Updated: Jan 14, 2019
Question or Topic
Do the events in Ezekiel 38 and 39-the Gogian invasion-begin before or after the return of Christ?
Ezekiel 38 & 39
This question is one on which there are at least two differing views among students of prophecy. Some, like this present writer, may have changed from one view to the other as the Bible evidence in favour and against each is weighed. The apostle Peter teaches us that the things concerning the manner of time for the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow are things which "angels desire to look into." (1 Peter 1:11-12) Therefore, it is meet that we, as Bible students should profitably consider questions that concern the future work of our Lord in the earth. In the writer's view, it is challenging, to say the least, to try to fit together the pieces of the sequence of events concerning the transition of the earth from "the kingdoms of this world" to "the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ." It is much like completing a jigsaw puzzle. We have the completed picture outlined in the word of God but we do not necessarily understand how each detail connects to the other leading to its fulfillment. For this reason, it is helpful to approach this kind of question with humility, recognizing that the way we think the pieces may best fit together may not turn out to be correct. The most appropriate course is to lay out the Bible evidence, reflect on it and ponder it, in a sincere effort to determine what the word of God teaches.
The practical bearing of the question concerns our preparedness for the Lord's coming. If Christ's return is after the Gogian invasion begins, then until it appears about to occur, we need not be in urgent expectation of his coming. On the other hand, if his return occurs before the invasion, his coming may be much closer in time to us now. The following are points that may be helpful to weigh in seeking to come to an answer to this question:
1. There is no direct reference to Christ in Ezekiel 38 or 39. On the other hand, Ezekiel 37 ends with a picture of the time "when David my servant shall be king over the children of Israel." David in this prophecy refers to God's beloved son, our Lord. Beloved is the meaning of the name David. One needs to decide if chapters 38/39 follow in chronological sequence from chapter 37 or take us back in time to an earlier point. Throughout chapters 38 and 39, Ezekiel is addressed by God as "thou son of Man", a title used by the Lord in reference to himself. Is this is a symbolic reference to Christ as the one who will set his face against Gog- or simply to Ezekiel?
2. Chapter's 38/39 depicts a condition in which a restored Israel is "dwelling safely all of them." They are described as "at rest" in a land of unwalled villages, without bars or gates. There can be no dispute that Israel today does not meet this description. Its villages are heavily protected and a major national project currently is the building of a security wall in the West Bank. Therefore, some major change in the present circumstance of Israel must occur before the setting of Ezekiel 38. One view holds that this change is due to the presence of Christ and the saints; the other is that geopolitical events resolve themselves in a manner that brings peace and security to Israel.
3. The destruction of Gog is a turning point for Israel and for the nations. "So the house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day and forward. And the nations shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity...then shall they know that I am the LORD their God which caused them to be led into captivity among the nations." (Ezekiel 39:22-23)
If Christ was reigning in the land and was the agency responsible for the peaceful condition of Israel, why would it not be until the destruction of Gog that "the house of Israel" came to know the LORD from that day and forward? This is the greatest puzzle to this student because it appears that the Gogian invasion is an important confirmation of their relationship to God for the people of Israel. On the other hand, the Scriptures are very clear what the source of Israel's safety will be: "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely." (Jeremiah 23:5-6) Do the prophets teach that Israel shall dwell safely -- the very same phrase used in Ezekiel 38: 14 -- other than through the reign of their King?
4. At the time of the Gogian invasion, it appears that all the Jews of the world have returned. "I have gathered them into their own land and left none of them any more there." Will Christ be responsible for the fullness of the ingathering at his return or will it occur through other means before his return?
5. Ezekiel is clear that the events of chapter's 38/39 are a burden of other prophets. "Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them?"
While many Bible students are inclined to connect Ezekiel 38/39 with Daniel 11:30-45, Daniel is not one of the prophets to whom Ezekiel was referring. Daniel was a contemporary of Ezekiel and not a prophet, relative to Ezekiel, of "old time". Thus we must look to earlier prophets for parallel allusions to the Gogian invasion.
Such a prophet surely was Micah and his record in Micah 5:4-7 may be a parallel account of this invasion, the invader is identified as "the Assyrian". If this refers to Gog, it removes all doubt about whether or not Christ is in the land at the time of the invasion. In a prophetic reference to Christ, as he that will be "ruler in Israel", the prophet declares, "And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders." If the Assyrian in this prophecy is not Gog, then there is another invading army that comes against the land from the north after Christ's return and meets its defeat on the borders of the land.
Another "prophet of old" was Joel who prophesies about the destruction of the northern army. "But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things. Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things." (Joel 2:20-21) If this removal of the northern army is a parallel reference to Gog, the question before us is, is Christ in the land at the time when it occurs? In our view, there is a clue provided by the prophet in verse 16: "Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet." Earlier in this chapter, there is an account of the desolation of the land of Israel by the Babylonian army. But in verse 15, the tenor of the chapter changes. The emphasis is on the day when "the LORD will be jealous for his land and pity his people." (Verse 18) The clue is that the trumpet sounds and then there is a great assembly, including the bridegroom going forth from his chamber [might that be a reference to the Father's side in heaven?] and the bride from her closet [might that be the graves where the saints have been sleeping?]. It is after this great gathering of the redeemed that the northern army is driven off and destroyed.
6. There is nothing in Ezekiel 38/39 about the city of Jerusalem being taken by the invading army nor any reference to the Arab states that border on Israel as adversaries in the conflict. The absence of reference to the adjacent Arab states implies that they have previously been defeated by Israel and no longer pose any threat. There is evidence in prophecies like Isaiah 63 that the Lord Jesus is directly involved in the defeat of the Arab enemies of Israel.
7. The merchants of Tarshish and the young lions question the motives of Gog. "Sheba and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?" (Verse 13) The fact that these Gentile powers question Gog's intent but apparently do nothing to intervene militarily or oppose Gog forms no argument one way or the other as far as the Lord Jesus being in Jerusalem as King at the time of the invasion. It shows only that the coalition that Gog has assembled is not universal in its scope.
While this student believes that the weight of Bible evidence favours the conclusion that the safety and prosperity of Israel at the time of Ezekiel 38 and 39 are due to the presence of Christ and the saints in the land, he recognizes that this conclusion has certain difficulties. Thus, he is not dogmatic in this conclusion.
In the years after the end of the Second World War, in particular, The Advocate contained lively discussion on prophecy, with different points of view expressed, as Bible students sought to help one another, as "iron sharpening iron." It is important that we be able to discuss these questions among ourselves in a friendly and constructive way. Prophesy students are encouraged to write to the author and share how they have weighed the evidence of Scripture on this question and why they have reached a different (or the same) conclusion, as the case may be.