In Revelation, the language of “war” is used metaphorically to portray the attacks of the “beast” against the saints – Revelation 11:7.
The Book of Revelation uses the language and imagery of war to illustrate the efforts by Satan and his earthly vassals to destroy the followers of the “Lamb.” The book shows no interest in conventional or nuclear warfare between nation-states; instead, the “Dragon” works nonstop to annihilate the church before his allotted time expires. To achieve victory over believers, he uses deception, compromise, and persecution.
The references to “war” employ the Greek verb polemeō and its noun form, polemos. For example, both words are used to describe the cosmic battle in chapter 12, when “war (polemos) arose in heaven” between the “Dragon and his angels” and “Michael and his angels.” Having been expelled from the courts of heaven, Satan wages brutal combat against those who have the “testimony of Jesus.” The “battles” are waged between Satan and the “Lamb” through their respective earthly followers.
Most relevant are the battle scenes that describe a final assault against the church by Satan prior to the end of the age. In the interim, the cosmic battles between the “Lamb” and the “Dragon” manifest in the daily lives of Christians in false teachings and deceivers that infiltrate the church, and often through outright persecution. However, a day is coming when the Devil will assemble all his forces in a 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.”
The preceding is the first passage where the “beast” appears, as he “ascends from the Abyss” to destroy the “two witnesses.” The Greek verb rendered “overcome” or nikaō means “conquer; to overcome.” It is the same verb found in the letters to the seven churches in the several exhortations for believers “to overcome.” The ascent of the “beast” results in its “victory” over the “witnesses.” However, it will not be released to kill them until they have “completed” their prophetic “testimony.”
The “two witnesses” are not two individuals. They are identified as the “two lamp-stands,” and in Revelation, “lamp-stands” represent churches. The “war” against them represents the persecution of the church. Although the “beast overcomes” and kills them, it proves to be a hollow victory, one quickly overturned by the intervention of God when the seventh trumpet sounds – (Revelation 11:15-19).
In chapter 12, Satan was defeated and cast out of heaven. Enraged, he descended to the earth to “make war” with the “seed” of the woman – “those who are keeping the commandments of God and who have the testimony of Jesus” – (Revelation 12:12-17).
The same two Greek words are used from chapter 11 for the “war” against the “two witnesses.” The same reality is in view, though from different perspectives. As before, the forces of Satan wage “war” on the followers of the “Lamb” (“who have the testimony of Jesus”), and not against other nation-states.
Next, John saw the “beast ascending from the sea,” an image parallel to the “beast that was ascending from the Abyss.” The same event is in view. Rather than resist the “beast,” the “inhabitants of the earth” are overawed by its irresistible power and exclaim, “Who is like the Beast and who can make war with it?” No resistance or revolt is raised against it – (Revelation 13:1-4).
After receiving the authority of the “Dragon,” the “beast” launches its “military campaign,” against the “saints,” NOT against other nations or armies. Moreover, it “overcomes (nikésai) them,” that is, it slays the “saints.” However, it can only do so when and within the limits authorized by the “Lamb” – (“It was given to the Beast…”).
The same language used for the “war” against the “two witnesses” and the “woman’s seed” is now employed in chapter 13. Once again, the same reality is in view. All three passages allude to a key passage from the book of Daniel:
- (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.”
- (Revelation 13:7-10) – “And it was given to it to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given to him authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all the inhabitants of the earth shall render homage to it, every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that has been slain.If any man has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is for captivity, into captivity he goes.If anyone must be killed with the sword, with the sword he is killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”
Just as the “beast from the Abyss” attacked the “two witnesses,” so now the “beast from the sea” attacks “the saints.” Elsewhere, the term “saints” refers to the men and women who follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” those who do not render homage to the “beast” or take its “mark” – (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).
The “war” by the “beast” 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).
Thus, the battle scenes in Revelation are not literal wars between nation-states, but instead, 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, with their struggles against false teachers, false prophets, deception, and occasional persecution.
From its inception, persecution, and deceivers have been common realities in the life of the church. Revelation exposes the true source of Christian suffering and provides insight into the opposition experienced daily by the saints of God.
Revelation does foresee a final assault against the Church prior to the return of Jesus, a “battle” it portrays in several ways using language from the Old Testament. This final assault by the “Dragon” will cause the “Lamb” to intervene, destroy his enemies, and deliver his people into the coming age and the New Creation, the so-called “battle of Armageddon.”