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?
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.
Armageddon will simply be the final battle in that conflict. Right now, this war doesn’t seem real, but one of these days, it will be very real.
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 to represent all the nations of the world at the time of the final conflict that the Bible calls Armageddon. And Revelation says that these kings “will give their power and authority to the beast” (verse 13).
War against Christ and His followers
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. However, since Christ’s second coming is still in the future at this point in Revelation, their attack will not be on Him personally. They will oppose Him by attacking His people.
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 Bible 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 italicised 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 earth’s armies for that battle.
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). Again, earth’s military forces are gathered for the battle; they are preparing for the battle, but the battle itself is still future.
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 earth’s rebellious political and religious powers 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 are the kings of the earth that in Revelation 16 were being gathered for the battle of Armageddon.
Christ’s second coming and Armageddon
I propose to you that in Revelation 19:11-21, John gives us a symbolic picture of Christ’s second coming that’s described as a battle between Himself and all the world’s great military forces. But how do human beings think they can prevent Christ from returning to our world?
What I say next would not have made sense 100 years ago, but it does today. For the past 70 years, our world has been awash with movies and novels about aliens and space travel. It’s also been awash with armies with powerful nuclear weapons.
I suggest that when Christ’s coming is very near, Satan will be very aware of these realities. So, he will order his evil angels to go out to the kings of the earth, telling them that there’s an alien force from a distant part of the universe that’s headed toward planet Earth to destroy it. These evil angels will instruct these kings to bring their armies with all their nuclear weapons to one place—it could even be in the vicinity of Israel’s Megiddo Valley and Mount Carmel—and aim them toward the heavens in order to block this “alien invasion” from destroying human civilisation.
Of course, Jesus and His angels can neutralise those nuclear warheads in an instant. And the armies that had intended to fire them will be captured and “thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur” (verse 20). Revelation does not picture a long, drawn-out battle; instead, it is a battle that is over almost before it has begun.
Thus, the actual battle of Armageddon will take place at Christ’s second coming. It will be Christ’s second coming. It will be a battle between Christ and His righteous angels on one side and Satan and his forces of evil on the other side. 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).
Throughout most of world history, Satan and his people have appeared to have the upper hand. However, the tide will turn in the final battle of the ages. Jesus Himself will enter the fray, and earth’s evil forces will be doomed.
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. He has a history of infiltrating earth’s political powers to try and force people to yield to him.
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.