Every now and again, in place of a Wednesday night sermon, I ask our congregation to turn in biblical or theological questions they've been pondering (a few days in advance), and I try and tackle a handful of them during our Wednesday worship. Last night one of the questions was:
Does the battle of Armageddon actually take place?
The simplest answer to this question is ‘yes’ … and ‘no.’ Allow me to explain:
Turn to Revelation 16, and you will find yourself at the very end of the world. The final trumpet of the great tribulation has sounded (chapter 11), Christ has returned at the end of that tribulation (chapter 14) and taken His church out of the world. And, in chapter 16, God’s final judgments are unleashed on the world, by means of “the seven bowls of the wrath of God” which are poured out on the earth, beginning in verse 1. And, when the sixth of those seven bowls is upturned, a great company of demons and men gathers to make war against our God, and against His Lamb. Read about these events in verses 12-16:
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.
So yes, there is this gathering together for the great battle of Armageddon, or “Har-Magedon”, as the NASB translates it. This is evidently a reference to a battlefield near the Israelite town of Megiddo, where a couple of key Old Testament battles were fought. Here, in the place where Satan had so often tried to destroy God’s people, he takes up arms against God Himself! Here, in the place where the good King Josiah was slain by his enemy, the Enemy of the great King Jesus rides out with the same intentions in mind – in this Hebrew place called “Har-Megedon.”
But what actually becomes of the combat? What takes place after the armies gather in Revelation16.16? Does an epic, Lord-of-the-Rings-type of battle scene unfold, with men of faith valor, perhaps joined by good angels, holding out against this one final assault of the dark forces? That’s not what unfolds at all, is it? No! In verse 16.17, far from giving a description of a great battle, we are simply told that the seventh angel pours out his bowl upon the earth, that God pronounces “It is done,” and that the already ravaged earth begins to come apart at the seams. These final events of planet earth are expanded upon in chapter 19.19-21:
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.
Note that when we pick up the storyline, there in Revelation 19.19, the battle of Armageddon has not yet begun. The beast and the kings of the earth are still gathered in order to make war, but shots have not been fired yet. And how does the battle finally commence? As no battle at all! The rider on the white horse (19.11); the one on whose thigh is written “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (v.16); the Son of God simply plucks up the beast and the false prophet and throws them alive into hell! And the rest of the gathered armies of Armageddon are wiped away, it would seem, with a single blow of His sword!
Do you see? While it is true that a great army of demons and men will assemble against the Lord in the last day; and while it is true (Rev. 19.14) that He will have the armies of heaven riding behind Him onto the field of battle … it does not appear that either of the armies even so much as get their shoes muddy in the battle! No arrows fly; no advances are made; and no swords clash! The King of Kings simply wields His scepter and flashes His sword, such that the hosts of hell and the armies of men are swept away in a moment! Such is the power of our great King!
And so I ask you: Can this Jesus not defend you against all the wiles of the devil? You have nothing to fear if you are following behind the rider on the white horse! No weapon formed against you shall prosper. “Now power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck you from His hand”*! No persecution can ultimately destroy you. No Satanic temptation can ultimately defeat you. And no demonic power can get the better of you, so long as you continue riding on the coattails of the rider on the white horse! “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world.” And He who is in you says, at the end of this book, “I am coming quickly.”
*From the hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, "In Christ Alone." Copyright 2001, Kingsway's Thankyou Music.