In Revelation, the language of “war” is used metaphorically to portray the attacks of the “beast” against the saints.
The book of Revelation uses “war” and related terms to illustrate Satan’s attacks against the followers of the “Lamb.” It shows no interest in conventional or nuclear warfare between nation-states. Instead, the “Dragon” strives mightily to annihilate the church before his allotted time expires, and, to do so, he employs deception, compromise, and persecution.
References to “war” employ the Greek verb polemeō and its noun form, polemos. Both are applied to the cosmic battle in chapter 12 when “war (polemos) arose in heaven” between the “Dragon and his angels” and “Michael and his angels.”
Expelled from heaven, Satan wages brutal combat against those who have the “testimony of Jesus.” The “battles” are fought between Satan and the “Lamb” through their respective earthly followers – (Revelation 12:1-17).
The war between Jesus and the “Dragon” manifests in the daily lives of Christians as they struggle against deceivers within the church, and additionally, they often endure persecution.
And the day is coming when the Devil will assemble all his forces in one last-ditch effort to destroy the people of God.
- (Revelation 11:7) – “And as soon as they have completed their testimony, the beast that is to ascend out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them, and slay them.”
BEAST FROM THE ABYSS
The “beast” first appears “ascending from the Abyss” to destroy the “two witnesses.” The Greek verb rendered “overcome” or nikaō means to “conquer, overcome.” It is the same verb found in the letters to the seven churches in the several exhortations for believers “to overcome.”
Its ascent results in its “victory” over the “two witnesses.” However, the “beast” will not be unleashed to kill them until they have “completed” their prophetic “testimony.”
The “two witnesses” are not two individuals, but “two lampstands.” In Revelation, “lamp-stands” represent churches. The “war” against them represents the persecution of the church by the “beast.” Although it “overcomes” and kills them, that will be a hollow victory, one quickly overturned by the intervention of God when the seventh trumpet sounds – (Revelation 1:20, 11:15-19).
In chapter 12, Satan is defeated and cast out of heaven. Enraged, he descends to the earth to “make war” with “those who are keeping the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus.”
The same reality is in view that is portrayed in chapter 11, though from a different perspective. As before, the forces of Satan wage “war” on the followers of the “Lamb” (“those who have the testimony of Jesus”), not against other nation-states – (Revelation 12:12-17).
BEAST FROM THE SEA
Next, John sees the “beast ascending from the sea,” an image parallel to the “beast ascending from the Abyss.” Once again, the same events are in view.
Rather than resist the “beast,” the “inhabitants of the earth” are overawed by its irresistible power – “Who is like the Beast and who can make war with it?” No resistance or revolt is raised against it by the nations of the earth – (Revelation 13:1-4).
After receiving the authority of the “Dragon,” the “beast” launches its “military campaign” against the “saints.”Moreover, it “overcomes (nikésai) them,” that is, it kills the “saints.” However, it can only do so when and within the limits authorized by the “Lamb” – (“It was given to the Beast” – Revelation 13:7).
The same term for “war” found in chapters 11 and 12 is employed in chapter 13 when the “beast wages WAR on the saints.” All three passages allude to the same verse in the book of Daniel describing the attack on the saints by the “little horn”:
- (Daniel 7:21) – “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.”
Just as the “beast from the Abyss” attacked the “two witnesses,” so the “beast from the sea” makes war on “the saints.” Elsewhere, the term “saints” refers to men who follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” those who refuse to bow to the “beast” and have the “testimony of Jesus” – (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6, 18:20-24, 19:8, 20:6-9).
This “war” results in the “captivity” and death of the “saints.” The violent assault is described as the “perseverance and the faith of the saints” – (Compare – Revelation 1:9, 2:2-3, 2:19, 3:10, 14:12).
The battle scenes in Revelation are not literal descriptions of wars fought between nation-states, but assaults by Satan and his minions against the people of the “Lamb.” The cosmic battles in the heavens manifest in the daily lives of Christians as they struggle with false teachers, false prophets, deception, and persecution.
From its inception, persecution and deceivers have been common realities in the life of the church. The visions of Revelation expose the true source of Christian suffering and provide insight into the opposition experienced in the daily lives of the “saints.”
The bookdoes foresee the final assault by Satan against the Church prior to the final judgment, a “war” it portrays in several ways with language from the book of Daniel. That assault will cause the “Lamb” to intervene by destroying his enemies and delivering his people into the coming New Creation, the city of “New Jerusalem.”