By Mark Mayberry
The word “Armageddon” appears only in Revelation 16:16. It is described as the rallying-place of the kings of the whole world who, led by the unclean spirits issuing from the mouth of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet, assemble there for “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. ” The battle of Armageddon is anticipated in Revelation 16:13-16 but is not fought until Revelation 19:11-21.
The Battle of Armageddon is the source of much sensational speculation. The far-fetched views and misconceptions which people have on this subject are truly amazing to consider. Much of the problem lies with the advocates of the false system of Premillennialism. They teach that a universal war will soon take place among the nations of the world, and the final, catastrophic battle of that war will occur on the plains of Megiddo. The battle described in Revelation is viewed literally. It will be a bloody holocaust such as the world has never known. It is argued that conflicts are now developing that will lead to Armageddon. It supposedly will take place after the 7 years of tribulation, and just before the second advent of Christ. How does their teaching harmonize with the Scriptures?
The word Armageddon is derived from the Hebrew Har-Magedon, which means the “Mountain of Megiddo.” The city of Megiddo lay in north central Palestine. It was strategically located on the southern rim of the Plain of Jezreel. This valley, also known as the Plain of Esdraelon, was some 20 miles long by 6 miles wide. A major highway linking Egypt and Mesopotamia went through this area. Because of its location, Megiddo became an important military outpost. It is often described in the Bible as a military stronghold (Josh. 12:2 1; 17:11; Jdg. 1:27; 5:19; 2 Kgs. 9:27; 23:29; etc.)
Actually, there was no literal mountain named “Megiddo.” The reference is either to the mountains that were near the town of Megiddo, or possibly to the large mound of the city itself. “The fact that the tell of Megiddo was about 70 feet high in John’s day, and was in the vicinity of Carmel Range, justifies the use of Heb. har, used loosely in the Old Testament for ‘hill’ and ‘hill country’ (BDB, p. 249; cf. Josh. 10:40; 11:16, RSV)” (New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “HarMagedon”).
The Symbolism of Names and Places
A place can become symbolic because of some historical event with which it is associated. For example, all are familiar with the saying, “He met his Waterloo!” Waterloo was a small town in central Belgium where Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815. The expression has come to represent a disastrous defeat.
Consider the words “Remember the Alamo!” In that battle, a small group of men stood bravely against impossible odds. That small mission in San Antonio represents the spirit of courage and sacrifice, and is a proud part of the heritage of Texas.
So it is with the plain of Megiddo or “Armageddon.” It was the scene of so many decisive battles, that it came to stand for battle itself. “These low hills around Megiddo, with their outlook over the plain of Esdraelon, have witnessed perhaps a greater number of bloody encounters than have ever stained a like area of the world’s surface” (ISBE, s.v. “Har-Magedon”).
Megiddo had been the scene of never-to-be forgotten battles. It was famous for two great victories. Here Deborah and Barak overthrew Sisera and the army of the Canaanites (Jdg. 4:15; 5:19-21). Against overwhelming odds, Gideon and his 300 here defeated the Midianites (Jdg. 6-7). It was famous for two great disasters. Here wicked King Saul, who had been rejected by God, was defeated by the Philistines (1 Sam. 31). Later, Josiah was killed here when he tried to prevent Pharaoh Necho of Egypt from going to the aid of Assyria (2 Kgs. 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:22). To the Jewish mind, Megiddo was a place of great slaughter and represented God’s terrible judgment upon the wicked. Thus Armageddon became a poetic expression for terrible and decisive conflict.
Its Significance In the Book of Revelation
What is the message of Revelation when it speaks of the battle of Armageddon? This book was written during a time of severe and widespread persecution. The Christian movement appeared to be on the brink of extinction. This was an hour of desperate need. John wrote in order to reassure disciples that the forces of evil would be completely overthrown and Christianity would triumph victoriously. The Book of Revelation is a message of victory. The Greek word nikao – translated “overcome,” isconquer,” or “victory” – is found 28 times in the New Testament, and 17 of these are in Revelation.
John wrote concerning things that would “shortly come to pass.” Those who take a futuristic and literal interpretation of Revelation fail to grasp the true message of the book. No interpretation of the book as a whole or this battle in particular can have any significance unless it has application to those first century saints to whom the book was addressed.
Revelation is an apocalyptic book, filled with signs, visions, and highly symbolic language. Any interpretation of this book that seeks to literalize its images is doomed to absolute failure. This is the cardinal sin of the Premillennialism. Those who would interpret Armageddon literally are very selective in their approach. The context speaks of three frogs, a great red dragon, a sea beast, and an earth beast. If one expects a literal battle, he should expect the army to be headed bfthree frogs. Both figures are symbolic; neither is literal. There is no reason for making one literal and the other symbolic. If we make the battle literal, why not the other symbols as well?
The context speaks of God pouring out his wrath upon the evil forces that opposed the early church. Even though all the forces of evil be gathered together as one in their conflict against God, they will be overwhelmed by his decisive and unrelenting judgment. Using the figure of Armageddon, the apostle John is not referring to any particular locality. Ultimately, Armageddon cannot be located on the maps of the earth; its geographical location is unimportant.
In the Book of Revelation, the battle of Armageddon represents the decisive conflict between good and evil. It symbolizes occasions when righteousness and evil are engaged in deadly combat. However strong the forces of evil may appear, and however hopeless therighteous may seem, God will ultimately win the victory!
How comforting this message must have been to those early Christians who were suffering under the heavy hand of the evil Roman empire. The whole thrust of the Apocalypse is to assure the saints of this victory, and to exhort them to avoid compromising with error. Rome was the evil force at that time, but the principle is timeless. God and his cause will be victorious in the end!
Let us never forget that we are at war with Satan and his forces (Eph. 6:11-17; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). We must earnestly contend for the faith (1 Tim. 6:12; Jude 3). The battle will be fierce, but we have the assurance that victory is ours. Ultimately, spiritual evil will be overthrown by the great power of the Almighty God (1 Jn. 5:4; Rev. 20:10-15).
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 22, pp. 675-676
November 17, 1988