Unfortunately, there has been a lack of material written concerning the Gog and Magog invasion. Perhaps this is due to the obscurity of the predictions themselves. After all, there are very few interpreters who see the events described by the prophet as transpiring after the Millennium. Before tackling any interpretation, the reader must pause, and decide, firstly, whether John’s and Ezekiel’s visions speak of the same events. If the answer is yes, then it is clear that Ezekiel mentions several particulars which John left out. If the answer is no, then perhaps John alludes to a series of prior events as a foreshadowing of those which will occur after the close of the Millennium. Either way, we understand there is an established connection between the two prophetic accounts.
The reader should also consult ancient church sources to see how these visions have been interpreted in the past. For example, if all of the early fathers understood Scripture in a certain way, then we should allow their opinions to have some influence upon our own. Of course, we speak primarily of whether a prophetic passage is to be understood “literally” or “figuratively.” As the majority of the church fathers read the prophetic passages in a literal (that is, in a plain and natural) sense, so we ought to do the same. These preliminary factors followed out, our interpretations will have some amount of objectivity. Once again, however, in dealing with events that have not yet come to pass, we should always keep in mind our own limitations.
Now, how do we go about interpreting these passages? For our part, we’ll simply attempt to harmonize the accounts given by both John and Ezekiel. Thankfully, Lactantius has given us his views concerning this last battle, and by reading his account we may easily infer that he saw Ezekiel’s “Gog and Magog” as the same mentioned by John. Since we agree that this is the correct view (for there is nothing in Scripture which permits us to doubt it), we’ll use his interpretation as an exegetical compass, meanwhile keeping our eyes closely on Ezekiel himself to bring out any points that need to be clarified.
We’ll give Lactantius’s views in whole. He writes: “We have said a little before, that it will come to pass at the commencement of the sacred reign, that the prince of the devils will be bound by God. But he also, when the thousand years of the kingdom, that is, seven thousand of the world, shall begin to be ended, will be loosed afresh, and being sent forth from prison, will go forth and assemble all the nations, which shall then be under the dominion of the righteous, that they may make war against the holy city; and there shall be collected together from all the world an innumerable company of the nations, and shall besiege and surround the city. Then the last anger of God shall come upon the nations, and shall utterly destroy them; and first He shall shake the earth most violently, and by its motion the mountains of Syria shall be rent, and the hills shall sink down precipitously, and the walls of the cities shall fall, and God shall cause the sun the stand, so that he set not for three days, and shall set it on fire; and excessive heat and great burning shall descend upon the hostile and impious people, and showers of brimstone, and hailstones, and drops of fire; and their spirits shall melt through the heat and their bodies shall be bruised by the hail, and they shall smite one another with the sword. The mountains shall be filled with carcasses, and the plains shall be covered with bones; but the people of God during those three days shall be concealed under the caves of the earth, until the anger of God against the nations and the last judgment shall be ended.
“Then the righteous shall go forth from their hiding-places, and shall find all things covered with carcasses and bones. But the whole race of the wicked shall utterly perish; and there shall no longer be any nation in this world, but the nation of God alone. Then for seven continuous years the woods shall be untouched, nor shall timber be cut from the mountains, but the arms of the nations shall be burnt; and now there shall be no war, but peace and everlasting rest.” (Divine Institutes, VII. xxvi).
Although Lactantius doesn’t cite any Scriptures directly, nevertheless, by doing a bit of detective-work it shouldn’t be difficult to find out which Scriptures he is using for his exposition. He is keeping closely to the record of Ezekiel, however it is evident that he is also fetching information from other sources. Admittedly, we do not recall any Scripture that speaks of the righteous hiding in the caves for three days. Is it possible Lactantius is referring to Isaiah 2: 19-21? We cannot be certain. But from this theory we may infer that these righteous people are not the saints inhabiting the New Jerusalem, but those left among the nations. This tells us that not all men will join in the Gog and Magog invasion; and while Satan shall deceive many, even a great multitude, God will always have His remnant, however small and insignificant it may become.
Then Lactantius refers to those punishments of fire which shall befall the wicked, and the rising up of every man against his neighbor. He is evidently referring to Zechariah 14: 12-13: “And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult of the Lord shall be among them; and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor.”
This division and discord among the enemies themselves is corroborated by Ezekiel, who writes: “And I will call for a sword against him, throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord God: every man’s sword shall be against his brother” (Ezek. 38: 21). But, while there is some correspondence between the two prophets, Zechariah’s prophecy ought more logically to be applied to Armageddon. For the punishment there mentioned issues in “all nations keeping the feast of tabernacles” (Zech. 14: 17), with a proviso concerning those who refuse to do homage to the Lord (Zech. 14: 17-19). This, of course, can only apply to the Millennium itself.
Nevertheless, Lactantius draws primarily from Ezekiel’s account, saying that there will be a burning of the weapons for seven years following the destruction of Gog and Magog. The prophet himself writes: “And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handstaves, and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire for seven years: so that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests; for they shall burn the weapons with fire; and they shall spoil those that spoiled them, and rob those that robbed them, saith the Lord” (Ezek. 39: 9-10). This burning of weapons for seven years also includes a burying of the dead for seven months (Ezek. 39: 11-16).
Now, John’s account of the Gog and Magog invasion does not refer to these events. Rather, it would seem that the general judgment immediately follows upon the destruction of the last enemies of God. He writes: “And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away: and there was found no place for them” (Rev. 20: 9-10).
Thus, according to the bare context, John would appear to place the judgment immediately after the destruction of Gog and Magog, and the casting of Satan into the lake of fire. However, it should be noted that the phrase “and I saw” generally marks the introduction of new subject-matter. Concerning this apocalyptic expression, Rev. W.J. Erdman, D.D. writes: “This phrase is used not only for the introduction of a vision, but it suggests a principle of interpretation; it is a formal word, leading to new matter, like the Old Testament phrase, ‘And the Lord spake unto Moses.’ It indicates when prefatory to even one brief vision that its subject is one of great import demanding a pause of due contemplation. But especially remarkable is the fact that when only one “And I saw” covers an extended range of objects, it indicates that all such objects are in a unitous relation to each other as to time or theme or both.” (Notes on Revelation, pg. 23-24).
Therefore, it is possible that John, after describing the judgments of the last enemies of God, transitions from that destruction to the judgment which follows, leaving out the additional seven years, which we must infer from Ezekiel. However, it has recently been pointed out to me that divers passages in Ezekiel should be relegated to Pre-Millennial fulfillment. It is suggested that the visions in Ezek. 38: 1-7 will take place before the Millennium. Then, “after many days” (that is, after the thousand years are over), Gog and Magog will gather together to battle, thus implying that Ezekiel 38: 8-23 regards Post-Millennial fulfillment, chapter 39 then picking up the Pre-Millennial language once more. This school of prophecy, then, see the whole of chapter 39 as relating to the Battle of Armageddon.
And this view is not unlikely. In fact, it is a valid question whether part of Ezekiel’s prophecy ought to be understood as relating to the Battle of Armageddon. For in both prophets is predicted the gathering of the fowls to the great supper that ensues upon the destruction of the wicked (Ezek. 39: 17-20; cf. Rev. 19: 17-18). If we understand the two descriptions as embracing one and the same event, then it is evident that Ezekiel himself makes reference to both Armageddon and the final battle, sometimes speaking of one, sometimes of the other. As stated, prophecies often contain layers of fulfillment that are hard to separate until the events themselves come to pass. Regardless of which view we hold, we’ll all agree that the literal method of interpretation is the only one which will solve any difficulties, whether real or apparent.
Going back to Lactantius, we find that he himself believed there would a period of seven years between the destruction of Gog and Magog, and the general judgment and resurrection; and that after this period was over, the dead would be raised and the world renewed. Once more, John is silent regarding any interim period between the two events, although his silence does not mean that such a view is impossible. But, in any case, the general judgment will come to pass after the thousand years are over–that is, after the seven antitypical days are fully expired. And then all men shall be raised from the dead and judged according to their works (Rev. 20: 12-13). So, then, having discussed his visions to the best of our ability, we must lay Ezekiel aside, and move on to the next phase. For it is of this general judgment of all men, and their allotment to their eternal destinies, that we must now speak.
To be continued…