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Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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THEOLOGY

Prophecy by The Book: Chapter 7

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
Theologian

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Chapter Seven

The Battle of Armageddon

There is much talk today in prophetic circles about the battle of Armageddon. Many are saying that the battle is near at hand, and that it will be a terrifying day for the world, perhaps a nuclear holocaust and much else. What about Armageddon according to the Book? How are we to go about understanding it?

Only one place in the Bible is the word Armageddon to be found, namely, in Revelation 16:16: "And they assembled them at the place which is called in Hebrew Armageddon." Prior to this, the Scripture speaks of "spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war [or "the battle" niv] of the great day of God, the Almighty" (v. 14 nasb). A difficult term to understand, Armageddon means literally "mountain (Har) of Megiddo." Megiddo was a populous city in Old Testament times. Today it is a mound of ruins. Throughout its history, Megiddo was often an arena of warfare. The ancient city stood at the entrance of a strategic passageway through the Carmel ridge. To the north and east, it overlooked the broad plain of Esdraelon (Valley of Jezreel)a plain that could easily accommodate a large battle. On that plain the armies of Israel defeated Sisera and his host (Judges 5:19); and there the fatal struggle took place between King Josiah and Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23:29).

Now with that background aside, the battle scene of Armageddon in Revelation is quite extraordinary: (1) "The kings of the whole world" are therehence this is far larger than any Old Testament encounter that was limited to two sides battling it out; (2) Demonic spirits, "the spirits of demons, performing signs ["miraculous signs" niv] had assembled themhow are we to interpret what this means? It seems already like some very unusual battle. Go back a few more verses and it may sound even more unusual and strange. First, the Euphrates river is dried up "that the way might be prepared for the kings from the east" (v. 12); and, second, there appear three evil figuresa dragon, a beast, and a false prophetout of whose mouths issue "three foul spirits like frogs" (v. 13). Those foul, or unclean spirits, "go out to the kings of the whole world" to assemble them for "the battle." How are we to understand all this? Is this a battle of nations, for example, against Israel, with all her enemies coming out against her (like the Arabic world today that could strike against the nation of Israel)? It hardly seems like that. There is no mention of Israel, although the geography could suggest an Israeli location. Further, although all the kings are drawn to the battle, it does not appear to be their war at all: it is called "the battle of the great day of God the Almighty"! It looks like His war against them. Moreover, it is hard to picture "the kings from the east" (not described) as well as all the kings of the earth being assembled. Moreover, they seem to have no weapons, no armaments. How did they all get there; what about countries without kings, etc.? It seems increasingly clear that Armageddon must be more than, or other than, a military battle. Note also it is not just one battle among many: it is the battle not a, but of the great day of God the Almighty!

There is something else I have not mentioned. A strange verse occurs between the going out of the spirits of demons to gather the kings for the battle (v. 14) and the actual assemblage at Armageddon (v. 16). In parenthesis (nasb, rsv) are the words: "Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame" (v. 15). What is that all about? It is, undoubtedly, the voice of Christ declaring His coming. Recall Matthew 24:43-44 where, after speaking of a thief coming unexpectedly, Jesus adds: "Therefore you must also be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (also see 1 Thess. 5:2 and Rev. 3:3). It is a summons to believers to be ready and alert (keeping one's "garments") for His return. But also it is now clear that Armageddon is not only the great battle of God the Almighty, it is also the great day on which Christ returns!

But still, how do we understand all this? It becomes more and more apparent, I submit, that this is the final spiritual battle, or God's battle in Christ against the world of evil. The important thing about the kings assembled is not matters of how they could all get there (geography is quite irrelevant), etc., but that they represent the whole world (except for those who belong to Christ) under demonic influence. Let us go back in the Book of Revelation to observe the significance of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet from whose mouth(s) come these spirits of demons. The dragon is Satan (see Rev. 12:9, also called "the ancient serpent") the ultimate source of all evil, and the other two are his evil forces at work in the world (see Rev. 13"the beast...out of the sea" [v. 1] and "the beast...out of the earth" [v. 11]). This evil trio (a kind of unholy trinity) dominates the world in its bondage to Satan ("the god of this world" [2 Cor. 4:4]) and its devotion to self-glorification (beast uttering "haughty blasphemous words" [13:5]) and pseudo-religion ("deceives those who dwell on earth" [13:14]). This is the unredeemed evil world from which believers have been delivered (while still living in it), which in turn hates and persecutes the things of Christ and His kingdom. It is the coming to fullness of evil and its final and total destruction.

For the full picture of this complete destruction, we must turn to Revelation 19:11-21 which gives a further view of Armageddon. The word Armageddon is not there, but it is clearly the same battle, with the same basic characters. The passage begins, however, with Christ's return (mentioned only almost parenthetically in Rev. 16) from heaven ("I saw heaven opened"v. 11) upon "a white horse...eyes are like a flame of fire...[with] the armies of heaven...from his mouth...a sharp sword with which to smite the nations...[expressing] the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty" [recall "God the Almighty" in Rev. 16]). Next we behold that in addition to the kings already mentioned in Revelation 16 there are "captains...mighty men...all men...free and slave...small and great" (v. 18).

In other words, it is the whole anti-Christian world gathered against Christ and His army of followers. Thus the battle of Armageddon is obviously far more than a battle in Israel, or any other earthly local setting. It is in Europe, Asia, Americaanywhere and everywhere at the end of our present historywhen the anti-God world of all classes of people will be destroyed at the return of Jesus Christ. Significantly, the Bible tells of no physical battle. Neither the kings of earth nor any one else fire any artillery. The evil forces of the beast and the false prophet are simply captured by Christ, thrown into "the lake of fire" (v. 20), and all the rest are "slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth" (v. 21). From a literal point of view this is a strange battle indeed, because Christ does not wield the sword by his hand (no mention even of bloodshed). Rather the sword which is the word from His mouth destroys all.

The same Jesus Christ, the Word of God through whom all things were made, will as that same Word destroy all that is evil and vile. Such is the meaning and result of the battle of the great day of God the Almighty, the battle of Armageddon.

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Appendix (brief):

The same results are to be seen Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians, chapters 1 and 2. In chapter 1 Paul speaks thus of the return of Christ: "When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels [note parallel to Rev. 19"the armies of heaven"] in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (vv. 7-8). Since this is unmistakably the same return of Christ as is also depicted in Revelation 19, the various designations there of captains, mighty men, all men, free and slave, small and great are included by Paul in his language about "those who do not know God and...do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." It is the execution of "the wrath of God" (Rev. 19) "inflicting vengeance" (2 Thess. 1) upon all the anti-God world. This likewise is the battle of Armageddon: even though some of the imagery varies. It is all the more apparent that this is no military battle, no nations gathered against Israel, no war in the valley of Esdraelon, but the final mighty battle of God in Christ against all His foesand the ensuing total victory!


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Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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