Welcome to the second installment of a two-part series on the infamous end-times figure known as "Gog" from Ezekiel 38–39. In the previous post, I addressed the first of two major interpretative issues: Gog's Identity. To recap, I provided the biblical evidence for the direct referent of Ezek. 38:17 found in the book of Numbers, specifically the major eschatological prophecy of Balaam:
A man will come forth from his seed and prevail over many peoples, and he will be raised up higher than the kingdom of Gog, and his kingdom will increase (Num. 24:7, Lexham English Septuagint).
Overwhelmingly, the earliest manuscript witnesses stand in agreement and testify against the later Masoretic Text that Gog (not "Agag") is the last days' foe that comes against Israel's ultimate Messiah-King. Next, throughout the rest of the article, I discussed the passages of the Bible that infer Gog's supernatural identity as the "chief prince" who has dominion over many nations, particularly to the north of Israel (Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, etc., cf. Gen. 10:2; Ezek. 38:2, 6; 39:1). This composite supernatural view of Gog coheres strongly with the background text of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 that describes "the sons of God" [Grk. aggelos, "angels"] having dominion over every other nation apart from Israel, which is the LORD's inheritance (cf. the "principalities and powers" of Eph. 6:10-12).
Thus, after considering the evidence presented in part one, I have issued a plea to reevaluate the prevailing interpretation and understanding among pre-millenial, dispensational outlets: Gog is more than a flesh-and-blood despot who sets the stage for the Antichrist; rather, this shadowy figure is a high-ranking supernatural being who wields tremendous power over both human and demonic armies. After all, the lofty descriptor given to Gog, "chief prince," is also one that describes Michael, the archangel (Dan. 10:13; 12:1), and elsewhere in the New Testament, the chief supernatural adversary, Satan, is also referred to as "the prince of this world" (Jn. 14:30; cf. Eph. 2:2).
In part two, we will turn our attention to the second major interpretative issue of Ezek. 38–39: The timing of Gog's invasion within a pre-tribulational, pre-millennial framework. I realize that this study will likely be ignored by many prophecy students who already have their ammunition ready to defend whatever timing they affirm (e.g., before the Tribulation; in the first 3.5 years/in the second 3.5 years; concurrent with Armageddon). Believe me, I get it. I'm also suspicious of "new" interpretations that upend deeply-entrenched and widely-held beliefs.
That being said, I pray that you will keep an open mind, be willing to challenge your assumptions, and even dive into the two scholarly articles that I will lean on heavily for support. There are two key papers that have persuaded me to change my view on the timing of the Gog invasion:
1) "A Fresh Look at Ezekiel 38 and 39" by Ralph Alexander
2) "Rethinking Ezekiel's Invasion by Gog" by J. Paul Tanner
I'll weave in some quotations here and there, but you should read these works in their entirety, because the authors cite other sources to support what is essentially the same view: The timing of the Gog invasion is revealed by the apostle John in a very explicit and unmistakable chronological sequence; namely, after the thousand-year reign of Christ and prior to the Great White Throne judgment and what is commonly referred to as "the eternal state."
If you're still with me, then I'll just go ahead and spill some more beans and make the point that this view does not exclude typological or shadow fulfillments. In fact, Ralph Alexander sees a fulfillment of Ezek. 38–39 in the "bird supper" of Revelation 19 some time after Christ's literal return to the earth to judge and wage war against the nations. Types and shadows are common in Scripture, and I believe that the basic template of Ezekiel 38–39 is playing out on the world stage today, specifically in regard to hostile nations plotting to seize and plunder the land of Israel.
Nevertheless, the direct and complete fulfillment of Ezekiel 38–39 that accounts for every textual detail will not come to pass until the exact point in time that John provides in the book of Revelation. As disciples of Christ who submit to the apostolic witness now canonized in what is called the "New Testament," it would be wise to give deference to John's authoritative viewpoint which affirms the plain-sense reading of Scripture and serves as the deciding factor on the chronology of end-time events.
To bolster the post-Millennium timing of the Gog invasion, we'll begin at Revelation 20:7-10, answer some common objections, and then do a fly-over of Ezekiel in order to revisit key verses and see the passage of 38–39 in a new light. In short, I would recommend keeping a few things in mind as we go. Ask yourself: Who is Ezekiel's original audience? Where are they in their spiritual journey? What is the overarching message of 38–39 and how does the author's deliberate arrangement of this passage encourage God's covenant people, Israel?
Ezekiel 38–39 in a Nutshell
Ever notice how the answers to our most perplexing questions are often right under our noses the whole time? After the light bulb comes on, we might say, "How did I not see this before?" Or, "Why did it take me so long to figure this out?" One reason: I think it's our nature to over-complicate things. In other words, the "simple" answer just seems to good to be true, and we are constantly fighting against our personal agendas and biases that contribute to further misunderstanding. Granted, the often grueling and painstaking journey of arriving at the truth of God's word is necessary, because we are thoroughly corrupt apart from the Holy Spirit and God waits patiently for the appointed time to lift the veil and unseal His word (cf. Dan. 12:9; 2 Cor. 3:14; Rev. 22:10). Additionally, our helpful but imperfect theological systems at times can obscure the beauty and simplicity of certain passages.
All that to say, this current study has been one of those "aha" moments for me as I arrived at this conclusion: Revelation 20:7-10 is Ezekiel 38–39 in a nutshell, pure and simple. Ask any Bible teacher worth their salt, and they will tell you to start with the clearest verse or passage before you take on the more challenging parallel text. This is a wise approach and one that is very applicable when comparing Ezekiel 38–39 and Revelation 20:7-10.
Using this approach, the clearest parallel to Ezekiel 38–39 just so happens to be the only verse in the New Testament that contains the words "Gog" and "Magog." Let's look at an English translation that will read as much like the Greek as possible; this way, we'll have a better vantage point to see how the phrase "Gog and Magog" functions syntactically (i.e., how the specific arrangement of words interact together to provide meaning).
And he [Satan] will go forth to lead the nations astray that are in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them together to war, of whom the number—as the sand of the sea (Rev. 20:8, LSV, brackets mine).
For good measure, let's remove the punctuation marks to conform even more to the original Greek: And he will go forth to lead the nations astray that are in the four corners of the earth Gog and Magog to gather them together to war...
Now, if we remove "Gog and Magog," notice that the sentence can stand on its own and remain a complete thought: And he will go forth to lead the nations astray that are in the four corners of the earth to gather them together to war...
Thus, at the bare-bones linguistic level, John inserts the phrase in a somewhat abrupt way in order to illuminate or clarify the surrounding text. Breaking this down even further, here are some clarifying questions: Grammatically speaking, how does the appositive phrase "Gog and Magog" function in the sentence? What does it modify exactly? Does it only modify the nations of the earth? Or, consider this: What if the phrase actually modifies both Satan and the nations?
Think about it.
If "Gog and Magog" modifies both the subject (he/Satan) and the object (the nations), then we have even more biblical evidence to support the supernatural identity of Gog and the post-Millennium timing of the events described in Ezekiel 38 and 39 (also, if "Gog" is code for Satan and "Magog" represents the rest of the invading hordes, then this meaning would support what we already know from Scripture concerning Satan and his influence over the Gentile kingdoms of the earth - cf. Lk. 4:5-7; 1 Jn. 5:19).
The point of this brief lexical examination is to slow things down long enough to think about what John is doing here in Revelation 20:8. Additionally, we shouldn't forget the obvious: The phrase "Gog and Magog" is an unmistakable reference to Ezekiel 38–39. The apostle might as well be saying, "See Ezekiel—toward the end of the scroll!" Therefore, in lexical terms, we could also classify the phrase "Gog and Magog" as a form of synecdoche, a figure of speech where the parts represent the whole.
To restate the main idea another way, John's "Gog and Magog" is a useful shorthand to summarize all of the people, places, and events of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. For all you techies out there, think of this as an old school hyperlink of sorts (more examples of this type of Hebraic shorthand can be seen in Deut. 30:19, "heaven and earth" - i.e., all of creation; Matt. 22:40, "the Law and the Prophets" - i.e., the entire Old Testament; and Eph. 6:12, "flesh and blood" - i.e., all of humanity/sons of Adam).
Let's zoom out a little bit and view the "Gog and Magog" verse in its immediate context:
And when the one thousand years [is] completed, Satan will be loosed out of his prison, and he will go forth to lead the nations astray that are in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them together to war, of whom the number [is] as the sand of the sea; and they went up over the breadth of the land and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city, and there came down fire from God out of heaven and devoured them; and the Devil, who is leading them astray, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and false prophet [are], and they will be tormented day and night through the ages of the ages (Rev. 20:7-10, LSV).
From start to finish, the average reader can breeze through this passage in no time at all. However, just because we can read through it in 20 seconds doesn't mean the events being described happen as fast! Hence, this is the primary purpose for John's "hyperlink" in Rev. 20:8; namely, to redirect our attention to the anchor text of Ezekiel 38–39. In this brief synopsis, it is not the author's intention to provide the reader every detail of Ezekiel's vision. Rather, the apostle includes enough correlation to connect us to Ezekiel and unveil the primary antagonist and timing of the Gog/Magog invasion.
For example, here are some striking correlations between Rev. 20:7-10 and Ezek. 38–39 (adapted from the papers linked above from J. Paul Tanner and Ralph Alexander):
1) The "chief" antagonist leads many nations to war (from "the four corners of the earth")
Although the bulk of the invaders come from the north (cf. Ezek. 39:2), the text of Ezekiel also contains representative nations from all four cardinal directions: Persia from the east, Cush from the south, Put and the islands of the seas from the west, and Gomer and Togarmah from the north (see Ezek. 38:5, 6, 13; 39:6). Moreover, John sums up Ezekiel's account by identifying Satan as the one who leads and gathers "[the nations] in the four corners of the earth" (Rev. 20:8).
2) The staggering number of troops is emphasized in both passages
In Rev. 20:8 John says the number of invaders is like "the sand of the sea." Likewise, Ezekiel highlights the all-encompassing size of the invasion in Ezek. 38:4, 6. And see especially Ezek. 38:9, 15-16, where the prophet repeatedly states that Gog and his armies are "...like a cloud covering the land."
3) The target of the invasion is the Land of Israel, the secure dwelling of God's covenant people
Rev. 20:9 specifies that the armies go up "over the breadth of the Land" and toward "the beloved city [Jerusalem]." Speaking in broader terms, the prophet Ezekiel affirms that Gog comes against "the Land of Israel" (Ezek. 38:18), and he also designates the location of the invasion by using a unique symbolic phrase found throughout his book: "the mountains of Israel" (Ezek. 38:8; 39:2, 4). Note: In Ezekiel, Jerusalem is referred to as the LORD's "holy mountain" and more descriptively as His "high mountain" (Ezek. 20:40). Therefore, as one mountain amidst the lesser "mountains of Israel," the holy city, Jerusalem—God's "high mountain"—is the ultimate target of the invasion.
4) The LORD defeats the chief antagonist and his army by means of fire from heaven
In Ezek. 39:6, God sends fire against "Magog and those who live securely on the coastlands" (cf. Ezek. 38:22). This phrase in 39:6, therefore, lends support to John's corporate use of "Magog" (Rev. 20:8), a term which represents all Gentile nations that are opposed to the LORD and His anointed (cf. Ps. 2:1-2). The apostle John, like Ezekiel, affirms that Gog and his armies are vanquished by the LORD's direct intervention, "...and there came down fire from God out of heaven and devoured them" (Rev. 20:9). See also Satan's final, fiery doom as depicted in Ezekiel 28:18-19.
Lastly, I stumbled upon some compelling evidence related to the Gog/Magog accounts of Ezekiel and Revelation that, in my opinion, tips the scales in favor of Gog's supernatural identity and the post-Millennium timing of his invasion. This textual and conceptual thread involves four key passages that all tell the same story:
—First, aside from Revelation 20:7-10, we'll start with a parallel verse that reinforces the clear and unmistakable timing of Satan's release:
And he threw him [Satan] into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time (Rev. 20:3, NASB).
—Second, we'll look at a verse in Ezekiel that reveals the timing of Gog's rise:
After many days you will be visited. In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely (Ezek. 38:8, NKJV).
—Third, things get really interesting in the book of Isaiah:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited (Isa. 24:21-22, KJV).
—Fourth, in the book of 1 Enoch there is a section that ties all of these elements together and completes the Satan/Gog/Post-Millennium matrix:
And I saw there the hosts of the angels of punishment going...[the angel of peace] said unto me [Enoch]: '[They are going] to their elect and beloved ones, that they may be cast into the chasm of the abyss of the valley...the days of their lives shall be at an end, and the days of their leading astray shall not thenceforth be reckoned. And in those days the angels shall return and hurl themselves to the east upon the Parthians and Medes: They stir up the kings, so that a spirit of unrest shall come upon them, and they shall rouse them from their thrones...they shall go up and tread under foot the land of His elect ones...But the city of my righteous [ones] shall be a hindrance to their horses. And they shall begin to fight among themselves. And their right hand shall be strong against themselves...Till there be no number of the corpses through their slaughter...And their destruction shall be at an end; Sheol shall devour the sinners in the presence of the elect (1 Enoch 56:1-8, translation by R. H. Charles).
Regardless of your opinion on the inspiration of the book of 1 Enoch, keep in mind that this book predates the apostle John by at least 200 years (based on the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls). Thus, the content of 1 Enoch 56:1-8 is startling once we consider that the visions in the book of Revelation had not been shown to John until many years later.
In summary, the essential narrative revealed in this four-part thread involves the binding of Satan before the thousand-year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:3) + the lexically significant link between Ezekiel 38:8 and Isaiah 24:22 (the phrase "after many days you will be visited" is virtually identical in both passages, except in Isaiah the Hebrew term paqad "to visit, appoint, punish" is plural rather than singular—this is understandable given the context of the previous verse where we see many angels "hosts of the high ones on high" gathered in a pit and "shut up in a prison").
Finally, the text from 1 Enoch 56:1-8 fills in the gaps and echoes what we've seen before: "the angels shall return." After the release of the angels from the abyss (Satan chief among their number), they will go out to "stir up the kings [of the earth]" to invade "the land of [God's] elect" and "the city of my righteous [ones]." Overall, we have further confirmation of a last-ditch angelic rebellion to thwart God's covenant promises and overtake the Land of Israel by means of human armies (note: there's even a reference to the invaders fighting among themselves, "their right hand shall be strong against themselves," see Ezek. 38:21)!
Ezekiel 38–39: Common Objections to the Post-Millennium Timing
For the sake of thoroughness, I would like to carve out this space to engage with a few of the common objections to a post-Millennium timing of Gog/Magog and the direct link between Rev. 20:7-10 and Ezek. 38–39. At first glance there appears to be multiple points of conflict, especially when considering the specific details of Ezekiel's account. However, the proposed differences are not as intractable as some make them out to be.
Objection #1: In Ezekiel 39:9, 14-15 it says that Israel's inhabitants will burn weapons for seven years and bury bodies for seven months. How can these activities occur after the Millennial Reign of Christ if the Eternal State immediately follows?
Response: Here's J. Paul Tanner with a solid answer to this objection:
The Bible does not say that there will be a thousand years from the beginning of Christ's millennial rule until the eternal state. A closer look at Revelation 20 reveals that there are a thousand years from the beginning of Christ's millennial rule until the release of Satan. It does not tell how much time transpires between Satan's release and the eternal state ("Rethinking Ezekiel's Invasion by Gog," 42).
The key text to support his point is Revelation 20:3: It says Satan will be released for "a short time." Therefore, it will likely take more time than most think—possibly many years—for Satan to entice and mobilize the nations for invasion. For a modern example, think about how long it has taken for Satan to mobilize the current alliances against Israel all the while having to contend with the restraining influence of the Church (and the Lord Jesus Christ isn't even reigning on earth yet as He will be during the Millennium!).
Objection #2: On a related note, why even go through the effort to burn weapons and bury bodies if God is just going to make the old heaven and earth pass away?
Response: Here's J. Paul Tanner again:
Perhaps, since this is the last act of war before the new creation, this is done in celebration that Satan (the perpetrator of all wars) is forever removed and war will never again plague humanity (Ibid).
God's thoughts and ways are higher than ours (cf. Isa. 55:8-9), and who's to say that burning weapons and burying bodies is irrelevant after the Millennial Reign of Christ? If you haven't already, I strongly suggest that you read Greg Lauer's article on why there will be literal sacrifices and burnt offerings during the Millennium (see "The Blood of Bulls and Goats"). Sometimes, the things that we initially find objectionable stem from a post-Enlightenment, Western mindset and/or a misunderstanding about God's purposes for Israel on the earth.
Moreover, the symbolic act of burning weapons and burying bodies to commemorate the end of all wars forever is entirely congruent with God's ways in the past (e.g., "Do this in remembrance of Me" - 1 Cor. 11:24).
Objection #3: How can Gog be Satan (or one of the other fallen angels) if he is slain and buried?
Response: Ezekiel 39:11 is perhaps the most difficult text to reconcile with the associated narrative revealed in Revelation 20, Isaiah 24, and 1 Enoch 56. However, after his release from the abyss, it could be that Satan (or some other angel) indwells a human king in order to lead the other flesh-and-blood kings to war. And specifically in Ezekiel 38–39, God calls out this fallen angel by the cipher "Gog," thus speaking to the "spirit behind the man." This spirit/human "confusion" is not without precedent in the book of Ezekiel; for example, see Ezekiel 28:1-19—the "prince" of Tyre and the "king" of Tyre (cf. the "king of Babylon" in Isa. 14:4-21). Additionally, the death of heavenly beings (Heb. elohim) is also not without precedent in Scripture—see Psalm 82:6-7.
Objection #4: What about the "hook in the jaw" of Ezek. 38:4? Doesn't this refer to resources such as oil or natural gas that the modern state of Israel currently has in its possession (i.e., the "spoil and plunder" of Ezek. 38:12-13)?
Response: Considering the inter-textual links that we've seen so far, the phrase "I will bring you back" likely builds off of the "after many days" references as seen in the four-part thread above (1 Enoch 56; Rev. 20:3; Isa. 24:22). The same concept in Ezek. 38:4; 39:2 is then reiterated in Ezek. 38:8, "After many days you will be visited." In other words, Satan (or one of the other imprisoned angels) will be "brought back" from the Abyss to wreak havoc in broad daylight once more. In the same vein, the phrase "[I will] put hooks in your jaws" does not refer to oil or gas; rather it's a literary device—a subtle allusion to the other inner-biblical references to the twisting serpent, Leviathan, whom the LORD keeps on a leash in order to do His bidding (cf. Job 41:1-2; Isa. 27:1; Rev. 12:9; 13:1; 20:1-3; see also the exact same phrase in Ezek. 29:4 in reference to the king of Egypt). Additionally, the "hook-in-the-jaw" phrase is akin to the "rod of God's anger" concept as seen in Isa. 10:5.
Objection #5: Ezek. 39:21-29 appears to imply a post-Tribulation/pre-Millennium time frame for the Gog invasion. Isn't the pouring out of the Spirit in Ezek. 39:29 concurrent with Zechariah 12:10?
Response: Along with the "bird supper," this last section in Ezekiel 39 has many parallels to other end-of-Tribulation references in Scripture (cf. Zech. 12:10; Rev. 19:17-21). Because of these strong associations, I had once leaned toward an Armageddon/Second Coming fulfillment for the Gog/Magog event (and some still say there are two "Gog" invasions). However, now that I've studied this in more depth, I acknowledge, on the one hand, the shadows, patterns, and partial fulfillment aspects of Ezekiel 39, but on the other hand, I see that John the apostle is the one who authoritatively confirms the timing of the direct fulfillment of Ezekiel 38–39.
Furthermore, the textual unit of Ezek. 39:21-29 functions more like a musical refrain, a victory song that draws upon key restoration and regeneration themes found throughout chapters 33 through 39. The purpose of this climactic passage isn't to lock down the timing of Gog/Magog (there are other contextual and chronological clues for that purpose, as we've already seen); rather, it's a summary of the entire book of Ezekiel and sets the stage for the final vision (and separate literary unit) of the Millennial Temple revealed in chapters 40 through 48.
And on that note, let's zoom out and see how Ezekiel utilizes 38–39 to further his overall message to a nation that longs for the complete fulfillment of the LORD's covenant promises.
Ezekiel 33–39: How Gog/Magog Fits into the Big Picture
Much to our benefit, the prophet Ezekiel has already provided us with a very specific chronological arrangement of his visions. Consequently, anyone who aspires to do an exegetical study of Ezekiel must adhere to the prophet's predetermined structure in order to produce a faithful interpretation—especially when the focus is narrowed to a single verse or passage such as chapters 38 and 39.
In his paper entitled "A Fresh Look at Ezekiel 38 and 39," Ralph Alexander presents an excellent overview of Ezekiel's thematic arrangement that leads up to the Gog/Magog finale. In short, there are a total of six messages woven together from chapters 33 to 39; these messages form a single literary unit that conveys an overarching message to a battered, weary, and war-torn nation in exile:
Each major section in Ezekiel is initiated by a chronological notice. Ezekiel 33:21 begins the section, which chapters 38 and 39 close, as follows: 'Now it came to pass in the twelfth year of our exile, on the fifth of the tenth month.' Ezekiel 33:21 through 39:29 contains a series of messages delivered by Ezekiel during the night prior to the exiles' reception of the news that Jerusalem had fallen (158).
Thus, in keeping with His gracious and compassionate character, the LORD gives Ezekiel an enduring message to comfort and encourage His people. The remnant of Israelites taken to Babylon had already experienced God's judgment just a few years earlier, and now they were about to receive bitter news that Jerusalem had been overtaken and the temple destroyed (circa 586 BC).
NOTE: This is the original setting and contextual backdrop in which the Gog/Magog vision was first delivered
Isn't it like our God to deliver a message of hope right after a fall (cf. Gen. 3:15-16)? Indeed, on the very day of Israel's darkest hour, the LORD spoke life and hope to His people (cf. Jer. 29:11). A spirit of comfort and hope pervades the remainder of chapters 33 through 39—all the way up to the final vision of a new temple that will take the place of the one just destroyed.
Now that we've got some context, let's trace the end-time narrative of chapters 33 through 39. In this brief overview, we'll look at how the prophet takes the reader from Israel's devastation to restoration and watch as this motion-picture progresses from a long age of exile to the everlasting age of covenant fulfillment. The momentum will slowly build and build, and eventually—the stage will be set for the climactic showdown.
*Note: These divisions are not arbitrary—the author himself denotes the start of a new message (or scene) with the exact same phrase, "And the word of the LORD came to me, saying..."
Scene 1: Did the Abrahamic Covenant Fail? (Ezek. 33:23-33)
In this section, we see a nation in utter shock and disbelief. After the brutal judgment of Babylonian invasion, Jerusalem lay in ruins and Israel has been scattered. Some who are still left in the Land remain in denial and wonder if God has broken His promise to them:
Son of man, they who inhabit those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, 'Abraham was only one, and he inherited the land. But we are many; the land has been given to us as a possession (Ezek. 33:24, NKJV).
In other words, these wayward stragglers are asking, "We are the seed of Abraham, and this Land is our land—why were we invaded, the temple destroyed, and our people exiled?" God's answer is based on Israel's failure to keep the covenant of Sinai (a.k.a. the Mosaic Covenant), and one of the covenant curses indicated that Israel would be driven from the Land and scattered among the nations (cf. Lev. 26:32-33; Deut. 28:62-64).
Scene 2: From Bad Shepherds to the Good Shepherd (Ezek. 34)
In the first part of this message, we see God's judgment against the wicked shepherds (leaders) of Israel who led the nation astray (34:1-10). These false shepherds are then placed in contrast to the Good Shepherd who will search for and regather the scattered sheep of His pasture (34:11-31). And just as we saw the Abrahamic covenant in the first scene, so also we will see the other two major covenants in Scripture referenced in this scene:
The Davidic Covenant:
And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken (Ezek. 34:23-24, ESV).
In the text above, God is referring to the ultimate Son of David (cf. Lk 1:32-33), and within the storyline of chapters 33 through 39, we also have confirmation that there is going to be a duel between two "princes" (i.e., the "chief prince" of Meshech and Tubal vs. the chief "prince" of Israel; recall Numbers 24:7!).
Also, when the Messiah returns and rules as the Shepherd of Israel, He will enter into another covenant with His people—a covenant of [true] peace and security...
The New Covenant:
I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate dangerous animals in the land, so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the forest...[t]hey will no longer be prey for the nations, and the wild animals of the land will not consume them. They will live securely, and no one will frighten them (Ezek. 34:25, 28, HCSB).
Therefore, Israel will not receive these covenant blessings at the time when they say "peace and security" (1 Thess. 5:3), but only after the Messiah returns and says, "Peace and security."
Scene 3: God Judges the Nations and Restores the Land (Ezek. 35:1–36:15)
Alexander aptly summarizes this scene:
The promise that God will clear the land of its continual invaders and possessors in preparation for the restoration of the people of Israel to that land is the subject of Ezekiel's third speech...[e]mphasis is peculiarly upon the nation of Edom, the age-long conflict between Esau (Edom) and Jacob (Israel) being set forth as the most significant example of this principle of oppression of Israel (158).
This third scene represents the vengeance of the LORD against the nations at the time of Christ's return and final conquest of the Land (see Num. 24:18-19; Ps. 110:6; Isa. 63:1-6; Joel 3:1-3).
Scene 4: All Israel Regenerated and Resurrected (Ezek. 36:16–37:14)
Now then, in order for Israel to enjoy the covenant blessings and live securely in the Land under the rule of her Messiah-King, she must first be given a new heart and the dead must be raised to life:
Having assured the people of Israel that Yahweh will remove her perennial oppressors from her land, Ezekiel 36:16 through 37:14 describes Yahweh's restoration of the people of Israel to their land...[j]ust as Yahweh brought her into exile in keeping with His faithfulness to the covenant promises of cursing in Deuteronomy 29:1 through 30:10, so also Yahweh will restore Israel in the end time according as He foretold in that same passage (158-59).
Thus, we see in Ezek. 36:24-28, the original promise of Deut. 30:1-10 fulfilled (for the New Testament parallel, see Matthew 24:31 - Israel regathered to the Good Shepherd). Furthermore, another important aspect to the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenant fulfillment is the physical resurrection of all elect Israel:
...Thus said Lord YHWH: Come in from the four winds, O Spirit, and breathe on these slain, and they live," And I have prophesied as He commanded me, and the Spirit comes into them, and they live, and stand on their feet–a very, very great force. And He says to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel...[t]hus said Lord YHWH: Behold I am opening your graves and have brought you up out of your graves, O My people and have brought you into the Land of Israel... (Ezek. 37:9-12, LSV).
Note: This is not an allegory representing the current regathering of Israel that began in earnest in 1948. Although there might be a legitimate type or shadow fulfillment that applies to the current regathering, the so-called "Valley of Dry Bones" prophesy here in chapter 37 truly speaks of the future, literal resurrection of the dead (Paul affirms as much in Rom. 11:15, 25-26). The current regathering in Israel today is premature, and the nation is still in exile during the Times of the Gentiles (see especially Luke 13:35; 21:24 in this regard).
Scene 5: All Twelve Tribes Reunited, Regathered, and Ruled by One King (Ezek. 37:15-28)
This penultimate scene reinforces the fact that we are not there yet in terms of the entire house of Israel being regathered and united as one (i.e., all 12 tribes back in the Land again):
Here's Alexander with a summary:
The fifth night message of Ezekiel centers around a symbolic act through which the joining of two sticks represents the reunion of the two formerly divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel. When asked the meaning of this act, Ezekiel elaborates on this reunion, declaring that 'My servant, David,' the Messiah, will be their one shepherd and king. All Israel's covenants shall be fulfilled at that time according to Ezekiel 37:21-28: the eternal land promises of the Abrahamic covenant are realized, and Israel shall walk in the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant, cleansed under the New covenant and experiencing the eternal reign of their king, the greater son of David, according to the Davidic covenant...[t]he people of Israel are restored to their land and are dwelling securely. Israel's covenants are fulfilled. The Messiah is present to rule (159).
NOTE: We've now arrived at the contextual backdrop for the final act in this sweeping drama of chapters 33 through 39. The context is clear: The Millennium has begun, and the Tribulation is a thing of the past.
For the final scene, we must fast-forward toward the end of the thousand-year reign of the Messiah, and dark clouds are gathering on the horizon...
Scene 6: Gog and Magog—The War to End All Wars (Ezek. 38–39).
Now that we've seen a brief overview of the lead-up to 38–39, there shouldn't be any confusion about the timing of the Gog invasion at this point:
It is not permissible to view Ezekiel 38 and 39 as an interpolation, for the normal introductory formula to a message initiates this sixth message in the series [i.e., "And the word of the LORD came to me, saying"], and the major section to which these chapters belong does not conclude until a new chronological notice appears in chapter 40, verse 1. One should not look to chapters 40 through 48 for the contextual setting: rather he should see these events within their natural division within the book...in this last speech, Ezekiel discusses a final attempt to possess the land (Ibid, bracketed explanation mine).
Conclusion: Why a Post-Millennium Timing Matters
Along with the material that I've presented in the earlier sections of this article, a few other chronological indicators should pop with more clarity now:
And this one:
And what about you, dear reader? The timing of the Gog/Magog event can only occur when all Israel dwells safely and securely in their Land under their Good Shepherd, Jesus the Messiah. Will you not know it?
Along with the material that I've presented in the earlier sections of this article, a few other chronological indicators should pop with more clarity now:
After many days you [Gog] will be visited. In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely (Ezek. 38:8, NKJV).
And this one:
You will say, 'I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates'...to stretch out your hand against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people gathered from the nations (Ezek. 38:11-12, NKJV).
Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: 'On that day when My people Israel dwell safely, will you not know it? (Ezek. 38:14, NKJV).
And what about you, dear reader? The timing of the Gog/Magog event can only occur when all Israel dwells safely and securely in their Land under their Good Shepherd, Jesus the Messiah. Will you not know it?
To recap: We started with the last word first in Revelation chapter 20. As the final word on the timing of Gog and his invasion, John, the apostle, explicitly reveals that the Gog/Magog event of Ezekiel 38–39 occurs after the thousand-year reign of Christ is completed. In that first section, we also dove into an amazing four-part thread that connected Revelation 20:3 to Ezekiel 38:8 back to Isaiah 24:22 and then to 1 Enoch 56 (Gog's identity and the timing of his invasion became even clearer).
Next, we touched on a few misconceptions and common objections to the post-Millennium timing, and we concluded by studying the preceding context of chapters 38 and 39 to show how the LORD fulfills His covenant promises to Israel from chapter 33 all the way to the end of chapter 37. Lastly, we highlighted key chronological indicators from the Gog/Magog section that emphasized the living conditions at the time of the invasion: In other words, it will be a time of genuine, messianic "peace and security" with all Israel regathered and resting peacefully in the Land.
In sum, the events of Ezekiel 38–39, while perhaps relevant for a partial or shadow fulfillment today, are not an accurate barometer to gauge the nearness of the Rapture. Rather, the Gog/Magog passage in Ezekiel is primarily directed to Israel, especially given the fact that the original readers were a dispersed and war-torn nation in Babylonian exile.
We should now be able to better answer this question: How does the Gog/Magog event in 38–39 encourage the ancient Israelites who were in exile and, by application, the Church and Israel today?
Answer: Chapters 38-39 are an encouragement because the prophecy reveals that after God regenerates, reunites, and restores Israel to the Land, all 12 tribes will be a united flock under one Shepherd—their Davidic Messiah-King—and neither height nor depth (or anything that comes up from the deep!) will be able to separate them from the love of God through Christ Jesus their Lord.
Thus, the people of Israel will be circumcised in heart under the New Covenant and truly living in a time of "peace and security" (as opposed to the professed claims of "peace and security" in modern Israel today; cf. 1 Thess. 5:3).
Furthermore, since Israel will have already been regathered from the nations for the last time prior to the Millennium, they will never again be exiled or lose the promised Land. Therefore, the Gog/Magog invasion is a last-ditch, spirit-driven rebellion to take Jerusalem and thwart God's covenant promises. But thanks be to the LORD, the "war to end all wars" comes to an abrupt end as Satan's plans go up in flames (and he goes down in flames as well, never to return again; Rev. 20:10).
One final summary conclusion: A Pre-tribulation timing and expectation for the Gog invasion robs Israel (and the Church) of the true intent of this passage; namely, to provide enduring comfort and encouragement that God will keep His covenant promises to Israel. In other words, the narrative sequence of Ezekiel 33–39 doesn't square with a Pre-tribulation framework, especially as we seek to interpret the timing of chapters 38 and 39. And consider this: God is not going to send Gog to invade Israel, bring about a swift victory, only to turn around and send His people into the Tribulation.
Grace and peace to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Resurrection and Rapture of the Church is the next event we are looking for on God's timetable—this is our blessed hope (Titus 2:13)!
YHWH [is] my shepherd, I do not lack,
He causes me to lie down in pastures of tender grass,
He leads me by quiet waters.
He refreshes my soul,
He leads me in paths of righteousness
For His Name's sake;
Also—when I walk in the valley of death-shade,
I fear no evil, for You [are] with me,
Your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
You arrange a table before me,
In front of my adversaries,
You have anointed my head with oil,
My cup is full!
Surely goodness and kindness pursue me
All the days of my life,
And my dwelling [is] in the house of YHWH,
For [the] length of [my] days!
-Psalm 23 (LSV)