Armageddon! This frightening apocalyptic word refers to earth’s last battle. But who are the contestants? “Russia, China, or Iran against Israel” is a common reply. As the Middle East simmers toward a boiling point, and as U.S., British, and Israeli intelligence monitor closely Iran and Al Qaeda’s quest for a nuclear bomb – which could be used against America – millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even secularists are pondering, “Is Armageddon at hand?” I believe it is. Yet I’m also convinced that massive Armageddon illusions are rampant. Let me explain.
The word “Armageddon” appears only once in the entire Bible, in Revelation 16:16. If you open God’s Word and read this passage for yourself, along with the verses immediately before and after it, you will be amazed at what you’ll find – and not find. Take a close look, and see for yourself:
And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found (Revelation 16:12-20).
First of all, the word “Jew” is not found in this entire section, which is rather striking, especially since the common belief is that Armageddon is a bloody military battle against Israelis. Second, at least some of the above words are symbolic, for verse 13 mentions “the dragon” and “the beast” – both of which are depicted as having “seven heads and ten horns” (see Revelation 12:3; 13:1). Will a literal, fire-breathing dragon trot across the globe before Jesus Christ returns? How about a scaly beast? No. These are inspired symbols that must be interpreted correctly.
On the side of the enemy, Revelation pinpoints the combined forces of the “dragon,” “beast,” “false prophet” (verse 13), “spirits of devils” (verse 14), and “great Babylon” (verse 19) which finally drinks “the wine of the fierceness of [God’s] wrath.” Thus it’s the “dragon,” “beast,” “false prophet,” “spirits of devils,” and “great Babylon” who are the bad guys. They will be crushed at Armageddon.
On Heaven’s side are “God Almighty” (verse 14), Jesus Christ (verse 15), and individuals who “watch and keep [their] garments” (verse 15). These “garments” represent the spotless robe of Jesus Christ’s righteousness (see Revelation 7:9), which He places upon individuals – Jews and Gentiles – who repent and trust His grace. According to Revelation 16:15, these will survive Armageddon.
Those gathered to Armageddon are “the kings of the earth and of the whole world ” (verse 14), not just Middle East dwellers. When Armageddon hits, God’s voice thunders from “the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’” (verse 17). Thus Revelation 16’s focus is the Heavenly temple, where Jesus Christ now ministers (see Hebrews 8:1, 2), not a rebuilt temple on earth. How about the affect of Armageddon? A massive earthquake rocks the globe (verse 18), “the cities of the nations” crumble (verse 19), “and every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (verse 20). Thus Armageddon is global, not local. The entire earth is decimated.
What about “the great river Euphrates” drying up (Revelation 16:12)? Will the literal Euphrates River now flowing near modern Baghdad someday evaporate? “Definitely!” some tell me, “Don’t you believe the Bible?” Of course I do. But just think with me for a moment. “The great river Euphrates” is mentioned right before “the dragon” and “the beast,” which are symbolic terms. What about the river? Could it be symbolic as well? Let’s take a closer look.
Revelation 16 not only mentions the “ great river Euphrates” (verse 12), but also “ great Babylon” (verse 19). This great Babylon is described in Revelation 17 as an unholy whore riding a beast. Clearly, this is symbolic. No literal prostitute riding a reddish monster will be reported on CNN. Hell’s Harlot also “sits upon many waters” (Revelation 17:1). In Old Testament days, ancient Babylon sat on the Euphrates. Drawing upon Old Testament history, Revelation depicts a larger “Mystery Babylon” (Revelation 17:5) again seated upon “many waters.” What does this mean?
An angelic interpreter declared, “ The waters which you saw, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues ” (Revelation 17:15, emphasis added). According to the angel – not Steve Wohlberg – “the waters” surging beneath Hell’s Harlot represent people around the world who support Mystery Babylon. Eventually, these waters will be “dried up.” Why? Because the 6th angel pours out God’s wrath upon these very waters! Read Revelation 16:1 and 12. This means that right before Armageddon, God’s judgments will suddenly drop upon people who support Babylon’s deceptions instead of following the truth of Jesus Christ and wearing His white robe. This prepares the way “for the kings of the east” (Revelation 16:12).
In Old Testament days, Cyrus, whom God called “My shepherd” (Isaiah 44:28), attacked from “the east” (see Isaiah 46:11), dried up the Euphrates (Isaiah 44:27), conquered Babylon (see Daniel 5), and freed Israel from captivity (see Ezra 1). This history is utilized in the book of Revelation as a type of the apocalyptic moment when Jesus Christ, God’s Shepherd, descends from “the east” (see Matthew 24:27) to rescue those wearing white robes at Armageddon!
To summarize, the popular notion that Armageddon is a Middle East showdown against Jews is not supported by Revelation 16:12-21 – the only place in Scripture where the word “Armageddon” is used. This theory is anArmageddon Illusion . Yes, these are the last days; yes, Islamic Jihadists are irrationally insane; and yes, their murderous madness could ignite the spark leading to earth’s last battle. But according to Revelation, Armageddon is vastly bigger than a military conflict just east of Tel Aviv. Its scope is global, its enemies are massive, and its deliverance is worldwide. Ultimately, it’s Lucifer’s entire Babylonian system (representing all false religions) that gets smashed to pieces when King Jesus descends from the eastern skies with His heavenly army (see Revelation 19:11-16, 19).
The most important question is, will we be ready for that day? Jesus Christ has told us exactly how to be ready. His specific counsel is,
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. (Revelation 16:15, 16).
There it is. We must “watch” and “keep” Jesus Christ’s garments. That’s the key. How do we do this? By forsaking every sin, trusting Jesus Christ fully, following truth, and daily walking with Him by His grace.
My wife Kristin and I, along with our two-year-old son Seth, recently spent a week in Oklahoma because of one of my speaking appointments. One afternoon Seth and I took a walk near a pile of rocks. As little boys often do, Seth reached down and grabbed a sizable rock and innocently flung it into the air – right into my mouth! After realizing that no teeth were broken and I was only bleeding slightly, my next thought was to teach Seth a lesson. “Seth,” I said softly, “you just hurt daddy. I know it was an accident, but you should say, ‘I’m sorry daddy.’” Within seconds he repeated robotically, “I’m sorry daddy.” But I could tell he didn’t mean it.
As I continued nursing my swollen lip, an amazing thing happened. Seth took a few steps, turned around, looked intensely at me, and repeated again on his own initiative, “I’m sorry daddy!” This really touched me, for I knew that, even as a 2-year-old, he genuinely felt sorry that he hurt daddy.
Just then a lesson struck my own heart. How often do we say, “I’m sorry Jesus,” without really meaning it? God wants to change this. By the Holy Spirit, He longs to reach our consciences with the awareness of how horrible sin is, and how much it hurts Him. When we see the cross, then we understand . “I’m sorry Jesus!” should be our earnest, heartfelt response.
Then Jesus will place His white robe on us.
Then we will “watch” and “keep” our garments.
This is the only way to be ready for Armageddon.
*For a detailed study of the “beast” of prophecy, see Steve Wohlberg’s book, End Time Delusions, pages 55-137.