God’s Love & Armageddon Theology
Armageddon came up in a recent casual, friendly conversation I had. Popular notions of Armageddon reflect the catastrophic disasters and destruction portrayed in the fatalistic, end-of-the-world scenarios of blockbuster films, and a large Christian segment views Armageddon as a violent struggle between good and evil when Jesus returns to crush those who refuse to follow His plan. However, what if the famed battle of Armageddon does not show God at work? The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This tells me that God is not about force, coercion, or fear. Jesus came and revealed God as unselfish, presenting a picture saturated with the faithfulness and presence of a loving God. Given this realization about God, we should not read the Bible’s description of the end—as it has often been read—as justifying His great destruction and violent domination but as telling the world a different story, one that reveals His character of love.
Let’s face it; the pain and tragedy we experience on planet Earth is hard enough to endure without anticipating frightening end-time events of divinely orchestrated violence. How can we truly connect with a hurting and skeptical world if we believe that God is coming to smash His enemies, leaving nothing but dust under His feet? Whatever happened to the message of good news, great joy, and peace to all people?
To read the Bible’s depictions of the end as violent justifies fear-mongering, militarism, and prejudice. If God is violent in the end, how can we say that He loves the world? Believing that God will plunge the world into destruction through horrible plagues, war, and torturing flames causes people to conclude that an angry Jesus will return with clenched fists of fury. This storyline identifies God’s plan in the world as moving everything toward a violent end to usher in the return of Jesus. Such a theology renders God’s character not only incompatible with but antithetical to a noncoercive and loving nature. It also removes us from the love story that God has commissioned us to engage in and denies the cross and its decisive victory over evil.
If this world is to be lit with the beauty of God’s loving character, causing darkness to cease, perhaps the world’s violence is already part of the apocalyptic process. Perhaps the final message of mercy is intended to rescue the world from the deception and destruction perpetuated by evil so that God’s reign of love can take over. If the scenes of violence at the end of the world are not directly instigated by God, who instigates them? In Revelation’s depiction of Armageddon, the evil that gathers the world to a violent end is described as both demonic and institutional—the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. If we are not following the love of the Lamb, we are listening to the propaganda of the croaking demonic spirits, which will lead us right to the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:13–16). To those who want to speak about justice, I say that God will deal rightly with the evil that works against His loving intention. The triumph of God’s love over these powers will ultimately be accomplished by the wounds of His own body and by the words of truth and justice (Revelation 19:13–15).
To me, the biblical battle of Armageddon is a climactic expression of evil, a showdown between good and evil in the final days of human history. The world will be divided into haters and lovers—a kingdom of force, fear, and intimidation against a kingdom of freedom, peace, and love—and God’s character will be vindicated in the end. Humans enlist in this spiritual battle when they collude with the aspirations of the evil one, eventually forming humanity’s hostility against God and His people. The powers of evil that underlie all the chaos and evil in our world will then be exposed, and God’s love will win in the end.
The ultimate invitation to God’s full kingdom will be the presence of God within a renewed Earth. It will return the peaceful garden, filling the world with the beautiful glory of God’s noncoercive love. That God deals rightly with the evil that works against His loving intention does not obscure the truth that God is love. However, a reading that identifies God’s judgment as moving this world toward a frightening and violent end distorts our perceptions of God’s character and kingdom, leading us astray and preventing us from relating to His love. Such a conflicting message to a broken and skeptical world makes makes God’s actions seem antithetical to love. Focusing on violence and war will cause us to remove ourselves from God’s plan to love the world. It is not God but the demonic spirit that is gathering humanity to a place of hostility.
If God’s unfailing, relentless love is the central theme of the Bible and the final revelation given to the world, how might God’s unsurpassable love impact my view of His character and my participation in His end-time message?
Craig Ashton Jr.
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