One of the great wonders of the Prophetic Word is the way in which the symbols and images of Armageddon tie
together to produce a composite picture of the means by which Yahweh will intervene in world affairs. This article examines the prophetic view of Armageddon and demonstrates the appropriateness of one catastrophic invasion of Israel followed by a single and decisive intervention by Christ and the saints.

Invasion! The word conjures up a nightmare vision of angry small arms fire and shrieking bombs, of shattered cities and smoking grey wastes, of clattering tank treads and broken bodies, of heavy boots trampling underfoot “the pleasant land”.

Yet the recurrence of this chilling picture throughout the prophets leaves little doubt that Israel must endure this horror in the time of the end:

  • My determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy” (Zeph 3:8).
  • … to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty… he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” (Rev 16:14, 16).
  • He shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor. Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people” (Mic 4:12–13).

While there can be no pleasure in expecting this last, great holocaust, nevertheless, careful attention to the detail of these prophecies will enable us to understand them much more clearly, and nourish our faith as we see the participants in the drama positioning themselves for the showdown.

Four passages in particular supply some detail: Joel 3, Zechariah 12–14, Ezekiel 38–39 and Daniel 11–12. We will examine them in that order over several issues of The Lampstand.

The Invasion of Joel 3

 Joel chapter 3 is, perhaps, the most straightforward of all the invasion passages. The time setting is stated in general terms in chapter 3 verses 1 and 2: “In those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people”. Note that it is God’s purpose to gather the nations together. The nations think of it as a contest of arms among themselves. But God has a greater, more far-reaching purpose: punishment of the nations for their great wickedness in exploiting God’s people and land (v13).

This is a gathering of “all nations” (v2). “Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine” are mentioned in verse 4 but, as Brother John Carter pointed out in an answer to a correspondent,1 this appears to be an aside, condemning these nations for a historical injustice. It does not appear to be related directly to the invasion, and is perhaps included here as an example of Divine vengeance. The verses emphasise the certainty of the final judgment, by setting up a smaller, shorter-term prophecy, whose fulfilment acts as guarantor for the fulfilment of the major prophecy which is the main theme of this chapter. Egypt and Edom are mentioned in verse 19, but again, this appears to be more a general condemnation for their historical treatment of Israel. No mention is made of any part in the invasion. Instead, we are left with more general statements: “all nations” (v1), “the Gentiles” (v9), “all ye heathen” (v11,12). In the providence of God, Jerusalem becomes a terrible magnet, inexorably drawing all nations to a confrontation with Him.

The epicentre of the confrontation is to be the Valley of Jehoshaphat (v2, 12). But what, or rather, where, is it? The language of verse 12, “Let the heathen… come up” indicates that the conflict rages around Jerusalem: for the language of “coming up” to Jerusalem, and “going down” from Jerusalem, is an idiom used throughout Old and New Testaments: and Yahweh is said to “roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem” (v16). Whilst the Hebrew “emek”, valley”, can signify a broad valley, such as the valley of Jezreel, the word is used in Genesis 14:17 and 2 Samuel 18:18 to describe the northern part of the Kidron; the valley of Shaveh, the king’s valley. However, it should be noted that the tradition which identifies the valley with the northern section of the Kidron valley can be traced back no further than the church historian Eusebius, writing in the fourth century AD.2

The true emphasis of the valley is on its meaning rather than on its precise location, because it means, “Yah is judge” or, “the judgments of Yah”. The name underlines the fact that what takes place there is a court scene, in which God accuses, condemns and punishes the guilty nations. The valley is also called the “valley of threshing” (v14 mg; cp Isa 28:22, 27; 41:15; Amos 1:3), another symbolic description of judgment (cp Mic 4:12). In summary, “This is a figurative term based upon the incident recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:1–27 and is used to denote a place where God intervenes with catastrophic results”.3

The invasion is a crisis for Israel. It is the greatest threat to her national existence since AD 70. “The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining… the heavens and the earth shall shake” (v15–16). The language indicates the cosmic scale of the disaster which shakes her to her foundations, and enshrouds her in gloom and hopelessness.4 “It is even the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7).

It will be a time of terror, truly. The Septuagint translates verse 14, “Noises resound in the valley of judgment”. One can hear in the mind’s ear the frightening din, the deafening clatter of fire, the screams of hurtling shells, the ferocious roar of wrestling aircraft: and then “with dramatic majesty, over and above the great commotion”5 the lion’s roar, swelling louder and louder, drowns out the human riot. The fury of God confronts the paltry rage of man! (Psa 2:1). “Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?” (Nahum 1:6). And so the forces, for all their firepower and hideous technology, will be swept into the wastepaper basket of history.

After the storm, quietness and peace. When the noise and terror have passed, the outcome will be Divine blessing such as Israel has never known. She will enjoy a new closeness to her God: and she is assured that these terrible events will never recur: “So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more” (v17). This will be a deliverance to end all invasions: and Jerusalem’s newfound holiness and intimacy with her God, will assure her that she will never undergo this horror again.

The Invasion of Zechariah 12–14

 While Zechariah 14 grabs much of the limelight, it is really only part of a fascinating and complex prophecy (Zech 12–14) of “the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem” (12:2), God’s intervention, and Israel’s redemption and salvation.

All the people of the earth” (12:2,3) are gathered together to fight against the city (v9). While Egypt is specifically mentioned in chapter 14:18,19, this is not in the immediate context of those that are left “of all the nations which came against Jerusalem” (14:16), but in the more general context of “all the families of the earth” coming to Jerusalem “to worship the King, the Lord of hosts. She is mentioned as an example of nations who do not rely on rain, and who will therefore be subject to alternative plagues if they do not comply with the general requirement to attend at Jerusalem for worship. As in Joel therefore, the assembled coalition comprises many nations.

Tragically, Jerusalem will know all the inhumanities of war: “the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped” (14:2, NIV). Half of the population will be transported away as prisoners of war: but half will remain in the city. Given that the city has been taken, there seems to be no reason why all the population is not exiled. Presumably this anomaly is explained by the next verse: “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle” (v3). The complacent invader, in proud possession of the capital city, is rudely interrupted by the advent of the unimaginably furious God of Israel.

Not only Jerusalem is affected: for the mention of “the tents of Judah” (12:7) is an idiomatic reference to the cities, towns and villages scattered throughout the land. And the effect will be horrific: “in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die” (13:8). Only a third will be preserved: they are the ones who will turn to their God for help, and He will hear them (v9) and deliver them.

The most notable feature of this deliverance is the great earthquake of chapter 14:4–6: “His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (v4). We are no doubt right in linking this with Luke 24:50,51 and Acts 1:9–12, and explaining this as the action of God through Jesus Christ His Son: “the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee” (v5).

What a magnificent reversal! The rejected King and Saviour, spurned by a people who demanded an earthly Messiah, returns in triumph as his people’s only hope to the very spot from which he lamented that same rejection (Lk 19:41–45). Then they did not recognise the advent of the King (v44). Soon they will have little choice. And their heart will break as they see his loving kindness in the light of how they have hated him spitefully and spurned him for centuries.

But there are other features of the deliverance. A terrible plague will infect every living thing in the invading army (14:12, 15). God will attack them psychologically also, sending division and strife among them, so that they are diverted from their purpose and turn on each other (14:13), as if mad, or in a drunken rage (12:2–3). Israel too, will fight, although exactly what her part will be is problematic. On the one hand the people will be either dead, or exiled, or captive, or fleeing from the earthquake (14:5): on the other hand the prophet is clear that “Judah also will fight at Jerusalem” (14:14), and even play a prominent part in the victory (12:5–8). Whatever the means, “all the nations that come against Jerusalem” will be annihilated (12:9).

The outcome? As in Joel, the defeat of the invader closes the book on Israel’s old hot and cold relationship with her God, and begins a new story. The nation will be washed clean of sin and uncleanness (13:1; 14:8). Idols, false prophets and occult rituals will be so comprehensively cast aside as to be entirely forgotten: “they shall no more be remembered” (13:2). The extent of the spiritual transformation of the people may be measured by Zechariah’s note that even the lowliest household objects in the nation will be “holiness unto the Lord of hosts” (14:20–21). And Jerusalem herself shall abide secure, her peace forever undisturbed (14:11). This is a deliverance to end all sieges.

Common Threads

 It is time to look for common threads. Both Joel and Zechariah speak of an invasion by “all nations” (Joel 3:2) or, as Zechariah puts it, “all the people of the earth” (12:2–3). Both Joel and Zechariah label it “the day of Yahweh” (Joel 3:14; Zech 14:1), and Zechariah takes up “the day” as a recurring motif (12:3,4,6,8,9,11; 13:1,2,4; 14:4,6,7,8,9,13,20,21). Jerusalem is the focus of events (Joel 3:16–17; Zech 12:2–3, 8–9; 14:1–15). In both Joel and Zechariah the invasion is a crisis point for the nation, threatening to extinguish them (Joel 3:15–16; Zech 13:8–9). In both prophets the invasion proves to be a spiritual crisis also, out of which the nation emerges with a new holiness, a new sense of closeness to her God, and a new sense of trust and hope in Him (Joel 3:16–17, 21; Zech 12:5, 10–14; 13:1–3, 9; 14:20–21). Both prophets promise that the horror undergone by the nation will never be repeated again, and that Jerusalem and Israel will abide in peace forever (Joel 3:17, 20; Zech 14:11). There can be little doubt that Joel and Zechariah are speaking of one and the same event.

Next issue, God willing, we will see the relevance of Ezekiel and Daniel to this composite picture.