The Battle Of Armageddon - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
Behold He Cometh - Chapter 39
(Revelation 16:10 - 21)
10 And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain,
11 And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
12 And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
18 And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. 19 And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were notfound.
21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
Again the words of our text lead us to the very end of this dispensation. That this is so a most superficial reading of the text will show. It speaks of the battle of the great day of God Almighty. It speaks of the downfall of Babylon the Great and of her remembrance before the countenance of the Lord God Almighty; of a terrible shakeup of the heavens and of the earth, so that islands flee away and the mountains are found no more; and it speaks of a last and crushing hail, through which evidently the battle of Armageddon is finished. It is the end of time. It is the close of this entire dispensation.
Repeatedly we have stood at the termination of history as we made study of the Book of Revelation. In Chapter 6:12-17, where the sixth seal is pictured to us, we also found that all the universe was shaken and that it was the great day of the wrath of God and of His Christ. Again, in Chapter 11, the chapter which speaks of the two witnesses, we saw the temple opened at the blowing of the seventh trumpet, and signs of great judgments following, the judgments of the final battle of Christ against His opponents. In Chapter 14 we also received a picture of the end of time in the vision of the great and final harvest and of the vintage. And also there we found that the end was terrible, a treading of the nations in the winepress of the wrath of God.
And now again we stand before the same period of time, the very close of history. And again it is a bloody battle and terrible judgments from heaven that are pictured to us here. Those who dream of a great millennium of peace, who imagine that the kingdom of Christ will gradually have the victory over the kingdom of darkness without any great disturbance and upheaval, certainly find but very little support in the Word of our God and none at all in the Book of Revelation. The wicked shall not gradually be won, but they shall be destroyed. Judgments are in store for them. And these judgments shall not gradually diminish in force, but rather increase and become more terrible. The end of time shall not be peace but war, terrible war, war such as the world has not seen before, war in which all the nations of the earth shall participate and in which Christ shall have the victory.
That end and that victory is pictured here in the words of our text more clearly than ever before. There is progress in respect to clearness and vividness of revelation and description as we proceed. And in our text the end is already definitely pictured as a great battle. It is not as if that end is already pictured here in all its detail. No, in succeeding chapters we shall
find a detailed description of some of the main scenes that are pictured here in general. The fall of Babylon, the coming of the King on the white horse for battle, the loosening of Satan with a view to the nations, - all these things will be reviewed before our vision once more' before we get the vision of the New Jerusalem which is to come down out of heaven from God. But here we have nevertheless the picture of the end. For in the seven vials which the seven angels pour out the wrath of God is finished.
Events Leading To This Battle
We must make no mistake as to the time element in these seven vials of wrath. If we do, we shall never be able to understand the whole. Especially must we warn you once more not to consider these seven vials as being strictly successive. It is not thus, that the first of these seven vials must be finished before the second is poured out, that the third must wait till the second has had its effect, the fourth for the fulfillment of the third, etc. Much rather must we conceive of these seven vials as being upon the earth at the same time, so that all their misery together finally combines into one great effect. It may be that the one precedes the other in its coming. And especially is it very well possible, nay, even probable, that the first four vials shall be witnessed before the others. But for the rest we may not refer them to seven different periods in the history of man and of the world.
Nor must we, on the other hand, conceive of them as bearing no relation to one another. That is generally not the way in which God works in the history of the world; and that will not be the case in the period of the end. No, also at that time one thing will bring on the other, till all the world is steeped in misery and pain and agony. The first four vials evidently belong together from this point of view, and they form one definite group. They are the plagues of God in nature. That they have a combined effect is very plain. The earth and the sea and the rivers and the fountains of water are poisoned with the wrath of God; and the sun is so inflamed by it that it scorches men with its heat. All these plagues together cause sickness and want, hunger and thirst and great suffering, so that they have their influence up,)n the kingdom of Antichrist. I conceive of these plagues as coming on gradually, and not all of a sudden, so that one moment man enjoys life and the other moment he is lost in the depth of misery. No, they come rather gradually. It shall hardly be noticeable perhaps that anything special is coming upon the world. But gradually the earth shall become more and more poisoned, the sea shall show itself more and more as a rotten pool, the fountains of water shall afford no more relief and refreshment, and the sun shall become more and more intolerably hot, so that it scorches men. Gradually the kingdom of Antichrist, which was such a glorious kingdom, shall lose control of its blessings. And gradually its downfall shall be prepared. And so I also imagine that during this period gradually the fifth vial shall be realized, which shall darken the kingdom of the beast.
We read that the fifth vial is poured out upon the throne of the beast. The beast here is evidently Antichrist. And the throne of the beast stands for the seat of his authority and power to rule. The throne is always a symbol of royal power and authority. The king on his throne issues the laws for his kingdom, executes judgment, and expresses sentences. The king on his throne is obeyed and honored by all his subjects. The king on his throne is the symbol of royal power. When a king is dethroned, he has lost his royal dominion. Thus it is here. Antichrist was enthroned by all the nations of the world. He had a great and glorious dominion. All the nations of the world bow down to him and acknowledge him. They willingly pay him homage. They admire him. They wonder after him. They glorify him. They worship him. People put their trust in him as they do in a god. They expect everything from him. They deem nothing too wonderful for him. They look upon him as their god; and everywhere they make images of him, and worship the image of the beast. The beast, therefore, had a glorious dominion. And it seemed indeed as if the last millennium of peace and bliss had come under his rule upon the world of man. He had control over all things, - control over commerce and industry, control over science and art, control over philosophy and religion. And for all these different spheres he freely issued his laws. And those who refused to obey them he banished from the kingdom, made them social outcasts, so that they could occupy no position, find no job, could neither buy nor sell, were miserable and poor. That is implied in the throne, in the dominion and royal authority and power of the beast.
But now the fifth vial is poured out upon that throne. And the result is, so our text tells us, that his dominion is darkened. There are some interpreters who have it that "dominion" here must be taken in the sense of territory, the kingdom as the territory over which the beast rules. And then the darkness is to be taken as a darkness in nature. But I do not think so. In the first place, this is little to be harmonized with the scorching heat of the sun, which shall continue, no doubt, also at this time. But besides, the entire contents of this fifth vial is against this interpretation. The meaning evidently is that the dominion of the beast is darkened, his glory wanes, his authority is questioned, his power ceases to be, his appearance ceases to inspire with awe and confidence. People and nations lose their trust in the beast. They used to worship him; they now begin to doubt his divinity. They used to shout, "Who can make war with the beast?" They now are not so sure of his unconquerable power and his unconquerable nature. They used to admire him. They now withhold their admiration. A sort of political unrest is noticeable in the dominion of the beast, so that the power of his kingdom is darkened.
This is, in the first place, in harmony with the correspondence between the fifth vial and the fifth trumpet. That trumpet spoke of the fierce locusts which rose out of the abyss, the result of which was a terrible, agonizing pessimism, so that men sought death and could not find it. The same is the case here. People had put all their trust in the antichristian kingdom and power. In that kingdom there was plenty and peace and blessing. And they deemed nothing too wonderful for Man to perform. They worshipped the beast and his image. They put their trust in him. But now they lose the object of their hope. They lose their god. The domain of the beast is darkened, and the nations gradually lose their trust in the only object of their hope. For years and years they had hoped for this kingdom. For years and years they had struggled for its establishment. And for a time it seemed possible to reach happiness and bliss without the God of heaven and without His Christ. But now all is vain. Also this hope they lose, but not in order to turn to the true God in repentance. No, they blaspheme the God of heaven. And therefore they are now without any object in which they can put their trust. They are now literally without God in the world. And hence, their despair, their complete hopelessness is coming on as the kingdom is darkened and the authority of what they looked upon as their god is questioned. They gnaw their tongues because of their trouble and their pain and their despair.
In the second place, this is also entirely in harmony with the effect of the first four vials. As we have said before, the first four vials prepare the way for the last three. They constitute the plagues in nature which deprive the Antichrist and his kingdom of their material blessings. Instead of plenty and blessing there is now suffering and want and hunger and thirst and sickness. And since the people admired the beast especially because of the material blessings that were connected with his reign, it is but natural that his dominion gradually wanes as the plagues in nature become more and more severe. And therefore, the fifth plague brings disturbance over the reign of Antichrist. People are in despair and pain, partly because of the plagues in the nature, partly because they have lost and are losing their only god. And they blaspheme the God of heaven Who hath power over these plagues.
How The Nations Are Gathered For This Battle
Exactly to what extent this darkening of the throne of the beast will be and just what shall take place at that time is not told us. But clear it seems to be that the Christian nations, which, of course, are the antichristian nations proper, are affected first of all. Perhaps we must picture the relation thus, that in course of time one of the Christian, or civilized, nations has gained control and predominance over the other nations of the antichristian confederacy, so that there the throne of the beast, the government of the kingdom, is seated. Then it is possible that the rest of the civilized nations, especially under the influence of the plagues which come in the first four vials, rise against this throne of the beast and free themselves from antichristian dominion, thus darkening the throne of the beast. In the future we shall read more about this. Now it is plain that the dominion of the antichristian kingdom has lost its hold, first of all, upon the nominally Christian nations, which are the nations of Antichrist proper.
But it is not only these that are affected. On the contrary, there are still the other nations, the nations that live outside of the sphere of Christianity in its outward sense, the nations that live at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog. By these are meant all those nations that have never played a part in the history of the world, the millions and millions of Chinese and Japanese, and the inhabitants of India and Africa and Australia. Always they have lived outside of the pale of history proper, and never have they played any appreciable part in that history of the world. When we speak of the history of the world, we refer to the history of but very few nations. And since the coming of Christ, we refer to the nations that have come under the influence of Christianity. The only nations that might possibly form an exception in this respect are the Mohammedans. But for the rest, all the pagan world has had no part in the history of man and of the world. Also these nations have belonged to the antichristian kingdom outwardly. They have naturally somewhat shared in its prosperity, and have at the same time subjected themselves outwardly. But they never formed an integral part of the dominion, and on the whole they simply followed their pagan customs and religions: They lived in separation and isolation, more or less. But the time shall come, so Scripture tells us more than once, when also these nations shall take a definite stand and rise up against God Almighty and His Anointed for battle, in order that they and their gods may have dominion of the world. And that time has come with the sixth and seventh vials.
The sixth vial is poured out on the great river Euphrates, so the text tells us. Also here we may notice the correspondence between the sixth trumpet and the sixth vial. When the sixth trumpet sounded, the four angels who were bound at the great river Euphrates were liberated, and they gathered the army of monstrous warriors from the east to battle against the nations of Christendom. Then one-third of the men were killed. But now we have the sixth vial. And that sixth vial is poured out on the great river, the river Euphrates. But this time it is completely dried up, and that for the purpose that the way might be prepared for the kings who come from the sun-rising, or from the east.
It is not necessary to explain again in detail what is the meaning of the great river Euphrates, since this was done in connection with the sixth trumpet. Let me then remind you of the fact that in the literal sense the river Euphrates, flowing through Mesopotamia and Chaldea for hundreds of miles, wide and deep, and emptying itself in the Persian Gulf, - that this river in the old dispensation formed the boundary line between the nation of Israel and the heathen nations, the boundary line, therefore, between the people of God in the outward sense of the word and the nations of heathendom. As such it is a fit symbol of the boundary line between the Christian nations and the heathen nations in the new dispensation, the line of demarcation and separation between Christendom and Gog and Magog. At this time, when Christendom shall be Antichristendom, it will naturally be the boundary line between Antichrist and the nations that live on the four corners of the earth. Some take it that with this sixth vial the river Euphrates shall be literally dried up, so that the nations may pass through it. Of course, there is nothing against such an explanation. It is very well possible for God to do so if it pleases Him. No one can doubt this. But this is not very likely the explanation. Evidently we again must think of symbolism in connection with the sixth vial. If the nations wish to gather for battle, a river would surely not keep them from it, even if it is never dried up. And therefore, the drying up of the river merely refers to the removal of all obstacles from the external point of view. There shall come a time when these nations on the four corners of the earth shall be capable of meeting the armies of the civilized world. They shall gradually be prepared, till all external obstacles shall have been removed.
At the same time, however, there is a spiritual agency at work among these nations. We read: "And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of devils, working miracles."
Many attempts have been made to ascertain definitely what these three evil and unclean spirits might signify. And often they have had personal application. But naturally the very question is irrelevant, is at least impossible to be answered definitely from the text. And therefore the answers which have been suggested are naturally absurd. All we can do is follow the text and gather from it the information that it affords.
In the first place, it tells us that the unclean spirits proceed from the mouth of the infernal trinity, - the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The dragon, you recognize, is the devil, the old serpent, who is after all the real king over the kingdom of Antichrist. The beast is the monster with its ten horns and seven heads, Antichrist from its political aspect. And the false prophet is the same as the second beast, who has the two horns, as a lamb, but speaks like the dragon. And we may also remember that the relation between these three is such that the beast, or Antichrist, is the representative of the dragon upon the earth, exists for him and works for him, and that the false prophet in turn labors and deceives the nations in behalf of the beast and its image. The Christian nations have been deceived by their work. They make an image for the beast, and worship him. They are filled with enmity against God and His Christ and His saints. But the nations that live at the four corners of the earth are not so easily converted. They do not understand this establishment of the kingdom of Antichrist. They are heathen. They serve their idols. They cannot erect the image of the beast and fall down before it. And therefore the infernal trinity work together to convert the whole world for Antichristendom. Just as it is the task of Christianity to preach the gospel to all nations, so that they all may bow before the God of heaven and His Christ, so the dragon and the beast and the false prophet cannot rest before all the nations of the earth have come under the influence of their antichristian principles. The principles of that kingdom must be spread. They must be disseminated among the Gentiles. They must be preached far and wide over the whole world, so that finally all the world shall have been won for Antichrist. It is to my mind this antichristian missionary work which is symbolized in these unclean spirits proceeding out of the mouth of the infernal trinity. They are unclean spirits, demons in nature, naturally, for they preach opposition against God and His Christ. They spread and sow the seed of infidelity and conscious opposition against Almighty God and His people. They go forth unto the kings of the whole earth, our text tells us, evidently referring to the kings who rule at the four corners of the earth. Everywhere they preach their infernal doctrine, that the whole world may be civilized in the antichristian sense of the word. But God also uses evil spirits to reach His purpose. For the text tells us that in very fact they gather the nations for the great day of the war of God Almighty. Of course, that is not the dragon's purpose. His purpose was to gain these nations for his own kingdom. But through these evil spirits the Almighty gains His own purpose. For Christ rules the world, and rules all things for the completion of His kingdom.
What then is the relation of things?
At the same time that these evil spirits sow the seeds of hatred against Christ and against God Almighty and against His people in the hearts of all the nations outside of the pale of Christianity, the throne of the beast is darkened, and the terrible plagues, from which also Gog and Magog suffer, are upon the earth. As I have suggested before, I imagine that the darkening of the throne of the beast will consist of an uprising in the antichristian world itself among the nominally Christian nations against the central government of Antichrist. But at the same time the nations that live at the four corners of the earth shall fully wake up. They shall look upon these nominally Christian nations, that fight against the throne of the beast, as being true Christendom, against which their hearts have been filled with hatred by the three unclean spirits. They shall come up for war against the civilized nations. They shall gather their armies, and so shall the nations of Europe and America. All the world shall fly to arms.
And all the nations of the world shall gather for battle, so our text tells us, at the place which is called Armageddon. Armageddon literally means "Mount Megiddo." Historically and geographically it is the mount situated on the great plain of Esdraelon in Issachar, near the famous valley of Jezreel. It was one of the great battle fields of Canaan. It was on that field that Josiah, the God-fearing king of Judah, was slain when he went to war against Pharaoh-Necho, king of Egypt, II Kings 23:29-30. It was there too that Ahaziah, king of Judah, fleeing together with Joram before the face of Jehu, was killed. But in connection with the words of our text it must be taken in a different significance. It was on the battlefield of Megiddo that Deborah and Barak had their great victory over the Canaanites who had opposed the people of God. Of it Deborah sings: "The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo." Judges 5:19. And it is undoubtedly in the light of that historical event that the field is mentioned in this connection. Whether the last battle of the nations shall be literally fought in that neighborhood, which is very well possible, or not, fact is that the symbolical significance of the battlefield of Megiddo is such that it represents the defeat of the enemies of the kingdom of God. The unclean spirits, therefore, although their purpose is far different, gather the armies of the nations on the battlefield of their final defeat by Christ and His saints. The devil is ultimately but an instrument in the hand of God to work his own destruction. And all things must work together in such a way that the plan of the Almighty is carried out to the full.
The Outcome Of This Battle
There, then, are the nations gathered. It is the last battle which shall ever be fought on earth. It is the battle which shall finish all. It is the battle which shall lead to the destruction of all the enemies of God and of His Anointed. Terrible is the bloodshed that shall then be witnessed. And the nations shall destroy one another. They are in the great winepress of the wrath of God.
But still more: as they are battling, the seventh vial is poured out into the air,, and a voice is heard, "It is finished." The voice proceeds from the temple of heaven, from the throne. It is no doubt the voice of Christ that is here heard. Once before He used these very words, when the battle was finished in principle on the bloody cross. Then He fought the battle as the suffering Servant, and finished it. But since then He has been exalted. And as the exalted Son of Man He continued the work throughout the ages of the new dispensation. The book with its seven seals is given Him, in order that He might have all power in heaven and on earth. Seal after seal has been broken. Trumpet after trumpet has been blown. Vial after vial has been poured out. All history has been controlled by Him from year to year and from stage to stage, till the last vial is poured out and the last scene is to take place on the stage of history, the scene which will prepare the earth for the descent of the New Jerusalem. It is finished.
The last vial is poured out. As the nations are gathered in the winepress of the wrath of God, battling one another to death, the very atmosphere is filled with the wrath of God. The devils, who find their abode in that air, are defeated forever. And nature is angry with terrible convulsions. There are terrific lightnings and thunders and voices. The sun is darkened, and the moon appears blood red. A great and terrible earthquake cracks the earth, so that Babylon is split and destroyed and the cities of the nations are wiped out, - an earthquake as never before, as long as man lived on earth. And to finish all, great hail falls from heaven, making the destruction complete. Every hailstone weighs a talent, that is, approximately one hundred pounds. Just imagine the scene. It is the great day of the wrath of God. All the nations are gathered. They fight and rage, wild with the despair of their forlorn kingdom. They are at each other's throats in fury, filled with the wrath of God. Darkness prevails. The moon by night looks like blood. Tremendous hailstones begin to fall, crushing them to death. An earthquake destroys their cities. Mountains are rooted out of their place. The very surface of the earth is changing. Islands flee away. And in the midst of this universal destruction, from which no one shall escape, are heard the cursings and blasphemies of a wicked race, rebellious to the very last. No indeed, there is no repentance except through the grace of God. God is fully justified in this last scene of human history. Sin is rebellion, hatred against the God of heaven!
Strikingly, this is the fulfillment of what was prophesied by Ezekiel in Old Testament symbolism. In Ezekiel we read: "And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, And say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee .... It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought: And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gate, To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land .... And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that my fury shall come up in my face. For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord God: every man's sword shall be against his brother. And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone," (Ezekiel 38:1-6, 10-12, 18-22).
Thus shall the evil intentions of the nations and of the beast and of the dragon be turned against themselves.
In that last battle the people of God shall have no part. They shall have been taken away. A beautiful indication is given us once more of this truth in the fifteenth verse of this chapter, where the Lord so wonderfully warns: "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." The Lord will come as a thief, unexpectedly, unawares, with His judgments, but also to take His people away from the earth. He shall come and go, and no one shall have noticed that He shall have been. The nations shall continue to rage and to blaspheme the God of heaven; but the church of God shall be upon earth no more. Therefore the chapter is a warning to watch, to look for the coming of the Lord, when all these things shall come to pass. We are making history fast, especially in the last years. And therefore, we must keep our garments clean, watch out for the defilement of Antichrist, refuse to have anything to do with him, watch as children of light, expecting the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may be faithful even unto the end; and no one shall take our crown.