The Battle of Armageddon & Cosmic signs

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  • After our excursion into secular eschatology we return to biblical eschatology. We have looked at the Great Tribulation and the rise and nature of the Antichrist. Now we must tackle one of the best-known events in the Book of Revelation – the Battle of Armageddon. Some regard this not as a literal battle but as the on-going attack by the powers of evil on the church. I’m sure that Revelation is meant to encourage Christians in any age to persevere against the attacks of the devil but I do not believe the prophecy about Armageddon is limited to such a symbolic interpretation.
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  • The only specific reference to the name Armageddon is in Revelation 16:16 “Then they [demonic spirits] gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” John describes how impure spirits looking like frogs came from the mouths of the dragon (Satan), the beast (the Antichrist) and the false prophet (who, as we have already noted, manipulates humanity to worship the Antichrist using economic boycotts and death threats).
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  • Professor Robert Mounce explains the symbolism of the frogs emerging from the mouths of the evil trinity as “persuasive and deceptive propaganda which in the last days will lead men to an unconditional commitment to the cause of evil.”
  • [1] Professor Anthony Hanson and Ronald Preston comment: “Modern propaganda, as unscrupulously used by totalitarian states, would certainly figure in this picture”[2] So, despite the strange symbolism, this interpretation has a very credible modern ring to it, especially in our world of powerful global communications.
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  • John writes that the evil spirits gather “the kings of the whole world …. for the battle on the great day of God Almighty” (Rev 16:14).  In the previous verse he describes how the Euphrates was dried up “to prepare the way for the kings from the East.” Some see this as a reference back to Cyrus who conquered ‘impregnable’ Babylon by temporarily diverted the Euphrates, which ran through Babylon, and invading via the dry river bed. In John’s day the Euphrates protected the Roman Empire from invasion by the powerful Parthians and some believe he was referring to that. But, as is often the case in Revelation, John may have been referring to current events or trends but that does not mean there are no later fulfilments and particularly an ultimate fulfilment which is still future. Mounce writes: “
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  • “Doubtless John would interpret the visions in the light of his own historical situation. Rome would be the beast, and the provincial priesthood which enforced the imperial cult would be the false prophet. What he could not know from his vantage point was that the dissolution of the Roman Empire was but a model of the ultimate collapse of all worldly opposition to the kingdom of God. The task of the contemporary interpreter is to read the symbols in the vocabulary of the first century and understand them in reference to their final and complete fulfillment.”[3]
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  • Professor William Hendricksen writes similarly:
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  • Har-Magedon is the symbol of every battle in which, when the need is greatest and believers are oppressed, the Lord suddenly reveals his power in the interests of his distressed people and defeats the enemy ….. But the real, the great, the final Har-Magedon coincides with the time of Satan’s little season (see Re 11:7-11). When the world under the leadership of Satan, antichristian government and antichristian religion – the dragon, the beast and the false prophet – is gathered against the church for the final battle”[4]
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  • There are many interpretations of the kings from the East. Hendricksen is perhaps on the right lines when he says it is symbolising “all the antichristian powers” attacking the people of God.  Mounce writes that the evil trinity deceive the kings of the whole world and gather them for a great war against God and the hosts of heaven (explained in detail in 19:11-21)”[5] He quotes Swete who wrote: “There have been times when nations have been seized by a passion for war which the historian can but imperfectly explain, It is such an epoch that the Seer foresees, but one which, unlike any that has come before it, will involve the whole world in war.” Rev 16:15 gives a quotation from Jesus which provides a prediction of the end of the conflict, namely his sudden return.
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  • So all the kings of the whole world, i.e. all the leaders of the nations and their forces, gather at Armageddon, seized by a passion for war inspired by Satan and his associates, especially the Antichrist. The word ‘Armageddon’ is really ‘Har-Mageddon’ i.e. Mt Megiddo but there is no such mountain. Some think it refers to the hills around Megiddo in Northern Israel, about 18 miles SE of Haifa. The mound or tell on which Megiddo was built was only some 70 feet high. Others think the name comes from the end time battle on the mountains of Israel as predicted by Ezekiel 38-39 where Gog and his allies attack Israel linked with the Megiddo scene of some great victories by Israel. For example, Sisera, the Canaanite, came with 900 chariots against a largely unarmed Israel but was defeated (Judges 4). The area has been the scene of battles down through history to the 20th century.
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  • It is interesting that Zechariah predicts that all the nations will besiege Jerusalem/Judah (12:3; 13:8-14:1) and the nations will be defeated (12:6-9; 14:2-3, 11-15). This would seem to be the Battle of Armageddon because it adds that the Lord will return to the Mt of Olives (14:4). Joyce Baldwin comments on the likely aim of the attack by the Antichrist: “It was ludicrous that all the nations should fight against one city. The material gain would be negligible, and in any case the numbers involved would make it impossible. The only explanation is that this is an ideological conflict to remove a non-co-operative element that blocked the way to an international world order.”[6]
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  • Professor Dwight Pentecost and others believe that Armageddon is not a single battle but a campaign which lasts throughout the second half of the Great Tribulation, and takes place in different regions.[7]
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  • However the geography is not crucially important. The significance of the battle of Armageddon is that it is the End Times battle between the forces of evil and the power of God. Mounce writes: “The great conflict between God and Satan, Christ and Antichrist, good and evil, which lies behind the perplexing course of history will in the end issue in a final struggle in which God will emerge victorious and take with him all who have placed their faith in him. This is Har-Magedon.”[8] Professor R H Charles wrote: that “it represents the last uprising of the powers of evil before their final destruction by fire from heaven.”[9]
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  • As Hendricksen has written, Armageddon is a battle against God and his people. Some think that the church has been ‘raptured’ safely to heaven before this and the battle will only be against Israel, but, as I have already stated, I do not think Scripture supports that view. Certainly Antichrist will persecute and seek to destroy the (largely Gentile) church but there does not seem to be any reference to anyone other than Israel being attacked in the relevant passages (Ezk 38-39; Joel 3; Zech 12-14; Matt 24:29-31; 2 Thess 1:6-10; 2:1-12; Rev 16, 19, 20). It is difficult to imagine the armies of “the kings of the whole world” literally gathering on the plain of Megiddo (although I suppose it could be a smaller international force) and, of course, there is symbolism in the immediate context.  
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  • However an international invasion of Israel is hardly incredible, given that:
  • ·         “The world’s longest hatred” is anti-Semitism and can only be explained as demonic, based upon God’s choice of and future purpose for the Jewish people.
  • ·         Even today Israel is incurring growing international disapproval and opposition, including from nations which oppose its existence.
  • ·         Because of its strong messianic faith, it is not incredible that Israel could resist acceptance of the Antichrist.
  • ·         God’s future purpose for the Jewish people is that they will turn to Christ in large numbers (Rom 11:25-26), the prospect of which engenders demonic opposition.
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  • After mentioning Armageddon, John describes the seventh angel pouring out his bowl into the air which is regarded as the abode of demons: Satan is “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph 2:2). There is thunder and lightning then an earthquake of unprecedented power which splits “the great city” into three parts, and “the cities of the nations collapsed.” There is also a hailstorm with hailstones weighing some 40kg/88lbs (which reminded me of the hailstones “the size of rice bowls” reported by ITN as hitting China on 22nd August 2011).[10] But, even then, sinful humanity does not repent but rather curses God for the hail. There is a fair amount of symbolism in this passage and the great city is “Babylon” (Rev 16:19).
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  • The fall of ‘Babylon’

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  • Leon Morris comments: “[The great city] stands for civilised man, man in organized community, but man ordering his affairs apart from God. It symbolizes the pride of human achievement, the godlessness of those who put their trust in man.”[11]
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  • Hendricksen writes: “Babylon … must indicate the world as a centre of industry, commerce, art, culture, etc., which by means of all these things seeks to entice and seduce the believer, that is, to turn him away from God. It symbolizes the concentration of the luxury, vice and glamour of this world.”[12] (p. 168)
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  • Mounce refers to the fact that the early church saw “Babylon” as Rome and says: “The harlot is Rome. Adorned in luxury and intoxicated by the blood of the saints, she stands for a dominant world system based on seduction for personal gain over against the righteous demands of a persecuted minority. John’s images are timeless in that they portray the essential conflicts of mankind from the beginning of time until the end. At the close of history the great harlot stands as the final and intensified expression of worldly power.”[13]
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  • Professor Richard Bauckham gives a necessary warning: “Revelation's images are flexible, theologically significant and not intended to be pieced together into a single literal picture of what will happen at the End. Besides the great earthquake, there are many other images of the End: the harvest, the vintage, the last great battle, the Lamb's wedding banquet. Only the insensitively literalistic will be puzzled that John can describe the fall of Babylon first in the great earthquake, and then at the hands of the armies of the beast, or that in the last of the seven plagues we find an earthquake instead of the Battle of Armageddon which the penultimate plague had led us to expect…”[14]
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  • John then describes Babylon as “the great prostitute” who “sits by many waters” which, as is often the case in the Bible, is a reference to many nations. They are seduced by her power, beauty and riches. As we have already noted, Babylon is the godless ‘empire’ of human civilisation, the world economic and cultural system which controls many nations. She sits on the scarlet beast, i.e. the source of her power and seduction is the Antichrist. She has blasphemous names on her forehead which speaks of the self-deification of human power. The Roman emperors became gods in the eyes of the people and this was a foretaste of the Antichrist.
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  • Babylon is “drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” She is the source of persecution of believers.
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  • John goes on to write that the beast, “once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction … it once was, now is not, and yet will come.”  This is referring to the fact that evil keeps recurring in the world. Mounce writes: “In [chapter 17] verse 8 the beast was portrayed as an evil power who had appeared throughout history and was about to put in one final appearance which would lead to his destruction.”[15]  Hendricksen comments: “The beast, in the form of Old Babylonia, Assyria, New Babylonia, Medo-Persia or Greco-Macedonia, is no more. Yet …. this beast seems to have the ability to raise its head anew after every defeat …. under every form and in every embodiment, the beast goes into perdition. This …. is true especially with respect to the final manifestation of the power of the antichrist just before the second coming of Christ.”[16] This repeated manifestation of the spirit of Antichrist, of course, fits in with the concept of the multiple fulfilment of prophecy.
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  • The Beast is described as having seven heads which John says are both seven hills and seven kings. Rome was situated on seven hills and many think the seven kings are seven Roman emperors, five in the past, one now and one to come. There is however some disagreement about how this fits in with history. (Others say the kings are ancient pagan empires including Rome). John then writes that “the beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king.” Leon Morris thinks the eighth king is the Roman Emperor Domitian who is another Nero. Nero persecuted Christians (as did Domitian) and there was a myth that Nero would return from the dead and come back in power to Rome. It seems likely that this passage is referring to Roman emperors. But the 8th “emperor” is different from the others. Mounce explains: “He is Antichrist, not simply another Roman emperor. He is not a human ruler through whom the power of evil finds expression—he is that evil power itself. He belongs to the cosmic struggle between God and Satan which lies behind the scenes of human his­tory. Yet he will appear on the stage of history as a man.”[17]
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  • The Beast also has ten horns which are said to be ten kings. Some take the number ten literally and think it is a revived End Time Roman empire (some understood it as the European Union when it had only ten members). However the number ten symbolizes completeness and this may therefore refer to all the world powers who are subject to Antichrist.
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  • This world alliance “will wage war against the Lamb” in the Battle of Armageddon (Rev 17:14). However, division arises between the Beast, Antichrist, and the great prostitute/Babylon, the godless world system (Rev 17:15-18). Leon Morris comments that there is no cohesion in evil. Wicked men give way to jealousy and hatred.
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  • Revelation 18 then describes the fall of Babylon (the collapse of godless civilisation) in graphic detail with devastating economic effects. The economic crisis which suddenly beset our global village in 2008 give some indication of how quickly such a total collapse could happen. Then Revelation 19 describes heaven rejoicing over the fall of Babylon in preparation for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, when the church meets the Lord in glory.
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  • The return of Christ

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  • Then John sees Jesus “King of kings and Lord of lords” returning to establish justice and to defeat the enemy, establishing his rule over the nations. The symbolism of the vision depicts Jesus with blazing eyes, many crowns and a sharp sword coming out of his mouth, waging war on a white horse. It also vividly describes the destruction of the enemy when the Antichrist and his allies attack. The Antichrist and False Prophet are consigned to Hell.
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  • It would be a mistake to imagine this being a normal battle with each side seeking to prevail and eventually Jesus winning. Rather, as Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 “the lawless one [Antichrist] will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.” The defeat of the Antichrist will be instantaneous and total by the supernatural presence and power of Jesus.
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  • Paul also describes how “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thess 1:7-10).
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  • Cosmic signs

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  • Could some of the cosmic signs in biblical prophecy be literal?

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  • Speaking of the signs of his coming and the End of the Age, Jesus predicts “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken’” (Matt 24:29 cf. Isaiah 13:10; 34:4). Ezekiel, Joel, Zephaniah and Revelation predict similar events.
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  • Many take these as symbolical language and some of it seems to be, e.g. the heavens rolling up like a scroll or blood falling on the earth. But could such prophecies include some literal predictions as well as poetic language about cataclysmic events? For example, the sun, moon and stars could be darkened by the “smoke” of a supervolcano and falling stars could refer to Near Earth Asteroids which might collide with the planet.
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  • Professor F. F. Bruce, commenting on Acts 2:19-20 says the sun was darkened on the afternoon of the Day of the crucifixion and the paschal moon might have appeared blood-red because of this.  These were to be understood as signs of the End.
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  • NEAR EARTH ASTEROIDS. Astronomers are very concerned about Near Earth Asteroids. One, big enough to destroy London, passed Earth by just 17,200 miles in February 2013. On the same day a small asteroid hit Earth. This was only a week after the 10 ton meteor hit Earth with a blast 30 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atom bomb, injuring 1200 people and damaging 3000 buildings. Astronomers say such objects enter our atmosphere between once a year and once a decade.
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  • Comments in the press can be summed up by Professor Qing-Zhu Yin of the University of California, who commented: “If humanity does not want to go the way of the dinosaurs, we need to study an event like this in detail.”  There are many more Near Earth Asteroids up there.
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  • In February 2014, Paul Cox, technical and research director of the Slooh Space Telescope, said: "We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids - sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth …. "We need to find them before they find us!"
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  • Slooh astronomer Dr Bob Berman said: "On a practical level, a previously unknown, undiscovered asteroid seems to hit our planet and cause damage or injury once a century or so, as we witnessed on 20 June 1908 and 15 February 2013 …. Every few centuries, an even more massive asteroid strikes us – fortunately usually impacting in an ocean or wasteland such an Antarctica. But the ongoing threat, and the fact that biosphere-altering events remain a real if small annual possibility, suggests that discovering and tracking all NEOs [Near Earth Objects], as well as setting up contingency plans for deflecting them on short notice should the need arise, would be a wise use of resources."
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  • SUPERVOLCANOES are thousands of times more powerful than normal volcanoes. In the past they have caused mass extinctions, long-term climate change and volcanic winters when ash blots out sunlight. If a supervolcano erupted the sound would be heard around the world, black rain would fall and the sky would darken. Only a few supervolcanoes exist including Yellowstone Park in Wyoming
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  • A supervolcanic eruption 70,000 years ago in Sumatra blocked out the sun for six to eight years and caused a period of global cooling lasting a thousand years. Experts say it would take about ten years for pressure to build up enough to cause an eruption.
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  • Conclusion on cosmic signs

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  • One cannot be dogmatic that such events as asteroid impacts and supervolcanoes will fulfil the prophecies of cosmic signs pointing to the return of Christ and the End of the Age. But it is at least conceivable. It is also interesting that astronomers currently are deeply concerned about the possibility of such events. At the very least they can be a “reminder” of the End, like earthquakes, war, pestilences and famines. After all, Jesus did predict: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11). If the earthquakes, famines and pestilences are literal, is it surely possible the “fearful events and great signs from heaven” are literal too?
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[1] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1977, p. 299.

[2] R H Preston & A T Hanson, Revelation: the book of glory, Torch Bible Paperbacks, SCM London 1968, p. 108.

[3] Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 303.

[4] William Hendricksen, More Than Conquerors: an interpretation of the Book of Revelation, Tyndale, London 1940, p. 163.

[5] Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 300.

[6] Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An introduction and Commentary, Tyndale OT Commentaries, Inter-varsity Press, Leicester 1972, p. 200.

[7] The Valley of Jehoshaphat (Jerusalem) Joel 3:2, Edom (South of the Dead Sea) Isa 34:2-5, etc.

[8] Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 302.

[9] R H Charles, The Revelation of St John, International Critical Commentary, Edinburgh 1920, Vol II p. 46

[11] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale NT Commentaries, Inter-varsity Press, Leicester 1969, p. 201.

[12] William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors, Tyndale Press, London 1962, p.168.

[13] Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 307f.

[14] Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, T & T Clark, Edinburgh 1993, p. 209.

[15] Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 313.

[16] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p.170.

[17] Robert Mounce, op. cit., p. 316.



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