Every instructed believer in the second advent knows that the conflict between good and evil began at the headquarters of the universe with the revolt of Lucifer against the Son of God and His methods of government. Transferred to this earth, it has been prolonged for thousands of years. This conflict is now nearing its last stages; and the final showdown, the last crisis in the present order of earth’s history, is what the Bible symbolically calls Armageddon.
Much ignorance has prevailed concerning this final crisis. Descriptions have been given of a gigantic military conflict in southwestern Asia between the Orient and the Occident. This "battle of that great day of God Almighty" has been described in detail according to the terms of the military usage with which the speaker or writer happened to be familiar, forgetful of the important fact that it is the King of kings and Lord of lords that goes forth at the head of the armies of heaven against all the combined powers of the entire world. Is such a battle or war going to be fought with machine guns, tanks, airplanes, and atomic bombs?
Since the publication of W. E. Read’s masterly discussion of this entire subject in Volume II of Our Firm Foundation (pp. 239-335), there has been little room for earlier views on this subject.
Read’s chapter makes clear the following among other important points:
"It is after the saints are all sealed, and the mighty fiat goes forth from the throne of God, that the actual [military] war of the day of God takes place. This will be, in part at least, while the judgments of God are falling without mercy upon the shelterless heads of the ungodly, and will reach its climax when the Lord from heaven rides forth to have His controversy with the nations." So writes W. E. Read in his book Our Firm Foundation, Vol. II, p. 300.
But now we need to correlate the truth about Armageddon with the general subject of the time of the end so that we may see its relation to the overall picture, for in the plan of the King of eternity Armageddon will be an important milestone along the path toward the final settlement of the sin problem. All of us need to become more intelligent concerning these matters, for we all need to "understand the progress of events in the marshaling of the nations for the final conflict of the great controversy."—Testimonies, Vol. 8, p. 307.
Some misunderstandings need to be clarified. First, about the name "Armageddon" itself. The best scholarship is now almost universally agreed that this name is symbolic, for it is an invented name and has no specific geographical location. Etymologically it has no connection with Megiddo except in assonance, a slight resemblance in sound. It is used in the Revelation as a symbol of the final struggle between good and evil, the last moral and religious crisis in the earthly history of mankind.
All nations and peoples throughout the entire earth are involved. A dozen passages in both the Old Testament and the New so declare. And in the very nature of things this must be true. Then what a travesty of the facts to speak of it as a military affair in a little corner of southwestern Asia!
At the beginning of this Armageddon passage, giving the events taking place under the sixth plague (Revelation 16:12-16), we are told about the drying up of the great river Euphrates, "that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."
This also is figurative, for in any modern warfare the drying up of even the largest river would be of no importance one way or another. Symbolic, yes; but of what?
God’s way of looking at events in our times, or even of describing them for us in these last days, can best be understood by studying His way of dealing with events in olden times, for then the providence of God showed us the pattern of how He manages the affairs of the nations. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning." Romans 15:4. He puts no premium on ignorance or mental laziness. We have only ourselves to blame if we do not use the Old Testament records and their prophecies to help us understand such texts as we are here considering.
In scores of places the Israelites were warned beforehand about what Babylon would do to them. Long before they had become captives and slaves in Babylon, they were told of Cyrus and his Persians who would come from the east to deliver them. One of his spectacular acts in capturing Babylon and thus setting free the captive Jews would be by diverting the waters of the Euphrates, these waters having been for centuries one of the main protectors of Babylon. Then when Babylon had been taken, Cyrus set free the captive Jews and allowed them to return to their own homeland.
All this is the divine background for what is said under the sixth plague about the drying up of the great river Euphrates, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
A careful study of this entire account of the events of the sixth plague will convince any impartial reader that "the kings of the east" are in antithetical contrast to "the kings of the earth and of the whole world," as mentioned in verse 14. Since the latter are the enemies of God and His people, it follows that the "kings of the east" must be on God’s side, and thus must be regarded as deliverers, just as Cyrus and his Persians, who came from the east, became the deliverers of the Jews on the occasion of the destruction of ancient Babylon. Modern Babylon the Great also is protected by her "many waters" (Revelation 17:1), which symbolize the many "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues" (verse 15). When these multitudes awake to the way they have been deceived by the great harlot—an awakening which will occur under the preceding plagues, but too late to do them any good—this sad awakening will constitute the drying up of the Euphrates and will prepare the way for God’s heavenly angels to come for the final and everlasting deliverance of His sorely beleaguered people.
Two other scriptures deal with the same events about Armageddon and mean the same thing. In Revelation 19:11-21 the King of kings and Lord of lords is described as going forth on a white horse, with all the armies of heaven attending. In opposition, or arrayed in battle against them, are "the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies." (Verse 19.) But what can all the powers of earth accomplish in such an unequal conflict? Ellen G. White makes it very clear that this passage is equivalent to the Battle of Armageddon:
The other exactly parallel passage is Revelation 17:14, where the ten kings "agree," or come to "one mind," and "make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings." No one can fail to notice the identical language here that is used in Revelation 19, and both are equivalent to the Armageddon passage. All three mean the same last conflict between good and evil, when the Son of God goes forth to make a full end of all human and satanic opposition, the war of the "great day of God Almighty."
Everybody on earth must meet this Armageddon either on one side or the other. No neutrals will exist in that day. Dante pictured the hottest fires of hell for those who had tried to be neutral in an hour of moral crisis; and Providence will ensure that all will have to be counted on God’s side or against Him.
During the long centuries since the beginning, a few individuals here and there in every generation have attained a maturity of character, when, like Job, they could stand the utmost assaults of evil. They not only trusted to Christ’s righteousness as imputed to them, but they had this righteous character so imparted to them and incorporated into their being that they were in every way victorious against Satan in all his disguises.
It has also been universally true that every organized society during all the long centuries has always been a failure. Before the Flood the Sethites failed as a group, and the earth became universally corrupt. The Israelites failed during the time of the judges, also during the glorious prosperity of David and Solomon; and the two kingdoms had to go into captivity. After the exile it was no better, and finally they crucified their long-promised Anointed King. Pentecost brought divine power to the group and gave them a new start; but Paul recognized that the mystery of iniquity was already working in his day, and by the time of Constantine the church as a body sold out and formed an adulterous marriage with the enemy. The Reformation seemed to promise better things; but every single one of the Reformed churches failed to separate from the civil power, and all alike used Caesar’s lash to compel obedience to apostate ecclesiastical demands.
The divine Head of the church has determined, however, to exhibit before the universe a pure church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, a church purified in doctrine, keeping all the commandments, and having the righteousness of Christ so incorporated into their inmost being that they will be able to endure without a continuing Mediator all that the enemy can bring against them and come off victorious over the final assaults of the beast and his image. "In their mouth no lie was found, for they are spotless." Revelation 14:5; R.S.V. "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God." Psalm 87:3.
We are assured that "the prayer of Christ that His church may be one as He was one with His Father, will finally be answered."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 50. "When the storm of persecution really breaks upon us, the true sheep will hear the true Shepherd’s voice. … The people of God will draw together and present to the enemy a united front. … Then will the message of the third angel swell to a loud cry, and the whole earth will be lightened with the glory of the Lord."—Testimonies, Vol. 6, p. 401.
The same perfect order and harmony that prevail in heaven will be seen here among God’s people on earth. As seen in a preview, "they moved in exact order, like a company of soldiers."—Early Writings, p. 271. They will keep step with one another everywhere on this round globe, because all are listening to the same drumbeat of the heavenly orchestra. For "now in these last days, while God is bringing His children into the unity of the faith, there is more real need of order than ever before."—ibid., p. 97.
We all realize that we must have a special preparation to face the crisis ahead; but how are we to obtain it? Our leaders constantly remind us of our Laodicean condition; but this condition, which is simply the modern form of the ancient Pharisaism, is no more surely shown than in the widespread disposition to belittle what is termed "doctrinal" teaching or preaching, implying that we already have all the light we need concerning the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation.
The saintly founders of our work never took this position. Such leaders as James White, Joseph Bates, and Ellen G. White always said that we must constantly be looking for more light and a better understanding of these divine blueprints of the times ahead, for only by thus receiving fresh light concerning them will we be able to survive the perils of the last great conflict.
True, we must be careful in trying to interpret unfulfilled prophecy. But there is another side to this situation. We are now so near the final climax that unless we correctly understand these prophecies about the days ahead, they cannot do us any good, and we are likely to miss their timely messages. On this point we have the following warning:
We pray for a revival and reformation, but we have been told plainly how we are to receive them. Can we expect God to approve our human efforts to bring them about while we are neglecting the methods He has already selected and approved?
"When we as a people understand what this book [the Revelation] means to us, there will be seen among us a great revival."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 113. This is because the correction of a doctrinal error can have a vitalizing and an electrifying power upon both body and soul. This is because God’s prophecies are implied promises. When believed and accepted by faith, they become parts of the store of "great and precious promises," whereby we become "partakers of the divine nature," and escape "the corruption that is in the world." (2 Peter 1:4)
We pray for a better religious experience but neglect the very means by which it may be attained. "When the books of Daniel and Revelation are better understood, believers will have an entirely different religious experience."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 114.
No progress will ever be made by belittling and disparaging careful and correct doctrinal standards. Error and false ideas never sanctify, but the truth of God always has a sanctifying influence. When the special truths planned by God for our time are received and accepted, they will always result in an improved religious experience. Our divine Saviour has a schedule and a method for bringing about the results He desires, and He is not going to honor times and methods other than those He has ordained.
We hear much about receiving Christ’s righteousness, but this almost always refers to the imputation of this righteousness. This is highly important as a beginning, but there is a much higher stage of attainment, when Christ’s righteous character becomes imparted to us, when we become mature Christians, complete overcomers in His name and by His grace. This maturity of imparted character is the prerequisite for receiving the seal of God, so that we can endure and become members of the triumphant 144, 000. "Let us strive with all the power that God has given us to be among the hundred and forty-four thousand."—Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, March 9, 1905.
"There is before the church the dawn of a bright, glorious day, if she will put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness, withdrawing from all allegiance to the world."—Testimonies, Vol. 8, p. 11.
"It is impossible to give any idea of the experience of the people of God who shall be alive upon the earth when celestial glory and a repetition of the persecutions of the past are blended. They will walk in the light proceeding from the throne of God. By means of the angels there will be constant communication between heaven and earth."—Ibid., Vol. 9, p. 16.
"We are homeward bound. … It will not be long till we shall see Him in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered. And in His presence, all the trials and sufferings of this life will be as nothingness."—Ibid., p. 287.
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