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24 March 2020

Victims of the Beast

SYNOPSISThe Dragon and its earthly agents wage war” on the saints of the Lamb, the Church, not against national and ethnic groups.

By Johannes Plenio on 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 the Devil is the driving force behind the assaults on the “saints,” his earthly vassals execute each attack, especially by the “Beast from the sea,” the “False Prophet,” and the “Great Harlot, Babylon.” Consistently, the victims of the “Dragon” and its earthly agents are the men and women who follow the Lamb and have “his testimony” (Revelation 11:713:1-10, 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 political and military power that wages war against anyone nation that refuses to render total allegiance to it (Revelation 13:7-10, 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:8-10).

In its entirety, the book is addressed to the 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 first-century congregations in Asia, or that the events of their day exhaust its significance.  There were more than seven churches in Asia in the first century and Revelation uses the number seven symbolically for completeness.  The seven churches represent a larger reality, although they remain a part of it (Revelation 1:41:11).

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, however, the bigger threats were 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 2:8-133:9).

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

The messages of the seven letters 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 and carry its “mark.”  There is no middle ground - One either has the seal of God or takes the “mark of the Beast” (Revelation 3:10, 6:10, 7:1-4, 8:13, 14:1-520:4).

Photo by Harry Miller on Unsplash
Photo by Harry Miller on Unsplash

Individual men and women can change sides. A member of the “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” engaged in 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 1:65:9-1020:6).

At the end of their ministry, the “Beast that will ascend out of the Abyss will make war against them and slay them.”  This “Beast” cannot overcome the two witnesses until they have completed their mission, then he ascends to carry out this dastardly deed. Thus, this “Beast from the Abyss” 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 and no longer able to accuse the “brethren” before the throne of God. He failed to destroy the messianic “Son” who was produced by the “Woman Clothed with the Sun.” He also failed to destroy the woman. Enraged, the “Dragon” went off to make war against the “seed of the woman,” identified as those who keep the “commandments of God 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 that “ascends from the Abyss.” His ascent follows the plan of the “Dragon” to wage war against the “seed” of the woman – He executes his plan through the “Beast,” his chief earthly agent assigned to destroy God’s people (Revelation 11:7, 13:1-10).

Remote Church - Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash
Ricardo Angel on Unsplash

The “Beast” is released “TO MAKE WAR with the saints and TO OVERCOME THEM.” Once again, language from Daniel 7:21 is applied. This “Beast” makes war against “the saints and overcomes them.” The latter clause is taken directly from the passage in the book of Daniel. The same group of “saints” is described also 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 against national Israel. The language of warfare is employed metaphorically to portray the persecuting activities of the Beast aimed at the followers of the Lamb.

  • (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 in the book of Ezekiel of an invading force, the armies of “Gog and Magog,” but the language is universalized in Revelation. The prophet Ezekiel saw regional powers attacking Israel in the promised land. In contrast, 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 portrayed in both passages but with differing details (Revelation 19:17-21).

The book of 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.  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” – They have the “testimony of Jesus” by which they overcome the “Dragon.” This group is not identical with national Israel even though individual Jewish believers are certainly 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 is “fought” on the earth. It 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 of any military invasion of Palestine. The targeted victims of the “Dragon” are the “saints,” the “beloved city,” that is, the Church, beginning with the seven churches of Asia.

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