Will the dawn of a new century bring worldwide nuclear devastation, or will it usher in an era of lasting peace? Mankind is developing newer and more frightening technologies with which to destroy itself, even as political and social tensions increase around the world. Will the prophesied "Battle of Armageddon" overwhelm the planet? Will humanity survive? What does the Bible say? Is Armageddon really coming?
During the "Cold War" of the 1950s, the threat of nuclear war covered the United States and the Soviet Union like a cloud, and citizens of both countries rushed to build bomb shelters. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought a frightened world to the brink of nuclear devastation. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese nuclear tests signaled to rival nations the rise of a new geopolitical superpower.
For most of the last 50 years, humanity has lived under the threat of sudden and violent destruction. In the last decade, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many have become less fearful of nuclear catastrophe. But are we truly safe? Even today, Russia and the United States can launch nuclear missiles within 15 minutes notice. Rogue states continue to develop atomic weapons, and the threat of nuclear terrorism is only increasing, as technology allows ever-smaller devices to be built by the growing number of scientists with the knowledge to create them.
The terror has even moved to outer space. According to General Joseph Ashy, commander in chief of the United States Space Command: "We're going to fight from space and we're going to fight into space…. That's why the U.S. has development programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms.… We will engage terrestrial targets someday—ships, airplanes, land targets—from space" (quoted in "Waging War in Space," The Nation, December 27, 1999).
With these dangers still very real, is another world war around the corner? Bible prophecy gives us the answer. Most Bible students have heard of the great climactic end-time event known as "the Battle of Armageddon." But what is this battle, and how will it affect you and your family?
The book of Revelation—the last book in the Bible—reveals the location of the gathering place for history's greatest battle: "And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon" (Revelation 16:16). How and why will the armies be gathered there? Just two verses earlier, we read, "For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:14).
Notice this! The actual battle is not called the battle of Armageddon. It is called "the battle of that great day of God Almighty." But battle preparations commence at Armageddon. What is this place? The word Armageddon is a transliteration of the original Hebrew har megiddo which means the "hill of Megiddo" or "the mountain of Megiddo."
Megiddo is located about 55 miles north of Jerusalem in Israel. In ancient times it guarded the main trade route between Egypt and Damascus. It also overlooks the largest plain in Israel, called the Valley of Jezreel or the Plain of Esdraelon. The Old Testament records several major battles that took place here. In World War I, British General Allenby defeated Turkish military forces there in what became known as "the Battle of Megiddo."
With all the historic battles that have taken place at Megiddo, the word "Armageddon" has come to symbolize any large-scale, destructive and decisive battle. Humanity has invented many terrible weapons of mass destruction. Will these weapons bring about our Armageddon?
Humanity has been fighting wars for thousands of years. But it was less than 60 years ago that a new weapon of unprecedented capacity was first unleashed, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan on August 4 and 6, 1945. A new era of mass destruction had begun.
At the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, accepted Japan's unconditional surrender. Aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri, General MacArthur summarized the danger and the choice facing humanity in this new era:
Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be the way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, our Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.
Human beings will continue to seek a way to peace. But without acknowledging the Creator God and His supreme rulership over the earth, nations will ultimately fail. The Apostle Paul nearly 2,000 years ago wrote of humanity's violent and anti-God tendencies: "Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:15-18).
Is there any current danger of nuclear war? Perhaps international treaties have calmed Cold War fears; since 1968, more than 180 nations have signed the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. But several nuclear nations have not signed the treaty, and many that have signed are believed to be violating its terms. Terrorist groups also continue their activities, uncaring of international law.
In addition to nuclear concerns, chemical and biological weapons are a growing threat. And a new threat is on the horizon: along with the feared nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons of mass destruction, a new category—genetics, nanotechnology and robotics (GNR)—promises new horrors for the 21st century.
In his startling essay, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" (Wired Magazine, April 2000, pp. 238-262), Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy, an early pioneer of the minicomputer age, contemplates the effect of these new GNR technologies on warring humanity: "I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals."
Joy is not alone in this sobering assessment. Journalist Gideon Rose offers the following analysis: "The really difficult problem will be a new kind of proliferation involving the acquisition of chemical, biological and cyberweapons by subnational actors such as terrorist groups, cults or angry individuals. These weapons are easy to make, hard to track and hard to defend against. This means that even if the U.S. does spend tens of billions of dollars on a system to shoot down North Korean missiles, we will still have to deal with the equally pressing problem of stopping doomsday cults or future Unabombers armed with deadly viruses" ("Will Everyone Have the Bomb?", Time Magazine, May 22, 2000, p. 103).
Amid all of our scientific advances in weaponry, man's inhumanity to man has not ceased. From Kosovo to Kashmir, from East Timor to Chechnya, wars and massacres continue. Since World War II, atrocities against nations or peoples have continued unabated. According to Newsweek: "The Genocide Convention outlawed 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part,' a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Postwar atrocities [include]: Bosnia: 300,000 dead, 2 million displaced; Cambodia: 1 million dead, 500,000 displaced; Rwanda: 1 million dead, 3.5 million displaced."
In the face of such evil, we can see why judgment is coming on the earth. Yet there is good news beyond the bad. Jesus Christ, the greatest newscaster and prophet in all of human history, told us that these atrocities would end: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).
Jesus also prophesied of these dangerous times in which we live: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:21-22).
Jesus was not speaking of spiritual salvation. He was speaking of the portent of human annihilation—of cosmocide—the death of all life on planet earth! This danger is recognized not just by Bible students, but by respected scientists. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists monitors the dangers of living in this nuclear age, and expresses that danger with its "Doomsday Clock." The closer the hands are to midnight, the closer the scientists perceive humanity to be to nuclear devastation. On June 11, 1998, the Bulletin moved the minute hand of the clock to nine minutes before midnight, where it remains to this day—a jump of five minutes, reflecting that India and Pakistan had joined the "nuclear club." The Bulletin saw this as a "failure of world diplomacy in the nuclear sphere."
The Bulletin also offered this sobering report: "Between them, Russia and the United States still have upwards of 30,000 nuclear weapons—strategic and tactical—in various states of readiness. Nine years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States and Russia collectively have some 7,000 warheads ready to be fired with less than 15 minutes notice." Humanity, left to its own devices, has the tools to destroy itself with very little warning. Will we bring about our own destruction? Will Armageddon play a role in humanity's downfall?
Perhaps we will never know just how close we have come to mistakes that might have precipitated a nuclear conflagration. The Bulletin reminds us that at least eight nations today have nuclear weapon capability. What would it be like for your city to be the target of a one-megaton nuclear bomb? A megaton is equivalent to one million tons of TNT. A one-megaton bomb would be five to ten times more explosive than the terrifying atomic bombs that exploded on Hiroshima and Nagasaki! After the explosion's blast wave, pulse of heat radiation and intense release of X-rays, it triggers powerful firestorms in its wake.
How many people would be killed by just one such bomb? Dr. Alan F. Phillips describes it this way, "The estimates for a city of one million or two million struck by a single one-megaton bomb are that around one third of the inhabitants would be killed instantly or fatally injured, one third seriously injured, and the rest uninjured or only slightly injured. That number of injured, if they could be distributed throughout the hospitals of North America, would occupy something like a third of the total number of beds; and of course no hospital can deal adequately with such an influx of urgent cases within a few days" (Position Paper, Physicians for Global Survival, Canada, October 1995).
As mentioned above, Armageddon is the gathering place for the climactic battle of the Great Day of God Almighty! Massive armies will gather in the valley of Megiddo to begin the ultimate conflagration on planet earth. Where does Armageddon fit into the panorama of prophecy? The Apostle John described the famous four horsemen of the Apocalypse. They symbolize, in order, false Christs and false religion, war and its devastating effects, famines that normally follow war and pestilences and disease, which follow after famine.
Look at what the Bible says about the terrible devastation that these four horsemen bring: "So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth" (Revelation 6:8).
Even the genocide we have seen since the end of World War II will pale in comparison to the death that will cover the earth. One-fourth of all human beings on earth will die, as war, hunger and disease expand over the planet.
Outside the Bible, do any in our modern age see such devastation as possible? Indeed, they do. "My own major concern with genetic engineering is… that it gives the power—whether militarily, accidentally or in a deliberate terrorist act—to create a 'White Plague'" (Joy, p. 249). Modern scientists know that these horrors may be just over the horizon!
In spite of its inspections of Iraq, the United Nations has failed to destroy all of that country's weapons of mass destruction. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen stated in November of 1998 that Iraq might have produced enough of the deadly biological weapon VX, to destroy everyone on earth. In a Department of Defense briefing he said: "Originally they indicated they had just a small quantity of VX. One drop on your finger will produce death in a matter of just a few moments. Now the UN believes that Saddam [Hussein] may have produced as much as 200 tons of VX, and this would, of course, be theoretically enough to kill every man, woman and child on the face of the earth."
Yes, we are facing dangers of human annihilation. The fourth seal of Revelation—or the fourth horseman of the apocalypse—will result in the deaths of at least one and one-half billion men, women and children.
The fifth seal, as we read in Revelation 6:9, reveals a martyrdom of Christians during the tribulation period of about 2 ½ years. Then we read about the sixth seal introducing the Day of the Lord, the time of God's wrath and judgment on the nations. The sixth seal is referred to as the heavenly signs: "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place" (Revelation 6:12-14).
God then seals his servants to protect them throughout the Day of the Lord (Revelation 7), this year of judgment on the nations. Next, Christ opens the seventh seal of Revelation, which consists of seven "trumpet plagues." The first four include great ecological upheaval and devastation, as we read in chapter 8. The Apostle John then describes, in first century language, the modern warfare that he sees in vision: "The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months. And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon" (Revelation 9:7-11).
John is describing the early phases of World War III. Apollyon and Abaddon mean "destroyer." The power behind this military force is a great spirit being, described elsewhere as the serpent, Satan the Devil, the great destroyer.
The sixth angel sounds a trumpet introducing a counter-attack by a massive eastern army. We have already seen that the pale horseman, the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, destroyed a fourth of human life. Now we find even more killing on a global scale: "Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. [Here are descriptions similar to nuclear explosions] By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed; by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths" (Revelation 9:16-18).
One-third of mankind is destroyed! After the previous loss of about 1.5 billion people, now we see at least another 1.5 billion killed! The Apostle John continues with his description: "For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm. But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts" (Revelation 9:19-21).
But God will step in to save mankind from total annihilation. The seventh trumpet will sound, announcing a new world government—a new world order under the King of kings, Jesus Christ: "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'" (Revelation 11:15).
That is the good news, the gospel this sorry world so desperately needs. Yet, amazingly, the nations will still want to fight the conquering King of Heaven's armies! In the sixteenth chapter of Revelation, the sixth angel symbolically pours out his bowl for the last phase of World War III. "Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:12-14).
Satan's demons—fallen angels—gather those armies that were about to annihilate one another and all life on earth. These opposing forces now join one another to fight against Christ at His coming. They gather at Megiddo, but they move southward to Jerusalem to fight Christ there. Notice Joel 3:1, "For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there."
The Valley of Jehoshaphat is between the Mount of Olives and the city of Jerusalem. It is also known as the Kidron Valley, which extends southward for some distance. Yes, the Battle of the Great Day of God Almighty will take place at Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat means "judgment of the Eternal." God will judge the nations in this climactic battle.
The European superpower, in Revelation called the Beast, will also be judged at that time, and punished. Earth's armies will try to fight Christ at His coming: "And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword, which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh" (Revelation 19:19-21).
The good news is that the world will not be totally destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. But God will judge the nations, including our western nations who have become hypocritical—who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). We individually need to be spiritually awake, alert and spiritually clothed. As Jesus said: "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame" (Revelation 16:15).
We should all look forward to the return of Christ to this earth. Now is the time to prepare spiritually—to repent and change our lives! Seek God in prayer. Read the Bible. And look forward to a world under the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, when all nations will learn to live by the Bible, the law of God, the government of God and the love of God.