Will There be an Armageddon?
Many religionists insist that world history will culminate in a cataclysmic global holocaust known as “Armageddon,” followed by the “Millennium”—a 1000-year reign of Christ on Earth. They say that current events in the Middle East are arranging themselves in such a fashion that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent. Of course, this claim has been made repeatedly for many, many years—with no fulfillment forthcoming.
What does the Bible actually say about “Armageddon”? The term “armageddon” occurs only once in the New Testament: Revelation 16:16. In keeping with the literary genre of the book (i.e., apocalyptic), the term is used with figurative connotations. Revelation is literally packed with allusions to the Old Testament. In fact, “no book in the New Testament is so thoroughly steeped in the thought and imagery of the Hebrew Scriptures” (Swete, 1911, p. liii). But the writer does not use direct quotes from the Old Testament. Rather, he adapted, modified, and combined ideas from the Old Testament in order to apply them to the setting to which he addressed himself. He drew freely from Old Testament imagery, but placed a New Testament spin on them with a first century application.
For those who would be familiar with the Old Testament (as Asia Minor Christians would have been), the Holy Spirit capitalized on the meaning that this location possessed. In Hebrew, the term “Harmageddon” means “mountain (or hill) of Megiddo.” Was there a hill of Megiddo? Yes. In fact, Jews and students of Hebrew history were only too familiar with this prominent battlefield and vicinity. Many bloody encounters stained the soil of this region—scenes of military disaster. It was here that Deborah and Barak defeated the Canaanites (Judges 5:19). Gideon was victorious over the Midianites in this region (Judges 7). These positive accomplishments were etched into the Israelite consciousness. But there were other images evoked by Megiddo, for it also served as a place where national tragedy had occurred. Ahaziah died there after being pierced by Jehu’s arrow (2 Kings 9:27). And good King Josiah perished tragically at the hands of Pharaoh Necho (2 Kings 23:29). This last incident was especially poignant to the minds of the Jewish people, who mourned the loss of this great king, enshrining the event in the collective consciousness as an instance of national grief (Zechariah 12:11).
With this long historical background, Megiddo came to occupy a place in the minds of believers similar to places which immediately bring to the American mind definite and strong impressions: the Alamo, Pearl Harbor, etc. This significance was then utilized by the Holy Spirit to convey to struggling, persecuted Christians of Asia Minor near the end of the first century the sure outcome of the conflict then being waged between the forces of evil (Satan and imperial Rome) and the forces of righteousness (God, Christ, and faithful saints who were enduring persecution). These Christians were certainly in no need of assurance that some future global holocaust would occur which Christ would bring to an end 2,000 years removed from their suffering! These Christians were in dire need of assurance that Christ would come to their aid soon (see “shortly”—Revelation 1:1; 22:6). They needed encouragement to hang on, and to remain steadfast in the face of inhuman mistreatment. The symbol of Megiddo fitly symbolized the impending overthrow of an enemy empire, and engendered much needed assurance. Christians were given the solace that soon the outcome of the battle would be realized. The enemies of God and His People would be punished, while suffering saints would be comforted. Thus “armageddon” is purely symbolic, and in no way relates to dispensational dreams of a future world war. There will be no “Armageddon.”
Swete, Henry (1911), Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1977 reprint).