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Armageddon
God's Final War

by Paul Sumner

"The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together
against the LORD and against his Messiah."
(Psalm 2:2)

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The Jezre'el Valley, looking broadly south & west from Har Tabor.
Courtesy: wiki/jezreelvalley

  In the Bible, “Armageddon,” is not the apocalyptic end of life on earth.

Contrary to cultural mythologies, Armageddon has nothing to do with an angry Mother Earth exacting dues on us for our ecological negligence and selfish indulgence. It won’t be caused by melting icecaps and glaciers, or by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, or rampages by biological frankensteins.

Nor will the End come when a great Nibiru appears out of a space-time wormhole to slay Goliath Earth with a well-aimed NEO from Mother Cosmos’s davidic slingshot.

More mundanely, it won't come with a shower of Allah Akhbar nukes from Tehran when the 12th Imam, the great messianic Mahdi of Muslim eschatology, initiates the end of Western, Christian and Jewish civilization and establishes a universal Islamic state.

No. It's not going to happen that way.

Armageddon, in the Bible, is God’s final war that he wages against a coalition of nations — because of their unrelenting sinfulness, rebellion against His will, and refusal to obey His Messiah Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth), whom He sent as agent of human redemption and regeneration.


The word “Armageddon” occurs only one time in biblical literature: in the book of Revelation chapter 16 in the New Testament:

[13] I saw coming out of the mouth of the Dragon and out of the mouth of the Beast and out of the mouth of the False Prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; [14] for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the War of the great Day of God, the Almighty. . . . [16] And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
In this passage, the Dragon is Satan, the Devil or the Serpent (Rev 12:9). The Beast is apparently an anti-Messiah or Imitation Messiah. And the False Prophet is the Beast’s spiritual spokesman and leader of the world religion. The demonic spirits originating from this triad “inspire” the leaders of the world to gather at Armageddon.

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The Final Conflagration

The prophet John, who recorded this vision, then said he saw “the Beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against [the Lamb, the King of kings] who sat upon the horse and against his army” (Rev 19:19). The Beast and False Prophet are seized and “thrown into the lake of fire,” while their armies are “killed with the sword” (vv. 20-21). (Only later is the Dragon/Satan dealt with; Rev. 20:10.)

Thus, Armageddon begins as an all-out, demonically-inspired war against the Messiah Yeshua — not people versus people or nature versus people. But it ends with God destroying his enemies.

Armageddon is not only an event, it is also place where God punishes unrepentant, evil human beings, so that his creation will be free of their influence.

Let’s look at Hebrew backgrounds for these apocalyptic passages.

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Megiddo
Some historians and linguists believe the Greek word Armageddon (Rev 16:16) reflects the Hebrew phrase Har Megiddon or “Mountain of Megiddo.”

In the Hebrew Bible, Megiddo is a town, not a mountain (Jos 12:21; 2 Kgs 23:29; Zech 12:11), though like most towns and cities it is situated on a hill. The site of Tel Megiddo today is situated on the edge of the Carmel mountain range southeast of Haifa, overlooking the Plain of Esdraelon or Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. “Har Megiddon” might mean the hill country around Megiddo and the valleys or plain below.

Spelling of the name Armageddon varies in the Greek texts of Rev 16:16. The oldest texts have one delta (d), while later ones have two.
The oldest uncial texts don't contain breathing marks (the "h" sound). So it's not clear how to pronounce the initial alpha (a). The name could thus be spelled Harmagedon or Armagedon. Eventually, as breathing marks were later printed in the Greek texts, we find both spellings.

All these differences suggest scribal unfamiliarity with the word (i.e., it wasn't a known Greek name or location). Thus it seems to represent a Hebrew original.

On these textual differences, see Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation (rev. ed., 1998, p. 301) and Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed., 1994, p. 681).

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Megiddo = War
In Hebrew Scripture, Megiddo has a history of war and death.

The town of Megiddo overlooked the Valley of Jezreel, where “the stars fought from heaven” against the chariots of Sisera, using the armies of Barak and Deborah (Judges 4–5; esp. 5:20). Wicked King Ahaziah later fled to Megiddo and died there after being shot with arrows of judgment from Jehu's men (2 Kings 9:27). And there the righteous but foolish King Josiah was needlessly slain in battle with Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chron 35:22). Archeologists found a large fortress and cavalry post there, apparently built by King Solomon.

Megiddo and the Jezreel valley thus symbolize war and defeat — usually of the enemies of God.

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megiddo
The archeological digs at the city of Megiddo.

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The Coalition War Against Jerusalem

The Hebrew prophets often picture an end-time war waged by the nations against Israel and its capital Jerusalem.

  • Ezekiel foresaw an assault “upon the mountains of Israel” (39:2) led by “Gog,” the ruler of Magog and chief prince of Meshech and Tubal (Ezek 38:2-3; 39:1).
  • Joel predicted God would “bring [the nations] down to the Valley of Yehoshafat” and “enter into judgment with them there” (Joel 3:2). This valley may be symbolic not geographical, for the name Yehoshafat means “YHVH has judged.” The place is also called “the Valley of Decision” (Joel 3:14) — where God makes decisions, about people.
  • In Zechariah God announces that “I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle . . . then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations” (Zech 14:2, 3). And when this “unique day” is over creation will be changed astronomically and geologically. More important: polytheism, syncretism, and the pluralistic era of ethnic gods will come to an end. “The LORD will be King over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one and his Name the only one” (v. 9).

These passages assume humankind will still exist to face “the War of the great Day of God” (Rev 16:14).

Therefore, we earthlings won’t destroy ourselves with NBCs (nuclear, biological, chemical weapons) or environmental contaminations, or be vaporized by interstellar invasions. We may suffer greatly from what we’ve created, unleashed or mismanaged. But our final Armageddon is noted in Someone else’s iPad.

We are all — according to the prophets — headed for an End Game with God, not with ourselves.

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God’s Transnational, Non-Preferential,
Purifying War

Even though prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel predicted final defeat for those who opposed the God of Israel, they weren’t chauvanistic Israelites who relished predicting that the Gentiles would one day get theirs. For as God said, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek 33:11).

Central to their vision of the End was the divine finger pointed at pride and presumptuousness among His own — Jewish — people. In fact, warnings to Israel about meeting her angry Lord get considerably more column space in the prophetic scrolls.

Isaiah said God was planning to wash “the filth” and purge “the bloodshed of Jerusalem ... by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning” (Isa 4:4).

Jeremiah warned folks in the capital to internally “circumcise” themselves and to “wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, that you may be delivered [Heb. yasha, saved]” (Jer 4:4, 14). There was no point hiding behind national religion. God won’t be dissuaded by “deceptive words” entoned by religious people.

Their smug declaration — “the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD” (Jer 7:4) — is like an anti-war poster that says, “Make Peace, not War. You’re a loving God. You wouldn’t dare harm innocent people or your Holy Place.”

Yes, He would.

The anti-war, pro-Temple (false) prophets who preach otherwise “have healed the wound of My people slightly, saying, ‘Shalom, Shalom,’ but there is no shalom” (Jer 6:14). Failing to tell others how to heal their soul-sickness and be cleansed of sin prevents wholeness with God, and leads to disaster.

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Jerusalem Will Mourn Again

Centuries after Isaiah and Jeremiah, Zechariah repeated the doom scenario for the ungodly nations. Like his ancient mentors, he too predicted God would “destroy all the nations [Heb. goyim] that come against Jerusalem” (Zech 12:2, 9).

Yet . . . he also foresaw Jerusalem standing defenseless before God’s face of displeasure.

And when her court session before the Judge is over “there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo” (Zech 12:11). (Hadad-rimmon may be a site near Megiddo where the beloved King Josiah was killed, an event at which “all Judah and Jerusalem mourned”; 2 Chron 35:24).

Zechariah repeated familiar prophetic themes but more importantly unveiled unique events.

Familiar Events:
1) God judges and destroys those who wage war against Jerusalem.

2) God turns in judgment toward Jerusalem (all his covenant people).

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Unique Events:
3) Jerusalem’s mourning day occurs when they “look on me whom they pierced through, and they will mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son [Heb. yachid]” (Zech 12:10).

4) Then, “in that day, a fountain will be opened for the House of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity . . . and I will cut off the names of the idols . . . and I will also remove the prophets and the Unclean Spirit from the land” (Zech 13:1, 2).

5) Then, God will return to the Mount of Olives (Har haZetim) east of the Temple mount (Zech 14:4), just as he departed from it prior to the Temple’s destruction in the time of Babylon’s invasion (Ezek 11:23).

6) Lastly, Jerusalem “will rise and remain on its site” and “people will live in it, and there will be no more curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security” (Zech 14:10, 11).

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Whom Did Jerusalem Pierce?
The third event described in Step 3 (Zech 12:10) is a crucial one in the Armageddon sequence. The mixture of pronouns is the mysterious element.

“They will look on me . . . they will mourn for him.”
From the context of the passage the “me” is evidently God himself (verses 8-9). But there is no clear referent to the pronoun “him,” unless we continue reading.

Note what the Lord of hosts commands in the next chapter:

Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd,
And against the Man, my Associate,
Declares the LORD of hosts.
Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered . . .
(Zech 13:7)

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The Associate of God

The nouns shepherd, man and associate all point to King David as the one stricken by the sword.

In the ancient world, "shepherd" is another term for king. David ben Jesse was a shepherd in two senses of the word. The word “man” is not adam but gever, which denotes a warrior or hero. King David is called “the gever who was raised on high ... the anointed one [mashiach] of the God of Jacob” (2 Samuel 23:1).

“My associate” (amiti) comes from the root amah denoting society, fellowship, or relation. David is said to have been “a man after [God’s] own heart”; an allusion to sharing intimate counsel and society, of being of one mind (1 Sam 13:14).

But David was dead by the time of this prophecy, by some 400 years. So the allusion must refer to another David, the second “David” the prophets foretold would come (Hosea 3:5; Isa 16:5; Micah 5:2; Jer 23:5; 30:9; Ezek 37:24-25). As his namesake he too is someone close enough to God to be His amit.

In my view, the slain shepherd in Zechariah 13:7 refers back to the “only son” over whom Jerusalem will mourn (Zech 12:10). They mourned King David when he died of old age. They will again mourn the David whom they pierce.

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To Strike David is to Strike God
But the prophecy says it is God who receives the wound: “They will look unto me whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10).

Either God is David, or we conclude that when God’s Associate is stricken by a sword wielded by Jerusalem — an act ordered by God himself (Zech 13:7; cf. Acts 4:28) — it penetrates the being of God. Of course, that would be in character. As it says, “In all their affliction, He was afflicted” (Isa 63:9).

Yeshua once said the things done “to the least of these brothers of mine” are done to him (Matt 25:40).

Even though the Creator feels the pain and loss of allowing his Associate to be slain, Zechariah said God’s spirit of grace will flow and a fountain of forgiveness will open when Jerusalem mourns her son. Healing follows war for those who mourn rightly. Mourning is not how it must end.

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Armageddon: Whose Definition Will We Use?

These previews of Armageddon in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are closely linked. The events of ancient history are wired through time to the final age. And what unfolds in the future depends on human responses to the God of Israel’s revelation and work on earth.

In one sense, the gathering of nations against God is not just an end time event. It’s been going on for ages.

Three millennia ago, the psalmist said, “The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Messiah [al YHVH ve-al meshicho] (Psalm 2).

The leaders of your country and mine have throughout history (some to greater degrees than others) all resisted and even actively opposed the will of God. Armageddon is merely their final, corporate effort to be done with that “intolerant, oppressive, biblical God and his Messiah-is-King-of-kings doctrine.” Note v. 3 in Psalm 2:

"Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints."

The true Armageddon is not a non-historical final disaster from fill-in-the-blank causes. That pop interpretation was co-opted by people who didn’t read the Scriptures in detail, or by revisionists who don’t like the biblical storyline and want to rewrite it.

Accountability & Decision
In truth, Armageddon is a day of finally being accountable to the God of the Bible and of deciding whether His pierced “David” will be king or not — and of then facing the consequences of those decisions.

There is reason to fear the Day of Armageddon. There can be reason to welcome it with open and humble arms.

[See C. S. Lewis's thoughts on"The World's Last Night" (PDF).]

Paul Sumner

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