Armageddon
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Armageddon

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Background

The term ‘Armageddon’ has long been used and continues to be used to refer to a future battle or ongoing war at the end of time or civilization, whether understood generally as a cataclysmic final battle or specifically as a battle at a place called Megiddo (a location in modern Israel), or a more flexible understanding of Megiddo as a coded reference to an alternative location (for an overview of the history of interpretation in the Christian tradition, see, e.g., Kovacs and Rowland 2004, 171–75). The popular use of ‘Armageddon’ derives originally from Christian scripture, where it appears just once—in Revelation 16:16. Here, Armageddon is alluded to as the gathering place for a great cosmic battle associated with the end times. The English word ‘Armageddon’ is the traditional rendering of the original Greek term used in Revelation—Ἁρμαγεδών—which is sometimes transliterated as ‘Harmagedon,’ as in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up in order to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (‘See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.’) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon. (Revelation 16:12–16, New Revised Standard Version)

The usual critical explanation of the meaning of the word is that it refers to ‘the mountain(s) or hill(s) of Megiddo,’ derived from the Hebrew words הר (har), meaning ‘hill’ or ‘mountain’ (or hill/mountain country), and מגדן (megiddon), referring to the ancient town of Megiddo on a plain in the Valley of Jezreel, now in modern-day Israel. Other suggestions referencing a Hebrew background include ‘city of Megiddo’ (עיר מגדן/‘ir megiddon), ‘mountain of assembly’ (הר־מועד/har mo‘ed), and ideas relating to ‘cutting down’ (from the Hebrew root גדד/gdd). (For discussion of the etymology and the various possible meanings of Revelation 16:16, see, e.g., Aune 1998, 898–99; Jauhiainen 2005.)

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History of Interpretation

The history of interpretation of the significance of Armageddon in Revelation 16:16 is considerable and diverse across Christian traditions, ranging from a literal battle between physical armies under supernatural leadership, through spiritualized and psychologized conceptualisations (e.g., personal struggles against evil), to symbolic or allegorical associations with various historical battles over the centuries. The idea of a battle at Armageddon has developed a particular importance in some forms of contemporary Protestant Christianity drawing on premillennial dispensationalist understandings of history and scripture where it is often understood as one of the events signifying the transition to the final phase of cosmic history and hence the initiation of the return of divine rule to the earth. See, for example, the writings of Hal Lindsey in the 1970s and the Left Behind novels of the 1990s and 2000s by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Shuck 2004).

Armageddon is also prominent among other evangelical denominations and Christian groups with an especial interest in the end times and prophecy, including Pentecostal and charismatic churches, Seventh Day Adventists, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. While the reference to Armageddon as such is not commonly found outside Christian end-times thinking, the idea of a great final battle of cosmic significance appears in different forms across several traditions. In Islamic traditions, the battle of Al-Malhama Al-Kubra at Dabiq against the Christian Roman army is predicted in many hadiths. There has been a linking of broader ideas of holy war and apocalyptic thinking in strands of Muslim thought since the 1970s, with for instance, a high-profile recent manifestation in movements linked to ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) (see Beattie 2015; Fealy 2019.) The Hindu Bhagavadgita is itself a dialogue between Arjuna and Kṛiṣhṇa of ‘socio-cosmic’ proportions that takes place at the scene of the final battle, between the two prepared armies (Malinar 2007).

Popular secular uses of ‘Armageddon’ today regularly involve ideas of great cataclysmic events and conflict; from references to nuclear war to promoting professional wrestling events (see Pyper 2006; Boucher 2019). However, often in popular and everyday reference, connotations of battle or war are secondary or absent, for example in expectations of environmental disaster (see Lilly 2016) and special effects-heavy films (e.g., Armageddon [1998])—though some of the latter explicitly draw on and seek to represent biblical notions of cosmic battle and the apocalypse (e.g., Countdown: Armageddon [2009]).

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References

Armageddon (1998): https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120591/.

Aune, David E. 1998. Revelation 6–16. Volume 52B Word Biblical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Thomas Nelson.

Beattie, Hugh. 2015. “Islamic state, Dabiq, the Mahdi and the End-times”. Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective, http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/religious-studies/?p=240.

Boucher, Ellen. 2019. “Anticipating Armageddon: Nuclear Risk and the Neoliberal Sensibility in Thatcher’s Britain.” The American Historical Review 124(4): 1221–45.

Countdown: Armageddon (Countdown: Jerusalem) (2009): https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1...

Fealy, Greg. 2019. “Apocalyptic Thought, Conspiracism and Jihad in Indonesia.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 41(1): 63–85.

Jauhiainen, Marko. 2005. “The OT Background to ‘Armageddon’ (Rev. 16:16) Revisited”. Novum Testamentum 47: 381–393

Kovacs, Judith, and Christopher Rowland, 2004. Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lilly, Ingrid Esther. 2016. “The Planet’s Apocalypse: The Rhetoric of Climate Change.” In Apocalypses in Context: Apocalyptic Currents through History, edited by Kelly J. Murphy and Justin Jeffcoat Schedtler, 359–79. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Malinar, Angelika. 2007. The Bhagavadgītā: Doctrines and Contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pyper, Hugh S. 2006. “Wrestling the Bible.” SBL Forum. http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=569.

Shuck, Glenn W. 2004. “Marks of the Beast.” Nova Religio 8 (2): 48–63.

Article information

CenSAMM. 2021. "Armageddon." In James Crossley and Alastair Lockhart (eds.) Critical Dictionary of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements. 15 January 2021. Retrieved from www.cdamm.org/articles/armageddon.

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144,000

144,000 refers to a belief in an elect group, often at end times or in an imminent transformation of the world. The usage typically derives from the book of Revelation. In Revelation 7:1–8, 144,000 refers to the twelve tribes of Israel who have the seal of God on their foreheads. They are also presented as virgins, blameless, ‘redeemed from the earth’, and expected to sing a new song at Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1–5).

Apocalypticism

In popular usage, 'apocalypticism' refers to a belief in the likely or impending destruction of the world (or a general global catastrophe), usually associated with upheaval in the social, political, and religious order of human society—often referred to as an/the 'apocalypse'. Historically, the term has had religious connotations and the great destruction has traditionally been seen as part of a divine scheme, though it is increasingly used in secular contexts. See the Apocalypticism article for a more detailed discussion.

Armageddon

In popular use, ‘Armageddon’ involves ideas of great cataclysmic events or conflict. The term has long been used to refer to a future battle or ongoing war at the end of time or civilization, whether understood generally as a cataclysmic final battle or specifically as a battle at a place called Megiddo (a location in modern Israel), or a more flexible understanding of Megiddo as a coded reference to an alternative location. ‘Armageddon’ derives from the book of Revelation where it appears just once (Revelation 16:16) with reference to the location of a great cosmic battle associated with the end times. See the Armageddon article for a more detailed discussion.

Beast of the Apocalypse

In popular terms, the 'Beast' or the 'Beast of the Apocalypse' refer generally to a violent and destructive creature that emerges at end times. Such understandings of an end-time beast or beasts derive from the book of Revelation (also called the The Apocalypse) and its long and varied history of interpretation. Revelation refers to 'beasts' on different occasions, including beasts in opposition to God: one emerging from the sea or a pit (Revelation 11:7; 13:1; 17:8; cf. Daniel 7), one from the earth (Revelation 13:11), and another scarlet in colour (Revelation 17:3). The beast from the earth is also associated with the number 666 (alternatively: 616) (Revelation 13:18) and Revelation 19:20 claims that the beast will 'thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur' (New Revised Standard Version).

Eschatology

‘Eschatology’ concerns the study of end times and is derived from the Greek term ἔσχατος (eschatos), meaning ‘final, ‘last’, ‘end’, etc. Eschatology is a label that can incorporate a cluster of related beliefs which differ according to tradition (e.g., end of the world, resurrection, regeneration, Day of Judgment, Antichrist).

Kingdom of God

In the Bible, the ‘Kingdom of God’ (sometimes synonymous with the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’) refers to notions of ruling and kingship which are often understood to have a spatial or territorial dimension, whether in heaven or on earth. According to the book of Daniel, such ‘kingdom’ language is used to describe the claim that God rules the universe eternally (Daniel 4:34) but will also intervene in human history to establish a kingdom for his people (Daniel 2:44). According to the Gospels, Jesus predicted the coming Kingdom of God or Heaven and these predictions have been influential in the history of speculations about end times or the benefits of the kingdom being experienced in a present time and place. Across different traditions, such language has also been used to describe communities deemed holy or places deemed sacred, as well as being understood with reference to personal or ‘spiritual’ transformation.

Messianism

Messianism refers to ideas about a redeemer figure or figures who transform the fortunes of a given people or the world as a whole. The term ‘Messiah’ is derived from the Hebrew משיח (mashiach), meaning ‘anointed one’. In the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, it is a term used to denote people such as kings, priests and prophets anointed to carry out their duties on behalf of God. In early Judaism, the term took on a more precise meaning as a future redeemer figure, including a king in the line of David. New Testament texts made such clams about Jesus where a Greek equivalent of the Hebrew, Χριστός (christos), became part of his name: Jesus Christ.

Millenarianism

In popular and academic use, the term ‘millenarianism’ is often synonymous with the related terms ‘millennialism’, ‘chiliasm’ and ‘millenarism’. They refer to an end-times Golden Age of peace, on earth, for a long period, preceding a final cataclysm and judgement—sometimes referred to as the 'millennium'. The terms are used to describe both millenarian belief and the persons or social groups for whom that belief is central. ‘Millennialism’ or ‘chiliasm’ are chronological terms derived from the Latin and Greek words for ‘thousand’. They are commonly used to refer to a thousand-year period envisaged in the book of Revelation (20:4–6) during which Christ and resurrected martyrs reign prior to the final judgment. More recently the terms have been used to refer to secular formulas of salvation, from political visions of social transformation to UFO movements anticipating globally transformative extra-terrestrial intervention. See the Millenarianism article for a more detailed discussion.

Prophecy

‘Prophecy’ can be broadly understood as a cross-cultural phenomenon involving claims of supernatural or inspired knowledge transmitted or interpreted by an authoritative recipient, intermediary, or interpreter labelled a ‘prophet’. The term is also used in a more general and secular way to refer to individuals who simply predict or prognosticate future events, or those leading principled causes or in pursuit of a particular social or political vision without any special association with inspired or supernatural insight. The language of ‘prophet’ and ‘prophecy’ in English derives from the Greek προφητης (prophētēs) found in the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and in the New Testament. See the Prophets and Prophecy article for a more detailed discussion.

Son of Man

‘Son of man’ simply means ‘man’ in biblical Hebrew and Aramaic and is a title for Jesus in the Greek New Testament. While the ancient idiom is gendered, some scholars prefer to bring out the generic implications and reflect inclusive language today in their English translations (e.g., 'son of a human being', 'son of humanity'). The phrase sometimes took on a more titular function before Jesus because of the book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, Daniel is said to have had a vision of four destructive beasts representing four kingdoms and who stand in contrast to a human-like figure—‘one like a son of man’. The ‘Ancient of Days’ then takes away the power of the beasts and Daniel sees ‘one like a son of man’ approaching, ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Daniel 7:13; New International Version). Daniel 7 claims that this ‘son of man’ figure will be given ‘authority, glory and sovereign power’, ‘all peoples’ will worship him, and his kingdom will be everlasting. The precise identification of the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7:13 is not made explicit and there has been a long history of identification with a variety of candidates in apocalyptic and millenarian movements, sometimes without reference to the book of Daniel.

Zion

‘Zion’ is an alternative name for Jerusalem and the ‘city of David’ (2 Samuel 5:7; 1 Kings 8:1; 1 Chronicles 11:5; 2 Chronicles 5:2), though it is also used with reference to Israel. Zion can also refer to ‘Mount Zion’, a hill located in Jerusalem which was the site of the Jewish Temple (destroyed 70 CE) and is the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Zion and Mount Zion are sometimes interpreted as coded references to an alternative geographical location or to something ‘spiritual’ and otherworldly. In some religious traditions, Zion plays a central role in expectations about end times or the benefits associated with end times being fulfilled in the present.