Identifying Gog & Magog


The Great Battle of the End Times


 By Kurt M. Simmons



Revelation twenty is among the most difficult passages in the Bible.  Whole interpretative schools have grown up with names describing their particular approach to the chapter.  Amillennialism, Premillennialism, and Postmillennialism describe these schools’ particular interpretation of Revelation’s millennia.  Although disagreement exists concerning the nature and timing of the millennia, all agree that the battle of Gog and Magog immediately precedes Christ’s eschatological coming in judgment upon world.  If Preterists are to succeed in convincing others that Revelation is fulfilled, then they must have a firm command on the battle of Gog and Magog and be able to convincingly identify its historical referent.  In this article, we will show that Gog and Magog was a symbol employed for the persecution under Nero and the Jews. 

Old Testament Themes and the Prophetic Method 

It will be helpful to our understanding of Revelation if we first survey the source of John’s imagery and gain an understanding of the themes and method of the Old Testament prophets.  The three major themes of the OT prophets were 1) the coming judgment upon Israel and Judah in which they would be carried into captivity; 2) the restoration of the nation to the land; and 3) the kingdom of the Messiah.  Although separated by several hundred years, prophecies about the return of the captivity and the nation’s political restoration were often woven together with prophecies about the kingdom of the Messiah and the spiritual restoration of man in Christ.  In fact, the gathering together and return of the captivity under Zerubbabel became a type of the Messiah, who would gather together Israel and lead them unto spiritual Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem

Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land…For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim: afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king: and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.  Hosea 1:11, 3:4, 5; emphasis added.

In this example, the first part of the prophecy appears to have Zerubbabel in view. In its immediate historical context, Zerubbabel was the “one head” that would lead the captivity out of Assyrio-Babylonian captivity.  However, the prophecy has a plenior sensus (Lat. “fuller sense”), and looks beyond the return of the captivity unto Christ (“David their king”).  As Zerubbabel gathered the captivity home to the land of Canaan, Christ would gather the true Israel into his kingdom by proclamation of the gospel.  Another example of this sort may be seen in Amos:

Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the Lord.  For lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth…In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will  build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this.  Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.  And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.  Amos 9:8-14; emphasis added. 

This prophecy is especially poignant because it inserts a prophecy of the restoration of the Davidic throne in Christ (“the tabernacle of David”) in between prophecies of the  coming captivity (“sifting Israel among the nations”) and the restoration of Israel to its land (“I will bring again the captivity of my people”).  We know that the raising up of the tabernacle of David looked ahead to Christ because we have James’s inspired word for it in the book of Acts. (Acts 15:16, 17)  The reason the prophets lumped together the return of the captivity and the coming of the Messiah in this way is that both were in Israel’s future and the former was a necessary precondition for bringing to pass the latter.  The prophecies about Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, his flight into Egypt, his being raised in Nazareth, his rejection by Israel’s rulers, and his death, burial, and resurrection all required that the nation return from captivity.  Thus, in bringing the nation back from Assyria and Babylon, God was fulfilling his promise of the Messiah. 

The Return of the Captivity and Coming of Christ

In the Book of Ezekiel 

The imagery of Gog and Magog in Revelation is adapted from Ezekiel.  Like other prophets, Ezekiel wrote about the coming captivity, the restoration to the land, and the coming kingdom of the Messiah.  The first half of Ezekiel addresses the coming captivity and is laden with prophecies of wrath and lamentation; the latter half is devoted to the themes of national restoration and the coming of Christ.  Ezekiel’s most graphic portrayal of the return of the captivity is set out in his prophecy of the “valley of dry bones” (Ezek. 37:1-17):  The nation was in captivity; the ten northern tribes carried away by the Assyrians; Judah carried away to Babylon.  The temple was burned, the city lay in ruins.  Ezekiel likened the nation unto a defeated army, whose bleached bones lay scattered across a vast plain.  The question for the Jews of the captivity was did the nation have a future?  The answer was, Yes!  The valley of dry bones would revive and come together in a political resurrection of the nation: 

Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off from our parts.  Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.  Ezek. 37:11, 12

The prophecy of the dry bones would be fulfilled in the restoration of Israel to its land.  Cyrus would allow the city to be rebuilt and the captives to return home.  This happened in the great migrations under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.  But Ezekiel’s prophecy didn’t stop with the return of the captivity; like other OT prophets it looked beyond the return of the captivity unto the spiritual restoration of man in Christ. 

Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side…and David my servant shall be king over them.  Ezek. 37:21, 24; emphasis added. 

Like Hosea’s prophecy of “David their king,” David here is a symbol for Christ and speaks to the restoration of the Davidic throne that had been usurped by Nebuchadnezzar and the Gentile powers.  However, Christ would not sit upon the throne of David on earth or the terrestrial Jerusalem, but in the heavenly Jerusalem above.  Peter made this abundantly clear in the very first gospel sermon after Christ’s resurrection: 

Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day.  Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God has sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.  This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are witnesses.  Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted…For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool.  Acts 2:29-34

Peter makes plain that the prophecies of “David their king” spoke to the resurrection of Christ and his coronation in the heavenly Jerusalem, where he sat down at the right hand of God.  Premillennial hopes of Christ seated upon David throne upon earth are empty and vain; they embody the very hope that led the Jews to crucify Christ; for they looked for a national liberator, not a Savior who would deliver from the bondage of sin and death.  When, therefore, Ezekiel and the prophets speak of David ruling over his people, we understand that they spoke of Christ and the church.  The church is the restored Israel and kingdom of Messianic prophecy.    

Ezekiel’s prophecies of the valley of dry bones and “David my servant” occur in Ezekiel thirty-seven; the prophecy of Gog and Magog occurs in chapters thirty-eight and thirty-nine.  Thus, restored Israel (the church) under “David” is the historical and chronological context of the prophecy about Gog and Magog.


The Eschatological Battle of Gog & Magog

Ezekiel describes the great battle of the end time in terms of a pagan hoard that invades the land of Israel; a host so numerous that they ascend like a storm and a cloud to cover the land:

And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.  And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet;  Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.   Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them.  After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but is it brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. Ezek. 38:1-8; emphasis added. 

Several points need to be made at this juncture.  First, Gog has set himself as the enemy of God and his people and there is an historical account that the Lord wants to settle.  When he says that “after many days thou shalt be visited,” the prophet indicates that God has abstained from vengeance for many years, but that Gog’s day would come.   Gog’s war against restored Israel was divinely permitted or ordained, and would provide occasion for judgment and vengeance against the people symbolized by Gog.  Second, the invasion of Gog would occur in the latter times.  This phrase speaks to the closing years of the world economy marked by the reign of sin and death.  This places Gog’s attack upon restored Israel in the period immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, for the end of the mosaic age coincided with the end of the world order that obtained from the time of mankind’s fall. Third, the description of Gog’s territory mirrors that of the Roman empire.  Ethiopia and Libya were Rome’s south-western boundary, Persia beyond the Euphrates unto the Caspian sea was its eastern-most boundary, and the “north quarters” coasting long the Black sea and the Danube unto the British isles were its northern-most holdings.  Evidence that Ezekiel’s description of Gog’s territory answers to that of Rome is provided by Agrippa II’s famous speech attempting to dissuade the Jews from war with Rome, recorded by Josephus:

 For all Euphrates is not a sufficient boundary for them on the east side, nor the Danube on the north, and for their southern limit, Libya has been searched over by them, as far as countries uninhabited, as is Cadiz their limit on the west.”  Josephus, Wars, II, xvi, 4, Whiston ed.

Having established the time of Gog’s attack and the extent of his territory, it remains only to show whom he attacked.  Ezekiel describes the objects of Gog’s invasion as those “brought forth out of the nations;” viz., restored Israel under “David,” which is to say, the church.  But if Gog’s territory answers to the Roman empire, and the time of his attack upon the church preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, then what historical event must the prophet have in mind?  That’s right, the great spiritual battle that overtook the church in the first century.  The battle of Gog and Magog is a symbol of the eschatological persecution of the saints by Nero and the Jews.  This conclusion is corroborated by John’s Revelation. 

Gog and Magog in Revelation 

In Revelation, the battle of Gog and Magog occurs after the defeat and symbolic thousand-year binding of the dragon in the bottomless pit.  The dragon represents the embodiment of sin and death expressing themselves in the children of disobedience in the form of Leviathan, the world civil power at enmity with God and his people.  The dragon first appears in Rev. 12, where he attempts to kill the Christ-child in Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.  (Rev. 12:4; Matt. 2:16-18)  The child escapes and is later caught up to the throne of God.  However, he first wages war with the dragon and his angels under the guise of Michael the Archangel (prince of angels). This was the earthly ministry of Christ, who defeated the power of sin and death by the blood of his cross (Rev. 12:11; Col. 2:14, 15), wresting the right of world dominion from dragon. Ascending to heaven, it thus became Christ’s to rule all nations with a rod of iron.  (Rev. 12:5)   

When the dragon saw that he was defeated, he made war against the woman who bore the Christ child: not Mary, but the virgin of Zion, the mother church in Palestine.  (Rev. 12:13)  Following as it does upon the heels of Christ’s ascension, this persecution is easily identified as the persecution that arose over Stephen, which St. Paul led under the commission of the Sanhedrin with the assent of Pilate.  The dragon did not wage this persecution directly, but through its alter ego (Lat., other I) the “beast.”  (Rev. 11:7)  The beast is the persecuting power of the civil government; it receives authority to wage war against the saints from the dragon (imperial Rome).  (Rev. 13:2, 4)  The persecution that arose over Stephen lasted three and a half years, or one thousand two hundred and sixty days (A.D. 34-38) (Rev.12:6, 14); it collapsed with the removal of Caiaphas from the high priesthood; Pilate’s leaving Judaea, and the conversion of St. Paul.  The persecution revived momentarily under Herod Argippa I (Acts 12 - circa A.D. 41), but ended almost as abruptly as it started when Agrippa died of a stroke from God.   Aggrippa II was too young to manage his father's kingdom, so Claudius returned Judea to a province and sent thither Cuspius Fadus as procurator, returning the protection of law to the church.  The collapse of the persecution in Palestine is represented by the earth opening its mouth to swallow the flood of persecution pouring out of the dragon’s mouth.  (Rev. 12:16)  It is also symbolized by the beast receiving a mortal wound to one of its heads.  (Rev. 13:3) 

In receiving the mortal wound to its head, the beast lost the power to persecute and symbolically went down in death to the bottomless pit (hades tartarus).  (Rev. 11:7; 17:8)  The dragon, which gave the beast power, also went down to the bottomless pit.  (Rev. 20:1, 2)  Both the dragon and beast remained in the bottomless pit for a period symbolized by a thousand years.  (Rev. 11:7; 17:8; 20:7)  Greco-Roman notions of hades had it that the dead lived in hades a thousand years, after which they were born anew into earthly life. (Plato, Republic, Bk. X, 315-320;  Virgil, Aeneid, Bk. VI, 734-769;  Justin Martyr, 1st Apology, VIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 165)  The scriptures speak of the spiritual realm in similar terms, as essentially timeless, where a thousand years is as a day, and vice versa.  (Ps. 90:4; II Pet. 3:8)  This seems to be the significance of the thousand year internment of the dragon and beast; it points to the period during which they were “dead” in terms of their power to persecute the church.   

Claudius was the “angel” that bound the dragon.  (Rev. 20:1)   All during Claudius’ reign the church enjoyed the protection of law; even banishing Jews from Rome for rioting against the church.  (Acts 18:2)  St. Paul alludes to Claudius in his second epistle to the Thessalonians as “he who lets” (restrains).  (II Thess. 2:6, 7)  The persecution of the last day would not come so long as Claudius was upon the throne, repressing the mystery of iniquity and powers of persecution.  When Claudius was taken out of the way, Nero would be revealed as the man of sin and son of perdition, and the church would be gathered in martyrdom unto Christ.  John portrays this by the dragon and beast being loosed from the bottomless pit and the mortal wound to the beast’s head having healed. John described the beast in Rev. 17:8 as the beast that “was and is not and is about to ascend out of the bottomless pit.” That is, the persecuting power of the empire that suffered defeat by the collapse of the persecution over St. Stephen was about to manifest itself again, this time under Nero, whose name the beast bore. This is the point at which the battle of Gog and Magog begins: 

And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. Rev. 20:7

“Satan” is a generic term signifying an adversary.  The character which here in verse seven is called “satan” in verse two is called the “dragon.”  In other words, the adversary in this case was world civil power embodied in Rome, Nero, and the Jews.  In Rome, the beast was identified with Nero, who was its driving power (Rev. 13:1-10); in Asia and other parts of the empire, the Jews, at the behest of their leaders in Jerusalem, were the driving force.  John portrays this by a harlot, riding the beast in a surfeit of blood and gore.  (Rev. 17:3-6)  In Palestine, the persecution was driven by the “false prophet,” the religious leaders of the Jews who bade them to make an inquisition against the church like unto the beast’s.  (Rev. 13:11-18)  The dragon and beast make war against the church by surrounding the “camp of the saints” (the church).  But fire comes down from God out of heaven and consumes Gog and his host, and the dragon, beast, and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire.  (Rev. 19:20, 21; 20:9, 10)  The harlot is also consumed.  (Rev. 18)  An angel calls to the birds of heaven to come and devour the carcasses of the slain.  (Rev. 19:17, 18)  This is a direct quote from Ezekiel.  (Ezek. 39:17)   John's application of Ezekiel's prophecy is certain proof that the persecution under the dragon, beast, false prophet and harlot were the battle of Gog and Magog.  Their destruction occurred in the cataclysmic events of the first century, including famines, earthquakes, and plagues, in which also Rome saw a succession of civil wars and four emperors in the space of little more than a year, and Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus.  Following the world-wide devastations of the last days, God renewed the earth, in which the church reigns supreme with Christ.  (Rev. 21, 22)


 The battle of Gog and Magog was a symbol for the eschatological battle of the last days; the persecution under Nero and the Jews. 


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