28 December 2018

Multiple “Final” Battles in the Book of Revelation?

Armageddon
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, such as the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16). This passage seems to describe the final climactic war between the forces of Jesus and Satan.  But another “final” battle occurs later Revelation 19:17-21, as well as at the end of the thousand years when Satan is released (20:7-10). All three passages use language from Ezekiel’s predicted invasion of  Israel by Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38:1-5, 17-21).
     Is Revelation describing multiple “final” battles between God and Satan or is the same battle in view in each case?
    Two prophetic figures identified as “my two witnesses” and “two lampstands” are sent to prophesy to the world (11:3-7).  Elsewhere “lampstands” symbolize churches (1:20).  If Revelation’s symbolism is consistent the two lampstands represent churches.  After completing their mission the Beast that is “to ascemd out of the Abyss” arrives to “make war” (poiései..polemon) against the two witnesses.
     Satan is identified as “the Great Dragon, the Ancient Serpent, the Adversary, and Satan; he who deceives the whole habitable earth (oikumenén holén).” He is cast to the earth following his defeat by Michael, now full of wrath knowing he has only “a short season” (12:12). Satan attempts to destroy the Woman who gave birth to the Son but God protects her. Enraged, the Devil turns “to make war (poiésai polemon) with the rest of her seed” (12:17). He is then seen standing “on the sand of the sea.
     John sees a Beast with ten horns and seven heads “ascending out of the sea” (13:1-10). The whole earth renders homage to it, declaring, “Who is able to make war with it?”  Verse 7 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). This is how the Dragon in chapter 12 executes his war against the woman’s “seed,” the latter now identified as “the saints.”
     The sixth bowl is poured out on the Euphrates to prepare the way for the kings of the east (16:12-16).  Three demons exit the mouths of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet; they perform signs in order “to gather together for the battle” the kings of the whole habitable earth (cp. 12:9, he who deceives the whole habitable earth”). The phrase “gathered them together for the war” translates the Greek clause sunagagein autous eis ton polemon. “The war” with the definite article or “the”; 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.” This battle is linked to the coming of Jesus. The kings of the earth and their armies are gathered to a place called “Armageddon” or “mountain of Megiddo.” The geography is not literal, as indicated by the reference to the “mountain.” Megiddo is a plain with no mountain and in scripture is called “valley” or “plain” of Megiddo(Zechariah 12:11).  The language of “gathering together” armies is borrowed from the Greek Septuagint version of Ezekiel’s battle scene when Gog invaded Israel(Ezekiel 38:1-4, 38:7-8, 38:12-13).
     John sees “heaven opened and a white horse” upon which sits a victorious heavenly figure who in righteousness “judges and makes war,” unlike his opponents.  His only offensive weapon is “a sharp sword proceeding out of his mouth with which he smites the nations,” but does so by “shepherding” them” (19:11-16). 
     Another war is then described (19:17-21), 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 38:21-22God 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 (16:12-16). The “Great Supper of God” does correspond to “the sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you” in Ezekiel 39:17-20.
      John sees “the Beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered together to make war” against the Lamb and against his army. This latter army consists of riders “upon white horses, arrayed with fine linen, white, pure” (19:14). Just a few verses earlier the Bride was described as “arrayed with fine linen, white, pure” (cp. 3:5; 3:18; 6:11; 7:9-13). The riders are not angels but redeemed saints.
     Previously the Beast ascended from the Abyss “to make war” against the two witnesses (11:3-7), the Dragon made war against the “seed of the woman” (12:17), and the Beast made war against the saints (13:1-7). The forces of the Beast and False Prophet now gather together to make war against the Lamb and his “army,” those arrayed in pure white linen.
     This climactic battle scene is described with language from Ezekiel’s great battle of Gog and Magog against Israel, only now applied to Jesus and his saints.   In this scene, the armies opposed to the Lamb are destroyed, and the Beast and False Prophet are cast into the Lake of fire.  In Ezekiel chapters 38-39 the armies of Gog were destroyed on the mountains of Israel when God rained fire and brimstone upon them, so now also upon the armies of the Beast and the kings of the earth (19:20).
     At the end of the thousand years, 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” (20:7-8). “Gog and Magog” from Ezekiel are explicitly named.  As in earlier war scenes, the verbal allusion is made to Ezekiel chapters 38-39. The Greek clause for “gather them together for the war” is exactly the same as in Revelation 16:14 (sunagagein autous eis ton polemon). Further, in both passages it is not “war” or “a war,” but “the war.” The use of the definite article indicates a specific and known war.
     Satan and his final horde “ascend over the breadth of the earth and surround the camp of the saints.” The Greek verb for “asend” (anabainō) is the same one used for the Beast “that ascends out of the Abyss” to make war against the Two Witnesses (11:7), and the Beast who “ascends out of the sea” to make war with the saints (13:1).
     “Rise up over the breadth of the earth and surround the camp of the saints” is alludes 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” (cp. 12:17-13:1) and they swarm over the entire earth, not just the mountains of Israel. This army consists of all the nations of the earth, not just several nations to the north of Palestine.
     The horde comes up against the “camp of the saints” (cp. 13:7), which brings to mind Israel encamped in the Wilderness on its way to the Promised Land. Elsewhere in Revelation “saints” refer to followers of Jesus, not ethnic Jews or Israelites (5:8, 8:3, 13:7).  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 not to earthly Jerusalem but to the “city of God, New Jerusalem;” that is, the true people of God (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 that 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.  It does not necessarily follow that they were given in chronological sequence.  The tradition Pre-millennial approach must address the problem of having two or more final battles of Gog and Magog.

No comments:

Post a Comment