the time arrived that the holy ones should possess the kingdom.
Just as the “Beast from the Abyss” attacked the “two witnesses,” so also the “Beast from the sea” makes “war against the saints.” Elsewhere in Revelation, the term “saints” refers to those men and women who follow the “Lamb” and do not render homage to the “Beast” - (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 16:6, 17:6, 18:20-24, 19:8, 20:6-9).
  • (Revelation 14:12) – “Here is the patience of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard the voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them.
  • (Revelation 15:2) – “And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire; and them that come off victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing by the sea of glass, having harps of God.
  • (Revelation 20:4) – “And I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
This “war” results in their “captivity” and violent death, presumably martyrdom - (verse 10 – “Anyone for captivity, into captivity he goes. Anyone to be slain with sword, with sword he must be slain”). This violent assault is described as the “perseverance and the faith of the saints” - (Compare - Revelation 1:92:2-32:193:1014:12).

Armageddon

The so-called “Battle of Armageddon” is described when the sixth bowl of wrath is emptied. “Armageddon” is derived from a Hebrew word that means “mountain of Megiddo” - (Revelation 16:12-16).

There is no city or site called by this name in ancient Palestine or Syria. In the Hebrew Bible, ‘Megiddo’ referred either to the “valley of Megiddo” or to the nearby town of that name. ‘Megiddo’ was a broad plain with no mountain or even a sizable hill - (Judges 5:192 Kings 23:29-30Zechariah 12:11).

The “sixth bowl” dries up the “Euphrates River,” preparing the way for “the kings from the rising sun,” apparently a military force invading from the east. Since the seven “bowls of wrath” are emptied at the command of a voice from the Heavenly Sanctuary, the way is prepared for this force according to the plan of God. The “kings of the east” are also identified as the “kings of the whole habitable earth.” This clause universalizes the group - It represents all the nations united against the “Lamb.”

Demons are dispatched to gather the kings of the earth to the “battle of the great day of God the Almighty,” the climactic final battle against the “Lamb” – It occurs at the behest of the “Lamb,” not the “Dragon.” The “Great Day of God” echoes the “sixth seal opening” that ushered in the “Great Day of the Wrath of the Lamb” - (Revelation 6:17).

The voice of Jesus interjects - “Behold, I am coming like a thief!” The final battle results in the arrival of Jesus from heaven. There is no description of combat between opposing armies, no scenes of destruction by conventional or nuclear weapons. When the “seventh bowl” is emptied, a heavenly voice declares - “It is done!”

Flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder” and a great earthquake follow the emptying of the last “bowl of wrath.” The “great city,” Babylon is destroyed, every island on the earth “flees,” all mountains disappear, and great hailstones fall upon mankind - Terrestrial and cosmic upheaval – Just as portrayed at the opening of the “sixth seal” - (Revelation 6:12-17).

Rider on a White Horse

The very same final battle is pictured in the vision of the “rider on a white horse.” The “king of kings” arrives from heaven to judge and “make war,” accompanied by the “armies of heaven,” Out of his mouth proceeds “a sharp sword with which he smites the nations.” He comes to “tread the wine-press of the wrath of the anger of God, the Almighty” – (Revelation 19:11-21).

An angel summons all “THE BIRDS that fly in mid-heaven to GATHER TO THE great SUPPER of God TO EAT THE FLESH OF KINGS, and the flesh of chief captains (chiliarchos), and THE FLESH OF MIGHTY MEN, and the flesh of horses, and of them who sit upon them, and the flesh of all, BOTH FREE AND BOND, AND SMALL AND GREAT.” The description uses clauses from Ezekiel 39:17-20, originally a description of a future invasion of Israel by the forces of “Gog and Magog.”

On this final day of wrath, the Beast, the “kings of the earth,” and their armies are “GATHERED TO MAKE THE WAR with him who sits on the horse and with his army.” The clause uses the same verb for “gather” used for the previous “gathering” of the “kings of the earth” to “Armageddon.” The verbal parallels are deliberate - The same battle is in view.

There is no description of a protracted battle between conventional armies, only the statement that the “Beast and the false prophet” are removed and cast into the “Lake of Fire,” followed by a brief description of the battle’s aftermath when the birds feast on carcasses.

Gog and Magog

After a thousand years, Satan is “released from the Abyss.” The verbal and conceptual parallels are close to the “ascent of the Beast from the Abyss” when it attacked the “two witnesses.” Once more, the same reality is in view. The Devil instigates the assaults against the “saints,” though he uses human agencies to execute them.

Satan cannot act until he is “released” from the “Abyss,” just as the “Beast from the Abyss” could not kill the “two witnesses” until they had completed their mission. Likewise, the “Ancient Serpent” will not be released to deceive the nations until the period of the “thousand years” is completed. Just as the “Beast ascends from the sea” to make war against the “saints,” so now Satan gathers the armies of “Gog and Magog to ascend over the breadth of the earth” to attack the “camp of the saints.”

Satan gathers a vast “army” from “the four corners of the earth” for a final assault against the “saints.” This “army” ascends over the entire “breadth of the earth.” The “battle” is not limited to the Middle East but covers the entire earth - It is global. It is not Israel, earthly Jerusalem, or ethnic Jews that are attacked, but the “camp of the saints” and the “beloved city.”

Two cities are contrasted in Revelation:  Babylon and New Jerusalem.  Babylon is the “great city,” the world capital ruled by the Beast, False Prophet, and Satan. “New Jerusalem” is the heavenly and “beloved city” of the New Creation that descends out of heaven. The “camp of the saints” echoes the “camp” of ancient Israel in the Wilderness in transit to the Promised Land. Likewise, the Church is in transit from captivity in “Babylon” to the city of New Jerusalem - (Revelation 3:1221:2, 15:1-4).

Immediately upon the gathering of Satan’s forces, fire falls from heaven and destroys the entire force. As with the “Beast and false prophet,” so now Satan is “cast into the Lake of Fire.” The final judgment follows immediately.

Concluding Remarks

The battle scenes in Revelation are not literal wars between nation-states but portray the assaults of Satan against the people of the “Lamb.” The cosmic battles in the heavens manifest in the daily lives of Christians and their struggles with false teachers, false prophets, deception, and persecution. Through his human agents, the Devil works to destroy the saints.

From its inception, persecution, and deceivers have been common realities in the life of the church. Revelation exposes the true source of Christian suffering and provides insight into the daily struggles of the “saints.”

Revelation does foresee a final assault against the Church prior to the return of Jesus, a “battle” it portrays in several different ways using language from the Old Testament. This final assault by the “Dragon” will cause the “Lamb” to intervene, destroy his enemies, and deliver his people into the coming age and the New Creation.




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