The word "Armageddon" comes from two Hebrew words: Har, meaning "mountain," and mageddon, meaning "Megido," that is, Mount Megiddo. There is no Mount Megiddo in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. However, the Valley of Megiddo in Israel is located near Mount Carmel where Elijah confronted the priests of Baal nearly 3,000 years ago.
Many people today believe that Armageddon will be fought between two groups of nations on our planet. But is that view correct?
Where it All Began
Thousands of years ago, a powerful angel named Lucifer, now called Satan, rebelled against God, and he gained a huge following among heaven's angels. Satan and his followers were expelled from heaven and cast to the earth (Revelation 12:9), and their struggle against God has continued on Earth ever since.
Armageddon will simply be the final battle in that conflict. Right now this war doesn't seem real. You and I can chat about it in the same detached way we talk about Rome's conquest of Greece 2,000 years ago. But the conflict between Greece and Rome is history; no one will ever feel the terror of that war again.
Armageddon, on the other hand, is still to come, and one of these days it will be very real. Here is one of Revelation's most important statements that helps to clarify what Armageddon is about. "The dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring" (Revelation 12:17).
The dragon is a symbol for Satan—the devil. The woman and her offspring represent "those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (verse 17). So this war is between Satan and God's people. Of course, Satan does not personally attack God's people in this war. He attacks them through his surrogates on earth, especially earth's political and religious powers that are opposed to God and His truth. John introduces us to one of these in the very next chapter of Revelation.
John describes a powerful creature that stalked out of the ocean: "I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name" (Revelation 13:1). John went on to say that people all over the world will follow this beast. They will ask, " 'Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?'" (verse 4). This beast is invincible! Or is it? Revelation says this beast was "given power to make war against the saints" (verse 7).
The reason why the beast fights against God's people is that they resist him. They will pay a heavy price for their resistance, though. Revelation goes on to say that the beast will conquer the saints. God's people appear to be doomed. However, before we reach that conclusion, let's find out what else Revelation says about this war.
War with the Scarlet Beast
The next reference to a war comes in Revelation 17. This chapter describes events in the world immediately prior to Christ's second coming. It opens with a description of a prostitute riding on a scarlet beast, which, like the beast in chapter 13, has seven heads and 10 horns. And it also attacks God's people, as we shall see.
Revelation says that the 10 horns on this beast represent 10 kings " 'who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast'" (Revelation 17:12). Kings means "heads of state," which in our day can include presidents and prime ministers. These kings represent the nations over which they rule.
Now note this: Revelation says that these kings—the nations of the world— will "make war against the Lamb" (verse 14). The "Lamb" is a symbol of Jesus Christ. So the beast and the nations of the world will join the devil on one side, while Jesus will be on the other. However, since Christ's second coming is still in the future at this point in Revelation, their attack will not be on Him personally. They will attack Him in the person of His saints. So are God's people doomed? Not at all. Verse 14 says that "the Lamb will overcome them [earth's nations] because he is Lord of lords and King of kings."
How the War Ends
Christ's actual victory over earth's rebellious political and religious powers is described in Revelation 19, and here Jesus Christ personally joins the battle. Verse 11 says, "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war." The Rider on the horse is Jesus. Revelation goes on to say that "the armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean" (verse 14). Adventists believe the phrase "armies of heaven" refers to the angels (chapter 12:7-9).
On the other side, John says that "the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army" (chapter 19:19). This is the battle of Armageddon, and it's also a symbolic description of Christ's second coming. The striking thing about Revelation's description is that when Christ returns to our world, the Bible says that the world's leaders and their armies will try to defeat Him.
But Christ will not be defeated. Revelation says that "the beast was captured, and . .. thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur" (verses 20). You just read the question in Revelation 13:4, " 'Who can make war against him [the beast]?'" Chapter 19 answers that question: Jesus, the Rider on the white horse, can make war against the beast—and defeat him. Armageddon is a battle between Christ and His people on one side and Satan and his forces of evil on the other. Throughout most of world history, Satan and his followers have appeared to have the upper hand. That's why Revelation 13:7 says that the beast conquered the saints. However, the tide will turn in the final battle of this ages-long war—what Revelation calls the battle of Armageddon. At this point, Jesus Himself will enter the fray, and earth's evil forces will be doomed.
What difference does it make?
It's easy to think that the battle of Armageddon doesn't have much to do with you and me. However, as we've seen, Armageddon is simply the final battle in a war that's been going on ever since time began on our planet. And it isn't just a war for control of our planet. It's a war for the control of your mind and mine. Satan and Jesus are both trying to win us to their side. For thousands of years, Satan has tried desperately to compel people to join his side. He especially uses earth's political powers to try to force us into yielding to him.
Jesus will never do that. Those who join His side will do so by their own free choice, unfettered by any compulsion on His part. The issue in the conflict is whose side we will join. It will be too late to make a choice when Armageddon is fought. Those who are on the winning side in earth's final battle will be those who are choosing to be on the winning side right now. It's a choice Jesus invites you and me to make today. Which side are you choosing to be on during the battle of Armageddon?
This article originally appeared in Signs of the Times magazine, March, 2010.