[Today, I am starting a four-part article series, The Second Coming Does Not Begin with Armageddon. This is Part 1.]
The battle of Armageddon is not the event that begins the second coming (the parousia). It is a deep-seated assumption among many pretrib and posttrib interpreters that Matt 24:30–31 is a parallel passage to Rev 19:11–21. These interpreters cite Rev 19:11 as evidence that the battle of Armageddon begins the second coming:
Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war.
Similarities, however, between Rev 19:11–21 and Matt 24:30–31 stop with the single depiction of Jesus coming from “heaven.” And even in this single instance there is a difference, which will be explained below. Virtually all other details between these two passages reveal that they are describing two very different settings.
- In Matt 24:30–31, the sign of the Son of Man appears globally. In Rev 19:11–21, the locale is limited, mostly to the battlefield.
- In Matt 24:30–31, there is a focus on the sign of the Son of Man, which announces his return to the world (v. 3; cf. Luke 21:27–28). In Rev 19:11–21, there is no sign mentioned, because the purpose of the event is to execute the battle of Armageddon.
- In Matt 24:30–31, the major event to occur at the start of the parousia is the gathering of the saints from the great tribulation. In Rev 19:11–21, if this is the start of the parousia, then why the complete silence on the great gathering event of God’s people?
- In Matt 24:30–31, the Son of Man appears in heaven (en ouranō); that is, in the sky (cf. Luke 21:27; 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 14:14–16). In Rev 19:11–21, the wording indicates that Christ is seen coming from heaven (ton ouranon ēneōgmenon). The Greek term ouranos has a variety of meanings depending on context, including either the physical sky or the transcendent abode of God. Matt 24:30–31 refers to the former, while Rev 19:11–21 suggests the latter, where, after he established his kingdom in Jerusalem at the seventh trumpet, he then goes to retrieve the armies of heaven for battle (cf. Rev 19:19; Ps 110:1–7!).
- In Matt 24:30–31, Jesus is depicted as coming down and stopping at the clouds in the sky for the great gathering event. In Rev 19:11–21, he is portrayed as coming on a horse directly to earth to battle the armies of the nations.
While some of these differences may not be contradictions themselves, and differences of aspects does not necessarily mean two different events are being described, the cumulative evidence, nevertheless, signal that these two passages are describing two different timing events.
The battle of Armageddon is portrayed in the book of Revelation as a later stage within the unified complex-whole of the second coming. Armageddon is viewed as unfolding at the very end of the day of the Lord’s wrath. And we know that when the parousia begins, the day of the Lord’s wrath begins.
While these differences above are noteworthy, the point in this article is corroborated if we understand that (1) the resurrection, (2) the inauguration of Christ’s physical kingdom at the seventh trumpet, and (3) God’s wrath will begin at a point significantly earlier before the battle of Armageddon happens. These three factors therefore signal that the battle of Armageddon will not begin the second coming. I will pick up these three factors another day. In the meantime, see the following video where I discuss them.