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24 March 2020

The Victims of the Beast

Synopsis: The Dragon and its earthly agents persecute and “wage war” on the saints of the Lamb, the Church, not against any nation or ethnic group.

Colosseum Photo by Ben Lee on Unsplash
Colosseum by Ben Lee - Unsplash
The book of Revelation portrays a cosmic war waged between Satan and Jesus, a conflict that plays out in the daily struggles of the Church. Though Satan is the driving force behind assaults on God’s people, his earthly minions execute the attacks, especially the “Beast” from the sea. Consistently, the victims of the actions of the Dragon and its earthly agents are the “saints,” the men and women who follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Revelation 11:7, 13:1-10, 14:1-4).

The warring activities of the Beast culminate in a final battle between its forces and those of the Lamb, the so-called ‘Battle of Armageddon.’ Apparently, the Beast is an irresistible military power that wages war against any nation that resists it, especially the nation of Israel in Palestine (Revelation 13:7-10, 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:8-10).

The book in its entirety is addressed to seven churches located in key cities of the Roman province of Asia in the late first century. Its contents concern “things that must come to pass shortly” to God’s “servants,” that is, the seven churches of Asia.

This does not mean the book is only applicable to the congregations in Asia or that the events of their day exhausted its significance.  There were more than seven churches in Asia in the first century and Revelation uses the number seven symbolically to signify completeness.  The seven churches represent a larger reality, though they remain a part of it (Revelation 1:4, 1:11).

The seven messages to the churches recorded in chapters 2 and 3 describe the various ways they were under assault, from within and without. Persecution by governmental authorities did occur in Pergamos and Smyrna, the bigger problem was posed by false teachers, deception, and compromise with the idolatrous society in which the churches lived. The ultimate source behind their struggles was “Satan” and the “Devil” (Revelation 2:8-13, 3:9).

The period in which the churches of Asia existed was a time of growing conflict with Rome, especially its imperial cult focused on the veneration of the emperor and the goddess, Roma.  “Satan’s throne” refers either to the Roman provincial government at Pergamum or its temple dedicated to the worship of the Emperor (Revelation 2:13).

The messages of the seven letters to the churches provide a microcosmic view of the real conflict between the “Dragon” and the “Lamb.” The visions of Chapters 4-21 provide a macrocosmic view of the battle waged behind the scenes of daily life, which played out in the daily struggles of these marginalized congregations.

In Revelation, humanity is divided into two groups; those with the “seal of God” who follow the Lamb, and the “inhabitants of the earth” that render homage to the Beast.  There is no middle ground; one either has the seal of God or he takes the mark of the Beast (Revelation 3:10, 6:10, 7:1-4, 8:13, 14:1-5, 20:4).

Individual men and women can change sides. An “inhabitants of the earth” may decide to follow the Lamb and, thereby, receive the “seal of God.” Likewise, a follower of the Lamb may apostatize and take the Beast’s mark, hence, the warnings for saints to “overcome” and reject the lies of “Jezebel,” the “Nicolaitans,” and the “doctrines of Balaam.” To “eat meat offered to idols and to fornicate” is what the Great Whore, Babylon, summons mankind to do. 
  • (Revelation 11:7) - “And as soon as they completed their testimony the Beast that is to come up out of the Abyss will make war with them, and overcome them, and slay them.”
The two witnesses conduct a prophetic witness for “a thousand two hundred and sixty days.” The two are identified as “two olive trees and two lampstands.” “Lampstands” represent churches, at least if the book’s symbolism is consistent; therefore, the “two witnesses” symbolize churches engaged in prophetic witness (Revelation 1:20).

The “two olive trees” form a link to Zechariah 4:1-14 where they symbolize “two anointed ones who stand near the Lord of all the earth”, Zerubbabel, the ruler from the house of David, and Joshua, the high priest.  This explains why here there are two rather than seven “lampstands.” The two olive trees point to the Church in its role as a “kingdom of priests” (Revelation 1:6, 5:9-10, 20:6).

At the end of their ministry, the Beast that is “ascending out of the Abyss will make war against them and slay.”  This Beast cannot overcome the two witnesses until they complete their mission, then he will ascend to carry out this dastardly deeds. Thus, this “Beast” makes war on the churches, not nations.
  • (Revelation 12:7-8) - “And there came to be war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the Dragon; and the Dragon fought and his angels. And he prevailed not, neither was place found for them any longer in heaven.”
  • (Revelation 12:17) - “And the Dragon was angered against the woman and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, with those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (compare, Daniel 7:21).
In Chapter 12, “the Dragon” is expelled from heaven, no longer able to accuse the “brethren” before the throne of God. He failed to destroy the “Son” who was produced by the Woman with the moon under her feet. He also failed in his attempt to destroy the woman. Enraged, the Dragon went off to make war against the “seed of the woman,” identified as those who keep God’s commandments and have the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

Both Revelation 11:7 and 12:17 use language from Daniel 7:21 to describe the “war” waged by Satan against the saints. In Daniel, the “little horn” waged war against the “saints” and prevailed over them, saints who belonged to the “one like a Son of Man.” Thus, the same reality or “war” is in view in the effort by the Beast to slay the “two witnesses” and in the assault by the Dragon upon the woman’s “seed.” 
  • (Revelation 13:7-10) - “And it was given to it to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and there was given it authority against every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all they who are dwelling upon the earth will render homage to it, everyone whose name is not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is for captivity, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be slain with sword, with sword he is to be slain. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.”
The Beast that “ascends from the sea” is identical to the Beast seen by John “ascending from the Abyss.” His ascent follows the plan of the Dragon to wage war against the “seed” of the woman; the Dragon executes his plan through the Beast, his chief earthly agent assigned to destroy God’s people (Revelation 11:7, 13:1-10).

The Beast is let loose “to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” Once again, language from Daniel 7:21 is used. This beast makes war against “the saints.” The latter term is taken directly from the passage in Daniel. This same group is described as “those who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus,” virtually, the same words used to define the “seed of the woman” (Revelation 12:17, 13:7, 14:12).

Once again, Satan wages war against the church, not nation-states, ethnic Jews or national Israel. The language of warfare is employed metaphorically to portray the persecuting activities of the Beast. 
  • (Revelation 20:7-10) - “And as soon as the thousand years shall be ended Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and will go forth to deceive the nations that 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 came up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints, the beloved city. And fire came down out of heaven and devoured them; and the Devil who was deceiving them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where were both the Beast and the False Prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of ages.”
The preceding passage describes the last battle scene of the book.  It uses language from the portrait by Ezekiel of an invading force, the armies of “Gog and Magog,” but the language is now universalized in Revelation. Ezekiel saw regional powers attacking Israel in the promised land, but John sees all the nations of the earth attacking the “camp of the saints” throughout the world (“the four corners of the earth”).

Language from the prophecy of Ezekiel was used earlier to describe the war against the Rider on a White Horse by the Beast, the False Prophet, the “Kings of the Earth,” and their armies. The same final battle is seen in both passages (Revelation 19:17-21).

Revelation mixes its metaphors, “camp” and “city.”  Camp” is from the story of Israel portrayed as a pilgrim people wandering through the wilderness to the land of Canaan (e.g., Exodus 14:19-24, 19:16).  City” speaks of the permanent residence of Israel in the Promised Land. The language is metaphorical, not literal.  The verse does not refer to the city of Jerusalem in Palestine or to Jews camping out in the wilderness.

This is the “camp of the saints.” Elsewhere, “saints” are followers of the Lamb and persecuted victims of the Beast. They are those “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” This group is not identical with national Israel even though individual Jewish believers almost certainly are among them (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6, 18:24, 19:8).

Satan’s effort to “deceive the nations” is designed to “gather them together to the war.” This repeats a phrase seen previously. In each case, it refers not to “a war” among other wars, but to “THE war,” singular.  The same “war” is in view in each instance (Revelation 16:14 - “to gather them to the war”; Revelation 19:19 - “I saw the Beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make the war”).

The language of war is employed to portray a climactic final battle between God and the Dragon that “fought” on the earth. This plays out when the earthly agents of Satan attempt to destroy the church.  The book includes no descriptions of bloody battles between conventional armies or any military invasion of Israel. The targeted victims of the Dragon are the “saints,” the “beloved city,” that is, the Church.

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