Multiple Final Battles in the Book of Revelation?

SYNOPSIS:   Does Revelation envision several “final” battles of Armageddon or the same single battle from different perspectives?  

Ian Froome on Unsplash.com
Ian Froome on Unsplash.com
The book of Revelation is often read as a running description of events in neat chronological order. This way of reading it becomes problematic when key events occur multiple times in the book, including the battle of Armageddon.

For example, the final “battle” appears to occur when the sixth bowl of wrath is emptied. However, the same language used to describe it occurs again when the “rider on a white horse” defeats the Beast and False Prophet, and when “Gog and Magog” attack the “saints” following the thousand-year period. All three passages use language from Ezekiel’s predicted invasion of Israel by “Gog and Magog” (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10Ezekiel 38:1-5, 17-21).
Is the book of Revelation, then, describing multiple “final” battles between God and Satan, or is the same battle in view in each case?
In Chapter 11, two prophetic figures identified as “my two witnesses” and “two lampstands” are sent to prophesy to the world. Elsewhere in the book “lampstands” symbolize churches. If its symbolism is consistent the two “lampstands” represent churches. After completing their mission, the Beast “ascends out of the Abyss” to “make war” (poiései..polemon) against the “Two Witnesses,” and to kill them.

In Chapter 12, Satan is identified as “the Great Dragon, the Ancient Serpent, the Adversary and Satan; he who deceives the whole habitable earth. He is cast to the earth following his defeat by Michael. Full of wrath, and knowing he has only “a short season,” Satan attempts to destroy the Woman who gave birth to the Son, but God protects her. Enraged, the Devil turns “to make war (poiésai polemonwith the rest of her seed.” He is then seen standing “on the sand of the sea” (Revelation 12:17).

In Chapter 13, John saw a Beast with ten horns and seven heads “ascending out of the sea.” The whole earth rendered homage to it, declaring, “Who is able to make war with it?” In Verse 7, the text states, “it was given to him to make war (poiésai polemon) with the saints and to overcome them.” In the Greek text, the same verb and infinitive are used for “make war” as in Revelation 12:17 (poiésai polemon).

In Chapter 16, the sixth bowl of wrath was poured out on the Euphrates River to prepare the way for the “kings of the east.” Three demons exited the mouths of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet to perform signs “to gather together for the battle the kings of the whole habitable earth.” The phrase, “gathered them together for the war,” translates the Greek clause sunagagein autous eis ton polemon. The clause, “the war,” with a definite article or “the” has a specific war is in view.

This is “the great day of God the Almighty.” In an unexpected twist, Revelation inserts the words of Jesus in the middle of this battle scene - “Behold, I am coming like a thief.” Thus, the battle is linked to his coming. The “kings of the earth and their armies” are gathered to a place called Armageddon or “mountain of Megiddo.”

The geography is not literal. This is indicated by the reference to the “mountain.” Megiddo is a plain with no mountain and in scripture, it is called the “valley” or “plain” of Megiddo. The clause, “gathering together,” is borrowed from the Greek Septuagint version of Ezekiel’s battle scene with “Gog and Magog” (Ezekiel 38:1-4, 38:7-8, 38:12-13Zechariah 12:11).

In Chapter 19, John saw “heaven opened and a white horse” upon which sat a victorious heavenly figure who “judges and makes war.” His only offensive weapon is “a sharp sword proceeding out of his mouth with which he smites the nations,” but he does so by “shepherding” them” (Revelation 19:11-16).

Another war is then described, again using language from Ezekiel’s battle of “Gog and Magog.” Note the verbal parallels:

(Revelation 19:17-21) - “And I saw one angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice saying to all the birds that fly in heaven, ‘Hither! Be gathered together unto the great supper of God that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, 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.’ And I saw the Beast and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war with him who was sitting upon the horse and with his army. And the Beast was taken and with him the false prophet who wrought the signs before him whereby he deceived them who received the mark of the Beast and them who were doing homage unto his image, alive were they two cast into the lake of fire that burns with brimstone. And the rest were slain with the sword of him that was sitting upon the horse, which went forth out of his mouth, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”
(Ezekiel 39:17-20) - “As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field, ‘Gather together and come, gather from all sides to the sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast upon the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And you shall eat fat till you are filled and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you. And you shall be filled at my table with horses and riders, with mighty men and all kinds of warriors,’ says the Lord GOD.”

There is a further verbal allusion to Ezekiel chapter 38 in Verse 20, the Beast and False Prophet are cast “alive into the lake of fire (puros), the one that burns with brimstone (theiō).” Similarly, in Ezekiel 38:21-22, God destroys “Gog” and his armies when he rains down upon them “fire and brimstone” (pur kai theion).

The “great supper of God” may correspond to the “great day of God the Almighty” in the sixth bowl of wrath. The “Great Supper of God” does correspond to “the sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you” in Ezekiel 39:17-20Revelation 16:12-16).
Previously, the Beast ascended from the Abyss “to make war” against the “Two Witnesses,” the Dragon made war against the “seed of the woman,” and the Beast made “war against the saints.” In Chapter 19, the forces of the Beast and False Prophet gather to “make war” against the Lamb.
This climactic battle scene is described with language from Ezekiel’s battle of “Gog and Magog” against Israel, only now applied to Jesus and his saints. In this scene, the force opposed to the Lamb is destroyed, and the Beast and False Prophet are cast into the Lake of fire. In Ezekiel chapters 38-39, the armies of “Gog and Magog” were destroyed on the “mountains of Israel” when God rained fire and brimstone upon them, so now He rains fire and brimstone on the armies of the Beast and the “kings of the earth” (Revelation 19:20).

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In Chapter 20, at the end of the thousand-year period, Satan is released from the Abyss to “to deceive the nations that are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.” The force of “Gog and Magog” first described in the book of Ezekiel is explicitly named. As in the earlier “war” scenes, the verbal allusion is to the invasion of Israel by “Gog and Magog” in chapters 38 and 39 of Ezekiel.

The Greek clause rendered “gather them together for the war” in Chapter 20 is the same clause used previously in the sixth bowl of wrath (sunagagein autous eis ton polemon). Further, in both passages, it is not “war” or “a war,” but “the war.” The use of a definite article indicates a specific and known war is in view.

Satan and his horde “ascend over the breadth of the earth and surround the camp of the saints.” The Greek verb for “ascend” or anabainō is the same one used for the Beast “that ascends out of the Abyss,” and the Beast who “ascends out of the sea,” in both cases, in order to wage war against the saints.

The clause, “Rise up over the breadth of the earth and surround the camp of the saints,” is an allusion to Ezekiel 38:15-16a:

You will come out of your place out of the remote parts of the north, you and many peoples with you…a mighty gathered host, yea, a great army. Therefore, you will come up against my people Israel like a cloud covering the land”). Rather than invade Israel from the north, Gog and Magog are gathered from the four corners of the earth. Their number is “as the sand of the sea.

In Revelation, This force swarms over the entire earth, not just the mountains of Israel. It consists of all the nations of the earth, not just several nations to the north of Palestine. It attacks the “camp of the saints,” a phrase that echoes the story of Israel encamped on its way to the Promised Land.

Once more, language is borrowed from Ezekiel; “fire comes down out of heaven and devours” the horde of Gog and Magog (“fire and brimstone will I rain upon him and upon his hordes and upon the many peoples that are with him”). The “beloved city” refers to the “city of God, New Jerusalem,” not to earthly Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12, 21:2, 21:10).
The verbal links between the preceding passages are too many to be coincidental. The reliance of said passages on language from Ezekiel chapters 38-39 indicates the same battle is in view in each case.
The popular practice of reading Revelation as a sequence of events in chronological order does not do justice to the material, raises difficult and even insurmountable problems, and fails to understand that John recorded his visions in the order in which he received them.

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