Summary: A war that began in heaven was brought to earth and God is about to wrap it up and fight the last battle, very soon, You better be ready!
Many Christians today are convinced that Armageddon—Revelation’s name for earth’s last battle—is due to break out in the very near future. Armageddon is presumed to refer to the valley of Megiddo in Israel (though the word itself means “Mount Megiddo”), and all the conflict that’s gone on in that region of the world the last few years makes it attractive to suppose that Armageddon is, indeed, about to happen. Consider:
Terrorism, emanating from the Middle East, is a global threat.
The Israelis and the Palestinians seem to be in a life-and-death struggle.
Afghanistan is embroiled in conflict.
Iraq has become the scene of an intractable war with no apparent end in sight.
Armageddon suddenly begins looking like an attractive explanation for all that’s going on! But is global terrorism and the current conflict in the Middle East what Armageddon is all about? I’ll begin our examination of this important topic by quoting the four verses in Revelation where we learn about Armageddon:
Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; . . . They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. . . .
Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon (Revelation 16:13, 14, 16).
War in heaven
For starters, notice that Revelation calls it the battle of Armageddon, not the war of Armageddon. That’s because a battle is always part of a war, not the other way around. We speak, for example, of the Battle of the Bulge, which was part of the larger conflict we call World War II. And just as the Battle of the Bulge can’t be fully understood apart from the larger context of World War II, so Armageddon can’t be understood apart from a much larger conflict that dominates Revelation and, indeed, the entire Bible.
This war began in a place you’d never expect—in God’s own home, a place we call heaven. We read about it in Revelation 12: “There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.”1 Michael is the name the Bible gives to a heavenly being who’s also called “the archangel.”2 The dragon is a symbolic name that Revelation gives to Satan, “the devil.”3 Revelation goes on to say that Michael prevailed over the dragon, and the dragon and his angels were cast out of heaven.
All wars involve a spiritual component, especially the desire on the part of the aggressors for power, control, and perhaps material gain. This was particularly true of the war in heaven, for Isaiah informs us that Lucifer coveted political power—he aspired to take over God’s throne, His government.4 He wanted authority over the angels. That’s why he was fighting Michael and His angels. And from Ezekiel we learn that Satan was very proud.5
Thus, the opening battle in a war that began thousands of years ago in heaven, continues to this day, and will culminate with Armageddon, was incited by powerful spiritual issues.
War on earth
Revelation informs us that when Satan and his angels rebelled against God in heaven, they were “cast out into the earth”6—to our planet, no less! Shortly after arriving here, the devil used one of his favorite spiritual tricks on our first parents: deception. He told them two lies, with which he seduced them into joining the war on his side. You remember the story—the tree, the serpent, the fruit. In the first lie, Satan told Adam and Eve that they wouldn’t die from eating the fruit of the tree when God had said plainly that they would.7 And second, he promised that if they ate the fruit, they would become like God Himself.8
That same day God came down, and He brought Adam and Eve and the devil together for a conference. Addressing Satan, He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”9
Strange words, the devil must have thought. Does this mean that Eve and her descendants will hate me? Will they love God and Michael after all and join the war on Their side?
That’s exactly what God meant—not that every human being would abandon Satan’s side and join back up with God, but that everyone would be given the opportunity to do so. And ever since then people in every age, all over the world, have indeed been rejoining God’s side.
That, of course, has made the devil horribly angry. Revelation says that he pursued the woman (a symbol for God’s people, the church) and persecuted her,10 and he’s “filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”11 That’s exactly what God predicted in Eden: that He would put enmity—hatred—between Satan’s followers and God’s followers. Revelation goes on to say that “the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”12