(Central Israel) — Today is Part Four in our study of Ezekiel 38 & 39 and what Bible scholars call the “War of Gog and Magog.”
In light of the growing alliance between Russia and Iran, and the growing interest in eschatology among Muslims, Jews and Christians, many of you have questions regarding these prophecies.
Today, let’s answer three of the most frequently asked questions.
Q: Will the War of Gog and Magog happen before or after the Rapture?
A: The truth is we simply do not know the answer for certain, because Ezekiel does not say. Many of the theologians I cited in Epicenter believe the war will occur after the Rapture. In the novel Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins describe the War of Gog and Magog as having already happened before the Rapture takes place. In The Ezekiel Option, I also chose to portray the war occurring before the Rapture.
In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (NASB). We also know from Ezekiel that God will use the War of Gog and Magog to display his glory to all nations and to pour out his Holy Spirit, particularly on the nation of Israel. As a result of the entire world seeing God defend Israel from the onslaught of the Russian-Iranian coalition, a dramatic spiritual awakening will occur around the globe. It would certainly be consistent with God’s heart for humanity that he would cause this cataclysmic moment to occur before the Rapture in order to shake people out of their spiritual apathy and/or rebellion and give them at least one more chance to receive Christ as their Savior before the terrible events of the Tribulation occur.
But let me be clear: I believe that the Rapture could occur at any moment, and I would certainly not be surprised in any way if it occurred before the events of Ezekiel 38 and 39 come to pass. Christian theologians speak of the “doctrine of imminence.” This means that according to the Bible there is no prophetic event that has to happen before Jesus snatches his church from the earth. That is, the Bible teaches us that we should be ready for Jesus to come for us at any moment. I fully believe that. But it should be noted with regard to this doctrine that while no major prophetic event has to happen before the Rapture, that doesn’t mean no such event will happen first. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this truth is the rebirth of Israel. This major prophetic event was foretold in Ezekiel 36–37, yet its fulfillment happened before the Rapture. Thus, it is certainly possible that other events—such as the events of Ezekiel 38–39—could happen before the Rapture as well.
Q: Ezekiel says the War of Gog and Magog will happen in the last days. Doesn’t that by definition mean it will happen during the seven years of the Tribulation?
A: Ezekiel 38:16 does say these events will happen in the “last days” (NASB), but this term is not necessarily limited to the period of the Tribulation. The apostle Peter, for example, used the term in Acts 2 to refer to the period he was living in, and that was nearly two thousand years ago. Likewise, consider the words of another apostle in 1 John 2:18: “Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come.” Again, John was writing nearly two thousand years ago.
It’s important to note that the Hebrew term translated as “the last days” can also be translated as “in the distant future” (NLT) or “in days to come” (NIV). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that the term the last days refers to an indeterminate period of time leading up to the second coming of Jesus Christ. This period includes—but is not limited to—the seven years of the Tribulation.
That said, I don’t believe the War of Gog and Magog can begin during the Tribulation. Why? Because Ezekiel 39 indicates that after the supernatural destruction of Israel’s enemies, the people of Israel gather up and burn the weapons of their enemies for seven years. Yet when we look carefully at the writings of the prophet Daniel and the Book of Revelation, we see that 3 1/2 years into the seven year Tribulation, the Antichrist will invade Israel (aka, “the Beautiful Land” — see Daniel 11:16 and 11:41-45) and set up his throne here and desecrate the Third Temple (which will have been built and been operational by Day One of the Tribulation). There is no way that Jewish Israelis will be burning the weapons of their enemies if their country is being invaded by the Antichrist. Thus, since the burning of the weapons occurs for seven years, it cannot be the same seven years of the Tribulation.
Q: Doesn’t the Bible tell us that the War of Gog and Magog will happen at the very end of time—after the Rapture, after the Tribulation, after the Battle of Armageddon, and after the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth—not before all these things as you have described?
A: Revelation 20:7-10 does speak of another War of Gog and Magog that occurs at the end of time, after all these other events. But this is a second war, not the war referred to by Ezekiel 38–39. We know this for several reasons.
•First, Ezekiel’s war is described as occurring relatively soon after the rebirth of the State of Israel and the ingathering of the Jewish people from around the world (Ezekiel 36–37). The war in Revelation, by contrast, occurs after Jesus has reigned on earth for a thousand years.
•Second, Ezekiel’s war involves a fearsome but limited coalition of countries that surround Israel, as we learned in earlier chapters. The war in Revelation involves all the nations from “every corner of the earth” coming to attack Israel (Revelation 20:8).
•Third, after Ezekiel’s war, life continues. Bodies are gathered and buried for seven months, weaponry is gathered and burned for seven years, and Ezekiel 40–48 describes the Temple that will be built. By contrast, the war in Revelation is followed immediately and literally by the end of the world. Satan and his followers are judged and thrown into the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10). The heavens and earth are destroyed. A completely new heaven and a new earth are created, and followers of Christ will live on this new earth for the rest of eternity.