Towards Armageddon

The twentieth century fundamentally altered the way in which we look at the earth. The space race allowed man, for the first time, to stand outside of earth and to look down at the planet. Since then, satellite photography, and GPS have continued to transform our view of the planet. Notwithstanding the progress of technology, though, there is still something peculiarly fascinating about old maps. And the older they are, the more fascination they hold. Looking at maps that are centuries old allows us to understand something of the way in which long-dead generations saw the world. To us, these maps look peculiar – whole countries are missing, and those that do appear are often very oddly shaped. But there are two features of medieval maps, in particular, that would be worthy of imitation by modern cartographers. These maps often depict the eye of God looking down on the world, a reminder that God is interested in all that goes on here on earth. And at the center of the map they place the city of Jerusalem.

There was, of course, geographical justification for the decision to place Jerusalem at the center of the world. Jerusalem lies at the junction of Europe, Asia, and Africa; Jerusalem is the intersection of the great trading routes of the ancient world. At Jerusalem the eastern world meets the western world.

The sensible reader of Scripture, though, will know that Jerusalem has more than a geographic significance. She is “the city of the great King” (Psa 48:2), specially chosen by God, and the focal point of His earthly dealings with mankind. Throughout history and prophecy alike, she has had a special place in His purpose.

During the present dispensation, God’s dealings with the nation are providential, rather than prophetic. She has been set aside, until the fulness of the Gentiles has been brought in (Rom 11:25). But “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom 11:29), and He still has a purpose for His earthly people. Israel’s enduring importance is confirmed in the words of the angel Gabriel to Daniel. The great prophetic outline that Daniel received highlighted the importance not just of the Jewish nation, but also of the city: “seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city” (Dan 9:24).

The prophetic centrality of Israel is emphasized by the way in which Scripture labels the nations whose military might and territorial ambition will be so significant during the Tribulation. We have already encountered the Man of Sin, who will be the leader of a western power of unprecedented military and economic strength. The covenant this man will make with Israel, and the close relationship he will have with the apostate Jewish leader, the False Prophet, will be important features of this man’s foreign policy. But he will not have the world stage wholly to himself. Scripture tells us that three other military powers will occupy the world stage during the days of the Tribulation. As they are introduced to us in prophetic Scripture, each is identified by its geographical relationship to Israel.

The first of these powers is described as “Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” (Eze 38:2), and its ruler as “the king of the north” (Dan 11:40). This king of the north will lead a confederation of nations including Rosh, Meshech, Tubal (Eze 38:2, ASV), Gomer, the house of Togarmah (v6), Persia, Cush, and Put (v5, ASV). Commentators have offered a range of identifications for these nations, but it is sufficient for our purposes to notice that the confederation comes from the north, and they band together as a predatory military power.

Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe how this northern power will launch an invasion of the land of Israel. This invasion will take place at a time when the “people of Israel dwelleth safely” (Eze 38:14), which must be the first half of the Tribulation, while she is enjoying the protection furnished by her covenant with the Beast. But her peace will be shattered as the northern armies sweep down upon the nation “as a cloud to cover the land” (v16). In this invasion, the king of the north will join with the “king of the south” (Dan 11:40). From either end of the land they will come, sweeping over the mountains of Israel (Eze 39:2, 3). Their advance will be irresistible. Bound by the terms of his covenant, the Beast will scramble to defend Israel, and meet the invading force.

But his strength will not be needed. God will intervene; He will turn back the armies of the northern power; and leave only a sixth of the original force to retreat in disarray from the land. There will be great seismic convulsions (Eze 38:19–20), which will lead to panic and internecine fighting (v21), which will be followed by pestilence and “an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone” (v22). So catastrophic will the rout of the armies be that it will be seven months before the dead are all buried (39:12). Even in the midst of these dark days, God will use the fate of this vast invading force to “magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”

While it is clear that the defeat of the invasion is due to the power of God alone, the Beast will take full advantage of the opportunity to fill the power vacuum left by the destruction of the armies of the north and south. “He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown … the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps” (Dan 11:40–43).

The western power of the Beast will have overcome the northern and southern powers. But there is still one direction from which trouble can come. Invasion from the east has always been rendered more difficult by the barrier of the Euphrates River. Revelation 9:13–19 describes the buildup of a massive army, made up of “two hundred thousand thousand” horsemen. Up to this point, they have not mobilized. But Revelation 16:12 recounts how “the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.” While the Beast is distracted by his great rampage southwards, the kings of the east will launch their offensive. The Beast will be stopped in his tracks: “tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many” (Dan 11:44). He will gather his troops, and head northwards, moving inexorably towards Armageddon.

We have already seen that the Tribulation will be filled with dramatic and desolating divine judgments on mankind. Beneath them all, man will still strive for supremacy, armies will scurry to-and-fro, the futile exchange of attack and counter-attack will go wearily on. War is seldom noble, and none has been as ignoble as the turmoil of the Tribulation. Beyond the fervor of the foot soldiers, the commitment of the generals, and the overweening ambition of the leaders, another force will be at work. In Revelation 16, John describes how he saw “three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Rev 16:13–14). Satan has always seen men as mere pawns in his long and hopeless campaign against God. The thousands who perish in these conflicts are the cannon fodder of hell.

But another force will be at work, for the eye of God still watches over the world. To the king of the north, He says “I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen” (Eze 38:4). “Surely,” said the Psalmist, “the wrath of man shall praise Thee” (Psa 76:10). True at all times, this principle will operate especially during the Tribulation as, behind the energy, ingenuity, and activity of man, God works out His eternal and inexorable purpose.