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Revelation 19: The ominous shadow of Armageddon

Unsplash/Javier Miranda
Unsplash/Javier Miranda

Read or hear the word, Armageddon, and most people are struck with a sense of fear, dread, and anxiety. This is primarily due to its association with the apocalyptic imagery in the Book of Revelation. Additionally, popular culture and movies have contributed to the intense emotional response that this word elicits.

In 1998 Michael Bay’s box office hit in theatres, “Armageddon,” grossed over $553 million worldwide, making it one of the highest-grossing films of that year. The film revolves around a group of oil drillers recruited by NASA to go on a space mission to prevent an asteroid the size of Texas from colliding with the Earth. They had to drill a hole into the asteroid and place a nuclear bomb inside to destroy it and save humanity from extinction.

“Armageddon” by Alkaline Trio is a song featured on their album “Agony & Irony,” which was released in 2008. Alkaline Trio is an American punk rock band known for their emotionally charged and often dark lyrics, and “Armageddon” is no exception.

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Developed by Midway Games and later by NetherRealm Studios, “Mortal Kombat: Armageddon” is a very popular video game that creates a sense of impending disaster and a world on the brink of destruction.

“Armageddon” is sometimes used metaphorically in political debates and discussions to emphasize the potential dire consequences of certain policies or actions. Politicians and commentators often invoke the term to warn of severe and negative outcomes.

Perhaps one of the most pointed moments in American history took place in 1945 at the end of World War 2, when General Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific, stood with other dignitaries aboard the USS Missouri for the formal surrender of the Japanese Empire. That day, General MacArthur made an ominous announcement:

“Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. We have had our last chance. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all, in turn, failed, leaving the only path to be the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door.”

In recent decades the frequency of large-scale interstate wars has indeed decreased compared to earlier periods of history. The end of the Cold War and the relative decline of superpower conflicts have contributed to fewer international wars. However, intrastate conflicts, civil wars, and regional conflicts continue to occur, leading to significant destruction and loss of life in various parts of the world.

Moreover, heightened tensions between major world powers, such as the United States, Russia, and China, and other hot spots such as the Middle East (Hamas and Israel War), have been growing and leading to concerns about the potential for World War 3. Disputes over territory, failing economies, resources, trade, and international influence create much uncertainty. The fear of Armageddon is growing and indeed it could be at our very door during these explosive times.

What is “Armageddon”? The term “Armageddon” is derived from the Bible, where it is associated with the final battle between the forces of good and evil (Revelation 14:14-20; Revelation 16:12-16; Revelation 19:17-21). It marks the culmination of the apocalyptic events described in the Book of Revelation, and it leads to the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on Earth.

In chapter 19 of Revelation, there is a vivid and majestic portrayal of the return of the Savior. It depicts him as a triumphant supreme world figure with divine authority, riding on a white horse, and with the armies of Heaven following him. He is dressed in a robe stained with the blood of his enemies. He is identified as the “Word of God,” and named “King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.”

In his mouth, the Scriptures say there is a sharp sword. The sword is symbolic of the Word of God or Holy Writ, which has immense power.

It was by the utterances of Christ’s word that creation came into existence.  It was by His Word that he performed miracles of healing, exorcised demons, subdued nature, multiplied provisions, and literally raised people from the dead. It will be by his word that he will utterly defeat all opposition to God’s will and inaugurate his infallible justice.

After the apostle, John described what he saw concerning Christ’s Second Coming in verses 11-16 of Revelation chapter 19, the subsequent verses in 17-21 foretell the following events:

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, shouting to the vultures flying high in the sky: “Come! Gather together for the great banquet God has prepared. Come and eat the flesh of kings, generals, and strong warriors; of horses and their riders; and of all humanity, both free and slave, small and great.”

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast — miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies.

John said he looked and saw an angel standing in the sun. At first reading of this text, it may seem what’s being described is an angel standing in front of the sun with its ball of blazing fire behind him. But Henry Morris in The Revelation Record says:

“More likely, the angel was actually in the sun. Angels are commonly identified with stars in the Scripture, and it is not far-fetched to suppose this angel has his own assignment, in God’s great dominion, on the sun itself. As such, he would have special concern for the Earth, since it is energy from the sun that maintains the physical and biological processes taking place on Earth. It may well have been this same angel who was responsible (see Revelation 16:8,9)) for causing the sun to heat up so severely during the later days of the Tribulation period.”

This angel makes an extraordinary summons of cosmic proportions. This celestial herald cries out in a voice that reverberates across the heavens, beckoning the winged denizens of the air, the eagles, crows, hawks, seagulls, ravens, and vultures, to assemble for a mystical and momentous banquet like no other. Beforehand, the saints of God who made up the Church were invited to join in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. But sinners, those who defiantly reject God’s gracious offer of peace and reconciliation, whose hearts make war against him, shall become the supper of winged necrophagous.

While rare, there have been instances when certain birds like those previously mentioned, scavengers and carrion-eating fowl, have been witnessed consuming human flesh. However, this generally occurs only in exceptional circumstances, such as exposure of a deceased body in an isolated region, extreme environmental conditions, or when a bird’s typical food sources are scarce, all of which likely will be involved with Armageddon.

The developing scene is one terrible foreboding. The haughtiness of humanity is at its highest as world-renowned prominent rulers, great military leaders, formidable warriors, mounted cavalry, and individuals from every stratum of society, regardless of social status and station, gather in league with the anti-Christ and his false prophet, to do battle with the coming Christ and his heavenly army.

They gather together in Megiddo, what some scholars reference as the cockpit of this vast global conflict. The geography of this plain is such that it can be entered from all points of the compass.

Megiddo has also been the scene of numerous historic battles in the life of the nation Israel. Deborah and Barak prevailed against the Canaanites here (Judges 4-5). Gideon defeated Midian here (Judges 7). Saul died in battle against the Philistines here (I Samuel 31:8). Ahaziah was killed by Jehu here (2 Kings 9:27). Josiah was slain by an invasion from the Egyptians here (2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:22).

In this location, tremendous battles between Egyptians and Assyrians, Babylonians and Greeks, Seleucids and Ptolemies, Romans and Arabs, and the Crusaders and Turks occurred.

Napoleon, certainly one of the most prominent military geniuses of all times, called this area “the world’s greatest natural battlefield” because of its ideal terrain for armies to maneuver.

It is here the masses of humanity assemble with the best of their military might to challenge Almighty God. However, above them, the sky starts to darken, the branches of the trees become bowed, and the hills are thickly dotted as far as the eye can see, with birds, birds, birds everywhere, awaiting the eminent show of incomparable death and their moment to descend upon the feast of incalculable carcasses of dead bodies left in the aftermath.

Thus, the Psalmist wrote of this day, saying: “Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one.‘ Let us break their chains,’ they cry, ‘and free ourselves from slavery to God.’ But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:1-4).  Could there be anything so futile as to defy God? Certainly not!

One of the most distinguished Southern Baptist preachers, the late W.A. Criswell wrote concerning these passages:

“There they are, the beast and the false prophet and the dupes who follow them. They are the product of godless government and godless religion. There they stand all together. You just put this down as an axiom in human history: When a people, when a nation turns aside from the truth and obedience to the mandates of God, they turn to the most unimaginable oppressions that the mind can think of. They do not turn from God and the Word of God and the blessed Christ into other great truths and other great revelations and other great moral and spiritual obedience. They turn to slavery, oppression, and all things evil, sordid, damning and terrible. There is no exception to that axiom in history. Look at it today. Anywhere you find a government that repudiates God, and a people who say ‘No’ to our Lord, they are in the morass and the miasma of misery. That is where revolution and war come from…These terrible things come out of the evil spirits that find lodgment in the hearts of men who repudiate God. This is the beast and the false prophet.”

The epitome of human industry, ingenuity, inclusivity, initiative, innovation, insightfulness, and involvement are no match for war with God and his Christ, individually or corporately. Unless it is for reasons that serve his higher purposes, there is no need for a protracted engagement, he may only speak the Word from his mouth and the fight is over. His judgment is declared and evil leaders and their cohorts are ultimately thrown into hellfire, and the vultures feed on the multitude of corpses.

In his book, Exploring Revelation, the late John Phillips concludes:

“Thus ends the battle of Armageddon! For a thousand years, there will be peace on the earth after that. Men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, their tanks into tractors, and their missiles into silos for grain. The ages will roll by, and the words for war in human speech will become archaic fragments of a language dead to mankind.

“One can picture a schoolboy reading an ancient book sometime during the second half of the millennium. ‘Say, Dad,’ he says, ‘what is an intercontinental ballistic missile?’ To which the father replies, ‘Go and ask your mother.’ The mother, being questioned, answers, ‘Some kind of cabbage, I expect. Go and ask your dad.’ What a day that will be.”

Unquestionably, the word “Armageddon” precipitates emotions of alarm. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.

In the Bible, watchmen were stationed at key vantage points, such as city walls or towers, to observe the surrounding area. Their primary responsibility was to keep a lookout for approaching threats, such as enemy armies, invaders, or other dangers. Every faithful watchman was an alarmist.

To be a watchman was a sacred vocation woven into the very fabric of civilization. With unwavering devotion and a steadfast gaze, the watchman stood as a guardian of safety. From his lofty perch, he would keep a vigilant watch over the subtlest shifts in the winds of fate. His tireless vigilance was a testament to an unyielding dedication to the preservation of the cherished existence of his people, a beacon of hope in the face of uncertainty, and a reminder that even in the darkest hours, there existed a sentinel whose vigilance would not waver.

Today, there are Christian messengers, and watchmen on the wall, in nearly every place where most people live. These watchmen from every social position of life, warn people to flee from the wrath to come. They witness of Jesus Christ and share the Gospel story with earnest hope and prayer that they may persuade some to be saved before it’s too late, before their rebellion against God is permanently fixed by a strong delusion (2 Thessalonians 2:11), and there is no hope.

Here is the truth — the irrefutable, inevitable promise of God, the Father: Jesus Christ will reign over this entire Earth and everything above it and underneath it. Nothing can resist his benevolent sovereignty. We either bow and confess in humility and surrender to his Lordship now, or we shall be forced to do so in judgment, when God finally decrees that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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