The Last Great Battle
21 Apr 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
THE LAST GREAT BATTLE
Ever since the Book of Revelation was written by that lonely exile on the Island of Patmos, men and women have pondered its overall significance and application. As noted in Rev 1: 1, the author of this last book of the Bible tells us it was written with the declared purpose of showing those '…things which must shortly come to pass' (Neufeld, 1986: 5,7).
Of all the words written in this book, none has invited more discussion and foreboding than the word 'Armageddon'. There are few images from the Bible that can stir the Christian imagination more, and few subjects that have created more controversy over the 160-year history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, than the idea of Armageddon.
There are very few Biblical images that are more well known in the secular world then this great final battle. Scriptwriters have exposed moviegoers to their various interpretations of this event picturing in graphic images the complete annihilation of civilization as we have now come to know it (Moore, 1992: 229).
On August 6, 1945, at 8: 15 on a sunny Monday morning, a B29 American bomber, nicknamed Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. This event was to effectively change the course of world history (Nault, 1988, Vol. 21: 494).
One month later on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay, General Douglas MacArthur was standing on the massive deck of the huge American battleship, 'The Missouri' as he witnessed the representatives of Japan signing the official statement of surrender. This event signalled the end of World War II.
It was to be on the day of Japan's surrender that MacArthur was to announce that 'A new era is upon us…We have had our last chance. If we do not devise some greater or more equitable system [for settling international problems] Armageddon will be at our door' (Neufeld, 1986: 6; Maxwell, 1985: 434). MacArthur felt the burden to warn the world that another war with similar atomic weapons would inevitably escalate into the horrors of the biblical apocalypse (Maxwell, 1985: 434).
With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Winston Churchill's stark words that were written just after the First World War come into greater focus. 'Death', he says, 'stands at attention, obedient, expectant, ready to serve, ready to shear away the people en masse; ready if called on, without hope of repair, what is left of civilisation…' (Ibid).
It was in 1960 that US President Dwight Eisenhower made the observation that 'War is now utterly preposterous. In nearly every generation the fields of earth have been stained with blood. Now, war [in the modern age] would not yield blood, only a great emptiness' (Neufeld, 1986: 6,7).
Men's hearts were now failing them for fear of what was to come upon the earth. Many were unsure of what lay ahead. There were also many who wanted to know the meaning of the difficult and tragic times in which they were living.
In the decades that have elapsed since the Second World War, the nations of the earth have been embroiled in at least 125 wars of various sorts. This was to include America's longest war in Vietnam (Maxwell 1985: 434).
Since that time, wars have taken place in the Middle East commencing with 'Desert Storm' on the 2nd August 1990 after Iraq invaded the oil rich country of Kuwait. This was the first 'microchip war' where the United States was to unleash its high technology weapons bringing about an uneasy peace on February 27, 1991. This was to commence another frightening episode in global affairs. Then come Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq (Bruce, 1999: 16, 18, 20).
Through all this, 'Death' still stands at attention, and MacArthur's Armageddon has not yet arrived (Maxwell, 1985: 434).
I would like to just pause for a moment this morning as we take the time to remember the men and women of those wars. Anzac Day is an Australian Day of Remembrance. It is a day to pause and reflect on the sacrifices particularly made by those thousands of Australian men and women who served Australia in wartime. Even if we believe they died in a vain and futile war, achieving nothing more than bringing suffering to many of our fellow humans, we must still hold their memory as sacred. Anzac Day is not a day to glorify war. We need to understand that the greatest sacrifice that anyone can make is to die to protect someone else.
This morning I am going to invite you to repeat the Ode of Remembrance and then remain silent while the Bugler plays the Last Post.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
LAST POST -
As Christians, and particularly as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, what is our understanding of the future events that lie before us and particularly of that last great battle called Armageddon?
Most Seventh-day Adventists today would have very little idea of the Church's original views of Armageddon during its first seventy years of existence. This was a time when the Church, in deep Bible study and research, was working through the Scriptures in order to establish its beliefs. It was a groundbreaking time for the Church and there was much controversy over some of these issues.
Most pastors, evangelists and Bible teachers during this early period were to follow the lead of Uriah Smith, one of the church's leading administrators. He became the foremost champion in expressing the view that the fall of Turkey, or the Ottoman Empire as it was then called, would be the great sign that Christ's second coming was near. Most held the belief that Armageddon would be a physical battle between the Islamic nation of Turkey and the Christian nations of the world. This view he held to the day of his death in 1903 (Moore, 1992: 229).
Opposing this opinion was James White who formed part of a minority group of Adventist thinkers who taught that Armageddon would be a spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil in the world (Ibid). This belief he held until his death in 1881. These two opposing sets of views were the beginning of a major debate that was only to be put to rest after 1945 (Ibid: 230). While earth's final battle was seen as a spiritual battle over spiritual issues it was also understood to be a physical battle in a very real sense. Author Ellen White once said, that 'the battles waging between the two armies [at the end of time] are as real as those fought by the armies of this world (Moore, 1992: 239).
As noted by author Marvin Moore, Uriah Smith was eventually to be spared the agony of attending the burial of his interpretation when the Ottoman Empire was dismantled after World War I (Ibid).
However, the view again of a physical battle between the nations of the earth resurfaced, as Japan became a major force in world affairs. Consequently, the idea spread throughout Church ranks that Armageddon would be a battle between East and West. This belief was based on Revelation 16: 12 that said the Euphrates River would dry up 'to prepare the way for the kings of the East'.
This concept reached its peak when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, but was eventually laid to rest after this nation's defeat in 1945. Today this view is seen as 'little more than a relic in the museum of Adventist theological history' (Ibid).
Well, what is Armageddon and how do we distinguish between the popular secular concepts and usage of the term and the Biblical meaning?
In popular terms Armageddon has always been used to describe any great battle, whereas the Bible talks specifically of only one last engagement. It is also interesting to note that this term is only ever used once in Scripture and, as we would expect, it is to be found in an apocalyptic passage. It is found in Revelation 16 where it describes divine judgement upon the inhabitants of the earth in the form of seven devastating plagues. The falling of these seven last plagues, which sum up the wrath of God, ring down the final curtain on world history (Neufeld, 1986: 8, 9).
These destructive plagues follow after an intensive campaign conducted by the 'beast' and his 'image' to secure the allegiance and loyalty of earth's inhabitants against the God of heaven (Ibid: 9). Revelation 14: 9, 10 warns that 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also shall drink the wine of God's wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of His anger.' We need to understand that the natural destructiveness of sin has only ever been restrained by God's mercy. When that cup is full, the Scriptures make clear that His merciful restraint will be removed resulting in the seven last plagues.
The events leading to Armageddon, the mother of all wars, constitute the sixth of these seven plagues and are described as follows in Rev 16-12-16. I'm reading from the KJV.
'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.
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 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. Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called, in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon.'
Most of the symbolism and the imagery of this passage are borrowed from the Old Testament, where Babylon, the ancient city on the Euphrates River, appears as an enemy of God's people, holding them captive immediately prior to her downfall. After Cyrus the Persian who came from the east diverted the waters of the river, he made his entry into the city (Neufeld, 1986: 17). Babylon stands as a symbol of the enemy of God's people near the end of time.
The dragon, the beast and the false prophet are symbols of political and religious forces actively operating against Christ and His true followers, even though many of them do it in the name of Christ (Ibid: 18).
While miracles are usually attributed to God, the demonic spirits shown in these verses as 'three unclean spirits like frogs' will perform miracles to deceive the whole earth, gathering them together for the great battle of God (Ibid). We need to remember that frogs in ancient Egypt were venerated as Gods and pagan deities. While paganism and spiritism in the Western world disappeared for a time like the hibernation of the frog, they are now reappearing in many different disguises (Anderson, 1974: 166). In doing so they have claimed many of the pulpits in Christian churches and are exercising tremendous influence in the religious world (Ibid).
From the symbolism presented, it would seem clear that certain organizations, with both religious and political elements and possessing international influence, will seek universal domination and totalitarian control over the minds and hearts of men (Ibid). They will achieve their ends through deceptive miracles and finally gather the nations of the world for 'the battle of that great day of God Almighty' (Ibid).
Because the Hebrew word for Armageddon resembles the 'Mount of Megiddo' in Palestine, many Bible commentators have focussed on the Middle East as the location of this battle of the ages. It would be easy to believe that a global war involving east and west could happen here because so many countries in this part of the world seem constantly at war. However, as noted by author Roy Allan Anderson, 'unfulfilled prophecy has always been a fertile field for human speculation' (Anderson, 1974: 167).
We need to keep in mind that we are dealing with a universal conflict between good and evil that began in heaven with Lucifer's rebellion against God. While Palestine may well be seen as the centre of worldwide conflict, it is believed the battle of the day of God Almighty will not be confined to any one land in particular. In this last death struggle between the combined powers of darkness and light, the whole world will be the battlefield and so terrible the slaughter of that day that as Jeremiah 25: 33 suggests 'they shall not be lamented, neither gathered or buried' (Ibid).
To underscore this picture, Rev 19: 17, 18 tells us that when the battle is over, an angel stands in the sun and cries out to the birds of prey, 'Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.'
This very gruesome and graphic word picture indicates the total destruction of the forces of evil before the second coming of Christ and represents the type of phraseology that was pronounced by Moses on the people of Israel in Old Testament times (Deut 28: 26). To be devoured by the scavengers of the skies represented one of the curses pronounced by Moses for his people's disobedience against God (Nichol, 1957, Vol 7: 875).
We need to recognise that the sixth plague deals only with the preparation and the gathering of the kings of the earth to this great battle into the place called Armageddon (Rev 16: 14). The clash actually comes during the seventh plague (Neufeld, 1986: 22).
Rev 16: 17-21 tells us there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven saying, 'It is done'. The great hour is now at hand. The season of probation is over.
Rev 19 now describes the great battle. We see Jesus riding out of heaven on a white horse, and with Him are the armies of heaven, also riding white horses. Let's read verses 11-15 of Rev 19.
'And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.'
Here is described an invasion from outer space. Beings from the celestial realm approach the earth as the nations of the earth unite in common defence. Rev 19: 19 describes them this way when he says, 'I saw the beast and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.' Armageddon, earth's final battle, will be God and His people on one side against Satan and his followers on the other.
This will be the Star Wars of all Star Wars. It will be Satan's last stand against the God of heaven. (Moore, 1992: 242).
All the latest high tech weapons available at this time will be powerless to stop the approach of Jesus as he rides forth as a mighty conqueror. The outcome of this battle is predetermined as Rev 19: 11-21 says that 'The lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings.' The victory of Jesus will be absolute, complete and eternal.
Associated with Armageddon are many earth shaking events. These include the personal and literal return of Jesus to this earth, the resurrection of those who have died in Him, the change from mortality to immortality of the living saints and the final meeting with the Lord in the air (1Thess 4: 16, 17; 1Cor 15: 22,23; 51-53).
Nearly every Scripture writer has given the assurance that one day God would intervene in human affairs, bring order out of chaos, and establish universal peace and righteousness. This commenced with Enoch in the pre-flood period (Jude 14,15) and continued with the prophets Isaiah (Is 24: 1-3), Jeremiah (Jer 25: 31-33), Ezekiel (Ez 38; 16-23), Joel (Joel 3: 9-16) and Daniel (Dan 7: 14).
These chorus of voices declared that one day God would deal with the problem of evil, with those earthly kingdoms eventually giving way to an everlasting kingdom where peace and justice would prevail (Neufeld, 1986: 29).
Throughout the centuries men and women have waited for that great day and while it would be a day of great joy for the righteous, it would also be a day of sorrow and mourning for those who had turned away from Him (Matt 24: 30).
The most important question to be asked is, 'How can we be certain that we will find ourselves on the right side of the battle?' What must we do to be saved?
The apostle Peter's reply to those at Pentecost was to 'Repent, and be baptised everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2: 37,38).
Paul and Silas' response to the jailor in the Philippian prison was, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (Acts 16: 30, 31).
Paul also made it clear by saying in Eph 2: 8, 9 that '…by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.
Acts 4: 12 tells us that 'Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.'
The apostle Paul in Rom 8: 6, 7 is also careful to make clear that human effort apart from the grace of Christ would never achieve salvation, and that it is the enabling grace of Christ that makes possible in the Christian, works that are acceptable to God.
Constant vigilance coupled with Bible study and prayer are basic to the Christian life (Neufeld, 1986: 58).
The only way to withstand the hour of God's judgment, the Battle of Armageddon, is to acquire the garments of heaven. The time to buy these garments to cover our spiritual nakedness is now and Jesus is the only one who can give these to us. When Armageddon comes, probation will have closed.
Dear friends, no one can remain neutral as we approach this darkest hour of earth's history. It is all about whom we worship and obey. The word of God, which is our only guarantee of safety shines through the fog that surrounds us in this world of sin. It is our only anchor to keep us firm in the faith as we wait for our Lord's return.
It is my prayer this morning that as we prepare for the events before us that we will constantly remember that Christ has assured us of His final victory over sin and that one day soon, if we remain faithful we will share in the rewards he has promised for eternity.
Anderson, R. A. (1974) Unfolding the Revelation. Mountain View, California: pacific Press Publishing Association.
Bruce, J. B. (1999) Anzac Day - Australia's Forces in War and Peace. East Roseville, NSW: Kangaroo Press
Maxwell, C. M. (1985) God Cares Vol 2. Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Moore, M. (1992) The Crisis of the End Time. Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Nault, W. H. (Chairman of Advisory Board) (1988) The World Book Encylopedia. Vol 21, Chicago: World Book Inc.
Neufeld, D. F. (1986) Armageddon - Invasion from Outer Space. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Association.
Nichol, F. D. (Ed) (1957) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
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