One Final Battle

SYNOPSIS – The several “battle” scenes in Revelation all present the same final assault by Satan against the people of the Lamb

Battlefield - Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash
Our tendency is to assume the visions of the book of Revelation are presented in chronological sequence. This assumption creates real problems when the reader attempts to interpret the several final “wars” depicted in chapters 11, 12, 13, 16, 19, and 20. Do these visions portray several different “battles” that occur at different points in time? - (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10).

To answer the question, it is necessary to recognize the literary and scriptural links between the several visions, and how Revelation employs Old Testament language. Additionally, in places, the book itself provides an interpretation of a vision.

For example, in Chapter 11, the passage declares that the “Two Witnesses” represent “two lampstands” - (“They are two lampstands”) - In the first vision of the book, “lampstands” represent churches – (Revelation 1:20, 11:3-4).

Additionally, wording from a key passage of the book of Daniel is employed in several of the relevant passages that refer to this “war,” and always in the singular number - (Daniel 7:21).

“War” with the Two Witnesses
  • (Revelation 11:4-7) – “These are the two olive-trees and the two lamps, which, before the Lord of the earth, do stand. And if any one upon them chooseth to inflict injury, fire cometh forth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies; and if anyone shall choose upon them to inflict injury, thus, must he be slain. These have authority to shut heaven, in order that no rain be moistening in the days of their prophesying; and authority have they over the waters to be turning them into blood, and to smite the land with any manner of plague, as often as they will” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Two prophetic figures are called “my two witnesses” but identified also as the “two lampstands.” If the book’s symbolism is consistent, then the two “witnesses” represent churches, not individual human beings. This is indicated further when their dead bodies are said to lie “on the broadways of the Great City that spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt.” If the image of a “great city” is figurative, so is the image of “two witnesses.” Elsewhere, the “great city” is identified as end-time “Babylon, the Great Whore” – (Revelation 11:4-13, 14:8, 16:19).

After completing their mission, the “Beast ascends out of the Abyss to make war with” the “Two Witnesses” - (poiései met’ polemon). The clause translates the Greek infinitive poiései (“to make”), the preposition meta (“with”), and the noun polemon (“war”). “War” or polemon is in singular number – This is “THE war” - The “Beast” ascends from the “Abyss” to wage “the war” against the “Two Witnesses,” that is, it “overcomes and kills” them.

This clause alludes to a passage from the book of Daniel, one based on the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. The passage is employed frequently in Revelation, always to describe a “war” (singular) against the followers of the “Lamb”:
  • (Daniel 7:21-22) – “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” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In its original context, this prophecy referred to an attempt to annihilate the “saints Most High” by a malevolent king, the “little horn” of the “fourth beast” that The prophet saw ascending from the chaotic sea. Revelation now applies it to the assault against the “Two Witnesses” by the “Beast from the Abyss” – (Daniel 7:1-8).

“War” with the Woman’s Seed
  • (Revelation 12:13-17) – “And when the dragon saw that he was cast to the earth, he pursued the woman who had brought forth the manchild…And the dragon was angered against the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed—with them who were keeping the commandments of God, and holding the witness of Jesus;—and he stood upon the sand of the sea” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Following the exaltation of the messianic “Son,” war broke out in heaven between Satan and Michael the Archangel. Satan is designated “the Great Dragon, the Ancient Serpent, the Adversary, and Satan.” Consequently, having been “cast to the earth,” the Devil is enraged knowing that he has only “a short season” left to execute his plans.

T-res - Photo by Huang Yingone on Unsplash
Photo by Huang Yingone on Unsplash

The “Dragon” attempts to destroy the “Woman” but fails. Enraged further, he next wages “war with the rest of her seed.” This last clause alludes to the same verse from Daniel applied previously to the “war” by the “Beast from the Abyss” against the “Two Witnesses.” Again, the passage refers to only one “war” and uses the Greek definite article or “the” - It refers to a specific and identifiable “war” – “THE war.”

This “war” is waged against the “seed of the woman,” identified as those “who have the testimony of Jesus.” That is, the “saints,” the followers of the “Lamb.” The “testimony of Jesus” also characterized John of Patmos, his “fellow participants” in the churches of Asia, the faithful martyr, Antipas, and every man and woman who overcomes by heeding “what the Spirit is saying to the churches” - (Revelation 1:96:919:1020:4).

“War” with the Saints
  • (Revelation 13:5-7) – “And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and it was given unto him to act forty and two months. And he opened his mouth for blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tent,—them who in heaven were tabernacling. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Next, John saw a “Beast with ten horns and seven heads ascending from the Sea.” This was the same “Beast” that John saw “ascending from the Abyss” to wage “war” against the “Two Witnesses.” This makes the “sea” is identical to the “Abyss” - (Daniel 7:1-8, Revelation 11:4-7).

The “Beast from the sea” is NOT at war with other nations - The “whole earth wondered after the Beast,” and “all the inhabitants of the earth” rendered homage to it. No one could wage war with it – (“Who is able to make war with it?”).

It was “given to the Beast to make war with the saints and to overcome them.”  The same Greek verb, infinitive, and preposition are used that were found earlier in the visions of chapters 11 and 12. Moreover, in Chapter 13, the complete first stanza from Daniel 7:21 is employed, the one in which the “little horn made war with THE SAINTS and overcame them.”

The Beast “overcomes” the “saints,” not by waging war against other nation-states, but by imprisoning and killing them - (“If anyone is for captivity, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be slain with sword, with sword he must be slain”).

“War” at Armageddon
  • (Revelation 16:12-16) – “And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river: [the] Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be prepared of the kings who were from the rising of the sun. And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false-prophet, three impure spirits as frogs; for they are spirits of demons, doing signs, which are to go forth unto the kings of the whole habitable earth to gather them together unto the battle of the great day of God the Almighty.— Lo! I come as a thief! Happy, he that is watching and keeping his garments, lest naked he be walking, and they see his shame.— And he gathered them together unto the place that is called in Hebrew, Har Magedon.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The “sixth bowl of wrath” dried up the Euphrates River to prepare the way for the “kings of the east.” Demonic spirits caused the “kings of the whole habitable earth” to assemble in “Har-Maggedon” - The “mountains of Megiddo” - For the final “war,” the “great day of God, the Almighty.”

The “sixth bowl of wrath” alludes to Ezekiel 38:3-10 - “I will gather you and all your army…Be prepared and prepare yourself, you and all your company that is gathered unto you,” the vision of Ezekiel concerning an invasion by “Gog and Magog.”
The “kings of the east” are universalized and become the “kings of the whole habitable earth.” This “war” involves all the nations set in opposition to God and the “Lamb” - The war is global in scope and cosmic in effect.
To gather the kings of the earth unto the war" translates the Greek clause sunagagein autous eis ton polemon. Once again, “war” is singular and has a definite article, which indicates a specific and known event. Again, it is not another war but “THE war,” the war of the “great day of God the Almighty” at “Armageddon” – (Compare - Revelation 6:16-17).

The “sixth bowl” does not describe a battle between national armies – It is THE climactic battle between the “Dragon” and “God, the Almighty,” and in fulfillment of the messianic prophecy from Psalm 2:1-2 –(“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against Yahweh and against his anointed”).

The “kings of the earth” are gathered at the instigation of God to fulfill His purpose - To destroy end-time “Babylon, the Great City.” Afterward, the “kings of the earth and their armies” are also destroyed, along with the “Beast and False Prophet” - (Revelation 19:17-21Compare - Ezekiel 38:3-10, 39:1-3).

This force is gathered to a place called “Armageddon,” or the “mountain of Megiddo.” This geographical identifier is not literal, as indicated by the reference to the “mountain of Megiddo.” Megiddo is a level plain with no visible mountain and elsewhere is called the “plain of Megiddo” - (Zechariah 12:11).

The language of “gathering together” alludes to the Greek Septuagint version of Ezekiel’s battle scene when the army of “Gog and Magog” invades Israel. In Ezekiel, the invading force is destroyed on “the mountains of Israel” - In the “sixth bowl of wrath,” its destruction occurs on the “mountain of Megiddo” - (Ezekiel 38:1-13).

Thus, Revelation has adapted material from several Old Testament passages to build a picture of a final “war” between the “Beast” and the “Lamb.”

“War” with the Lamb
  • (Revelation 19:17-21) - “And I saw one messenger standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying unto all the birds that fly in mid-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 wild-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 wild-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 wild-beast and them who were doing homage unto his image,—alive were they two cast into the lake of fire that burneth 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” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Another “final” war is described in chapter 19, once more employing language from Ezekiel’s vision of an invasion by “Gog and Magog.” Note the following verbal parallels”:
  • (Ezekiel 39:17-20) - “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 Yahweh.”
There is a further allusion in Revelation 19:20. The “Beast and False Prophet” are cast “alive into the Lake of Fire (purosthat burns with brimstone (theiō). So, also, in Ezekiel - Yahweh rained down “fire and brimstone” on “Gog” and his armies - (pur kai theion –Ezekiel 38:21-22).

The “Great Supper of God” corresponds to the “great day of God the Almighty” described in the “sixth bowl of wrath.”  It also is parallel to the “sacrificial feast which I am preparing” for the “birds of the air” – (Ezekiel 39:17-20).

The “Beast and the kings of the earth” were gathered “to make war with” the “Lamb” and his army - (poiésai ton polemon meta). In Chapter 11, the “Beast ascended from the Abyss to make war with the Two Witnesses” (poiései met’ polemon). Likewise, in Chapter 12, the “Dragon made war with the sed of the woman” (poiésai polemon meta). And in Chapter 13, the “Beast made war with the saints” - (poiésai polemon meta). So, now, the forces of the “Beast” gather “to make war with” the “Lamb.” The parallel language in all four passages is based on Daniel 7:21.

Thus, the vision in Chapter 19 employs language from Ezekiel’s vision of “Gog and Magog” and Daniel’s vision of the war of the “little horn” against the “saints.” The vision of Ezekiel was also used in the “sixth bowl of wrath,” the so-called ‘Battle of Armageddon.’

In Chapter 19, the armies of the “kings of the earth” were destroyed, the birds of the air were summoned to feast on their corpses, and the “Beast and False Prophet” were cast into the “Lake of fire and brimstone.”  Likewise, in Ezekiel, the armies of “Gog and Magog” were destroyed, the “birds of the air” were summoned to feast on their corpses, and Yahweh God rained “fire and brimstone” on this invading force.

Noteworthy is how the book of Revelation universalizes the language from Ezekiel. The army of “Gog and Magog” is no longer limited to the regional enemies of Israel but expanded to include all the “kings of the earth and their armies.” Rather than an invasion in the Middle East, the attack is global. And, rather than against Israel, the assault is against the “Rider on the White Horse” and his “army” - The “saints.”

“War” on the Camp of the Saints

At the end of the thousand years, Satan is released to “to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magogto gather them together for the war, the number of which is as the sand of the sea” - (Revelation 20:7-8).

Gog and Magog” are identified - The “nations from the four corners of the earth.” As in earlier “war” scenes, language is adapted from Ezekiel 38-39. The Greek rendered “to gather them together for the war” is exactly the same as in the previous visions – (Revelation 16:14 - sunagagein autous eis ton polemon).

Satan and his horde “ascend over the breadth of the earth and surround the camp of the saints.” The Greek rendered “ascend” (anabainō) is the same verb employed previously for the “ascent of the Beast from the Abyss,” and the “Beast from the Sea.”

The “ascent over the breadth of the earth to surround the camp of the saints” is another verbal allusion to Ezekiel:
  • (Ezekiel 38:15-16) - “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 ASCEND AGAINST MY PEOPLE ISRAEL like a cloud covering the land.”
Rather than invade Palestine from the north, “Gog and Magog” are gathered from “the four corners of the earth.” Like a cloud of locusts, they swarm over the entire earth and the army consists of all the “nations of the earth.” The “fire that comes down out of heaven and devours” the horde alludes to Ezekiel 38:22 - (“Fire and brimstone will I rain upon him and upon his hordes and upon the many peoples that are with him”).

Thus, in the several visions that use language from Daniel 7:21 and Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation presents a picture of the final assault against the Church by Satan and his forces.  The language of “war” is used metaphorically to portray his attacks against the “saints” by means of deception, social pressure, compromise, persecution, and even martyrdom.

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