Assemble them for battle: Revelation 16:14-16

Previously: The sixth bowl: Revelation 16:12-16

The scripture

Rev. 16:14 – For they are spirits of demons performing signs, who travel to the kings of the whole world to assemble them for the battle of the great day of God, the Almighty. 15 “Look, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who is alert and remains clothed so that he may not go naked, and they see his shame.” 16 So they assembled them at the place called in Hebrew Armageddon. (HCSB)

Assemble them for the battle … in Armageddon

Now the kings of the world are assembled for “the battle of the great day of God, the Almighty” (v. 14). Verse 16 tells us the evil spirits assemble the kings at “the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.” This is the only mention of “Armageddon” in the Bible. But the place is well known. The word “Armageddon” in Hebrew is har-megiddon, meaning “the mount of Megiddo.” Although there is no mountain by this name, the great city of Megiddo is strategically placed to guard the pass between the Mediterranean coast and the valley of Jezreel or Esdraelon.

Lightning over the roadThe outcome of this battle is reported in Rev. 17:14 and 19:11-21 as the Lamb obliterates the forces of evil. As the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times points out, the gathering of the wicked for destruction is a common theme in the Old Testament. For example:

  • In Joel 3:11-16 the Lord invites the nations to come to the “Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit down to judge all the surrounding nations.”
  • In Zeph. 3:8 the Lord declares, “For My decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, in order to pour out My indignation on them, all My burning anger; for the whole earth will be consumed by the fire of My jealousy.”
  • And in Zech. 12:3-4 and 14:2-5 Yahweh promises, “On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the people; all who try to lift it will injure themselves severely when all the nations of the earth gather against her…. I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle…. Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle …”

More specifically, the valley of Jezreel or Esdraelon is the site of many important battles in the history of Israel. It is the place where earthly kings are no match for the Lord’s heavenly host; indeed, they are punished for oppressing God’s people (Judges 5:19). It is where the prophets of Baal are slaughtered in the days of Elijah (1 Kings 18:40). And it is where good king Josiah is killed, resulting in national mourning (2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chron. 35:20-25).

A common thread in these battles is that this valley is a place where unrighteous nations attack the people of God. Certainly, Megiddo in scripture is connected with warfare. It’s possible, however, that John’s reference to Megiddo is in fact a reference to Jerusalem. David Stern writes, “[T]he final war may not take place at Har Megiddo at all, but in Jerusalem, at Har Migdo, the ‘mount of his choice fruit,’ i.e., the mountain of God’s blessing, Mount Zion. Mount Zion has already been mentioned at 14:1; moreover, the imagery resembles Joel’s picture of the Day of Adonai, when God’s power goes forth from Mount Zion against the forces of evil (Joel 2:1-11, 4:16-17 [3:16-17]; compare also Isaiah 31:4-9). The next passage (vv. 17-21) resembles 14:14-20, which also draws on imagery from Joel 4…. Strengthening the case further Zechariah 12:11 … mentions Jerusalem along with Megiddon” (Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 835).

So how should we view Armageddon?

Viewing Armageddon

Some interpreters see real armies gathered in the broad valley for a future battle in which Satan deceives the world’s military powers to stand in the Holy Land and futilely resist the return of Christ.

Other commentators see Armageddon as a symbol of the final conflict between the powers of evil and the powers of God occurring throughout the earth. Therefore, Armageddon is not a specific geographic location but the entire world.

Others describe Armageddon in more figurative terms as a first-century name similar to “Waterloo,” spelling the utter defeat of those who oppose God, or as a word depicting any battle in which the Lord demonstrates His great power to defeat evil and rescue His own.

It seems to make sense that a first-century fulfillment – or at least partial fulfillment – takes place in the destruction of the temple and the dispersion of Israel in 70 A.D. At the same time, the calamitous events of those days serves as a foretaste of Christ’s ultimate return and defeat of all who reject Him and oppress His people.

I am coming like a thief

Jesus inserts an important message in verse 15: “Look, I am coming like a thief. The one who is alert and remains clothed so that he may not go around naked and people see his shame is blessed.” In light of the approaching battle, Christians should remain faithful without compromise because Jesus will return suddenly and unexpectedly.

In the context of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, this may be seen as a warning for first-century Christians, whom Jesus advises to flee Jerusalem when He comes in judgment of Israel in 70 A.D. (Matt. 24:15-22). But it also endures as a caution to believers throughout the church age that the Lord will return suddenly. Jesus’ coming like a thief echoes His parable in Matt. 24:43-44 and His threat to the church in Sardis in Rev. 3:3. Spiritual nakedness is one of Christ’s accusations against the church in Laodicea in Rev. 3:17-18.

Jurgen Roloff writes, “In view of the announcement of the imminent judgment of the evil powers, the conduct of indifferent and unconcerned bystanders does not suit Christians! The day of the Lord, the coming of which cannot be calculated, will instead demand from them an account regarding whether they have remained obedient as commanded. Everything then will depend on whether they have rightly preserved the gifts of salvation that were given to them. In the case of irresponsible activity, judgment threatens not only the evil powers but Christians as well” (Revelation: A Continental Commentary, p. 191.)

It should not be overlooked that there is a blessing promised here – one of seven significant blessing statements or beatitudes in Revelation. Note:

  • “The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed, because the time is near!” (1:3).
  • “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!’” (14:13).
  • “The one who remains clothed so that he may not go around naked and people see his shame is blessed” (16:15).
  • “Then he aid to me, ‘Write: Those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb are fortunate!’ He also said to me, ‘These words of God are true’” (19:9).
  • “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years” (20:6).
  • “Look, I am coming quickly! The one who keeps the prophetic words of this book is blessed” (22:7).
  • “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates” (22:14).

Seven is the number of perfection and occurs frequently throughout Revelation. So amid the stark warnings and graphic depictions of persecution and judgment, God assures the one clothed in the righteousness of Christ that he will not be ashamed and will not lose his reward.

W.A. Criswell writes, “If a man will not hear the voice of God, he lays his heart open to listen to the voice of destruction, evil and damnation. When the kings and the people and the armies of the earth will not listen to God, then they lay themselves open to listening to the persuasive voice of the spirits of darkness and evil” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 4, p. 179).

The Holman Bible Handbook offers a poignant summary statement for this section: “[W]e must neither deny nor even lament the wisdom of God for His past or future assertions of wrath. Our God evidently loves righteousness, justice, and mercy to such an extent that He will not brook our cowardly tolerance of evil. We may not lightly dismiss the fact that heaven is neither silent nor embarrassed when evil is punished. Heaven rejoices at the justice and judgment of God.” (19:1–6).

Four major views of the sixth bowl judgment

How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the sixth bowl judgment?

Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – are divided on the timing of this judgment, and its object. Some argue that Babylon the Great is Rome and this judgment occurs in the 5th century; others contend that Israel is the Harlot and is overthrown in 70 A.D. at the hand of the Romans. In either case, the drying of the Euphrates is not to be taken literally but harks back to the ingenious manner in which ancient Babylon is overthrown by the Medes’ diversion of the Euphrates River. In much the same way, Babylon the Great will experience a sudden and complete collapse. The imagery of the unclean spirits like frogs borrows from the plague on Egypt; as natural Egypt is judged by natural frogs, spiritual Egypt is plagued by spiritual frogs. Armageddon is not to be taken literally but is used much as we would use the word “Waterloo” today as a moniker for the last and great defeat of a ruler or nation.

Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – believe this judgment plays out in the 1830s and beyond, largely in Europe and Turkey. Some historicists identify the three unclean spirits as paganism, the papacy, and Islam; they understand Armageddon as a metaphor for spiritual conflict. Others, however, interpret Armageddon as an armed conflict of international magnitude, such as World War I. Still others see the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 as one of the unclear spirits, which ushers in an era of Communism; the other two unclean spirits are Judaism and Islam.

Futurists – who say the events in Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – tend to see the drying up of the Euphrates literally in order to make way for invaders from the East, most likely China, joined perhaps by India and Japan. The unclean spirits are sent to seduce the leaders of the earth into participating in a final, global battle in the Holy Land. Some futurists see the battle of Armageddon as a conflict between the beast’s loyal armies and the returning Christ. Others see the battle as a unified insurrection against the beast’s authority. Most futurists identify the scene of Armageddon as the valley of Esdraelon – the great plain of Jezreel in the northern part of Palestine. The plain, however, is only 14 miles long and 20 miles wide, too small for a battle involving all the armies of the earth; therefore, some commentators see it as the focal point of the battle.

Idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – tend to view this judgment as the overthrow of Rome in the 5th The drying up of the Euphrates is not to be taken literally; rather, it symbolizes impediments to the advancing forces of the ungodly that are removed in time. The kings from the east are those who do battle for God in bringing about the judgment of Rome. They also preview the final triumph of Christ over all evil forces in the universe. The unclean spirits are demons that entice evil people into battles in which they will die in their sins. Some idealists view all the bowl judgments as recurring disasters by which God brings evil people to their ends. In this regard, Armageddon signifies every battle in which the Lord shows His great power to overthrow evil and rescue His own.

Next: The seventh bowl – Revelation 16:17-21