Armageddon is not a military mother of all wars in Megiddo. Armageddon is Har-Magedon, the Mount of Assembly where Satanic forces gather to make a final assault to destroy God’s church represented by Mount Zion.
Scripture Readings: Zechariah 14:1-9; 1Thessalonians 5:1-11; Revelation 16:1-16; Revelation 16:12-16 (text)
November 8, 2010 • Download PDF sermon
In the late 70s, during the days of the Cold War, many people feared a nuclear war between America and the now-demised Soviet Union. Even then President Reagan believed this. Once I had a conversation with an officemate in SF about this subject, and he asked me if I believed that there will be World War III. I said yes, he asked why, and I said, “Because it’s in the Bible.”
Back in my dispensationalist days (all of my life until the early 1990s), I never asked where in the Bible do we find teachings such as God’s separate endtime plans for salvation of Israel and the Church; the Secret Rapture; the millennial reign of Christ from a rebuilt Temple; and a worldwide rebellion against God after the millennium. I just assumed that these were all Biblical and that anyone who doesn’t believe in them are liberals or non-Christians.
One of the most popular and fearsome things taught by dispensationalists is the Battle of Armageddon. It is World War III, the mother of all wars, which would destroy the whole earth if God did not intervene. From where did this teaching come? From the last verse of our text, “And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon,” which is popularly interpreted as World War III that will take place in a plain in northern Israel called Megiddo.
In 1980, false prophet Hal Lindsey wrote a sequel to his most famous—but failed—1970 prophecy book, The Late Great Planet Earth, which he entitled 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. In this sequel, he made another failed prophecy, saying that the book “is intended to analyze what will occur in the decade we have just entered… The decade of the 1980′s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” Like all other false prophets, Lindsey never stopped, so in 1997, he again revised his failed prophecies, saying he “actually saw” and heard things from God concerning the book of Revelation: the “locusts” and “horses prepared for battle” are Cobra attack helicopters, “crowns of gold” are helmets worn by pilots, and the “sound of their wings” are the “thunderous sound of many attack helicopters flying overhead.” 1
But is this what our Scripture text today really means?
When we study the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic books, we have several interpretive principles to keep in mind. First, Revelation is a book of Christ and about Christ and his redemptive work. Second, it was written to encourage persecuted Christians in the first century world. Third, like the rest of the Bible, the theme of Revelation is God’s redemptive plan throughout human history. Fourth, since Revelation is an apocalyptic book of visions, we must discern which is literal and which is symbolic. Fifth, the book uses many Old Testament allusions. Sixth, almost always, when it speaks of Israel, it refers to the church. Seventh and last, the structure of Revelation is a literary device called recapitulation.
What is this last principle called recapitulation? In using this device, the Apostle John would narrate an event from one angle, and then repeat the same event from another angle. If you watch sports on television, especially basketball or football, there is this thing called “replay.” To help the referees and audience determine if a player stepped on the line, or if the football crossed the goal line, different views of the play are shown from different camera angles. In the same way, John describes one event from different vantage points.
For example, did you notice that most of God’s judgments upon the people of the earth seem repetitious? It is. In the book, there are three cycles of judgments: seals, trumpets, and bowls. Each cycle has seven different judgments: four on the earth, and three on the cosmic level. For example, in the seal cycle, the first four seals describe four horsemen who destroy the people of the earth. Then the fifth to the seventh seals describe—in order—events in heaven, a great earthquake and darkness because the sun, moon and stars ceased giving light, and natural disasters. The trumpet and bowl judgments follow the same pattern in a recapitulation.
The seal judgments (Rev 6:1-8:5) cover the entire period between the first and second coming of Christ, destroying one fourth of the world’s inhabitants. The sixth and seventh seals describe the events at the second coming. Next are the trumpet judgments (Rev 8:6-11:19), which also transpire during the interadvental period, but these judgments are more intense and severe than the seal judgments. These trumpet judgments mirror the plagues in Egypt, ending with the Second Coming of Christ and the destruction of Babylon and one-third of the earth’s people.
The bowl cycle (Rev 16:1-17:21) tells us about God’s final judgments on the earth before the end comes. These are “seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Rev 15:1), so God commands the angels from heaven, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God” (Rev 16:1). What do these judgments remind you of? They also mirror the plagues in Egypt: first, sores or boils on people; second, the sea becomes blood; third, rivers become blood; fourth, fire that burns people; fifth, darkness; sixth, the great battle of Armageddon; seventh and last, a great earthquake and giant hailstones. After the seventh bowl is poured out on the earth, God declares in heaven, “It is done!” This means that God has completed pouring out his judgment wrath on the unbelieving people of the earth.
Our text concerns the sixth seal, in which demonic forces assemble at the place called Armageddon. Two great forces, Satanic forces and God’s holy people, meet here for the final battle on the great day of God. And like the persecuted Christians in the first century, we who are Christ’s soldiers are warned to watch and always be prepared for this God-appointed battle.
Assembly of Satan’s Unclean and Deceitful Forces
The sixth seal of judgment opens with God pouring out his bowl on the great river Euphrates. This bowl dries up the river so that the armies from the east could come and assemble for the great battle.
Historically, this great river protected the city of Babylon and the empire from invasion by eastern kings. In 539 B.C., the Medo-Persian King Cyrus, diverted the river Euphrates by building a canal, effectually drying it up and allowing his forces to enter the city and defeat the Babylonian empire. This was prophesied in Isaiah 44:27-28, “Be dry; I will dry up your rivers,” and it was Cyrus who allowed the Jewish exiles to return to and rebuild Israel and the Temple.
In the Old Testament, the river Euphrates is symbolic of the barrier between God’s people and unbelieving nations. Abraham was called by God from the city of Ur, east of and beyond the river. At its height during the reign of David, the river was its eastern boundary (2 Sam 8:3). And at the time of John, the Roman Empire’s eastern boundary was the river, and beyond it lived the dreaded Parthian (or Persian) people, present-day Iranians.
But the drying up of the Euphrates also recalls the drying up of the Red Sea allowing Israel to escape from Egypt while Pharaoh’s forces drowned. So John uses this imagery of the river Euphrates as the barrier that protects God’s people from wicked, unbelieving nations from the east. God allows this protection to be removed in order to accomplish his purposes: to allow unbelievers to attack his people, but at the same, to destroy unbelievers and save his people from destruction.
Next, John says that from out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet come three unclean spirits like frogs. Like the Holy Trinity, the dragon, the beast and the false prophet form a counterfeit Evil Trinity. The dragon is Satan, the beast is the superpower that has authority over the world, and the false prophet is the false religion worshiping Satan. They are unclean because they are evil, and they are like frogs because they are unclean and detestable. Frogs were one of the plagues God sent against the Egyptians (Exod 8:6).
These spirits are demonic spirits, performing signs to deceive the world into thinking that they are worshiping God when in reality they are worshiping Satan. The false prophet performs deceptive signs and wonders to make an image of the beast (Rev 13:13-14) and to worship the beast (Rev 19:19-20). In Revelation 16:14, they perform signs to assemble the kings from the east—which are actually the kings of the whole world—for battle.
From the creation of the world to the end of the world, God’s people always find themselves situated among hostile unbelievers. God foretold this in Genesis 3:15, saying that the children of Satan will always be in enmity against God’s children. Those who walk by faith in God, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, were mocked, persecuted and attacked by God’s enemies. To encourage us his people, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matt 5:11-12). So does Paul, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). And after God pours out his wrath on the unbelieving world, the great multitude of believers in heaven cry out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just… and has avenged on her the blood of his servants” (Rev 19:1-2).
So when you see all around you preachers and teachers who perform so-called signs and wonders, miracles and healings, beware that you are not deceived. In the book of Revelation, demonic forces are the only ones that perform these things. This is because the time for these extraordinary signs is past; they were only given during the time of Christ and his apostles to authenticate their authority from God (Eph 2:19-20; Heb 2:4).
And be comforted that all your sufferings, temptations and trials are going to end when God assembles all the enemies of the church to destroy them on the great day of God. On that same great day, God will also assemble his people for the great endtime battle.
Assembly of Almighty God’s Blessed People
After God pours out his last judgment on earth with the seventh bowl, John gives us in Chapters 17-18 a view of how God destroys Babylon, the city which represents the unbelieving nations of the earth. In Chapter 19, he then details what happens in the great battle in a place which is called Har-Magedon.
The most popular teaching regarding Armageddon is that it refers to the plains of Meggido, northeast of Jerusalem, the site of several major battles in Israel’s history (Jgs 5:19; 2 Kgs 9:27, 23:29-30; 2 Chron 35:22). They teach that when Christ returns to earth, the armies of the world assemble on the plain of Megiddo to destroy the present nation of Israel, or to fight against the armies of heaven led by Christ. But instead, the kings of the earth suffer total annihilation at the hands of Christ. This is real, physical World War III.
But is this really the true meaning of verse 16? Using the above principles as a guide in reading the book of Revelation, the Battle of Armageddon is far from the mother of all wars on earth. Several Bible scholars have concluded that this battle is far from a war of armies, tanks, planes, ships and nuclear weapons, and moreover, the plain of Megiddo has nothing to do with the place named Armageddon. Instead, the word in verse 16 commonly translated as “Armageddon” should be translated from Greek as Har-Magedon, which in Hebrew is shown to mean “the Mount of Gathering” or “Mount of Assembly.” 2
How did they come up with this conclusion? Here are a few. First, the Hebrew word for mountain is har, and magedon is derived from moed, another Hebrew word that means “assembly” or “gathering.” In fact, in Isaiah 14:13 “mount of assembly” is Har-moed. Since Megiddo is a plain and there is no mountain there, Har-Magedon could not possibly refer to Megiddo. Second, it is common in Greek and Hebrew literature to name a person, a place or an event according to its significance. For example, Babylon might have come from a Hebrew word which means “confusion,” when God confused the languages of the peoples of the world as they were building the tower of confusion, Babel. In Revelation 16:16, John uses word-play, “And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon”—the armies assembled at the Mount of Assembly. Third, God’s dwelling place is usually called a mountain: holy mountain, holy hill, Mount Zion.
Fourth, the Old Testament connects the final battle between God and his enemies with the holy city of God, Jerusalem, not Megiddo. In Zechariah 14:1-3, the prophet says, “Behold, a day is coming for the LORD… For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken… Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.” Zechariah also says that on the day of the Lord, “all the nations of the earth will gather against it” (Zech12:3).
Another Old Testament passage that describes this final battle is Ezekiel 38-39, where Gog and Magog lead nations against God’s people. There, the prophet also tells the nations to gather against Israel, “Be ready and keep ready, you and all your hosts that are assembled about you” (Ezek 38:7). Reading Ezekiel 38-39 is like reading a detailed report of the two great battles in Revelation 19:11-21 and 20:7-10. The latter Revelation battle, moreover, is a recapitulation of the former. The parallelism between these three passages is unmistakable:
|Revelation 19:11-21||Ezekiel 38-39||Revelation 20:7-10|
|Gog & Magog (38:2; 39:1, 6)||Gog & Magog (8)|
|“to gather them for the battle” (19; cf. 16:14, 15a)||“to gather them for the battle” (8)|
|birds feast on defeated humans (“kings” “captains” “mighty men” “horses and their riders”) (17-18)||animals and birds feast on defeated humans (“mighty men” “princes” “horses” “charioteers” “warriors”) (39:4, 17-20)|
|fiery judgment on nations, beast, and false prophet (20)||fiery judgment on Gog & Magog (38:22; 39:6)||fiery judgment on Gog and Magog and Satan (9-10)|
|total cosmic destruction by earthquake, hail, rain, and fire (38:19-22)||total cosmic destruction after the battle (11)|
|total destruction of the wicked (19-21)||total destruction of the wicked (9-10)|
Whom will the wicked nations surround? Ezekiel says it is a “people who were gathered from the nations… who dwell at the center of the earth” (Ezek 38:12). Is Israel the center of the earth? Ezekiel says so, because the church has always been God’s focus in all of redemptive history (Exod 19:5,6): formerly the nation Israel and now the church of Christ, the Israel of God (Gal 6:16; 1 Pet 1:1; 2:9), who now dwell in the “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26). Ezekiel confirms this, “This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her” (Ezek 5:5).
Who leads the wicked hordes of Ezekiel and Revelation against God’s people? Satan himself, personified by the beast and the false prophet in Revelation 19, and the dragon in Revelation 20, devises the attack. Further evidence also confirms that Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog symbolize the devil. Gog and Magog come from “the uttermost parts of the north” (Ezek 38:6). However, we read in Psalm 48:2 that the city of God, the holy Mount Zion, is located symbolically “in the far north.” This is further confirmed by Isaiah who prophesies that God sits on his throne on high “on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north” (Isa 14:13). Satan, the pretender to God’s throne in “the far north,” also calls his dwelling-place as “the far north.” 3
John uses this imagery of the nations gathering in an assembly against God’s people in two other passages in his book. In Revelation 19:19, “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.” From another camera angle, in Revelation 20:9, John again describes this war, “And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them.” Satanic forces make war against the saints and the beloved city. The holy city is not geographical Israel or Jerusalem—as can be seen in Hebrews 12:22-23 as “Mount Zion… the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”—the church whose members are registered in heaven.
Thus Armageddon is not a military mother of all wars in Megiddo. Armageddon is Har-Magedon, the Mount of Assembly where Satanic forces gather to make a final assault to destroy God’s church represented by Mount Zion. In this battle, the church will look defeated, helpless and irrelevant for a time, even left for dead, as when in 1966, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared that God is dead because man has killed him. Today, unbelievers mock us when we say that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. This is not a new thing, because thousands of years ago, the Psalmist knew of fools who said that there is no God (Psa 14:1). But just when the persecution and suffering is so severe that the plight of believers seems hopeless, God intervenes, “resurrects” his church, and destroys Satan and his demonic forces (Rev 11:7-13).
So John encourages you, “Watch! Be ready!” For that great battle would surely come. For unbelievers, it would come unexpectedly, as a thief comes in the night.
Watch for the Unexpected Assembly!
Knowing that this present age would surely come to a swift end, what are we to do? Shall we be like mockers, who Peter says will ask, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:4)? Jesus will never come. There will never be an end of the world. Nothing will ever change. These mockers have a reason to mock—because there have been countless Christians since the early church who have cried wolf too many times. Popular dispensationalists have proclaimed over and over again that their generation is the last generation, that this or that person is the Antichrist, and that this or that nation will destroy Israel.
For unbelievers, John’s warning applies: the great Mount of Assembly will come unexpectedly like a thief in the night. But says Paul, you who believe in Christ’s return “are not in darkness… for that day to surprise you like a thief” (1 Thess 5:4). You should expect Christ to surely return someday. So John warns, “Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Rev 16:15), as he warned the church in Sardis to keep awake and watch for Christ’s coming (Rev 3:3).
If you do not watch and are not ready, Christ will find you naked, just as the lukewarm church in Laodicea were found in shameful nakedness (Rev 3:18). Nakedness is symbolic of disgrace and humiliation resulting from sinful deeds—as when Adam and Eve sinned, they realized they were naked and tried to cover their bodies in shame. Jeremiah describes Jerusalem’s shame because of sin as nakedness, “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness” (Lam 1:8).
When Christ returns from heaven, he will gather you his saints. But how will he find you when he returns? Will you be found in the pleasures, lusts and desires of the unbelieving world? Or will you be found loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor just as you love yourself? Will you be found reading, meditating and listening to God’s holy word? Or will you be found engaged in time-wasting pursuits and recreation? Will you be found naked like Noah because you engaged in drunkenness with friends? Or will be found ready for the great day of Assembly because you heeded the words of Jesus, John, Paul, Peter and the prophets? Christ asks you, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith [in you]?” (Luke 18:8)
Beloved friends, the great day of gathering at the Mount of Assembly is sure to come. Since you don’t know when that day will be, you must ever be watchful and ready. Avoid the seduction of the pleasures of this world by delighting on the sweetness of God’s Word. In this way, the day of Christ will not surprise you like a thief.
But those who persecute Christ’s church—those who are “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev 17:6)—God will “make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath” (Rev 16:19). If that day comes and Christ finds you in unbelief, mocking and slandering those who believe in Christ’s return, then the cup filled with God’s wrath will likewise be poured out upon you until it is empty. Amen.