Chip Berlet
Political Research Associates

The final battle between Satan and God is described in Revelation, the last book of the Christian New Testament.[1] This chronicle of a prophetic vision was written about 95 AD, but parts reflect prophetic elements of the book of Daniel and other Old Testament books.[2] The identity of John, the author of Revelation, is disputed, but most experts suggest it was not the same John who authored the Gospel and Epistles.[3]

The prophesies in Revelation are directed to seven Christian communities under Roman rule and primarily aimed at urging Christians to resist the demands of Roman secular authorities.[4] The basic theme is explained by a commentary in the popular Protestant NIV translation:

"the final showdown between God and Satan is imminent. Satan will increase his persecution of believers, but they must stand fast, even to death. They are sealed against any spiritual harm and will soon be vindicated when Christ returns, when the wicked are forever destroyed, and when God's people enter an eternity of glory and blessedness."[5]

Various Catholic versions put more emphasis on the ambiguous nature of the many symbols used to describe the prophecy. As one suggests, "The precise time of this victory lies hidden with God."[6] 

Many authors have analyzed Revelation's symbolic language.[7] Among devout Christians the study of the end times is called “eschatology.”[8] Here we focus on language and imagery that has been incorporated by apocalyptic movements and campaigns of demonization down to the present day.

According to Revelation, the exact order of what will happen in the apocalyptic end times is written on a scroll kept by God and sealed with seven seals.[9] As the seals are broken, dramatic events unfold causing seven years of tribulations. During some point in these tribulations, the faithful are caught up in a state of rapture, protected from harm by God--whether the faithful experience none, part, or all of the Tribulations is disputed.[10]

At the beginning of the Tribulations, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse emerge.[11] They represent a deceptive conqueror seeking power (riding a white horse); war, revolution and civil strife (riding a red horse); natural disasters causing famine (riding a black horse); and pestilence and death (riding a pale horse).[12] Plagues and disasters sweep the world signifying the day of judgment is near.[13]

But much of mankind still does not, “repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts,” and they continue to worship demons and false idols.[14] A dragon attacks Heaven, but the “great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”[15] The dragon gives power to two satanic beasts, the first from the sea, the second from the earth.[16]

The beast from the sea represents a false messiah who declares himself God.[17] The beast from the earth represents a false prophet who convinces the world to worship the image of the false messiah.[18] The beast from the sea attempts to force “everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.” The number for the beast is revealed as 666.[19] An angel, however, warns that those who accept the mark of the beast will face God's wrath and be tormented with burning sulfur forever, while those “who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus,” and refuse the mark of the beast, will be protected and saved.[20] In rejecting the false messiah and false prophet, many faithful Christians suffer terrible persecution and martyrdom.

The beast from the sea is the Antichrist, who leads a campaign to unite all nations into one world government sharing a unified religion. He controls earth as a global leader for 42 months.[21] During this time he attempts to trick the faithful and subvert God's authority.  Three frog-like demons pop out of the mouth of a satanic dragon and provoke a huge battle (involving forces from Gog and Magog) at a site in the middle east known as Armageddon.[22] There the treacherous Antichrist and his false prophet are revealed as representing Satan. God punishes those who followed the Antichrist, especially those in Babylon, pictured as a great cosmopolitan city which symbolizes all that is evil and depraved. Babylon is smashed into three pieces and destroyed along with other corrupted cities.[23]

A satanic beast re-appears ridden by a woman dressed in purple and scarlet. She wears a title: “Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Mother of Prostitutes, and of the Abominations of the Earth.” This whore of Babylon has drunk the blood of the saints, committed adultery with the corrupt rulers, and indulged in excessive luxuries.[24] This satanic beast is revealed as representing the false religion of the Antichrist that had been acclaimed by religious and political leaders. These leaders, who have tried to subvert and betray the faithful, receive vividly-described punishment.[25] God triumphs over the beast, and punishes those who have refused to repent, especially merchants in the cities who have profited from those who followed the Antichrist.[26]

After the Antichrist and the false prophet have been exposed as being satanic, the forces of evil have been defeated, Babylon has fallen, and the unfaithful punished, then the faithful Christians reign in peace and abundance for a thousand years. Whether Christ returns at the beginning or the end of the millennial reign is disputed.[27]

At the end of the thousand years, Satan makes a last attempt to “deceive the nations,” but is cast down into the same lake of “burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.”[28] Then the dead are judged, and the sinful of Hades are cast down into Hell, the burning lake of fire, forever.[29] The faithful dwell eternally with God in the new Jerusalem.[30]

= = =

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984); Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishers.

[1]  In Protestantism the text has been called the book of "Revelation," New International Version of the Holy Bible [Protestant "NIV" version] (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984 (1973)); and "The Revelation of St. John the Divine," The Holy Bible: King James Version (Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers, 1986). In Catholicism, it has been called "The Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle," New Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Edition, (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1957); and "The Revelation to John," The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

[2] Lamy, Millennium Rage, p.36.

[3] Lamy, Millennium Rage, p.37.

[4] Catholic Study Bible, commentary on Revelation, p. 399. Pagels, The Origin of Satan, pp. 112-149.

[5] New International Version of the Holy Bible, (NIV), preface to Revelation, p. 1698.

[6] New Catholic Edition Bible, "The Apocalypse," Editors' introductory explanation of theme and message, p. 324.

[7] Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, pp. 27-30; Lamy, Millennium Rage, pp. 32-36; David Cantor, The Religious Right, New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1994), pp. 151-153.

[8] The exact order of the events in the end times is hotly contested, especially among fundamentalist Christians.

[9] Revelation, 5:1-5.

[10] According to competing interpretation based on other Biblical sources. Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, pp. 6-7; Diamond, Spiritual Warfare, pp. 130-138, 240; Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), pp. 82-84, 213. The basic positions are called pre-tribulationist and post-tribulationist.

[11] Revelation, 6:1-7.

[12]  What each horseman represents varies by translation and interpretation. From the King James version comes the phrase, “behold a pale horse.” In the Catholic versions it is a pale green horse, signifying the color of death. Some argue that the rider on the White horse is Christ rendering judgment against the unfaithful, others, such as Billy Graham, argue the rider is Satanic. See Billy Graham, Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Minneapolis, MN: Grayson, 1983), p. 78.

[13] Revelation, 8-11.

[14] Revelation, 9:18-21.

[15] Revelation, 12:7-9.

[16] Revelation, 13:1-13. Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, pp. 30-31. The identity of the two beasts involves Satan, the Antichrist, a false messiah, a false prophet, and a global ruler, in a variety of disputed combinations. We offer one possible simplified interpretation.

[17] Almost certainly representing the Roman emperors who claimed divinity.

[18] Revelation, 13: 4, 11-15.

[19] Revelation, 13: 16-18.

[20] Revelation, 14: 1-13.

[21] Revelation, 13: 5.

[22] Revelation, 16: 12-16.

[23] Revelation, 16: 17-19, 18: 1-3. Babylon is used as a symbolic name for a sinful Rome and the emperor who claims to be a god.

[24] Revelation, 17.

[25] Revelation, 17-18.

[26] Revelation, 18.

[27] Revelation, 20-22. Whether Christ returns at the beginning or the end of this thousand year period is disputed among pre-millennialists and post-millennialists. Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, pp. 6-7. George Marsden,  Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1991.), pp. 40, 112-114; Diamond, Spiritual Warfare, pp. 130-138, 240; Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right, p. 75-79, 104-105, 213.

[28] Revelation, 20: 7-10.

[29] Revelation, 20: 11-15.

[30] Revelation, 21.

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