The Battle of Armageddon: Its Biblical Significance
"And the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast sad out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the way of the great day of God, the Almighty. (Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame.) And they gathered them together to the place which to Hebrew is called Armageddon" (Rev. 16:12-16).
The passage quoted above contains the only mention of the word Armageddon in the Bible. Inasmuch as it is found in the Bible, it does have significance for those of us who are Christians. We cannot be content with only telling the world what the Battle of Armageddon is not; we need to tell the world the true meaning of the term.
The word Armageddon is derived from the Hebrew word har meghiddo which means "mountain of Megiddo." The allusion to Megiddo means very little to those who have little or no knowledge of the history of the Old Testament. Yet, to those who have a good background of Old Testament history, the area of Megiddo has significance for the many battles that were fought there. Deborah and Barek defeated Sisera and his host here (Judg. 5:19). Saul and Jonathan fell near here in their battle against the Philistines (1 Sam. 31:13). When Josiah went out against Pharoah-Necho, he was slain on the battlefields of Megiddo (2 Kgs. 23:29; 2 Chron. 35:22). Hence, John has chosen this battlefield to discuss the great conflict which will occur between Christ and the forces of Satan. The allusion is not so much to a literal, physical, geographical location as to a great battlefield.
The usage of the word Armageddon is somewhat similar to the modern usage of Waterloo. Although few of us know the location of Waterloo, we have all heard about Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Hence, the word "Waterloo" has become symbolical of the place or time of a great defeat. The word "Armageddon" was of similar significance in John's time to those who were familiar with Old Testament history. It referred to the scene of a great conflict, regardless of where that conflict might be fought.
The Context of the Battle of Armageddon
The Battle of Armageddon cannot be understood without a consideration of the context in which it is set in the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation was written by the exiled apostle John to the saints of the seven churches of Asia somewhere around 96 A.D. The book concerned itself with the things which were shortly to come to pass (Rev. 1:1-3). No interpretation of the book of Revelation or the Battle of Armageddon can have any significance unless it can be understood so as to have meaning to those first century saints to whom the book was addressed.
The saints in John's day were in the throes of a horrible persecution. The Roman Emperor, in an effort to unify the Empire, demanded that every loyal citizen confess that he was "lord." The Roman Emperor was to be worshiped as divine. Although some Emperors treated this as exaggerated attempts to exalt the Emperor, Domitian delighted in being looked upon as divine and in being so worshiped. The Christian could not conscientiously worship the Emperor as divine; he knew but one Lord, Jesus Christ. To the Christian, such homage was idolatry and an utter denial of faith in Christ. To the Roman, the refusal to worship the emperor was a sign of disloyalty to the State and an act of treason. A great conflict was inevitable.
Emperor worship was forced upon the Christians as a test of their loyalty to the State. Those who refused to worship the Emperor were persecuted. The forms of punishment w_ ere many. Some were put to death, some were exiled, some were tortured into a confession of the divinity of the emperor, some had their property confiscated, some received combinations of these measures.
The book of Revelation was written to reassure the Christian that God had not forgotten His saints and that the victory would ultimately belong to them. No doubt, some reached the conclusion that God did not care what was happening on the earth below. Yet, John wrote to reassure the Christians of the first century that God would not be defeated by Rome and its evil forces.
Beginning in chapter 12, John, as it were, lifts the curtain that the Christians who were suffering the many forms of persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire might see what was going on behind the scene. What was happening was nothing less than a struggle between God and Satan. Beginning in chapter twelve, we read of the birth of Christ and Satan's unsuccessful attempts to defeat Him. When Satan saw that he could not defeat the Christ, he vented his anger against the church. Consequently, he turned his forces toward the destruction of the followers of Christ.
The things which Satan used against the disciples of Christ were as follows: (1) The First Beast (13:1-10). The first beast represents political governments. The imagery is the composite picture of the four beasts mentioned in Daniel 7 in which text the four different beasts referred to four separate governments. Here the four beasts are put together to refer to political government in general which Satan uses to destroy saints. (2) The Second Beast (13:11-18). This beast is identified as a false prophet or false religion. Satan uses false religions to destroy the children of God. There is little doubt that the specific form of false religion which is intended in this passage is the emperor worship to which I have already referred. (3) Babylon the Great, the Great Harlot. This refers to the city of Rome, the capital of the Roman empire.
As the scene unfolds, God and Satan assemble their forces for conflict. Satan gathered all of his forces together against God (16:12-16). Then, the Bible tells the outcome of this great battle. Babylon the Great is destroyed (16:17-18:24). The two beasts were destroyed (19:17-21). And, finally, the Great Dragon, Satan himself, was defeated by God (20:7-10). In the Battle of Armageddon, the great conflict between God and Satan, God was altogether victorious.
Hence, the Battle of Armageddon refers to the great conflict which occurs between the hosts of Satan and the hosts of God. Its meaning for those of the first century is quite clear: God will defeat the forces of Satan. Hence. to that saint which was suffering at the hands of Rome, the knowledge that the victory would ultimately belong to God would give him the necessary strength to endure the persecutions which he was suffering, even if they cost him his life. He knew that the ultimate victory belonged to God.
The Battle of Armageddon does not describe some literal, earthly conflict between Russia, Egypt, Europe and China which might occur in the twentieth century. That would have had absolutely no meaning to the saints in the first century who were suffering at the hands of pagan Rome. This concept of the Battle of Armageddon is part and parcel of premillennialism, a system of interpretation of Bible prophecy which is a system of infidelity.
Rather, the Battle of Armageddon was a symbolical method of revealing God's ultimate victory over Satan. Hence, though Satan may rage and the earthly scene appear as though Satan was in control and God was completely defeated, the Christian knows that the ultimate victory belongs to God. In the conflict the victor has already been decided. God will defeat Satan and completely destroy him in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. That being the case, we who are Christians should never take sides with the Loser, Satan; we should always stand with the great Winner, Jesus Christ our Lord, the victor at the Battle of Armageddon.
Truth Magazine XXII: 16, pp. 259-260