[To view the previous article in this series see: The Children of God]
- What is Armageddon?
- Who dies are Armageddon?
- What happens to those who die at Armageddon?
Recently, I was having dinner with some good friends who had also invited another couple for me to get to know. This couple had experienced more than their fair share of life’s tragedies, yet I could see that they took great comfort in their Christian hope. These were people who have left Organized Religion with its man-made rules for worship of God, and were trying to practice their faith more in line with the First Century Model, associating with a small, nondenominational church in the area. Sadly, they had not completely freed themselves from the clutches of false religion.
For example, the husband was telling me how he takes printed tracks to distribute to people on the street in the hope of gaining some for Christ. He explained how his motivation was to save these ones from Hell. His voice faltered a little as he tried to explain how important he felt this work was; how he felt he could never do enough. It was hard not to feel moved in the face of such a depth of genuine emotion and concern for the welfare of others. While I felt his feelings were misguided, I was still moved.
Our Lord was moved by the suffering he saw coming upon the Jews of his day.
“As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it 42and said, “If only you had known on this day what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41, 42 BSB)
Nevertheless, as I pondered the man’s situation and the weight that his belief in Hell was bringing to bear on his preaching work, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was what our Lord intended? True, Jesus carried the sin of the world on his shoulders, but we are not Jesus. (1 Pe 2:24) When he invited us to join him, did he not say, “I will refresh you…for my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Mt 11:28-30 NWT)
The burden which the false teaching of Hellfire[i] imposes on the Christian can in no way be considered a kindly yoke nor a light load. I tried to imagine what it might be like to truly believe that someone would burn in horrific torment for all eternity just because I missed an opportunity to preach about Christ when I had the chance. Imagine going on vacation with that weighing on you? Sitting on a beach, sipping a Piña Colada and basking in the sun, knowing that the time you’re spending on yourself means someone else is missing out on salvation.
To be candid, I’ve never believed in the popular doctrine of Hell as a place of eternal torment. Still, I can empathize with those sincere Christians who do, due to my own religious upbringing. Raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was taught that those who did not respond to my message would die the second death (eternal death) at Armageddon; that if I didn’t make every effort to save them, I would be incurring bloodguilt in line with what God told Ezekiel. (See Ezekiel 3:17-21.) This is a heavy burden to bear throughout one’s life; believing that if you don’t expend all your energy to warn others about Armageddon, they will die forever and you’ll be held accountable by God for their death.[ii]
So I could truly sympathize with my sincere Christian dinner companion, for I too have labored my whole life under an unkindly yoke and a heavy burden, like that imposed by the Pharisees upon their proselytes. (Mt 23:15)
Given that Jesus’ words cannot fail to be true, we must accept that his burden is truly light and his yoke, kindly. That, in and of itself, calls into question the teaching of Christendom regarding Armageddon. Why are such things as eternal torture and eternal damnation tied to it?
“Show Me the Money!”
Simply put, the various church teachings surrounding Armageddon have become a cash cow for Organized Religion. Of course, each denomination and sect varies the Armageddon narrative just a little so as to establish brand loyalty. The story goes like this: “Don’t go to them, because they don’t have the whole truth. We have the truth and you have to stick with us to avoid being judged and condemned by God at Armageddon.”
How much of your precious time, money, and devotion would you not give to avoid such a horrific outcome? Of course, Christ is the doorway to salvation, but how many Christians really grasp the significance of John 10:7? Instead, they unwittingly engage in idolatry, giving exclusive devotion to the teachings of men, even to the point of making life-and-death decisions.
All of this is done out of fear. Fear is the key! Fear of an impending battle in which God will come to destroy all the wicked—read: those in every other religion. Yes, fear keeps the rank and file compliant and their pocketbooks open.
If we buy into this sales pitch, we are ignoring an important universal truth: God is love! (1 John 4:8) Our Father does not drive us to him using fear. Instead, he draws us to him with love. This is not a carrot and stick approach to salvation, with the carrot being eternal life and the stick, eternal damnation or death at Armageddon. This highlights one elemental difference between all Organized Religion and pure Christianity. Their approach is Man seeking God, with them acting as our guides. How different the Bible’s message, where we find God seeking Man. (Re 3:20; John 3:16, 17)
Yahweh or Jehovah or whatever name you prefer is the universal Father. A Father who has lost his children does everything in his power to find them again. His motivation is Fatherly affection, love of the highest order.
As we think about Armageddon, we have to bear that truth in mind. Still, God warring with Mankind hardly seems like the action of a loving Father. So how can we understand Armageddon in light of Yahweh being the loving God?
What Is Armageddon
The name occurs only once in Scripture, in a vision given to the Apostle John:
“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. 13And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15(“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” (Re 16:12-16)
Armageddon is the English word which renders the proper Greek noun Harmagedón, a composite word referring, many believe, to a “mountain of Megiddo”—a strategic site where many key battles involving the Israelites were fought. A parallel prophetic account is found in the book of Daniel.
“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.” (Da 2:44, 45)
More information on this divine war is further revealed in Revelation chapter 6 which reads in part:
“I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the [a]commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they *said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the [b]presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Re 6:12-17 NASB)
And again in chapter 19:
“And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs [a]in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with [b]brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.” (Re 19:19-21 NASB)
As we can see from reading these prophetic visions, they are filled with symbolic language: a beast, a false prophet, an immense image made of different metals, expressions like frogs, stars falling from the sky.[iii] Nevertheless, we can also recognize that some elements are literal: for instance, God is literally warring with the literal kings (governments) of the earth.
Hiding Truth in Plain Sight
Why all the symbolism?
The source of the Revelation is Jesus Christ. (Re 1:1) He is the Word of God, so even what we read in the preChristian (Hebrew) Scriptures comes through him. (John 1:1; Re 19:13)
Jesus used illustrations and parables—essentially symbolic stories—to hide the truth from those who did not deserve to know it. Matthew tells us:
“Then the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do You speak to the people in parables?”
11He replied, “The knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13This is why I speak to them in parables:
‘Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’”
(Mt 13:10-13 BSB)
How remarkable that God can hides things in plain sight. Everybody has the Bible, yet only a select few can understand it. The reason this is possible is because God’s Spirit is required to understand his Word.
While that applies to understanding Jesus’ parables, it also applies to understanding prophecy. However, there is a distinction. Some prophecies can only be understood in God’s good time. Even someone as cherished as Daniel was kept from understanding the fulfillment of prophecies he was privileged to see in visions and dreams.
“I heard what he said, but I did not understand what he meant. So I asked, “How will all this finally end, my lord?” 9But he said, “Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end.” (Da 12:8, 9 NLT)
A Touch of Humility
Given all this, let us bear in mind that as we delve deeper into all aspects of our salvation, we will be considering a number of Scriptures from the symbolic visions given to John in Revelation. While we may be able to achieve clarity on some points, we will be getting into the realm of speculation on others. It is important to distinguish between the two, and not let pride carry us away. There are Bible facts—truths that we can be sure of—but there are also conclusions where absolute certainty cannot be achieved at this point in time. Nevertheless, certain principles will continue to guide us. For example, we can be sure that “God is love”. This is the overriding characteristic or quality of Yahweh that guides all He does. It therefore must factor into anything that we consider. We’ve also established that the question of salvation has everything to do with family; more specifically, the restoration of Mankind to the family of God. This fact will also continue to guide us. Our loving Father does not burden his children with a load they cannot bear.
Something else that can frustrate our understanding is our own impatience. We want the end of suffering so bad that we will hurry it up in our own minds. This is an understandable eagerness, but it can easily mislead us. Like the Apostles of old, we ask: “Lord, are you restoring the Kingdom of Israel at this time.” (Acts 1:6)
How often we’ve gotten ourselves into problems when we try to establish the “when” of prophecy. But what if Armageddon isn’t the end, but just a phase in the on-going process toward human salvation?
The War of the Great Day of God, the Almighty
Reread the passages concerning Armageddon from both Revelation and Daniel that are cited above. Do this as if you had never read anything from the Bible before, had never spoken to a Christian before, and had never heard the word “Armageddon” before. I know that’s almost impossible, but try.
Once you’ve completed reading those passages, would you not agree that what is described there is essentially a war between two parties? On the one hand, you have God, and on the other, the kings or governments of the earth, correct? Now, from your knowledge of history, what is the main purpose of a war? Do nations war with other nations for the purpose of annihilating all their civilians? For example, when Germany invaded the countries of Europe during the Second World War, was its goal the eradication of all human life from those territories? No, the fact is that one nations invades another to remove the current government and establish its own rule over the citizenry.
Are we to think that Yahweh sets up a kingdom, establishes his Son as the king, adds faithful human children to govern with Jesus in the Kingdom, and then tells them that their first administrative act is to commit worldwide genocide? What sense is there to establishing a government and then having it kill off all its subjects? (Pr 14:28)
To make that assumption, are we not going beyond what is written? These passages do not speak of the annihilation of humanity. They speak of the eradication of human rulership.
The purpose of this government under Christ is to extend the opportunity to become reconciled with God to all humans. To do this, it must offer a divinely controlled environment wherein each one can exercise unfettered freedom of choice. It cannot do that if there is still human rule of any kind, whether it be political rule, religious rule, or that exercised by institutions, or that imposed by cultural imperatives.
Is Anyone Saved at Armageddon?
Matthew 24:29-31 describes some events immediately preceding Armageddon, specifically the sign of Christ’s return. Armageddon is not mentioned, but the final element Jesus speaks of relating to his return is the gathering of his anointed followers to be with him.
“And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Mt 24:31 BSB)
There is a similar account in revelation involving angels, the four winds and the elect or chosen ones.
“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back its four winds so that no wind would blow on land or sea or on any tree. 2And I saw another angel ascending from the east, with the seal of the living God. And he called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3“Do not harm the land or sea or trees until we have sealed the foreheads of the servants of our God.”” (Re 7:1-3 BSB)
From this we can deduce that those who are the children of God chosen to rule with Christ in the Kingdom of the Heavens, will be removed from the scene prior to the war Christ wages with the kings of the earth. This fits with a consistent pattern set by God when bring destruction on the wicked. Eight faithful servants were set aside, locked by the hand of God in the Ark before the flood waters were released in Noah’s day. Lot and his family were taken out safely out the region before Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding cities were burned up. The Christians living in Jerusalem in the first century were given the means to flee the city, escaping far away to the mountains, before the Roman Army returned to raze the city to the ground.
The trumpet sound mentioned at Matthew 24:31 is also spoken of in a related passage in 1 Thessalonians:
“. . .Moreover, brothers, we do not want YOU to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping [in death]; that YOU may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope. 14 For if our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, those who have fallen asleep [in death] through Jesus God will bring with him. 15 For this is what we tell YOU by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep [in death]; 16 because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. 17 Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with [the] Lord. 18 Consequently keep comforting one another with these words.” (1Th 4:13-18)
So the children of God who have fallen asleep in death and those who are still living at Christ’s return, are saved. They are taken up to be with Jesus. To be accurate, they are not saved at Armageddon, but just before it occurs.
Is Anyone Not Saved at Armageddon?
The answer is, Yes. All those who are not the children of God are not saved at or prior to Armageddon. However, I’m having a little fun in writing this, because the immediate reaction of most due to our religious upbringing is that not being saved at Armageddon is another way of saying condemned at Armageddon. That is not the case. Since Armageddon is not a time when Christ judges everyone on earth—man, women, child, and infant—no one can be saved then, but neither is anyone condemned. The salvation of Mankind happens after Armageddon. It is merely a phase—as stage in the process toward humanities eventual salvation.
For example, Yahweh destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet Jesus indicates that they could have been saved had someone like him gone to preach to them.
“And you, Capernaum, will you perhaps be exalted to heaven? Down to Hades you will come; because if the powerful works that took place in you had taken place in Sodom, it would have remained until this very day. 24 Consequently I say to YOU people, it will be more endurable for the land of Sodom on Judgment Day than for you.” (Mt 11:23, 24)
Yahweh could have changed the environment so that those cities could have been spared that destruction, but he chose not to. (Evidently, the way he acted resulted in the greater good – John 17:3.) Still, God does not deny them the prospect of eternal life, just as Jesus states. Under Christ’s rule, they will return and have the opportunity to repent for their works.
It is easy to get confused by the overuse of “saved”. Lot was “saved” from the destruction of those cities, but he still died. The inhabitants of those cities were not “saved” from death, yet they will be resurrected. Saving someone from a burning building is not the same as the eternal salvation of which we speak here.
Since God executed those in Sodom and Gomorrah, yet will return them to life, there is reason to believe that even those who are killed in the war of God called Armageddon will be resurrected. However, does that mean there’s reason to believe Christ will kill everyone on earth are Armageddon, and then resurrect them all later? As we said earlier, we are getting into the realm of speculation. However, it is possible to glean something from God’s Word that would weigh in one direction over another.
What Armageddon Is Not
In Matthew chapter 24 Jesus speaks about his return—among other things. He says that he will come as a thief; that it will be at a time we do not expect. To drive home his point, he uses an historical example:
“For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mt 24:38, 39 NIV)
The danger for the Bible student is to make too much of such a simile. Jesus is not saying that there is a one-to-one parallel between all elements of the flood and his return. He is only saying that just as the people of that age did not perceive its end coming, so those alive when he returns will not see it coming. That’s where the simile ends.
The flood was not a war between the kings of the earth and God. It was the eradication of humanity. Furthermore, God promised never to do it again.
And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Ge 8:21)
“I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth….And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Ge 9:10-15)
Is Yahweh playing word games here? Is he merely limiting the means for his next worldwide eradication of humanity? Is he saying, “Don’t worry, the next time I destroy the world of Mankind I won’t use water?” That doesn’t really sound like the God we know. Is another meaning to his covenant promise to Noah possible? Yes, and we can see it in the book of Daniel.
“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.”(Daniel 9:26)
This is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem which came at the hand of the Roman legions in 70 C.E. There was no flood then; no surging waters. Yet, God cannot lie. So what did he mean when he said that “its end shall come with a flood”?
Apparently, he is speaking of the characteristic of flood waters. They sweep everything from their path; even boulders weighing many tons have been carried far from their point of origin. The stones making up the temple weighed many tons, yet the flood of Roman legions left not one upon another. (Mt 24:2)
From this we can conclude that Yahweh was promising never to destroy all life as he did in Noah’s day. If we are right in that, the idea of Armageddon as a total destruction of all life would be a breach of that promise. From this we can deduce that the destruction of the flood will not be repeated and so cannot serve as a parallel for Armageddon.
We have crossed from known fact into the area of deductive reasoning. Yes, Armageddon will involve an epic battle between Jesus and his forces warring and conquering the governments of the earth. Fact. However, how far will that destruction extend? Will there be survivors? The weight of evidence seems to be pointing in that direction, but with no clear and categorical statement in Scripture, we cannot say with absolute certainty.
The Second Death
“But surely some of those killed at Armageddon will not be resurrected”, some might say. “After all, they die because they are warring with Jesus.”
That is one way of looking at it, but are we giving in to human reasoning? Are we passing judgment? Of course, to say that all who die will be resurrected could be seen as passing judgment as well. After all, the judgment door swings both ways. Admittedly, we cannot say for sure, but one fact should be borne in mind: The Bible speaks of the Second Death, and we understand that it represents a final death from which there is no return. (Re 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8) As you can see, all of these references are in Revelation. This book also refers to the Second Death using the metaphor of a lake of fire. (Re 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8) Jesus used a different metaphor to refer to the Second Death. He spoke of Gehenna, a place where garbage was burned and where the cadavers of those thought to be irredeemable and hence unworthy of a resurrection were thrown. (Mt 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mr 9:43, 44, 47; Lu 12:5) James mentions it once as well. (James 3:6)
One thing we notice after reading all these passages is that most are not linked to a time period. Apropos to our discussion, none indicate that individuals go into the Lake of Fire, or die the Second Death, at Armageddon.
Collecting our Baggage
Let’s go back to our doctrinal baggage. Maybe there’s something there we can now throw away.
Are we carrying around the idea that Armageddon is a time of final judgment? Clearly the kingdoms of the earth will be judged and found wanting? But nowhere does the Bible speak of Armageddon as a day of judgment for all the humans on the planet, dead or alive? We just read that the people of Sodom will return on Judgment Day. The Bible does not speak of the dead returning to live prior or during Armageddon, but only after it is over. So it cannot be a time of judgment for all humanity. Along these lines, Acts 10:42 speaks of Jesus as the one who judges the living and the dead. That process is part of the exercise of his kingly authority during the thousand year reign.
Who tries to tell us that Armageddon is the final judgment of Mankind? Who scares us with do-or-die stories of eternal life or eternal death (or damnation) at Armageddon? Follow the money. Who benefits? Organized Religion has a vested interest in getting us to accept that the end will hit as any time and that our only hope is to stick with them. Given the absence of any hard Bible evidence to support this claim, we should exercise extreme caution when listening to such ones.
It is true that the end could come at any time. Whether it’s the end of this world, or the end of our own life in this world, it matters little. Either way, we have to make the time remaining count for something. But the question we should be asking ourselves is, “What is on the table?” Organized Religion would have us believe that when Armageddon comes, the only options are eternal death or eternal life. It is true that the offer of eternal life is now on the table. Everything in the Christian Scriptures speaks to that. However, is there only one alternative to that? Is that alternative eternal death? Now, at this point it time, are we facing those two choices? If so, then what’s the point of setting up the Kingdom administration of priestly kings?
It is noteworthy that when given the opportunity to bear witness before the unbelieving authorities of his day on this subject, the apostle Paul did not speak of these two outcomes: life and death. Instead he spoke of life and life.
“I do confess to you, however, that I worship the God of our fathers according to the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15and I have the same hope in God that they themselves cherish, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16In this hope, I strive always to maintain a clear conscience before God and man.” (Acts 24:14-16 BSB)
Two resurrections! Obviously they vary, but by definition, both groups stand up to life, for that is what the word “resurrection” means. Nevertheless, the life to which each group awakens is different. How so? That will be the topic of our next article.
[i] We will discuss the teaching of Hell and the fate of the dead in a future article in this series.
[ii] w91 3/15 p. 15 par. 10 Keep Pace With Jehovah’s Celestial Chariot
[iii] Indeed, no star, even the smallest, could fall to earth. Rather, the immense gravity of any star, it would be the earth doing the falling, before being swallowed up utterly.