Why is the Middle East being “armed to the teeth”? Will the ongoing political battle for control over Palestine and Jerusalem-- in particular spin out of control, thereby lighting a military fire storm that will engulf the entire world?
The concept of “Armageddon” has been familiar to the English-speaking world since at least the 1500s, and is now well entrenched in our cultures. But most of those who speak of Armageddon don’t really understand its prophetic significance.
Many of this earth’s two billion professing Christians are acquainted with the idea of a “Battle of Armageddon” that is supposed to occur at the end of the world. But most people couldn’t tell you much about it. Just what is Armageddon? And what are some of the events that will lead up to it?
For centuries, men in the midst of one catastrophe or another have believed that “Armageddon” was almost upon them. Some even thought that World War I and later World War II would end in the “doomsday battle.” But not until the end of the second world conflict had man unleashed the destructive power necessary to annihilate all human life from the face of the earth.
When the Japanese surrendered after atomic weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the allied supreme commander in the Pacific, General MacArthur, made a historic broadcast to the American people: “Today, the guns are silent. The destructiveness of war has in fact now reached a point which revises the traditional concept of war. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some great and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves improvement of human character. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh!”
But has human character improved since World War II? Sadly, no. Rather, it is now clear that human conduct is rapidly becoming more debased the world over. Violent crime is out of control in many areas of the world. During the last 60 plus years countless millions have been butchered through genocidal wars in Southeast Asia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Africa, Central America, the Middle East and other troubled areas. As we write thousands have been slaughtered in Syria and soviet Russia and Ukraine are on the brink of war. It is obvious that the nations have not heeded MacArthur’s warning! And as world events continue to spiral out of control, we may well wonder, more than at any other time in history, if our precious “minutes to midnight” are fast running out.
Concerned that Arab hatred of Israel could engender such an apocalyptic scenario, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu states; “For close to a century Arab society and Arab politics have been commandeered by an anti-Jewish obsession that has known no limits: It harnessed the Nazis, promoted the Final Solution, launched five wars against Israel, embarked on a campaign of global terrorism, strangled the world’s economy with oil blackmail, and now, in Iran and elsewhere, is attempting to build nuclear bombs for the great Armageddon. This obsession must be stopped not only for Israel’s sake but for the sake of the Arabs themselves and for the sake of the world.”
The entire Middle East but especially Israel--l has become an “armed camp,” with the highest concentration of weapons of any place of comparable size on earth. According to the article on “Israel” 1997 Britannica Book of the Year, each Israeli spends nearly three times as much on national defense as does the average citizen in other countries of the world. And Arab nations especially the oil-rich states-- also spend very heavily on armaments and war related material. Of course, all of this comes at a terrible cost. For with so much fanatical and material resources devoted to “war,” much less is reserved for the “peacetime’ investment of building a thriving, prosperous economy.
How does the Israeli military compare with that of her Arab neighbors? The Jewish Press reports, “Israel has become the third strongest world power and its air force is seven to eight time stronger than the combined might of those of the Arab Nations. This is what the prestigious military magazine, Jane’s’ Intelligence Review concluded in a report it just released. The British periodical says in its 25-page report that the IDF (Israel Defense Force) is a generation ahead of its Arab counterparts. War in the Middle East, the study notes, is closer than ever before, but would result in another Israeli victory.(If some) general confrontation (developed) into a united Arab stand against the Jewish state concludes Jane’s. Israel is capable of destroying the Arab armies within 10-15 days.”
Yet even with the balance of military strength tipped in their favor, there is little reason for jubilation among the Israelis. Since December 1987, the Palestine intifada (often-violent civil unrest) has kept them off guard with its terrorist bombings of civilian targets in cafes, marketplaces, cars, buses, passenger planes etc. The Israeli government seemingly does not know how to cope with such violence. And many Israelis have become weary in waging a constant defensive war against an elusive enemy.
The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin tried to strike a deal with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians by agreeing to grant them limited sovereignty over certain Israeli-occupied territories including Gaza, Jericho and Hebron (prompting his assassination in 1995 by an Israeli extremist). But violence has not abated since ceding control to the Palestine Authority. Furthermore, the Israelis agreed to allow tens of thousands of Palestinians to arm themselves. This is a potential source of carnage in the event of another full-scale Arab-Israeli war. In such a scenario, the Israelis would have to fight an internal enemy reoccupying such areas as Gaza, Jericho and Hebron while waging a war of survival on two or three external fronts.
Many wonder what persuaded Israeli leaders to go to Norway in 1993 and sit down with Yasser Arafat, whom they had repeatedly labeled a terrorist, to negotiate for peace. Why did they endorse the “Oslo Accords” when they apparently did not trust the other side to abide by its terms’! One reason is that the Israelis became convinced they were losing the “propaganda war” to the Palestinian Arabs in the eyes of the world. They believed that the international news media nearly always took the side of the Palestinians. Another reason is that Israel with a population of less than 6 million (in 1993) (today the population is 8,132,000) is surrounded by Arab nations with a combined population of more than 150 million!
More ominous still, the Israelis saw Islamic fundamentalism the most powerful force in today’s Muslim world looming on the horizon! Muslim nations most of which are not Arab now have a combined population of more than one billion people! Even Arab leaders fear Islamic fundamentalism especially in light of how easily this movement swept through Iran and gained control of its government in 1979
Author Thomas L. Friedman makes an interesting point: “Islamic fundamentalism is going to be a permanent challenge for the Jewish state.” As Israelis look to the future, they realize that the Muslim population could reach the two billion mark within one generation! Hundreds of millions of Muslims might throw their political, economic and military support behind the Palestinian Arabs, whom they believe to have been dispossessed of their rightful homeland by Israeli Jews. This is why the specter of Islamic fundamentalism haunts Israel today. What will be its end? Islamic jihad? An Arab-Israeli holy war could engulf the Middle East, eventually escalating into World War III!
Prime Minister Netanyahu says, “Islamic fundamentalism continues to gather momentum. Worse still, the development of nuclear weapons by Arab states and especially Iran continues at a feverish pace. This is the danger that the world faces today. Iran is now vying to develop nuclear weapons and the missile system to deliver them.”
From its inception in 1948, Israel realized the day might come when she could no longer defend herself against hostile Arab neighbors with conventional arms. Therefore, the Israelis quickly began a nuclear weapons program. It is common knowledge that they have now possessed nuclear weapons for decades. But would the Israelis use these weapons? Certainly not under any normal circumstance. But what if they found themselves with their backs to the wall, about to be overwhelmed by some numerically superior Arab army?
Netanyahu says, “When advocates of an Israeli withdrawal (from the Occupied Territories) are presented with the facts, they usually fall back on one final argument: Israel can always unsheathe a nuclear sword, thereby ending all threats to its existence. But Israel has promised not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, and even if it were to change its policy and introduce them, it is unclear how even this would serve as a deterrent. But would Israel really be willing to threaten nuclear war every time a Palestinian battalion changed its position? Would nuclear weapons be used if an Arab column crossed into Israel territory or would they be reserved for the actual arrival of such a force in downtown Tel Aviv twenty minutes later?”
Netanyahu leaves no doubt what Israel would do if hostile armies threatened to snuff out her very national existence: “If Israel were to face a threat to its existence, it would respond with awesome power (nuclear war) something that no sane person, Arab or Jew could possibly desire”! If deemed absolutely necessary, Israel would probably not hesitate to act. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban (1966-74) says, “It is the anomaly of our times that small countries sometimes have more mobility and resilience than greater powers whose eyes are always fixed apprehensively on each other’s potential reaction and on the perils of Armageddon.”
Having talked about the potential for an end-time battle, there remains an important question. Just what is “Armageddon”? The dictionary defines this term thus: “Armageddon. . . . Gk. Armageddon. Harmagedon, scene of the battle foretold in Rev. 16:14-16. . . the site or time of the final and conclusive battle between the forces of good and evil” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: 10th ed.)
Let’s look at Revelation 16. It is set during the “Day of the Lord,” at the time of Jesus Christ’s return to this earth. This is when the seven last plagues of God’s wrath are poured out on the nations as punishment of their wicked behavior meant to humble them into submission to God’s supreme will. Notice what John foresaw nearly 2,000 years ago, concerning the sixth of these plagues: “Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl (symbolizing God’s awesome power) on the great river Euphrates and its water was dried up so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. (Then Satan’s) demons go out to the kings of the earth and the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (v. 12-16).
Students of Bible prophecy have long understood that a gigantic Eastern army is prophesied to sweep down, cross the Euphrates River and enter the land of Israel. There it will meet the gentile armies of the “kings of the earth and of the whole world” at a specific location called Armageddon. But exactly where is this place? The Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that the New Testament term “Armageddon” comes from the Hebrew har-megiddon, meaning “hill of Megiddo.” This hill lies to the north of the Carmel Ridge in Israel, commanding “the most important pass from the coastal plain to the valley of Esdraelon (or Jezreel)” (vol. 2, p. 975).
The ancient site of Megiddo, overlooking the Jezreel Valley, has historically been the scene of untold bloodshed due to its important strategic location. The road between Egypt and the ancient empires of Mesopotamia passed through this area. Around 3,500 years ago, Pharaoh Thutmose III claimed that he who controlled Megiddo controlled a thousand cities.
Megiddo was a fortified city in ancient Israel. It was at Megiddo that King Ahazaiah of Judah died in battle as he warred against King Jehu of Israel (II Kings 9:27). King Josiah of Judah was also killed in battle at Megiddo while fighting Pharaoh Necho (II Kings 23:29).
Near the end of World War I, Britain’s General Allenby won a victory over the Turks at Megiddo in 1918: “The engagement fought between 19 and 25 September came to be collectively known as the Battle of Megiddo, after (British forces emerged) on to the plain of Esdraelon . . . . (Megiddo) was the site of many Old Testament contests and is associated with that great battle of nations, Armageddon, described in Revelation 16:16. Megiddo was a decisive victory” (Lawrence James, Imperial Warrior, p. 167).
But you may be surprised to learn that the prophesied “great battle of nations” will not actually take place at the ancient, war-ravaged site of Armageddon. The Bible only says that the armies will be gathered together at the hill of Megiddo and certainly in the vast Plain of Esdraelon that adjoins it for this end-time battle. As the Illustrated Bible Dictionary notes, Armageddon is (“the assembly-point”).
Where, then, does the actual battle take place? Speaking through the Prophet Joel, God says, “Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near. Let them come up (to Jerusalem).Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am strong.” Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around. Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the surrounding nations” (Joel 3:9-12. The Valley of Jehoshaphat, a term meaning “the Eternal’s judgment or decision” is the ancient name for the Kidron Valley in East Jerusalem.
God continues, “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. The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. The Lord also will roar from (Mount) Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem: the heavens and the earth will shake: but the Lord will be a shelter for His people” (vs. 13-16; Zech. 14; Rev. 19).
Clearly, then, the Bible does not say that Armageddon in northern Israel will be the actual end-time battle site. Rather, that is the place where the hostile armies will marshal their forces. They will then march 75 miles south to Jerusalem, where the final “battle of that great day of God Almighty” will actually take place.
Will this final showdown involve nuclear weapons? The Bible doesn’t say. But you may be surprised to learn that, according to prophecy, weapons of mass destruction of some sort will already have been unleashed a few years before the gathering at Armageddon. And though millions upon millions will die, many will spared.
Which nations will take an active part in this final battle of the end-time? Who will be the victors? And who will be given ultimate control of Jerusalem and all of Palestine? Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ will have to intervene to stop all life from being destroyed. General McArthur was correct, a change of heart will be necessary if mankind is to survive. Unfortunately man’s government cannot make that happen. It will take Jesus Christ setting up His government in Jerusalem to force mankind to live in peace. The world is on an irreversible course that will lead to Armageddon. With each passing day violence, hatred, racism, and bigotry is escalating. What will be the spark that ignites the final explosion that ushers us into World War III? Certainly the doomsday clock is ticking!