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Nothing frustrates me more than the inability to figure out the meaning of a critical text – such as Ezekiel 38-39. It eluded me for many years. No rapture position (Pretrib, Prewrath, or Posttrib) has dealt with the text to my satisfaction. Now, however, I am comfortable with my conclusion that the fulfillment of this passage must occur after the 1000-year kingdom.
The inherent problem for me was always the references to burning weapons for seven years and burying the dead for seven months in Ezekiel 39:9 and 39:15, respectively. The normal, natural, customary sense of the text demands that those numbers be taken in a literal sense. Nothing about the context, grammar, or historical fulfillment suggests that a non-literal sense is intended. And since the numbers are to be taken literally, Israel must be back in the land and living under divine protection.
This leads to a second issue that has a direct bearing on the fulfillment of Ezekiel 32:21-39:29. The salvation of national Israel (the unrepentant Jewish Nation) cannot and will not occur en masse before the conclusion of Daniel’s prophecy contained in Daniel 9:24-27. Exactly 490 years – of which seven years remain – must expire before every surviving Jew in the land of Israel will be saved (Rom 11:25-26). This is important because Ezekiel 32:21-39:29 is punctuated with references to the national salvation of both Judah (Southern tribes) and Samaria (Northern tribes). The national salvation of Israel leads to the restoration of all Jews to the land, i.e., not just some Jews, but all living Jews will come back to dwell in the land that God once gave to the children of Israel.
These facts alone make it difficult to place the fulfillment before the end of Daniel’s final week, since all Jews come home after this final week is concluded. For Ezekiel 38-39 to meet all the conditions portrayed in the text, the fulfillment must occur long after Daniel’s final week. I am satisfied that this conclusion has solid biblical support and cannot be contradicted. The partial hardening of national Israel will remain until the end of the Gentile period which coincides with the end of Daniel’s final week (Rev 10).
The obstacles to this conclusion are: (1) the assumption that the temporal (millennial) and eternal kingdoms follow the final week of Daniel’s prophecy without any significant time intervals between them:
7 years———-1000 Years————————–Eternity Future;
(2) that the temporal kingdom begins with a divine refurbishment of the earth which seemingly would make burning weapons for seven years and burying the dead unnecessary; and finally, (3) that the eternal kingdom is thought to begin with the creation of a new heaven and earth which again seems to make human activity to “cleanse” the earth unnecessary.
If it is true that: (1) the fulfillment of Ezekiel 32:21-39:29 must occur after Daniel’s final week; (2) Daniel’s final week, the temporal kingdom, and the eternal kingdom will follow each other without any significant gaps in time; and (3) God will refurbish or create a new earth immediately after both kingdom phases, then no solution is possible. Therefore, either one or all of the preconditions must be wrong. It is our conviction that significant details concerning which events will transpire after the 1000-year kingdom and the amount of time involved are unknown. Limiting the events to what we know may create more problems than it solves. The book of Revelation only tells us that after the 1000-year kingdom there will be: (1) the great white throne judgment; (2) a new heaven and earth; and (3) the descent of the New Jerusalem. However, no timeline is given and a significant number of details are not explained. For example, what happens to the good angels? If the old heaven and earth cease to exist, what happens to angels and men in between the old ceasing to exist and the creation of the new? Where is the lake of fire?
The first question we must answer concerns, “When?” Do the conditions presented in Ezekiel 38-39 limit the timing of the fulfillment to a period after Daniel’s final week? We believe the answer is “yes.”
The “When” of Ezekiel 38-39
Context is a critical factor in biblical interpretation. The context of Ezekiel 38-39 is unmistakable. The long promised salvation of national Israel has finally occurred and after enjoying the benefits, the people are attacked by an old adversary. But God’s promise of eternal bliss defeats Gog and the people continue in their blessed state for all of eternity future. Ezekiel 38-39 must harmonize with the context of the unit in which it is contained.
Ezekiel 33:21-39:29 contain six separate messages to the Judean exiles:
The consistent message of Ezekiel 33:21-37:28 is the promise of a future restoration by God. The restoration will be complete (all Jews must come and live in the land) and afterwards, the Jews will never again suffer exile or destruction from hostile nations. After their restoration, the Jews will have the benefit of a Davidite ruling over them under a covenant of peace between them and their God. The people are described as settled and enjoying the fruit of their labors. Such conditions will only be present in Israel after the final week of Daniel is completed. Ezekiel 38-39 occurs in the context of these fulfilled promises and illustrates the point that God is faithful to his Word.
Present conditions in the land of Israel cannot be the fulfillment of Ezekiel 33:21-37:28. God promises unprecedented blessings to those who experience the fulfillment of Ezekiel 33:21-37:28. Notice the chart below. Notice all the characteristics of the promised restoration evident in this major section of Ezekiel 33:21-37:28
There is no doubt that Ezekiel 33:21 – 39: 29 is a unit. However, there is a noticeable difference in the tone with respect to future fulfillment and accomplished fulfillment of the promises of restoration between Ezekiel 33:21- 37:28 and Ezekiel 38:1- 39:24. Ezekiel 33:21-37:28 speaks of eschatological restoration as an event to expect in the future. Ezekiel 38:1-39:24 speaks of the conditions of the eschatological restoration as an accomplished fact. The people live in “a land of unwalled towns…all of them living without walls and barred gates,” (Eze 38:11). This does not describe the present situation in Israel and neither does it describe what is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. All of the conditions of the restoration will not be a reality in the land of Israel until well after the beginning of the 1000-year kingdom under the kingship of Israel’s greatest Davidite—Jesus, the Christ.
We know that Ezekiel 38-39 belongs with Ezekiel 33:21-37:28 because each major section of Ezekiel begins with a clear temporal marker. A chronological reference that typically includes a year, a day of the month and a specific geological location occur in Ezekiel 1:1, 8:1, 20:1, 24:1, 26:1, 29:1, 31:1, 32:1 33:21, and 40:1. These references establish a very clear pattern. Therefore, we have a credible basis to make our claim that Ezekiel 33:21-39:29 is a unit since this section begins: “In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth of the month.” As such, the laws of good communication must apply, i.e., the subject matter of this unit must cohere unless clearly indicated otherwise.
Ezekiel 33:21 states, “In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth of the month, a refugee came to me from Jerusalem saying, ‘the city has been defeated!’” It is important to recognize that the next chronological marker does not occur until Ezekiel 40:1, which indicates a new topic of concern begins. In the conviction of the writer, this marks Ezekiel 33:21-39:29 as a prophetic unit focused on God’s promise of a future for both national Israel and Jerusalem. Given the bad news Ezekiel received regarding the fall of Jerusalem and the attitudes of those left in the land and those in captivity, the future was very uncertain. Ezekiel 33:21-39:29 offers hope for future generations.
Ezekiel 33:22 informs us that Ezekiel had previously been rendered unable to speak. For seven years, Ezekiel could only speak when speaking a revelation from God. On the fourth night of the tenth month, twelve years after Ezekiel was carried off by the Babylonians, God began to teach Ezekiel again, which indicated that he would be able to speak again very soon. Before the refugee arrived the following morning, Ezekiel delivered six messages from God of which Ezekiel 38-39 is a part. The essence of the messages makes perfect sense in light of the imminent message of the destruction of Jerusalem. The six messages promise and illustrate a complete and total restoration of the people and Jerusalem at a future time after which neither the people nor the city of Jerusalem will ever suffer such conditions again. That is a very important detail. Ezekiel 38-39 illustrate the future reality that once restoration occurs, God will allow a test to demonstrate the eternal bliss the Jews and Jerusalem will experience after restoration. Notice the progression of the section of this unit.
The First Message – You Suffer For Your Sins
Ezekiel 33:23-33 conveys God’s first message to the people in light of the imminent news of Jerusalem’s destruction. The people left in the land question their loss of the land in light of God’s promise to Abraham. God through Ezekiel explains that their sin (adultery and idolatry) is causing them to suffer death and exile. No promise of deliverance for Ezekiel’s immediate audience is given. The promises God makes will occur with a future generation of Jews. With complete destruction of the land and Jerusalem, the Jews still living in the land had not stopped their sinning.
The Second Message – God (the good Shepherd) Will Rescue His Sheep (the people)
Ezekiel 34 details God’s complaint against the false shepherds who are ultimately responsible for the people walking contrary to God’s will and ways. God promises to remove the bad shepherds and personally rescue the scattered sheep and gather them back to the land of promise through his servant David. A covenant of peace will control God’s activities toward his people resulting in freedom from domestic and international fears and a salvific relationship with God. It is critical that the reader recognize the benefits of this period that God promises to give Israel. Such circumstances cannot occur prior to the end of the seventieth week. Therefore, the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34 must occur after the completion of the seventieth week of Daniel and the battle of Har Mo’ed.
The Third Message – Edom and Your Enemies Gone
Ezekiel 35:1-36:15 views Edom as the symbolic representative of the nations that will be removed as a hostile enemy of God’s people. Edom will suffer demise as Israel is restored and blessed perpetually. Much of ancient Edom is now a part of modern Jordan. This prophecy will find fulfillment at the salvation of national Israel. It will be a part of God’s wrath against the nations of the world during the day of the Lord.
The Fourth Message – Israel Restored Forever
Ezekiel 36:16-37:14 details the punishment and restoration of Israel as reflected in God’s covenant with Moses. Israel’s punishment was promised and the fulfillment looks exactly as God had foretold it would be. Similarly, Israel can gain hope in the restoration which God has promised them. The wonder of that restoration is illustrated in Ezekiel 37:1-14 as dry bones once again come together with flesh and the breath of life. God promises to restore his people physically to the land and spiritually to their God. All these things are benefits of the New Covenant.
The Fifth Message – Israel and Judah Shall Be One
Ezekiel 37:15-28, the fifth message, illustrates the reunion of North and South – Israel and Judah – under a future Davidite who will rule as God has always intended. At the restoration of the Jews, God will fulfill all his promises: (1) Every Jew returns to the land; (2) A Davidic king to rule over them; (3) Eternal unity among the people; (4) Eternal spiritual restoration to God; (5) Complete forgiveness of past sins; (6) A relationship of peace with God; (7) Multiplication of the people; (8) God’s sanctuary among the people; and (9) Eternal happiness. These promises can only be fulfilled once Daniel’s final week is concluded and the final restoration of the Jews has occurred. Notice: God promised the “multiplication” of the people by natural birth (Ez. 37:26), which can only find fulfillment during the temporal kingdom.
Notice the beauty of Ezekiel 37:24-28:
24 “‘My servant David will be king over them; there will be one shepherd for all of them. They will follow my regulations and carefully observe my statutes. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your fathers lived; they will live in it – they and their children and their grandchildren forever. David my servant will be prince over them forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be a perpetual covenant with them. I will establish them, increase their numbers, and place my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then, when my sanctuary is among them forever, the nations will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel (italics added).’”
One can easily see how Ezekiel 40:1 could naturally follow this passage. God promises to locate his sanctuary among the people forever. The evidence of God’s sanctuary among the people will prove to the nations that God is among his people forever. Based upon a number of references, it would seem both evident and important that the knowledge of God’s presence exists among His people. Ezekiel states, “When my sanctuary is among them forever, the nations will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel.” It is our conviction that this verse explains why Ezekiel 38-39 follows the above passage and not Ezekiel 40:1 directly. The previous reference to God’s judgment of the nations reflected in the judgment of Edom explicitly states, “Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Eze 35:15). Again, Ezekiel 36:7 says, “I vow that the nations around you will endure insults as well.” Similarly, Ezekiel 36:23 states, “The nations will know that I am the Lord.” Israel’s restoration to the land will not be the end of the matter concerning the nations.
The Sixth Message – A Test of the Eternal State
Ezekiel 38-39 contains the sixth and final message of this amazing unit and brings the final issue into focus. What will happen to the nations? Only the punishment of Edom is explicitly detailed in this section. After God demonstrates his love for Israel, the nations will still need to be persuaded. God’s promise to Israel that they will never again suffer at the hands of the nations will be proven beyond any doubt. This is the purpose of Ezekiel 38-39.
The fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 must occur after the salvation of the northern and southern tribes. However, Daniel 9:24-27 (as we believe) indicates that the national salvation of Israel (North and South) will not occur before the completion of the final week of Daniel’s prophecy. Such a conclusion forces the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 to occur after Daniel’s final week. The only possible time for such an event to occur after Daniel’s final week is after the millennial kingdom. It therefore should be of little surprise that the only other explicit reference to Ezekiel 38-39 in the Bible occurs in Revelation 20 in the context of events that will follow the temporal kingdom.
Ezekiel 38 and 39 cover much of the same material. Gog and his allies will be summoned by God “in the latter years.” When Gog comes up against Israel, he will find “a land restored from the ravages of war with many peoples gathered on the mountains of Israel.” The people living in the land of Israel will have been brought out from the peoples of the earth and “will be living securely” in the land of Israel. Gog describes the land of Israel at the time of his invasion as that of “unwalled towns.” The people are “living quietly in security – living without walls and barred gates [Eze 38:11].” The people of Israel “live at the center of the earth.” Later, God describes his people as “living securely [Eze 38:14].”
The theme of safety and security runs throughout this unit beginning at Ezekiel 33:21 and ending at Ezekiel 39:29. Safety and security is a major component of the conditions in the land of Israel after God restores all the tribes. Ezekiel 34:25 states, “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.” Ezekiel 34:27 states, “They shall be secure in the land.” Ezekiel 34:28 states that after God brings his people back to the land, “They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid.” So we are on good ground to conclude that the theme of safety and security is a key characteristic of the restoration.
Such conditions will not occur in the land of Israel until the final week of Daniel is over. Indeed, Israel will not experience the total blessings promised throughout Ezekiel 33:21-39:29 until the kingdom of God comes to earth for 1,000 years. Revelation 20:7-10 states,
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever,” (ESV).
This description of events that will come at the end of the temporal kingdom is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 in our opinion. One particular detail seems to make this conclusion certain – the camp of the saints. This is a fitting description of the result of feeling safe and secure. The Greek term ????????? (parembol? = camp, barracks, battle line, army) occurs 10 times in the New Testament. Six out of the ten occurrences in the New Testament appear in the book of Acts with the meaning, barracks (Acts 21:34, 37; 22:24; 23:10, 16, and 32). Hebrews 11:34 has the one occurrence of the term with the nuance armies. Neither sense fits the context of Revelation 20:9. However, in Hebrews 13:11 and 13, our term occurs with the meaning camp, which is the best sense intended in Revelation 20:9.
In Hebrews 13, the term occurs twice in the context of discussions about things that happen “outside the camp” of the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt. Louw and Nida add: “The equivalent of ‘camp’ in the context of Heb 13:11 is often ‘a city of tents’ or ‘where people lived only for a short time.’ This is the Old Testament sense of the term. The translators of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (The Septuagint) picked this term 300 times to translate several Hebrew words. The very first time it occurs is in Genesis 32. Jacob, after returning to the land of Canaan and after prospering from working for his uncle Laban, proclaimed, “This is the camp of God.” This after coming upon an encampment of angels God had sent to meet him. When Jacob saw the group of angels he identified it as a camp of God (ma??n?h ??l?hîm), and he named the place Mahanaim. Clearly, as it occurs in the Old Testament, an un-walled gathering of peoples is intended. In essence, the people or the particular group lives without the necessity of walls and gates because of God’s protection. In our view, this supports our conclusion that Revelation 20 is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39.
Objections to this conclusion involve the significant absence of details in Revelation 20:7-10 from Ezekiel 38-39. Another significant difference concerns the defeat Gog and Magog will suffer. In Revelation 20:9, they are “eaten up” by fire. In Ezekiel 38-39 they suffer death and are eaten by birds and wild animals with the result that their bones will need to be buried to cleanse the land. Ezekiel 38-39 seems to limit the nations of the attack to possibly seven or eight countries. Revelation 20:7-9 speaks of “nations that are at the four corners of the earth.”
It is clear that John is presenting an abbreviated synopsis. Therefore, the decision regarding the relationship between Revelation 20:7-9 and Ezekiel 38-39 must be made on the basis of context, since John gives so few details.
The specific verb used in Revelation 20:9 literally means “to eat up” or “consume.” The ESV has “consumed.” The NET Bible has “devoured them completely.” The NASB has “devoured”, which is also the translation chosen by the NIV and the KJV. Since the verb literally means “to eat up,” but is used in a highly figurative sense with “fire,” the correct emphasis seems to be “to utterly destroy.” The extent of the destruction seems to be the life of the whole host, rather than the complete consumption of every inch of the bodies of the unbelieving host. Since John is giving an extremely abbreviated description of the event, we need not limit the event to John’s abbreviated description.
Ezekiel 39 describes a feast where birds eat the flesh of both men and horses. This would require the disposal of the bones left by the birds. Ezekiel gives a much more expanded description of the event – more so than John does – and with great detail concerning the various ways the host will die. Notice Ezekiel 39 states, “You [and all the others with you] will fall dead on the mountains of Israel,” “I will give you as food to every kind of bird and wild beast,” “You will fall dead in the open field,” and “I will send fire on Magog and the coastlands.”
It is our conviction that there are no objections that open up the possibility of contradictions between John and Ezekiel. The differences are easily explained. Many of these issues will be dealt with in the following installments of this article.
 Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (17). New York: United Bible Societies.
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