Home > Book of Revelation, Mountains in prophecy > The mountains were not found, Rev. 16:20

The mountains were not found, Rev. 16:20

March 4, 2011

There is a considerable variety in the interpretations that commentators have proposed for Revelation 16:20, which tells of a great earthquake, because of which “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.”

Charles D. Alexander interpreted the mountains in the prophecy as symbols of worldly power or governments, and their not being found as depicting the disappearance of order and control. He wrote: [1]


“And every island fled away and the mountains were not found”. (v. 20)

Islands in the Bible are symbolic of kingdoms and nations, and mountains are symbols of worldly power. The kingdom of God, the Church, similarly is described in Isaiah 2:2 as “The mountain of the Lord’s house”, established above all other mountain heights, and exalted above the hills.

Here in verse 20 we see the fall of all earthly power as the nations yield their sceptres to the power of darkness. We are coming into a world situation where civilised society is being overwhelmed by violence and anarchy, which governments appear to be either unwilling or unable to control. The end of this road is obvious to all. The nations lose their identity, and orderly rule is abolished by unchecked wickedness. Disorder and anarchy break out on a scale far beyond the power (and indeed the will) of human government to suppress or control.

Albert Barnes also suggested the mountains and islands represent governments, or thrones and dynasties. He wrote: [2]

The removal of mountains and islands, ver. 14: And every mountain and island were moved out of their places. This would denote convulsions in the political or moral world, as great as would occur in the physical world if the very mountains were removed, and the islands should change their places. We are not to suppose that this would literally occur, but we should be authorized from this to expect that, in regard to those things which seemed to be permanent and fixed on an immovable basis, like mountains and islands, there would be violent and important changes. If thrones and dynasties long established were overthrown; if institutions that seemed to be fixed and permanent were abolished; if a new order of things should rise in the political world, the meaning of the symbol, so far as the language is concerned, would be fulfilled.

Preterist David Chilton suggested that the underlying idea of mountains “not being found” is the removal of places for men to hide; people would not be able to hide from God. But, were they previously hidden from Him? Chilton wrote: [3]

20 In this final judgment, every false refuge disappears; the mountains and rocks no longer can hide the wicked “from the face of Him who sits on the Throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16): Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

James Burton Coffman discredited some extreme opinions of earlier interpreters, although his own interpretation seems far from clear. He wrote: [4]

Revelation 16
Verse 20
And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

Every island … mountains were not found …
For ages, such convulsions of nature have been understood as symbolical references to the fall of nations and governments; but in the holy Scriptures, “such things are invariably associated with the final judgment”; [F78] and that is the way we understand them here. The removal of the earth itself is to be accompanied by a mighty earthquake (Hebrews 12:27,28). Therefore Ladd may have been exactly correct in viewing the last three verses of this chapter as “a renovation of the entire created order and the ushering in of a new heavens and a new earth.” [F79] Whatever is the exact implication of the language here, it would seem to be certain that the final judgment day itself is the occasion in view.

Barnes and other historicists see in this chapter such various things as: successive historical blows by which the Papacy will fall, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the successive revolutions that came after Napoleon, and various other events, even the battle of Armageddon! To us, however, that entire system of interpretation is erroneous. Some of the things “seen” by such interpreters in Revelation are surely there; but no blueprint of the future is to be found. Revelation has been fulfilled, is being fulfilled, and is yet to be fulfilled. Is not this exactly the meaning of what John said in Rev. 1:19?

Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg interpreted mountains and islands as kingdoms, and he took the meaning of the prophecy to be political in nature. He wrote: [5]

The islands, like the mountains, denote kingdoms; comp. on ch. vi. 14. The difference is merely this, that in the designation of kingdoms by islands respect is had only to their separate existence, while they are called mountains, in so far as they exercise dominion over others. The addition “of the heathen” in ver. 19 is to be understood also here. Along with the islands and the mountains the sea also has vanished. The last event, which is comprised in the comprehensive representation, is the destruction of Gog and Magog in ch. xx. 7-10.

Dispensationalist Clarence Larkin adopted an ultra-literalistic view of the prophecy of islands fleeing and mountains not being found. For him, mountains are mountains, and islands are islands. He identified some foreign cities which he thought would be affected by the earthquake, but none within the USA. He wrote: [6]

The “Great Earthquake” that follows will be the greatest that this world has ever seen. It is foretold in Zech. 14:4-5. So great will it be, that it will level the mountains, and destroy islands, and so change the contour and shape of the Land of Palestine and the surrounding countries and seas, as to make new maps of that part of the world necessary; and it will raise the Dead Sea so that its waters shall flow again into the Red Sea. Ez. 47:1-12. It will divide the “Great City” (Jerusalem) into 3 parts, and the cities of the Nations (the “Ten Federated Nations), and “GREAT BABYLON,” whose destruction is described in chapter eighteen, will be destroyed in that “Great Earthquake.” This reference to the “City of Babylon” is further incidental proof that the city of Babylon is to be rebuilt. Among the cities destroyed in that Earthquake will be Rome, Naples, London, Paris, and Constantinople.

Henry M. Morris embraced a similar literal view of the prophecy: [7]

Revelation 16:18 so mighty an earthquake. There have been many devastating earthquakes on earth, ever since the eruption of the primeval subterranean water channels that initiated the great Flood and the tectonic uplifts that terminated it (Genesis 7:11; Psalm 104:6-9). The global earthquake at the judgment of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17) had been so severe that “every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” This earthquake, however, is far worse–so bad, in fact, that “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Revelation 16:20).

David Steele applied the prophecy to the papacy. He wrote: [8]

At the fall of Rome pagan, mountains and islands were only “moved out of their places,” (ch. vi. 14;) but at the fall of Rome papal, “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found;”-the former indicating transition, the latter utter destruction.

A web site author interpreted the prophecy as depicting “anarchy on a world scale.” [9]

The reader must realize that God waited very long and very patiently before matters came to this terrible state described in Revelation 16. When “every island [republic] flees away” and the “mountains” (kingdoms) collapse, that certainly brings us to the dreaded period of anarchy on a world scale.

William Milligan compared the mountains and islands fleeing away with the heavens and the earth fleeing from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne in a later chapter. He wrote: [10]

Further effects of the last judgment follow. Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. Effects similar, though not so terrible, had been connected with the sixth Seal. Mountains and islands had then been simply “moved out of their places.” Now they “flee away.” Similar effects will again meet us, but in an enhanced degree. As yet, while mountains and islands flee away, the earth and the heavens remain. In the last description of the judgment of the wicked the heavens and the earth themselves flee away from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and no place is found for them. The climax in the different accounts of what is substantially the same event cannot be mistaken.

In this post, I showed that the mountains in prophecy often represent promises to the saints, and revelations, and prophecies. Perhaps this idea can be applied when interpreting the events of the seventh vial. If every island flees away, and the mountains are “not found,” then the true meaning of the prophecies of scripture is missing, and their interpretation can’t be found. Understanding is what can’t be found, in spite of all the learned scholarship, and information that is available. Other spiritual gifts are missing too. The proliferation of interpretations, and widely differing views on virtually everything in Bible prophecy, illustrates this condition.


1. Charles D. Alexander, Revelation Spiritually Understood Part 21.

2. Albert Barnes, Notes explanatory and practical on the Book of revelation
[Knight and Son, 1853] p. 221.

3. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (1987).

4. James Burton Coffman, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament.

5. Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, The Revelation of St John: expounded for those who search the Scriptures, Volume 2. [R. Carter, 1853] p. 224-225.

6. Clarence Larkin, The Book of Revelation: A Study of the Last Prophetic Book of Holy Scripture. Forgotten Books. p. 218.

7. Henry M. Morris, New Defender’s Study Bible.

8. David Steele Sr., Notes on the Apocalypse (1870).


10. William Milligan, The Book of Revelation.