In Revelation, the church is the battlefield where the final battle is being waged between the Lamb and the “Ancient Serpent,” Satan.
The book of Revelation was sent to seven first-century churches in the province of Asia to address their real-life trials and tribulations. But in the process, it presents messages relevant to all churches throughout the present age. Their daily struggles were a microcosm of the cosmic battle that is being waged even now between Jesus and the “Dragon.”
Every man and woman who “hears” the book’s message is pronounced “blessed,” for the “season is at hand,” which alludes to the passage in Daniel where the prophet was commanded, “to seal the scroll until the season of the end.” In contrast, John was commanded NOT to seal the book, “for the season is at hand.” What for Daniel was in a distant future had become all too real for the “churches of Asia” – (Daniel 12:4, Revelation 1:3, 22:10).
This reflects the New Testament teaching that history’s final era, the “last days,” began with the Death, Resurrection, and Exaltation of Jesus. The question is not, ‘Are we in the “last days”?’ We are and have been for generations, as counterintuitive as that is. We are the ones upon whom the “ends of the ages have arrived.”
Satan, sin, and death were defeated decisively on Calvary. Following his resurrection, Jesus was exalted and began to reign “at the right hand of God,” and poured out the Spirit to empower his church to proclaim the “kingdom” throughout the earth. The gift of the Spirit is irrefutable proof that the “last days” are underway – (Acts 2:17-21, Hebrews 1:1-3).
In Revelation, the church is labeled “saints,” the “servants of God,” the “seed of the woman,” the “kingdom of priests,” “brethren,” and the people who “have the testimony of Jesus,” “keep the faith of Jesus,” and have “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” What determines membership in this company is identification with the “slain Lamb,” both one’s allegiance to and emulation of him.
The book is addressed to the “servants of God,” identified in the prologue as members of the “seven churches of Asia.” They have been “loosed from their sins” by the blood of Jesus, and thereby, have been constituted a “kingdom of priests.” The latter phrase is from Exodus when Yahweh summoned Israel to the same mission. But she failed in that task, which has now fallen to the churches – (Exodus 19:4-6).
When the nationality of God’s people is revealed, they are identified as the men and women who have been redeemed by Jesus from “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” – The redeemed people of God is identified by its association with Jesus – (Revelation 5:8-10, 7:9-17).
The Great Adversary of the “Lamb” and his people is the “Great Red Dragon,” that “Ancient Serpent” who is called the “Devil and Satan,” the one who is “deceiving the inhabitants of the earth.” Having failed to destroy the “son,” he was expelled from the heavenly courtroom, and now, through his earthly vassals, he “wages war” against Christ’s people on the earth – (Revelation 12:8-17).
Thus, for example, the Devil’s war against the “woman’s seed” plays out on the earth as the “beast” is granted authority to “make war against the saints and to overcome them”; that is, he kills them. In Revelation, martyrdom is neither unexpected nor defeat. Satanic forces can only attack the “saints” when authorized to do so, for the “Lamb” who now “sits on the throne” remains in firm control. And the “saints” are those “that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” It is their identification with the “slain Lamb” that enrages the “Dragon” – (Revelation 12:17, 13:6-10, 14:12).
In the end, the “beast” and the “kings of the earth” unite to wage a final “war” against the “Lamb.” In describing the battle, John uses language from Ezekiel’s vision of “Gog and Magog.” But in Revelation, the attacking force consists of the nations from the “four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog…and they ascended over the breadth of the earth and encompassed the camp of the saints.” This describes the final worldwide assault against the church, Satan’s last-ditch effort to annihilate the “saints” – (Revelation 16:2-16, 17:14, 19:11-21, 20:7-10).
These cosmic battles portrayed so graphically play out in the daily struggles of the churches. The evidence for this is in the letters to the “seven churches of Asia.” For example, the church at Pergamos lives in the shadow of “Satan’s throne.”
The saints in Smyrna are under assault from members of the “synagogue of Satan.” Though local magistrates throw some members “into prison,” Jesus lays the blame squarely on Satan (“The devil is about to cast some of you into prison”). Members of the church in Thyatira are being deceived by “Jezebel,” a surrogate and agent for the “Great Harlot, Babylon” who teaches the “deep things of Satan.”
The churches battle with “false apostles,” compromise, apathy, the “Nicolaitans,” the adherents of the “teachings of Balaam,” persecution, and so on, all attempts by the “Dragon” to deceive and derail believers. His war is with the “Lamb.” However, he cannot attack Jesus directly, so, at every opportunity, he seeks to destroy his people.
None of this is to say that the visions of Revelation amount to little more than allegories intended to teach Christians how to live. The temptations, sufferings, and persecutions endured by the “churches of Asia” were all too real, just as has been the case with Christians throughout the present age.
The attacks by the “Dragon” are deadly serious and have eternal consequences. And the book does consummate in the final assault against God’s people, the final judgment of the wicked, and the everlasting rewards for faithful believers. But when we focus only or primarily on the end of the book, we lose sight of its relevancy for every Christian, including on this very day.
Nor does Revelation picture believers as mere pawns, for now, stuck between two great warring powers. It is the “Lamb” who has redeemed them “by his blood,” and the same “Lamb” who will vindicate them in the end. Already they have been “loosed from their sins”; already they are a “kingdom of priests” that is “reigning on the earth.” Our final victory over sin, Satan, and death is a foregone conclusion.
In the interim, Jesus summons us to “overcome,” and thereby, we qualify to reign with him and partake of the glories of “New Jerusalem.” And we do this through “perseverance,” faithful “testimony,” by recognizing and rejecting the lies of the Devil, understanding the true nature of our struggle, and emulating the self-sacrificial service of the “slain Lamb.” As Revelation puts it, the “brethren overcame the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives unto death.”
And by recognizing just “who” and “when” we are, we learn how to live in the present, for we are the people of God and live now in the “last days.” Already, the present age and its institutions are in the process of “passing away” – They will not endure forever, and we must live accordingly.
Both individually and corporately, we are “caught between the ages,” living in the old fallen age while also citizens of the coming “New Jerusalem.” In the meantime, we perform our “priestly” functions by proclaiming the “kingdom of God” to everyone who will hear, and otherwise, mediating His light in the world.
Without this eschatological perspective, Christianity becomes little more than another moralizing religion, or it devolves into a creation-denigrating philosophy that seeks escape from, rather than the redemption of, humanity and the world.