Pompeii was an ancient coastal city in Italy, about 14 miles southwest of modern-day Naples. It was destroyed by a sudden eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano on August 24, AD 79. The city was buried under tons of ash and smothered with toxic fumes.
When the city was excavated in the 1700s, it was discovered that the eruption had been so sudden that the people of Pompeii were suffocated and encased as they went about their day. Even though the bodies had long since rotted away, their impressions were left in the resulting stone. The residents of the city had been perfectly “preserved.” Pompeii is often called “a city frozen in time.”
Pompeii is not mentioned in the Bible in any way. Most of the New Testament had been written by 79, and there are no prophecies that predicted the destruction of Pompeii. However, some Christians at the time compared the destruction of Pompeii to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, a wall of the city was excavated that had the words Sodom and Gomorrah scribbled on it. Perhaps this was a final commentary of a Christian or Jew about what was happening as the volcano erupted. Excavations have uncovered evidence of rampant immorality in the city.
Some have seen the fall of “the great city” in Revelation 18 as a reference to Pompeii. However, this seems unlikely as Pompeii does not figure into the redemptive history recorded in the Bible. We would expect “the great city” to be one that plays a major role in redemptive history. Jerusalem and Rome are the two cities that are most often suggested as fulfilling Revelation 18.
Even though it’s not mentioned in the Bible, Pompeii demonstrates how quickly God can, either supernaturally or through natural causes, bring about the complete destruction of a city or any other entity. Pompeii was a great city, and no doubt many people who lived there thought they were in the lap of security and unassailable prosperity. The destruction of Pompeii was similar to the event described in Revelation 18, which will take place “in a single hour” (verse 17)—that is, very suddenly.
Almost nothing in history has been as sudden and all-consuming as the destruction of Pompeii. This should serve as a warning to all today who would put their faith in any governmental organization or human society. These things can be suddenly, unexpectedly, and completely overturned at any time, according to God’s will.