Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (28): The Final Attack on the Remnant

Rev 12:17 serves as a summary introduction to Revelation’s portrayal of a great final crisis at the conclusion of earth’s history. It indicates that there are two sides in the final conflict, represented by the dragon, on the one hand, and the remnant on the other. But the dragon does not immediately act on his anger. Instead he “went away” to make war. Why? Because he was frustrated by repeated failures in the course of apocalyptic history. He was not strong enough to last in heaven (Rev 12:8), he failed to destroy the man-child of the woman (Rev 12:3-5), and he failed to destroy the woman herself (Rev 12:16). Because of his repeated failures he realizes he doesn’t have the strength to defeat God’s purposes by himself, so he decides to enter the final conflict with allies, a beast from the sea and a beast from the earth (Rev 13:1-18). The remnant are ultimately, therefore, faced with three opponents: 1) the dragon; 2) the sea beast, and 3) the land beast.

In the book of Revelation, God is often spoken of in three’s–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Rev 1:4-5). So the dragon, the sea beast and the land beast in Revelation 13 would seem to be a counterfeit of the holy three, an alternative to the true Godhead. These texts indicate that there is to be a great, final world-wide deception where a counterfeit “trinity” stands in the place of the true God. The purpose of the counterfeit is to deceive the world.

Rev 12:17 summarizes the final stage of earth’s history in a nutshell, the rest of the book of Revelation elaborates on that summary introduction. Rev 13, for example, outlines in more detail the dragon’s war against the remnant of the woman’s seed (Rev 12:17). Linguistically this occurs in two great stages signaled by the Greek tenses in relation to the final attack of Rev 12:17. Two beasts (from the sea and the earth) are each given “character introductions” in past tense (Rev 13:1-7; 13:11). These past-tense portions begin with a visual description of each character followed by an account of that character’s subsequent actions. Being in the past tense, these actions would seem to have occurred prior to the dragon’s final war against the remnant.

In each scene the Greek of Rev 13 then moves from description in the past to a mixture of present and future tenses (Rev 13:8-10; 13:12-18), describing the actions of these two beasts in the context of the final attack of Rev 12:17. So two stages of history are clearly marked off by the Greek tenses signaling events prior to the dragon’s war (past tenses) and an elaboration of the events of the war itself (present and future tenses). Beale has noted that Rev 13 is parallel in time with 12:13-17, which coheres with the Adventist position described here.

There is one further passage in Revelation which speaks to this end-time deception, Rev 16:13-16, the famous Battle of Armageddon passage. Here the counterfeit trinity of Rev 13 uses demonic spirits that look like frogs to gather the kings of earth for the final battle. Since frogs were the last plague that the magicians of ancient Egypt were able to counterfeit (see Exod 7:18-19 in context), the use of frogs as a symbol here signals that the message of Revelation 16 has to do with the last deception of earth’s history.

The three frogs are the demonic counterparts of the three God-sent angels of Rev 14:6-12. Both groups of angels have a mission to the whole world (Rev 14:6; 16:14), one trio calling the world to worship God, and the other seeking to gather the people of the world into the service of the unholy trinity. The final showdown takes place at “Armageddon” (Rev 16:16).

My work on the “Armageddon” article for the Anchor Bible Dictionary led me to the conclusion that the best way to understand the word Armageddon, in the light of the Biblical evidence, is as the Greek form of a couple of Hebrew words that mean “Mountain of Meggido.” Meggido was a city on a small elevation at the edge of the Plain of Jezreel. Looming over the place where the city of Megiddo was, however, is a range of mountains called Carmel.

What counts for Revelation is that Mount Carmel was the place where the great Old Testament showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal took place (1 Kings 18:16-46). On that occasion God answered Elijah’s prayer to bring fire down from heaven onto an altar in order to prove that Yahweh was the true God, not Baal.

According to Revelation, the Mount Carmel experience will be repeated at the End. Once again there will be a showdown between the true God and a devious counterfeit. But it will be different this time. At the End the fire that comes down falls from heaven will fall on the wrong altar. It will be the counterfeit Elijah and the counterfeit three angels who bring fire down from heaven to earth (Rev 13:13,14). On that day all the evidence of the five senses will suggest that the counterfeit trinity is the true God. Adventists see themselves as the “church of the remnant” whose recognition of the realities described in these prophecies enables them to help prepare their fellow Christians and others for the unique challenges of the last days.

Revelation 12, therefore, clearly demonstrates the successive stages of prophetic history that are characteristic of the historical type of apocalyptic found in Daniel 2 and 7. Observing carefully the markers in the text, the author’s use of character introductions and way the Old Testament is utilized, we have detected three stages of Christian history running from the time of Jesus and the John to the end of all things. When we note that at least two of the main characters in the chapter were active in the time before the birth of Jesus (which we will call below Stage Zero), there are a total of four successive stages of apocalyptic history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.