Armageddon is probably one of the most famous words to come from our Bibles. The battle of Armageddon has captured a place in the minds of many writers Christian and otherwise. Books, movies and even songs celebrate or seek to capture the ethos of a battle to end all battles. This fame is all the more amusing once you research the topic and understand that there probably is not going to be a battle in a place of that name. However Armageddon does feature in the great battle of the end times and this essay will seek to identify Armageddon, the participants in the great end-time battle and to place this sequence in its' natural time frame.
Almost all commentators are agreed that Armageddon literally means the Mountain of Megiddo. Megiddo was a town belonging to Manasseh within the borders of Issachar. The city, or more accurately the plain beside the city, was famous as the scene of two decisive battles: one of these landed in the Israelite favor, the other didn't. The nature of these battles gives us a little insight into the significance of Megiddo.
The first narrated in Judges was the battle between Barak, Deborah and Sisera. The Israelites had been oppressed to the point where they were largely in hiding in the mountains. Sisera had iron chariots with which he terrorized the population. The light foot soldiers of the Jews congregated in the mountains; Sisera and his men took the plain where their chariots could maneuver. The battle commenced along with the rain. The torrential downpour caused the river to overflow bogging down the heavy chariots putting the charioteers at the mercy of the Israeli infantry. Israel had won.
Israel lost the second battle which was all the sadder for being a battle that didn't need to happen. Josiah was a good king and had instituted religious reform. The king of Egypt was marching past Judah to get to Carchemish by the Euphrates and Josiah presumptuously went out to face him. Necho sent ambassadors to Josiah telling him not to fight as they had no quarrel. Josiah wanted to fight anyway so disguised himself and was slain. There was huge mourning for Josiah to the extent that the mourning of Megiddo became proverbial for any great show of grief.
Thus as the scene of two great battles the valley of Megiddo would appear to be a great place for a third decisive battle. Which leads to the obvious question: why were they gathering on the mountain and not in the valley? The answer probably lies in the observation of FC Jennings that if you are going translate the first part of the word Armageddon that you should probably translate the second too. Mageddon comes from the root megadon which means the gathering of the troops. Thus Armageddon is literally "The Mountain where Troops Gather".
The next fact to be considered is that we actually know exactly where the last battle is going to be. It is going to be in Jerusalem. Zech 14:2 states that the nations will gather to battle against Jerusalem, that it will be taken, the houses rifled, the women ravished and some of the people will go into captivity. Some however, a remnant, will be left behind. Then the Lord himself will go to fight against those nations; this will be accompanied by significant geographical upheaval with the Mount of Olives splitting in two. As such we can see that there will be no battle of Armageddon; there will be a battle of Jerusalem although scripturally it is called the "battle of that great day of God Almighty".
To understand the role of Armageddon one needs to step back and consider the logistics of this end-time battle. Today we are used to relatively sanitized and low commitment battles. The US as a nation has less that one half of one percent of its population under arms. We should remember that during the Exodus all males over twenty were deemed ready to go to war. In a fight for survival war goes from something noted in the newspapers to an everyday civilian reality. After the rapture and ensuing tribulation and then great tribulation well in excess of half the world's population dies. We should assume that the people left will have descended into a state of violence and hostility. It is quite possible that when the kings gather for war against God that the vast majority of fit males (and even females) will turn up. This means the armies of the beast could easily number a quarter of a billion people.
To organize 250 Million people you need a base of operations whilst they all stream in, you also need a huge area to put them. If each one demands to be five feet from their neighbor then a 1 mile wide column then have 1000 men abreast. The full line would then be two hundred and fifty miles long. The beast therefore needs somewhere to keep 250 square miles of people close enough to Jerusalem to be able to attack, yet far enough away to avoid the fringes getting picked off. Megiddo is sixty miles from Jerusalem and has significant areas of flat land around it where the troops could await the attack. We also know from Necho that it is an obvious land route for people heading south from the Euphrates. Therefore Armageddon is really a rallying point for the Beast's forces before the attack on Jerusalem.
Having established the forces and location of the bad guys it is necessary to look at the forces of good. They appear to be described in Rev 19:14. They are camped in heaven, wearing fine white linen and riding white horses. Clearly the camping in heaven solves the logistic problem but the description of them is strange. Linen is not battle gear; and there is no mention of any of them being armed. In fact is has been pointed out that this apparent army is actually dressed for a victory parade, not a battle. A careful reading of Rev 19:15-16 makes clear why: the Lord is going to fight this battle alone. Whether this is because He is compelled to or because He chooses to we are not told. Personally I believe it is fitting that the one that drunk the cup of God's wrath alone should also tread the winepress of God's wrath alone too.
There are always people that attempt to take these events described in Revelation and match them to things that are past. It is impossible to make this event past without completely loosing the meaning of many verses of scripture. For example Zech 14:4 states that a large valley will appear where the mount of Olives currently is. This simply has not happened. Revelation 14:20 promises a river of blood to the horses bridle; even in the wars of men this form of bloodshed has not yet happened. Any reading of these verses that is even partially literal has to assume that these are all events that are yet to happen. I believe they will happen at the time the narrative states: at the end of the seven year tribulation predicted in Daniel 9.
Thus we have seen that the popular battle of Armageddon is a myth. Armageddon will be a gathering point for the Beast's forces prior to an assault upon Jerusalem which will happen at the end of the tribulation. The forces will be met and vanquished by the Lord Himself who as God is fitted to execute the judgments of God.