The Jewish Perspective on the Apocalypse
By Josh Wander
It sounds like a line from a Matt Sander song…Armageddon, Jewish…Apocalypse, not Jewish. Indeed the Greek idea of an Apocalypse is not a Jewish concept, but Armageddon sort of is. That is to say, the theological concept of a Rapture mentioned in the Book of Revelations is completely foreign to the Jewish tradition, but the idea of an end of days that will usher in a Messianic age is very much in accordance with Jewish tradition.
In fact, the word Armageddon comes from the mountain in Israel Har Migiddo which is mentioned in the Christian Scripture as being the place of a final battle between good and evil. Modern Migiddo is a town approximately 25 miles (40 km) west-southwest of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee in the Kishon River area.
Jewish Tradition does mention that there will be a great battle known as the War of Gog U’Magog. (The Christian Scripture and even the Qur’an mentions such places) Throughout the generations this battle was attributed to different great wars. In the early 19th century some Chasidic rabbis identified Napoleon’s invasion of Russia as “The War of Gog and Magog” which would precede the coming of the Messiah so that the Emperor filled the role of Gog. In the 20th century Hitler was seen as a likely candidate.
In more contemporary times, some Jews looked at the Gulf Wars with Saddam Hussein and many Jews today see Persia (modern day Iran) as being the possible region that will lead this final war. Can anyone say “nuclear Iran”? We live in very tumultuous times.
The difference with the traditional Jewish interpretation is that we don’t view the Messianic Age as the destruction of the earth, but a spiritual reawakening, a realization of all human-kind that there is one God in the world and that he controls everything. Likewise, there will be eternal peace following this last set of wars. According to the ancient Jewish scholar Maimonides, this is one of the prerequisite credentials for the Messiah. He would need to fight a war, which will subsequently bring the Jews back to their homeland, rebuild the Temple and bring on eternal peace.
As far as dates are concerned, we are warned not to assign specific dates for this end of days and have many traditions of bad things occurring when that happened (See Shabtai Tzvi). But the Talmud does mention a final year for the end of the world as we know it, and, in the greater scheme of things, it isn’t that far off. That year is the year 6000 according to the Jewish Calendar. We are currently in the year 5773 which…Mark your calendars…leaves us 227 years as the last resort for a global transition into a more spiritual existence.