On the meaning of Armageddon
Under the sixth vial, described in Revelation 16:12-16, the water of the river Euphrates is dried up, and three unclean spirits like frogs go forth from the mouth of the beast, the dragon, and the false prophet. They gather the kings of the earth together at a place which John calls “Armageddon.” The significance of Armageddon has been a puzzle to scholars, as the name signifies a mountain, whereas the place indicated is really a valley, which presents a paradox.
In verse 15, there is a blessing for those who “keep their garments.”
And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
The fact that no actual mountain exists at Megiddo ought to be taken as a hint, that perhaps some spiritual or figurative mountain is intended, not a real mountain in Palestine. The Hebrew name signifies a mountain, as some translations make clear, but this is obscured in the KJV. The Weymouth New Testament has: “And assemble them they did at the place called in Hebrew ‘Har-Magedon.'” The Hebrew word for mountain is har.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible states:
Into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon – The word “Armageddon” – Ἀρμαγεδδών Armageddōn – occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and is not found in the Septuagint. It seems to be formed from the Hebrew הר מגדּו har Megidow Har Megiddo – Mountain of Megiddo. Compare 2 Chronicles 35:22, where it is said that Josiah “came to fight in the valley of Megiddo.”
Megiddo is a valley, or a plain, not a mountain. ‘Har-Magedon,’ then, must refer to an invisible mountain, a symbolic one, and I suggest, it alludes to the mountains of Israel, symbolic of God’s promises, covenants, prophecies, and revelations, all of which are part of the spiritual inheritance of the saints. The battle is spiritual, and involves deceived people being enlightened by the gospel. Men do not need to go to Palestine, to fight against God, as God is a spirit.
In the table below, comments by scholars on the interpretation of ‘Har-Magedon’ are listed alphabetically by author.
|Alcasar||In our Latin version, the word congregavit seems to refer to the Omnipotent God; and indeed with a very wise design; in order that we might thus understand that the hostile intent and conflict of the three spirits was an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence; that by help of this he might bring his counsels to their destined issue, and lead the army of his adversaries into the field of Armageddon, that is, into snares; and there capture them. For Armageddon is not a name proper to any given place; but is a name coined from the Hebrew, with a view to the signification of this mystery; for it properly signifies a place suited to the laying of snares. Wherefore in this passage it is intimated, that when the Gentiles became more active, and firm in their attitude of war against the church; then most especially were they led away by God, and drawn into those snares which he had prepared for them.|
|Charles D. Alexander||In Revelation Megiddo becomes Armageddon — a deliberate development of the name, to indicate the spiritual nature of the battle. Here under the Sixth Vial the forces of evil are assembled for the great gospel battle. The battle ground is spiritual. We war not with flesh and blood.|
|Andreas of Caesarea||“mountain of slaughter”|
|J. W. Bowman||har migdô, “his fruitful mountains,” i.e., mount Zion|
|A. van den Born||“mount of the Macedonian,” i.e., Alexander the Great|
|Augustus Clissold||The use of the term “Armageddon” (Gk. Harmageddon) should put us on our guard against easy solutions. The term is peculiar to John in Revelation. The OT allusions are to Megiddo, or (Zechariah) Megiddon, relating to the valley of, Esdraelon in northern Palestine. “The fact that St. John has employed a word not found in connection with any locality or historical event, of itself points to a figurative interpretation”. (Speaker’s Bible) ARMAGEDDON is a SPIRITUAL, and not a military conflict.|
|Alexander Cruden||The mountain of Megiddo, or, the mountain of the Gospel; otherwise the mountain of fruits, or of apples.|
|John Day||… we know from the allusion to Zech. 12:10,12 in Rev. 1:7, “and every eye will see him. every one who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him,” that hā’āres, which is to mourn in Zech. 12:12, was now understood by the seer of the Apocalypse to denote “the earth” (cf. Matt. 24:30) rather than “the land,” as had originally been intended in Zechariah. Putting all this together, we may presume that an understanding arose that the nations of the earth would be mourning in Megiddo. Since Zech. 12:2ff. has previously spoken of the nations of the earth coming up to do battle against Jerusalem, these were naturally understood to be the same nations as those mourning in the valley of Megiddo in Zech. 12:11. That is to say, the mourning at Megiddo is by the nations in the context of the eschatological battle against Jerusalem. In this way the writer of Revelation deduced the idea of an end time assembly for battle at Megiddo. Since Ezekiel 38-39’s description of the end-time battle implied defeat for the enemies on the mountains of Israel, and the reference to “the valley of Megiddo” in Zech. 12:11 implied the presence also of a mountain, the author of Revelation coined the expression Armageddon, “mountain of Megiddo.”|
|Friedrich Düsterdieck||By designating the place, therefore, where the antichristian kings assemble for battle against Christ and his Church, by that name, it is indicated that the fate of the antichristian kings shall be the same as that of the Canaanites formerly at Megiddo. With this thought, the designation Mount Megiddo appears also to correspond. For as the subject has to do not with an actual, but only with an ideal, geographical specification, in the designation Mount Meg., there can lie an intimation of the immovableness and victory of the Church of God. … This ideal character of the geographical designation prevents, however, the explanation that Armageddon is Rome, or the mountains of Judah, where the enemies are to gather until they are annihilated in the Valley of Jehoshaphat.|
|Austin Farrer||So in sum, Mt. Megiddo stands in his mind for a place where lying prophecy and its dupes go to meet their doom; where kings and their armies are misled to their destruction; and where all the tribes of the earth mourn, to see him in power, whom in weakness they had pierced. For there the stars in their courses fight against princes, and the floods of destruction sweep them away (Judges v. 19-21).|
|Hermann Gebhardt||It is clear that by this name we are to understand Megiddo, which Judg. v. 19, 2 Kings xxiii. 29, 2 Chron. xxxv. 20-24 (cf. Zech. xii. 10, 11), mention as the great battlefield of the O.T. But a mere statement of locality cannot be intended, for then it would not be called Armageddon, but Megiddo or Magedon; nor would it be said that the locality was so called in the Hebrew. This addition, as well as the compound name, compels us to notice the verbal meaning, and yet not the etymological meaning of Magedon, which John, on account of its difficulty, would certainly have added in Greek (cf. ix. 11), but only that Armageddon in Hebrew means Hill of Megiddo. It is in the highest degree probable, that, in this designation, the seer refers to Zech. xii. 11: ‘in the Valley of Megiddo,’—valley, symbol of defeat; hill, of victory,—and wishes us to understand that what the heathen once did against Josiah and his people at Megiddo would now find its counterpart in what they did against Jesus and his followers; but that as once, in the Valley of Megiddo, the theocracy was borne to the grave with Josiah, so, in Armageddon, the Hill of Megiddo, the Lord would avenge the crime of the heathen.|
|Matthew Höe||It is not a physical or local space that is denoted by Harmageddon, as we have above explained. A word indeed indicating locality is here used; but even place does not always designate physical space; for example, when St. Peter says of Judas, Acts i., 25, that ‘he went to his own place,’ is any one so foolish as by place to understand here a physical space? So likewise in the Apocalypse, place has not any signification of physical locality; for in chap. xii., 8, John says of the evil angels, ‘and their place was no more found in heaven.’ If therefore place denotes precisely physical space, it necessarily follows that the infernal dragon formerly had such a physical place in heaven; which no one but a plainly stupid person would affirm. To say nothing of other authors, John Damascen maintains the existence not only of corporeal place, but also of intellectual place; so that I am under no constraint, in the application or historical deduction of the sixth phial, to shew any given physical place as having the name of Armageddon … it is sufficient if I prove that the kings and kingdoms were cast by unclean spirits into destruction, and utter perdition; and therefore that place of some kind was not wanting, in which the operation of spirits should be made manifest.|
|F. Hommel||the mountain of assembly, the world mountain of the gods in Babylonian mythology|
|Hyponoia||We suppose the term place to be put here for a certain position of principles peculiarly adapted to a test of their correctness.
There seems to be no such place as Armageddon mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures. Some have supposed the appellation to refer to Megiddo, a place remarkable for a double slaughter, Judges v., 19, and 2 Kings xxiii., 29, Rob. Lex.: this double slaughter, if such be the allusion, being perhaps a type of the great contest between truth and error here contemplated—the kings of Canaan and the king of Egypt representing the powers or principles symbolized in the Apocalypse by the kings of the earth.
|Marko Jauhiainen||…while absolute certainty regarding the precise import of Ἀρμαγεδδών or its constituents may elude us, explanations connecting it to the kings’ attack against Babylon are in any case more likely in the context of Rev. 16-18 than understanding it as an allusion to the ‘plain of Megiddo’ in Zech. 12:11 or the ‘mountains of Israel’ in Ezek. 38 and 39.|
|G. E. Ladd||The word “Armageddon” is difficult; the Hebrew equivalent would be har megiddon – the mountain of Megiddo. The problem is that Megiddo is not a mountain, but a plain located between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean, part of the valley of Jezreel (Esdraelon). It was a famous battleground in the history of Israel. At Megiddo, Barak and Deborah overthrew the Canaanite Jabin (Jud 5:19); Ahaziah was slain by Jehu (II Kings 23:29; II Chr 35:22). Why John calls it the mountain of Megiddo is not clear; R. H. Charles says that no convincing interpretation has yet been given of the phrase, it is unknown in Hebrew literature. . . . Whatever the derivation of the name, it is clear that John means by Armageddon the place of the final struggle between the powers of evil and the Kingdom of God.|
|Hans K. LaRondelle||First of all, a literal “Mount Megiddo” is never mentioned in the OT and does not actually exist. Consequently, the earliest Christian interpreters (including Origen and Eusebius) did not see in Har-Magedon the name of a place at all. A second, and decisive, argument against interpreting the reference in Rev 16:16 with geographic literalism is the fact that the OT prophets had already clearly designated the locality of the apocalyptic struggle: namely, on the mountains and valleys around Mount Zion (Joel 2:32; 3:1-17; Isa 29:1-7; Ezek 39:11; Dan 11:45; Zech 12:2, 3, 9; 14:1-4; cf. also 4 Ezra 13:35-39). The book of Revelation continues this uniform OT eschatology (Rev 14:1, 20; 20:9), with but one theological modification: The Lamb of God determines the new-covenant fulfillment and consummation of all of God’s covenant promises and curses (see Rev 7:9-10; 12:17; 14:12; 15:1, 2; 17:14; 19:11; 21:9, 22, 23; 22:1, 3; cf. 2 Cor 1:20). Just as “Mount Zion” (Rev 14:1) is defined by the gospel as the place of Messianic salvation (Heb 12:22-24), so “Mount Megiddo” must be similarly defined as the place of curse and doom for the antichrist.|
|William Milligan||Why Har-Magedon? There was, we have every reason to believe, no such place. The name is symbolical. It is a compound word derived from the Hebrew, and signifying the mountain of Megiddo. We are thus again taken back to Old Testament history, in which the great plain of Megiddo, the most extensive in Palestine, plays on more than one occasion a notable part. In particular, that plain was famous for two great slaughters, that of the Canaanitish host by Barak, celebrated in the song of Deborah, [Judges v.] and that in which King Josiah fell. [2 Chron. xxxv. 22.] The former is probably alluded to, for the enemies of Israel were there completely routed. For a similar though still more terrible destruction the hosts of evil are assembled at Har-Magedon. The Seer thinks it enough to assemble them, and to name the place. He does not need to go further or to describe the victory.|
|Oecumenius||“mountain of slaughter”|
|Thomas Pyle||For Armageddon is the same as Mount Megiddo; as much as to say, a mountain of destruction. And it has the same meaning with that place which the prophet Joel calls the valley of Jehoshaphat and the valley of decision; where the multitudes of the enemies of God’s true worshippers were to be gathered together and destroyed. For Jehoshaphat signifies as much as the judgment of the Lord. See Joel ii., 1, 2-12.|
|Richard of St. Victor||the word Armageddon signifies mountain of pride|
|C. I. Scofield||the geographical location of a future ‘Mount Megiddo’ in Palestine|
|William H. Shea||An actual battle is not described in this sixth-plague passage; only the preparation for it is noted. In preparation for the coming battle “on the great day of God Almighty” (vs. 14), the forces of the threefold coalition of evil are to assemble “at the place which is called in Hebrew Armageddon” (vs. 16). The difference between the imagery drawn upon here and that employed in the case of the drying up of the Euphrates at the beginning of this plague passage should be noted. The river which ran down the Jezreel Valley and past Megiddo to the sea was not the Euphrates, but the Kishon. Conversely, it was Babylon, not Megiddo, which was located on the Euphrates in Mesopotamia. This mixing of historical metaphors appears to be intentional and should tell us something about the nature of the battle on the great day of God Almighty which is to follow this plague. It should caution the commentator against excessive literalness in interpreting these references in terms of modern-day political entities in the Middle East or elsewhere. … On the basis of geographical proximity as well as historical and textual analogy, therefore, the “mountain of Megiddo(n)” in Rev 16:16 should be identified as Mount Carmel.|
|J. R. A. Sheriffs||If it is symbolic, geographical exactness is unimportant… The ‘mountains of Israel’ witness Gog’s defeat in Ezek xxxix. 1, 4. This may be in the writer’s mind.|
|Foy Esco Wallace||The personage designated Gog in connection with this battle imagery, was the king of a country that sustained relations of hostility to Israel. The names Gog and Magog were used identically and are associated in chapter 20:7-9 as a type of the enemies of Christ. It becomes evident that the symbolic adaptation of Armageddon rises above the physical slaughter that overwhelmed Jerusalem and Judah to the hostile forces of evil surrounding the church, personified as Gog and Magog. It was therefore symbolic of the battle against Christianity–the forces of Judaism on the one side and of heathenism on the other. But the Rider of the white horse was the Conqueror; the Son of man appearing on the white cloud was the Victor; the saints robed in white garments were the Overcomers; in all of the symbols and imagery of the visions and in surviving the persecutions, the church emerged in victory to make the kingdoms of this world (chapter 11:15) become the kingdoms of the Lord and his Christ by the universal sway of the gospel.|
Alcasar, Apocalypse, chap. xvi. [quoted in Clissold, Vol. 4, p. 78]
Charles D. Alexander. The Drying Up Of Euphrates
Augustus Clissold. The spiritual exposition of the Apocalypse, Volume 4 1851.
John Day. “The Origin of Armageddon: Revelation 16:16 as an Interpretation of Zechariah 12:11”, in S. Porter and P.Joyce (eds.), Crossing the Boundaries: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honour of Michael D. Goulder (Leiden: Brill, 1994) 315-26
Friedrich Düsterdieck. Critical and exegetical handbook to the Revelation of John, 1887. p. 423.
Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford, 1964), p. 178. [quoted in LaRondelle]
Hermann F. W. Gebhardt. The Doctrine of the Apocalypse, and its relation to the Doctrine of the Gospel and Epistles of John. Edinburgh, 1878. p. 274. [quoted in Düsterdieck, p. 426]
Matthew Höe. Apocalypse, part ii., chap. xvi., p. 83. [quoted in Clissold, Vol. 4, p. 78]
Hyponoia, Apocalypse, chap. xvi., p. 379. [quoted in Clissold, Vol. 4, p. 78]
Marko Jauhiainen. The OT Background to “Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16) Revisited. Novum Testamentum, Vol. 47, Fasc. 4 (2005), pp. 381-393.
G. E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1972), p. 216. [Cited by Shea.]
Hans K. LaRondelle. The Biblical Concept of Armageddon.
Hans K. LaRondelle. Research Note. The Etymology of Har-Magedon (Rev 16:16). Andrews University Seminary Studies, Spring 1989, Vol. 27, No. 1, 69-78.
William Milligan. The Book of Revelation. 4th Ed. London. Hodder and Stoughton. 1895. p. 272.
Thomas Pyle. A paraphrase, with notes, on the Revelation of St. John. p. 165.
William H. Shea. The location and significance of Armageddon in Rev 16: 16. Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1980, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, 157-162.
Foy Esco Wallace. The Book of Revelation 1966.