Armageddon: The Next of the “Left-Behind” Series
Premillennialism is the dogma that Christ must return to the earth before He commences an alleged 1,000 year reign from Jerusalem.
Dispensationalism is the notion that all of history is divided into seven ages (dispensations), which supposedly correspond to the days of the creation week — the seventh “age” of which is the alleged “millennial” reign of Jesus.
Almost every time there is a disturbance in the Middle East, voices of hysteria assert that the “battle of Armageddon” is imminent.
This month, the eleventh volume of the “Left Behind” series, titled Armageddon, will be released by Tyndale Press. Authored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, this error-ridden, dispensational fictional tale will doubtless fan those flames that so easily are kindled in the sincere hearts of those uninitiated in fundamental Bible doctrine. It really is an amazing thing that so many offer such a vigorous defense of the “Left Behind” books simply on the basis that they are quite “entertaining,” and probably don’t do much “harm” — in spite of the fact that they are not biblically accurate. That is precisely the way that “error” loves to do its nefarious work.
The dispensationalists are constantly adjusting their “political” interpretations of those events that are supposed to be precursors to “Armageddon.” A recent example was seen in a revised version of John F. Walvoord’s book, Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis.
For some years Walvoord was an instructor of Systematic Theology at the Dallas Theological Seminary. The promotion for Walvoord’s book asserted that the world stage was set for a showdown in the Middle East. The professor argued that the conflict in the Persian Gulf, during the administration of President Bush, Sr., fulfilled conditions “exactly as the Bible anticipates in its prophecies of the end of time.” The first printing of this book issued 300,000 copies, and a $40,000 national marketing campaign was initiated.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, these books were dumped on the market at a fraction of the original price. It is little wonder; Russia was supposed to be one of the super powers in the Armageddon conflict. Now, she retains but a remnant of her former stature. The entire millennial scheme is without merit.
A number of premillennial writers have identified Iraq with biblical prophecies regarding Babylon. They claim, therefore, that when the ancient prophets wrote regarding “Babylon,” in many instances they were speaking of modern Iraq. For example, Spiros Zodhiates, Editor-in-Chief of the widely circulated Pulpit Helps, has distributed a cassette tape entitled, “Iraq in Prophecy.” The advertising that promotes the presentation states: “These lessons provide the biblical information to identify Iraq as modern Babylon.” In the February 7, 1991 issue of Guardian of Truth, Weldon E. Warnock had an excellent article refuting the alleged Babylon-Iraq connection.
Does the Bible speak of the “battle of Armageddon”? If so, what it is? And when is it supposed to occur?
Armageddon [literally, Har-Magedon] is specifically mentioned but once in the Scriptures. A passage in the book of Revelation states: “And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon” (16:16). Before one is prepared to consider the possible meaning of “Armageddon,” he must first understand something of the nature and design of the book of Revelation as a whole.
A Symbolic Book of Hope
It must first be noted that the book of Revelation is a highly symbolic document, as evidenced by both the introduction, and the type of material contained therein. The inspired author affirmed that Christ “signified” the message by his angel unto His servant John (1:1). “The Greek verb carries the idea of figurative representation. Strictly speaking it means to make known by some sort of sign … it is admirably suited to the symbolic character of the book. This should warn the reader not to expect a literal presentation of future history, but a symbolic portrayal of that which must yet come to pass” (Mounce, p. 65). The final book of the New Testament is filled with symbols — like blood, wine, harlot, gold, white robes, etc.
Again we must remind ourselves as to why the Lord chose these graphic figures through which to convey the instruction of the Apocalypse. Biblical symbolism frequently served a two-fold purpose. First, “signs” could reveal, in a vivid and dramatic way, truths to those who were initiated in the meaning of the word-pictures. Second, though, these same truths could be concealed from those who would abuse the information, had they access to the “code.” Compare, for example, Jesus’ use of parables in the presence of the Jewish leaders (Mt. 13:13ff). Generally, therefore, this symbolic terminology (also called “apocalyptic” language) was employed by inspired writers to “smuggle” messages of hope to the Lord’s people in times of great danger.
The book of Revelation is a proclamation of victory. One of the key words in the narrative is “overcome.” It is a fact admitted by all that this book was written in a time of severe and widespread persecution. The object of the writing, therefore, was to assure the followers of Christ of the ultimate and complete defeat of God’s enemies, and the glorious triumph of the Christian religion.
This word of consolation was couched in the imagery of the Old Testament Scriptures. Westcott and Hort’s edition of the Greek New Testament lists over five hundred references and allusions from the Old Testament in the book of Revelation. The primitive Christians, being familiar with the Old Testament writings, would understand the symbols, hence, be sustained; but their enemies would not grasp the message. This technique surely spared the early Christians from some of the persecution so prevalent in those days.
Any view of the book of Revelation that fails to recognize its highly symbolic nature and that seeks to literalize its images, is doomed to absolute failure. This is the cardinal error of dispensational premillennialism.
What Is Armaggedon?
As noted earlier, the solitary biblical reference to “Armageddon” occurs near the end of Revelation 16. This awesome chapter records the pouring out of seven bowls of God’s wrath into the earth (v. 1). The bowls of wrath are in the form of plagues (sores, blood, fire, frogs), reminiscent of the Exodus plagues, and they are designed to be universal, strictly punitive, and final. Leon Morris says: “They point us to God’s overthrow of all that is evil” (p. 192). In connection with the sixth bowl, John writes in Revelation 16:13-16:
“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, as it were frogs: for they are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.) And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon.”
Surely even the most inexperienced exegete ought to be able to discern the figures employed within this context. Are literal frogs literally going to come from the literal mouths of literal creatures to literally engage in battle on the literal plain of Megiddo? I would assume that even modern millennialists do not believe that the battle of Armageddon will be fought by frogs.
Moreover, the plain of Megiddo is only about twenty miles long by fourteen miles wide, and that is much too small to accommodate a battle of the magnitude (hundreds of millions of soldiers) demanded by modern dispensational writers.
Exactly then, what is “Har-Magedon”? While recent New Testament criticism has debated the meaning of the term, Professor Eberhard Nestle says: “Upon the whole, to find an allusion here to Megiddo is still the most probable explanation” (p. 305). “The fact that the tell [hill] of Megiddo was about 70 feet high in John’s day, and was in the vicinity of [the] Carmel Range, justifies the use of Hebrew har, used loosely in the Old Testament for ‘hill’ and ‘hill country’…” (Sheriffs, p. 505).
It needs to be recognized that in speaking of Armageddon, or the mountain of Megiddo, the apostle John is not alluding to a literal place. The use of geographical points to emphasize spiritual truths is a common biblical phenomenon. Consider, for example, the word “hell” (Grk. gehenna). The Greek gehenna relates to the Hebrew gehinnom, which was the Valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, when the Jews became involved in idolatry, they offered their children as burnt sacrifices there (2 Kgs. 16:3; 21:6). Later, because of its connection with pain, weeping, and burning (Hinnom became the city dump, continuously on fire), gehenna became a symbol for the final punishment of hell. Certainly it would be absurd to contend that on the Day of Judgment, the wicked will be cast into the literal Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem.
Similarly, and characteristically, John, in the Revelation, frequently uses places as symbols for concepts. So Zion (14:1), or Jerusalem (21:2), are symbols of God’s spiritual city, the church. Babylon signifies apostasy, and all that is opposed to God (14:8); Egypt and Sodom (11:8) represent oppression and wickedness; the Euphrates (16:12) was symbolic of the point of origin of (spiritual) Israel’s enemies, etc. It is within such a reference frame that “mountain of Megiddo” likewise is used.
The history of Megiddo is quite interesting. It is the earth’s most famous battle-field. J.L. Hurlbut declared that “more battles have been fought on this plain than on any other in the world” (1954, p. 15). A number of famous Old Testament conflicts occurred there. It was renowned for the victories of Deborah and Barak over the Canaanites (Jdg. 4:15), and of Gideon over the Midianites (Jdg. 7). Josiah was also killed in battle there (2 Kgs. 23:29).
“It is not unlikely,” says Morris, “that the deliverance under Deborah is regarded as setting the pattern. Then Sisera had 900 chariots of iron (Jdg. 4:13), but in Israel there was scarce a shield or spear among 40,000 (Jdg. 5:8). Israel’s position appeared completely hopeless. But when the battle was joined, ‘the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army’ (Jdg. 4:15 RSV). So will it be at the last day. However strong the forces of evil may appear, and however hopeless the position of those of good, God will win the victory. He will resoundingly overthrow the evil” (p. 200). And so, “The old battleground becomes the symbol of the decisive struggle, it is raised in meaning: it is a type, not a locality” (Carpenter, p. 609).
While some would identify the pouring out of God’s wrath in Revelation 16 (including Armageddon) with the destruction of Jerusalem, or perhaps with the cessation of Roman persecution at the time of Constantine, it is more likely that Armageddon is used as a symbol of “the final overthrow of all the forces of evil by an almighty God” (Morris, p. 192). Professor Russell B. Jones says: “We seem to be on safe ground when we understand the ancient battle-field at Megiddo as a type of the final stand of the enemies of righteousness against the Lord at His appearing” (p. 88). Again, Mounce notes: “… Har-Magedon is symbolic of the final overthrow of all the forces of evil by the might and power of God” (p. 302).
It is important to observe that Revelation 16 actually says nothing about the battle of Armageddon taking place at that point. There, the forces merely are gathered together, awaiting “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” when He comes “as a thief” (16:14-15). Note: the great day of God is “the day of God’s final judgment” (Arndt & Gingrich, p. 347), at which time the earth will be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:12). Moreover, the expression “come as a thief” is repeatedly employed in connection with Christ’s Second Coming (Mt. 24:43; 1 Thes. 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10). The battle scene itself is pictured in Revelation 19:11-16.
“And I saw the heaven opened; and behold a white horse, and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. And his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems; and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself. And he is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty. And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Concerning this remarkable description, the following observations are in order: First, the one coming from heaven is clearly Christ, the Word (Jn. 1:1,14), and the white horse is a symbol of His victorious conquest. Second, He is coming to judge and make war. But judgment will take place at His Second Coming (Mt. 25:31ff); hence, His war against the enemies of Jehovah will occur at that time. Third, the Lord smites the rebellious nations with a sharp sword that proceeds out of His mouth. Elsewhere, Paul shows that at the time of His “coming” (Grk. parousia — a technical term for the Lord’s final coming in judgment), Jesus Christ will slay His foes “with the breath of His mouth,” and bring them to naught (2 Thes. 2:8).
In summation, our argument is arranged logically as follows:
(1) The battle of Armageddon will occur when Christ comes to judge (Rev. 16:16; 19:11).
(2) But He will judge at His Second Coming.
(3) The battle of Armageddon will thus take place at the Second Coming of Christ.
We can then additionally reason:
(1) The Armageddon war will take place when Jesus destroys His enemies with the breath of His mouth.
(2) But such will occur at His Coming.
(3) Therefore, Armageddon is the punishment inflicted by Christ at His Second Coming.
The dispensational view of the battle of Armageddon is not correct. It contains not the slightest support in the Scriptures. Rather, it is grounded upon a novel and relatively recent (about a century ago) scheme of theological presuppositions. It is buttressed by an erroneous exegetical system that completely ignores the obvious symbolism of the book of Revelation and crudely literalizes its pictures. It is part of a doctrine that reflects in many ways upon the integrity of the Word of God, hence, is must be rejected by careful and conscientious Bible students.
We have nothing to fear of an impending political Armageddon. However, all who are out of Christ (Gal. 3:26,27), or who are unfaithful to the Lord (2 Cor. 11:2), had best prepare against the awful day of spiritual Armageddon!
[Editor’s Note: The foregoing material is an edited version of a chapter from Wayne Jackson’s book, Revelation – Jesus Christ’s Final Message of Hope.
- Arndt, William & Gingrich, F.W. (1967), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago).
- Carpenter, W. Boyd (1959), “The Revelation of John,” Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
- Hurlbut, Jesse L. (1954), A Bible Atlas (New York: Rand McNally).
- Jones, Russell B. (1969), The Triumphant Christ and His Church (Birmingham, AL: Jones).
- Morris, Leon (1980), The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Mounce, Robert (1977), The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Nestle, Eberhard (1899), “Har-Magedon,” A Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, Ed. (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark).
- Sheriffs, R.J.A. ((1962), The New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Warnock, Weldon (1991), Guardian of Truth (February 7).
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.