Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible. – Revelation 16:16-21
The last angel of the seven pours out his bowl and a loud voice says something that has been uttered before “it is done”, the same words spoken by Jesus when he said “it is finished” after being crucified. In this case what is “done” is the wrath from the seven angels and their seven bowls. In the case of Jesus what was “done” was the rescue of all human kind who choose to be rescued by the blood of the Lamb.
There are several interesting parallels between this event and the crucifixion of Christ. In John 19:30 Jesus’ final hours are somewhat understated “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” No earthquakes, no thunder. Matthew’s account (Matthew 27:50-53) is decidedly more dramatic “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.”
The Matthew account almost seems like there could be a time-bending aspect to these stories, separated by thousands of years. I guess from God’s perspective, outside of time, these events could be happening “at the same time”, whatever that would mean in a reality where time is not linear. Trying to make sense of this is perhaps trying to describe the indescribable, but I do find the parallels interesting.
Back to this account of a massive earthquake. As a geologist I have learned quite a bit about earthquakes and what causes them. I am actually reading a book right now for a course I am teaching called Full Rip 9.0 by Sandi Doughton about the next big Cascadia earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. This book lays out the evidence from the past and the prediction for the future of a magnitude 9.0 or greater earthquake that will occur on the plate tectonic subduction zone referred to as the Cascadia subduction zone.
The earthquake being described here apparently occurs in place called Armageddon, presumably a geographic location on earth. I am not sure where this place is, but it seems likely that it would be located somewhere in the Middle East, perhaps modern day Iraq or Israel. The city that is impacted by this colossal quake is described as a “great city” and the “the city of the nations”. The main headquarters of the United Nations is currently physically located in New York City in the United States, although the offices are on land which is described as international territory. New York city would certainly qualify as a “Great City” and a “city of nations”. I am not suggesting that Armageddon will be located in New York I just find the way it is described as somewhat dissonant with current cities in the middle east.
The place of Armageddon is also described as “Babylon the Great”. This could be a geographic reference to the historic city of Babylon which was often described as both great and a place of many nations. Babylon is no longer a modern city, but its ruins apparently lie south of Baghdad in Iraq, also the location of the late Saddam Hussein’s summer palace. This part of the description would certainly argue for the middle east location for Armageddon.
Iraq is no stranger to earthquakes, on November 12, 2017 a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Ḩalabjah, As Sulaymānīyah, Iraq killing 630 people and injuring thousands. The earthquake described here is considerably more powerful than the 2017 earthquake, but from a geologic perspective this location could certainly have larger earthquakes. I am not sure what is meant by “every island fled away”. I suppose this could be describing changes in land elevation, subsidence and uplift, which could result in islands being converted to uplands. The description of “disappearing mountains” is more difficult to explain from a physical perspective. Certainly large changes in land surface can and do occur during earthquakes, but entire mountains rarely go missing. Whatever the cause and the impacts they sound dire and deadly for those who will experience them.
As if the earth shaking and rearrangement are not enough the earthquake will apparently be followed by some truly horrendous hailstones weighing 100 pounds. According the website largest.org the largest hailstones ever recorded were around 2 pounds. This is a far cry from 100 pounds. I cannot even imagine the terror that would strike in people to have hailstones that weighed as much as a small person falling randomly out of the sky. This would make some of Hollywood’s attempts at disaster movies look tame by comparison. The response of the people experiencing this wrath is telling “they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.” My sense is that even at this late date if the people were to repent and turn back to God He would receive them, they have only words of cursing for God rather than repentance.
Prayer: God help us to focus on what matters so we can avoid the type of wrath being described here.