Gaps between prophecies
Transitions or periods of time leaving a gap between two other events are very common in Bible prophecy, but they are not always indicated in advance. For example, the promise of God in Genesis 3 regarding “the seed of the woman” gave no indication that thousands of years would pass before its fulfillment. The destruction of the Temple in 70 a.d. was four decades after Jesus predicted it. The events of the 69th and 70th Weeks of Daniel 9 have been nearly two thousand years apart, in spite of the immediate context giving no hint of any such delay. And 40 days passed between the ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
So we have a clear precedent for expecting other transitional periods, but we must keep a sharp eye out for them. This is why we established boundaries in the early chapters of this book; without them, it is almost impossible to make sense of the many prophecies of the end times. Now just as there was a transitional period between Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and their actual destruction and dispersion, and there was a transition from an all-Jewish church to all-inclusive as recorded in Acts, so also there is likely a gap beween the end of the church age and the beginning of the final seven years decreed against Israel and Jerusalem.
The rationale for this expectation comes not only from details in the Revelation, but also in consideration of other remaining Old Testament prophecies. And in studying these things, we must establish additional boundaries or “edge pieces” to the jigsaw puzzle. Just as we learned earlier to ask about the presence of mortals or any further possibility of final personal judgment, so also we must ask questions like these:
- Are the nations involved in the prophecy identifiable as people groups we know?
- Is the geography identifiable?
- Is life still going on as has been common throughout history? Is it business as usual?
- Are the mountains, islands, and cities still intact? Are the sun, moon, and stars still where they belong and shining as usual?
Now we are ready to examine prophecies from both Testaments that would seem to best fit in the transitional period between the church age and the final seven years. We are beginning to place puzzle pieces whose edges match other pieces in the center.
An event that could easily be very early in this transitional time is found in Psalm 83. It describes a battle with named nations, yet no such battle has yet taken place, so it remains as a future prophecy. It begins with the motive for the battle: to wipe Israel off the map. No one would deny that this very desire is rampant today, especially among the nations bordering Israel. These are named as Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, Philistia and the people of Tyre, as well as Assyria. Today they comprise the areas of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and the desert of southern Israel. This is uncannily descriptive of activities in the Middle East at the present time. Damascus still exists, though it is heavily damaged and could easily be wiped out at any time during this battle.
This brings us to the prophecy of Isaiah 17, which details the destruction of Damascus, the capitol of Syria. If this destruction is what kicks off the battle of Psalm 83, the net result will be an enlargement of the borders of Israel by the defeat of its immediate neighbors. It will also put Jerusalem fully into the hands of Israel. But most importantly, it may well be the reason Israel finally says, “Peace and security!”— which is a clear sign we will see cited in the New Testament.
But we would be naive to think that this defeat of many hostile nations would be the end of trouble for Israel. When we consider all the prophesied battles, and the fact that some have one set of nations involved while others have a different set, we can be sure that this is the perfect setup for the attack on Israel in a false sense of security. This leads us to Ezekiel 38, where in verse 11 we see that the coalition led by Gog says, “I will invade a land of unwalled villages that has recovered from war; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people”. It seems obvious that Israel today is not living in security or peace, but that such a situation will only come about as a result of extraordinary circumstances like the battles of Isaiah 17 and Psalm 83.
But what about the Gog/Magog battle mentioned in Rev. 20:8–9 at the end of the Millennium? Again, we must take note of the differences in these two passages, not just the similarities:
- In Ezekiel, a limited number of nations near Israel come against them.
- In Rev., all the nations of the world come against “the camp of God’s people, the city he loves”.
- In Ezekiel, God causes a tremendous earthquake, and then he causes the enemy soldiers to turn on each other with their weapons. Then God sends plague and bloodshed, torrential rain, hailstones, and burning sulfur on them.
- In Rev., the invaders are consumed by fire from heaven.
Clearly there must be two separate battles involving Gog/Magog, and there is no reason why the one described by Ezekiel cannot happen before the Tribulation.
Now let’s take a closer look at Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. Make careful note of the fact that this is a battle, not a whole war, so it cannot last for years or decades. On either side of this section are prophecies of Israel’s rebirth (ch. 36-37) and a future time of permanent peace (ch. 40-48), so if we can consider that chronological (and there is no reason we can’t), then the sequence is clear: Israel is reborn as a nation, there is a great battle, and then comes a period of a thousand years of the rule of God on earth. And though we will see that other prophetic events happen before the Millennium, they do not violate this sequence.
The identities of Gog and Magog are hotly debated, but we know that Gog is the name of a ruler, and Magog is the name of his land (38:1-6). Other lands listed as under his domain are Meshech and Tubal. In addition, this ruler will be dragged into battle unwillingly, and will conscript other nations in the process: Persia, Cush, and Put, as well as Gomer and Togarmah “from the far north”. This could mean either as far north as possible (which geographically would be roughly the area of Russia), or simply the farthest norther border of Israel (which is roughly the area of Turkey).
Who are all these nations today? If we follow the spread of families in the Genesis genealogies, as well as historical record, the concensus is that Magog was populated by the descendants of Japeth who went to the area now known as Russia, though some hold that all these nations are in Asia Minor. Meschech and Tubal refer to areas north and east of Magog, Persia is modern Iran, Cush and Put are northern Africa, Gomer settled along the Danube River in modern eastern Europe, and Togarmah settled in Turkey. The only real dispute is how far north Magog should be placed, but all agree that it is north of Israel.
One might argue that since Turkey et al are currently united in one religion (Islam), it makes no sense to include Russia. But Russia is currently making strong diplomatic and financial ties with various middle eastern nations, being motivated by a desire to destroy the dollar as the world’s reserve currency as well as to dominate the natural gas market. And Israel has a vast amount of natural gas deposits. But keep in mind that Gog is a reluctant leader of this battle.
Now we cannot say that these two battles of Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 38 happen one right after the other. We would expect that enough time elapses between them for Israel to settle into its new, enlarged borders and to at least begin to exploit is natural resources. This, after all, is the situation in Israel which prompts the second battle.
Ezekiel 39 tells about a period of seven years when the people of the towns of Israel collect the weapons of the defeated armies and use them for fuel. They will also spend that time burying the dead. Neither of these activities make much sense if the world is still reeling from the wrath of God. But in that same chapter we are told of the great macabre feast of the dead by the carrion birds and scavenger animals, and this has similarities to the aftermath of the battle at the end of the Tribulation. Yet in Rev., there is no indication that Ezekiel is being quoted or referenced, and there is no reason there couldn’t be two or more such feasts, just as there will certainly be more than one devastating earthquake.
So it is difficult to place the battle of Gog/Magog and subsequent period of seven years in Ezekiel 38–39. Both before and after the Tribulation we can accept that Israel could be living in peace and security. Yet in spite of the 7-year detail, this cannot coincide with the seven years of the Tribulation, since halfway through it the city is attacked and overpowered, with some seeing the Abomination and running to safety for the final half (Rev. 12:14). So this span of time must either end by the midpoint of the Tribulation, or it must begin after the Tribulation. Yet it seems highly unlikely that such a battle would happen at the same time and in the same place as when all the world is massed against Jesus as he arrives from heaven.
One plausible scenario is the following sequence of events, if it all starts before the Tribulation:
- Damascus is utterly ruined and the land inhabited only by animals.
- The immediate neighbors of Israel plot to wipe it off the map, but they are defeated.1
- Israel gains much land mass and feels secure at last. They restore their land and develop its natural resources.
- The more distant neighboring nations take note of this and come to invade the land of Israel.
- God himself fights against the invaders with a variety of methods, and their dead cover the mountains of Israel.
- The people in the vicinity of Jerusalem begin a seven-year span of burning the weapons for fuel and burying the dead. Meanwhile, the carrion birds and land scavengers feast on the unburied bodies. The area for burial is called the Valley of Hamon Gog, believed to be located south of Damascus or near the Dead Sea.
If the burning of weapons must end by the midpoint of the Tribulation, then it must begin seven years earlier, which is 3-1/2 years before the Tribulation begins. It is possible that the Seals of Rev. 6–8 are opened during this time, since the events discussed so far are localized to the Middle East. The Seals are relatively mild compared to the Trumpets and Bowls, yet will be unmistakeable as the wrath of God (Rev. 6:15–17). We will examine the Revelation in more detail next.
- 1 Regardless of whether this is an actual battle or just a poetic rant, there is some event that brings about the false sense of security that makes other nations plot to invade Israel.