The Battle of Armageddon

This Battle in Revelation

Scripture teaches that God will not tolerate unrighteousness upon the earth forever. The unrighteous age in which we now live will conclude with a direct battle between the unrighteous nations of earth and Christ Himself, when Christ appears in righteous glory and wrath. That battle is often referred to as the Battle of Armageddon.

The primary account of this final battle begins with the sixth bowl event:

Rev 16:13-16 – 13And 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; 14for 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. 15(“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.”) 16And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.

In this passage, we observe the following:

  • Verses 13-14 indicate that this battle will be instigated by the unholy trinity of Satan (the dragon), Antichrist (the beast), and the False Prophet. The call to battle will be carried out by spirits of demons who will persuade the whole world to take part in this battle by performing signs. The ones performing these signs will be demon possessed False Prophet and perhaps others who are among the many false prophets showing great signs and wonders described by Christ (Matt 24:24, Rev 13:13). Their battle shall ultimately be against God, the Almighty.
  • Verse 15, as it is placed here, informs us that this battle will be at least part of the “coming like a thief” event that Jesus and his apostles promised (Matt 24:43, 1 Thes 5:2-4, 2 Pet 3:10).
  • Verse 15 also offers a blessing to some, which suggests that people on earth may still repent even as late as sixth bowl event, and this promised blessing is for those who do (see side note below).
  • Verse 16 confirms that nations of the world shall heed this call to battle, and it says that the place where their armies will gather is called “Har-Magedon“, which in English is commonly named “Armageddon“, and in Hebrew it means “Hill of Megiddo”. Megiddo is in Israel, and more will be said about this place below.

Side note: The word “awake” in verse 15 a metaphor for being aware and watchful (e.g. 1 Thes 5:6). This translation says “stays awake“, but “is awake” is preferable, as conveyed by several other translations, e.g. Rev 16:15 KJV, Rev 16:15 ASV, Rev 16:15 NLT, Rev 16:15 YLT). The preferred meaning allows that the person could become awake even during the sixth bowl.

The account in chapter 16 described the nations assembling for battle, but it didn’t mention the battle itself or its outcome. However, the outcome is vividly described when the narration of the bowl events is resumed in chapter 19 (chapters 17 and 18 are the “bowl interlude”, see Revelation Overview). There, we see that the battle begins and ends with the visible return of Christ to earth:

Rev 19:15-21 – 15From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”  17Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, 18so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” 19And 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. 20And 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. 21And 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.

The outcome of the battle reveals the following:

  • Verses 15-17 say that it is Christ’s intent is to conquer all nations with a “rod of iron“, indicating his intention to destroy them. As Psalm 2:9 says, “You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”. The “wine press of God’s wrath” metaphor identifies this as the great day of God’s wrath (Isa 63:2, Joel 3:13).
  • Verses 18-19 make it clear that this is a resumption of the same account that began with the sixth bowl event from chapter 16. Note that Christ comes up against the “beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him“. The only place we see armies of the earth assembled by the beast to make war against God is in the sixth bowl.
  • Verses 20-21 describe the outcome of the battle. This will be the shortest and most one-sided major battle of all time. First the leaders are captured and destroyed, and then the rest are killed and their bodies are left as food for the birds. This battle will be a slaughter of the wicked.

We also see a reference to this battle in chapter 14, which is part of the Introduction to the Bowls, with this summary of the Armageddon battle:

Rev 14:19-20 – 19So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.

As you can see, chapter 14 uses the same “wine press of God’s wrath” metaphor that was used in reference to the Battle of Armageddon in Rev 19:15, indicating that it is describing the same event. Here, the wine press metaphor is described as harvesting of the “grapes of wrath” (the sin of men) which have been declared as “ripe” (the point has been reached where God will tolerate their sin no longer). God’s wrath against the earth is expressed figuratively by saying “the wine press was trodden” with “blood coming out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles“. This must refer to the same slaughter that will occur at Armageddon.

While the wine press is figurative, the added phrase “for a distance of two hundred miles“, is probably not figurative because this specific distance would have no apparent figurative meaning. It adds some literal geographical information, which is discussed below.

A glancing reference to this battle is also described in the sixth seal, which itself is a summary of the bowls:

Rev 6:15-17 – 15Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

This passage describes people who are terrified because they are facing God’s wrath. These people are enumerated as follows: (1) the kings of the earth, then (2) the great men and the commanders, and finally (3) the rich and the strong and every slave and free man. Notice how well this agrees with the Battle of Armageddon account we saw in chapter 19: “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, 18so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great“. As chapter 19 continues, we see that their terror was justified, because they are all killed and their flesh given as food for birds (Rev 19:17,18,19,20,21). The final question, “who is able to stand?” is rhetorical, and the obvious answer is “no one”.

We see one more reference to this battle in chapter 17 (part of the bowl interlude):

Rev 17:11-14 – 11“The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. 12“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13“These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. 14These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”

The battle here is called the war against the Lamb in verse 14, and it quickly summarizes the same outcome that we see in chapter 19, stating simply that the Lamb will overcome them when he appears as the Lord of lords and King of kings, all in agreement with Rev 19:16. This verse emphasizes that the war will be waged by Antichrist (the beast and eighth king mentioned in verse 11) and the ten other kings who, as described in verses 12-13, will be united in alliance with Antichrist. Again, this is in harmony with all of the Armageddon-related passages above.

Where Will this Battle Be?

The place called “Armageddon” comes from Rev 16:16, which says that the armies will gather there. As mentioned above, it refers to Megiddo in Israel. However, we should understand that there are also other places in Israel that scripture has identified as locations where these armies will gather. Megiddo and these other places are discussed below.

♦ Megiddo

This place, referenced by Rev 16:16. refers to an area in northern Israel encompassing the southwest portion of Galilee. Other battles have been fought there, including the famous one in which Josiah the king of Judah was killed (2 Chronicles 35:22-23).

Interestingly, this was also a battleground in 1918 during World War I. At that time, the Allied forces led by the British Empire defeated the forces of the (now extinct) Ottoman Empire. As a result, this land came under the control of the British Empire. Thirty years later, in the aftermath of the holocaust of World War II, motivation was high to provide the Jews with their homeland, and the British government and supporting nations approved the establishment in 1948 of the modern Jewish state of Israel. In this sense, Israel is a country today as a consequence of this 1918 “battle of Armageddon“.

♦ The Valley of Jehoshaphat

Joel 3:12-14: “12Let the nations be aroused And come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, For there I will sit to judge All the surrounding nations. 13Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. 14Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.

This passage is clearly referring to the battle at the end of the age because (1) It refers to the “Day of the Lord” and (2) it uses the same metaphor that we see in Revelation (e.g. chapter 14) with the sickle harvesting grapes of wrath and treading them in the wine press. It says that the nations will gather for battle at a place called the “valley of Jehoshaphat”.

The Valley of Jehoshaphat refers to the Kidron Valley, which passes between the temple mount of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives (according to JewishEncyclopedia.com).

♦ Edom

Isaiah 34:2-5: 2For the LORD’S indignation is against all the nations, And His wrath against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter. 3So their slain will be thrown out, And their corpses will give off their stench, And the mountains will be drenched with their blood. 4And all the host of heaven will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; All their hosts will also wither away As a leaf withers from the vine, Or as one withers from the fig tree. 5For My sword is satiated in heaven, Behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom And upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction.”

This is also clearly a reference to the final battle in the end times. The sky rolled up like a scroll is same description that of the given in the sixth seal (Rev 6:14), and the intense depiction of wrath and death corresponds with that given in Rev 14:20 and Rev 19:17-21.

This passage speaks of God’s wrath falling upon a place called “Edom”, which is a large region that encompasses the southern part or Israel, just south of the Dead Sea.

From the Biblical references above, we have the following geographical information concerning this battle:

  • Three places are cited as locations of this final battle: (1) Meggido, (2) Kidron Valley, and (3) Edom.
  • We also have Rev 14:20, “And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles“. The “two hundred miles” figure is unfortunately calculated and approximated. A more direct translation (e.g. NIV, ESV, KJV, ISV, YLT) would call it “a distance of 1,600 stadia“. Since a stadia is about 607 feet, a more accurate conversion to miles would be about 180 miles.

It is interesting to observe that on a map of Israel, the three locations above fall on a straight line, and that the distance of this straight line comes out to about 180 miles (see map below.)

Map showing the distance in miles associated with the Battle of Armageddon

Linking the locations of the Battle of Armageddon with a 180-mile straight line

Why Do All Armies Gather for Battle?

Scripture doesn’t say explicitly why the armies gather there, and yet I think the reason becomes quite evident when one follows the narrative of Revelation.

Recall that before the armies gathered for battle in Israel, there were two Jewish witnesses in Jerusalem (described in chapter 11) who had been striking the earth with plagues, perhaps including the first four trumpet events described in chapter 8. God was protecting those two witnesses, and so all efforts to stop them had failed for 1260 days until Antichrist finally killed them (Rev 11:3,5,6,7).

However, the two witnesses came back to life and ascended to heaven (Rev 11:11,12). Immediately following their ascension, a new series of plagues (the first five bowl events) began to strike the earth. These new plagues were similar to the trumpet events, except that they were much more severe. The earth was literally being destroyed.

What could be done to stop these plagues? There are no Jewish witnesses to kill this time, but it will be clear to everyone that these sorts of plagues are associated with the Jews, and that a surviving remnant of Jews have been protected by God for the past 3 1/2 years (Rev 12:6,14). From the perspective of the ungodly world, destroying this last remnant of Israel once and for all will be seen as the only hope to save the world from these deadly bowl plagues.

The armies of the world will thus be united in a desperate effort to destroy the Jews, who they see as somehow being the cause of these plagues. They will assemble for battle in Israel, and this gathering for battle is itself the sixth bowl event. The battle itself is described at the end of the seventh bowl event, in chapter 19.

What is the Outcome of the Battle?

By the time the armies of the nations prepare to assemble in Israel, a series of devastating bowl plagues will have destroyed much of the earth. The latest such plague shall be darkness over all the earth (the fifth bowl). Even under these circumstances, the determined nations shall utterly commit themselves to the “great cause” of sending armies to destroy Israel in hopes of saving the world, because they are convinced that Israel is causing the plagues. And yet their arrival in Israel will itself be the fulfillment of the sixth bowl.

The armies that arrive in Israel may be confident of victory. They will be led by Antichrist himself, and perhaps the same technique that he used earlier to kill the two Jewish leaders (Rev 11:7) will work on the rest of Israel. However, they will all be in for a jolt. The earth will experience an earthquake unlike any other, as described in the seventh bowl (Rev 16:18,19,20), possibly including the destruction of all mountains and Islands. Nobody will be able to stand and entire cities will collapse.

And yet there shall be an even greater shock as Israel’s king returns to fight for them, and Israel’s king is none less than the Son of God, appearing in wrath (Rev 19:15). As Jesus described it, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.” (Matt 24:30).

Rev 19:12 says “His eyes are like blazing fire”. Recall that back when Jesus first visited John on Patmos, John’s description of Jesus said “His eyes were like a flame of fire”. John said “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not”” (Rev 1:14-17). This sort of thing has happened other times in scripture, where someone witnessed a holy being, fell as if dead, but was then revived when told by the holy person to not be afraid. It seems that being confronted with this holy light must be absolute terror for a sinner. Heb 4:13 says “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

When Christ appears in wrath, everyone on earth will be exposed to this holy light, but this time, there will be no one to say “don’t be afraid”. I think this explains the behavior of people (as described in the sixth seal) when it says that they will hide in caves, “calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,  for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6:16-17).

After describing the appearance of Christ, John turns his attention back to the armies that were assembled  against Israel, and he describes their fate: Rev 19:19 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. John tells how these armies shall be quickly annihilated, with their bodies given as food for birds. The rest of the unredeemed world shall also see the appearance of God’s wrath, and they shall all be killed (Rev 19:20,21).

If there are any survivors at all (aside from the protected remnant of Israel), it will be people who repented during the bowl judgments, and were not killed by them. The prophecy concerning the Day of the Lord will be fulfilled, “I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold” (Isa 13:12).

Where Are Christians During the Battle?

I believe that when Christ returns, all those who were Christians before the bowls began will have an aerial view of the battle. They would be among the “The armies of heaven following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean”, mentioned in Rev 19:14. This is an army of glorified saints, and they are the ones the Bible describes as “clothed in clean garments”, referring back to the Bride of Christ in heaven (Rev 19:8).

What is God’s Purpose in this Battle?

As discussed above, it’s not that hard to see why the unredeemed world would come to do battle against Israel. But this battle also seems to serve God’s purposes.

One of the remarkable things we observe about God is that He respects the laws that He laid down for men. For example, we call Christ our “faithful high priest” because he came to offer up himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. However, Christ didn’t just come and do this without first having a way for him be a legitimate priest upon the earth. God had created a special priesthood just for that purpose through Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20, Psalm 110:4, Heb 7:1-28).

Likewise, when Christ comes to reign as king, he won’t just assume that role without first having been established as a legitimate king on earth. God went to the “trouble” of establishing an earthly royal line with king David, and making sure that David’s royal line survived, and that Jesus Christ was the descendant of David and the rightful heir to his throne.

However, if Christ comes to assume his role as king on earth by virtue of inheriting the throne of David, then he should, according to the laws of men, become the king of Israel, just as David was (Matt 2:2, John 1:49, John 12:13, Acts 1:6). How then does he come to be the legitimate “king of kings” (Rev 17:14, 19:16), reigning over all the earth?

The answer may be that according to the common law of men, if your land is unjustly invaded by an enemy, then you have every right to counter-attack and defeat your enemy. In the case of Armageddon, Israel is unjustly invaded by all nations, giving the king of Israel (Christ) every right to attack all nations. By being victorious over all nations, Christ becomes king of kings, while at the same time doing so legitimately according to the laws of men. Thus, for man’s purposes, the battle of Armageddon will be an attempt to destroy God’s people. But for God’s purposes, the battle of Armageddon will exalt Christ as the one and only king over all the earth (Zech 14:9).

In His role as king over all the earth, he shall put an end to sin all over the earth and establish His Millennial Kingdom, followed by His kingdom of everlasting righteousness over all the earth (Dan 9:24, Isa 13:9, Isa 26:9, Jer 33:15, 2 Pet 3:13). This is the ultimate purpose of the battle of Armageddon.

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