The three angels' messages, the mark of the beast, and the great war against truth depicted in the latter part of Revelation 13 describe the last great struggle between truth and error. This controversy has involved every person who has ever lived. Each actor in history stands in his lot and place, for God's great work after His own plan will be carried out by men who have prepared themselves to fill positions for good or for evil.
For nearly six thousand years the conflict has ebbed and flowed. At times it has seemed that error would surely prevail, bearing down before it all that is right and good; but through all the play and counterplay of human interests and passions, God has worked His will.
The final battle of this great controversy, the point towards which all events have been tending, is the battle of Armageddon. "And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty." Revelation 16:13, 14
As is revealed in Revelation 12, the dragon is primarily Satan; but secondarily it represents pagan Rome, that is to say, the powers of heathenism and idolatry. While many believe heathenism to be a thing of the past, there are still millions today who are involved in paganism. Heathenism has assumed a new covering, making it more attractive to even the Western mind; but it is still the same form of worship referred to in the Bible as heathenism.The primary feature of the heathen religion is nature worship. Since the most exalted form in nature is the human body, and most particularly the mind, man is led to exalt human opinion above divine revelation, a vital concept of secular humanism today.All of the great ruling powers demonstrated the fact that in heathenism, church and state are united. In Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, the state was always used to support and give force to the pagan religion of the time. Time and again the civil laws were used to enforce worship of pagan deities.
The spirit of exalting and worshiping human opinions and institutions-tradition-the spirit of worldliness and the craving to unite the church with the state in order that the church might be strengthened to enforce her dogma and decrees-is the spirit of the dragon. And this spirit will grow more and more prominent until it culminates in the great time of trouble for God's people that is described in Revelation 13. It is not only this spirit that we see working in humanism and the other philosophies that exalt the human above the divine but we see that there is also an unclean spirit that comes out of the mouth of the beast.
The papacy, that great religious system that exalts the organized church above individual conscience, is represented by the beast. In the Catholic Church, when there is a conflict between the Bible and church creed, the latter always assumes precedence over the former. If there is a disagreement between a person's conscience and church dogma, the church takes preeminence.
In contrast with this domination by church rule, Paul commends the noble Bereans because "they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Acts 17:11. Nowhere do we see Paul asking the believers to accept doctrine on the basis of apostolic authority but rather commending them for searching the Scriptures for themselves to confirm the truth of the things they had been taught. The idea of God's Word as the supreme authority and rule of life is the religion of the Bible. (See John 5:39; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.)
The third unclean spirit is the spirit of the false prophet. A prophet is one who claims to have received messages from God and to be God's spokesman in faithfully relaying these messages to the people. (See Numbers 12:6; Deuteronomy 18:22.) A false prophet would, then, be someone who purports to be speaking for God when in reality he is not. (See Jeremiah 14:14.) This cannot refer to the papacy, for it has always claimed to accept tradition above Bible revelation and the right to change God's commandments at will. Protestantism, however, has professed to follow the Bible and the Bible only as a basis of faith and doctrine. When, in the pursuit of its desired goals, Protestantism follows in the footsteps of Rome, resorting to civil power to support its teachings and trampling upon the rights of free conscience in order to achieve these goals, it will have become a false prophet.
What is the battle of Armageddon? It is simply the culmination of the great controversy between truth and error, between Christ and Satan, which has raged for six thousand years. From the very beginning of the great controversy in heaven, it has been Satan's purpose to overthrow the law of God. It was to accomplish this that he entered upon his rebellion against the Creator, and though he was cast out of heaven, he has continued the same warfare upon the earth. To deceive men, and thus lead them to transgress God's law, is the object which he has steadfastly pursued. Whether this be accomplished by casting aside the law altogether or by rejecting one of its precepts, the result will ultimately be the same. He that offends "in one point" manifests contempt for the whole law; his influence and example are on the side of transgression; he becomes "guilty of all." James 2:10
"In seeking to cast contempt upon the divine statutes, Satan has perverted the doctrines of the Bible, and errors have thus become incorporated into the faith of thousands who profess to believe the Scriptures. The last great conflict between truth and error is but the final struggle of the long-standing controversy concerning the law of God. Upon this battle we are now entering-a battle between the laws of men and the precepts of Jehovah, between the religion of the Bible and the religion of fable and tradition." The Great Controversy, 582
In the world today the devil has met with apparent success so far as numbers are concerned. There are but few today who accept the Bible as the guide of life.
In rejecting the truth, men are rejecting the Author of truth and preparing themselves to take the devil's side in this last great conflict. By their persistent refusal to accept the authority of the Lawgiver, they are binding themselves to the great apostate in lawlessness. No error that is accepted by the Christian world strikes more directly against the authority and government of Heaven and is more opposed to the dictates of reason than the idea that the law of God is no longer binding. Law is the basis of all government, and it is completely without reason or support to believe that the Ruler of the universe has abdicated His responsibility and left us without law. Wherever the divine precepts are set aside, sin ceases to appear sinful or righteousness desirable.
The Scriptures tell us that the spirits of devils working miracles will deceive the whole world and gather the people of the world together for the last great battle. The focal point of the conflict is the law of God, particularly the Sabbath, which points to the Lawgiver as the Creator and hence to our inherent obligation as His creatures to render Him obedience. It is the work of the third angel's message to counter this attack on God's law by presenting to the world the worship due God, particularly as the Creator.
While differing in some aspects, the major churches of Christianity will unite on those points of doctrine on which they agree, seeking to unite the world on the platform of unity. Under this three fold union of spiritualism, Catholicism, and the false prophet of Protestantism, the people will seek to force the whole world to unite.
Satan's policy will be much the same as that which he employed in the beginning of the great controversy. Under the guise of seeking to promote stability and equity in government, he will seek to destroy those who faithfully uphold the law of God, the only real basis of law and order. While trying to destroy those who remain faithful, Satan lays upon them the charge of lawbreaking and evildoing. They will be declared to be in league with Satan, and every possible means will be employed to cover them with reproach. They will be accused of dishonoring God and bringing His judgments upon the world.
God never forces the will or the conscience, but Satan's constant resort to gain the control of those whom he cannot otherwise seduce is compulsion by cruelty. Through fear or force he endeavors to rule the conscience and to secure homage to himself. To accomplish this, he works through both religious and secular authorities, moving them to the enforcement of human laws in defiance of the law of God.
Once again, as in Daniel's day, an image will be raised, much as was the golden image upon the plain of Shinar. The issue is the same-the law of God. Just as the music and imposing display worked to secure popular support for Nebuchadnezzar's image in ancient Babylon, in this final conflict there will be miracles to deceive. Anciently, when all lesser inducements failed, there was the fiery furnace waiting to persuade the conscience. In a similar manner the remnant people of God face the loss of all worldly support, and ultimately death itself, as the price for their faithfulness. Only those whose faith is founded upon the sure Word of God will be able to stand amid the near total apostasy.
The people of God will be scattered; some will be in the mountains hiding, others in dungeons and prisons. To human eyes it will appear that they must soon seal their testimony with their blood.
Suddenly the scene changes. A voice in heaven makes the final pronouncement: "It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great." Revelation 16:17, 18
The time of the final destruction of the enemies of God in the battle of Armageddon will also be the time of deliverance for the chosen people of God. Of these the Lord says: "Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the mighty One of Israel. And the LORD shall cause His glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of His arm, with the indignation of His anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones." Isaiah 30:29, 30