Questions From Readers
● Revelation 19:19-21 says that in the coming war of God the symbolic wild beast and false prophet will be cast into the lake of fire, but “the rest” will be killed with a sword. Who are “the rest,” and what will happen to them?
Following a description of “the Lamb” and his angels who will wage war on God’s enemies, Revelation 19:19-21 says: “I saw the wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage the war with the one seated on the horse and with his army. And the wild beast was caught, and along with it the false prophet that performed in front of it the signs with which he misled those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who render worship to its image. While still alive, they both were hurled into the fiery lake that burns with sulphur. But the rest were killed off with the long sword of the one seated on the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth. And all the birds were filled from the fleshy parts of them.”
A quick reading of this passage might suggest that there is a basic distinction between the outcome for the wild beast and false prophet and that for “the rest.” However, both the context of this passage and other portions of Revelation show that “the rest” are human enemies of God who are cut off in the coming war of God.
Revelation 19:11-21, termed by The New Bible Commentary “The messianic judgment of Armageddon,” opens with a view of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, on a white horse. With his heavenly armies he rides to execute God’s wrath against the nations. (Re 19 Vss. 11-16) Anticipating the coming slaughter, an angel calls carrion birds to eat the fleshy parts of those who will be slain.—Re 19 Vss. 17, 18.
Then, in the passage that we read above, John saw the actual warfare. Action is first taken against the symbolic wild beast (understood to represent Satan’s earth-wide political system) and the false prophet (standing for the Seventh World Power).* (Rev. 13:1, 2) The vision makes it plain that right up till their destruction these two entities will be going concerns, fighting against God. Might they later reemerge, as the symbolic image of the beast did earlier? (Rev. 17:8-11) No chance of that. They are “hurled into the fiery lake that burns with sulphur.” That is where Satan will be destroyed also. The “lake of fire” represents permanent annihilation.—Rev. 19:19, 20; 20:10, 14; 21:8.
Revelation 19:21 then says that “the rest were killed off” with a long sword and left to be eaten by birds. Are “the rest” merely uninvolved persons who are not on either side in this war?
Revelation clearly answers, No. Note that back in Revelation 19:18 an angel, when inviting birds to the feast, enumerated the sort of persons whose flesh would be consumed: kings, military commanders, strong men, equestrian warriors and ‘all, freemen as well as slaves and small ones and great.’ Also, in Re 19 verse 19 the kings and their armies are linked with the wild beast in warring against the Lamb. So, “the rest” are opposers against Jehovah’s Son. They are the wild beast’s committed supporters, the important and the unimportant.
Revelation 14:9-11 mentions such backers of the wild beast, those who mentally consent to its efforts or who lend a supporting hand: “If anyone worships the wild beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he will also drink of the wine of the anger of God that is poured out undiluted into the cup of his wrath, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and day and night they have no rest, those who worship the wild beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”—Rev. 14:9-11.
The earth-wide preaching by Jehovah’s Witnesses is now helping to separate those choosing to support God from those who worship the wild beast. Only time will tell what may still occur before the end to cause persons to take a clear stand on one side or the other. In any event, when speaking of the approaching destruction of the wild beast and the false prophet, Revelation 19 distinctly refers to those who ‘received the mark of the wild beast.’
But what about the fact that Revelation 19:20, 21 says that the wild beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire whereas “the rest” are killed with the sword and left for the birds?
It is noteworthy that the execution of “the rest” (the committed supporters of the wild beast) is an expression of the “anger of the wrath of God.” Rev. 19:15) Revelation 13:8 states about those worshiping the wild beast: “The name of not one of them stands written in the scroll of life of the Lamb.” And Revelation uses basically the same language about the worshipers of the wild beast as Revelation 20:10 does about Satan, the wild beast and the false prophet, namely: “They will be tormented day and night forever.” Thus it shows that the execution, being left unburied and being consumed by the birds represents complete rejection by God of “the rest.” Rather than being buried as if meriting resurrection, their carcasses are left on the ground. Carrion birds are to eat them. Hence, Revelation 19:21 does not picture them as being burned up. (Compare Ezekiel 39:17-19.) On this The Tyndale New Testament Commentary states: “The picture of destruction is completed with the statement that the birds were sated with the flesh of the slain, a common piece of imagery for final disaster.”
Hence, Revelation 19:21 is setting out God’s judgment on his human enemies, the committed supporters of the wild beast who will be annihilated in the coming “war of the great day of God the Almighty.”—Rev. 16:14.
“Babylon the Great Has Fallen!”—God’s Kingdom Rules! pp. 506, 511, 561, 562, 628.