“Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, ‘Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.”Revelation 19:17-21, ESV
This passage clarifies a number of confusing eschatological passages by conflating them. These passages all require more study, but for now it is helpful to show how they are all tied together in the last book of the Bible.
The “great supper of God” is a reference to Ezekiel 38-9, in which Gog attacks God’s people when they have returned from exile (Ezek 38:8) and are dwelling securely without walls (Ezek 38:11). Doesn’t that description perfectly fit the worldwide church just before Jesus’ return? This Gog passage is quoted all through Revelation, which probably deserves its own post. The relevant quote here is:
“Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field: ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth—of rams, of lambs, and of he-goats, of bulls, all of them fat beasts of Bashan. And you shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. And you shall be filled at my table with horses and charioteers, with mighty men and all kinds of warriors,’ declares the Lord GOD”Ezekiel 39:17-20
The seven-headed beast of Revelation is a combination of Daniel’s four beasts (Rev 13:1-2, c.f. Dan 7:3-8), which probably represent Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome resepectively. The seven heads are five past kings, one present king (Rome?), and one future king who will only rule for a little while (Rev 17:10). The description of the seventh head and his ten horns (ten kings who join him) echos the description of the 11th horn of Daniel’s fourth beast: “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them” (Rev 17:14, c.f. Daniel 7:21-22). Why is this horn attached to Rome instead of being a separate beast? My current theory is that his reign is so brief that he doesn’t count as a great empire; but he is organically connected to Rome because he is the next form of the same seven-headed beast. Another way to think about it is that when Jesus’ kingdom first entered the world, the authority of every other empire was shattered (Dan 2:34-5), so in Daniel it wouldn’t make sense to introduce a new beast after the coming of the Son of Man. As with all eschatology, there is an “already-but-not-yet” aspect to the antichrist, so that we see many antichrists (1 John 2:18) led by the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:3). I bring this up now to assure you that I think the message of Revelation applies to every generation, though the 7th head of the beast isn’t physically here.
Finally, compare “the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image” with 2 Thess 2:8-12:
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness
This man of lawlessness is the seventh head of the beast, who will come for a little while to deceive many and oppose God, and will be killed at the Lord’s coming. Notice that the deception is sent by Satan and by God. In Revelation 20:7-9, this comes together as God releases Satan “to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle.” This large but pathetically short rebellion is one of the last stages in God’s good plan. The battle lines are drawn black and white in the end, so Jesus can clearly destroy all evil and save his people when he returns.