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The Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16)

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For centuries mankind has been interested in the battle of Armageddon.  Countless books have been written about this topic.  This battle is and has been the subject of so much controversy over the years that entire doctrines have been contrived around it.  It is not the purpose of this study to determine what the battle of Armageddon is not.  Rather, the goal of this study is to shed light on what this battle really is so that informed students of scripture can determine for themselves what it is not.  

First, we must bear in mind that John wrote this book directly to the churches of Asia in the latter half of the 1st century.  At the time of this writing the Lord's church was undergoing some of the most severe organized persecution it would face in all the Christian age.  Christianity was outlawed by the Roman Empire.  Emperor Domitian demanded to be worshipped as a god on earth and any who refused became enemies of the Imperial Roman Empire.  Violators were ostracized from society, forbidden to buy, sell or participate in any kind of government program.  Not only was it illegal for a Christian to buy or sell within the empire, it was illegal for the Roman citizens loyal to Domitian to sell to or buy from them.  All commerce with Christians who refused to worship the emperor was forbidden by the state.   These economic sanctions were focused primarily on the Christians and excluded the Jewish people still worshipping under the Mosaic system.  The Jews comprised such a large part of the Roman economic engine that Domitian permitted them a degree of religious freedom but, they were forbidden to trade with their brethren of nationality who were Christians.   

Those who were even suspected or accused of being Christians or even aiding them were imprisoned, their property seized by the state, their children were often sold into slavery, and the prisoners of the state were often subjected to various tortures up to and including their use in the Roman games for the public entertainment of the masses.  Publicly slaughtered by gladiators and wild beasts they became a grim example to the rest of the citizenry of Rome of the consequences for refusing to bow down to Emperor worship or for helping anyone who refused to obey their authority.  It was a dark time for God's faithful.  

The conditions under which the recipients of this letter received it forms the backdrop for how we are to understand it today.  Revelation was a book of comfort, exhortation and hope to a severely oppressed group of God's people.  It is only logical that they would be able to understand John's letter.  They would know the Battle of Armageddon and what it meant to Christians.  They would be familiar enough with the imagery to understand and apply it to their situation.  Nobody would write a letter of encouragement to a suffering loved one that they could not understand.  So with this in mind, to the best of our ability, let's look at the Battle of Armageddon through the eyes of those to whom Revelation was written.  What the battle of Armageddon meant to John and the first readers of his book is what it was, is, or will be.  

In the original text, the word Armageddon is "Harmaggedon."  This a compound word derived from the Hebrew word "Har" which means a mountain or range of hills, (See Strongs OT 2022).  This word is a shortened version of the Hebrew word "harar", (Strong's OT 2042), which means to loom up; a mountain or hill. 

"Meggedon" is derived from the Hebrew word "Megiddown" or "Megiddow".  These words originate from the Hebrew word "gadad" which means to assemble, gather troops for battle, or to cut or gash oneself.  The latter meaning being of no apparent connection to this context.  The ASV renders this as "Har-Magedon." which literally means the "mount of Megiddo" or the "looming" or perhaps "rising" of Megiddo.  This would suggest the imagery of the rising presence of an impending battle of particular relevance to Megiddo.   

There are numerous references to Meggido in scripture but nowhere else is this place referred to as a mountain.  The Bible speaks geographically of "Megiddo and its three heights" (Joshua 17:11), "Megiddo and its towns" (Judges 1:27), the "waters of Megiddo" (Judges 5:19), and the "valley of Megiddo" (2 Chronicles 35:22Zechariah 12:11).  Geographic Megiddo was a battlefield beginning on the Northwest side of Palestine at Mount Carmel, extending across Palestine to Mount Gilboa on the southeast.  Megiddo was a strategic point in the protection of Israel and Judah, since it guarded the northern entrance into Israel.  SeeMap

Several decisive historical battles were fought in this area.  There were battles between the powers on the northeast and those on the southwest, between the Egyptians and the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Babylonians, and the Egyptians and the Medes and the Persians.  On one occasion, Pharaoh Necho, on his way to fight the Assyrians encountered Josiah, a good king of Judah.  Pharaoh Necho tried to dissuade Josiah from the battle, but he refused to listen and was killed, (2 Chronicles 35:20-24). Barak and Deborah defeated Sisera and the Caananites "by the waters of Megiddo" (Judges 5:19-20).  Saul and Jonathan fought their last battle with the Philistines and died on the eastern side of plains of Megiddo, (1 Samuel 31:1-6).  It was in the valley of Jezreel, "west of the hill of Moreh." that Gideon took 300 men and defeated the Midianites, (Judges 7:1).  It was at Megiddo where Ahaziah, king of Judah, in league with Joram of Israel was slain at the command of Jehu, (2 Kings 9:27).  At Megiddo a small army of Israelites defeated an overwhelming force led by Antiochus Epiphanes IV, as prophesied in Daniel 11.  The Hebrews of the first century recognized any reference to Megiddo as a place where countless hundreds of thousands of their countrymen lost their lives in numerous battles over centuries of time in conflicts that often decided their fate on earth.  The best blood of the Israelites soaked that battlefield along with the blood of their mortal enemies since the time of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

Was the battle of Armageddon a literal battle, fought between the Lord's people and the forces of darkness, on a literal battlefield, with literal weapons of war?  To answer this question we must first look to what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:17, "And whatsoever Ye do, in word or in deed, (do) all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  No matter what the Christian does whether it be in peace or at war, they must have authority from Jesus Christ to do it.  So if a Christian is going to wage war with earthly weapons and shed the blood of their enemies then this must be done with proper Biblical authority.  

How does scripture teach the Christian to deal with their enemies?  Christians are to love their enemies, (Luke 6:27), blessing those that curse them,  doing good to all that hate them, praying for those who use and persecute them, (Matthew 5:44).  Paul taught:  "If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath (of God): for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord.  But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.  Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:18-21). Paul refers to Christians as soldiers in his second letter to Timothy where he also said that they must contend lawfully, (2 Timothy 2:4-5).  The only scripturally approved offensive weapons of the soldiers of Christ are described in Ephesians 6:13-17, "Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that Ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith Ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil (one).  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."  Nowhere in scripture is the faithful child of God instructed to take up a manmade weapon of war and use it to shed the blood of the enemies of righteousness in the post cross Christian age.  

John 18:36
"Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

Whatever the battle of Armageddon was, is, or will be, it must be fought with the spiritual weapons of the soldiers of Christ, it must be fought lawfully using only the approved methods and means for spiritual warfare as authorized in scripture.  This battle cannot be a literal conflict where the righteous shed the blood of their enemies.  Such an interpretation of this battle would be to create a direct conflict with the rest of scripture which plainly teaches that the weapons and armor which the righteous use against evil is the word of God and their faith, (Ephesians 6:13-17Hebrews 4:12).

Furthermore, if the battle of Armageddon were a literal physical battle, one would expect to see three literal frogs going out from the mouth of a literal dragon into the world to rally the forces of evil and to lead them in their crusade against the Christians.  The symbolism of Armageddon was simply used by John to indicate there will be a battle between evil and righteousness and that the righteous will prevail in the end.  

In Edward Gibbons book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he wrote concerning the plight of the Christians that by the time of Trajan (AD 98-117) any one who could not prove an accusation brought against a Christian suffered the penalty of death.  Gibbon further stated with regard to policy under Trajan, "The answer of Trajan, to which the Christians of the succeeding age have frequently appealed, discovers as much regard for justice and humanity as could be reconciled with his mistaken notions of religious policy. Instead of displaying the implacable zeal of an Inquisitor, anxious to discover the most minute particles of heresy, and exulting in the number of his victims, the emperor expresses much more solicitude to protect the security of the innocent than to prevent the escape of the guilty. He acknowledges the difficulty of fixing any general plan; but he lays down two salutary rules, which often afforded relief and support to the distressed Christians."  After Domitian was assassinated in AD 96, it appears that the Christians found relief in the subsequent reigns of the Roman emperors.  The beast, having at long last been defeated by God was dead and gone from the scene.  God wasn't done with the Roman Empire yet and persecution was still horrific, but at least Domitian was gone and the tide of persecution against the Christians took a decisive turn for the better.

To the first century Christians, the battle of Armageddon could only have been a battle between themselves and forces of evil opposing them.  They would read John's letter and relate his writings to their immediate situation.  At the time of this letter, they were engaged in a life and death struggle with the Roman Empire under the reign of an evil emperor dedicated to their eradication.  Their immediate concerns were not some dim and distant futuristic battle to be fought some time in the obscure future.  The battle of Armageddon for them was being fought in their lifetimes.  They were fighting the Christian fight of righteousness.  They were being persecuted for their beliefs and they were dying for their faith in God.  They lived their lives on the battlefield of oppression and they fought the battle of Armageddon every single day of their lives and we today owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay.  Because it is upon their faith and steadfastness that the future of all Christianity hung.  Just like the real battles fought in the valley of Megiddo where the future of God's people was decided by the outcome, so also did the outcome of the first century battle of Armageddon assure for all Christians of all ages yet to come that righteousness will prevail and God's faithful people will be triumphant. 

The first century Christians who remained faithful till death fought their battle of Armageddon and won.  For us the war between righteousness and evil still rages.  Satan's hatred of mankind has not abated one bit in the last 1900 years.  Until heaven and earth pass and the great day of the Lord is come upon us, we will fight against the forces of darkness, using only the spiritual weapons of warfare.  There are still plenty of forces out there hostile to Christianity.  Islam is the fastest growing religion on earth right now.  Denominationalism and religious division is running rampant over the globe.  True Christianity is always represented by the minority or a remnant.  In third world countries, Christianity faces poverty and oppression from the government.  In wealthy countries, Christianity faces the problems brought on by opulence and wealth.  The unrighteous in fat and happy societies feel no need for God in their lives, being wrapped in a false security of wealth and ease.   The faithful watch as the unrighteous force God out of their societies inch by inch.  

While the battle of Armageddon may be over for those who lived in the first century, it rages still today against the righteous, and our enemy is no less opposed to us as he was against them.  Christians today wage a war against the forces of evil just like in the first century.  Satan's weapons today are the same as they were then; Trickery, deception, lies, fleshly pleasures, oppression and division.  Satan knows that the kingdom of God divided is like a house divided.  It cannot stand, (Matthew 12:25).  Our battle of Armageddon today is no less important than the ones fought in previous times.  It is on our shoulders that the future of Christianity sets.  It is our resolve and dedication to the truth that will someday have a part in the preservation of the Lord's church for all future generations for as long as earth remains.  Our duty is solemn and of vital importance to all who may live after us and seek God's truth.  

So with this thought anchored in heart and soul, let us set our hand to the plough, never looking back and run with patience the race that is set before us.  Let us contend earnestly for the faith, of Jesus Christ, taking heed to and teaching no other doctrine but the one that was received by the apostles.  Let us forget those things which are behind and reach forth unto those things which are before, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us put on the whole armor of God that we may be be able to stand against Satan, girding our loins with truth, wearing the breastplate of righteousness, having our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, taking up the shield of faith while wearing the helmet of salvation and wielding the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.  Let us fight the good fight to the end, girding up the loins of our minds, with sobriety, finishing the course and keeping the faith, with hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to us at the coming of Jesus Christ.  For we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Therefore let us stand united under the banner of truth and righteousness, holding forth the word of life, using spiritual weapons and fighting the battles of Armageddon wherever they may be, defending the church of the living God which is the pillar and ground of the truth, and laying up for ourselves and for our children, a good foundation against the time to come.   The battle of Armageddon in the first century was the conflict between righteousness and evil.  Those battles are still being fought today. Those who emerge victorious from their battles of Armageddon will win the war and lay hold on eternal life.  (c.f. Luke 9:62Jude 3Galatians 1:8-91 Timothy 4:166:193:15Philippians 3:13-142:162 Timothy 4:71 Peter 1:13Ephesians 6:11-17)

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