Revelation Session 4
To begin with the 6th verse of the 14th chapter of the Book of Revelation. Now, in the sequence of the cycles of judgment that we’ve been dealing with—remember, we have the seals, and then we have the trumpets, and then we have the characters, seven of each. And the sequence is always the same until you get to the characters. Four elements in the cycle are from the earthly perspective, two from the Divine perspective, then there is an interlude, a direct word from Christ to the church and to His people in the world, and then the seventh element, which leads directly into the next cycle. The slight alteration is in the seven characters, the one immediately preceding what we deal with tonight. And the alteration is this: You have four characters from the earthly perspective, then you have three from the Divine perspective, and then the interlude. So the interlude is at the end. And this time the interlude is not only a direct word from Christ; it also serves as the transition to the next cycle called the seven bowls. Some scholars refer to this as the seven plagues. I call it the seven bowls because the plagues are all in bowls, and they are poured out of those seven bowls.
We shall come to that shortly. But we are looking at the interlude. We finished up the session last week by looking at what I call interlude A, that is the first 5 verses of the 14th chapter. And there we get yet again a direct word from Christ, delivering to us the picture of the redeemed in the kingdom of heaven. That is a vision or a picture that is repeated over and over and over again in the Book of Revelation. You see, Christ wants us to understand what our hope really is, and that those of us who bear His name and wear His sign, those of us who are believers in Christ are destined for that incredible hope that is eternal life with Christ in the kingdom of heaven. And so therefore, we have this great picture in interlude A, and then we move to interlude B where we begin to gradually move in transition to what I call the seven bowls, the next cycle of the picture of God’s judgment. By the way, this will be the last of the four cycles of judgment, and it is the most extreme of all. So we’ve been building up piece by piece as we move through these various cycles, and we come to the end of judgment in the session tonight.
But I want you to understand that’s not where the Book of Revelation ends. The picture of God’s judgment ends, but then that sets us on the path towards our ultimate hope. And so we begin with interlude A, and we are going to be dealing here in this interlude, interestingly enough, not with seven angels, but with six. There are six angels mentioned here. And you remember that the number six is the imperfect number. In other words, this is not a perfect complement of angels dealing with the business of the heavenly Father. No, this is a company of angels dealing with the earth and the earthly matters and with the people of the earth. And so these six angels have a very specific task. The first three are delivering the Word of God about His great truth, and they are delivering that word to a world which does not always want to hear. The final three angels in this portion of the interlude deal with the harvest which comes.
You remember Jesus, Himself, refer to the harvest, that the fields are white unto the harvest. He’s referring to a spiritual harvest. Those who have responded to the good news of the gospel, they are the ones who are being harvested for life eternal. You remember how He told the parable of the wheat and the weeds, that the wheat and the weeds all grow together, and then at the harvest, they are separated. The wheat are those who go to heaven; the weeds are those who choose an opposite course. And so you have this image of the harvest, and these three angels are, in essence, affecting that harvest in the experience of the world.
So you may want to note down, in the margin of your Bible, the number of these angels as we go, but we are underway. “Then I saw another angel, the first angel, flying in midair, and he had the eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth. This is the Word of God, the Gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel that is meant to be proclaimed throughout the world, to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Remember the four dimensions. Whenever the four dimensions are there, you’re always talking about the whole world, the whole earth. “He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give Him glory because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water.’” He is the God who created the earth once again, the four part description of the earth. This is the God we are to focus on, to surrender our lives to, and to worship on every opportunity we have. “A second angel followed and said, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’”
Now, very important to remember the code at this point. John is delivering this message to Christians in Asia Minor who had serious problems being persecuted by the Roman Emperor Domitian and all of the forces of the Roman Empire. The code word for Rome in the Book of Revelation, beginning here—and from this point on, it will appear quite frequently. The code word is Babylon. Why did He choose that word? It has an Old Testament history. You will remember the King Nebuchadnezzar came from Babylon and destroyed the land and carted the people of Israel off into slavery in Babylon. It was a bleak and desperate time for God’s people. And so just the mention of the word Babylon always struck a note of terror and fear in the hearts of the Israelite people.
Well, these Christians in Asia Minor understood that. And so what He was saying was that the earthly power you fear most is Rome. I’m going to call it Babylon so that it will be clear what I am saying. Isn’t it interesting, by the way, Babylon is in Iraq today. And to this day, Babylon still strikes fear in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. Babylon is as current today as it was in the time of the revelation. And so He says, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great,” the prediction of the fall of the political power of Rome, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries. Last week, in the concluding segment of last week, we talked about the fact that from the Old Testament on, very frequently, faithlessness to God was described in actual sexual terms, that when you forsook God and went off in pursuit of pagan gods, you are, in essence, committing spiritual adultery. That is an image that we find here. The Romans have lured people away from the true faith in God, and they have prostituted themselves pursuing their spiritual adulteries by worshiping the Roman Emperor or the other pagan gods.
By the way, in the passage we deal with next week, that imagery is going to be exploded to an extraordinary degree. In fact, that passage is not rated G or PG-13; it’s actually rated R and maybe even a slight touch of X. Now, I know that that will cause you to read ahead before you come to the class next week!
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or the hand, he, too, will drink of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of wrath.” Oh, you see we’ve got our progressive revelation here. We talked about judgment over one-fourth of the earth then we talked about judgment over one-third of the earth. Now we’re talking about judgment full strength, undiluted, covering the earth.
“He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the Holy Angels and of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.” An interesting little note there, burning sulfur in this particular verse in Revelation. You know the great phrase that we all use nowadays called fire and brimstone? That’s where that phrase came from, this passage in the Book of Revelation. Sulfur, the ancient English word for sulfur was brimstone. And so fire and sulfur. Sulfur is slow burning, and when it burns, it creates an acrid, noxious odor in the smoke. It is a miserable thing to smell, burning sulfur. And so the picture is quite vividly portrayed here. We call it probably fire and brimstone, but we’re talking about burning sulfur.
“There is no rest, day or night, for those who worship the beast and his image or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” Last week we talked about the beast being the Roman Emperor. We talked about the number of his name, 666. This is once again a reference to the Roman Emperor directly. He is leading people astray. And so there is going to be severe judgment, not only for him but for all who follow in that pattern, following the political entities of the day rather than the spiritual ones. This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandment and remain faithful to Jesus Christ. That’s the same phrase He uses in the 13th chapter, “patient endurance and faithfulness.” I would submit to you that those are the twin hallmarks of any truly Christian life. We are called to a patient endurance. We are living in a world that sometimes is set directly against us. We are living in a world where the obstacles around us sometimes seem overwhelming, but we are called to a patient, steady endurance. We are called never to give in. We are called always to stand strong for Jesus Christ. And we are called to be faithful, always focused on Christ, never having our vision, our minds, or our hearts diverted to any other reality in life, to stay focused on the one who gave His life for us.
And then we come to the thirteenth verse, “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'” “Yes,” says the spirit, “they will rest from their labor for their deeds will follow them.” Now, you’ve heard that verse a million times at funerals, but what I want you to do is look a little more closely at it. You see that word blessed? That’s the clue. Believe it or not, in the Book of Revelation, there are seven Beatitudes, just like there were seven Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew. Each one of the Matthew Beatitudes begins with the word blessed. That’s the way it’s most often translated. It could be translated “happy”. The Greek word is makarios. And each one of the seven Beatitudes in Matthew begins with that word makarios, blessed. So do the seven Beatitudes in Revelation. We will touch on two of those Beatitudes tonight. The other five, we will look at in total once we get farther along into the book itself.
But here you have a direct word from Christ, just like in the Gospels, this time delivering yet another set of Beatitudes. And this sequence of Beatitudes has to do with how Christians are to be the Church in our time, and in the time, obviously, in which the Book of Revelation was written. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; their works will follow them.” He is saying that if you are going to be a Christian, it may, it may, heaven help us, cost you your life. But if it does, your work will follow you. There is a special glory to those who live and even die for the sake of Jesus Christ.
“I looked, and there before me was a white cloud. And seated on the cloud was one like a Son of man.” The great phrase from the Book of Daniel, Daniel speaks of the Messiah as being the Son of man. Jesus picked up the phrase, said it of Himself in a number of times in the Gospels, referred to Himself as the Son of man. Daniel is saying that the Messiah is going to be the Son of man. Jesus is saying, “I am the Son of man.” John is saying in Revelation, “The one of whom I am speaking is the Son of man, the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.”
And so he is making a messianic claim here in coded language with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. The sickle is, obviously, the symbol of the harvest. He is referring now to the harvest. The Word of God has been delivered. God’s judgment is being exercised in the world. Many are called to respond to the good news of the Gospel. And now comes the harvest, the good grain and the bad grain. In this case, the image is not wheat but grapes. Listen to how it unfolds. Another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap because the time to reap has come for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So he, that was seated on the clouds, swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
I have said before, that the Book of Revelation is the most profound book of evangelism in all of the Bible. And here is yet one more passage. The Christian Church is called to evangelize, to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world because the harvest is coming, and the harvest is coming soon. We do not know when but it is coming soon. Another angel came out of the temple in Heaven, and he, too, had a sharp sickle. Still, another angel who had charge of the fire came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him, who had the sharp sickle. Fire is also the symbol of judgment. The angel said, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth vine because its grapes are ripe.” The ripe grapes are the good grapes. What about the others? The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered those grapes, and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They are simply crushed in the winepress of God’s wrath and judgment.
They are trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. Holy mackerel, what in the world does that mean? A couple of words of background. Number one—cavalry officers know this to be true—horses cannot be driven into water which rises above the level of their bridles. Horses can go into very deep water, and they’re not afraid. If the water rises to the level of their bridle, they become filled with fear and are paralyzed by that fear and cannot survive. And so the image is very clear here, that this is an overwhelming judgment that is being visited, and it’s being visited on the whole earth. That’s what the 1,600 stadia actually means. Let’s look at this. A stadia is actually a furlong. Now, my guess is—I’m not going to ask how many. My guess is that some of you have been to a horse race. Horse races are measured in furlongs. That is one-eighth of a mile. A stadia is a furlong is one-eighth of a mile. 1,600 is—listen to this carefully—4 squared times 10 squared. 4, the letter of the earth—I mean, the number of the earth. 4 squared. 10 is a long total distance or time, 10 squared. That is, in essence, the message that this judgment is complete. It is going to cover the earth, and it is going to be of heavy, long duration. That’s the message being delivered which the people in Asia Minor would have recognized immediately.
“I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign.” We’re now moving through the transition to the seven bowls. This is where the interlude begins to transition to the next cycle of judgment. Seven angels with the seven last plagues, last plagues. Last because with them, God’s wrath is completed. We are moving toward the last cycle of God’s judgment. We are beginning to get the full picture here.
“I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire.” Earlier in Revelation we learned that the sea of glass is stretched out before God’s throne in heaven. The sea, remember, is evil when it’s water. And so the message is that the sea of glass doesn’t have waves and currents and is not fearsome at all. It’s like a mirror. It is very calm and beautiful. And so the sea of glass is in front of God’s throne, and if there’s fire on it, that means that judgment is being executed. Standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of these names, these are the redeemed in Christ, the ones who have not yielded to the temptation to follow other leaders in the world. They held hearts given to them by God, and they sang the Song of Moses, the servant of God, and the Song of the Lamb.
Last week we talked about the first exodus and the second exodus, that the first exodus where God said to Pharaoh, “Let My people go.” He refused. The plagues came. Ultimately, he relented. The people went and crossed the Red Sea by God’s power and on into the promised land. Revelation is the second exodus. God’s people are enslaved by evil. God says, “Let My people go.” Evil works against that, and, therefore, plagues of judgment are visited upon the earth. Ultimately, evil is defeated. God’s people move across the sea of defeated evil and into the promised land of the kingdom of Heaven. Well, here, that reference is absolutely clarified. And it’s done in our English Bible in what I count to be a rather remarkable way.
The Song of Moses is found in the 15th chapter of the Book of Exodus. After the people had been led through the Red Sea in a song of victory, Moses sang a magnificent song praising the power of God. Hear in the second exodus, in the 15th chapter of Revelation, the Song of Moses is now transferred to the lips of Jesus so that after the second exodus, it is Jesus who sings to the glory of the power of God. When you look at Exodus 15 and Revelation 15 side by side, the image of the first and the second Exodus is unmistakable.
“After this I looked in in heaven, the temple that is, the tabernacle of testimony was opened.” You remember what happened after the crucifixion of Jesus. The veil in the temple was split. The Holy of Holies was exposed. The Holy of Holies was sacrosanct. No one could enter the Holy of Holies except the high priest, and he could only do it once a year. That was the sacrosanct place, the focus of the fate of the people of Israel. At the crucifixion, the temple veil was torn, the Holy of Holies was exposed, the message was, “Jesus is the Holy of Holies, not the Holy of Holies in the temple.” That was the message. Here, John is simply saying in Revelation, “If you didn’t believe it then, when you get to God’s throne in the kingdom of heaven, you’re going to believe it there because the veil of the temple is torn yet again, and the Holy of Holies is revealed. The Holy of Holies is the risen Christ.”
Judaism focuses its faith upon a place, the Temple Mount. Islam focuses its faith upon a place—three places, Mecca, Medina, and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. We, as Christians, do not focus our faith upon a place. We do not have a place. We focus on a person. We have no place. We focus not on a static dead space or place. We focus on a living being, a living God who is triumphant over all of the places and spaces in the world.
“Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean shining linen and wore golden sashes around their chests. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. Now comes the final judgment.”
I want to look—first of all, remember we keep talking about the first exodus and the second exodus. In order to understand the plagues contained in the bowls, in this next cycle, we need to have a look at the plagues which were visited upon Egypt. You can read about those in the Book of Exodus. They are 10 in number: the water turned to blood, the frogs, the lice, the flies swarming throughout the land, livestock stricken, boils, hailstorm, locust infesting the land, darkness covering the land, the firstborn in every Egyptian family died. They are the 10 plagues of Exodus. If you take the Book of Revelation, you discover that through these cycles of judgment, every one of those 10 plagues is repeated on a greater scale. And you see that very clearly right here.
“I heard a voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.’ The first angel went poured out his bowl on the land. Ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.” These first four angels, remember, are the earthly perspective. That’s the pattern. We’ve restored that normal pattern now. The first angel deals with the land, and then you have sores on the part of people.
Do you realize that sores, skin cancer, variety of other skin diseases are now virtually epidemic in the world in which we are living, more pronounced now than ever before in all of human history?
“The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.” Two words, fish kill. Does that not strike a chord in your own mind and heart as you think about the world in which we presently are living?
“The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And then I heard the angel in charge of the water say, ‘You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were the Holy One because you have so judged for they—’” he’s speaking here about Rome again—”’for they have shared the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.’ And I heard the altar respond. ‘Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.’”
Water pollution, the polluted waters of the earth, toxic waters are a major problem. We’ve looked at that before in the Book of Revelation. It is repeated here. It was one of the key plagues visited upon the people of Egypt in the first exodus. The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat, and they cursed the name of God who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify Him. A couple of things there. We are living in a time where global warming is getting blamed for everything that happens in this world, and the blame is being placed upon us as human beings, that we are living profligate lives, and we are wasting substance, and we are burning oil, and we’re doing all kinds of horrible things, and that is causing global warming. Just within the last two weeks, a new study has emerged indicating that there is significant activity on the sun. Has nothing to do with human activity on the earth. And in fact, the study also reveals that the planet Mars is suffering exactly the same kind of impact that we are suffering here on the earth. The polar caps on Mars are being impacted by the activity of the sun. The sun’s activity right now is very pronounced, and that is doing more than anything else to alter the realities that we encounter in our everyday lives. Reminds one of the fourth angel.
“They refuse to repent.” What does it take? Well, the Egyptians, it took 10 for heaven’s sakes, and then they got progressively worse. We as human beings just don’t get it. We keep having the message delivered. We keep encountering the plagues that come as a result of our disobedience. And we refuse to repent. We don’t seem to get it.
And so we move now to the divine perspective. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Remember, we’ve talked before about the fact that darkness is the image of the evil, that when there is no light, that’s evil, and Christ is the light and so, therefore, it is the light of Christ that pierces the darkness. But when you see darkness in Revelation, it always refers to the power of evil, a spiritual darkness overall.
“Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” Here’s an interesting thing to think about. When you are engaged in spiritual darkness, when you surrender to evil in your life, one of the byproducts of that is the building of a sense of anxiety and stress within you internally. And if that’s allowed to go unchecked, gradually that begins to eat you up on the inside. Acids are produced. And before you know it, you start having ulcers in your mouth and in your stomach. And so that’s exactly the picture that is being created here. When you surrender to darkness, you’re going to be filled with anxiety in your life, and that anxiety is going to literally eat you up from the inside. And yet, still, holy smoke, still, holy fire and brimstone, still, they won’t repent.
“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.” This is all the way back to Genesis. In the book of Genesis, there was the Garden of Eden, created by God, this magnificent place. The Garden of Eden was located between the Tigris and the Euphrates River. And so the message of Revelation is no more Eden, no more paradise on earth, no more Shangri-La. Evil has had its way, and the earth is forever besmirched by the power of that evil. Don’t look for Eden or paradise on this earth; you will not find it. It will only come later. And then He puts in there, “preparing the way for the kings of the east”—by the way, many of our soldiers are wandering along the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates river. And if you see the newscast there, that part of the world doesn’t look like the Garden of Eden any longer. It is a barren desert. The message is very strong. The kings from the east, those were the powers that ultimately were feared by the Roman Empire. And so here again, the threat is being delivered that Rome is going to be destroyed. “Don’t fear,” He’s saying to his Christian brothers and sisters, “don’t fear. These earthly powers are going to get their due.”
Now, it’s not marked here because it just carries on. I wish it were a paragraph in the English versions. This is the interlude in the seven bowls, verse 13. This is the interlude, the direct Word from Christ to the church and to His people, “Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs. They came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.” In the last half of the hour last time, we talked about what I choose to call the counterfeit Trinity. God is manifest in three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Evil also is manifest in three according to Revelation: the dragon, the beast of the sea, that is the political entities, and then the beast of the land, that is the false prophets, the Apostate Church, the people in the church who lead believers astray. Those are the three manifestations of evil in our world. And so what he is saying—and this is absolutely fascinating, and in fact, it’s downright humorous. In Genesis, for example, evil is portrayed as a serpent. Remember, in Revelation, evil is portrayed as a dragon. Evil multiplied, amplified, expanded infinitely more powerful. The serpent and the dragon are the same species. A frog is the same species as the serpent and the dragon. But a frog is harmless, a little slimy but harmless.
And so you see what’s happened here. The power of God is going to change this fearsome counterfeit Trinity into three harmless little frogs. It’s the promise of ultimate victory. And it’s done in such a beautiful way. 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. Ultimately, there is going to be a confrontation between the power of God and the power of evil.
“Behold,” remember, this is a direct word from Christ, “Behold. I come like a thief.” He’s promising to return unawares. We won’t know it. Put down in the margin of your Bible, Mark 13, Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 5. In each of those three passages, Jesus says the same thing, ‘I am coming like a thief.’ He slipped into the world unawares in His first coming in Bethlehem stable. When he returns, His second coming will be equally invisible. In the first coming, only a few shepherds and few wise men recognized Him. In the second coming, He will slip in unnoticed, unaware, but He will be here, and His purpose is to be on guard for His people because He then goes on to say, “Blessed,” second Beatitude in Revelation, “Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
Be alert. Don’t be caught unawares. You can’t claim ignorance. You’ve been told the Gospel has been preached. Jesus is going to return. When, how, where, we don’t know. But be ready. Be alert. Keep your clothes handy. Don’t get caught short. I guess that’s the way to put that.
“Then I gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” I want to come back to Armageddon in a moment. Now, we come to the final judgment.
The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple, came a loud voice from the throne saying, “It is done.” That is actually better translated, “It is finished.” Where have you heard that? On the cross. When Jesus came to the moment, where his death was overtaking Him, He cried out, “It is finished. I have done everything I came to do.” Here, judgment is finished. It is done. It is complete. Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth. So tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts. The cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon, the Great Rome, gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away, and the mountains could not be found. From the sky, huge hailstones of about 100 pounds each fell upon men, and they cursed God on account of the plague of hail because the plague was so terrible.
We have just witnessed, in last days, one of the most powerful earthquakes in the history of the world. That earthquake, if you read the news stories, was accompanied by terrible hail storms. We are seeing Revelation lived again. Does that mean that the end is coming? I don’t know. But Jesus said they’re going to be signs. Those signs will be there if you want to see them. Can’t predict when the end comes. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen tomorrow, next week, or next year. Don’t know. But the signs are there. God’s judgment is being fulfilled, lived out against the evil forces that work in our world. And we are experiencing the outflow from that. But we, as Christians, continue to have the special protection of our Christ. Now, that is the end of judgment.
We’re going to move from this point on to the quest for our eternal hope. From here on in the book of Revelation, it is absolutely an incredible journey, ending in the very gates of heaven itself. And I can’t wait to begin that.
But in the picture of what’s ahead, there is this promise in Revelation that there will be a final battle. There will be a final confrontation between the power of God and the power of evil, and God will exert the full strength of his power against evil, and God will triumph. That battle, Revelation says, will take place at Armageddon. Difficult word to translate. Some manuscripts have it Harmageddon, H-A-R. Some spell mageddon with two Gs and one D, some with two Ds and one G, some with two Gs and two Ds. Most English translations today use the term Armageddon, and that’s the one we’re probably most familiar with. The prefix HAR or AR, depending on which you use, HAR means mountain; AR means city. The rest of the word is the transliteration of the word Megiddo. Megiddo was a city, a town in Israel. And Armageddon is either the city or the mountain of Megiddo. Megiddo actually stands on a mountain. It’s now just ruins.
But if you go to Megiddo, you discover a number of rather remarkable things. First of all, you are going to discover—and I want to take a look at a map that shows us exactly where we are and what we’re talking about. If you take a journey to the Holy Land, and you go to Megiddo right here, you will recognize that you are on the heights of Megiddo at that point. If you look from Megiddo off to the left, you will see there Mount Carmel. That’s where a Elijah and the prophets of Baal had their contest. And if you look immediately to the left of the slopes of Mount Carmel, you see the splendors of the Mediterranean Sea. If you’re standing at Megiddo and look due north, you’d have come to Mount Tabor, an enormous mountain that just towers up above the plain. It is an immense site. Mount Tabor is the Biblical Mount of Transfiguration. That’s where the Transfiguration occurred. If you are standing at Megiddo, looking toward Mount Tabor, and look to a series of low ridges just to the left, at the top of those low ridges is a wonderful little village, a village called Nazareth, the place where Jesus grew up. If you’re standing at Megiddo, and you look a little more to the right past Mount Tabor, you will see a mountain called Mount Arbel. And if you then look at Mount Arbel, which is right there, and turn your eyes to the left, you see the sparkling waters of the Sea of Galilee. If you then come around from Megiddo, you will eventually see Mount Gilboa and Beit She’an. Mount Gilboa is where King Saul took his life; Beit She’an is the place where they hung his body on the city wall. So when you stand in Megiddo, you are surrounded by biblical history. It’s an amazing place. Just ruins now.
But in the center, right in front of Megiddo, is what is called the Plain of Esdraelon. It is the single most fertile spot in all of the Middle East. There are many who say that the reason the Plain of Esdraelon is so fertile is because it has been irrigated by so much human blood and fertilized by so many human bones. In that spot, the Plain of Esdraelon, more violence and wars and casualties have occurred than in any other single spot on the earth. It is, however, Israel’s breadbasket, incredibly fertile. And when you stand at Megiddo and look out across the Valley of Jezreel, at the Plain of Esdraelon, it is wondrously green, lush, rich, verdant, row after row, mile after mile of glorious crops. It is from the Plain of Esdraelon that the Israeli people to this day draw their basic sustenance in life. But it is a place filled with history and filled with blood.
Several years ago, I was in the Holy Land, I stood atop mount Megiddo in the midst of the ruins of the city and looked at out over the Plain of Esdraelon. The night before, a terrorist camp in southern Lebanon had sent a rain of rockets down on a little Israeli town called Kiryat Shmona. A number of people in that town were killed during the night. And it was, as I stood on the slope looking out over the Plain of Esdraelon, that I remembered Armageddon. And I remembered how that Plain of Esdraelon had been so critical in the history of the people of Israel, how it had shaped who they were.
I remembered how years before, in the early history of the people of Israel, Deborah and Barak led the forces of the armies of Israel against Cicero and the Canaanite forces, and that battle took place on the Plain of Esdraelon. The forces of Cicero were rotted, and God’s people were preserved.
And I remembered how some years later, a massive army from Midian stormed into the Plain of Esdraelon, there to encounter one man with a company of 300 soldiers around him. One man, 300. His name was Gideon. He stood in the midst of the Plain of Esdraelon and prayed to God for help. And God’s help came. And that night, those 300 sounded their trumpets and smashed their torches. And the Midian army, sound asleep, was startled, plunged into fear, and fled the Plain of Esdraelon, a miraculous victory for the people of God.
And I remember that sometime later, Josiah, one of Israel’s greatest kings, summoned the people of God once again to do battle on the Plain of Esdraelon because the Egyptian pharaoh Necho had mustered the Egyptian army, intended to seize the Plain of Esdraelon, use it as a staging area to conquer the Persian Empire. Josiah and the forces fought valiantly, heroically. Josiah was mortally wounded in the battle. His body ultimately was taken back to Jerusalem. But the people of God were overrun by the Egyptian pharaoh, and he continued his march on to the east.
Some years later, from the east, became a king. His name was Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful, power-hungry king of Babylon, and he entered the Holy Land through the Plain of Esdraelon, seized it for his own, and then began his inexorable march south, right to the city of Jerusalem, laid the city to waste, brought the nation to ruin, carted the people off in slavery in Babylon.
And then, some years later, another king from the east, he was from Nineveh. Nineveh is still a community in northern Iraq. This king’s name was Sennacherib, and he, too, brought his forces to the Plain of Esdraelon. And the armies of God under the command of the King Hezekiah tried to resist but couldn’t. The forces of Sennacherib were too much, and the people of God suffered yet another grievous defeat.
And then some years later, a young man pitched camp on the Plain of Esdraelon. And there, in that location, he caught a vision for conquering the entire world. And he, then, from that place set in place a pattern of violence which marked that part of the world to this very day. His name, Alexander the Great.
In 70 AD, the Roman legions under the command of the general Titus slipped into the Plain of Esdraelon, slaughtered thousands of people there, headed to Jerusalem, destroyed the temple in 70 AD, fulfilling the prediction that Jesus had made some years earlier. And then I remembered how in the 1100s, Richard the Lionhearted had gathered together his crusaders in England, picked up some allies along the way in France, and these armored knights, carrying their white banners emblazoned with red crosses, headed out with the purpose of driving the Muslim hordes out of the Holy Land. The bloodiest, costliest battles of the Crusades were fought on the Plain of Esdraelon. Countless numbers of people died there.
And then I remember how there came a point in time where a sulking, sullen, young French Emperor, riding his white charger with his hand tucked in the breast of his coat, came up from Egypt and seized the Plain of Esdraelon, slaughtered thousands upon thousands there, and intended to use that to conquer that part of the world. His name, of course, Napoleon.
And then I remember how in the 20th century, the British made the decision that they were going to liberate the Holy Land from the Turks. That thrust began in Europe, but its focus was the Plain of Esdraelon, and the British forces landed on the Plain of Esdraelon, and that is where the battle began. The battle consumed a period of years. You will remember what happened in 1948 when, as a result of that effort, long, long, costly effort, the new country of Israel was established. And all of subsequent history to our very moment now is shaped by what happened at the Plain of Esdraelon.
Armageddon. Revelation tells us they will be the power of God waging battle against the power of evil at Armageddon.
I stood that day at Megiddo and looked down across the Plain of Esdraelon, remembering what had happened the night before. What you need to know is that right now, under the Plain of Esdraelon, underground, out of sight, under the Plain of Esdraelon is the largest military base in the whole world. Suddenly, as I was standing there, sirens began to wail. And before my almost unbelieving eyes, this rich, green, fertile, verdant plain was suddenly transformed. The Israeli government had called for retaliatory strikes against the terrorists in southern Lebanon. And suddenly, as the sirens wailed right there on the floor of the Plain of Esdraelon, huge doors rose up from the earth. And out from the doors, platforms on elevators moved up. On each platform, a jet plane. And then as I looked more closely, I could see that down—hadn’t seen it before, but down through the long ceaseless rows of crops were runways built into the soil. And those jets fired their engines and proceeded to rip down the runways and off into the sky headed towards southern Lebanon. And then suddenly, rockets began to pierce the earth at different places around the Plain of Esdraelon and were sent screaming off into the sky. And I thought to myself, “Armageddon.”
Is that the place where the final battle will occur? I don’t know. I don’t guess it really matters. But here’s what does matter. The power of God, ultimately, will defeat the power of evil. When and where and how that occurs, I cannot tell you, but it will occur. And maybe, just maybe, at some point, yet another army will march across the Plain of Esdraelon. This time, an army clothed in white, carrying no weapons, armed with nothing but love, wearing a sign on their foreheads. And leading them, a valiant young saint dressed in shimmering garments, carrying a banner which reads, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He carries no weapon. He is armed only with the power of words and deeds of love. And yet in the face of his overwhelming spiritual power, the powers of evil will fall down in defeat. And at that point, the redeemed of the Lord, the army of the Lamb will move through the sea of the defeated evil and on into the promised land of the Kingdom of Heaven. And the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
Amen. Go in peace.