26 June 2017

Battle of Armageddon


Baha'u'llah is not just the Prophet of the Baha'i Faith. He taught that religion is periodically and progressively revealed from age to age to advance material and spiritual civilization to new heights. All the great religions of the world teach of a Promised One, coming during a time of great world cataclysms and ushering in a new era of righteousness. In the American psyche, this is most pronounced in Christian prophecies of the seven years of tribulation, the anti-Christ, and the battle of Armageddon.

Baha'u'llah's revelation fulfills the expectations of a second coming of Christ, but not as commonly interpreted. In an almost perfect repeat of the first coming, Christian clergy are expecting their prophecies to be fulfilled literally, and according to their fanciful interpretations that leave them as rulers of the earth. Jesus experienced a similar attitude. The Jewish priests thought the Messiah would come as a political ruler who would burn his enemies like chaff. Instead of promoting them to power, Jesus said His kingdom is "not of this world" and "inside you" and "among you". He called the priests hypocrites and vipers, so they killed him. 

Just as the Jewish priests were blinded by their own scripture from recognizing the Manifestation of God, now Christians shut their ears when they hear the claim of Jesus returned because they are told by their priests that they should not investigate any claim of divinity. They are sitting around waiting for the end times, and to them it will be so obvious that they don't have to watch. I've lost track of how many Christians have told me that they have no need to investigate Baha'u'llah's claims because when Jesus returns it will be "obvious", despite some strongly worded scripture saying the opposite. 

So with this background, occasionally Christians want to look deeper and ask some questions about prophecies.

There are many good books by Baha'is on the subject of Christian prophecies: Thief in the Night by William Sears is quite popular and engaging to read; Bible Proofs, Thy Kingdom Come, He Cometh with Clouds, and I Shall Come Again all provide extensive details on specific prophecies and how they are fulfilled.

The best sources for authoritative interpretations of Christian scripture are perhaps Baha'u'llah's Kitab-i-Iqan and `Abdu'l-Baha's Some Answered Questions. For example, `Abdu'l-Baha does a line-by-line interpretation of the Revelation of St John, but only for chapters 12 and 13. Most of Revelation -- a prophetic vision full of monsters and prophetic gatherings and destruction -- lacks official interpretation, but a lot of it is pretty clear from the Baha'i point of view. Some of it had to do with the wickedness and fall of the Roman Empire and Christianity's eventual triumph over it. Some of it foretold the religion of Muhammad and the happenings during its rise. And of course, other things were fulfilled with Baha'u'llah and specific events in the modern world. 

That's where we get to Armageddon. If Baha'u'llah fulfills prophecy, then where is the epic battle of Armageddon? There is a great article by Stephen Lambden, Catastrophe, Armageddon, and Millenium, that summarizes various points of view, showing that from a Baha'i perspective the prophesied cataclysm could be interpreted a few different ways, some literal, some spiritual, and some both. Armageddon could be the spiritual tumult of a new revelation coming and the crumbling of older religions, or as a series of world wars including any future nuclear exchanges. But I think the most obvious fulfillment of the prophecy of Armageddon is in World War I.

Let's go back and see where the prophecy came from. In Revelation Chapter 16, verses 14 and 16, it says:
...they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty...Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
Now I want to make an important point here for perspective. These verses about this battle are basically disconnected from the story around it, and the story around it is full of crazy things. Verse 15 says that you should remain clothed and not be going about naked. Verse 13 says that in the vision three demonic frogs came out of the mouths of a dragon, a beast, and a false prophet. Before that, an angel poured a bowl into the ocean and it turned to blood and everything in it died. Before all this, there was an angel flying through the air visiting every "nation, tribe, language and people" to proclaim the "eternal gospel". These examples just scratch the surface of how weird it would be to interpret the visions literally or to place too much emphasis on any one verse.

That said, the verse about Armageddon sounds like it's talking about an epic battle that gathers kings from all over the world. Armageddon was mentioned by `Abdu'l-Baha during a talk he gave at Stanford University in 1912:
We are on the eve of the battle of Armageddon, referred to in the 16th chapter of Revelation. The time is two years hence, when only a spark will set aflame the whole of Europe. The social unrest in all countries, the growing religious skepticism antecedent to the millennium are already here. Only a spark will set aflame the whole of Europe as is prophesied in the verses of Daniel and in the Book [Rev.] of John....
Before you go thinking `Abdu'l-Baha was making a prophecy, he also says that this is not a prophecy, it's a simple observation. Otto Von Bismark, the German Chancellor, predicted the same thing 34 years earlier:
Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.
It's hard to look back now and put yourself in the world of 1912. The great powers of the world were Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. The United States' military was weak by comparison. The four great powers were surrounded by some mediocre powers like Austria-Hungary, Italy, Turkey, and Japan. These powers were watching an exponential growth in technology. An army of 1912 could obliterate the greatest army of 1900. The economies of the empires had to sustain creating vast fleets and weapons that would be thrown away in another decade when they are obsoleted. Incredible resources were prepared for rapid mobilizations, feeding, and resupplying. Each of the great powers assumed that war would break out and were in a race to make sure they would come out on top when it happened. So much time passed during this buildup that many theories about the upcoming battle were untested. What role would submarines play? The telegraph? Planes? Poisonous gas? Would cavalry still be involved? Should we have light and fast ships or heavily armored ships? There was a brief skirmish in 1904 where Japan trounced on Russia's Pacific fleet and many military thinkers tried to gain lessons for their own strategies. They thought any new war would be fast and decisive. How they were wrong. 

Besides advancing technology, the political world of 1912 was ruled by kings. Almost every great power was a monarchy, mostly lacking any kind of constitutional restraints. Many of them were related. When Baha'u'llah wrote to the kings of the earth, the European powers controlled over 80% of the world's land and resources. Britain alone held 25%. Just a few families controlled the world, and these same families had just ignored Baha'u'llah's warnings that their empires would slip from their hands and power would be given to the people.

When war broke out, Britain, France, and Russia started pulling in troops from their empires to fight in Europe, and eventually the Middle East. Troops from Canada, Australia, China, India, and all parts of Africa were brought to fight on the front lines. This certainly sounds like an unprecedented gathering of the kings of the whole world, but the prophecy included a location too: "Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon".

Armageddon is the Greek version of the Hebrew Har Megiddo, a fortification of ancient Israel in the Jezreel valley, south of Nazareth. So did World War I bring the kings of the earth to that valley for an epic battle? Yes it did. The British General Allenby took allied forces from all over the world and fought his way from Egypt up into Palestine, through Jerusalem, and over the course of two days made a sweeping victory against the Ottoman forces. On two occasions Ottoman armies were surrounded and tried to retreat. One of their retreating columns was spotted, stretching 10 kilometers in a narrow pass. The allied forces strafed and bombed the line of Ottoman soldiers and completely wiped them out in a hailstorm of steel and explosives. This decisive battle allowed the British to move through at surprising speed up into Syria, averting the planned crucifixion of `Abdu'l-Baha by Ottoman authorities and bringing an end to the empire that had declared Baha'u'llah an enemy of God.

Much more details on these events are included in The Servant, the General, and Armageddon, by Baha'i authors Derwent and Roderic Maude.

Of note is this description towards the end of chapter 16 of Revelation, describing the battle of Armageddon:

Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds (or about 45 kg), fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

Sure sounds a lot like a description of Allenby's aerial bombing of the retreating Ottomans near Har Megiddo. And what about that great earthquake like no earthquake ever?

The effects of World War I were more profound on the world than any other war in history. Those great powers were gone. Four years of total war ground them down to almost nothing. They were either defeated and forced into punishing reparations or their economies and people lay in ruins. During the war years Germany released Karl Marx into Russia hoping for a revolt, ultimately causing the Bolshevik revolution that overthrew three centuries of rule by the Romanov dynasty. Four and a half centuries of Ottoman rule were brought to a close, its empire was broken up and pieces given away. The Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrated into a variety of nationalist movements. Britain and France were in crushing debt, mostly to the United States. The world transitioned from an age of imperialism to an age of nationalism.

Perhaps most significant was the push for international cooperation. For the first time in history, an international institution was born from the ashes of the Great War. The League of Nations was an attempt to never again allow pointless conflict to pour 10 million young men into a meat grinder. The United States was both the champion of the League of Nations and its nemesis, as the US Congress never ratified its membership. Its failure to prevent World War II gave a push for further integration with the United Nations, and the failure of the United Nations to eliminate nuclear proliferation will create another disaster that will certainly unite the world further.

The first Great War was inevitable, and the world was reshaped by the political earthquake. 19th century notions of romantic warfare as some kind of gallant chess match between gentlemen were torn to shreds by machine gun fire and a hail of mortars. Over, and over, and over. When clouds of poisonous gas were wafted into enemy lines, when civilians were being fire-bombed to destroy the economic power of the enemy, when photographers could now bring the horrors of war to the populace, or when religious and ethnic rivalries resulted in genocides, the modern world can't sit back and pretend that war is good for the economy, or that war is a natural and healthy part of the competition between nations.

Now that Armageddon is over (what a relief!), if you want to learn more about where the world is headed, see these older posts:



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