The battle scenes that are recounted in the Book of Revelation are truly spectacular.
One is a battle in the heavens themselves:
Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it (Revelation 12:7-9).
Then there is Armageddon itself:
Then I saw the heavens opened, and there was a white horse; its rider was called “Faithful and True.” He judges and wages war in righteousness. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and on his head were many diadems. He had a name inscribed that no one knows except himself. He wore a cloak that had been dipped in blood, and his name was called the Word of God. The armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses and wearing clean white linen. Out of his mouth came a sharp sword to strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he himself will tread out in the wine press the wine of the fury and wrath of God the almighty (Revelation 19:11-15).
All this has the feel of theological epic: as readers we sense we are on the outside looking in on these extraordinary events. But the above accounts do more than inform and inspire us. They are a call to battle. Indeed, in a way, Revelation is a summons to spiritual battle.
This is evident in the earliest chapters—easy to overlook as these are letters to contemporary churches. But listen to their language about the life of faith and final salvation:
Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I will give the right to eat from the tree of life that is in the garden of God (Revelation 2:7).
Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor shall not be harmed by the second death (Revelation 2:11).
Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17).
The word translated as victor here is the Greek nikaó (pronounced: nik-ah’-o). It means to conquer, prevail, or overcome either on the battlefield or in an athletic contest. In all three above verses the verb is in the present tense and active voice—meaning that the battle to which we are called begins now and is one we must actively wage.
For the Ephesians, it is perseverance in the works of love (Revelation 2:4-5; a similar exhortation is addressed to the Sardinians in Revelation 3:2). The Christians at Smyrna and Philadelphia are encouraged to remain faithful to death amid trial and persecution (Revelation 2:10 and 3:8-10). Those at Pergamum and Thyatira are scolded to repent from the idolatrous practices of the surrounding pagan culture (Revelation 2:14-16 and 2:20-22).
Finally, the Laodiceans are condemned for outwardly practicing good works but lacking the fervor of faith (Revelation 3:14-22).
Faith, love, good works, and devotion to God alone—these are all things we should do now.
But are we making too much of a leap to connect these early chapters with the drama that occurs later?
It seems not. Not only does the warlike language of the victor tip us off, but the way Christ is depicted in his addresses to these early Christians foreshadows how He appears at Armageddon.
In Revelation 3:14 Christ is called the “faithful and true witness”—a title which He also wields in 19:11. In Revelation 2:12 and 16 Christ the Judge has a sword coming out of His mouth. This peculiar characteristic recurs in 19:15. Again, in Revelation 2:18 the Son of God is said to have eyes “like a fiery flame” just as He does in 19:12.
The two sections seem deeply interconnected: the spiritual battle in which we are now engaged will eventually be consummated in the Armageddon envisioned in Revelation. (The description there is primarily a symbolic one, though there certainly will be a very real destruction of evil in the end of the end times.)
After each of these battles, not a single victor stands—but many. It’s not the assembly of angels, but Christians, as the context and content of these passages make clear. For example, here is one victory scene from Revelation 15:
Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire. On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory over the beast and its image and the number that signified its name. They were holding God’s harps (verse 2).
One nineteenth century commentator says this verse shows us that victory over evil is possible:
That victory is possible. The Apocalypse shows us that there are two opposing Powers—
this said ‘beast’ on the one side, and ‘the Lamb’ on the other. In the Seer’s vision these two divide the world between them. That is to say, Jesus Christ has conquered the bestial tendencies of our nature, the selfish godlessness which is apt to cast its spells and weave its chains over us all. The Warrior-Lamb, singular and incongruous as the combination sounds, is the Victor. He conquers because He is the Lamb of sacrifice; He conquers because He is the Lamb of innocence; He conquers because He is the Lamb of meekness, the gentle and, therefore, the all-victorious. By Christ we conquer. Through faith, which lays hold on His power and victory, we too may conquer. ‘This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith’ (MacLauren’s Expositions).
From the very beginning, Revelation throbs with a sense of urgency and heightened alertness. The third verse of the whole book declares: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near.”
Revelation calls Christians to battle. Because, believe it or not, a spiritual Armageddon is already upon us.
image: Fra Angelico (circa 1395–1455) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons