Military Campaigns of the Beast

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The book of Revelation uses the language and imagery of war to portray the attempts by Satan and his earthly agents to destroy the saints of God. The book is not concerned with warfare between nations but the Dragon’s determination to annihilate the church while he still has time. To accomplish this, he uses deception, compromise, and persecution.
References to “war” use the Greek verb polemeō and its noun form, polemos. For example, both forms of the word describe a cosmic battle in Chapter 12 when a “war (polemos) arose in heaven” between the Dragon and Michael and his angels.
It is easy to conclude from such language that such passages describe military campaigns fought by conventional armies, perhaps in the Middle East. But on closer examination, the “battles” waged are between Satan and the Lamb through their earthly representatives. The Devil has been expelled from the courts of heaven and cannot attack the Lamb directly, so he wages brutal combat against the earthly followers of the Lamb.
Of most importance are the battle scenes that describe a future final assault against the church by satanic forces just prior to the end of the age. In the interim, the cosmic battles between the Lamb and Satan manifest in the daily lives of Christians as they overcome false teachings and endure persecution.  However, a day is coming when the Devil will assemble all his forces in a last-ditch attempt to destroy the people of God.

The War Against the Two Witnesses

(Revelation 11:7) – “Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them and overpower and kill them” (New International Version).
The “Beast” is first seen in the book in reference to its “war” to destroy the “Two Witnesses.” The verse more accurately reads: “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.”
The verb tense is noteworthy. The Beast is “ascending” out of the Abyss, a description with a present tense participle, that is, action in progress. This ascent is an ongoing process, even in John’s day. Or it may refer to the ongoing efforts of the Beast to escape from the Abyss.
The Greek verb rendered “prevail” from nikaō means, “conquer.” It is the same verb used in the seven letters to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 for the exhortation to believers “to overcome.”
The release of the Beast from the Abyss will result in a “war” and victory over the Two Witnesses. However, the Beast will not be released until they “complete” their prophetic ministry; this “victory” is contingent upon the Two Witnesses finishing their mission. 
The “Two Witnesses” are not individual men; they are identified as “two lampstands,” and lampstands represent churches in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:20, Zechariah 4:1-3).
The two “olive trees” and “lampstands” alludes to a passage from Zechariah where two olive trees stood for Joshua, the High Priest, and Zerubbabel, the royal descendant of David. Thus, the “Two Witnesses” symbolize churches in their priestly and kingly roles in their prophetic testimony given before the “inhabitants of the earth” (Zechariah 4:1-11, Revelation 1:6, 1:20, 5:10, 20:6). After the Beast “kills” them, the “inhabitants of the earth” rejoice because their prophetic words had “tormented” them.
This “war” by the Beast is the persecution of the church. Though the Beast “overcomes” the Witnesses by killing them, it is a hollow victory, one quickly overturned by the intervention of God when the seventh trumpet sounds (Revelation 11:15-19).
War Against the Woman’s Seed - Revelation 12:17
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 in this verse that were employed in Chapter 11 for the Beast’s “war” against the Two Witnesses. The same reality is in view, though seen from different perspectives.
As in Revelation 11:7, the forces of Satan wage war on followers of Jesus, those “who have the witness of Jesus,” not against ethnic Jews, national Israel, or other nations in conflict with the Beast.
War Against the Saints - Revelation 13:7-10
John next saw a Beast “ascending from the sea,” an image conceptually 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 (Revelation 13:1-4).
In Revelation 13:7, the Beast launches a “military campaign,” not against armies, nations or Israel, but with the saints, and it “overcomes (nikésai) them.” However, it can only do so as permitted by the Lamb.
Verse 7 states that “it was given to it to make war with the saints.” “It was given” translates the Greek verb edothé, here in the passive voice. The Beast does not have freedom of action and can only act when and to the extent allowed.  The final outcome of these battles is never in doubt.
The same language is found in Revelation 13:7 used previously of the war against the two witnesses and the woman’s “seed.” Thus, the same event or reality is in view in each case.
Just as the Beast attacked the Two Witnesses or “lampstands,” so it now wages war against “saints,” not hostile nations or conventional armies. Elsewhere in Revelation, the term “saints” refers to those who follow the Lamb (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6, 18:20-24, 19:8, 20:6-9).
Rather than any global war between nations, the “war” launched by the Beast is against “the saints,” those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Revelation 14:1-4). It 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”). The Beast’s violent assault is described as the “perseverance and the faith of the saints. (cp. Revelation 1:9, 2:2-3, 2:19, 3:10, 14:12).
The same idea is declared in Chapter 14, only “saints” is defined to mean, “they who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” This leaves no doubt about the identity of the “saints,” the followers of the Lamb (Revelation 14:10-12).
Armageddon - Revelation 16:12-16
The so-called “battle of Armageddon” is described in Revelation 16:12-16. “Armageddon” is from a Hebrew word that means “mountain of Megiddo.” There is no city or site called by this name on the map of the Middle East. In the Old Testament, ‘Megiddo’ referred either to the “valley of Megiddo” or to the town by that name (Judges 5:19, 2 Kings 23:29-30, Zechariah 12:11).
Megiddo was a broad plain with no mountain or even a sizable hill, thus, the reader should beware before insisting on a “literal” application of the term.
When the Sixth Bowl is poured out on the Euphrates River, the way is prepared for “the kings from the rising sun,” apparently, military forces invading the region from the east. The Bowls of Wrath are poured out by angels at the command of a voice that issues from the Heavenly Sanctuary. Thus, the preparation for these kings is according to God’s plan in order to accomplish His purposes.
The “kings of the east” are defined as the “kings of the whole habitable earth.” This universalizes the group; it represents all the world’s forces united in hostility to God and the Lamb. Demons are dispatched to gather the world’s forces to “the battle of the great day of God the Almighty. This “army” gathers not to attack Israel, but to engage in a climactic battle against the Lamb. This event occurs at the behest of the Lamb, not the Dragon or the Beast (verses 15-16). The “Great Day of God” echoes the Sixth Seal that ushered in the “Great Day of the Wrath” of the Lamb (Revelation 6:17).
The voice of Jesus interjects in verse 15, “Behold, I am coming as a thief!” This final battle results in the arrival of Jesus from heaven; again, the Lamb causes the armies of the earth to “gather to the place called Armageddon,” not the Beast.
There are no descriptions of combat between opposing nations, no scenes of destruction by conventional or nuclear weapons.  Once the world’s forces are gathered to “Armageddon,” the Seventh Bowl is poured out and a heavenly voice declares, “it is done!”
Flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder” and a great earthquake accompany the voice. The “great city,” Babylon, and the “cities of the nations” are destroyed, every island on the earth “flees,” all mountains disappear, and great hailstones fall upon mankind. This describes nothing less than terrestrial and cosmic upheaval; that is, the end of the present age, an event portrayed with similar terms in Revelation 6:12-17 at the opening of the Sixth Seal.
Revelation 19:17-21
This same battle that occurred at “Armageddon” is pictured in Revelation 19:11-21, though with different details. The “king of kings” arrives from heaven on a white horse to judge and “make war.” He is accompanied by the “armies of heaven,” also on white horses. 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.”
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.” This alludes to Ezekiel 39:17-20, a description of a future invasion of Israel by the forces of “Gog and Magog,” though now applied to the final “battle” between the Lamb and the Beast.
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.” This clause has the same verb for “gather” used for the gathering of the kings of the earth to the battle at “Armageddon.” The verbal parallels are deliberate to clue the reader that the same “final” battle is portrayed in this passage.
There is no description of a protracted battle between national armies, only a statement that the Beast and false prophet are removed and cast into the Lake of Fire, followed by a brief description of the battle’s aftermath as birds feast on carcasses. Jesus has used the very forces of Satan to gather his enemies to a climactic final battle in order to destroy them.
Gog and Magog - (Revelation 20:7-10)
After a thousand years, Satan is “released from the Abyss.” The verbal and conceptual parallels are close to Revelation 11:7; once again, the same reality must be intended; the ascent of the Beast from the Abyss is the same event as Satan’s release from the Abyss. Satan instigates all assaults against God’s people in the book of Revelation, though he uses human agencies to execute his plans.  When the Beast ascends to destroy God’s people, he acts on behalf of Satan.
This final attack is not an autonomous act; Satan cannot act until he is “released” from the Abyss. Just as the Beast could not kill the Two Witnesses until they completed their mission, so Satan will not be released to deceive the nations and mount his final assault until the thousand-years reign of Jesus and his witnesses comes to an end.
Likewise, just as the Beast “ascends” out of the Abyss to make war against the “saints,” so when Satan is released from the Abyss he gathers the armies of Gog and Magog to “ascend over the breadth of the earth” to attack the “camp of the saints.”
Moreover, just as in the final battle scene in Revelation 19:17-21, so the language and imagery from Ezekiel chapters 38-39 is employed here for the assault by “Gog and Magog” against the saints.
This does not mean there are two separate attacks by “Gog and Magog” at different times or three “final” battles, but one and the same final assault against the Lamb is described in all three passages  (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10).
After his release from the Abyss, Satan gathers a vast “army” from “the four corners of the earth” for a final assault against the “camp of the saints.” This horde ascends over the entire “breadth of the earth.” The “battle” is not limited to the region of Palestine but involves the entire earth; it is global in scope. 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” calls to mind the camp of ancient Israel in the Wilderness in transit to the land of Canaan; likewise, the Church is in transit from “Egypt” and captivity in “Babylon” to New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12, 21:2, 15:1-4).
As before, there are no descriptions of protracted battles between nations.  Immediately upon the gathering of Satan’s forces, fire falls from heaven and destroys all of them. As with the Beast, now Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire and Final Judgment follows immediately.

Concluding Remarks

The battle scenes in Revelation are not literal wars between nation-states. Instead, the images symbolize satanic assaults against God’s people, especially the Dragon’s final attack that precipitates the arrival of Jesus in judgment. The cosmic battles that occur in the heavenlies manifest in the daily lives of Christians in the form of false teachers, false prophets, deception, opposition from neighbors, and persecution.
Satan through his human agents, wages war to destroy the saints of God, not against other nations. But God causes the forces of Satan to gather for a final assault against the Lamb and his people in order to destroy His enemies once and for all.
Persecution has been a common reality in the life of the church from its inception. The book of Revelation exposes the true source of Christian suffering and provides insight into the real battle being waged behind the scenes of history. 
The book of Revelation does foresee a final assault against the Church prior to the return of Jesus that it portrays several different ways using language and imagery from the Old Testament. That final assault by the Dragon will cause the Lamb to intervene to destroy his enemies and to deliver his people into the coming age and the New Creation.