The Battle of Armageddon
There are hundreds of books available on this apocalyptic issue of Armageddon, but what is the battle of Armageddon according to the Word of God and without the usual speculation? This is the goal of our adversary. Confusion! If Satan can perpetuate enough false theories, then those searching for truth will become so confused that they will throw in the towel and assume that God has given us an impossible task in understanding Bible prophecy. Friends, this is just not true. There is a correct interpretation and it relies on relevant history and most significantly, the Bible, and can and should be done without speculation.
Book number eleven of the New York Times best selling Left Behind series called Armageddon: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages was launched on April 8, 2003 in the wake of a $5,000,000 advertising campaign. Armageddon is being read across the U.S. by Christians and secular searchers looking for answers in the midst of a time where America is now at war against Terror. Leftbehind.com, in its description of Armageddon’s basic story line, portrays a final remnant of scattered believers as being drawn inexorably toward the Middle East along with all the armies of the world when history hones in on the battle of the ages.
Although embedded in well written fiction, the book Armageddon echoes the non fiction theology of a small group of evangelical Bible teachers which is now being eagerly read by millions. The scene: History’s last battlefield in the Middle East. Nature of conflict: Military. Final contestants: The Powers of Earth versus the Jews. Epicentre: A small valley northwest of Jerusalem where “all the armies of the world” will converge for “the battle of the ages.”
According to books like Armageddon, radio programs like Irvin Baxter Jr.’s Politics and Religion, TV networks like Paul Crouch’s TBN and Pat Robertson’s CBN and high budget apocalyptic films like The Omega Code, the Bible’s final prophecies will revolve around modern Israel and the blood stained city of Jerusalem. Supposedly, during history’s last moments, the Almighty will finally pulverize Israel’s invading enemies and defend His chosen people, the Jews. This end time scenario is now being taught in Christian circles all over planet Earth.
This belief that God will ultimately defend Middle East Jews at the battle of Armageddon is so strongly embedded within the twenty first century evangelical psyche that it has even crept into politics and influences United States foreign policy toward the Jewish State . The U.S. not only supports Israel as a democracy, which it should, but countless U.S. citizens, including politically active, prophecy minded Christians in Washington D.C., who strongly believe that if the U.S. support Israel, than God will support the U.S. From California to New York, on TV and radio, it is often heard, “He who blesses Israel will be blessed, and He who curses Israel will be cursed.” This often repeated phrase is actually a misinterpretation of Genesis 12:3 which contains one sentence that was spoken to Abraham alone and not the Israeli nation.
Personally, I am Jewish and love Jewish people. I also believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. As any Christian should, I long to see God’s blessing come upon both Arabs and Jews alike. The purpose of this document is not to condemn U.S. support for Israel or to try and solve a seemingly unsolvable Middle East mess; rather it is to take a second look at what the New Testament, and especially the book of Revelation really says about Israel, Jerusalem and the battle of Armageddon. Is the Left Behind blockbuster book, Armageddon: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages, correct in its core assumption that God will defend modern Jerusalem during Earth’s final war? Is the current “God Is Behind Israel” theology of so many evangelical Christians really correct? Or could there be something very wrong with this picture?
First of all, the New Testament actually describes two Israel’s, not just one. It is critical that we understand that this truth has seismic implications. Paul wrote, “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel” Romans 9:6. What does this text actually mean? Have a close look. Those “of Israel” refer to people belonging to the literal Jewish nation. But just because people are “of Israel,” or Jewish, does not necessarily mean they are truly “Israel” indeed!
To clarify, Paul said there is an “Israel according to the flesh” (1 Corinthians 10:18) and an “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:14-16) centred in Jesus Christ. To keep it simple, we will call the first group, Israel One, and the second group, Israel Two. Israel One is composed of “Israelites … according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3-4) which refers to literal Jews who can trace their blood line back to Abraham, but who do not currently believe in Jesus Christ as their Messiah.
Quite pointedly, Paul wrote, “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God.” Romans 9:8. Hence Israel One, although it has a wonderful religious heritage, is made up largely of people who spiritually “are not the children of God.” In the New Testament sense, “the children of God,” applies only to those who have received Jesus Christ as Lord. (see John 1:12). “The Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), or Israel Two, refers to a composite group made up of both Jews and non-Jews who believe in the Crucified One, have died to self and been born again. (See Galatians 6:14-15). This group is called “the Israel of God” because it is God centred, being made up of people who have a genuine experience with the Lord. Sadly, the majority of Middle East Israelis today don’t fit this description (although Jesus is working among them and many are coming to a full faith in Him).
Have a closer look at Romans 9:6-8 and observe who the promise belongs to. “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall your seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Who does the promise belong to now? Paul writing to non-Jews, or Gentiles said, “And if you belong to Christ, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:28-29. Don’t miss this, for it is of extreme importance. This passage teaches that if a Gentile “belongs to Christ,” he is mystically injected into “Abraham’s seed,” which according to Isaiah 41:8, is “Israel.” In Galatians 6, Paul summarized his doctrine by saying that anyone, circumcised or uncircumcised, who becomes a “new creature” through faith in Jesus, is now part of “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:14-16). They belong to Israel Two.
Here’s the explosive question: Which group out of Israel One or Israel Two is Heaven’s focus in the book of Revelation? Is it “Israel after the flesh,” that is, modern Israel, with its present capital of Jerusalem? Millions of Bible prophecy believing, conservative, politically active Christians think so. Left Behind’s 11th book, Armageddon, says so but what does Revelation really teach? The answer will not be discovered casually, but through a deep study of God’s Word.
When we open Revelation’s mysterious pages, we discover predictions about mount Zion (Revelation 14:1), the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:4-8), Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10), the temple (Revelation 11:19), Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11:8), Babylon (Revelation 17:5), the Euphrates river (Revelation 16:12), and Armageddon (Revelation 16:16). Thus Revelation uses the terminology and geography of the Middle East in its prophecies.
But wait a moment. Once again, here’s the mega question: Does God want these prophecies to be applied to those literal places in the Middle East and to “Israel after the flesh” centred in modern Jerusalem (Israel One)? Or did God intend for a spiritual application of these prophecies to “the Israel of God” which is centred in Jesus Christ (Israel Two), that is, to a spiritual Israel made up only of born again Jews and Gentiles scattered around the world? Most theologians apply Revelation to Israel One and to literal Middle East locations, but is this right?
Let’s start at the beginning of Revelation. The Bible’s last book is ultimately, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1). Jesus Christ is the Source, the Centre, and the Interpreter. In chapter 1, John was “in the Spirit”, and do not forget this, when he saw Jesus walking “in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.” Revelation 1:10-13. The idea of “seven golden candlesticks” takes our minds back to the seven branched candlestick inside the Jewish temple before it was destroyed in 70 A.D. by Roman armies. Yet in Revelation, “the seven golden candlesticks” are clearly symbolic.
Explaining “the mystery,” the Interpreter tells us what they represent, “the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:20. Hence, in Revelation’s very first chapter, and I am going to call this “Exhibit A” for it reveals a truth I wish to develop, Jesus Christ took something extremely Jewish and used it symbolically to represent His Church. As we shall see, this is the key interpretive principle to understanding the entire book.
Now enter Exhibit B. In Revelation 2, in a dictated letter to “the Church in Thyatira” (Revelation 2:18), Jesus reproved His people for allowing “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants…” Revelation 2:20. Jezebel was a wicked woman in Old Testament days who entered Israel and caused many problems. Was Jesus saying “Jezebel” had been reincarnated or resurrected, and was literally teaching deception within Thyatira? Obviously not. A little reflection reveals that He used the word, “Jezebel,” as a symbol of an evil movement that was affecting His Church. As with the seven golden candlesticks, God’s Messiah took something from Jewish history and applied it to His Church, “the Israel of God.”
Now enter Exhibit C. In Revelation 3, the Heavenly Interpreter dictated another letter to “the Church in Philadelphia” (Revelation 3:7) in which He said a Christian could become “a pillar in the temple of My God,” and have a place “in the city of My God, which is New Jerusalem.” Revelation 3:12. Do not miss the significance of this. Not only did Jesus again use Jewish imagery, the temple, and apply it symbolically to His Church, but He also identified another city, “the New Jerusalem,” as God’s real city. And this city will not be a remodelled earthly Jerusalem with its bullet holes covered and the blood of suicide bombers scrubbed away. This one “comes down out of heaven.” (ibid.)
Remember, in Revelation’s first chapter, John was “in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10) when he received his vision. In fact, throughout Revelation he was “in the Spirit” seeing different things (Revelation 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). When one is “in the Spirit,” he sees through Holy Spirit eyes instead of with flesh vision eyes. Remember also, Paul described two Israel’s, one “after the flesh,” and the other “in Christ.” So again the question is, Which Israel is the focus of “the Revelation of Jesus Christ”? When God’s final prophetic masterpiece of the Apocalypse talks about “Israel” (Revelation 7:4), “mount Zion” (Revelation 14:1), “Jerusalem,” (Revelation 21:10), “the temple” (Revelation 11:19), “Sodom and Egypt” (Revelation 11:8), “Babylon” (Revelation 17:5), “Euphrates” (Revelation 16:12), and “Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16), do these refer to literal, war torn, earthly, fleshly places not too far from Iraq, north of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters, south of Baghdad and west of Jordan?
Now enter Exhibit D. The fact is, every specific reference to “Jerusalem” in God’s last book concerns a “New Jerusalem” (Revelation 3:12; 21:2, 10) which sits on a heavenly “great and high mountain [Mount Zion]” (Revelation 21:10; 14:1), that houses “the temple of God … in heaven” (Revelation 11:19; 15:5; 16:1, 17) and is the final home a victorious “Israel” (Revelation 7:4) which “follows the Lamb wherever He goes.” Revelation 14:4, 1. The enemy of God’s “New Jerusalem” is a “great city” called “Mystery Babylon” (Revelation 14:8; 17:5; 18:2) which “sits on [the] many waters” (Revelation 17:1) of the “great river Euphrates” (16:12) until God’s wrath finally demolishes it at “the Battle of Armageddon.” Revelation 16:16, 19. What is happening here? A little reflection combined with Holy Spirit enlightenment shows that Revelation is ingeniously using the terminology and landscape of the Middle East in a unique, heavenly and spiritual sense.
Let’s look closer at “the great river Euphrates.” The Bible says, “And the sixth angel poured out his vial on the great river Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.” Revelation 16:12. Those who interpret Revelation’s Middle East terminology literally, such as in Left Behind’s 11th book Armageddon, usually apply this passage to Asian kings marching across a dry riverbed to shoot bullets at Jews at the Battle of Armageddon. One well known American radio preacher suggests a Turkish dam might be the means of drying up the river . Is this what Revelation 16:12 is really about?
In order to understand this mysterious prophecy, we must first study some Bible history about ancient Israel and literal Babylon. In 605 B.C., “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” came “to Jerusalem, and besieged it” Daniel 1:1. Jerusalem was conquered and Judah was taken captive for 70 years. Daniel 9:2. After 70 years, an amazing set of circumstances occurred. The Euphrates was dried up, Babylon was conquered from the east and God’s people were delivered. This history forms the background for a true understanding of Revelation 16:12.
Ancient Babylon literally sat on the Euphrates (Jeremiah 51:63-64) and a wall surrounded the city. The Euphrates ran through Babylon, entering and exiting through two spiked gates whose bars reached right down into the riverbed. When these twin gates were shut and all other entrances were closed, Babylon was pretty much impregnable.
In 538 B.C., on the night of ancient Babylon’s fall, her king and subjects were drunk with wine (see Daniel 5). The guards were also drunk and they forgot to fully close the double doors. Over 100 years earlier, God had predicted concerning Babylon and the river Euphrates, “I will dry up your rivers.” Isaiah 44:27. The Lord also spoke about “Cyrus,” the man who conquered Babylon, saying, “I will…open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut.” Isaiah 45:1. Moreover God called Cyrus “my shepherd” and “his anointed” Isaiah 44:28; 45:1. Hence Cyrus was a type of Jesus Christ. And do not miss this, he came “from the east.” Isaiah 46:11.
Housed in the British Museum in London lies the famous Cyrus Cylinder which describes how Cyrus, a general of Darius, conquered Babylon. Cyrus and his army dug trenches upstream alongside the Euphrates river which diverted the flowing water. The river gradually went down as it ran through Babylon and no one noticed. That night, at the height of Belshazzar’s drunken party (see Daniel 5) the water became low enough for Cyrus and his men to quietly slip under the double doors, which had been left open. Quickly they overran the doomed city, killing the king (Daniel 5:30), and conquering Babylon. Then Cyrus issued his famous decree to let Israel go. (Ezra 1). The Jews were free. Ingeniously, “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” makes use of the dusty history of this ancient event and then applies it with stunning, apocalyptic force to another “Babylon,” another “Israel,” another “Euphrates,” and another deliverance from “the east.”
In the Old Testament, the battle was clearly between the literal nation of Israel and literal Babylon (Daniel 1). In Revelation, we also find a struggle between “Israel” and “Babylon.” Revelation 7:4; 14:1, 8. As you would well know, the majority of prophecy teachers apply this, at least the “Israel” part of it, to literal Jews on the west bank. But let’s be consistent. What about “Babylon”? Does this apply to a rebuilt city south of Baghdad? Some would say yes, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
In Revelation 17, a shiny angel beckoned to John: “Come here; I will show you the judgment of the great whore that sits upon many waters.” Revelation 17:1. “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy … having a golden cup in her hand.” Revelation 17:3-4. “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” Revelation 17:1, 3-5. John was “in the Spirit” (Revelation 17:3) when he received this prophecy. So we must be “in the Spirit” to interpret it correctly.
The woman’s name is “Mystery Babylon.” The word, “Mystery” is very significant. In Revelation 1, the true Interpreter, Jesus Christ, used the same word as He applied the Jewish imagery of “seven golden candlesticks” to His Church. In Revelation 17, the same word is applied to the enemy of His Church, to “Mystery Babylon.” And this greater “Babylon” has no application to the ancient city whose sun cracked bricks are now whitening south of Baghdad.
In Old Testament days, literal Babylon sat on the literal river Euphrates. In “the Revelation of Jesus Christ,” “Mystery Babylon” also “sits on many waters” (Revelation 17:1), but these waters do not refer to the literal murky Euphrates now trickling through modern Iraq. Proof is found from one primary text and this text is so explosively significant; it’s like detonating a spiritual nuclear warhead against error. John’s angel interpreter explained, “The waters which you saw, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” Revelation 17:15.
According the angel interpreter, the “many waters” of Revelation’s Euphrates represent “people” all over Planet Earth who now support “Mystery Babylon.” They are “drunk with the wine of her fornication.” Revelation 17:2. “Wine” is obviously symbolic, as is “her fornication.” The “wine” stands for Babylon’s false doctrines, while “her fornication” applies to her unlawful union with “the kings of the earth.” Revelation 17:2.
“Mystery Babylon” is also “a woman.” Revelation 17:3. A woman in prophecy represents a Church. God likens His people to a “wife” that “has made herself ready” for “the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7, 9. The Babylonian woman has also “fallen.” Revelation 14:8. This must mean that “Mystery Babylon” in Revelation represents a globally supported Church that has “fallen” away from her true lover, Jesus Christ, and from Bible truth. She is represented as a sinful kingdom as she rides a scarlet [sin] coloured beast [kingdom] because she changed the Ten Commandments of God as prophesied in Daniel 7:25. But God still has people inside of Babylon whom He calls, “My people.” Before the last act of history’s drama, God calls them to “come out.” Revelation 18:4. Why? Because the river Euphrates is destined to run dry.
“The sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up.” Revelation 16:12. Left Behind’s Armageddon and countless other theologians apply this drying up of Euphrates to a literal drying so Asian armies can shoot bullets at the Jews at the Battle of Armageddon. But what does the Bible say dries up the river? Turkey? No. The Word says, “the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates.” This “vial” is one of the seven “vials of the wrath of God.” Revelation 16:1. Hence, it is the wrath of God and not Turkey that dries up the Euphrates! What does this mean? If the “waters” represent “people,” and if the vial of wrath falls on the water, then this means God’s wrath will finally be poured upon people who steadfastly continue supporting mystery Babylon the mother of harlots.
When Heaven’s judgments fall on the swirling waters of Babylon supporting people, reality will be inescapable. They will realize that they have been misled. Then they will “hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” Revelation 17:16. Hence their misplaced support for a false system will vanish. This is how Babylon’s water will dry up, preparing the way for “the kings of the east.” Revelation 16:12.
In Old Testament days, Cyrus came from “the east” to conquer literal Babylon. Isaiah 44:26-28; 46:11. The word, “east,” means “sun rising,” and the name, “Cyrus,” means, “sun.” Cyrus came not to attack the Jews, but as their deliverer, and again, Cyrus was a type of Jesus Christ, the “Sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). In Revelation, God’s angels come from the east (Revelation 7:2), and Jesus Himself said, “As the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Matthew 24:27. Therefore just as Cyrus came from the east to deliver literal Israel from the clutches of literal Babylon, even so will King Jesus descend from the eastern skies with “the armies which were in heaven” (Revelation 19:14) to conquer spiritual Babylon and to deliver “the Israel of God” (Israel Two) at Armageddon!
What about “Armageddon”? Surprisingly, this exact word is found only once in the Bible, in Revelation 16:16. The Word says, “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon.” Honestly, there is no literal “place” anywhere on Earth bearing this exact name. It is true that there is a valley north of Jerusalem which was called “Megiddo” (Judges 5:19) in Bible days. It was a place where the armies of Israel often met foreign enemies in bloody battles. Because “Megiddo,” sounds like, “Armageddon,” millions assume this same place will be the location of a final showdown against the Jews. But again, is this correct?
“Armageddon” represents the apex, the climax, the final battle in Revelation. Will it be a military battle in the Middle East? Let’s be consistent. Throughout Revelation we’ve seen Middle East terms like the “seven golden candlesticks,” (Revelation 1:20), “Jezebel” (Revelation 2:20), “Mount Zion,” (Revelation 14:1), “Jerusalem,” (Revelation 3:12), “the temple” (Revelation 11:19), “Sodom and Egypt” (Revelation 11:8), “Euphrates” (Revelation 16:12) and “Babylon” (Revelation 17:5) used in a heavenly, Christ centred, spiritual sense. When it comes to “the Battle of Armageddon,” which is a phrase depicting the grand finale in the greatest apocalyptic book ever written, does it make sense for God’s last book to suddenly shift gears away from its thematic focus by pinpointing a literal, local, high tech, Middle East based conflagration involving Russians, Chinese, Syrians, and literal Jews?
We do not have to guess. The answer is in the context surrounding Revelation 16:16. While it is outside the scope of this document to discuss the fascinating details, here are the main points:
The battle involves “the kings of the earth and of the whole world” (Revelation 16:14), which could not possibly fit inside the valley of Megiddo.
Revelation’s focus is “the temple of heaven” (Revelation 16:17), not a supposedly soon to be rebuilt Jewish temple on earth. See also futurism.
The affects of Armageddon are global, far beyond the Middle East. Revelation 16:18-20.
The primary system identified as being destroyed at Armageddon is spiritual “Babylon” (Revelation 16:19), not China, Russia or Syria. See who is the antichrist today.
In essence, “the Battle of Armageddon” depicts the final battle between King Jesus and His heavenly armies (Revelation 19:11-19) against the worldwide forces of Satan referred to in the Apocalypse as “Mystery Babylon.” At the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the devil loses and his global kingdom comes crashing down. Jesus doesn’t need to nuke His foes, but only to use His “sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16; 19:15), which represents His Word of truth (Ephesians 6:17). When Christ descends from the east, He will deliver “Israel” from the clutches of “Babylon.” But which Israel will He deliver? According to the thematic genius of the entire book of Revelation, it must be “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) centred in Jesus Christ whose home and dwelling place is the “New Jerusalem.” Revelation 21:10.
In conclusion, the Middle East remains a powder keg, and the U.S. struggle against Muslim radicals like Osama bin Laden continues, and there’s no earthly peace in sight. In the midst of such a “Red Alert” environment, millions of America’s politically active Christians believe God Himself is not only behind modern Israel, but that He will finally annihilate the enemies of the Jewish State at Armageddon. Left Behind’s Armageddon: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages proclaims this forcefully. Yet, as we have clearly seen, this doctrine is contrary to the New Testament. Beyond this, the teaching is actually harmful because it adds gasoline to an already raging Arab fire. An America at “War Against Terror” doesn’t need this!
A careful study of “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” proves that Christianity’s massive “God Is Behind Modern Israel” theology is just simply not true. Not that God doesn’t love Modern Israel, the Israeli people, and Jewish people. But as we have seen, Revelation’s focus is not on “Israel after the flesh” (Israel One), but on “the Israel of God” (Israel Two) composed of both Jews and non-Jews (including Arabs) centred in Jesus Christ. If there was ever a time we needed not only to “walk in the Spirit,” but to interpret prophecy according to the Spirit, it’s now.
Real peace can be found in only one place, and it’s available to Jews, Muslim Palestinians, and Christians alike. It’s found at the foot of the cross, in the heart of a Man who loves and died for the entire world. Let’s surrender our lives to Him, so we can be part of His Israel of God.
See Prophecy and Politics: The Secret Alliance Between Israel and the US Christian Right, by Grace Halsell. Lawrence Hill & Co., (1989). Deliberate Deception: Facing the Facts about the US-Israeli Relationship, by Paul Findley, Lawrence Hill & Co., (1989). Israelis & Palestinians: What Went Wrong?, by Amos Elon. The New York Review of Books, Dec. 19, 2002 issue. Irvin Baxter Jr.’s, Endtime Magazine, Jan./Feb. 1998, p. 2.