Military Campaigns of the Beast

SYNOPSIS:   The language of war is employed in Revelation to portray the assaults of the Dragon against the saints who follow the Lamb.

Colosseum Photo by Ben Lee on Unsplash
Photo by Ben Lee on Unsplash
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 shows no interest in conventional or nuclear wars between nations, instead, the Dragon determines to annihilate the church while there is still time. To accomplish this, he uses deception, compromise, and persecution.

References to “war” in the book use the Greek verb polemeō and its noun form, polemos. For example, both words are used to describe a cosmic battle in Chapter 12 when a “war (polemos) arose in heaven” between the Dragon and Michael.

It is easy to conclude from this language that military campaigns are being 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.

Of most importance are the battle scenes that describe a final assault against the church by satanic forces 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.

War Against 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 the book in the preceding passage when it ascends from the “Abyss” to wage war against 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.”
T
he verb tense is noteworthy. The Beast is “ascending” from the Abyss, a description with a present tense participle, that is, action in progress. The 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” is nikaō and means, “to conquer.” It is the same verb found in the seven letters to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 for the exhortation for believers “to overcome.”

The release of the Beast from the Abyss results in a “war” and victory over the “Two Witnesses.” However, the Beast will not be released until the witnesses first “complete” their prophetic ministry. The Beast’s “victory” is contingent on the witnesses finishing their mission.

The “Two Witnesses” are not individual men - They are identified as “two lampstands” and lampstands represent churches in Revelation. 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).

This “war” is the persecution of the church by the Beast. Although it “overcomes” the witnesses by killing them, it is a hollow victory and quickly overturned by the intervention of God when the seventh trumpet sounds (Revelation 11:15-19).

War Against 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 here that were employed in Chapter 11 for the Beast’s 'war' against the 'Two Witnesses.' The same reality is in view, though from different perspectives.
As in Chapter 11, 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

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).

War Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash
In Verse 7, the Beast launches a “military campaign,” but not against armies, nations, or the state of Israel but, instead, against the “saints,” and it “overcomes (nikésai) them,” that is, it slays them. However, it can only do so when and within the limits set by the Lamb.

Verse 7 states, “It was given to it to make war with the saints.” This translates the Greek verb edothé or “given,” here in the passive voice. The Beast does not have freedom of action and can only act when and to the extent allowed.

The same language was used previously for the war against the “Two witnesses” and the woman’s “seed.” Thus, the same event or reality is in view in each case. All three passages allude to 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 attacked the “Two Witnesses” or “lampstands,” so it wages war against the “saints,” and not against 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).

The “war” launched by the Beast is against “the saints,” those who follow the Lamb. 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 1:92:2-32:193:1014:12).

The same idea is declared in Chapter 14, only there the “saints” are identified as “they who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” This leaves no doubt who they are - Followers of the Lamb (Revelation 14:10-12).

Armageddon

The so-called “battle of Armageddon” is described in Chapter 16 when the sixth “bowl of wrath” is emptied. “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. 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 (Judges 5:192 Kings 23:29-30Zechariah 12:11).

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 Seven 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. The “kings of the east” are also the “kings of the whole habitable earth.” This universalizes the group - It represents all the world’s forces united in hostility to the Lamb.

Final Battle against the Saints
Demons are dispatched to gather the world’s forces to “the battle of the great day of God the Almighty. The “army” gathers to engage in a climactic battle against the Lamb, not to attack Israel. The 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 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 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 at the opening of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17).

Revelation 19:17-21

This same battle is pictured in Chapter 19, although 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.” 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.” This clause has the same verb for “gather” that was used for the “gathering” of the “kings of the earth” to “Armageddon.” The verbal parallels are deliberate - The same battle is portrayed in both passages.

There is no description of a protracted battle between conventional armies, only a 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 as the 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

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 is in view - The ascent of the Beast from the Abyss portrays the same event as the release of Satan from it. He instigates all the assaults against the “saints” in the book, although he uses human agencies to execute them.

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 until the period of a “thousand years” is completed.

Likewise, just as the Beast “ascends” out of the Abyss to make war against the “saints,” so Satan gathers the armies of “Gog and Magog ascend over the breadth of the earth” to attack the “camp of the saints.”

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 Promised Land. Likewise, the Church is in transit from captivity in “Babylon” to the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:1221:2, 15:1-4).

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 battle imagery symbolizes the assaults of Satan and his servants against God’s people. 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 nation-states. God causes the forces of Satan to gather for a final assault against the Lamb and his people at the end of the age in order to destroy His enemies once and for all.
From its inception, persecution and deceivers have been common realities in the life of the church. The book of Revelation exposes the true source of Christian suffering and provides insight into the source behind the daily struggles, trials, and persecutions suffered daily by the 'saints' of the Lamb.
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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