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18 October 2019

Destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet

SYNOPSIS – The Rider on a White Horse now destroys the “Beast from the sea” and the “False Prophet” – Revelation 19:17-21.

White Horse - Photo by Tiago Almeida on Unsplash
Tiago Almeida on Unsplash

This passage details the destruction of the “Beast from the sea” and the “False Prophet,” the latter described elsewhere as the “Beast from the earth.” Note well – At no point does it refer to Israel, the land of Palestine, the city of Jerusalem, or any other geographic location. Precisely where this “war” occurs is not a factor. What is in focus is the destruction of the “Beast” and “False Prophet,” and their condemnation to the “Lake of Fire.”

The passage is part of the third main division of the book that began with Chapter 17 when John was “carried away in spirit” into the Wilderness and saw a vision of the “Great Harlot,” Babylon. (Revelation 13:11-13, 17:1-5).

This third literary division is a detailed picture of the results of the seven bowls of wrath in which the “wrath of God was finished.” In the second division, the reader was introduced to the primary cosmic enemies of the Lamb and his people:

  • The Dragon.
  • The Beast from the Abyss/Sea.
  • The Beast from the earth/False Prophet.
  • The Great Harlot, Babylon.

Now, in the third division, the adversaries of the Lamb are judged and destroyed, but in reverse order from their introduction in the previous division, beginning with Babylon, then the Beast and the False Prophet and, finally, the Dragon.

The visions are not necessarily in chronological order.  John was not viewing videos of actual future events and his images are not literal representations.  The language and imagery used in them are drawn from key Old Testament passages. For example, this next paragraph borrows and adapts language from Ezekiel Chapter 39 and Daniel Chapter 7.

In the preceding vision, Jesus was pictured as a victorious Rider on a White Horse followed by the “armies of heaven.” Previously, he was presented as a glorious “son of man” and a priestly figure, a sacrificial Lamb, and the messianic “son” born from a “woman clothed with the sun.” The variety of images argues strongly against strictly literal interpretations.

  • (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” – (Source:  The Emphasized Bible).

I saw an angel standing in the sun.” Again, the imagery argues against literal interpretation. Even assuming an angel was standing in the actual sun, how could John look into the sun to see what was happening?  This is not the same angel as the one who showed John the vision of the “Great Harlot in the Wilderness.”  The description parallels the introduction of the destructions of Babylon and the Dragon:

  • (Revelation 18:1-2) – “After these things I saw another angel coming down out of heaven, having great authority; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.”
  • (Revelation 20:1) – “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.”

He cried to all the birds that fly in mid-heaven.” Although the summons to the birds is drawn from Ezekiel 39:17-20 (see further below), the book of Revelation has changed the original “birds of every sort and the beasts of the field” from Ezekiel to - The “birds that fly in mid-heaven.” This links the verse to two previous passages from Revelation:

  • (Revelation 8:13) – “And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the mid-heaven saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!”
  • (Revelation 14:6) – “And I saw another angel fly in the mid-heaven having the everlasting gospel to preach unto the inhabitants of the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.”

Vultures - Photo by Casey Allen on Unsplash
By Casey Allen on Unsplash

In Revelation 8:13, the angel or “eagle” flying in mid-heaven announced the three final “woes” about to befall the “inhabitants of the earth” (some Greek manuscripts read “eagle” instead of “angel”). The first “woe” unleashed a demonic horde from the Abyss to torment men. The Abyss was ruled over by the “angel of the Abyss; Abaddon and Apollyon (“Destruction” and “Destroyer”). The second “woe” or “sixth trumpet” released a massive army from beyond the Euphrates River that was “prepared for the hour and day and month and year” to kill a third of humanity. This description parallels the forces of the “kings of the east” unleashed by the “sixth bowl of wrath and gathered by the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” to the final battle at a place called “Armageddon” (Revelation 9:1-12, 9:13-21, 16:12-16).

The third “woe” or the sounding of the “seventh trumpet” produced the final victory of God’s kingdom, the vindication and the resurrection of the righteous dead, and the judgment of “those who are destroying the earth” (Revelation 11:15-19).

In Revelation 14:6, the angel flying in mid-heaven proclaimed the “everlasting gospel to the inhabitants of the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people…because the hour of judgment is come.” Anyone who gave allegiance to the Beast would drink the wrath of God and be “tormented with fire and brimstone.”

Now, in Revelation 19:17-21, a great “final” battle is described with language from Ezekiel’s battle of “Gog and Magog.” So, John saw:

  • An angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice saying to 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 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 preceding description should be compared with the description from the book of Ezekiel of an invasion by “Gog and Magog”:

  • (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 to Ezekiel 38-39 in Verse 20. The “Beast” and the “False Prophet” are cast into the “Lake of Fire” (puros) that “burns with brimstone” (theiō). Likewise, in Ezekiel 38:21-22, God destroys “Gog” and his armies when he rains down “fire and brimstone” on them (pur kai theion – Greek Septuagint).

The description of the “Great Supper of God” corresponds to the “great day of the wrath” of the Lamb and God, and to the “great day of God the Almighty” that culminated in the battle at “Armageddon.” It is conceptually parallel to the “sacrificial feast which I am preparing for you” referenced in Ezekiel 39:17-20.

The birds are summoned to eat the “flesh of kings, captains, mighty men, and… the flesh of all men, free and bond, small and great.” The description echoes two previous passages in Revelation, as follows:

  • (Revelation 6:15 – Sixth Seal) – “The kings of the earth, and the princes, and the chief captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.”
  • (Revelation 13:19) – “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given t-hem a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead.”

When the sixth seal was opened, the “inhabitants of the earth” from every social class attempted to hide from the wrath of the Lamb. In Chapter 13, the “Beast from the earth” deceived the “inhabitants of the earth” into taking the “mark of the Beast.” Now, the men that are slaughtered to feed the birds represent the same group of unrepentant humanity.

In Verse 19, the “Beast from the sea” and the “kings of the earth” and their armies are gathered to “make war with” (poiésai ton polemon meta) the Lamb and against his army (Note well -  It is “THE war,” not “a war”). Previously, the “Beast ascended from the Abyss to make war with” the “Two Witnesses.”  The Dragon “made war with the seed of the woman.”  The “Beast made war with the saints.” And when the sixth bowl of wrath was emptied, demons were unleashed from the mouths of the “Beast and the False Prophet” to gather the “kings of the earth” to the battle of the “Great Day of God, the Almighty” (Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 13:7, 16:14-16).

In each of the preceding cases, “the war” is referenced in the singular because the same conflict is in view. Now, in Revelation 19:19, the forces of the “Beast gather to make war with” the Lamb and his armies.

The parallel language from all four passages is based on Daniel 7:21, originally, a reference to the war against the “saints” waged by the “little horn.” The same imagery from Ezekiel was also used in the sixth bowl of wrath, the so-called ‘Battle of Armageddon’. Once more, the same final battle or “war” is in view in each of the four passages from the book of Revelation.

The “Beast and the kings of the earth gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the horse, and against his army.” Earthly forces cannot engage in direct battle with heavenly beings. Previously, the saints were described as those who “tabernacle in heaven,” the same “saints” against which the Beast was authorized to wage war (Revelation 13:5-7).

Before identifying the “armies of heaven” that march with the Rider, the reader should consider the following passages with similar language:

  • (Revelation 11:7) – “When the two witnesses shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.”
  • (Revelation 12:17) – “The dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus.”
  • (Revelation 13:7) – “It was given to the Beast to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.”
  • (Revelation 16:14-16) – “They are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty…And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon.”
  • (Revelation 20:8-9) – “And the Devil shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven and devoured them.”

In the present vision, the armies of the “kings of the earth” are destroyed, the “birds of the air” are summoned, and the “Beast and False Prophet” are cast into the “Lake of fire” and brimstone.  Likewise, in the passage from Ezekiel, the armies of “Gog and Magog” were destroyed on the mountains of Israel when God rained “fire and brimstone” from heaven.

Photo by Chris Rhoads on Unsplash
By Chris Rhoads on Unsplash

After the lengthy introduction setting the stage for this “battle,” no description of the actual conflict is provided. The “birds of the air” are summoned, and the “Beast” and its allies gather to fight against the “Rider on a White Horse.” Next, the two are cast “alive” into the “Lake of Fire.” Meanwhile, the “rest” are simply rendered dead and fed to the “birds of the air.” All-in-all, a rather perfunctory end to a long-anticipated battle.

Alive were they two cast into the lake of fire that burns with brimstone.” The clause alludes to the prophecy of Daniel about the destruction of the “little horn” and the four “beasts from the sea.” In that vision, the “Ancient of Days” sat in judgment when the time arrived for the destruction of the “little horn” and the fourth beast:

  • (Daniel 7:9-22) - “I beheld even until the beast was slain and its body destroyed, and it was given to be burned with fire.” This is the same “beast” that “made war with the saints, and prevailed against them,” but only until the “ancient of days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most-High.” The last clause from Daniel alludes to in the next chapter of Revelation when John saw thrones, “and they sat upon them, and judgment was given for them,” that is, for the saints beheaded for their witness.

The rest were slain with the sword of him that was sitting upon the horse.” The “rest” or loipoi is the same group as the “rest (loipoi) of the dead” that lived not until the completion of the thousand years (Revelation 20:5).

In Chapter 19, only the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” are cast into the “Lake of Fire.” The “rest” of the condemned are not thrown into it until the end of Chapter 20. The “Beast from the sea” is more than an individual and, most probably, represents an entire political regime or system. This should be remembered when determining who and what is cast into the “Lake of Fire.”

The Old Testament background must be kept in mind when interpreting the vision. Just as important is how Revelation reinterprets, expands, and universalizes those older prophecies.  For example, the force of “Gog and Magog” is no longer limited to regional enemies surrounding Palestine; instead, it consists of “all the kings of the earth and their armies.” Rather than invade Palestine, the attack is global and waged against the Lamb and his “army,” in this case, the “saints” on the earth (Revelation 20:7-10).

The “saints” are not passive observers or warriors from heaven, but human believers who “overcome” through persecution, and by giving faithful testimony even when doing so means death. It is no coincidence that the Lamb’s one offensive “weapon” is a “great sword,” an image representing the “word of God” that proceeds from his mouth.

Likewise, the victorious believers overcome the “Beast,” “Babylon,” and the “Dragon” through the “word of their testimony and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

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