The word Armageddon appears in the Bible only in the New Testament Book of Revelation 16:16. It is mentioned in the context of the sixth bowl of judgment (Rev 16:12-16) as the place where the kings of the whole world will gather for battle “on the great day of God the Almighty” (v. 14), which refers to the Parousia of Christ. In the Book of Revelation, it is the penultimate battle of history; the final battle will occur 1,000 years later at “the beloved city” of Jerusalem (Rev 20:7-10). Some interpreters think that the two descriptions of battles actually refer to the same event in different ways. Later Christian theologians used Armageddon as the name for the final battle of history during which the opponents of God and his church will be destroyed by Christ at his coming. Also, the image has been commonly used in Western culture to refer to a final battle or cataclysm that will bring the world to an end. In Christian theology and popular conceptions, the image of Armageddon relates to time as a future event associated with the end of history.
Interpreters have disagreed over the identification of the place. Revelation 16:16 indicates that the name is derived from Hebrew, so interpreters have offered at least six explanations of its Hebrew meaning. First, it is a combination of the Hebrew word har (“mountain”) and the name Megiddo. Megiddo, a city located beside the Jezreel Valley near the intersection of several trade routes, was occupied from 7000 to 500 BCE. At least 34 battles have occurred there throughout history, including the first battle of recorded history. Thirteen of those battles had occurred by the time Revelation was written. Although Megiddo is a 70-foot-high tell, no mountain is located near the site. Second, if ar is derived from ‘ir (the Hebrew word for “city”), then it refers to the city of Megiddo. Third, it refers to Mount Carmel, which is located 5 miles northwest of Megiddo. Mount Carmel was the place where, in the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal (1 Kgs 18:20-46). Fourth, the Hebrew phrase is constructed from har (“mountain”) and mo’ed (“assembly”). This interpretation assumes that the Greek gamma transliterates the Hebrew ayin. The Mount of Assembly is referred to in Isaiah 14:13 as the heavenly court where the king of Babylon would seek to exalt himself above God. As Mount Zion was viewed as the earthly counterpart of the heavenly throne room (Ps 48:2), Armageddon refers to the attack on Jerusalem by end-time Babylon. Fifth, magedon is derived from the Hebrew gadad, which means “to cut” or “to gash.” Therefore, the name means “marauding mountain” or “mountain of slaughter,” the place where the armies of the earth are gathered together to be exterminated. Sixth, it combines har and migdo (“fruitful”), referring to Jerusalem. Revelation 14:14-20 and 20:7-10 also associate the last battle with Jerusalem.
Because of the difficulties in specifying the origin of the name, many interpreters believe that the author of the Book of Revelation was not thinking of a physical locality but was using the association of Megiddo with warfare as a theological symbol of the rebellion of evil against God and God’s final defeat of evil. Armageddon would then be the culmination and epitome of all previous rebellions against God that have occurred throughout history. The author may be alluding to Zechariah 12:11 to express the idea that the nations that stand against God will mourn as they face God’s judgment.
Revelation 16 never describes an actual battle. During the seventh bowl judgment (Rev 16:17-21), a voice from the heavenly temple declares, “It is done.” In association with the end of the world, a great earthquake destroys Babylon and huge hailstones from heaven torment people. The reason that no actual battle takes place is because, in the view of the author of Revelation, Christ has already defeated the forces of evil in his death and resurrection.
The description of Christ’s Parousia in Revelation 19:11-21 appears to be another description of Armageddon, although the term is not used in that context. There the kings of the earth have gathered their armies together to make war against the rider on the white horse, but they are destroyed before the battle even begins.
Cline, E. H. (2000). The battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the nuclear age. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Day, J. (1997). The origin of Armageddon: Revelation 16:16 as an interpretation of Zechariah 12:11. In
- E. Porter, P. Joyce, & D. E. Orton (Eds.), Crossing the boundaries: Essays in biblical interpretation in honour of Michael D. Goulder (pp. 315-26). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
Kline, M. G. (1996). Har Magedon: The end of the millennium. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 39(2), 207-222.