Q&A: Understanding Armageddon and Revelation Chronology

Understanding Armageddon and Revelation Chronology

Question

I read an article/sermon transcript on Armageddon on your website. It was authored by Kim Riddlebarger. I'd like to ask some questions if you don't mind: 1) I guess the battle of Armageddon will take place at Christ's Second Coming, not prior to His Second Coming, right? If so, what is the chronological relationship between the pouring out of the 7th bowl of wrath and the Second Coming of Christ? Does the 7th bowl judgment occur before or after the Second Coming of Christ and the battle of Armageddon? Does Jesus Christ return to earth before, during, or after the cataclysmic earthquake associated with the pouring out of the 7th vial? 2) Is the wrath of God at Armageddon a separate wrath from the one associated with the 7th bowl judgment? Following the pouring out of the 7th vial, there is a massive earthquake; the earth convulses; there is heavy hailstorm; etc. With the pouring out of the 7th bowl, we learn that the wrath of God is complete (Revelation 15:1; Revelation 16:17). If the wrath of God is already finished at the time the 7th bowl is poured out, why do we have another wrath at Armageddon? Where does the wrath at the battle of Armageddon fit in this picture? 3) Is the unprecedented massive earthquake that occurs following the pouring out of the 7th vial not enough to kill all the armies gathered at Armageddon even before Jesus returns to execute the battle of Armageddon? How does anyone even survive such a cataclysmic earthquake in which every mountain is moved out of its place? I'd appreciate your clarification and insights on these questions.

Answer

Thanks for writing! I don't know how Kim would answer your questions. My own take on the book is recorded in this video series: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/rev. The second lesson is where I deal with the particular passages you mention.

In answer to your questions, the first thing I would say is that I believe the various cycles (seals, trumpets, histories, bowls) aren't consecutive with each other. Rather, each one tells the same story with a different emphasis or perspective—a bit like the four gospels. I'm personally not even persuaded that every item in every cycle is necessarily sequential. In the text they're sequential because that's how John's vision unfolded. But the vision, like nearly all visions and prophetic literature, was metaphoric. As these things transpire in history, they may well happen simultaneously, or overlapping, or in some other way. I'm primarily concerned with order when Scripture itself indicates that the order is significant (e.g., Matt. 24:6).

Second, in the visions of Revelation, God's wrath unfolds in stages. It's legitimate for God, the angels, or the author (John) to say that each stage is completed without having explicitly to say something like, "I'm only talking about the stage here, not the end of God's wrath for all time." In actuality, God's wrath is never done being poured out, since hell is an everlasting place where he pours out his wrath and judgment on his enemies. So, all the statements about it being "done" need to be understood against that backdrop.

Grammatically, when the angel pours out the seventh bowl and voice says, "It is done," it might be referring to the seventh bowl, or all the bowls, or all of God's wrath (or even something else, I suppose). But contextually, it's another matter. Since nothing was said after the other bowls, I'm inclined to say it wasn't about the seventh bowl. And since additional wrath appears to keep coming, I'm inclined to say it's not about the final end to God's wrath. So, to my reading, it most likely means, "That's the end of the bowls." I would compare this to Jesus saying, "It is finished" (John 19:30), by which I think he meant, "I've fulfilled all the prophecies I have to fulfill before I die" (cf. Ps. 69:21; John 19:28).

With regard to the earthquake, etc., Old Testament prophecy commonly uses metaphors about earthly and cosmic upheaval to refer to things like political changes (e.g., Ezek. 32:7-8; Dan. 8:10; Joel 2:10; Hag. 2:6,21). So, we have to be careful to interpret prophecy according to its own literary conventions, and not as if it were attempting to record something similar to a scientific description. In other words, surviving a world-shattering earthquake wouldn't necessarily be any more difficult than surviving the melting mountains and splitting valleys of Micah 1:4. Micah probably referred to the conquest of Samaria by the Assyrians in around 722 B.C. and of Judah by the Babylonians around 586 B.C., and both those conquests had many survivors.

It seems to me that in the context of the vision, Armageddon is the series of events brought on by the seventh bowl. God's enemies gather against him, then God shows up and decimates them (by means of the earthquake, etc.). Other portions of the book (e.g. Rev. 11:15; 12:10) and of Scripture (Matt. 24:29-30) indicate that God does this through the agency of the returning Christ. So, even though Christ isn't mentioned in the context of the seventh bowl, I think he's in view (we're supposed to remember his role by this point in the book). But I don't think that God's decimation of his enemies has to look like the things the prophecy describes. Sure, it might. But it doesn't have to, any more than a third of the stars actually have to fall to earth prior to that time (Rev. 12:4). Scientifically, if even one star fell to earth, the earth and all humanity would completely cease to exist, and the rest of the book would be meaningless.

Don't get me wrong—Revelation is ultimately talking about the return of Christ and the end of the world as we know it. But the details we have about the coming destruction and renewal of the earth are almost entirely drawn from metaphoric literature, and the specifics it gives are typically vague. So, it's impossible (in my opinion) to establish a rigorous timeline or to define the events themselves with much clarity. Of course, the point of Revelation isn't so much to give us the specifics of what's going to happen as it is to motivate us to repent of our sin, to be faithful to God, and to hope in the salvation he will ultimately bring. It's to encourage us that evil will be punished, our oppressors destroyed, and we ourselves rescued and rewarded. So, we shouldn't be surprised or disappointed that we can't determine exactly how it's going to take place.

Does that help at all? Or did I just muddy the waters even more?

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.