The dust hadn’t even settled on Desert Storm—the coalition’s war against Saddam Hussein in the early 1990s—when I received an advertisement for a religious book predicting that this was the beginning of the end; Armageddon was about to be fought. The author painted a vivid picture of Russia coming down to support the Arabs and the United States moving in to support Israel. Earth’s final battle was just around the corner! And the author assured his readers that it would be fought in Israel’s Megiddo Valley.
Of course, none of those predictions eventuated. But can we know what the Bible actually means when it refers to Armageddon?
The word comes from two Hebrew words: har, meaning “mountain”, and mageddon, meaning “Megiddo”—that is, Mount Megiddo. There is no Mount Megiddo in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. However, the Megiddo Valley in northern Israel is located near Mount Carmel, where the Old Testament prophet Elijah staged a spiritual showdown in opposition to the priests of the Canaanite god Baal nearly 3000 years ago (see 1 Kings 18:16–45).
Many people today believe that Armageddon will be fought between two groups of nations on our planet. But is that correct? The truth is that Armageddon is indeed a final battle—but between two groups far older than any human nation.
In the beginning
Thousands of years ago in heaven, a powerful angel named Lucifer—now called Satan—rebelled against God and gained a huge following among God’s angels. Satan and his followers were expelled from heaven and cast to the earth (Revelation 12:9), and their struggle against God has continued ever since. We see this in numerous stories from the Bible, including Elijah’s spiritual showdown on Mount Carmel.
Armageddon will simply be the final battle in that conflict. This battle has raged for thousands of years, but it will not last forever. Eventually Armageddon will come and provide a final conclusion to this spiritual war.
The scarlet beast
Revelation makes it very clear that, as earth’s history nears its end, God’s people will be engaged in a profound struggle. In its description of this struggle, Revelation 17 depicts the forces of evil as a beast with 10 horns and verse 12 says that these 10 horns represent 10 kings “who for one hour will receive authority as kings” (Revelation 17:12).
These “kings” represent the nations over which they rule. Since there are far more than 10 nations in today’s world, we should understand these 10 kings are not literal nations that exist in the present day. Interpretations on what nations specifically they may refer to differ, but one common belief is that each horn represents a different kingdom from history—kingdoms which did not yet exist at the time of the prophecy.. And Revelation says that these kings “will give their power and authority to the beast” (verse 13). In this way, it can be seen that the earth is under the influence of Satan—who many nations give power to, be this directly or indirectly.
Now note this: Revelation says that these kings will “wage war against the Lamb” (verse 14). The “Lamb” is a symbol of Jesus Christ. So, the beast and the nations of the world will join the devil on one side, while Jesus and His followers will be on the other side. So, are God’s people doomed? Not at all! Verse 14 says that “the Lamb will triumph over them [earth’s kings] because he is Lord of lords and King of kings.”
When is Armageddon?
Over the centuries that people have been pondering these prophecies, many have concluded that Armageddon will be a battle between two opposing forces on this earth. However, a close look at what Revelation says about Armageddon rules that out.
Revelation 16 is the only place in the Old Testament and the New Testament that mentions Armageddon, and it’s associated with the sixth of the seven last plagues. Verse 12 says, “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the east.” Note the word, prepare. This isn’t the battle of Armageddon. It’s a preparation for that battle.
Verses 13 and 14 tell us that three demonic spirits will “go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty” (italics added). So, the battle of Armageddon hasn’t happened yet. The demonic spirits are gathering those who do not follow God into a specific group—cataloguing those who stand with Satan by rejecting God.
We see the same thing in verse 16, which says that these demonic spirits “gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (italics added). Just like Elijah on Mount Carmel, a spiritual battle is being prepared for once more.
So, when will the battle of Armageddon take place? Revelation 19 answers that question. The battle of Armageddon will take place when Jesus returns to the earth. At that time, He will defeat those who defy him and deliver His faithful people.
In Revelation 19:11, the apostle John describes his vision of the future: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.” This Rider who is going forth to wage war is clearly Jesus; verse 13 calls the Rider “the Word of God”, which is a title John gave to Jesus in his Gospel (John 1:1,14).
Revelation goes on to say that “the armies of heaven were following him [Jesus], riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:14). The phrase “armies of heaven” probably refers to the angels (see Revelation 12:7–9). And they are riding out of heaven to wage war against the kings of the earth and their armies, which have been so relentlessly attacking Jesus’ faithful people.
Revelation 19:19 confirms this conclusion. John wrote, “I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army.” These kings of the earth, as we know, are those who have pledged allegiance to the earth—that in Revelation 16 were being gathered for the great battle of Armageddon.
Thus, the actual battle of Armageddon references the climax of this spiritual conflict during the end times which will force everybody to choose between the rulers of earth and God. This conflict will end with Christ’s second coming—which will coincide with the end of the world as we know it and the restoration of God’s relationship with his faithful to its original form. The people of God are not asked to fight; the message to them is like that given to the ancient Hebrews as they escaped slavery and their Egyptian oppressors: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again” (Exodus 14:13).
What difference does it make?
It’s easy to think that the battle of Armageddon doesn’t have much to do with you and me. However, as we’ve seen, Armageddon is the final battle in a war that’s been waged on our planet ever since time began. And it isn’t just a war for control of our planet. More importantly, it’s a war for our hearts and minds.
Satan and Jesus are both trying to win us to their side. For thousands of years, Satan has tried desperately to compel people to join his side through whatever means necessary. Jesus will never do that. Those who join His side will do so by their own free choice, unfettered by any compulsion on His part.
The issue in the conflict is whose side we will join. It will be too late to make a choice when Armageddon is fought. Those who are on the winning side in earth’s final battle will be those who are choosing to be on the winning side right now. It’s a choice Jesus invites you and me to make today.
Marvin Moore is the editor of the North American edition of Signs of the Times. He lives with his wife, Lois, in Caldwell, Idaho.