The battle of Armageddon frightens people who don’t understand John’s vision. It’s not a picture of a terrifying future. It’s a promise: the kingdom of God overcomes everything the world can throw at it. John sees that the combined force of all the armies in the world cannot bring down the King of Kings or block his reign.
The kingdom of God means God is our heavenly sovereign, and Jesus is his anointed ruler over the earth. Ever since Eden, people have grasped at God’s power and set themselves up to rule. To limit violence, God permits the nations to have rulers, but they set themselves up as gods, as substitutes for God. If we could see behind the scenes, we would see that the rulers of this world are not our enemy: they’re merely puppets of spiritual powers that manipulate them to do terrible things. Remember what Babylon did to Jerusalem: invading the land, destroying the temple, and terminating the Davidic kingship that represented God’s reign on earth.
So John sees a vision where all the rulers of the earth join forces to overthrow the Lord and his anointed (as in Psalm 2:2). John would have understood this: the image of a final battle was already present in the Qumran literature and other apocalyptic writings, but most of those writings imagined this battle at Jerusalem. John’s vision has a different setting: Armageddon. In Hebrew it’s Har Megiddo (the mountain of Megiddo). Why is the vision set there? What significance would Megiddo have had for John and his hearers?
Megiddo was a military fortification that had been destroyed and rebuilt dozens of times before Israel even entered the land. Solomon built fortifications on top of the previous ruins, and Ahab ensured the fortress had a good water supply. In 609 BC, Pharaoh Neco marched Egypt’s army through Israel to join a major battle of the empires to the north. King Josiah tried to stop him, and died in the battle — at Megiddo.
Up to this point, 1 & 2 Kings has said that each king got what they deserved (as Deuteronomy had promised), but this all falls apart with Josiah. He was a good king. 2 Kings 23:25 describes him as the best ever. How could his reign end like this?
It’s even more tragic. There were no good kings after Josiah. Egypt and Babylon appointed some puppet rulers, but Josiah was the last good king. Babylon invaded. The kingdom ceased to exist.
The mound of Megiddo was largely an artificial mountain. As each nation conquered it, they built on top of the previous ruins. Gradually the mound grew, dominating the plain like a monument to the failure of human rule. Now the Davidic kingship had ended there as well. Megiddo stood as a symbol for the loss of kingship, the death of the kingdom (Zechariah 12:11).
After the exile, they rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, but the kingship was not restored. They recalled Josiah’s death at Megiddo as a touchpoint for lamenting the death of the good king, the loss of the kingdom (2 Chronicles 35:24-25).
600 years later, Jesus announced the good news, “The kingdom of God is close!” After all this time, his message seemed too good to be true. Tragedy struck again. Jesus suffered the same fate as Josiah — put to death by the rulers of this world. The Jewish rulers colluded with the “Babylon” of the first century (Rome) to kill the king of the Jews, the son of David whom God had anointed to restore the kingdom of God (Luke 24:21).
John’s vision portrays Jesus’ crucifixion as all the rulers of the earth gathering together to throw off the rulership of the Lord and his anointed. Revelation pulls back the covers and reveals what’s behind the scenes: these rulers are puppets in the hands of the powers of evil. But evil does not win. They can bring together all the powers on the planet, but the rebellion against God’s kingship fails.
In the following visions, Revelation proclaims the failure of the rebellion, and the victory of God’s anointed. Though all the Babylons of this world combine forces, they fall. The king who has conquered death is installed as ruler over all the rulers of the earth: king of kings!
The Armageddon vision reveals the failure of the rulers of this world to dethrone God. Their wisdom told them to keep their power by doing away with Jesus, but it didn’t work. With resurrection wisdom, God turns everything upside down: “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Revelation doesn’t end with disaster. It ends with restoration. The post-apocalypse is a cleansed world, a celebration of Jesus’ kingship. The wedding is on, as God and humans get back together again.
It doesn’t end with a violated planet where nothing can grow. In the end, it’s like Eden all over again: the tree of life constantly producing fruit, the river of life flowing from God’s throne, and every tear wiped away. God lives with his people, and his purposes unfold as he makes all things new (Revelation 21–22).
Perhaps we can represent that hope through the way we look after the planet now. Under his kingship creation sings, “I’m a garden!”