The Great Day of God the Almighty
Armageddon—you’ve likely heard that name before. First time I heard it, Bruce Willis was trying to take down an asteroid the size of Texas. The world was going to end in 18 days—if you remember the movie from ‘98. President Joe Biden used Armageddon recently. A couple weeks ago, commenting on the war in Ukraine, the President warned that “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.”[i] People use Armageddon to describe what they see as the end of the world.
But what’s usually missing from these uses of Armageddon is any fear of God’s imposing judgment. In Revelation 16, we encounter the origins of this name. But when we look at things more closely, Armageddon has less to do with the end of the world and more to do with the end of evildoers in the world. How should we respond? Let’s hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches, starting in verse 12…
12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. 17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.
In John’s vision, we’ve reached bowl six and seven. These bowls started in 16:1. They are judgments from the presence of God. To pour out a bowl means God enacts a judgment on earth—he causes severe consequences to unfold in history. God enacts these judgments against his enemies and to deliver his people. Under Satan’s influence, the Beast has led an assault against God’s people. The Beast seeks to destroy the church. But God will come to deliver his people by way of a new and greater exodus—an exodus that includes plagues against our enemies.
In bowl one, God humiliates the Beast’s followers directly with painful sores. In bowls two, three, and four, God turns creation itself against the Beast’s followers. He undermines their economy and leaves them desperately thirsty in a scorching wilderness. Then in bowl five, God attacks the Beast’s throne and plunges his kingdom into a despairing darkness. The first five bowls represent the final undoing of the Beast’s kingdom. That’s also true of bowls six and seven.
Bowl Six: Defeating Babylon and the Beast's Armies
In verse 12, an angel pours out his bowl on the great river Euphrates. “Its water was dried up,” John says, for a specific purpose: “to prepare the way for the kings from the east.” In the Old Testament, the Euphrates River formed the north-eastern boundary of the promised land. Foreign enemies attacked Israel from the Euphrates.[ii] So, for many this scene is one where kings from the east join the kings of the whole world in verse 14 to battle against God. That may be one piece to the picture.
But remember, all the other bowls are direct judgments on the Beast’s kingdom. In verse 2, the Lord judges those who worship the Beast. In verse 6, God judges those who murdered the saints. In verse 10, God judges the Beast’s throne. In verse 19, God judges Babylon, who we learned is in cahoots with the Beast (Rev 17:3). We should read bowl six in the same light. Drying up the Euphrates isn’t to strengthen the Beast’s armies but to initiate the eventual undoing of the Beast.
Also, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Euphrates. It appeared in the sixth trumpet. In 9:14, God released four angels bound at the great river Euphrates. The result is a host of demonic armies that God sends to attack idolaters. That matches how God dealt with Israel’s idolatry. He sent foreign armies like Assyria and Babylon from the Euphrates to attack Israel for idolatry. Same happens here, only it’s the Beast’s followers who worship idols. The kings from the east are part of God’s plan to judge idolators.
That shouldn’t surprise us—the same pattern appears in the Prophets. God promised to destroy Babylon for their idolatry; and the way he planned to do it was by raising up nations from the north-east. He would end Babylon’s greatness by the sword of Cyrus and the Persians. You get prophecies like this in Isaiah 44:27-28 and Jeremiah 51:13. What’s also interesting, though, is that both prophecies point to God’s ability to dry up the waters (cf. Jer 50:38).[iii] In other words, nothing—not even the great River Euphrates—would stand in God’s way of judging Babylon for its idolatry.
Now, let’s combine those observations with the first thought that these kings come to join others in battle against the Lord. On the ground, it looks like one group of pagan kings joins a larger group of pagan kings to battle the Lord. But from heaven’s perspective, God is preparing the way for Babylon’s downfall. It’s not until 17:16-17 that we get further details. But essentially, the Lord causes the Beast and a cohort of nations to turn on Babylon and devour her and burn her up with fire. It’s yet another example in Scripture where God turns evil against itself. He uses one rebellious nation to punish another until Christ returns and replaces all their kingdoms with his own.
But what about the other parts of the sixth bowl. In verse 13, John sees a grotesque vision of three unclean spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the Dragon, the mouth of the Beast, and the mouth of the False Prophet. These are symbols, of course. Much like the sword from Jesus’ mouth conveys the word of judgment he speaks, so here the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet have words. They speak repulsive reptilian words. They speak unclean words (cf. Lev 11:10). They speak demonic words. That’s what the frogs represent in verse 14, “demonic spirits, performing signs.”
They go abroad to the kings of the whole world—which matches the plague of frogs against Egypt. What happened in Exodus 8? Frogs were everywhere—in the house, in the bedroom, in the oven, in the kneading bowls. So also here: these evil spirits are everywhere. We’ve already seen from chapter 13 how Satan and the Beast work in military, in politics, in the economy, in religion. They’re working to assemble kings for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.
This is no surprise to the Lord. He’s in charge of the bowls. It’s part of his judgment that the nations gather this way. You can find prophecies about the great Day of God the Almighty—it’s often called “the Day of the Lord.” God would summon the nations for war. You can find that in places like Isaiah 34, Ezekiel 38-39, Joel 3, Zechariah 12 and 14. It’s no surprise. As a judgment, God will let evil run its course. Because of their hardened hearts, he will turn kings over to evil spirits who dupe them into thinking they can overthrow God. That brings us to Armageddon in Verse 16.
John says, “[the demonic spirits] assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” Revelation has used Hebrew names before—they usually serve as theological symbols. For example, false teachers are called “Balaam” and “Jezebel.” The old Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified is called “Sodom and Egypt.” “Babylon” stands for the rebellious City of Man. It shouldn’t surprise us if Armageddon is also a symbol.
The name itself has two parts: Har Magedōn. Taking seriously John’s word about the Hebrew, har in Hebrew refers to a mountain. Magedōn is the trickier half. The oldest view is that magedōn builds off a Hebrew word that means “to cut down.”[iv] In other words, they’ve assembled at the Mount of Slaughter. Evil kingdoms gather to oppose God, but only to be cut down. That’s one possibility.
But I think it’s better to take Magedōn as an offshoot of Megiddo, which is a place where some historic battles happened. Megiddo is where God helped Israel defeat the Canaanite kings. But what’s unique is the way Deborah describes the Lord’s victory. In Judges 5:19-21, God caused the stars to fight and a torrent in the Kishon Valley to sweep away these rebellious kings—much like we see God turning creation against the Beast’s kingdom in the bowl judgments.
Megiddo also overlooks Mount Carmel where Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal and humiliates the rebellious King Ahab (1 Kgs 18:40). Megiddo comes up again in 2 Kings 9:27. King Ahaziah partners with Ahab and Jezebel, both known for their idolatry; and the Lord brings about his death in Megiddo. King Josiah also died in the plains of Megiddo, but he dies after the text says in 2 Chronicles 35:22 that he ignored the words that came from the mouth of God.
What do these defeats in Megiddo have in common? They’re all pictures of God defeating kings who reject his word. Now, if that’s the referent in mind, then Har Megadōn (or Armageddon in English) symbolizes the place where duped kings gather to their own destruction. The point isn’t that you take a map and locate Armageddon today. Revelation takes up Old Testament themes and uses them to paint the world as two cities (Babylon or New Jerusalem), two women (The Harlot or the Bride of the Lamb). Now we’ve seen two mountains. Har Megadōn is the mount where duped kings gather to die. It’s the opposite of Mount Zion, where the true King, Jesus Christ the Lamb, obeyed his Father unto death and now reigns with his kingdom of priests.
Which mountain do you belong to? For all those who choose to ignore God’s word—their folly will gather them for defeat. Wherever they gather against God, their opposition will prove to be vain. That’s what Armageddon is about. It signifies the final downfall of all rulers, all leaders, all peoples who reject God’s word.
What I find ironic about President Biden’s words is that Armageddon isn’t coming only for leaders who have their fingers on the nuclear codes. It’s coming for everyone who refuses to bow their knee to King Jesus. Armageddon forces all of us to ask, “Am I right with Jesus? Am I being duped by the Beast? Am I on the right mountain following the right King?” When you hear the bowls warning about Armageddon, don’t look first at the Middle East or Russia or Asia; look first at yourself. Babylon’s idolatry is here. Make sure that you’re not among the nations being duped.
Bowl Seven: Causing Babylon to Crumble
I’ll return to verse 15 in a minute. Let’s look now at bowl number seven. The last angel pours out his bowl into the air. Air could mean the earth’s atmosphere. It could also mean the political domain of Satan—Paul calls Satan the “prince of the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2. Either way, the Lord is judging the domain of evil.
A loud voice also comes from the throne—perhaps God’s voice saying, “It is done!” Now, we know there’s still four chapters before the New Jerusalem. So, not everything is done-done. Most likely this goes back to 15:1, which explains how these seven plagues finish the wrath of God. His purpose in wrath has brought us to the end.
Notice how verse 18 mentions “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake…” We’ve seen images like this before at the seventh seal and then again at the seventh trumpet. It’s the language of theophany in the Old Testament—God appearing, God displaying his glory in visible signs.
When God appears, his majesty shakes the created order. Here, he shakes the earth like never before. The prophet Haggai anticipated a day like this. In Haggai 2, the Lord would shake nations (Hag 2:7), overthrow kings and kingdoms (Hag 2:22), and then exalt his city and his temple and his King above all others. Ezekiel 38:19 also anticipated a great earthquake—one violent enough to shake “all the people on the face of the earth.” The goal was to punish the evil kingdoms of the world while exalting God’s own city. The seventh bowl fulfills these prophecies. God will appear to shake the earth, so that his kingdom alone will prevail. All others will crumble.
That’s what happens in verse 19—Babylon crumbles. John says, “The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” The cities of the nations (plural) fell—again, John isn’t reducing Babylon to one location. Babylon symbolizes the world-wide system opposed to Christ. It’s the City of Man; and wherever it exists God will make it crumble when he appears in Christ.
Verse 20 says that “every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found.” Mountains often stood for kingdoms, places of refuge. Islands housed the distant peoples and could serve as places to hide. The point here, though, is that God’s judgment will touch all places, all peoples, every kingdom. Even the strongest fortresses and the most distant hiding places will be no more. No one will be able to hide. God will level every kingdom until his mountain rises above all.
Verse 21 adds that God himself will fight. “Great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people…” This recalls the plague in Exodus 9. It also recalls Joshua 10:11—the Lord fought for Israel with a barrage of hailstones: “There were more who died from the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.” God fought and won the battle. So it will be at the end: God will fight and win.
And his judgments will be right. Those who hate God will continue to hate him. Just like Pharaoh hardened his heart in the plague of hail, the Beast’s followers will harden their hearts. Instead of repenting, they will curse God, verse 21 says. Their hardness of heart proves that God’s judgments are deserved.
Staying Awake and Staying Clothed
That’s bowls six and seven. Now, what to do with them? One thing to do is resist the urge to speculate about which contemporary nations belong to “the kings from the east.” As one writer put it, “conjectures about Armageddon and its relation to specific modern nations and locations that will be its “fulfillment” have invariably been an embarrassment to prophetic interpretation.”[v] Far too quickly, people read their contemporary crisis into the text. It’s embarrassing when Christians hear of something in the Middle East or in Russia and start claiming the fulfillment of a particular passage in Revelation—only to have those events pass with no fulfillment.
That doesn’t serve the trustworthiness of our testimony. Revelation doesn’t give us the particulars. That’s not the kind of book it is. It’s a book where a Lion is also a Lamb, and your clothes become white when you wash them in his blood. It’s a book where God’s people are lampstands that prophecy like Moses in a wilderness filled with fire-breathing Beasts. It’s a book where cities like Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon all describe the same place. The symbolic use of Old Testament imagery should make us proceed with great caution before connecting Armageddon to some war in the Middle East or nuclear weapons in Russia or military developments in China.
Here’s where we don’t have to speculate—all who refuse to bow their knee to the Lamb will fall with the Beast’s kingdom. All who oppose God belong to a kingdom that will eventually self-destruct. All who buy into the Beast’s lies and set their hopes in Babylon will face the wrath of God. That’s the message of Armageddon. Sure, study prophecy, stay watchful, discern the times. But make sure that you’re right with Jesus. He died to save you from Armageddon and gather you to himself on Mount Zion. He drank the cup of wrath to give you the cup of blessing. Make sure you’re with Jesus. Make sure you’re on the right mountain. Make sure you’re not being duped by the Beast.
Which leads me to another takeaway—the main one actually: stay awake and stay clothed. That’s another way of saying, stay vigilant and faithful. In verse 15 Jesus says, “Behold, I’m coming like a thief…” He’s not commending thievery; he’s saying that nobody knows when he’s coming. “Blessed,” he goes on, “is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”
Staying awake has to do with readiness to meet the King. Jesus used the same word in Matthew 24:42, “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”
Staying awake has to do with being a faithful and wise servant. Staying awake has to do with being about your Master’s business while he’s away. Staying awake has to do with staying alert to the things of God—knowing what his will is and then doing it. We prepare for all sorts of things. To prepare for unexpected expenses, we have an emergency fund. To prepare for bad weather, we cancel plans, hunker down—or if you’re like my wife, bring all the plants inside. To prepare for medical costs, we have health insurance. To prepare for a test, we study. To prepare for burglars, you might invest in a home security system. We prepare for all sorts of things in life. But none comes close to the importance of preparing to meet King Jesus. Are you ready?
We’ve seen examples of a couple churches that weren’t ready. Remember Sardis from 3:2? Jesus had to tell them, “Wake up!” They had the reputation of being alive, but they had grown dead to the things of God. Have you fallen asleep? Does your soul feel dead when you read God’s word but energized by the latest movie or gadget or game? Wake up! Don’t stay asleep. Don’t drift to destruction with these other kingdoms.
Then there was Laodicea as well. They had grown complacent. They were unmoved by Jesus. They had lost all dependence on Jesus because “I need nothing,” they said. They were rich with the world’s goods. They thought they were clothed with the riches of the world, but Jesus says, “No, you’re actually naked.” They had so neglected their relationship with Jesus, their shameful deeds left them exposed like someone naked.
How about you? Have you neglected your relationship with Jesus such that your shameful deeds have left you exposed, naked, undone? Your shameful deeds have left you like Adam and Eve when they disobeyed the Lord, hiding? Please hear the Spirit speaking to you now. He holds out a blessing: “Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed.” Get the white garments from Jesus, 3:18 said. In Revelation that means not only coming to Jesus for your purification but also following Jesus in righteous deeds.
Are you being a faithful and wise servant? Spiritually speaking, are you getting in the word and feeding your spirit with the bread of life? Are you sharpening your mind with the Bible to discern good from evil? How is your prayer life? If anything, the bowl judgments have reminded us that God hears the cries of his people. Morally speaking, are you conducting yourself in ways that Jesus will approve on the Last Day? Ethically, how are you spending your days at work? God has gifted each of you with various gifts and skills—how are you utilizing those gifts and skills to build Christ’s church? Money-wise, what is your strategy to serve Christ’s unshakable kingdom?
These are questions I’ve had to ask myself when reflecting on staying awake and staying clothed. Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians 5:2-11 are also helpful: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Children of the light, stay awake. Stay clothed. Stay vigilant and faithful to Jesus, and you will receive the blessing of his kingdom.
[i] Aamer Madhani, Ellen Knickmeyer, and Josh Boak, “Biden’s ‘Armageddon’ talk edges beyond bounds of US intel,” Associated Press News (October 7, 2022), accessed at https://apnews.com/article/biden-nuclear-risk-1d0f1e40cff3a92c662c57f274ce0e25.
[ii] 2 Kgs 23:29; 24:7.
[iii] For a discussion on whether the drying up of the waters refers backwards to the Exodus or forward to Cyrus redirecting the Euphrates, see Keil-Delitsch, Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 216; John N. Oswalt, Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 195-96.
[iv] See discussion in Koester, Revelation, 661; Marko Jauhiainen, “The OT Background to ARMAGEDDON (Rev 16:16) Revisited,” NovT 47.4 (2005): 381-93.
[v] Fanning, Revelation, 429.
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