When will the Gog/Magog battle begin, and when will Israel be living in safety?
I guess I'm not sure exactly when the Gog/Magog battle will actually start, just when it will end (which, according to your Final Battles commentary, is when Jesus returns at the end of the 70th Week). Does it start at the same time that the Antichrist sets himself up in the temple, at the midpoint? I thought this might be the case, due to the parallel between Matthew 24:15,16 ("when you see standing in the holy place...") and Luke 21:20 ("when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies...").
Also in Ezekiel 38:14, it says, "In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it?" I guess this is where I thought they would be living in safety at the midpoint of the 70th week.
You have raised some good and interesting points. For some end-time events, we have a reasonably good idea how they will play out. For other events, though, we will not know the exact details of many of them until they actually happen. So I will be speculating through portions of this email response, which I prefer not to do too much.
Pertaining to the armies surrounding Jerusalem (Luke 21:20)—presumably in the middle of the 70th Week (since its desolation will be near, seemingly due to the "abomination that causes desolation" that will be set up)—I would be more likely to think that these are the armies of the Antichrist, not those of Gog/Magog.
In a verse that you noted (Ezekiel 38:8), where it implies that the Israelites will be living in safety, note it also says that it is a land "that has recovered from war." This might be referring to the battles or wars implied by the "sword" of the fourth seal (Revelation 6:8), which I feel most likely will be opened at or after the midpoint and probably will involve Israel.
In any case, maybe the armies of the Antichrist will surround Jerusalem not for the clear purpose of attacking it but, rather, for the perceived purpose of protecting it. Perhaps the Antichrist and his armies will surround Jerusalem at the midpoint and put an end not only to sacrifice and offering, but also to any further hostilities (for the time being) against Jerusalem. There might even be a perception, in Israel, that "peace and safety" are in effect; whereas, in reality, this could be a delusion put forth by the Antichrist saying, in essence, "Your enemies will not bother you anymore, now that I am in charge."
According to the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument for Israel, "Israel is one of the EU’s biggest trading partners in the Euromed area." Thus, it probably would be in the best interest of the EU to make sure that Israel's enemies do not capture and devastate Jerusalem. Perhaps if the Antichrist and his armies protect Jerusalem (by surrounding it and keeping the enemies out) at the midpoint, the Israelites might see him as their "savior," even their "messiah," and begin worshiping him after he sets himself up as "God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Incidentally, I am not absolutely convinced that another temple will be built in Jerusalem (that is, until after Jesus returns), as explained here: Doesn't the word "temple" in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Revelation 11:1 indicate that the Third Temple will stand on the Temple Mount for the last 42 months of the final seven years?.
Maybe the Antichrist will put an end to sacrifice and offering not as some type of punishment against the Israelites (as many suppose) but, rather, as a demonstration to Israel's enemies (primarily, Islamic) asserting that Israel will not be performing orthodox practices (such as offering slain animals to God) that would seem to be repugnant and offensive to others. Or maybe he might do this as an assertion that there is no reason to sacrifice or bring offerings to God for their sins anymore, since he, the "messiah," will have arrived in person (2 Thessalonians 2:4) and will have forgiven them of their transgressions.
At that time, with the Antichrist in control, the people of Jerusalem could feel as though they are living "in safety" (Ezekiel 38:8), "a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars" (38:11). This might be why Jesus gave a warning to those in Judea at that time (perhaps believing that they are safe and finally not in danger) to flee to the mountains/desert (Matthew 24:16; Luke 21:20,21; Revelation 12:6), perhaps to the mountainous desert region of Petra in Jordan.
It may be that the "desolation" (which does not necessarily imply destruction, but also can be defined as misery, despair, and anguish), caused by the "abomination" that is set up (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15), will be a result of the acceptance of the Antichrist as a "protector" or even a "savior" by the Israelites. Certainly, God would be displeased with this, and angry that His people have acknowledged someone, other than Jesus, as their "messiah." Even if the Antichrist and his armies are a strong occupying presence in Jerusalem at that time, perhaps even repressing and controlling the people to a great extent, they still could feel "safe" from their surrounding enemies. (Yet, it is only when the true Messiah, Jesus, returns that the people will live in real safety—Jeremiah 23:6, 33:16).
The presence of anguish, wailing, and mourning among the people does not necessarily imply utter destruction of the city. It could indicate simply the natural despondence and misery that people experience when God removes His hand of blessing and assistance from them. I believe that the Great Tribulation period will begin in the middle year of the final 7 years and be followed later (after the opening of the sixth and seventh seals) by the day of vengeance period. Amos may have expressed the "desolation" of the people of Israel at that time here:
Therefore this is what the Lord, the LORD God Almighty, says: "There will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. There will be wailing in all the vineyards, for I will pass through your midst," says the LORD. Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. (Amos 5:16-18)Essentially, the Israelites will have entered into a "covenant with death" (Isaiah 28:15), and God will be very displeased with this—to the point where, ultimately, He will annul the covenant, but only after He has allowed an "overwhelming scourge" to sweep over them (28:18,19). I suspect that the latter will be the period of Satan's wrath, the trumpet judgments, and the invasion by Gog/Magog.
If the Antichrist sets up residence in Jerusalem in the middle of the 70th Week, over time this might be seen by Gog as a challenge to his own dominance over Israel and its resources. This could explain Ezekiel 38:8-12. It also would seem to explain Daniel 11:40 where, eventually, "the king of the North [Gog] will storm out against him [Antichrist] with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships." This would seem to support my feeling that the Gog/Magog invasion will take place well after the midpoint, and probably near the very end, of the 70th Week, although the beginning of this invasion could take place much sooner than I am suggesting.
I do have a pretty firm belief that, at some point, Gog (the king of the north) will attack the Antichrist (Daniel 11:40)—see Gog vs. Antichrist in my Final Battles commentary. Now, let me speculate some more. Let's say that, by then, the Antichrist has taken up residence in Babylon, Iraq, or (more likely, I suspect) Mecca, Saudi Arabia (see Mystery Babylon the Great), and Gog engages him in battle there. The Antichrist might think that it is in his best interest to escape, causing him to take some armies and invade Israel ("the Beautiful Land"—Daniel 11:41), to occupy it before Gog does this first.
Maybe, once the Antichrist has occupied Jerusalem, the "reports from the east and from the north" will include a report that Gog is about to attack Jerusalem/Israel, causing the Antichrist to "set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many" (Daniel 11:44). In that case, he would not necessarily have to be there when the Gog/Magog armies attack Israel (Ezekiel 38:16).
I am inclined to believe that the trumpet judgments will transpire during the final year of the seven years (as described on my Seventh Year page), with Jesus' second advent (bodily descent) to earth coming at the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet (Revelation 10:7, 11:15-17). The fifth trumpet judgment, alone, will span at least five months (9:5,10).
I feel that the writings of Joel, Ezekiel and John (in Revelation) are all connected. It seems to me that the fifth trumpet judgment (Revelation 9:1-11) is the same as the locust invasion described by Joel, in which he stated, "A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number" (Joel 1:6). What nation? My first suspect is Turkey, headed by Gog, who will lead the armies of Magog, as well as a gigantic host of demonic creatures—with teeth like that of a lion (Revelation 9:8; Joel 1:6)—into Israel, and perhaps into other places as well. (I take the descriptions of these creatures to be literal, not figurative. Many try to provide natural explanations for them; on the other hand, I believe that they will be supernatural beings.)
As I read Revelation 9, it appears to me that the sixth trumpet judgment may be a continuation, probably an escalation, of the fifth trumpet judgment. The demonic host seems to have "morphed" into somewhat of a different form, yet with distinct similarities:
Now, we know that the Gog/Magog army will come from its place in the "far north...all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army" (Ezekiel 38:15). This sounds like the "large and mighty army" of Joel 2:2, and very well could consist of two hundred million mounted troops, as described by John (Revelation 9:16).
Then, when Jesus returns at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, I believe that He will "drive the northern army far from [Jerusalem/Israel], pushing it into a parched and barren land, with its front columns going into the eastern sea and those in the rear into the western sea" (Joel 2:20), for which the people of Zion will "rejoice in the LORD [their] God" (2:23). I deduce that this is when the final sickle will be swung on the unrighteous, and the trampling of the great, bloody "winepress of God's wrath" will take place (Joel 3:13; Revelation 14:18-20, 19:15), at the end of the 70th Week. It is then and only then that all of the following will be true:
[T]he LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. (Joel 3:16,17)
Then they will know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 38:23)
Then they will know that I am the LORD their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 39:28,29)
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