The Expository Files.

Apocalypse Now? The Battle Of Armageddon

Revelation 16:12-16

It was during the gulf war with Iraq that we heard it once again. "This is it!" They said. "The prelude to the final battle...the battle of Armageddon!" But wait a minute. I thought they had said that the Iraq-Iran war was the opening shots of Armageddon. And before that, the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. And before that, the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967. And didn't the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan have something to do with it?

There has been a lot of foolish speculation about it. It is easy to watch the headlines and then to lift some Biblical passage out of its context and say "See, the Bible predicted this event!" In fact, the battle of Armageddon is a favorite topic because there are always plenty of trouble spots, especially in the Middle East, which provide the headlines around which one can weave his theories of how that final great battle is forming. From the amount of attention given Armageddon you would think that it must be a prominent Bible topic.

IT IS NOT! In fact, "Armageddon" is mentioned only once and "the battle of Armageddon" is not mentioned at all!

The one passage which does mention "Armageddon" ( or more correctly, "Har-magedon") occurs in the book of Revelation: "And the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings of the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they were spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for war on the great day of God, the Almighty. (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.) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-magedon." (REVELATION 16:12-16).

"The kings came and fought; then fought the kings of Canaan at Taanach near the waters of Megiddo;" (JUDGES 5:19). The word "Har-magedon" comes from the Hebrew. The word "Har" means "mountain" and "Magedon" refers to an ancient site of many battles called "Megiddo." The battle mentioned above took place under the leadership of Deborah and Barak about 1100 years before Christ (See also the fourth chapter of Judges). Megiddo was of strategic importance because it occupies a valley through which armies could march on their various campaigns. Because of the many history-changing battles fought there, Megiddo became a symbol, sort of like our own Alamo or Pearl Harbor. It came to symbolize warfare, struggle and death. But that's about Megiddo; a valley. Where is "the mountain of Megiddo" from which we get the word Armageddon? The answer is that there is NO such literal place! It does not exist as far as geography is concerned! Then why does the book of Revelation mention it?

"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John" (REVELATION 1:1). Though certainly the book of Revelation contains glimpses of the final judgment and eternity, the great majority of the book was prophesying of things which "must shortly take place" back in about 100 A.D. Also; "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near" (REVELATION 1:3). Any speculative theory which contends that Armageddon has something to do with our future has to first ignore what this book itself says about the timeframe!

The book is written in symbols. That is why there can be a "mountain of Megiddo" at all. It is a symbol, just like the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, the frogs, the drying up of the river Euphrates and the rest of the context of the chapter and book. Well then, what does it symbolize?

It symbolizes something that took place back in the first, second and perhaps third centuries. The book of Revelation emphasizes that it is speaking of things which "must shortly take place." The early church was undergoing tremendous persecution. Roman power and culture awed the world and Rome considered Christianity as an enemy to be destroyed. The kings of the world sought alliances with Rome and thus joined her in persecuting Christians everywhere. The Roman emperor was made into a deity and all Roman subjects everywhere were expected to worship him. Christians would not do so. But Rome was so powerful. It had armies with swords and shields. The Lord's kingdom had its army also, not armed with literal swords but with the word of truth. But how can those armed only with the truth of the Scriptures stand against cold steel?

"And after this I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God..."  (REVELATION 19:1). The promise is that Rome, in all her power and glory, will fall. But the truth which she sought to destroy will survive. There will first be suffering and sacrifice on the part of the faithful. But it will only serve to show the whole world that this new faith is worth dying for. Chapter four shows that God is still on His throne. He has not surrendered. He will not allow Rome to win. He will call upon them to repent, and when they refuse He will bring them down. "Har-magedon" refers to that struggle between right and wrong; to the great conflict between world forces of darkness and the forces of light as they follow the true "King of kings and Lord of lords". Many of His followers would lose their lives, but not their souls. There would be a resurrection. Jesus would win the battle of Har-magedon. History shows that He did. Rome fell. Truth prevailed.

We all have our battles to wage. We are as certain of victory as they were when we remember Who our King is; 'Tis Jesus.

 By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 1.4; April, 1994