THE FINAL CLASH OF EARTHLY EMPIRES
"We are living, we are dwelling,
In a grand and awful time,
In an age on ages telling,
To be living is sublime.
Hark! the waking up of nations,
Gog and Magog to the fray;
Hark! what soundeth? Is creation
Groaning for her latter day?"
The sure word of prophecy that foretold the rise and fall of ancient empires, and outlined the general course of world history through the ages, describes also the last great struggle of the nations.
The proverb says, "Peace is the dream of the wise, but war is the history of man." And divine prophecy assures us that the history of this present world will end amid scenes of conflict.
Many in our time have come to think that civilization must reach a better way of composing the rivalries of the nations. The prophecy forewarns us otherwise. In fact, the prophetic word points to the talk of peace and safety amid preparations for war, as a distinct sign of the latter days.
"In the last days," Isaiah says, "many people shall go and say:"
"They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Isa. 2:2-4.
This is what "many people" were to be saying. But the real conditions in the last days are described as exactly the opposite. The prophet Joel describes the real spirit of the world in these times:
"Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles [the nations]: Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong." Joel 3:9, 10.
The context shows that the prophet is speaking of the last times, when "the day of the Lord is near." Verse 14.
The Prophecy Fulfilling
This is what we have seen in our time, as never before in the history of man,—the product of the plowshare and the pruning hook being turned into instruments of war.
About twenty-five years ago the late Marquis of Salisbury, speaking as a man grown gray in the service of the state, asked a London audience the question, "What is the great change that marks this time as different from the times when most of us were young men?" The aged statesman answered his own question, saying that it was the arming of the nations, the swift race upon which the powers had then recently entered, to increase their naval and military armaments. It is a sign of our times, answering to the prophetic forecast.
Throughout the present generation the thoughtful have watched with grave forebodings the preparations of the nations for war. Queen Alexandra, of Britain, once said of it:
"I was educated in the school of a king who was, before all things, just; and I have tried, like him, always to preach love and charity, I have always mistrusted warlike preparations, of which nations seem never to tire. Some day this accumulated material of soldiers and guns will burst into flames in a frightful war that will throw humanity into mourning on earth and grieve our universal Father in heaven."
As the race of armaments went forward on a scale never before thought of, statesmen and writers began to make use of the word "Armageddon" to describe the conflict that they saw was inevitable. Years ago the London Contemporary Review said:
"Odd things are happening everywhere.... Russia, Germany, England—these are great names; they palpitate with great ideas; they have vast destinies before them, and millions of armed men in their pay, all awaiting Armageddon."
In June, 1909, Lord Rosebery, in a speech before a press convention in London, commented gravely upon the significance of the feverish haste with which the nations were arming themselves, "as if for some great Armageddon, and that in a time of the profoundest peace."
To quote from a popular American magazine, of the same year:
"Today all Europe is divided into two armed camps, waiting breathlessly for the morrow with its Armageddon."—Everybody's Magazine, November, 1909.
Thus, everywhere, observers saw that the rivalry of interests among the nations was leading to a conflict so overwhelmingly vast that only the Scriptural word "Armageddon," with its appeal to the imagination, seemed adequately suggestive of its proportions.
Every passing year added to the intensity of feeling and the antagonism of interests. In 1911 the London Nineteenth Century and After said:
"Never was national and racial feeling stronger upon earth than it is now. Never was preparation for war so tremendous and so sustained. Never was striking power so swift and so terribly formidable.... The shadow of conflict and of displacement greater than any which mankind has known since Attila and his Huns were stayed at Châlons, is visibly impending over the world. Almost can the ear of imagination hear the gathering of the legions for the fiery trial of peoples, a sound vast as the trumpet of the Lord of hosts."—Quoted in the Literary Digest, May 6, 1911.
What the ancient prophecy foretold—the preparing of war in the last days, the waking up and arming of the nations—we have seen fulfilling before our eyes in this generation.
Satanic Agencies at Work
In prophecies of the gathering of the nations for the last great struggle, Inspiration draws aside the veil, and allows us to see the agencies that have been stirring up the world for the war. As the prophet John was shown in vision the scenes of the last days, he saw the invisible powers of Satan, "the spirits of devils," going 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." Rev. 16:14.
Earnest-minded statesmen have lamented their helplessness to combat the forces and influences pressing the world on toward conflict. In one of his last speeches as premier of Great Britain, the late Marquis of Salisbury was defending yet further calls for army and navy appropriations. He said:
"For years public opinion was in favor of a pacific policy, but now that state of opinion has passed away. The tide has turned, and who am I, and who are we, that we should attempt to stem the tide? If the tide has turned, we shall have to go with it. We are in the presence of forces far larger than we can wield."
What those forces were, the aged statesman did not recognize, but the prophecy tells us. The prophet was shown the evil spirits from Satan going forth everywhere as the end nears, to stir up the whole world to the last great conflict.
Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary, described these agencies very accurately. Speaking in the House of Commons, Nov. 27, 1911, he said:
"It is really as if in the atmosphere of the world there were some mischievous influence at work, which troubles and excites every part of it."
It is all coming to pass exactly as the sure word of prophecy foretold.
The conviction that great and decisive events are at hand has taken possession of many hearts in all the world. When the European war broke out in 1914, on a scale unprecedented in human history, it was no wonder that the question sprang to many lips, "Is it Armageddon?"
The question was not lightly asked. The committee of the Church Missionary Society (Church of England), one of the greatest missionary organizations in the world, sent a message to its missionaries in all lands at the outbreak of the war. In this message was a call to prepare for the coming of the Lord:
"It may be that these events will quickly usher in the return of Christ to gather His saints together from the four quarters of the earth.... Many see in the events preceding and accompanying this terrible cataclysm of war the signs of our Lord's near return. If so, blessed will that servant be whom his Lord when He cometh shall find giving 'their food in due season' to those fellow servants who have been put in his charge."—Church Missionary Review, November, 1914.
Timely as this call was, it was evident, from the prophetic scriptures, that the conflict then opening could not be the Armageddon of the Apocalypse, for the prelude to that final clash of nations is an event yet in the future—the downfall of a nation whose part in the closing scenes is clearly described in the prophecy of the coming Armageddon.
The end of the power which rules over the territory through which the river Euphrates flows, is the prelude to Armageddon. The prophecy says:
"The sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared." Rev. 16:12.
Next follows the gathering of "the whole world" to "the battle of that great day of God Almighty." Verse 14.
Through all modern times Turkey has been identified with the Euphrates. The region of Syria and Asia Minor, long held by Turkey, has been the historic meeting place of the East and the West. In the London Fortnightly Review, May, 1915, Mr. J.B. Firth wrote:
"When, with the fall of Ottoman sovereignty at Constantinople, the Turk is driven out of Europe, there will arise once more the eternal question of the possession of Asia Minor. That land is the corridor between Europe and Asia, along which have passed most of the European conquerors—the Russians alone excepted—who have invaded Asia, and most of the Asiatic conquerors who have invaded Europe."
The fall of the Turkish power in this Euphrates region will, in some manner, prepare the way for "the kings of the East" to come up to the final conflict.
The Awakening of the East
The same spirit that has been stirring up the West in preparation for the contest has been working in the East also. Year after year observers have pointed out the great changes taking place in Asia. September, 1909, the London Contemporary Review said:
"The whole of Asia is in the throes of rebirth. At last we may see these three—the yellow race, the Indian race, and the Arab-Persian Mohammedan race. And all that is making for the Armageddon."
A writer in the May, 1913, issue of the London Nineteenth Century and After, reviewing the situation at the close of the Balkan War, said:
"A new spirit is abroad in the East. It arose on the shores of the Pacific when Japan proved that the great powers of Europe are not invulnerable. North and south and west it has spread, rousing China out of centuries of slumber, stirring India into ominous questioning, reviving memories of past glory in Persia, breeding discontent in Egypt, and luring Turkey onto the rocks."
With all the nations stirred up by the spirit agencies of the god of this world, the prophet next saw the armies of earth gathering to the last great battle. The prophecy continues:
"And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." Rev. 16:16.
Armageddon means the hill, or mount, of Megiddo, which overlooks the plain of Esdraelon, the historic battle ground of northern Palestine. Carmack says of it:
"Megiddo was the military key of Syria; it commanded at once the highway northward to Phœnicia and Cœle-Syria and the road across Galilee to Damascus and the valley of the Euphrates. It was moreover the chief town in a district of great fertility, the contested possession of many races. The vale of Kishon and the region of Megiddo were inevitable battle fields. Through all history they retained that qualification; there many of the great contests of southwestern Asia have been decided. In the history of Israel it was the scene of frequent battles. From such association the district achieved a dark nobility; it was regarded as a pre-destined place of blood and strife; the poet of the Apocalypse has clothed it with awe as the ground of the final conflict between the powers of light and darkness."—"Pre-Biblical Syria and Palestine," p. 82.
Thus Armageddon, as the "military key of Syria," marks Palestine and the Near East as the great international storm center in the final conflict.
The Political Storm Center
In vision, nearly two thousand years ago, the prophet saw the forces of the last days gathering around this pivotal region. Today observers recognize the eastern Mediterranean as indeed the pivotal point around which international interests involving East and West naturally revolve.
Some years ago, in discussing railway development in Asia and Africa, and the great highways of sea transportation, the London Fortnightly Review said:
"Palestine is the great center, the meeting of the roads. Whoever holds Palestine, commands the great lines of communication, not only by land, but also by sea."
Again, the Manchester Guardian, emphasizing the importance attaching to this strategic center, said during the great war:
"Egypt, as things are,—and the fact cannot be too often emphasized,—is the weak spot in our system of imperial defense by sea power. Not until Palestine is in our possession can Egypt be regarded as safe."—Quoted in Literary Digest, Feb. 12, 1916, p. 369.
Other nations have recognized the strategic value of a territory so situated. Thus political considerations make this region pointed out by the prophecy a center of conflicting interests. Hogarth, in his book, "The Near East," calls it "the time-honored storm center of the eastern Mediterranean."
The Religious Storm Center
To the conflict of political interests is added the rivalry of religious sentiment. Commenting on the religious associations of Palestine in relation to the international political situation, the London Spectator some years ago stated the matter thus:
"People often ask how it is that the future of Palestine presents such difficulties. The reason is simply that Jerusalem—you cannot separate Jerusalem from Palestine—is the sacred city of so many creeds and warring faiths. Not only is it the holy place of all the Christian churches,—and two of them quarrel bitterly over it, the Greeks and the Latins,—but it is also one of the most sacred places in the Mohammedan world. Mecca and Medina are hardly more sacred than the Mosque of Omar. That is a fact which is often ignored by Europeans, who forget that to turn the Mohammedans out of the temple inclosure would disturb the whole Moslem world, from the Straits Settlements to Albania. We must never forget that Mohammedan pilgrims from India visit Jerusalem, just as Christian pilgrims visit it from Europe. Lastly, Jerusalem is profoundly sacred to the Jews, and the Jews are beginning to be locally numerous and important. Most certainly there are no elements of difficulty wanting in the problem of the future of Palestine."
History records the fact that rivalry over the care of the traditional holy places helped to precipitate one European war—that of the Crimea.
In the study of the Eastern Question, we have seen that the prophecy of Daniel 11 marks Jerusalem as still a storm center in the closing scenes. A British consul in Jerusalem, in the days following the Crimean War, set forth suggestively his view of one of the factors in the Eastern Question. He wrote:
"The very heart and kernel of the Eastern Question can only be reached in the Holy City, Jerusalem, where the Eastern and Western churches are still wrestling as of old for the mastery.... Now as heretofore, disguise the object as they may, they are striving for a prize which has not been destined by divine Providence for either; and this prize is no less than a virtual dominion over the Christian world, from a throne of government within the sanctuaries of the Holy City; and the possession of that throne would involve possession of the key to universal dominion."—"Stirring Times: Records from Jerusalem Consulate Chronicles," by James Finn, introductory note by editor, p. xxiii.
Foretold in Prophecy
By every consideration—political, racial, and religious—the Near East supplies all the elements for involving the whole world when once the sweeping displacements begin which the prophecy foretold, and for which statesmen in our day have sought to prepare.
Long ages ago the prophet of God, in vision on the Isle of Patmos, was shown the clash of interests and the gathering of the nations around this historic center. Before our eyes today we see events tending to give to this region the very character assigned to it by the prophecy. It was written in the sure word of prophecy in order that, as the events foretold are seen approaching, men may believe and turn to God, and find salvation from the things coming upon the earth.
Into the prophecy of this sixteenth chapter of Revelation, describing the gathering of forces to Armageddon, our Saviour interjects the warning and the appeal:
"Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." Verse 15.
The last earthly events that the prophecy is dealing with—the pouring out of the seven last plagues, and the clash of Armageddon—come after probation closes. The close of probation, the passing of the ministry of Christ in the heavenly temple, will come as a thief, unannounced. Our only safety is in yielding heart and life to him now for cleansing, and accepting from his hand the garments of his own righteousness, freely offered to every one.
What Comes with Armageddon
Whatever ambitions or aims may be the impelling motives when the gathering to the great conflict comes, one thing is certain: Armageddon is to bring triumph and world dominion to no earthly power. As the nations gather, the Lord intervenes from heaven, and the history of the kingdoms of this world is closed at last. The prophet tells the sequel to Armageddon:
"He gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great." Rev. 16:16-21.
The fall of the Turkish power is the prelude to the gathering of the nations to the battle of Armageddon. And Armageddon is the prelude to the end of the world and Christ's glorious coming as King of kings and Lord of lords. The armies gathered to battle for supremacy find themselves suddenly arrayed against the armies of heaven. Another prophecy describes the scene when Christ is revealed:
"The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" Rev. 6:15-17.
Again, as the great searchlight of divine prophecy lights up the way before us, we see by the course of present-day events that the end is drawing very near. By what sudden turn of affairs the last things to be done in history may be set in motion, none can foresee. The Saviour admonishes every soul, "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." Matt. 24:44.
It is for this time of waiting, especially, that Christ spoke the parable of the ten virgins who waited for the bridegroom. All sincerely wanted to meet him; all expected to be ready. But when the cry was raised, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him!" only five were ready. The others lacked the oil that was to give them light. We know what the oil represents—the genuine heart experience of the grace and love of Christ.
Those overtaken unready, hastened away to get oil. "And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut." Matt. 25:10. Those that were ready went in; those that were getting ready were too late. How came some to be ready?—They were ready all the time; they kept ready. This lesson is for us now. Our only safety is in being ready every day, keeping sins forgiven, the life surrendered to God.
The millennium is the closing period of God's great week of time—a great sabbath of rest to the earth and to the people of God.
It follows the close of the gospel age, and precedes the setting up of the everlasting kingdom of God on earth.
It comprehends what in the Scriptures is frequently spoken of as "the day of the Lord."
It is bounded at each end by a resurrection.
Its beginning is marked by the pouring out of the seven last plagues, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the righteous dead, the binding of Satan, and the translation of the saints to heaven; and its close, by the descent of the New Jerusalem, with Christ and the saints, from heaven, the resurrection of the wicked dead, the loosing of Satan, and the final destruction of the wicked.
During the one thousand years the earth lies desolate; Satan and his angels are confined here; and the saints, with Christ, sit in judgment on the wicked, preparatory to their final punishment.
The wicked dead are then raised; Satan is loosed for a little season, and he and the host of the wicked encompass the camp of the saints and the holy city, when fire comes down from God out of heaven and devours them. The earth is cleansed by the same fire that destroys the wicked, and, renewed, becomes the eternal abode of the saints.
The millennium is one of "the ages to come." Its close will mark the beginning of the new earth state.