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 11:7, 12:17, 13:7.

Map Plan - Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
he 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 Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash].

The references to “war” employ the Greek verb polemeō and its noun form (polemos). For example, both words are used to describe the cosmic battle presented 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.
  • (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).

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.

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…”).
The same 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” - (Revelation 1:92:2-32:193:1014:12).

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 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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