The sixth bowl states,
Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates and dried up its water to prepare the way for the kings from the east. Then I saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-powerful. (Look! I will come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen.) Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew. (Rev. 16:12–16)
The sixth bowl is unique from the other bowl judgments because there is no expressed wrath. However, it describes the preparation for God’s climactic judgment on the nations and the Antichrist at the battle of Armageddon. There is irony in this preparation. Demonic forces will draw the kings of the earth together, but the battle of Armageddon is not so much a battle as it is a divine summons for the nations to come and receive their judgment.
The sixth bowl reveals the notorious apocalyptic location where the nations’ armies will gather and eventually be defeated by the Lord and his holy armies. “Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew” (Rev. 16:16). The New American Standard Bible renders this as “Har-magedon” (Harmagedōn).” The common English spelling is “Armageddon,” and it is mentioned once in all of Scripture. What is the meaning of “Armageddon” (Harmagedōn)? In my judgment, the best understanding is in the literal sense, the Mount of Megiddo. There was a city on a hill by the name Megiddo in Palestine overlooking the Valley of Jezreel, which is also called the Valley of Megiddo. Steven Lancaster, an expert in ancient biblical geography, makes the following points.*
- The Hebrew meaning of har does not require “mountain”; it can mean “hill.” Har is often found in parallel with givʿah, which we usually translate “hill.”
- Megiddo is built upon a natural hill, and its twenty-two layers of occupation on top of the natural hill cause it to stand up above the plain, which stretches out in front of it to the northwest, northeast, and north. The natural hill of Megiddo is one of the low hills comprising the Shephelah of Carmel, “the lowlands of Carmel”; they form an obstacle between the Sharon plain and the Jezreel Valley. In fact, its location is what made Megiddo great. It stood up and protected the most convenient pass-through, which is sometimes called the Carmel Range. Anson Rainey, the foremost historical-geographer in the study of the land of the Bible, wrote of Canaanites escaping from Pharaoh Thutmose III (who incidentally said, “capturing Megiddo is like capturing a thousand cities”): “Their escape was assured when the Egyptian troops turned aside from the pursuit to plunder the Canaanite encampments at the foot of the city’s lofty mound.” I quote this simply because Rainey calls the hill of Megiddo a “lofty mound,” and indeed, it is. When you cross the Jezreel Valley from the north you can pick out the hill of Megiddo from miles away.
- Zechariah 12:11 references the story of the death of King Josiah near the hill in the “Plain of Megiddo” (biqʿat Megiddon). Yet Megiddo is not a plain either! The great site gives its name to its surroundings. Just as Megiddo gave its name to Tiglath-pileser’s (III) new Assyrian province as it governed Galilee and the Jezreel plain, it gives its name to the plain that swings around it from the southeast to the northwest, and it gives its name to the hill on which it sits.
- The term har is used of another city that sat above a plain. Joshua 13:19 lists among the cities of Reuben, Tzeret haShachar behar haʿemeq, “on the hill of the plain.” So the Hebrew Scriptures provide a precedent for referring to a city on a hill above a plain as related to a har.
- Where did John get his Greek for Magedon? Megiddo occurs ten times in the Hebrew Scriptures. It does occur in different transliterations in the LXX (Greek version of the Old Testament), but “Magedon” (omega-nu) is used two times when preceded by a noun: Joshua 12:21 [22 in LXX] (“ the king of Magedon”); Judges 1:27 (“ the inhabitants of Magedon”). The spelling “Magedon” also occurs in the Chronicles account of the death of Josiah (2 Chr. 35:22). So har standing before Magiddo may naturally call for Magedon in John’s mind.
For these reasons the reference of Armageddon in Revelation 16:16 likely is the hill city of Megiddo and the valley it overlooks.**
*I am indebted to Steven Lancaster and his personal correspondence, as well as his permission to use his comments on the meaning and location of Armageddon for my book Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord: What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Return of Christ (pp. 159–61). Lancaster is director of Biblical Backgrounds (http://www.bibback.com/).
**Contra Charles C. Torrey who has argued that Harmagedōn is the transliteration of the Hebrew har mô῾ ēd (“mountain of assembly”), referring to Mount Zion/ Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 14:12–14). “Armageddon,” Harvard Theological Review 31 (1938): 237– 48. This is unlikely because it is a conjectural emendation, i.e. lacks textual manuscript evidence.