The Battle Over “Armageddon”
BY ANGEL MANUEL RODRIGUEZ
Could you tell me the meaning of the word “Armageddon” in Revelation 16:16? I keep getting different answers.
You will continue to hear different opinions, I’m afraid. Sometimes we confront biblical information that is ambiguous and subject to several possible interpretations, making it difficult to interpret the one that expresses for certain what the biblical author intended to say. In those cases we simply have to examine the possibilities, identify those that are compatible with the immediate context, and accept our limitations as interpreters by acknowledging that lack of information gives us several ways of reading a particular passage. The meaning of “Armageddon” is one of these situations.
I will comment briefly on the components of the name, and then on the two main possible interpretations of it.
1. Components of the Name: The noun Armageddon, written in Greek as Harmagedon, designates the place where the forces of evil gather to fight the Lord. The text states that it is a Hebrew name. Hence, most interpreters find in the name the combination of two Hebrew words. The first is har, which in Hebrew means “mountain, mount.” But the second part of the word, magedon, is the bone of contention. Is there a Hebrew word that corresponds to the Greek spelling?
2. Mount of Megiddo: The traditional solution has been to find in the term magedon a reference to the ancient city of Megiddo in Israel. The name of that city is spelled in the Greek translation of the Old Testament as Mageddo (Joshua 17:11) or as Magedon (2 Chron. 35:22), the same spelling we find in Revelation 16:16. The same spelling would support this interpretation. The problem is that we do not find in the Old Testament the noun Megiddo preceded by the term har (“mountain”). There is no such place as Har-Magedon.
Some have attempted to partially solve the problem suggesting that “mountain” refers to the mountain that was in front of the city of Megiddo, namely, Mount Carmel. That was the mountain on which Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and the Lord revealed Himself as the true object of worship. In context that would mean that Armageddon is Satan’s last attempt to become the sole object of worship on Planet Earth. That function of the name nicely fits the message of Revelation, but the explanation of the name itself is far from certain.
3. Mount of Assembly: The other main possibility is to find in Harmagedon a reference to Isaiah 14:13, where we find the Hebrew phrase har moced, usually rendered “mount of assembly.” The main problem here is again a linguistic one. The g of magedon is absent from moced, as well as the ending on. The vowels are not exactly the same, but that is not a major problem, because the Hebrew script did not have vowels. The g is not a major problem.
Confused? Let me explain. The raised c in moced represents a sound absent in English and Greek languages. When writing Hebrew names the Greeks tended to use the letter gamma (English: g) to represent it. Therefore, maged could be the way moced was written in Greek. Are you still with me?
What about the on ending (Armageddon)? It is argued that the ending was added to the Hebrew word in order to make the noun sound like a Greek word. Possible, but we cannot be absolutely certain that John had that in mind when he used the word “Armageddon.”
However, that interpretation of the term nicely fits the context. Isaiah 14:13 describes Lucifer’s intention to sit enthroned on the “mount of assembly,” that is to say, in God’s heavenly dwelling, as if he were God. Revelation uses that language in order to demonstrate that Lucifer has not given up his plans and that he will try again to occupy God’s place on this planet. The battle of Armageddon is Lucifer’s last attempt to occupy the mount of assembly, to be like God.
Even though we have two different interpretations of “Armageddon,” they both reach basically the same conclusion concerning the message encoded in that term. They’re both compatible with the message of the book of Revelation. Therefore, one could chose one over the other and still agree in terms of its meaning in the book. So please, do not be dogmatic.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.