The contents of my college room at the end of 1970 (as described in a letter at the time) included two type-written/duplicated sheets which had been
pressed upon me, in the street, by an earnest prophet who signed himself "Individualist".
One of the articles, written in 1964, was predicting that the world would "end in confusion" in1970. In the later article, the date had been shifted
to 1974. As far as I remember, the explanation was that various Biblical prophecies were foretelling the invasion of Israel on those dates by the
armies of the Soviet Union. There were additional, handwritten notes; "The Foreign Office replied to this!" (I wonder what they said); "Beware
Jehovah's Witnesses set you trap".
That's one way of predicting the approach of Armageddon, and it might have been the kind of thing that people were expecting from this title.
So I'd better make it clear, from the outset, that I won't be making any references to current events, and I won't be speculating on the prospects
of nuclear war.
I'm going to be looking over the relevant Biblical passages for the sake of discovering what they can tell us on their own.
I want to offer some thoughts on the gathering of the world's armies described in Revelations ch16.
They're coming together "for battle" at the place which is called Armageddon.
So I'm going to be asking the question; what kind of battle is to be expected from the forces meeting at Armageddon?
We're told, in v14, that the kings of the earth are summoned for battle "on the great day of God the Almighty".
This echoes the proclamation of the "day of the Lord" in the last chapter of Joel;
"Let the men of war draw near, let them come up...
Let the nations bestir themselves and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
For there I will sit to judge all the nations round about...
For the Day of the Lord is near, in the valley of decision"- Joel ch3 vv9-14
In Revelation, the summons is coming in the first instance from God's enemies.
But the summons has the same ultimate purpose.
The nations are coming together so that God can judge them.
The expectation of judgement is confirmed in the next verse, when Christ himself appears to be speaking.
Parallels to these words can be found in other parts of the New Testament, and they show that "coming like a thief" means coming suddenly, without
"The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and the heavens will pass away with a loud noise"- 1 Peter ch3 v10
"The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night...sudden destruction will come upon them...so then, let us not sleep, as others do, but let
us keep awake and be sober" - 1 Thessalonians ch5 vv2-6
The reference in the gospels is more oblique;
"If the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched..."- Matthew ch24 v41
It's evident, though, that the theme goes back to the words of Jesus, and it's associated in Christian teaching with the expectation of his
And this Return of Christ, like the "Day of the Lord" in the Old Testament, is expected to include the act of judgement.
To be "awake", then, means keeping oneself in a state of prepararation for judgement.
"Keeping his garments" is part of the "keeping awake" theme; the man who doesn't go to bed is not going to disrobe, so he's not going to be
caught naked when the alarm bell sounds.
But there's also a spiritual metaphor which goes back to the story of Adam and Eve.
They were feeling "naked and exposed" because their sin was visible in the sight of God.
They tried to cover themselves, but the more effective solution was the clothing which God provided.
As far as the New Testament is concerned, the answer to this problem is to be "clothed in Christ", as Paul puts it (Galatians ch3 v27).
In the letters to the Seven Churches, the church of Laodicea was advised to acquire "white garments" from Christ, "to keep the shame of your
nakedness from being seen"- ch3 v18
That white robe, which represents redemption from sin, is the standard garment for the servants of God in Revelation.
That's the garment which covers their nakedness in the time of judgement.
Then we're told that the destination of the world's armies is the place called Armageddon.
The name points back to the infamous battle of Megiddo, in 609 B.C., which saw the death of Josiah, the king of Judah.
It implies a parallel of some kind between the two battles.
So let's consider Megiddo.
The most important point, here, is that Josiah was very much the Lord's king.
It was during his reign that the "book of the Law", commonly identified as Deuteronomy, was "discovered" by the priests of the Temple. Josiah took
steps to proclaim the Law, and to renew the nation's covenant with the Lord. He made a point of removing anything that might be considered idolatrous
from the territories under his control. He was the king who abolished the provincial altars of Yahweh, and centralised the worship and the celebration
of the Passover at Jerusalem.
"Before him, there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to the Law
of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him." - 2 Kings ch23 v25
But this achievement was thrown away in one moment of madness.
The Pharaoh Necho was on his way to fight great wars further to the north.
Josiah chose to intercept him, at Megiddo, and lost his life.
The ultimate sequel, and perhaps the consequence, was the destruction of his kingdom at the hands of the king of Babylon.
In what way, "consequence"?
Not so much, I think, because the battle weakened the strength of Judah.
Judah would never have been strong enough in any case to resist the overwhelming power of Babylon.
I believe the real effect of Megiddo was on the minds of the people of Judah and their sense of judgement.
The king of Babylon would have had no reason to destroy Jerusalem, if he had not been provoked by rebellion.
Josiah's children would not have rebelled against Babylon, if they had not been expecting support from the Egyptians.
And I suspect that the defeat at Megiddo was one of the reasons for this belief in the reality of Egyptian power.
Unfortunately, this trust was misplaced. Rabshekah had once called Egypt a "broken reed", and he was right. The Egyptian army did nothing effective
to relieve the siege of Jerusalem, and the city fell to the Babylonians.
So, then- if the battle of Megiddo was partly responsible for this confidence in Egypt, which encouraged the rebellion
Then it was also, indirectly, responsible for the destruction of the Temple of Solomon.
The loss of Josiah was deeply mourned; the "laments" which were written around the event were still sung centuries later- "to this day", as the
Chronicler puts it. Much hope must have been invested in this king, by those who followed the Lord. The disappointment of the battle would surely
compare with the sense of loss of the disciples on the road to Emmaus; "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel".
In effect, the death of Josiah was the Good Friday of the Old Testament period.
I believe that the resemblance between these two battles should be sought not in the location, but in the parallel between the two sets of
In the one corner, ladies and gentlemen, God's anointed king, the champion of God's people.
In the other corner, the power of oppression, as represented by the Egyptians, and by the "kings of the earth".
The first time this battle was fought, at Megiddo, the result was a catastrophe.
Therefore the same battle must be fought all over again, at Armageddon, so that the result can be reversed.
It would symbolise, at the same time, the reversal of all the other apparent setbacks, from the fall of Man to the supremacy of the Beast in its "war
on the saints".
This is God having the Last Word.
What kind of battle does this imply?
Could that result be achieved by a battle between human armies?
The First World War was labelled as an "Armageddon" at the time, because it was battle on an unprecedented scale.
The House of Commons, in 1918, officially gave "humble and reverent thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German
But it wasn't really the case that all the followers of God were on one side of the front line, and all his enemies on the other, which is what the
Biblical Armageddon seems to demand.
The same would have been true about the anticipated "exchange of nuclear weapons" between the United States and the Soviet Union; as a subject of
speculation, during the Cold War, it was popularly called an "Armageddon", but it would not have been a straight war between God and his enemies.
In fact that arrangement of forces is just not possible within human politics.
This consideration alone seems to make it difficult to identify the Biblical Armageddon as a battle between human armies.
It must be understood as a "battle" in a more spiritual sense.
In any case, we must observe that no battle of any kind takes place in this chapter.
The "nations" are brought up to the place of battle, but the armies are then left milling around in the "valley of decision" for the best part of
three chapters, waiting for someone to come and fight them.
Meanwhile the narrative takes time out (again) to explain the significance of the event, in terms of the destruction of Babylon.
Once the action is resumed, in ch19, it takes the form of the Return of Christ- which is precisely what the wording of v15 was leading us to
If the "kings of the earth" were expecting to fight amongst themselves, that kind of battle seems to have been forestalled.
What about "God's victory", the revenge for Megiddo?
Surely the return of Christ, in itself, does enough to achieve that end.
This is what the Old Testament calls "The Day of the Lord" (while Paul calls it "the day of the lord Jesus"), when the full strength of the Lord
is brought to bear on judging the world and setting things right.
The consequence would be that all other powers would be disabled, and all resistance to his authority would collapse.
That, in itself, would constitute the required victory.
I would suggest, then, that this decisive assertion of the sovereignty of God would be the only "battle of Armageddon" that we're going to get.