The Battle of Armageddon
During the last forty years, the subject of the battle of Armageddon has been a topic of biblical discussion. In this decade, Armageddon has especially been on the minds of many. While Armageddon is a biblical term, as we shall see, much of the teaching and beliefs relative to Armageddon look to the teaching found under the canopy of Premillennialism. Premillennialism has set forth an eschatological time frame of events that usually include what they call the battle of Armageddon (see addendum for events six through fourteen as supplied by Premillennialists. Notice that Armageddon is event number ten).
In view of the events in the Middle East, many religious people believe Armageddon is imminent. Some use the term Armageddon to mean some cataclysmic event. Hollywood is sensationalizing the idea of Armageddon with movies regarding doomsday. One Web site has the following:
"Armageddon: Then shortly after Jesus' 2nd Coming, down from the sky will come the great hosts of Heaven with Jesus in the lead to destroy the Antichrist and his one-world empire in the awesome Battle of Armageddon.
This great slaughter of the Antichrist and his armies will take place in and around the valley of Megiddo near Haifa in Israel. It will mark the end of man's cruel rule on earth, as Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and His Heavenly forces forcibly take over the World to rule and reign and run it the way it should have been run if man had not disobeyed God and gone his own selfish way!
And so begins a period known as the Millennium, a thousand years of peace and plenty and paradise on Earth."
Is Armageddon really a biblical subject and, if so, what is actually taught about the battle of Armageddon? Smith's Bible Dictionary makes the following comments concerning Armageddon:
"Armageddon: (the hill or city of Megiddo ). (Revelation 16: 16). The scene of the struggle of good and evil is suggested by that battle-field, the plain of Esdraelon, which was famous for two great victories, of Barak over the Canaanites and of Gideon over the Midianites; and for two great disasters, the deaths of Saul and Josiah. Hence it signifies in Revelation a place of great slaughter, the scene of a terrible retribution upon the wicked. The Revised Version gives the name as Har-Magedon , i.e. the hill (as Ar is the city ) of Megiddo --ED.)"
The term Armageddon (exact spelling) is found once in the King James Version, Revelation 16: 16. The physical, geographic location is the "valley of Megiddo" (2 Chroni. 35: 22). The Valley of Megiddo was where Deborah and Barak defeated Sisera and his army (Judges 5: 19) and Josiah was slain (2 Kings 23: 29, 30). It was also known as a place of great mourning (Zech. 12: 11).
The setting of the "battle of Armageddon." The primary text used (the text in which the word occurs) to set forth the Premillennial idea of a great physical slaughter being lead by the military commander, Jesus Christ is Revelation 16: 12-16. This text concerns the sixth angel pouring out his vial upon the great river Euphrates and the consequent happenings. Consider the text:
"12: And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. 13: 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. 14: 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. 15: Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. 16: And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon" (Rev. 16).
There are seldom two reputable expositors who exactly agree regarding what or who is meant by the "kings of the east," "three unclean spirits like frogs," and the "false prophet" (vs. 12, 13). Yet, these agents are primary in the biblical presentation. It should also be appreciated that the text of Revelation 16: 12-16 is highly symbolic and figurative. Notice the language: "I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon" (vs. 13). Were these really frogs proceeding from the mouth of an actual dragon? These frogs represented something, the working and influence of demons (vs. 14).
I submit that the Bible often presents matters of spiritual nature, concern, and application. Salvation is a spiritual happening that involves the spiritual washing away of sins (Acts 2: 38, 22: 16). The church is spiritual and has an enjoined spiritual work to perform (Eph. 1: 22, 23; I Tim. 3: 15). Many have been caused to err because they insisted on placing a physical meaning on spiritual principles and teachings (cp. John 3: 1-9). Hence, in the case of Jesus' church, many have sought to reduce it to a physical institution that performs purely social activities and has only monetary goals. In like fashion, the warfare in which the Christian is to engage is spiritual, not physical. Jesus is presented as the Commander in Chief, if you will (2 Tim. 2: 3, 4). The required weaponry of spiritual warfare is spiritual in nature rather than material (Eph. 6: 13-17). One carnal doctrine relative to biblical warfare is found in the verse immediately preceding the passage to which allusion was just made (Eph. 6: 12). Consider Paul's emphatic teaching:
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Again, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds " (2 Cor. 10: 4).
The notion that Christianity is spread or defended by means of physical force is a doctrine that is totally rejected by scripture.
The Premillennial physical connotation placed on the battle of Armageddon. As noted, many today believe and teach that the battle of Armageddon is going to be a literal physical battle in the actual location of the valley of Megiddo in the Middle East. They also believe it will be fought with relatively primitive weaponry; hence, the intense interest regarding the current military interest in the Middle East. Most scholars agree that Revelation 19: 19-21 refers to the same event mentioned in Revelation 16: 12-16 and designated as Armageddon. The leader of the great army in Revelation 19 is thus described:
"11: And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 12: His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13: And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God (Rev. 19).
The Commander of the great army involved in the battle of Armageddon is obviously Jesus Christ, called "The Word of God" (cp. Jn. 1: 1 ff.). In view of the teaching of the scriptures concerning Christianity not engaging in carnal warfare, the view of Armageddon that involves Jesus and his people in physical combat is utterly untenable and repulsive.
The meaning of the battle of Armageddon. Some would say, "it is apparent from what you have written that you do not believe in the battle of Armageddon." I believe in the battle set forth in Revelation chapters 16 and 19, however, I disagree and reject man's teaching relative to the battle of Armageddon. The truth of the matter is, we do not know for sure what event is symbolized or indicated in the biblical battle of Armageddon, apart from the Judgement Day. One basic design of Revelation was to teach by the use of symbols (Rev. 1: 1). In a large percentage of cases, the symbols are explained (cp. Rev. 1: 20, vs.12-19). In these cases, we know what is meant. However, in some cases there is no attendant explanation. We must be careful not to take figurative language and array it against plain teaching found elsewhere in the scriptures (such as 2 Cor. 10: 4). The primary lesson of Revelation is that of ultimate victory. There would be difficulties and defeats, Revelation is saying, but the righteous would ultimately be triumphant and the wicked would be overthrown (Rev. 6: 11, 12-17, ch. 7, ch. 11, 14: 9-14). The paramount message is, "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2: 10). The record and teaching of the battle of Armageddon, then, is not meant to be understood as teaching some material cataclysmic world battle in which Christians and the wicked will come to physical blows and the Christians kill the wicked. The spiritual lesson is that the righteous led by Jesus their Leader in spiritual conflict will ultimately and completely overcome! (To read ralated material, click on "Premillennialism" in the Subject Index table on the Archives page.)
Addendum: Here are the sequential events six through fourteen as often presented by teachers of the premillennial persuasion:
6. The resurrected dead together with the transfigured living saints are to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
7. The judgment of all the righteous will then take place.
8. Before and during the tribulation period, the Jews are to be restored to the land of Palestine.
9. At the mere sight of their Messiah, the Jews are to turn to Him in a national conversion.
10. Christ, at his coming, will destroy the anti-Christ and all his forces in the battle of Armageddon.
11. After this battle, Christ will establish a world wide Kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital, in which He and the resurrected and transfigured saints will rule for a literal thousand years in peace.
12. During this Jerusalem reign, the temple, feasts, fasts, priesthood, and sacrificial system are to be re-instituted, though performed in a "Christian" spirit and by "Christian" worshippers.
13. During the golden age, nature's curse is to be removed. The desert will bloom as a rose; wild beasts are to be tamed.
14. At this time, great numbers of the Gentiles will turn to God and be in His Kingdom.