Does “coming like a thief” in Revelation 16:15, support a secret rapture?

This article discusses the rapture-like language in Revelation 16:15.  It is not intended to discuss the rapture in general, but only whether this verse, in particular, supports the rapture concept.

In the middle of the sixth plague, immediately after God’s enemies have received renewed power from demon spirits to enable them to gather together the kings of the world for the battle of Armageddon, Jesus warns:

“Behold, I am coming like a thief.
Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes,
so that he will not walk about naked
and men will not see his shame.” (Rev. 16:15)

SUMMARY

Dispensationalism proposes that, seven years before Christ’s visible return, there will be an invisible and inaudible secret rapture that will remove the church from the earth. 

The phrase, “coming like a thief,” in the sixth plague, is sometimes interpreted to refer to this secret rapture.  There are, however, a number of passages in the Bible that mention Jesus coming like a THIEF, and it nowhere means that the relevant event will be inaudible or invisible. It always means that nobody can predict WHEN Jesus will return. 

Jesus comes like a thief on THE DAY OF THE LORD, which, in the sixth plague, refers to as THE WAR OF THE GREAT DAY OF GOD, the Almighty.  On that day there will be sudden destruction.  The heavens will pass away with a roar and the earth and its works will be burned up.  It does not like a secret event. 

The same warning which Jesus gave in 16:15, namely that His people must keep their clothes, He gave to the seven churches.  This implies that the church is still on earth during the plagues. 

But there is a difference.  The sixth plague urges God’s people TO KEEP their clothes while the Laodiceans are advised TO BUY white garments.  Jesus’s warning is, therefore, only intended for God’s people; not for the world in general.  This firstly confirms, as discussed in the Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation, that when the plagues fall, the time for repentance has passed.  

These concepts will now be discussed in more detail.

RAPTURE

Dispensationalism assumes that, seven years before Christ’s visible return, there will be an invisible and inaudible secret rapture that will remove the church from the earth.  This rapture will come at an hour that the world does not expect, but the timing of the events after the rapture—often referred to as the Tribulation—is certain.  According to Dispensationalism, numerous time-indicators in the Bible give an exact number of days between the secret rapture and Christ’s visible return. 

Revelation 16:15 will now be compared to this view.

CLOTHES

In Revelation, generally, clothes symbolize a person’s spiritual condition.  “Defiled garments” (3:4), nakedness (3:17-18) or “clothed in purple and scarlet” (17:4; cf. 18:16) symbolize sin, while “white” or “clean” garments (3:4-5; 6:11; 19:8) symbolize the spiritual condition of the people who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).  For example:

The marriage of the Lamb has come
and His bride has made herself ready.
It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean;
for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints
” (19:7-8).

COMING LIKE A THIEF

The phrase, “coming like a thief,” in the sixth plague, as quoted above, is sometimes used in connection with the secret rapture.  However, “coming like a thief”-passages are found in various places in the New Testament, and nowhere does it mean that the event will be inaudible or invisible.  Rather, it consistently means that nobody knows WHEN Jesus will return.  For example, Jesus said to Revelation’s churches:

If you do not wake up,
I will come like a thief,
and you will not know at what hour I will come to you
(Revelation 3:3). 

The other such thief-passages in the New Testament are:

… if the master of the house had known what hour the THIEF would come, he would have WATCHED and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore, you also BE READY, for THE SON OF MAN IS COMING at an hour you do not expect. (Mt. 24:42-44; cf. Luke 12:35-40).

… The DAY OF THE LORD so comes as a THIEF in the night.  For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then SUDDEN DESTRUCTION comes upon them … But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that THIS DAY should overtake you as a THIEF.  … Therefore let us NOT SLEEP, as others do, but let us WATCH and be sober.  (1 Thess. 5:1-6)

But the DAY OF THE LORD will come like a THIEF, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  (2 Peter 3:10; cf. Rev 3:3)

In these quotes, the word “thief” and references to unexpectedness are in bold.  The “coming like a thief“-passages therefore always mean that we do not know WHEN Christ will return.  For that reason, these verses advise Christians to stay awake (Rev. 16:15), watch (Mt. 24 & Luke 12) and not sleep (1 Thess. 5).

The description of what will happen when Jesus comes like a thief confirms that “coming like a thief” does not refer to something inaudible or invisible:

Sudden destruction” (1 Thess. 5);
Heavens will pass away with a roar” and
The earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3). 

DAY OF THE LORD

In two of the verses quoted, it is the “day of the Lord” that will come like a thief.  In the context of the sixth plague, this is “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14), and not a secret rapture. 

The “coming like a thief” passages therefore always refer to Christ’s second coming IN GLORY, indicating that the time of His coming cannot be predicted.  This is inconsistent with the view in Dispensationalism that Christ’s return can be predicted, once the rapture has taken place.

WARNING TO THE CHURCH

Jesus’ warning in Revelation 16:15 is very similar to His advice earlier in Revelation to the churches in Revelation 1-3:

I will come like a thief,
and you will NOT KNOW AT WHAT HOUR
I will come to you (Rev 3:3).

I advise you to buy from Me …
white garments so that you may clothe yourself,
and that the shame of your nakedness
will not be revealed …  (Rev 3:18)

These verses, like 16:15, refer to clothes, nakedness, and shameThey portray the image of a person who has disrobed and has fallen asleep, to be surprised by the coming of a thief, and forced to run around naked.

That Revelation 16:15 is similar to the warning given to the church implies that 16:15 is a warning to the church, which supports the view that the church is still on earth during the plagues. 

In Dispensationalism, the rapture occurs in Revelation 4:1, while the plagues are poured out later.  This is inconsistent with the conclusion that Revelation 16:15, which is in the middle of the sixth plague, warns God’s people to keep their clothes.  For that reason, Dispensationalism proposes that 16:15 refers to events prior to 4:1

However, to pull 16:15 out of the plagues and to apply it to a period before the plagues, is not sound exegesis.  Revelation 16:15 fits the immediate context perfectly, for Jesus gives this warning immediately after the enemies of God have received renewed power in the form of demon spirits.  Revelation 16:15, therefore, does imply that the Church would still be on earth during the plagues.

NO REPENTANCE

But there is a difference between 16:15 and the warning in the churches.  In the sixth plague, God’s people are urged TO KEEP their clothes (16:15) while the Laodiceans (3:18) are advised TO BUY white garments.  Consistent with the idea that, when the plagues fall, the time for repentance has passed, Revelation 16:15 is a call only to God’s people; not to sinners for repentance.  This is consistent with the proposal that the church is still on earth.

It was similarly argued previously that The message of Revelation 18 causes the darkness of the fifth plague. That message also is only a call to God’s people (18:4).

ARTICLES ON THE PLAGUES RPA

Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation
First four plagues:
     The First Four Plagues are non-specific.
     Overview
Fifth Plague:
     The Throne of the Beast is Christian Religious Authority.
     The mighty angel of Revelation 18 causes the darkness.
     Conclusions 
Sixth Plague:
     The great river, the Euphrates, dries up
     Kings from the East
     Armageddon
     Revelation 16:15 and the Rapture (Current article)
     Why must the river dry up to prepare the way? (Next article)
Seventh Plague
Purpose of the Plagues.

 

The Kings from the East—in the Sixth Plague—are Christ and His angels.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl
on the great river, the Euphrates;
and its water was dried up,
so that the way would be prepared
for the kings from the east

(Revelation 16:12).

The previous article in the current series explains that the waters of the great river, the Euphrates were literally dried up, hundreds of years before Christ, by the kings of the Medes and Persians.  By diverting the water of the river, they took the ancient city of Babylon.  That article explains the Euphrates, as mentioned in the sixth plague, as a symbol of the peoples of the world, and drying up as that false Christianity will lose its control over them.

Since the previous plagues are symbolic, and since the other elements of the sixth plague are also symbolic, the Kings from the East is a symbol.  The plagues describe the final events before Christ returns; after all people have received either the mark of the beast or the seal of God.  (See Introduction to the Plagues) The sixth plague uses the historical fall of Babylon as a symbolic description of the overthrow of end-time Babylon.

The article on end-time Babylon defines it as the false religious system that has existed for all human history, corrupting people and reigning over the kings of the world.

The current article proposes that the Kings from the East (in the sixth plague) is a symbol for Christ and His angels and that the sixth plague dries up the river to prepare for Christ’s return.  This is justified as follows:

GROUPS OF KINGS

There are two groups of kings in the sixth plague:

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. (v12)

And I saw … spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the WAR OF THE GREAT DAY of God, the Almighty. (v14) (This war is called Armageddon in verse 16.)

These two groups of kings, therefore, oppose each other.  Since the “kings of the whole world” are gathered “for the war of the great day of God,” they also oppose God.  It follows that the “kings from the east” are on God’s side in that last battle.  Daniel and Revelation do not describe secular wars between political rulers.  These books explain the cosmic war between God and Satan.

EAST

The conclusion, that the “kings from the east” are God’s kings, is supported by the fact that, in Revelation, the “east” is associated with God:

The angel brings the seal of God from the EAST (7:2).

Jesus is called “the bright morning star” (22:16).  The morning star rises in the east.  The term in Greek for the east is literally “the rising of the sun”. 

East” is also the direction from which God comes in the Old Testament:

“The glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the EAST. … and the earth shone with His glory” (Ezek. 43:2).

DELIVERANCE

As mentioned above, the sixth plague uses images from the literal fall of ancient Babylon. From the perspective of the Bible, that was God’s deliverance of His people.  God used Cyrus and his kings to deliver Israel from their oppressors and bring them back to their homeland (Jer. 50:33-34).  God said, “He will build My city and let My people go free” (Isa. 45:13; cf. 44:28).  God, therefore, calls Cyrus His “anointed one” (Isa. 45:1) and “My shepherd” (44:28).  These most honorable titles (Isa. 45:4) were later reserved for Jesus.  

The plagues fall at the very end of time.  The use of images from the fall of literal Babylon as a symbol in the sixth plague implies that that plague is (the preparation for – see v12) the deliverance of God’s end-time people from spiritual Babylon.  However, in the end-time, God will deliver His people through the return of Christ.  The sixth plague, therefore, describes the preparation for Christ’s return, which again implies that the Kings from the East, for whom “the way” is prepared, are Christ and His angels:

The Son of Man is going to COME
in the glory of His Father WITH HIS ANGELS

(Mt. 16:27; cf. Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rev. 14:10; 19:11-16).

RETURN OF CHRIST

A comparison between the sixth plague and the Return of Christ, as described in Revelation 19, will identify the two groups of kings with certainty.  The sixth plague does not describe either of the two groups of kings:

The drying up of the Euphrates is not the arrival of the “kings from the east,” but only prepares for them to come (16:12).  Both the preparation of “the way” and the word “from” imply that these kings will MOVE from one place to another.  Arguably, they will move towards the “kings of the whole world” to engage them in battle. 

Similarly, in these verses, we do not already see the “kings of the whole world” gathered.  Verse 14 mentions only the demons that will go out to gather them. 

So, in the sixth plague, the kings of the earth are NOT YET gathered and the kings from the east have NOT YET moved.  Where does Revelation portray the movement of kings, and where do we see the “kings of the whole world” gathered together?  We find them in Revelation 19; in the description of Christ’s return:

The kings of the EARTH” are “gathered” (19:19).  The NASB uses the word “assembled,” but the KJV and many other translations use “gathered”.  In the Greek it is exactly the same word as in 16:14 and 16:16 in the sixth plague.

There is also another group of kings in Revelation 19, for it says that the kings of the earth are gathered “to make war against” the “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (19:16, 19).  The “King of kingsis identified as “the Word of God” (19:13), which is Christ.  As the “King of kings,” He leads many other kings.

Furthermore, while the “kings of the earth” are stationary in one place (on earth), the “King of kingsmove from heaven to earth:

“The armies which are in HEAVEN …
were following Him on white horses”
(19:13).

This movement, from heaven to earth, is “the way” that has been prepared by the drying up of the Euphrates (16:12).

FIVE CATEGORIES

Another connection between the sixth plague and the Return of Christ (in Revelation 19) is that both mention five categories.  On Satan’s side, both mention:

The Dragon;
The Beast;
The False Prophet; and
The gathered “kings of the earth.”

It follows therefore that the fifth category in both must refer to the same group, namely:

The “kings from the east” (16:12) are
The “kings” that are with Christ (19:16).

CONNECTIONS

Consequently, the following connections between the sixth plague and the Return of Christ (Revelation 19) have been identified:

      • Both have two groups of kings.
      • In both the one group is called “the kings of the earth” (19:19; cf. 16:14), and they are gathered.
      • In both, the other group of kings are God’s kings and move towardsthe kings of the earth.”
      • The five categories mentioned above.

CHRIST RETURNS IN PLAGUE SEVEN

A bird’s eye view of Revelation will clarify this connection.

The first five plagues use images from the Plagues on Egypt, but the last two switch the imagery to Babylon.  In the seventh plagues, for example, “Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19).

Since Babylon was not mentioned earlier in Revelation, except very briefly by the three angels (14:8), Revelation 17 interrupts the flow of thought to explain who she is and how she will come to her end.

Revelation 18 jumps back in time to the warning of God’s people “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues” (18:4). 

Revelation 19 then actually continues the seventh plague, for a great multitude rejoices that “He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality” (19:2; cf. 16:19).  The jubilation of the “great multitude” (19:1, 6) moves from praising God for judging Babylon to the rejoicing that “the marriage of the Lamb has come” (19:7), which refers to Christ’s return.  This is followed by the description of His Return (19:11-).  

The point is that Revelation 17 and 18 are an interruption and that the seventh plague continues in chapter 19 with the Return of Christ, which means that the Return of Christ is actually part of the seventh plague.  In the sixth plague “the way” is prepared for the kings from the east, but they only come with that “way” in the seventh plague.  Similarly, in the sixth plague the demons go out to gather the kings of the earth, but they are only fully gathered in the seventh plague.

SUMMARY – Kings from the East

The purpose of this article is to show that the Kings from the East are a symbol of Christ and His angels.  The following proofs have been offered:

There are TWO GROUPS OF KINGS in the sixth plague.  Since the kings of the whole world make war against God, the kings from the east fight on God’s side.

In Scripture, the EAST is where God comes from.

The sixth plague uses language from the DELIVERANCE OF GOD’S PEOPLE from literal Babylon.  This implies that this plague describes God’s deliverance of His end-time people, which He will do through Christ.

The sixth plague does not describe either of the two groups of kings, but both are DESCRIBED IN CHRIST’S RETURN.  In both the sixth plague and the Return of Christ:
 – Are the kings of the world gathered;
 – Do God’s kings move towards them; and
 – Is Satan represented by the dragon, the beast, the false prophet and the kings if the world.

A high-level analysis of chapters 16 to 19 shows that chapters 17 and 18 are an interruption and that the seventh plague continues in Revelation 19 with the Return of Christ.  In other words, the Return of Christ is part of the seventh plague: The sixth plague is the preparation, but the seventh plague is the real war – Armageddon.

CONCLUSION

The Kings from the East are Christ and His angels, and the sixth plague angel dries up the river to prepare for Christ’s return.

The previous article concluded that the drying up means that false Christianity loses its control over the population of the world.  The question remains, why would it be necessary for that to happen before Christ may return?  That critical question is discussed in the last article on the Sixth Plague.

ARTICLES ON THE PLAGUES

Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation
First four plagues:
     The First Four Plagues are non-specific.
     Overview
Fifth Plague:
     The Throne of the Beast is Christian Religious Authority.
     The mighty angel of Revelation 18 causes the darkness.
     Conclusions 
Sixth Plague:
     The great river, the Euphrates, dries up
     Kings from the East (Current article)
     Armageddon (Next article)
     Why must the river dry up to prepare the way?
Seventh Plague
Purpose of the Plagues.

 

The sixth plague-angel dries up the great river, the Euphrates.

The SIXTH angel poured out his bowl
on the great river, the Euphrates;
and its water was DRIED UP,
so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east.”

This article deals with the following questions:

What is the great river, the Euphrates?
What is the drying up of the Euphrates?

The next article identifies the Kings from the East.  A further article deals with the most important question, namely, why does the water have to dry up for the kings from the east?

SUMMARY

EUPHRATES

Since the first five plagues are worldwide and since there are no indications in the plagues of portions, as one finds in the seals and the trumpets, the Euphrates River is also worldwide.  This, of course, also means that the drying up of the waters of the Euphrates is a global event.

Revelation uses the Euphrates as a symbol for the peoples of the world.  This conclusion is based on two components:

Revelation uses the names Euphrates and Babylon several times, but it nowhere defines a relationship between them.  However, Revelation does say that Babylon sits on many waters. Since we know from history that the Euphrates River flowed through the ancient city of Babylon, by inference, the many waters is another name for the Euphrates.  (Many waters = Euphrates)

Revelation explicitly defines the many waters as the peoples of the world. (Many waters = Peoples)

Therefore, the Many Waters = Euphrates = Peoples of the world.

DRIED UP

Hundreds of years before Christ, the water of the literal Euphrates was literally dried up to prepare the way for literal kings from the east; Cyrus and the kings of the Medes and the Persians, who came from the east.

The fact that Revelation uses a historical event to describe future events means that the drying up of the Euphrates is symbolic language.  We then determine what those symbols mean. 

Hanging gardens of Babylon

As mentioned above, Babylon “sits” on the Euphrates.  That is explained by 17:2 as: “Those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”  Babylon is the false system of religion that has existed for all of human history.  That she sits on the peoples of the world symbolizes her intoxicating influence on the world.  She is able to control them. 

However, Babylon has also fully infected Christianity.  As shown in a previous article, the throne of the beast is particularly Christian religious authority

Dried up” then symbolizes that false Christianity will lose its hold on the people of the world. 

These concepts are now explained in more detail.

EUPHRATES

WORLD-WIDE

The first five plagues are world-wide:

ALL followers of the Beast receive sores in the first plague (16:2). ALL the water in the sea and in rivers turn to blood in the second and third plagues (16:3, 4).
The sun scorches the ENTIRE earth in the fourth plague (16:8). Even the darkness of the beast’s kingdom in the fifth plague is global because the beast’s kingdom is the entire world. (“ALL who dwell on the earth will worship him” (13:8).)

Furthermore, there are no indications in the plagues of portions of the world, as one finds in the seals and the trumpets.:

The “FOURTH of the earth” over which death rules quarter in the fourth SEAL (6:8); and
The “THIRD of the earth” that is harmed in the TRUMPETS (8:7, 8, 10, 12, etc.).

The global nature of the plagues implies that the Euphrates is not a local river, somewhere in the Middle-East, but a symbol of something world-wide. This, of course, also means that the drying up of the waters of the Euphrates is a global event.

WORLD’S POPULATION

Revelation uses the name “Euphrates” twice and the name “Babylon” six times, but nowhere does it directly specify a relationship between the river and the city.  However, Revelation does say that Babylon “sits on many waters” (17:1), and, for the following reasons, we conclude that Revelation’s “many waters” refer to the Euphrates River:

Firstly, in the days of Daniel the prophet, the Euphrates flowed through the city of Babylon, providing it with water (Jer. 51:12-13, 63-64). As such, it was an integral part of the city.  In a physical sense, the ancient city of Babylon sat on the Euphrates.

Secondly, the Old Testament also refers to the Euphrates as “many waters” (Jer. 51:13). 

Furthermore, Revelation explicitly defines that “many waters,” on which Babylon sits, as the “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (17:15).  Therefore:

Peoples = many waters = Euphrates

We conclude that in Revelation, the Euphrates River is not a physical river, but a symbol of the population of the entire world.  In other words, we see here how Revelation uses words and concepts from the Old Testament to describe future events.

DRIED UP

The second major concept in the sixth plague is that the waters of the Euphrates dry up as a result of what the angel pours into it.  The drying up of the river also has a purpose, namely to prepare the way for the kings from the east:

The sixth angel poured out his bowl
on the great river, the Euphrates;
and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared
for the kings from the east

(Revelation 16:12).

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

We have to understand that this is symbolic language, for Revelation here uses Old Testament language to describe future events.  In an event, hundreds of years before Christ, the waters of the literal Euphrates were dried up to prepare the way for literal kings from the east.  According to the famous Greek historian Herodotus, and confirmed in modern times by the Cyrus Cylinder, Babylon was overthrown when Cyrus, the Persian king, DIVERTED THE EUPHRATES RIVER that runs through the center of Babylon, allowing the Persians to wade into the city unexpected. 

This event was prophesied by Jeremiah and Isaiah:

“A sword against … the inhabitants of Babylon …
“A drought on her waters, and they will be dried up!”

(Jer. 50:35-38)

“Thus says the LORD, “… I will dry up her sea
And make her fountain dry'”
(Jer. 51:36).

“It is I who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’
And I will make your rivers dry.
It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd!
And he will perform all My desire.’
And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’
And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid'” 

(Isa 44:27-28).

Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, …
To subdue nations before him …
To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut” 

(Is. 45:1).

The very fact that literal things, of such importance in the Old Testament, find their way to the pages of Revelation, implies that they are used as symbols in Revelation. 

ANCIENT KINGS FROM THE EAST

Cyrus” is mentioned in two of the verses quoted above from Isaiah.  He was the commander in chief of the allied forces of the nations that were ruled by Media and Persia.  As such, He was king of many kings:

Consecrate the nations against her,
The kings of the Medes, …
And every land of their dominion. 

(Jer. 51:28 cf. v11).

Since Media and Persia are to the east of Babylon, they were the from the east:

“Who has aroused one from the east
He … subdues kings”
(Is. 41:2).

“A bird of prey from the east,
the man who executes My counsel,
from a far country
“(Is. 46:11).

Therefore, in the Old Testament, Cyrus and the kings under his command were literal “kings from the east” associated with the literal drying up the literal Euphrates.

SITS ON MANY WATERS

If we accept that this is symbolic language, then we need to determine what these symbols mean.  But before we are able to explain what drying up means, we first have to understand what Revelation means when it says that Babylon SITS on many waters:

The great harlot who sits on many waters,
with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality,
and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality
” (17:1-2; cf. v5). 

This explains SITS as the intoxicating influence which Babylon has on the population of the world.  The article on Babylon identifies it as the false system of religion that has existed for all of human history. 

Much of Christianity has become fully infected with this religion, for Christianity has become “a dwelling place of demons” (Rev. 18:2).  In the article on The throne of the beast, it has been shown that its throne is particularly Christian religious authorityTherefore, for Babylon to SIT on the many waters means that false Christianity has a strong grip on the peoples of the world.  She is able to control them and garner their support.

DRIED UP

With that meaning of “sits,” drying up does not mean that the Euphrates will literally dry up again, or even that the population of the world will be reduced in numbers by the plagues, but that the false system of religion, and in particular false Christianity, will lose its hold on the people of the world. 

ARTICLES ON THE PLAGUES

Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation
The First Four Plagues are non-specific.
First Four Plagues – Overview 
The Throne of the Beast is Christian Religious Authority.
The mighty angel of Revelation 18 causes the darkness of the fifth plague.
Fifth plague – conclusions
The Euphrates dries up. (Current article)
Kings from the East (Next article)

 

Armageddon is not a literal place, but God’s judgment – the Day of the Lord

The final verse of the Sixth Plague is the only place in the Bible that explicitly refers to Armageddon:

They gathered them together to the place
which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon

(Revelation 16:16 – NASB).

Verse 14 says that they are gathered together for “the war of the great day of God,” but verse 16 does not describe the war; only the gathering. 

SUMMARY

SYMBOLIC INTERPRETATION

There is no place called Armageddon (Har-Magedon in the NASB).

Interpreters offer many solutions to identify a specific geographical location, but none of these proposals are especially persuasive.  For this reason, we should interpret Armageddon figuratively.  Other reasons to prefer a symbolic interpretation include the following:

      • The SYMBOLIC context of the plagues;
      • MODERN WARFARE does not allow for a world war limited to one specific geographical location. 
      • The GLOBAL nature of the other plagues.

REPEATED

The book of Revelation describes Armageddon in many other places without using the word Armageddon:

There are many similarities between Armageddon in the Sixth Plague and the Return of Christ in Revelation 19.  For example, in both there are two groups of kings, with the kings of the world are gathered together for war to one place while the other kings move towards them. 

Both the harvest at the end of Revelation 14 and the war at the Return of Christ in Revelation 19 refer to the treading of the winepress.

The sixth seal is the “GREAT DAY of their wrath,” similar to the “GREAT DAY of God” in the Sixth Plague.

The sixth plague is the only place in the Bible where we find the exact phrase “the great day of God,” but outside Revelation variations of it appear in nearly 30 verses.

Since Armageddon is mentioned repeatedly in Revelation and since it is the same as the Old Testament war of the “Day of the Lord,” it cannot be a world war between the nations of the world that is limited to one geographical location on the globe.

THE DAY OF THE LORD

An analysis of the Day of the Lord passages in the Bible shows that it, and therefore Armageddon:

      • Is always near and coming very quickly;
      • Turns the sun into darkness and the moon into blood;
      • Is the day of the Lord’s wrath;
      • Is destruction from the Almighty;
      • Most importantly, is the day of judgment:

CONCLUSION

The kings of the earth are not gathered to a physical place, but the spirits of demons will unite world leaders in mind and spirit against God.  Armageddon will be a physical war, but it will be worldwide.

NO PLACE CALLED ARMAGEDDON

There is no place called Armageddon (Har-Magedon in the NASB).

Har means mountain.  Magedon is normally connected with Megiddo, an ancient fortress-city located on a plain in the southwest portion of the Valley of Jezreel (Jewish name) or Esdraelon (Greek name), some sixty miles north of Jerusalem.  Har-Magedon would mean ‘the Mountain of Megiddo’, but there is no such mountain.  Interpreters offer many solutions to identify a specific geographical location:

Armageddon could refer to the hill country surrounding the Plain of Megiddo.  Over time, more than two hundred battles have been fought in that region. OR

It could refer to Megiddo and Mount Carmel in one breath.  Mount Carmel hosted one of the most significant battles in Israel’s history—the battle in which the prophet Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal (1 King 18).  This spiritual battle may stand behind the battle of Armageddon.

One frequent suggestion is that it refers to Ezekiel’s prophecy of a great eschatological slaughter of the nations on “the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 38:8-21; 39:2, 4, 17) and that the name Megiddo has been added as the place where, so often in Israel’s history, the enemies of God were destroyed.

Others interpret Armageddon without reference to Megiddo, but still as a specific geographical location.

None of these proposed solutions are especially persuasive.  For this reason, we should interpret it figuratively.  Other reasons to prefer a symbolic interpretation include the following:

The SYMBOLIC CONTEXT in which we find Armageddon in the Sixth Plague.

MODERN WARFARE does not allow for a world war limited to one specific geographical location.  A major part of warfare today is on the sea and by air.  Through missiles, aircraft and aircraft carriers a modern army can strike very precisely anywhere in the world.  

The GLOBAL NATURE of the plagues – the previous plagues all affect the entire world.  (See the previous articles.)

ARMAGEDDON IN OTHER CHAPTERS

If we accept a symbolic interpretation, then we will see that the book of Revelation describes Armageddon in many other places without the use of the word Armageddon:

REVELATION 19

The article – Kings from the East – lists many similarities between the Sixth Plague and the Return of Christ in Revelation 19:

In both, there are two groups of kings (16:12, 14; 19:16, 19). 

In both, the kings of the world are gathered together for war to one place (16:14, 16-Armageddon; 19:19) while the other kings move towards them (16:12; 19:14). 

In both, we find five entities:
– The Dragon,
– The Beast,
– The False Prophet,
– The Kings of the earth and
– The other group of kings (16:12-14; 19:20; 20: 2). 

Both are called “the day of God”.  That is explicit in the Sixth Plague but is implied in Revelation 19, for all sinners will be killed when Christ returns (19:21).  This—according to Isaiah 13:9 and Zephaniah 1:18—will happen on the “day of the Lord:”

Then God “will exterminate all sinners” (Is. 13:9).
He will make a complete end … of all the inhabitants of the earth” (Zeph. 1:18).  

On the basis of these similarities, it is concluded that the war at the end of Revelation 19 is also “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” referred to in the Sixth Plague (16:14), which 16:16 refers to as Armageddon.

REVELATION 14

Both the harvest at the end of Revelation 14 and the war at the Return of Christ in Revelation 19 refer to the treading of the winepress (14:20; 19:15).  The harvest is, therefore, another description of Armageddon.

SIXTH SEAL

The sixth seal is the “Great Day of their wrath” (6:17), similar to “the Great Day of God” in the Sixth Plague, and therefore also describes Armageddon.

CONCLUSION

The sixth plague is the only place in the Bible where we find the exact phrase “the great day of God,” but outside Revelation variations of it appear in nearly 30 verses, such as:

Near is the great day of the LORD” (Zeph. 1:14).
The judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6).

If we accept that Armageddon is mentioned repeatedly in Revelation and that it is the same as the Old Testament war of the “Day of the Lord,then it cannot be a war between the nations of the world that is limited to one geographical location on the globe. It must rather be interpreted consistent with the frequent references in the Bible to the “Day of the Lord.” 

THE DAY OF THE LORD

This section lists some characteristics of the Day of the Lord, which therefore also applies to Armageddon:

THE TIME IS NEAR

The most frequently mentioned characteristic of the Day of the Lord is that it is near and coming very quickly (Zeph. 1:7, 14; Isa 13:6; Ezek. 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 3:14; Oba 1:15).

We find the same principle in Revelation, which describes the predicted events as “the things which must SOON take place” (1:1) and “the time is NEAR” (22:10). 

SUN TURNS INTO DARKNESS

The second characteristic of that day is that “The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood” (Joel 2:31; Act 2:20).  In Revelation, before describing the peoples of the world hiding from the Lord in caves and under rocks, the sixth seal elaborates on these signs:

The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and
the whole moon became like blood;
and the stars of the sky fell to the earth (6:12, 13)

THE LORD’S ANGER

The Day of the Lord will be “the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zep 2:2, 3) and “wrath” (Zep 1:18 NASB).  It is “Cruel, with fury and burning anger” (Isa 13:9).

Revelation represents that day similarly:

All the peoples of the world will scream “hide us … from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  (6:16-17). 

He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God” (19:15).

DESTRUCTION

The Day of the Lord is “destruction from the Almighty” (Is. 13:6; Joel 1:15).  It “will make the land a desolation” (Is. 13:9).  “All the earth will be devoured in the fire” (Zeph. 1:18).  “The heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2Pe 3:10).

This is also how Revelation presents that day:

The sky was split apart … and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (6:14).
Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (16:20).

JUDGMENT

But the most important characteristic of the Day of the Lord is that it is a day of judgment:

As you have done, it will be done to you” (Oba 1:15).
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14).
God “will
exterminate all sinners” (Isa 13:9).
But God’s people will “be hidden in the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zeph. 2:3) and “
saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1Co 5:5).

In Revelation:

In the Sixth Seal, the lost try to hide in the rocks and caves (6:15), while the saved stand before the throne (7:9). 

The harvest symbolizes the lost as “the clusters from the vine” (14:18), which “was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles” (14:20).  But it refers to the saved as the “harvest of the earth” (14:15). 

In Revelation 19, the lost are killed (19:21), while the saved “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (20:4). 

This distinction is also described by the parable:

“All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.  (Mt. 25:32-33)

VALLEY OF DECISION

It is worth reading the powerful description of the Day of the Lord in Joel 3 because of the many similarities to the three main Armageddon-passages in Revelation:

Verses 9 to 11 sound like the SIXTH PLAGUE:

Prepare for war! … let all the men of war draw near…   Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together

Verse 12 focuses on JUDGMENT, something which Revelation does not mention directly: 

 Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. 

Verse 13 is similar to THE HARVEST at the end of Revelation 14:

Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. … the winepress is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great. 

Verse 14 is similar to the SIXTH SEAL:

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the Day of the LORD is near … The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. … the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for his people …  (Joel 3:9-17)

Both Joel and Revelation, when describing the Day of the Lord, refer to a harvest, a winepress, preparation for war, assemble and gather together, sickle, signs to the sun moon and stars and terrible earthquakes.

Joel’s valley of decision and Armageddon is therefore the same place.  There God “will sit to judge” (Joel 3:12).  After thousands of years of religious persecution, God will make a distinction between His people and unbelievers.

CONCLUSION

The kings of the earth are not gathered to a physical place, but the spirits of demons will unite world leaders in mind and spirit against God.  The kings of the earth are “gathered” in the sense that they are all convinced to join forces against the enemy of the world, whom they see as the Lamb, represented by His people on earth.

Armageddon will be a physical war, but it will be worldwide.