SYNOPSIS – Does Revelation portray several final “battles of Armageddon,” or the same battle seen from different perspectives?
The book of Revelation presents three “final battles” with each based in part on the prophecy by the prophet Ezekiel about an invasion by “Gog and Magog.” Specifically, the three “wars” pictured in the “sixth bowl of wrath,” the victory of the “Rider on a White Horse,” and the attack against the “camp of the saints” after Satan is released from the “Abyss.” Does Revelation describe multiple battles, or is the same “war” in view each time, only perhaps from different perspectives?
In Chapter 11 of the book, two prophetic figures, the “Two Witnesses,” prophesy to the world. The two figures are identified as “two lampstands,” which means they symbolize churches. After completing their prophetic mission, the “Beast that ascended from the Abyss” will “make war” (poiései..polemon) against them, and “slay them” – (Revelation 11:4-7).
In Chapter 12, Satan, the “Great Dragon, the Ancient Serpent, the Devil and Satan who deceives the whole habitable earth,” was defeated and “cast to the earth.” Enraged and knowing he had only “a short season,” he attempted to destroy the Woman who had given birth to the messianic “Son.” However, God protected her. Enraged further, the Devil “made war (poiésai polemon) with the rest of her seed.” Afterward, he appeared standing “on the sand of the sea” as he summoned his “seed,” the “Beast from the Sea” – (Revelation 12:17).
In Chapter 13, John saw the “Beast ascending out of the sea.” The whole earth rendered homage to it, declaring, “Who is able to make war with it?” In Verse 7, the text states, “it was given to him to make war (poiésai polemon) with the saints and to overcome them.” In the Greek text, the same verb and infinitive are used for “make war” as in Revelation 12:17 (poiésai polemon).
In all three of the preceding passages, the vision of a “war” against the servants of God utilized language from the same verse from the book of Daniel:
(Daniel 7:19-21) – “Then desired I to be sure concerning the fourth wild beast, which was diverse from all of them,—exceeding terrible, whose teeth were iron, and his claws of bronze, he devoured, brake in pieces, and the residue—with his feet he trampled down; also concerning the ten horns, which were in his head, and the other, which came up and there fell—from among them that were before it—three,—and this horn which had eyes and a mouth speaking great things, and his look was more proud than his fellows: I continued looking, when this horn made war with the holy ones,—and prevailed against them” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In Chapter 16, the contents of the “sixth bowl of wrath” prepared the way for the “kings of the east.” Three demons from the mouths of the “Dragon,” the “Beast,” and the “False Prophet” performed signs “to gather together for the war the kings of the whole habitable earth.” The phrase – “Gathered them together for the war” – translates the Greek clause sunagagein autous eis ton polemon. Furthermore, the clause rendered “the war” has a definite article or “the” – A specific war, singular, is in view.
This is the “great day of God the Almighty” – The same “day of the Lord” portrayed in the “sixth seal” opening and the sounding of the “seventh trumpet.” At this point, the words of Jesus are inserted into the narrative – “Behold, I am coming like a thief.” Thus, the battle is linked to his future coming at the end of the age. The “kings of the earth and their armies” are “gathered” to a place called “Armageddon” or “mountain of Megiddo.”
The geography is not literal. This is indicated by the reference to a “mountain.” Megiddo is a plain with no mountain and, in Scripture, is called the “valley of Megiddo.”
“Gathering together” – The term itself is derived from the Greek Septuagint version of the battle of “Gog and Magog” – (Ezekiel 38:1-4, 38:7-8, 38:12-13).
In Chapter 19, another “war” is then described, again using the language from Ezekiel’s prophecy about the attack by “Gog and Magog.” Note the verbal parallels:
(Revelation 19:17-21) – “And I saw one angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice saying to all the birds that fly in 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 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 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 Beast and them who were doing homage unto his image, alive were they two cast into the lake of fire that burns 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.”
(Ezekiel 38:3-7) – “Thus saith My Lord Yahweh,— Behold me! against thee O Gog, Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal; Therefore I will turn thee about and will put hooks in thy jaws,—and bring thee forth and all thine army…Be ready, and show thyself ready, Thou and all thy gathered host who have gathered themselves unto thee.”
(Ezekiel 39:17-20) – “As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: ‘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 GOD.”
There is a further verbal allusion to prophecy of Ezekiel when the “Beast and the False Prophet are cast alive into the lake of fire (puros), the one that burns with brimstone (theiō).” Likewise, in Ezekiel 38:21-22, God destroyed “Gog” and his armies when he rained down “fire and brimstone” upon them (pur kai theion).
The scene described with the language from the attack by “Gog and Magog” against Israel is now applied to the war against the “Lamb” and his “army,” the saints. In Chapter 19, the “army” opposed to Jesus is destroyed, and the “Beast and False Prophet” are cast “alive into the Lake of fire that burns with brimstone.” Similarly, in Ezekiel, “Gog and Magog” and their allies were destroyed when Yahweh rained “fire and brimstone” upon them – (Revelation 19:20).
In Chapter 20, Satan is released from the Abyss to “to deceive the nations that are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.” The force of “Gog and Magog” first described in the book of Ezekiel is explicitly named. As in the earlier “war,” the text alludes to the invasion of Israel by “Gog and Magog” described in Ezekiel.
The Greek clause rendered “gather them together for the war” in Chapter 20 is the same one used previously in the “sixth bowl” of wrath, the battle of “Armageddon” (sunagagein autous eis ton polemon). Furthermore, in both passages, it is not “a war” but “the war.” The use of a definite article indicates that a very specific event is in view.
Satan and his horde “ascended over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints.” The Greek rendered “ascend” – anabainō – is the same one applied to the “ascent of the Beast from the Abyss,” and to the “Beast ascending from the sea.” In both instances, the “Beast ascends” to attack the “saints.”
The clause translated “ascended over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints” alludes again to the passage from Ezekiel:
(Ezekiel 38:15-16) – “You will come out of your place out of the remote parts of the north, you and many peoples with you…a mighty gathered host, yea, a great army. Therefore, you will come up against my people Israel like a cloud covering the land.”
However, rather than invade ancient Israel from the north, “Gog and Magog” are gathered from the four corners of the earth.
This force swarms over the entire earth, not just the “mountains of Israel.” It consists of all the nations of the earth, not just several nations to the north of Palestine. It attacks the “camp of the saints,” a phrase that echoes the story of Israel encamped in the “wilderness” on its way to the Promised Land. And additional language is borrowed from Ezekiel – “Fire came down out of heaven and devoured” the horde of “Gog and Magog” – (“Fire and brimstone will I rain upon him and upon his hordes and upon the many peoples that are with him”).
The verbal links between the preceding passages are too numerous to be coincidental. Their reliance on language from Ezekiel demonstrates that the same battle is in view in all three passages. Either that, or the book of Revelation presents us with three distinct “final” battles of Armageddon. If so, which one is the final “final” one?