Revelation 16:16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
“Thus far there has been no satisfactory explanation of the name.” Joachim Jeremias, “Ἃρ Μαγεδών,” TDNT 1:468.
After the sixth bowl of God’s wrath has been poured out on the earth, the nations are deceived by demonic signs gather at a place called Armageddon. The word Armageddon has become part of western apocalyptic vocabulary, but books and films describing the “end of the world” as Armageddon do not reflect the use of the word in Revelation 16:16.
John tells the reader the word Armageddon (Ἁρμαγεδών) is Hebrew or Aramaic (Ἑβραϊστί can mean either). The Hebrew, presumably, would be Har-Megiddo, or the Mount Megiddo. Megiddo is a well-known location in central Israel, bordering the broad Valley of Jezreel. The valley had been the site of numerous battles, from Egyptian battles in 1500 B.C. to a British conflict in 1917. Those who have visited Megiddo on an Israel tour might recall the lurid video in the visitor’s center suggesting this is the location of the “end of the world.”
But there is no Mount Megiddo. Megiddo was a city and occasionally a plain (2 Chron 35:22; Zech 12:11). Perhaps the Hebrew word could be A’r-Megiddo, the city of Megiddo, but this does not seem likely. John may not intend for Armageddon as a literal place name, but as a metaphor for the conflict between the forces of evil and the forces of God in a final battle.
It is tempting to understand Mount Megiddo as a reference to the Carmel range near Megiddo. The traditional site of Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal at Carmel overlooks the plain of Jezreel (1 Kings 18:16-45). Like the book Revelation, Elijah faces a challenge to the worship of the Lord from Ahab and Jezebel. Who is the God who is worthy of Israel’s worship? Elijah proves it is only the Lord, the God of Israel and not Baal when God sends fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice. The story has a three-year drought, famine, miraculous protect of God’s servant Elijah, and a climactic bloody slaughter of those who worship Baal. Many of these resonate with the conflict between the kingdom of the Beast and the Lamb in Revelation.
Following a 1938 article by C. C. Torrey, Meredith Kline suggested the word should be read as har môʿēd, “Mount of Assembly.” If this is the case, then Revelation 16:16 would allude to Isaiah 14:13, one of the boasts of the king of Babylon is that he would ascend to heaven and set his throne on the high, “I will sit on the mount of assembly, I the far reaches of the north.” The Hebrew phrase בְּהַר־מוֹעֵ֖ד (“on the mount of assembly”) is render as ἐν ὄρει ὑψηλῷ (“on the high mountain”) in the LXX. The Greek ὑψηλός refers to a high or lofty mountain, but also to arrogance or presumption (BrillDAG).
Kline points out Isaiah 14:13 has “the far reaches of the north” in parallel to the mount of assembly. The high mountain in the north (צָפוֹן, zaphon) is where the gods lived in Ugaritic mythology. Whatever real-world mountain this might refer to, in Isaiah 14 the king of Babylon is ultimately arrogant in his desire to set his throne in the place of the gods. Rather than sit in the place of the gods, the king of Babylon will be brought down to the pit (Isa 14:14).
Kline then connects Mount Zaphon (the abode of the gods in Canaanite mythology) with Mount Zion, the abode of God. Psalm 48:1 calls Mount Zion God’s holy mountain, “beautiful in elevation” and “in the far north (zaphon).” At least in this psalm, Zion is like Zaphon. But in many other texts Zion is God’s meeting place with his people.
Like the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14, Revelation 16:16 refers to the ultimate arrogant attempt to demand the worship God himself deserves. “Satan will make his last attempt to usurp Har Magedon” (p. 213). For Kline, “The typological Zion/Jerusalem provides the symbolic scenery for prophecies of the climactic conflict in the war of the ages” (p. 213). Kline supports this view by examining Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38-39.
I find Kline’s suggestion intriguing because the allusion to Isaiah 14 describes an arrogant king of Babylon who will demand to be worshiped as God. This is similar to the arrogant little horn in Daniel 7 as well as the willful king in Daniel 11. In the very next section of Revelation John describes Babylon as a whore drunk on the blood of the saints and the fall of Babylon dominates Revelation 17-19:10. However, it is difficult for me to move from Har Moed to Har Magedon.
The name of the mountain is obscure. Along with Jeremias, BDAG says the interpretation of the word is “beset with difficulties that have not yet been surmounted.” Robert Mounce agrees, the meaning of Armageddon is like the mystery of the name of the beast. There are many suggestions, but few are satisfying.
Whatever Armageddon refers to, the kingdom of the beast will gather for a final confrontation with the Lamb that was slain in order to finally show who is worthy of the worship of the nations.
Bibliography: Meredith G. Kline, “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium” JETS 39 (1996): 207-223; C. C. Torrey, “Armageddon,” HTR 31 (1938): 237-248.