Wordsworth on the battle of Armageddon
The following is a commentary by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885) on some of the Scriptures describing a great spiritual conflict at the end of the age.
Christopher Wordsworth, Lectures on the Apocalypse: critical, expository, and practical, delivered before the University of Cambridge (1852) pp. 378-417.
Note: a portion of the discussion below was previously presented in Christopher Wordsworth on Armageddon.
[Author’s footnotes omitted]
10. The Sixth Angel pours his Vial on the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof is dried up, that the way of the Kings of the East may be prepared.
The Euphrates reminds us that the Vision concerns the Power, which is the mystical Babylon.
What is the Euphrates? how are its waters dried?
In the Apocalypse, Babylon is not the Assyrian city, but a spiritual Empire; and Euphrates, the river of Babylon, is to be understood spiritually. We may not imagine here any natural River whose waters will be dried up, nor any Earthly Princes who will come from the East over its bed.
The strength and glory of the literal Babylon was the river Euphrates. But its channel was laid dry by Cyrus, and so Babylon was taken. Thus its strength became its weakness, and its glory became its shame.
The strength and glory of the mystical Babylon — the Church of Rome — has been her spiritual and secular Supremacy; which have mingled their streams in a swelling and navigable flood, by which her ships have gone forth like those of a Merchant-city into all lands, and riches have flowed into her bosom from all nations of the earth.
The tide of this proud Euphrates, which has rolled on for many centuries, and has impeded the march of the Kings of the East, appears to be ebbing; and the time will come at length when it will decline lower and lower, till at last a dry bed will be left, and a Way be opened for them to pass over.
What, now, is this Way? and who are the Kings of the East whose way will be so prepared?
In Scripture language, “the Way” is the Way of God, the Way of Salvation, the Gospel of Christ. Saul desired letters from the High Priest, that if he found any of the Way he might bring them bound to Jerusalem; and he says, I persecuted the Way unto the death. [Acts ix. 2; xix. 9. 23; xxii. 4; xxiv. 14. 22] I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, says the Baptist, Prepare ye the Way of the Lord. [Luke iii. 4.] This Way is to be prepared. Stand, says St. Paul, having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. [Eph. vi. 15.]
In order that this Way may be prepared, the great river Euphrates will be dried up; that is, the strength and glory of Rome will be brought low. And as the Euphrates was a cause of Babylon’s destruction, so the Supremacy claimed by Rome may be the occasion of her fall.
Thus we are brought to contemplate again the Vision which was before presented to us under the Sixth Trumpet, or Second Woe, where the heavenly Voice exclaims, Loose the Four Angels who are bound, or imprisoned, at the great river, the river Euphrates. [Rev. ix. 14.] And the Angels, we read, were loosed who were prepared for the hour, and the day, and month, and year. This Vision has been already interpreted as signifying a loosing and diffusion of the Gospel, consequent on the decline of the power of Rome; and these two passages, in which the Euphrates is mentioned, illustrate each other.
Who now are the Kings of the East? We are not to imagine here any earthly Monarchs or Emperors. The expression is figurative, and to be understood spiritually. The words rendered Kings from the East are οἱ βασιλέων οἱ ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆς ἡλίου, that is, the Kings from the rising of the Sun. [Rev. xvi. 12.]
The Sun is Christ. The dew of His Birth is of the womb of the morning. [Psalm cx. 3.] He is the Sun of Righteousness, rising with healing on His wings. [Mal. iv. 2.] He is the Day-spring from on high. [Luke i. 78.] In the book of the Prophet Zechariah, God says, I bring My servant, the East; [Zech. iii. 8 in LXX] and, Behold the Man: His name is the East. [Zech. vi. 12 in LXX] In the Apocalypse the Church is clothed with the Sun, [Rev. xii. 1.] that is, with Christ; and the Angel who seals the elect comes from the rising of the Sun; [Rev. vii. 2.] and Christ says, I Jesus am the bright and Morning Star; [Rev. xxii. 16.] and, To him that overcometh, I will give power over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and I will give him the Morning Star. [Rev. ii. 27.] Christ is the Light of the World; [John viii. 12.] and He promises that the Righteous shall shine as the Sun, in the kingdom of His Father. [Matth. xiii. 43.]
Further; in the book of Joshua, in the description of his entrance and that of the Israelites into Canaan, it is said that Israel passed over Jordan on dry land, the Lord having dried up the water of Jordan before them; [Joshua iv. 22, 23] and thence crossing the dry bed of the river from the East, they marched, and encamped toward the rising of the Sun before Jericho, [Joshua iv. 19.] which they afterwards took and destroyed. Here, doubtless, is a figure of the future triumph of the Spiritual Joshua, and of His victorious host, marching from the sun-rising, over the river’s dry bed; and here we see a strong confirmation of our interpretation of the passage before us: and the more so, because, as we have observed, there is a striking parallelism between the history of the fall of Jericho, as described in the book of Joshua, and the results of the Trumpets in the Apocalypse.
And now, as to the Word Kings — Kings of the East, whose Way is prepared.
Christ, as we see, promises to give the Morning-Star to His faithful followers. He, the Sun of Righteousness, will make them shine as the Sun; that is. He will make them partakers of His own Glory. So Christ, the King of Kings, makes them co-heirs of His Kingdom. He makes them Princes in all lands. [Psalm xlv. 17.] Such is the language of the Apocalypse: To Jesus Christ, Who is the Prince of the Kings of the Earth; unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us Kings and Priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. [Rev. i. 5] He hath made them unto our God Kings and Priests, and they reign on the Earth. [Rev. v. 10; 1 Pet. ii. 9.]
Therefore, “the Kings from the East,” or Sun-rising, whose Way is prepared, are the faithful soldiers of Christ. Their Kingdom is to serve Christ.
It is a solemn thing to speak of the future. This, however, we may affirm, that the drying up of the Euphrates, that is, the decline of Rome’s Supremacy, will open the Way for a new and glorious manifestation of the power of the Gospel, both among Jews and Gentiles. Thus “the Way” will be prepared for “the Kings of the East.”
11. And what now follows?
When the river is being dried up, and a road thus opened for the Gospel, we behold a new form of infernal agency.
I saw from the mouth of the Dragon, and from the mouth of the Beast, and from the mouth of the False Prophet, three unclean spirits, like unto Frogs; and they are spirits of devils, working miracles, and go forth to gather the Kings of the Earth and the World to the Battle of that Great Day; and they gather them to the place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. [Rev. xvi. 13-15.]
Here we are reminded, again, of the plagues of Egypt.
Aaron stretched his hand over the waters of Egypt, and Frogs came up and covered the land. [Exod. viii. 7.] The land brought forth Frogs; yea, even in their Kings chambers. [Psalm cv. 30.]
Doubtless this figure of the Frogs in the Apocalypse has a spiritual meaning. It describes men of grovelling minds, impure spirits, who will come forth in the dim twilight and sad eventide of the World — unclean spirits, [Rev. xvi. 13] who dwell, as it were, in the slime and quagmires of sordid cogitations, strangers to the clear light and fresh streams of divine Truth; loving the slough of debasing lusts and the misty glimmerings of false Philosophy and worldly Policy, and yet puffed up with pride, and speaking swelling words, and making the world to ring with their shrill discord. Such are they, who talk loudly of Liberty, not meaning thereby the perfect freedom of serving God, but the slavish license of gratifying their own lusts. Such are they, who do not see in God the only fountain of power, and do not deduce the right to rule and the duty to obey from Him, but make the will of Man the origin of Authority and the measure of Obedience. Such are they who affirm the People to be the Source of Power, and place the People as Sovereign on the throne of God. These are the Spirits like Frogs spoken of by St. John. Such are they, who do not acknowledge that the Glory of the Most High, and the Eternal happiness of men, are the true ends, and right reasons, and immutable laws of all Government, secular and spiritual; but limit its aims to earth, and degrade it into an abject slave of human opinions, and human appetites. Such are they, who do not receive the doctrines of Religion as God has been pleased to reveal them, but would make themselves the standards and oracles of Truth, and would make Truth to vary with their own proud and fickle caprices. In a word, such are they who do not raise their eyes upward to the sun and stars of God’s Power, Providence, and Wisdom, set in the clear vault of His glorious firmament, but look downward to earth, and judge of the things of heaven as they are reflected in the watery mirror of the low pools and miry marshes of their own minds.
These unclean spirits, it is said, work miracles.
We are, therefore, to be prepared to hear of strange Apparitions. And what more strange miracle than that the world should forsake God and listen to them! Yet so it is, and so it will be. The Emissaries of whom St. John speaks will be permitted to show signs and wonders, with all power, after the working of Satan; [Matth. xxiv. 24; 2 Thess. ii. 9.] as the Magicians of Egypt were with their enchantments; [Exod. vii. 11, 22.] so as to deceive, if it were possible, the very Elect. [Matth. xxiv. 24; Mark xiii. 22.]
Further: These spirits, it is added, go forth unto the Kings of the Earth, and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle.
As the Psalmist says, describing the plagues of Egypt, the land brought forth Frogs, even in their Kings’ chambers. [Ps. cv. 30.]
The Kings of the Earth are here opposed to the Kings of the East; and the Kings of the East are they to whom Christ has appointed a Kingdom, [Luke xxii. 29.] the Kingdom of heaven; [Matth. iii. 2; v. 3; vi. 33; xii. 28.] they are the Children of light. But the Kings of the Earth are they who have no share in the Kingdom of heaven. They are the children of this world; [Luke xvi. 8.] they are of the earth, earthy: all, that is, whether Princes or People, who mind earthly things, and do not promote the Kingdom of Christ.
Such is the Plague which St. John announces to the World in the Sixth Vial. He represents it as issuing from the mouth of the Dragon, — the Devil — and of the Beast, and of the False Prophet.
Thus he foretells that the Papacy, distressed by the ebbing of its strength, will resort for help to infidel Powers, making hollow professions of religion, and will ally itself with them. It will hate Orthodoxy worse than Scepticism, and will endeavour to persuade mankind that they cannot be Christians unless they are Papists, and thus will do the Dragon’s work, and promote Infidelity. He portends that Roman Preachers, Ministers of the False Prophet, will advocate doctrines of political licentiousness, and flatter Rulers and Nations with seducing words; that they will countenance them in despising and disobeying the divine Word, as the Egyptian Magicians encouraged Pharaoh and his people in their resistance to God; that they will extol crimes which the Gospel condemns; that they will even eulogize Insurrection against any Powers opposed to Rome, and will invoke benedictions on Rebellion, and be Hierarchs of Revolution.
An important observation arises here.
The History of the Egyptian Plagues narrates that Aaron’s rod was changed into a Serpent: so were those of the Egyptian Magicians. Then Aaron turned the water into blood: so did the Magicians. Then Aaron brought up Frogs: so did the magicians. But with the Frogs their power ceased. Aaron’s rod smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice: the magicians attempted to do the same, but could not; and they exclaimed, This is the finger of God! [Exod. viii. 19.] The Plague of the Frogs, then, was the final effort of the False Prophets of Pharaoh.
We must speak with caution of the future. Probably the like will be the case with the mystical Egypt. The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet will send forth their plague of the Frogs; and it may be that this will be their last struggle, — a fierce one, doubtless, it will be, — perhaps an omen of their extinction.
St. Paul appears to intimate this. This know, [2 Tim. iii. 1.] that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
Here the Apostle describes a league of corrupt Religion — having a form of Godliness — with Lawlessness, Blasphemy, and Infidelity.
He then compares its acts with those of the Magicians of Egypt. As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
Next he announces their defeat. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as their’s also was.
These emissaries thus leagued together will endeavour to enlist the World in a wild and fiendish campaign against pure Religion. They will draw out their forces in terrible array; and while Christ is marshalling His royal legions from the bright day-spring under His heavenly banner, they will come forth from the realms of darkness, and muster their forces for the conflict.
The scene of this great encounter is called Armageddon. The mention of Armageddon here is an anticipation. Preparations for the conflict are made under this, the sixth, Vial; but the conflict itself is not decided till the Seventh. [Rev. xvi. 13-16.] We therefore reserve the exposition of it till that time.
12. The Seventh Vial is now poured forth into the Air — the domain of Satan, the Prince of the power of the Air [Rev. xvi. 13-16.] — and a voice is heard from the Sanctuary, It is done; and Babylon falls: and there is a great Earthquake, and a storm of Hail; and the great city is divided into three parts.
Still many do not repent, but blaspheme God.
Thus we find ourselves, again, at the period of the Sixth Seal when the great Earthquake shakes the World, and at the Sixth Trumpet, or Second Woe. [Rev. vi. 12-17; ix. 13—24; Cp. xi. 11-14.]
The fall of Babylon is then described. The description is very full and clear. [Rev. xvii. xviii. xix.] Its destruction will be very sudden and unexpected: [Rev. xviii. 8.] it will be effected by some Powers who were once subservient to her: [Rev. xvii. 16; xviii. 19.] it will be complete: [Rev. xviii. 1-3. 21.] and, what is very strange, some of those Powers, who will be instruments in God’s hand for destroying her, will afterwards weep over her. [Rev. xviii. 9, 10.]
A caution is required here.
13. We are not to imagine that the fall of Rome will be the extinction of Romanism, For we see that Babylon falls, but the Beast, on whom she sat, and the False Prophet his ally, survive her fall. [Rev. xix. 1, 2, cf. Rev. xix. 19. 21.]
It is indeed said that the great city, that is, the mystical Babylon, will be divided into three parts; [Rev. xvi. 19.] and, God be thanked! we are thus encouraged to cherish the delightful hope, that many will hear the heavenly warning. Come out of her, My People, and be not partakers of her sins, and will so escape her plagues. [Rev. xviii. 4.]
No greater blessing can be imagined for us than that we should be in any degree instrumental in rescuing some from the fire. Brethren, if any do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. [James v. 19.]
But many, alas! of the promoters and adherents of Romanism will see the awful doom of Rome, and will not be warned by it. Their hearts, like Pharaoh’s, will be hardened by God’s judgments; they will go on in their infatuated career. Many, also, of the Powers of Earth will be leagued with the Beast and the False Prophet against Christ, [Rev. xvii. 14.] and will march on in a frantic career to the great conflict of Armageddon. [Rev. xvi. 14; xix. 19.]
1. The circumstances of this dread encounter can only be portrayed in the language of St. John.
First, the preparation for it is described: I 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. And they gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. [Rev. xvi. 13, 14, 16.] These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful. [Rev. xvi. 14.]
This is the general description. It is repeated more fully as follows: I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. His eyes were as aflame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the Nations; and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven. Come and gather yourselves together unto the great supper of God; that ye may eat the flesh of Kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, free and bond, both small and great. [Rev. xix. 11-18.]
Then the issue of the conflict is announced: I saw the Beast, and the Kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse, and against His army. And the Beast was taken, and his ally the False Prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the Beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into the lake of flre burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceedeth out of His mouth: and all the fowls were filed with their flesh. [Rev. xix. 19-21.]
Such is the great conflict of Armageddon.
Here it will be enquired, What is meant by Armageddon? For an explanation of it St. John refers us to the Hebrew tongue, and there the word Har signifies a Mountain; and Ar-mageddon is a word formed by St. John to signify a defeat and slaughter, such as that of the Kings of Canaan at Megiddo, in the region of Galilee, wrought by a miraculous interposition of Almighty God, discomfiting the vast and terrible army of Sisera and his confederate Princes.
The Kings came and fought, then fought the Kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo. They (the armies of God) fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. [Judges 5:19, 20]
The Holy Spirit, by the mouth of David, specially speaks of these Kings as types of God’s foes, in their sin and doom. Do Thou to them as unto the Madianites; unto Sisera, and unto Jabin, at the brook of Kison; who perished at Endor, and became as the dung of the earth. [Psalm 83:9]
These Kings had oppressed Israel, and were routed by the army of God at Megiddo; and in like manner, earthly powers will rise against Christ and His Church, and be defeated in a marvellous manner, in a great encounter, which is called by St. John Armageddon.
It may also be observed, that King Josiah was defeated and mortally wounded at Megiddo; and though Josiah was a pious King, yet it must be remembered that, when at Megiddo, he was disobeying a divine command, given him by the Prophet Jeremiah. [2 Chron. 35:20] He was endeavouring to repel Pharaoh-Necho, who was marching towards the river Euphrates, to besiege Babylon; and so Josiah, the King of Jerusalem, was acting as an ally of Babylon.
Thus Megiddo, or Mageddo, was a name, made ready for St. John, to denote the scene of a sudden and mysterious defeat and slaughter of God’s foes, and of the allies of Babylon.
This explanation is satisfactory, as far as it goes; but it must be carried further.
St. John, in the Apocalypse, expresses ideas by Hebrew terms.
Thus, for example, the word Jew is always used in the Apocalypse in a spiritual sense, founded on its Hebrew etymology, which indicates one who confesses and praises God — a true Christian.
Another reference to Hebrew etymology is found in the word Abaddon, formed by St. John to describe the Angel of the bottomless pit; and derived from a Hebrew term, signifying perdition.
Another Hebrew Term is Hallelujah, Praise ye the Lord, used four times in the Apocalypse.
Observe, also, St. John here specially calls our attention to the Hebrew etymology, by saying that the place is called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
Ar-mageddon is formed of two Hebrew words; the one signifying a Mountain, the other, a cutting to pieces; and thus it means a Mountain of excision, or of slaughter.
When the Prophet Zechariah is speaking of the destruction of all nations that come against the City of God, he says that there will be a great mourning in the valley of Megiddon; [Zech. 12:9] and Megiddon is there translated by the Septuagint Interpreters, cut up, or destroyed. [LXX. Zech. 12:11]
The word Armageddon, then, signifies a mountain of slaughter; and it connects the judgments predicted in the Apocalypse with those foretold by the Hebrew Prophets.
If we refer to the third chapter of the Prophet Joel, from the ninth verse to the end, we there see a sublime description of the gathering together of the foes of Christ, and of their final overthrow.
Multitudes! Multitudes! exclaims the Prophet, in the valley of decision.
The word here rendered decision is one which signifies, threshing, bruising, cutting, and crushing; and the words rendered valley of decision are translated by the Septuagint, valley of judgment.
It is observable, also, that God says by the Prophet Joel, in the same place, that He will gather all nations, and bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat. [Joel 3:2] And again; Let the heathen come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. [Joel 3:12]
In the word Jehoshaphat there is an historical reference to a signal and miraculous slaughter of God’s enemies in King Jehoshaphat’s reign; [2 Chron. 20:1-26] just as in the word Megiddo there is an historical reference of the same kind.
And, in both cases, there is something more.
Megiddo means destruction and Jeho-shaphat signifies judgment of God.
All nations cannot be gathered together to one valley, or to one mountain, on earth.
Hence it is rightly concluded, that the Valley of Jehoshaphat here mentioned is a general term for a signal execution of God’s Judgment on all His enemies throughout the world.
In a word, the gathering together of the nations to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, is the same as the gathering together to Armageddon.
The parallelism between the prophecies of Joel and St. John is remarkable in other respects.
The conflict is compared by both to a Winepress, and to a Harvest.
The words of Joel are, Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles, (that is, the enemies of Christ,) Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up; heat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. [Joel 3:9-10]
That is, let Earth rebel against Heaven.
Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves round about.
Then the Prophet turns to the armies of God;
Thither cause Thy mighty ones to come up, O Lord.
Then God Himself speaks;
Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge the heathen.
Then He sends forth His own Angel-armies to the conflict, as to a day of Harvest or Vintage.
Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, and the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.
Multitudes, multitudes in the Valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near, in the Valley of decision.
Such is the prophecy of Joel: now let us hear St. John. [Rev. 14:14-20]
I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud. Thrust in thy sickle, and reap : for the time is come for thee to reap; for the Harvest of the earth is ripe.
And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over the fire ; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying. Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
And the Angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the Winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and sir hundred furlongs.
Such is the language of St. John.
It may now be enquired, Why is the scene of this conflict called a Valley by the prophet Joel, and a Mountain by St. John?
It is called a Valley in one place, and Mountain in another, for the same reason as the Conflict itself is called a Vintage, and a Harvest, that is, in order that we should not imagine that these prophecies are to be understood literally.
The Valley of Jehoshaphat, and the Mount of Megiddo, or Armageddon, are not to be regarded as any one place on earth; nor do they represent any one event, but a general, open rising of the enemies of God; a marshalling together of some Rulers and Nations against the Lord and against His anointed; [Psalm 2:2] a marching forth of some earthly Powers under the proud banners of Infidelity; an open league of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet; that is, an unholy union of Christian psalms with shouts of blasphemy, a profane junction of sacraments with sacrilege, and of the Cross of Christ with the symbols of Antichrist.
This gathering together is said to be a Mountain; for they who thus associate themselves are swollen with pride, and elated with confidence; and they rise up against the Mountain of the Lord’s House, the Church of God, the Holy Hill of Zion, upon which Christ is set as a King. [Psalm 2:6]
But this their Mountain will sink into a Valley — it will yawn, as it were, into a gulf of misery, an abyss of shame — a Gehenna, or Valley of Hinnom; and so the Gatherings of Armageddon will be Multitudes, Multitudes in the Valley of Decision!
We are thus brought to the conclusion, that the Apocalyptic Armageddon is not any spot in Judaea, (as some have thought,) or in Italy, (as others have imagined,) but it is the World at large, wheresoever men associate themselves in a League of ungodly Polity and corrupt Religion; and that the words they gathered them together to Armageddon are a figurative expression, which means, they gathered them together for final and total destruction.
15. Here let us pause and look back. What has the Vision revealed?
Babylon falls. But the Beast and False Prophet still remain: they form a league with the Dragon, that is, with Infidel powers, and gather themselves together to the great conflict of Armageddon. This confederacy is routed in a marvellous manner. The Beast and False Prophet are cast into the lake of fire. [Rev. xix. 20.]
But still one foe remains — the Dragon, Satan, [Rev. xx. 7. 10.] the Arch-Enemy of man.
Here we arrive at the close of the Nineteenth Chapter.
16. What now is done by St. John in the Twentieth?
In the Seals, in the earlier part of the Apocalypse, he had given a rapid sketch of the History of the Church, from his own age to the day of Armageddon; in a word, he had given a “prophecy to the end of the World.” And now, having displayed all that intervenes between his own age and the close of that great conflict, he ascends, in the Twentieth Chapter, once more to his own time, and there presents a view of the History of the Church, from the Incarnation of Christ to the final overthrow of the Evil One.
We have seen already, on a former occasion, how an erroneous view of the structure of the Apocalypse has led to a misinterpretation of the Seals, and to the derivation of the doctrine of a Millennium from the Twentieth Chapter of the Apocalypse.
The true view of the Twentieth Chapter is this: — St. John, having displayed the sufferings of the Church in the Seals, and God’s judgments in the Trumpets, and in the History of the Two Witnesses, and of the Woman in the Wilderness, and of the mystical Babylon, and, finally, of the great conflict of Armageddon; and having thus displayed the melancholy workings of human corruption, under various forms of Paganism, Heresy, Superstition, and Infidelity, — reascends to the first age of Christianity, and shows how Christ, Who had been represented in the first Seal as a Royal Warrior on a White Horse, the Horse of Victory, conquering and to conquer — had come down from Heaven with the key of the bottom- less pit, and a great chain in His hand; how He had bound Satan and triumphed over him even from His Incarnation, and had delivered men from his grasp, and enabled them to be free; and how, by the Apostolic commission. Go and baptize all nations, — He had, in His divine will and desire, made all men members of His own mystical Body — the Church; how He had thus raised them from the death of Sin by a spiritual resurrection; how He had made them Kings and Priests to God in Himself, and had delivered them from the second death; and how He would never cease to exercise His divine office of protection and salvation during the whole period of the World’s history, represented by the complete number of a thousand years; and how they who suffer for Him could never taste of death; and, how fierce soever might be the rage of the Dragon, whether working by the sword of Paganism, the wormwood of Heresy, or the plague and famine of Unbelief, or by the sorceries of a corrupt Christianity, yet that Christ never had left — and never would leave — Himself without a witness, and that they who are true to Him are more than Conquerors, and may be of good cheer, for He has overcome the World.
Having shown all this, St. John proceeds at once to the end. Satan (he says) will be loosed, and will go forth to deceive the Nations, in the four corners of the earth Gog and Magog, to gather them to battle; [Rev. xx. 7-10.] and they will beleaguer the beloved city; and fire will come down from Heaven to devour them, and Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, where the Beast and False Prophet are. [Rev. xx. 12-15.]
17. He then reveals the awful transactions of the Universal Judgment; [Rev. xx. 12-15.] and describes the glory and blessedness of the Heavenly City; [Rev. xxi. 10-27.] and pronounces his Apostolic benediction on all who do Christ’s commandments, and keep the sayings of this Book. [Rev. xxii. 14. 7.] And he concludes his divine Apocalypse, as he had begun, with declaring its heavenly origin and universal application — I Jesus, have sent Mine Angel to testify unto you these things in the Churches. [Rev. xxii. 16. cp. Rev. i. 1.]
II. Let us now conclude with some practical reflections.
1. It would be presumptuous to affirm confidently that the prophecies of the Sixth and Seventh Vials, which we have been considering, are actually at this present time in course of fulfillment.
On the other hand, it would be sinful to neglect the evidence of such an accomplishment. Blessed are they that hear the words of this prophecy: [Rev. i. 3.] and our Lord asks, Can ye not discern the signs of the times? [Matth xvi. 3.] Besides, in this Vision of the Vials a special admonition is inserted by Christ, showing the suddenness of the judgment, and the need of watchfulness — Behold, I come as a thief; blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. [Rev. xvi. 15.]
This is the warning from Christ — I counsel thee to buy of Me white raiment — the pure robe of Christian faith and holiness — that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear. [Rev. iv. 18.]
First, then, as to the former part of these prophecies — the drying up of the Euphrates, in order that the way of the Kings of the East might be prepared.
They, doubtless, who look for a literal drying up of some natural river, in order that some Oriental Monarchs may march over its bed, will deny that this prediction is now in course of fulfillment. But such an anticipation is groundless. No such Eastern Sovereigns will ever appear. The Euphrates flows, and will flow on; and we might wait for ever on its banks expecting
dum defluat amnis; at ille Labitur, et labetur in omne volubilis aevum.
We have said already, that by the great river Euphrates we must understand the mighty flood of the mystical Babylon — the supremacy of Rome.
And now let us ask. Is there not a strange movement on its waters? Do they not seem to be troubled? Are they not parting asunder like the waves of Jordan smitten before Joshua, when he marched from the Eastern bank and pitched on the East of Jericho? Do we not, even now, behold, in the opening of the whirlpool, some traces of “a Way for the Kings of the East” over them? May we not say, that a High Road is appearing, in which the Army of the true Joshua, — the Everlasting King, the Sun of Righteousness, — will proclaim the glad tidings of salvation, and prepare the Way of the Lord?
2. What, then, is the lesson for us?
Christ is the Light of the World. He is the Dayspring from on High. We, therefore, must be children of light. We must be “Kings of the East.”
And how may this be?
By love, holiness, and truth. The weakening of the papal Power, and its alliance with new elements, will prove an occasion for the wider spread of the Gospel, and also, in other cases, for the greater growth of Infidelity. Some who are freed from the thraldom of Rome will embrace the Truth. But many, on the other hand, will be in great danger of falling from Superstition into Unbelief.
Here, then, is an appeal for your Christian faith and charity. Let us despair of none. Let us pray for all. Let us implore the great Shepherd, Who left His Father’s house to seek the lost sheep, that it may please Him to “bring into the way of truth all such as have erred and are deceived.” Let us endeavour to restore them in the spirit of meekness. [Gal. vi. 1.] Let us take up the words of the Prophet, Go ye out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the Lord. [Jerem. li. 45.] Thus we may make them to be “Kings of the East.”
This is, indeed, a work which specially concerns the “Ministers and Stewards of God’s Mysteries.” You, my brethren and fathers in Christ, are solemnly charged to prepare the Way of the Lord by sound learning, pure doctrine, and holiness of life. You are eminently privileged to be Kings of the East.
And, Heaven be praised! here is an office for all. Let all the faithful sons and daughters of the Church of England endeavour to show, by their example, that the Truth, as taught by Christ to His Apostles, still exists in the world. Let us commend it to others by zeal, faithfulness, and union, in Evangelical Faith, Apostolic discipline, and Catholic love.
Thus we may be Kings of the East. Thus the bed of Euphrates will become a Highway for Christ.
3. Let us pass to the second part of this prophecy.
A solemn caution is necessary here.
It is imagined by some, that the power of the Papacy is now spent, and about to expire.
This appears to be an erroneous supposition.
It is, indeed, true that the Papal power cannot be exercised in the same manner as formerly: it has received some wounds ominous of its doom; but, at the same time, it has found, and is now finding, new occasions, new instruments, and new allies: and so it may make itself felt again to a degree, which will strike the world with amazement.
The subversion of Thrones, and dissolution of Dynasties, the abrogation of laws which, till now, had kept the Papacy in check, the proclamation of universal Liberty of speaking, writing, and printing, and of public and secret association — the abandonment of Religion by some Governments, disqualifying themselves thereby to deal with matters of Religion, the outbreaks of Revolution, scaring some Sovereigns and States into stricter subjection to Rome as their only shelter against Rebellion, instead of binding them more closely to Christ, have already given fresh life and new impulse to the Papacy. Its adherents have thus been enabled to rally and organize themselves with a strong and mysterious energy; and are preparing the way for its development with renewed confidence and force.
All this is clear, and we ought to be prepared for its results.
Nearly eighteen centuries ago St. John prophesied that the Beast would ascend from the Sea. [Rev. xiii. 1.] And so it did. The Papacy arose to power amid the waves and storms which broke forth on the dissolution of the Roman Empire. It grew to grandeur by the weakness of Governments. And now, after a lapse of more than a thousand years, there is a similar crisis. There is again a tumultuous Sea — and Rome is rising from the waves.
4. The Apocalypse warns us that the Beast and False Prophet will survive, when Babylon — the seat of empire — is overthrown. It reveals to us, that there will be an alliance between the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet; and that their emissaries will go forth, and work miracles, and gather an army against Christ.
Let us, therefore, not be staggered by strange combinations. We may expect to hear — indeed we do hear — licentious theories propounded in the name of Liberty, and infidel doctrines preached in the name of Religion. God Himself is invoked to sanctify breaches of His own Law. Some who profess to believe in Him, and some who boast that they do not believe in Him, are leaguing together against Him. Here are the unclean spirits which issue forth from the mouth of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.
And what is their office ?
To gather together the Kings of the Earth; that is, to muster the powers of this World against the Kings of the East; to levy the enemies of Christ in a godless conscription, and to marshal them for the battle of Armageddon.
They who look for an Armageddon in some earthly conflict, will be slow to believe that this prophecy is now in course of fulfillment. But the true Armageddon is spiritual. It is a general defiance of Heaven.
And what shall we say? Is it not probable that the preparations for this warfare are begun?
What shall we think, when we see that some Nations of Christendom no longer promote the Religion of Christ? Christ Himself has declared, All Kings shall bow down before Me, all Nations shall do Me service; [Psalm lxxii. 11.] but many now venture to proclaim Religious Indifference as one of their principles of national Law. The political Equality of all Religions — this is their Shibboleth. All Creeds are to be treated as equally true — and therefore all Creeds may be regarded as equally false. They denounce all opposition to this impious principle as bigotry and intolerance! They vaunt and glory in this principle as if it were a noble privilege! And so they appear to be ready, and almost eager, to erase the cross of Christ from the forehead of Christendom, and to make it into a Pantheon!
What, again, are the words of men, blending the holiest names with unholiest acts, making Christianity a watchword of Socialism and Communism, and using the Gospel itself as a lever to shake the World, and even, if it were possible, to subvert the throne of God?
Are there not here some sounds of a gathering together of armies, some blasts of the trumpets of war, some unfurlings of hostile banners, some noise of chariots and trampling of horses rushing to the battle?
In a word, is not the World at this hour on the eve of an Armageddon?
5. Observe now what follows.
The plague of the Frogs was the last effort of the magicians of Egypt. The going forth of the unclean spirits, like frogs, from the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet, to gather their forces together against Christ, will, it is probable, be the final struggle of their united powers. Their confederacy will be routed in the mystical conflict of Armageddon.
Then, says St. John, The Beast will be taken, and his False Prophet, that wrought miracles before him; . . . and these both will be cast alive into the lake of fire. [Rev. xix. 20.] But then the Dragon, or Satan, will remain; and he will no longer use any specious arts; he will return to the form he wore in the first Seal, and will wage an open war with Heaven.
His doom is also revealed. The Devil will be cast into the lake of fire, where the Beast and False Prophet are. [Rev. xx. 10.]
Christ’s victory will then be complete. The Kingdom of this World will become the Kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ. [Rev. xi. 15.]
6. Finally, why were these awful truths revealed?
Not to indulge a vain and prying curiosity. Not to gratify any craving appetite for feverish excitement. Not to raise in us any proud conceits of Pharisaic self-righteousness. Not to provoke in us a spirit of wrath or hatred against those whose errors we ought to deplore with tears, and whose union in Christian truth and holiness, we ought to desire with prayers of devout affection.
No. But to teach us our own duty. To make us more thankful for our blessings, and more zealous to preserve them, and more careful to use them, and more desirous to communicate them. To make us mourn with shame and sorrow for our neglect and abuse of them. To make us fear, lest we lose them. To instruct us all, from the highest to the lowest, that our only safety, both public and private, consists in following Christ. Be wise, therefore, ye Kings; be learned, ye that are Judges of the Earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice unto Him with reverence. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and so ye perish from the right way, if His wrath be kindled, yea, but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him. [Psalm ii. 10-12.]
These things were also revealed to warn us that a time of peril awaits us. We must expect severe trials. We must be prepared for fierce conflicts. We must, therefore, arm ourselves with the whole armour of God. [Eph. vi. 11-13.]
You, my younger hearers, are entering the career of life at a time when Christian faith and Christian fortitude will be severely tried. Take this divine Book with you. Go with St. John. Go with the beloved Disciple. He will teach you not to be seduced by the alluring arts, or led captive by the corrupt doctrines, or deceived by the lying wonders of false Christs and false prophets. [Matth. xxiv. 24.] He will teach you not to associate yourselves with others in any ungodly confederacy or unholy enterprise, on any specious pretense of Liberty, Expediency, or Religion. He will teach you not to follow a multitude to do evil, [Exod. xxiii. 2.] but to promote God’s glory at any sacrifice, by reverence of His Name, by belief in His Word, and by obedience to His Will. He will teach you, if need be, to stand alone and in exile (as it were) in a sea-girt island — in the desolate Patmos of deserted principles, of Christian faith and Christian patience, and to comfort and cheer your soul, in your seclusion, with glorious revelations from God. So you will be Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants. So you will be beloved Disciples. So you will be like St. John.
Then, let the World be arrayed against you in the fury of a wild Armageddon, you will be more than conquerors. [Rom. viii. 37.] Christ will protect you. The King of kings and Lord of lords will fight for you. He will lead you on with His victorious army to the glorious mansions of the heavenly Jerusalem, and will give you a crown of glory which fadeth not away.