“With God On Our Side”: A Documentary on Christian Zionism


FILM REVIEW: “With God On Our Side” (includes video previews)

by Adam Maarschalk: April 29, 2010

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him” (Romans 10:12).

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:4-6).

For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your children will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (Romans 9:6-8).

These three passages are only a sampling of New Testament passages demonstrating that “the playing field” is leveled because of Christ’s work on the cross, and that in the kingdom of God ethnic descent counts for absolutely nothing. Saving faith in Christ is required to have any stake whatsoever in the promises of God (see especially Galatians 3:7-9, 16, 29; Romans  4:13-16, 22-25; Galatians 5:6, 6:15-16). How does this New Covenant truth play out, though, in 21st century American Christianity? Do we believe it? Do we teach it? Do we practice it? Or do we teach instead that God favors one ethnic group over all others, and that He holds out promises for that one ethnic group which He withholds from others? The sad fact is that there is a popular movement which indeed strongly advocates this type of partiality and favoritism. This movement is known as Christian Zionism, an offshoot of Dispensationalism, the school of thought invented by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s and popularized by the 1909 publishing of the Scofield Reference Bible.

Are there significant implications for supporting Christian Zionism? Porter Speakman Jr. believes so. Speakman is the director of a brand new documentary titled “With God On Our Side” (not to be confused with a 2004 documentary by the same name highlighting “the rise of the religious right in America”). It was released by Rooftop Productions on April 8, 2010. The following is the film’s synopsis:

With God On Our Side takes a look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that because the Jews are God’s chosen people, they have a divine right to the land of Israel. Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians, leading to great suffering among Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatening Israel’s security as a whole.

This film demonstrates that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn’t favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians.

I watched this documentary last weekend, and highly recommend it for anyone who has any interest at all in the present Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and especially for those who have theological convictions regarding modern day Israel and/or the Jewish people. My brief review of this film will follow shortly, but first I’d like to highlight the five official (short) video clips posted on Vimeo to promote the film. They don’t do justice to the excellent content of the film itself, but they are a good introduction:

[1]

This first video is the official trailer of “With God On Our Side.” It includes brief testimony from Salim Munayer, a Palestinian Christian who lived in the region when Israel became a nation in 1948. Salim helped to found Musalaha, a non-profit organization “that works toward reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians based on the Biblical principles of peace, justice, and love.”  This trailer also includes footage from certain Palestinian areas, and speaks briefly of the more than 3 million Palestinian refugees who today make up the largest refugee population in the world. The viewer is also given a couple of brief glances at a “Christians United for Israel” (CUFI) rally led by pastor John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas.

[2]

In this second video clip, Gary Burge (Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, and a student living in Beirut when the Lebanon civil war broke out in the 1970’s) speaks on Biblical justice and kingdom values. Examples would be the truths Jesus articulated in the Sermon on the Mount, and His actions toward the people who were marginalized in the Israel of His day. Gary asks whether or not evangelical Christians today are promoting and applying these values equally toward all peoples in the Middle East, regardless of their background.

[3]

In this third video clip, Salim Munayer, who is also a leader on faculty at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine, tells of a popular US Christian radio anchor interviewed some time ago on Israeli TV. This Christian leader cited the book of Joshua in making his case that the Jews should destroy the population of Lebanon. The point of this Palestinian believer is that many American Christian leaders are being perceived in the Middle East as warmongers, as desiring to be rich but not caring for the poor, as standing for power and not peace/justice, as hating Muslims, as being one-sided regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, etc. He points out that certain Christian spokespersons in America (especially from the Christian Zionist camp) are heard loudly in the Middle East, and their statements are immediately translated into Arabic on a regular basis. Their teachings and political opinions are hindering the ministry of believers in that region.

[4]

In this fourth video clip, a Christian British journalist speaks of the unjust accusation of anti-semitism which is often leveled at those who attempt to tell the “Palestinian narrative,” or who advocate equality between the Jewish and Palestinian communities. I might add that I’ve also personally heard this charge applied unfairly to those who simply question or reject the teachings of dispensationalism and/or Christian Zionism, which happen to be fairly new doctrines in Church history. Another term which is hastily applied to those who don’t believe that the Jewish people hold a special status in New Covenant Christianity is “replacement theology.”

Photo Credits: All photos in this post are sourced from the “We Love Israel” page on Facebook.

[5]

In this fifth video clip, Stephen Sizer (a pastor at Christ Church in Surrey, England; also an author, theologian, and an international speaker specializing in topics relating to the land of Israel) speaks of the danger of simplistic answers regarding the Israeli/Palestinian situation. These dangers include making one group or the other “the bad guys,” or demonizing a whole group of people, leading to a justification of the abuse of civilians in order to advance a certain cause. He compares some of the arguments which are being advanced today to the arguments which allowed for the ethnic cleansing of North America’s indigenous people in generations past.

A Brief Review of “With God On Our Side”

One of the features of this film which I greatly appreciated was the space given to Palestinian Christians to share their stories and their perspectives. They are often a forgotten voice in the present conflict. The same is unfortunately true in the world of Christian Zionism, where even Jewish unbelievers are among the favored ones, but our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters are too often sidelined. One man shared what he saw firsthand in 1948 when Israel became a nation, when his own family members were made homeless along with nearly 700,000 other people. He doesn’t share these details with bitterness. Instead, he expresses how he loved the Jewish people prior to 1948, and by the grace of God continues to love them post-1948. Upon watching the film, one gets the sense that there are so many similar stories which could and should be told.

Another helpful feature of the film is an informative section devoted to the history of the land/region of Palestine during the last several centuries. The film’s very informative official site provides some of these same details, minus the attractive graphics presented in the film. One learns about the Ottoman Empire, its fall around the time of World War I, the famous Balfour Declaration of 1917, and British-controlled Palestine during the “British Mandate,” all prior to 1948. As the film site states,

The status of the populations between Arabs and Jews living in the land of Palestine before 1948 is one that is continuing to be debated. While researching for this film, we came across various population numbers and statistics. We have tried to take numbers that most accurately indicated the realities on the ground at that time. The two main things that can be said with little doubt, no matter what numbers you use is that, one, the land of Palestine was not empty when Jews began immigrating back in the late 19th century. Two, there was a majority Arab population and minority Jewish communities living in the land of Palestine before 1948.

Jewish immigration to Palestine grew, especially during and after WW2 and the Holocaust, which saw the systematic murder of over 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis. As Jewish immigration grew, tensions between the two communities mounted. However, before that, Arabs and Jews lived together peacefully. It is true that there was Arab migration into the area as Jewish immigration and opportunities arose; however, the idea that Arabs only started to populate the area when Jews made it prosperous is a myth.

Speaking of myths, some of the theology characteristic of Christian Zionism is discussed throughout the film, but especially during the last half hour (the film is 82 minutes long). The film is not one-sided in this regard, though. Christian Zionists, John Hagee being one of them, are given numerous opportunities to express their views without interruption. In some cases, their views are then refuted by featured speakers in this documentary. In other cases, their specific points are not so thoroughly addressed, though I found myself wishing that they would have been.

The video footage alone makes this film worth viewing. It was fascinating to see the way of life of both Jews and Palestinians in villages, cities, and marketplaces. To be sure, there were heartbreaking moments as well. The suffering and injustices are incredible, and too many are needlessly being made victims, and much more could be said on this. The viewer learns of some disturbing details behind the push to locate settlers in disputed areas, including massive financial support from Christian organizations in America which is enabling certain aggressive activities to continue and increase. Is God on one side of the present conflict, but not on the other? Christian Zionists say “yes,” but does the Bible agree? Emphatically, I must say “no.”

It’s my conviction that it’s impossible to make a responsible case from within the pages of the New Testament that God maintains any promises for the Jewish people which are not available for all who trust in Christ, not even promises regarding the land of Israel. In fact, unbelieving Jews (and Gentiles) are entirely outside of God’s covenant and promises, for these promises are only accessible through faith. Nor do I believe that any promises await any future fulfillment exclusively or primarily for the Jewish people, for there really is no Jew or Gentile in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). I realize that the statements I’ve just made are a huge can of worms for a lot of people. Good! Let us all dig deep on these things for ourselves, and not just blindly follow popular teachers and teachings.

When time allows, I hope to write much more extensively on this very subject, for there are so many things to consider. In the meantime, for anyone who is interested, one excellent resource is  a series of presentations based on Stephen Sizer’s book, “Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel, and the Church.” Sizer has kindly made this series available online for free (the book is available for purchase here). I have read portions of this series and what I’ve read so far is thorough, well-thought-out, and simply an excellent study. I plan to do a lot of interaction with Sizer’s writings once I do write  further on this subject here at this blog. The following are some of the questions I wish to tackle at that time (feel free, though, to discuss them even now):

-According to the New Testament, who are God’s chosen people today? Does God have one chosen people, or two?

-Are all Jews part of God’s chosen people, as is taught in many Christian circles, or only those Jews who have put their faith in Christ (alongside of all non-Jews who have done the same)?

-Do Jewish Christians (known as “Messianic Jews”) have a higher place in the kingdom of God than non-Jewish followers of Christ? Does Scripture say that this will ever be the case?

-Does Genesis 12:3 mandate that Christians show favoritism toward the modern nation of Israel, the policies of that nation, and/or toward the Jewish people as a whole? Does Genesis 12:3 have anything at all to do with the modern, geopolitical nation of Israel? How about Zechariah 2:8, where Jerusalem is said to be “the apple of God’s eye”?

-Do the Jewish people have a divine right to the land of Israel? Is this idea affirmed anywhere in the New Testament? If yes, where? If no, why not?

-How do the inspired authors of the New Testament apply Old Testament passages which were originally addressed to “the house of Israel”? Are they applied in the NT to the Jewish people as a race, or to the Church (which is made up of believing Jews and Gentiles, with no distinction)? Are they ever spiritualized in any way by the authors of the NT?

-Were the promises given to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament conditional or unconditional? Do they apply to the modern, political nation of Israel? If so, to whom were they applied from 70 AD to 1948 when there was no established nation known as Israel?

-The land promises in the OT were said to be eternal/everlasting/perpetual, as was the covenant of fleshly circumcision, and as were also numerous temple-based rituals. How does the NT deal with the non-land covenants/statutes which were said to be eternal? Should the eternal land promises be dealt with in a different manner? If so, why?

-How does the New Testament speak of earthly Jerusalem in comparison to heavenly Jerusalem, and what are the implications of this contrast?

-Has the New Covenant (promised, for example, in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36) fully arrived yet? Or is its full arrival awaiting the future salvation of the entire nation of Israel (or all  surviving Jews) at the Second Coming of Christ? This is what dispensationalism teaches.

-Are you sure that what you have been taught regarding the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and other related issues resembles what has been taught throughout Church history, especially prior to the advent of dispensationalism (the school of thought developed by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s)?

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With God On Our Side” is available for purchase on Amazon.com, where several helpful reviews of the film can also be seen.

All posts on the subject of Christian Zionism can be found here.

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Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)


REVELATION 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction: In the previous post, we covered the first four verses of Revelation 21, giving special attention to the imagery of a new heaven and a new earth (“for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”), and the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. Our conclusion is that John was being shown the final transition from the Old Covenant age to the New Covenant age (exclusively and in fullness) in 70 AD. In other words, the New Jerusalem came down from heaven at that time, and is a present reality now, just as the author of Hebrews also said (Heb. 8:13; 12:22-24). The events of 70 AD demonstrated decisively that the kingdom no longer belonged to the Jewish nation, but to the holy nation created at Pentecost (Matt. 21:43-44, I Peter 2:4-10; cf. Daniel 7:22, 27), made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers who enter God’s kingdom on an equal basis.

It is recommended that one read Part 1 of our study of Revelation 21 before proceeding here, in order to have a basis for what is to follow. We will now continue with our study, picking things up in verse 5. We will be relying much on Steve Gregg’s commentary on this chapter.

Verse 5: The One on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…” While the literalist position most often takes this statement to refer, along with the rest of the chapter, to a future physical new heavens and earth, this can also quite naturally be understood as a reference to the same truth which is articulated in II Corinthians 5:17. This verse reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” As believers submitted to Christ, every area of our lives should experience renewal. Even as this is true on a personal level for each believer, it’s also true in terms of the New Covenant. In the book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” Steve Gregg writes (p. 491):

The language of these verses also can apply to the passing away of the old covenantal order, which has been so completely replaced by the new order that God commands His people: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I will do a new thing” (Isa. 43:18-19). No place remains for the old covenant, as the writer of Hebrews explains: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13).

Verses 6-7: The text here reads, “And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and he will be My son.’” Is this a present reality, or a future reality to be experienced in the eternal state? Steve Gregg reminds us (p. 491):

[T]he promise, I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts (v. 6), is clearly the same as that made twice by Jesus in John’s Gospel (cf. John 4:10, 14; 7:37f). Also, the phrase He who overcomes (v. 7) is characteristic of the phraseology in the promises made by Christ in the letters to the seven churches (cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).

The one who overcomes receives this promise: “and I will be His God and he will be my son.” A similar promise is given in II Corinthians 6:18, a passage speaking of the Church as the temple of the living God. There we read: “and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.” This present position as God’s children is also spoken of in Romans 8:15-17. Kenneth Gentry, in his latest book “Navigating the Book of Revelation,” adds:

John is encouraging the beleaguered first century saints to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls, they will complete their entry into the final redemptive-historical order which has been gradually dawning since the time of Christ (John 4:21-23). As the writer of Hebrews puts it: Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28 NIV; cf. Heb. 8:13). Or as Paul expresses it in the mid-50s: “And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:11-12) – a reality worthy of enduring persecution.

Jesus promises His disciples that some of them will live to see the kingdom’s final establishment in power: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Thus in Revelation 21 John paints nascent, post-A.D. 70 Christianity – now finally separated from Judaism – in glowing terms, as a firmly established, glorious reality (p. 167).

Verse 8: This verse reads, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake of fire that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Steve Gregg notes that many scholars have equated “the cowardly” with apostates “who defect from the gospel rather than enduring hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” in contrast to those “who overcome” (v. 7).

We also saw a reference to the lake of fire and the second death in Revelation 20:14, with regard to the Great White Throne Judgment. This is where, according to that passage, death and Hades was to be thrown, along with anyone whose name was not found in the book of life (Rev. 20:15).[1]

Steve Gregg makes a very interesting observation at this point. Speaking of the preceding 8 verses in relation to the rest of the final two chapters, he observes (p. 492):

One way of understanding the structure of these final chapters is to see this whole segment (vv. 1-8) as an outline or summary of the remaining portion of the book. A remarkable correspondence exists between the progression of thought in these first verses and in the remaining chapters.

Compare, after the introductory statement in verse 1:

CONTENT

In Verses 1-8

In the Remainder

New Jerusalem Verse 2 21:9-21
God dwells among men Verse 3 21:22-27
Renewal of the world Verse 5a 22:1-5
“These words are true and faithful” Verse 5b 22:6-10
Work completed: “I am Alpha and Omega” Verse 6a 22:11-15
Final blessing: water of life to all who thirst Verses 6b – verse 7 22:16-17
Final curse upon the rebellious Verse 8 22:18-19

Verse 9: John is now taken to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” by one of the same seven angels who held the bowl judgments. Steve Gregg notes (p. 493) that one of these same angels—perhaps even the same one—had also taken John to see the great harlot in Revelation 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.’” He says that this “provides a structural link, deliberately placing the harlot in juxtaposition with the bride.” We made the same observation in our study of chapter 17, comparing the language of these two texts as follows:

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

Earthly Jerusalem and the Old Covenant temple system are thus contrasted with heavenly Jerusalem and the New Covenant (cf. Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 12:18-28). On the different destinations to where John was taken in these two visions, Steve Gregg comments: “The bride-city is elevated upon a mountain, ‘beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth’ (Ps. 48:2), while the harlot city is situated in a barren wasteland.”

Verses 10-11: The descending of “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” was also shown to John in verse 2. Steve Gregg comments on the significance of her attire:

Here, the attire of the bride is seen to be her having the glory of God (v. 11). The Shekinah that once rested upon the temple in earthly Jerusalem has departed from that institution and come to alight upon the church, the new temple of the Holy Spirit and the new City of God. The inheritance and hope of the New Testament believer is the hope of obtaining the glory of God (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 8:18; Col. 1:27; I Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 2:10; I Pet. 5:1, 10). This speaks of the likeness of Christ Himself seen upon His people (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; 2 Pet. 1:19; I John 3:2).

The light radiating from the glorious bride-city is compared to the radiance of a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (v. 11), which probably refers to a diamond. The believing remnant is likened to jewels in the Old Testament. In Malachi 3:16-17, it is said of those who fear the Lord and meditate on His name, “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them My jewels.’” The context in Malachi [3:16-4:6] suggests that the reference is to the Jewish believers in Christ, who escaped the desolation of the capital city in A.D. 70. In this place also some find grounds for seeing the bride as the surviving church at the time of the destruction of the Jewish polity.

Verses 12-13: This text reads, “It [the New Jerusalem] had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.” Steve Gregg comments (p. 494),

The city is described as surrounded by a great and high wall (v. 12). This is applicable to the church as a spiritual city even today. In speaking of the spiritual Jerusalem, God predicted “and you shall call your walls Salvation” (Isa. 60:18), and “I…will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zech. 2:5). If Salvation is the wall—indeed, God Himself is the wall—of the city, then the city and its wall appear to be spiritual in nature. This would be a figurative means of expressing the reality of the believer’s security in the City of God.

The wall of the city has twelve gates (v. 12) which have written upon them the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. In Isaiah, the same passage that calls the city’s wall “Salvation” goes on to say, “And your gates [shall be called] Praise” (Isa. 60:18). The most important of the twelve tribes was Judah, whose name means “Praise.” In Isaiah, the city’s gates are named after this tribe; in Revelation, the gates bear the names of all twelve tribes. There may be no conflict here, since in Judah, that is, in Christ, who is of that tribe, all the “twelve tribes” of the spiritual Israel are included. The attachment  of the tribal names to the gates may suggest that through Israel God made a way for the world to enter the City of God, for “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Of course, this is only another way of saying that salvation is through Jesus Christ, who sprang from the Jewish race…

Another observation concerning the 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel is that this parallels Ezekiel’s vision, where he saw the same thing (Ezekiel 48:30-34). Gregg continues,

It is expedient that there should be three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west (v. 13), to speak of the universal access into the church, for Jesus predicted that “They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

In the passage just quoted from Luke 13, we should note that just before Jesus said these words, He also said to the unbelieving Jews that they would be cast out of the kingdom of God and would experience weeping and gnashing of teeth while the patriarchs, prophets, and many Gentiles would find entrance. This mirrors what Jesus said in the Parable of the Tenants (Matt. 21:43-44; cf. Matt. 22:1-14).

Verse 14: This verse reads, “And the walls of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Steve Gregg’s commentary on this verse is very insightful (p. 494):

Further evidence for identifying the city with the church is seen in the city foundations that have upon them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (v. 14). This detail communicates pictorially what Paul said more directly, that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). This is the city for which Abraham looked: “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Duncan McKenzie likewise says, “A physical structure (a city) is being used here as a symbol to portray the totality of God’s people, just as God’s people are likened to a physical structure (a temple) in Ephesians 2:19-22—notice that both “structures” are built on the foundation of the apostles (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14).”

Verse 15: Here we read, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.” Steve Gregg again comments (pp. 494-495):

The measuring of the city, its gates, and its wall (v. 15) recalls Ezekiel 40:3, where an angelic messenger carried a measuring line and a reed to measure the gates and walls of “something like the structure of a city” (Ezekiel 40:2) and the temple in it. It seems likely that this vision corresponds to that of Ezekiel, although premillennialists generally apply Ezekiel’s to the Millennium and this one to the state of things after the Millennium.

We should note that a major difference between Ezekiel’s account and John’s account here is that (as we will see) there is no temple in John’s vision. Ezekiel, on the other hand, goes into great detail in describing the temple he sees in his vision [In Philip Mauro’s classic work in 1922, “The Hope of Israel,” he noted that the promises given through Ezekiel were conditional (e.g. Ezekiel 43:9-11), and that these visions had to do with the return from the Babylonian captivity some five centuries before Christ with some foreshadowing also of Christ and the coming Church age].

Verses 16-21: We are now given the physical description of the holy city. Futurists, and premillennialists in particular, see this as a literal description of a future, physical city to be enjoyed during the eternal state following Christ’s millennial reign. On the other hand, as we will see, there is Scriptural warrant for seeing this description as depicting with rich symbolism the glories of the New Covenant church in this present age. Here is the text at hand:

The city lies foursquare; its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia [about 1380 miles]. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

One key comparison to take note of is the fact that the holy city in John’s vision is cube-shaped, just as the holy of holies in Solomon’s temple was (I Kings 6:20). The holy of holies was overlaid with pure gold, while the holy city in John’s vision is entirely made of pure gold. What follows is Steve Gregg’s commentary on these verses, found on pages 495-496 of his book:

[VERSES 16-17] Since John sees no temple in the city (v. 22), we may imply that the whole city is the temple, or more specifically, the holy of holies. It is the place of the glory of God (cf. v. 11). This is the place of God’s residence (Eph. 2:20-21; I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; I Pet. 2:5), where God communes with men. Earlier [Rev. 11:1-2], John had measured the holy of holies (the naos) for its protection and preservation. In this vision, the naos is again measured, indicating its permanence, but it is now identified with the City of God, the church of Jesus Christ.

Part of the adorning of the bride is her jewelry… The walls, foundations, and gates are all made of great gemstones. This harks back to a prophecy of the Old Testament concerning the church: “O you afflicted one, tossed with the tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones” (Isa. 54:11-12). [Steve Gregg’s endnote: That the church is here pictured seems a necessary conclusion to be drawn from Paul’s quotation of the first verse of the chapter in Galatians 4:26-27 and his application of it to the Gentiles of the New Covenant church.]

[VERSE 18] (T)he city itself was of gold, so thoroughly purified as to become transparent. This is an image used to describe the refined character of the sanctified believer (Job 23:10; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:3; I Pet. 1:7; Rev. 3:18).

[VERSES 19-20] The twelve gems comprising the foundations call to mind the twelve gems worn upon the breast of the high priest, though again the individual stones are not identical (cf. Ex. 28:15-21). Since these same stones bear the names of the twelve apostles, it could be understood as a statement about the leadership of the people of God having transferred from the high priesthood of the temple to the apostles of the church.

[VERSE 21] There may be symbolic significance to the fact that the twelve gates were twelve pearls (v. 21). Unlike the previously named gems, pearls are created organically. A rough grain of sand irritating the tissues of the oyster causes the secretion of a substance that transforms the source of irritation into a pearl. The pearl thus may stand for affliction turned to benefit, even as silver and gold refined by fire are used in Scripture for the same concept. The gates are the means of entry into the city. If the pearl is understood in this light, we have a picture of one of Paul’s preaching themes: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

In Scripture a way of life is frequently called a path, a way, a highway, or a road (e.g. Prov. 4:18; Isa. 35:8). Therefore it is reasonable to understand the street of the city (v. 21) as representing the way of life of those who comprise the New Jerusalem. This street was pure gold, like transparent glass, which speaks of the godly character and behavior that comes from enduring the refining fires of tribulation.

Verses 22-27: John continues to describe what he observes concerning the heavenly Jerusalem:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Steve Gregg’s commentary again follows, including a most helpful chart comparing this portion of Revelation 21 with a corresponding portion of Isaiah 60 (pp. 496-497):

On the statement, I saw no temple in it, [J. Stuart] Russell writes: “Some of the features [of this vision] are evidently derived from the visionary city beheld by Ezekiel [chapters 40-48]; but there is this remarkable difference, that whereas the temple and its elaborate details occupy the principal part of the Old Testament vision, no temple at all is seen in the apocalyptic vision—perhaps for the reason that where all is most holy no one place has greater sanctity than another, or because where God’s presence is fully manifested, the whole place becomes one big temple.” Rather than going to a particular place to worship and appearing before God “in the sanctuary,” today one needs only be found “in God” or “in Christ” to worship acceptably, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (v. 22).

A helpful way of treating this segment is to look at it alongside an Old Testament passage with which it coincides. Compare the details point-by-point with Isaiah chapter 60:

Isaiah 60

Revelation 21

The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the Lord will be to you…light (v. 19) The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it for the glory of God illuminated it (v. 23)
The Gentiles shall come to your light (v. 3) The nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light (v. 24)
Kings shall minister to you (v. 10); the glory of Lebanon shall come to you (v. 13) The kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it (v. 24)
Your gates shall be open continually…not shut day nor night (v. 11) Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there) (v. 25)
The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you (v. 5) They shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it (v. 26)
Also your people shall be all righteous (v. 21) There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles (v. 27)

In Isaiah 60, all of this is precipitated by the dawning of the glory of the Lord in a glorious new day (Isa. 60:1-3). This day was seen to dawn with the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus (cf. Luke 1:76-78; Matt. 4:13-16). Both passages then would appear to speak, albeit in symbolic terms, of the realities of the New Covenant age. The coming of the Gentiles into the church and the submission of kings to Christ has been in progress for nearly two thousand years now.

These facts alone (those highlighted in the paragraph above) would seem to be conclusive proof that these prophecies found here simply cannot be said to await a future dispensation or realm, but are indeed realities which have characterized the Church for nearly 2000 years.

This brings us to the end of the chapter, in terms of looking at it verse-by-verse. In this post, we have noted several parallels with the book of Ezekiel. This is actually a very common pattern with the book of Revelation, and numerous scholars have recognized that John borrows much from—or alludes much to—Ezekiel. Just for fun, here is a brief summary from Pastor Sam Frost of some of the parallels between Revelation 21 and various visions of Ezekiel:

Ezekiel is taken to a high mountain by angel and sees a city (40.1-3). John is taken to a high mountain by an angel and sees a city (21.10). The first thing Ezekiel sees is the wall (40.5) that surrounds the city. The first thing John sees is the wall surrounding the city (21.12). The first gate Ezekiel sees is the ‘east gate’ (40.6). The first gate for John is the ‘east gate’ (21.13). Ezekiel sees the East, North (40.20-23) and the South (40.24-27), in that order. John follows the same order: ‘From the East gates, three; and from the North gates, three; and the South gates, three’ (21.13). One omission: Ezekiel does not mention a West gate, but John does.

Each gate/alcove for John and Ezekiel are ‘three’ (21.13; cf. 40.10). Each are being measured (21.15-ff; cf. 40.10-ff). John then measures the city itself and its foundations. Here, Ezekiel goes into the city and sanctuary and begins measuring their dimensions.

Obviously, Ezekiel’s vision is much more detailed that John’s. Nonetheless, the pattern is there, plainly. Each gate (four in all, with three alcoves, giving a total of 12) are named after the tribes of Israel (Ez 48.31-ff). Same as John (21.12). The City has ‘living waters’ in Ezekiel 47.1-ff. So does John (22.1-ff). I can expand the list, but we would be here a little longer. By now, you ought to get the point.

Before we bring this post to a close, and by way of review, the following is a selected outline of Kenneth Gentry’s reasons[2] for seeing a first-century fulfillment of the vision of Revelation 21. My numbering of Gentry’s points is a bit different than his own numbering, as I have left out certain points for the sake of brevity:

[1] The flow of Rev’s drama expects the immediate appearance of the New Jerusalem bride (21:2). John’s theme involves Christ’s judging Israel (1:7), which leads to the destruction of old, historical Jerusalem (under the image of Babylon…). Once the old city is destroyed in AD 70 we should expect the New Jerusalem to take its place. Indeed, the NT declares the heavenly Jerusalem is already present in Christianity, as over against Judaism (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22; cp. vv 18–21).

[2] Per the “unanimous agreement among scholars” (Mathewson, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 33; cf. Beale, Revelation, 1041), John’s immediate source material is surely Isa 65:17–20 (cf. LXX). Isaiah’s prophecy portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ (cp. 2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10; 4:24). As Young (Isaiah 3:514) explains: “Heaven and earth are employed as figures to indicate a complete renovation or revolution in the existing course of affairs. With the advent of the Messiah the blessing to be revealed will in every sense be so great that it can be described as the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.”

[3] The coming down of the new Jerusalem (21:2) leads to the loud proclamation from God’s throne: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.” This transpires in the first century, as a result of Christ’s work and his pouring out God’s Spirit. Paul writes in 2Co 6:16: “We are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

[4] …The promise of the water of life without cost reflects Isa 55:1 and the offer of salvation, which is related to the redemptive-historical order established by Christ in the first century. In his Gospel John speaks of the water of life flowing from Christ during his incarnation (4:10–14) and promises its fuller flow at his exaltation (7:38–39; cp. Ac 2).

[5] The twelve foundation stones of the city in 21:14 picture the historical church, which Paul presents as already “having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20).

[6] …John writes in 21:22: “And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.” This suggests a first century reality, for with Christ’s coming and death the temple is rendered unnecessary (Mk 15:38//; Jn 4:21; Ac 17:24; Heb 8:13), for he is the temple (Jn 2:19–21; Eph 2:19–20) and is greater than the physical temple (Mt 12:6).

[7] That “the nations shall walk by its light” (21:24a) suggests that the nations as separate national entities still exist. Thus, historical conditions still prevail, rather than radically new, eternal conditions of perfect union and the fading of all distinctions.

[8] The city is not a purely consummational phenomenon, for the “unclean” and he “who practices abomination and lying” are not allowed in (21:27). This implies a pre-Judgment setting, where sinners still exist. In fact, the city contains the “tree of life,” which produces leaves “for the healing of the nations” (22:1–2). This also requires conditions subsisting prior to the eternal order. The healing of the nations obviously suggests conversion. John even declares the continued existence of “dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (22:15), though they are “outside” of the city. Presumably they are the targets of evangelism, for whom the healing leaves of the tree of life exist. (pp. 2-3)

Summary Statement: “So there you have it! John is picturing the glory of new covenant Christianity, which arises from the fallen ashes of collapsed Judaism (cp. Matt 8:11–12; Heb 8:13).”

An Invitation for Feedback

It seems that this is as good a place as any to pose a question I’ve been wishing to resolve for some time. I have no dogmatic position on this as of yet, and would love to have some thoughts/feedback. My question is this: What is the significance of Hebrews 9:8-10, if any, to Revelation 21? This passage in Hebrews reads as follows:

By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

Rightly or wrongly, I’m linking this passage to Revelation 21 since, as we noted when looking at verse 16, the cube-shaped holy city in John’s vision replaces the cube-shaped holy of holies of the Old Covenant temple (I Kings 6:20). Among my suppositions and considerations are these:

[1] Unless there is a tense error in the English Standard Version from which I quoted this text in Hebrews 9, the first century readers seem to have been told that the way into the holy places was not yet opened in their day, but that it would be opened once the first section no longer stood. This “first section” was spoken of in Heb. 9:6, and is a reference back to Numbers 28:3 where we see a prescription for the regular offering of two male lambs without blemish. Does Heb. 9:8 mean that the first section must no longer physically stand (a reality accomplished only in 70 AD), or simply that it must no longer stand as covenantally significant (a reality accomplished at the cross)?

[2] By the phrase “the present age,” I understand the author of Hebrews to mean the Old Covenant/Judaic age which ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Romans (see this post here for “a discussion of two ages”). [By the way, if “the present age” is understood—as it popularly is—to mean this present church age, then is “the way into the holy places” still not opened, even in our day? Of course it is. Or is there indeed a tense error in this quoted passage? Curiously, in the ESV the past tense is used in verses 1-5, but the present tense is used in verses 6-10. I’m not so sure that it should be this way. This whole passage may even refer to the wilderness tabernacle, and thus have nothing to do with 70 AD except for the mention of “the present age.”]

[3] The phrase “the time of reformation” I would understand to refer to Christ’s work on the cross, for it was surely this work which brought an end to the imposing of “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body…”

[4] I want to be careful not to assign any significance to the events of 70 AD which is instead properly assigned to the cross. Jesus and Him crucified must remain central.

So, does anyone have thoughts on this matter? Thanks in advance for any feedback.

————————————————————————————————————————-

Our next post brings us to Revelation 22, which will be our final post in this series of chapter-by-chapter studies of the book of Revelation.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] As we saw in a previous post, Duncan McKenzie makes a good case that the great white throne judgment is a past event—for those who have already died. He sees it as an ongoing event ever since 70 AD, so that everyone who has died since then experiences a personal judgment following their physical death, rather than a one-time event in the future to be experienced by all humanity at once. Hebrews 9:27 (“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”) is said to reflect this sequence, as is Revelation 11:18. This was also the viewpoint of J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895), who wrote the landmark book “The Parousia.”

[2] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation as New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 1: Verses 1-4)


REVELATION 21

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction to Revelation 21-22

Steve Gregg, the editor of the highly resourceful book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” provides the following breakdown of how these questions tend to be viewed by believers today (p. 485): Will There Be a Literal New Heavens and New Earth? What Is the New Jerusalem?

Literalist: Non-Literalist:
  • Some take the descriptions in these chapters fairly literally, as applied to a brand new planet and universe, which will be created after the close of the Millennium (premillennialists) or else at the Second Coming (some amillennialists and some postmillennialists).
  • The New Jerusalem described here will be the eternal home of the redeemed.
  • Some spiritualize the whole vision, applying it to a nonmaterial state of existence in heaven.
  • Others take the “New Heaven and the New Earth” to represent what Paul called “a New Creation” (2 Cor. 5:17)—that is, the condition of those who are in covenant with God and Christ through the New Covenant, the “Old Heaven and the Old Earth” (meaning the Old Covenant) having passed away.
  • The New Jerusalem represents the church itself, represented under the imagery of a new Holy of Holies—the tabernacle of God with men—in its present earthly existence.

A large portion of this first post will be spent discussing just the first 2 verses of Revelation 21, as they lay a foundation for what is to come, and also because they use language which appears fairly often throughout the rest of Scripture. We will only cover the first four verses of the chapter in this post, and the remainder of Rev. 21 will be covered in a second post.

Verse 1: John sees that [1] a new heaven and a new earth have replaced the old heaven and earth [2] there was no more sea. Steve Gregg (p. 486) speaks further on what he sees as the three major ways this text is interpreted:

The new heavens and the new earth have been interpreted in essentially three ways: (a) literally of a future material universe after the coming of Christ (so most futurists believe); (b) symbolically of heaven, the abode of the glorified saints; or (c) spiritually of the New Covenant community (the church) that has replaced the Old Covenant community of Israel.

Many tend to take the first position as the primary meaning and to acknowledge secondarily a spiritual application to the present believing community, which has already “tasted of the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5), but which still awaits the establishment of the literal “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13) at the return of Christ or after the Millennium.

Some may be surprised to know that many well-respected preachers of the past did not primarily see Revelation 21 through the lens of explanation (a) above. At the end of this post, we will note some quotes from Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. For now, let’s note how Charles Spurgeon viewed the meaning of “the new heavens and the new earth” in this excerpt from a sermon he preached in 1865:

Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under the new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).

Spurgeon evidently saw the language of the new heavens and the new earth as one and the same with the arrival of the New Covenant. I share his viewpoint, at least in the primary sense. This fits with everything else we’ve been seeing in our study of the book of Revelation; the completed transition from the Old Covenant age (ending in 70 AD) to the New Covenant age (inaugurated at the cross, and overlapping with the Old Covenant age for one generation). Kenneth Gentry likewise sees a first-century fulfillment for this passage here in Rev. 21, in part based on its correlation with a similar prophecy by Isaiah. Gentry says on page 173 of his newest book, “Navigating the Book of Revelation,”

Isaiah prophesies the Church age by using dramatic new creation language: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Proponents of all viewpoints seem to agree that John’s vision was a clear allusion to this text from Isaiah. The different interpretations have to do with the perceived timing of its fulfillment. Some see it as a yet future reality, to be fulfilled and made manifest after Christ’s future Second Coming. Futurist Arno C. Gaebelin said of Revelation 21, “We now come to the revelation concerning the final and eternal state of the earth” (Gregg, p. 486). John Piper sees Revelation 21 as speaking of the future “age of the resurrection.” Others, like Gentry and Charles Spurgeon, believe that this reality has been realized ever since the last symbols of the Old Covenant disappeared with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, now replaced by the New Covenant and the New Jerusalem. Looking again at Isaiah’s parallel account, Gentry further clarifies his points on this matter[1]:

Isaiah’s prophecy clearly portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ, which Paul calls a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; cp. Ephesians 2:10; 4:24)… We know that Isaiah was not speaking of the consummate order, for he includes aspects of the present fallen order in his description: “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred shall be thought accursed” (Isaiah 65:20). The eternal order will not include infants, death, aging, and curse (p. 169).

Steve Gregg also expresses some thoughts on the Isaiah – Revelation 21 connection (pp. 488-489):

The concept of a new heaven and a new earth (v. 1) is first given clear expression in Isaiah and is later mentioned by Peter, probably alluding to Isaiah (2 Pet. 3:13). God first speaks of His intention to “plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are My people’” (Isa. 51:16). Since this is uttered after the first heaven and earth were created, this must speak of planting a new heaven and earth… This could refer to the establishment of the New Covenant, since certain elements of the New Covenant order are said to be something that God “creates” (Isa. 4:5; 57:19). Also, the specific promise of “new heavens and a new earth,” found exclusively in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, fall within a portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to the present age.

Regarding the portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to this present age, Steve Gregg offers the following comparisons (p. 506):

[a] Isaiah 65:23 with I Cor. 15:58
[b] Isaiah 65:25 with Luke 10:19
[c] Isaiah 66:1f with I Tim. 3:15
[d] Isaiah 66:8 with Gal. 4:26
[e] Isaiah 66:11 with Matt. 5:6
[f] Isaiah 66:12 with John 14:27
[g] Isaiah 66:15f with Matt. 22:7
[h] Isaiah 66:18 with Matt. 8:11
[i] Isaiah 66:19 with Eph. 3:8 and Col. 1:27
[j] Isaiah 66:20 with Rom. 15:16

David Curtis, pastor of Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, has this to say:

In biblical apocalyptic language, “heavens” refers to governments and rulers, and “earth” refers to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah [e.g. Isaiah 1:1-2, 10]…

Isaiah 34:4-5 (NKJV) All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. 5 “For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom, And on the people of My curse, for judgment.

Here we have a description of the fall of Edom; notice the language that is used. This is Biblical language to describe the fall of a nation. It should be clear that it is not to be taken literally. God says that, “His sword will be bathed in heaven,” then explains what He means by saying “It shall come down on Edom.” The NIV puts it this way, “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.” So, God speaks of His sword being bathed in heaven, meaning the nation Edom, not the literal heaven. Edom shall be rolled up like a scroll.

Isaiah 51:13-16 (NKJV) And you forget the LORD your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor? 14 The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed, That he should not die in the pit, And that his bread should not fail. 15 But I am the LORD your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared; The LORD of hosts is His name. 16 And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.'”

The time of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth that is referred to here, was performed by God when He divided the sea (ver. 15) and gave the law (ver. 16), and said to Zion, “Thou art my people; that is, when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a covenant nation. He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth: that is, brought forth order, and government.

If the destruction of heaven and earth were to be taken literally in all of the Old Testament passages, it would mean that heaven and earth were destroyed a bunch of times. This language is clearly not literal, but figurative and apocalyptic [the same also being true in a New Testament passage like Matthew 24:29].

Australian Pastor Andrew Corbett (a partial-preterist) says on this matter:

When the Lord speaks [throughout Scripture] of a new heaven and a new earth there may be some merit in regarding this as Biblical language for a new covenant. This suspicion is increased when we consider how Christ used this expression as well: For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18).

Since Christ fulfilled the Law, was He right in stating that heaven and earth passed away? If we regard the expression ‘heaven and earth‘ as referring to God’s covenant with mankind, then this statement makes perfect sense. It seems that Christ was therefore saying that once the Old Covenant is fulfilled it will be done away with and replaced by a new covenant.

Hebrews 8:13 says that the Old Covenant became obsolete at the Cross, but it was still to be done away with. Since we now know that the Book of Revelation was written around 64AD (just after the Epistle to the Hebrews, which referred to the Old Covenant as still being in existence – note Hebrews 8:13) Revelation’s announcement of a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ was perhaps announcing that a change in covenant-order was pending…

Could the picture of a new heaven and a new earth in the Book of Revelation be describing a coming new physical reality? Perhaps. But we have some Biblical precendent for regarding it as an expression of God’s covenant relationship with mankind… Therefore, while there may be future physical implications of this Biblical prophecy, there might not be.

Putting these thoughts together (if we are on track), the use of the words “heaven” and “earth” in Revelation 21:1 represents [1] the final passing of the Old Covenant Judaic age in light of the destruction of the second temple and the city of Jerusalem when God poured out His wrath upon apostate Israel in 70 AD, just as Jesus predicted (e.g. Matthew 8:10-12; 11:21-24; 21:33-45; 22:1-14; 23:29-24:35; Luke 11:47-51; 13:1-5; 19:41-44; 21:1-36; 23:28-31); [2] the full establishment of the New Covenant age and the kingdom of God (no longer encumbered by Judaism), in which it is openly manifest that God’s covenant people are only those who place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. I believe that the remainder of our study of Revelation 21 will bear these things out, as we compare Scripture with Scripture.

I appreciate what David Lowman says here: “So, perhaps it is best to understand the NHNE [new heavens and new earth] covenantally as a picture of the promised New Covenant that finds origination in the Old testament, institution in the Gospels, unfolding in the [book of] Acts and explanation in the rest of the New Testament.”

Regarding the absence of the sea in Rev. 21:1b, Steve Gregg says (p. 489), “Many take the sea symbolically as representing the nations and peoples of the Gentiles. According to this theory, only the spiritual Israel remains of all the nations that once covered the planet. The glory of the Lord thus fills the earth as the waters once covered the sea (Hab. 2:14).”[2]

Back in February, I posted a 3-part series titled “‘The earth’ as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation.” The first post can be seen here, the second post here, and the third post here. This 3-part series was an in-depth study of John’s frequent use of the phrase “the earth” as an indication of the impending judgment upon apostate Israel in 70 AD. In the third post, I included an appendix briefly discussing a similar use of the phrase “the sea” to indicate the Gentile nations. Here is a large excerpt from that appendix:

One passage where this is almost certainly the case is Revelation 13:1, in referring to the beast with ten heads and seven horns. This is very similar to (and likely based on) one of Daniel’s visions where he saw four great beasts coming “up out of the sea” (Daniel 7:3); all of them are Gentile leaders. Most scholars are united in saying that these beasts represent [1] Babylon [2] Medo-Persia [3] Greece [4] Rome, with the Roman beast being the one that John saw.

Perhaps an even clearer indication of this idea is seen in Revelation 17:15 where the angel says to John, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (cf. Rev. 17:1). The word “sea” is not used in this instance, but the same idea (“many waters”—verse 2) is communicated, and this is done in terms of a clear reference to the Gentiles. In Rev. 12:12, we see that a woe is pronounced upon the inhabitants of “the earth and sea” because “the devil has come down to you in great wrath.” It seems it would make more sense for the Gentiles to be alarmed over this fact than for the whales and other sea creatures to feel distress…

The Old Testament basis for this pattern of “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles can be seen in the following passages:

[1] Psalm 65:7; The “roaring of the sea” and the “roaring of the waves” is equated with “the tumult of the peoples.” The latter phrase is understood in the Old Testament to be a reference to the Gentiles.
[2]
Isaiah 17:12-13; In verse 12, “many peoples” is compared to “the thundering of the sea” and “the roaring of mighty waters.” In verse 13 the same is said of “the nations,” a clear reference in Isaiah’s day to the Gentiles.
[3]
Isaiah 57:20; “The wicked,” it is said, are “like the tossing sea,” whose “waters toss up mire and dirt.”
[4]
Isaiah 60:1-5; This is a prophecy for the Church, deemed as such by New Testament writers (e.g. Eph. 5:14 RE: verse 1, Rev. 21:24 RE: verse 3). In verse 5 a direct parallel is drawn between “the sea” and “the nations”: “…the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” Some translations use the phrase “the Gentiles” instead of “the nations.”
[5]
Jeremiah 6:23; Here, Jeremiah is prophesying of “a people coming from the north country” (verse 22) to make Jerusalem a desolation (verse 8). Their sound, Jeremiah said, “is like the roaring sea.” Babylon fulfilled this prophecy within Jeremiah’s lifetime when they devastated Jerusalem in 586 BC.

A prominent example of “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles in the New Testament outside of Revelation can be seen in Luke 21:25. Here Jesus is speaking of Jerusalem’s impending desolation (verse 20), what would be an imminent call for all who are in Judea to flee (verse 21), and wrath against “this [same] people” (i.e. the Jews) along with “great distress upon the earth” (or “the land,” i.e. Israel). Jesus prophesies the trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles (which Revelation 11:2 indicates would last for 42 months) in verse 24. In His very next thought, Jesus then utilizes a common reference to Israel (“sun and moon and stars”; see Genesis 37:9-10), and says that “on the earth” (Israel/Palestine) there would be “distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves” (verse 25). This is the same language we see used commonly in the Old Testament.

Here in Luke 21:20-25, “the earth” (Israel) is shown to be distinct from “the seas” (“the nations” and “the Gentiles”) in the same passage. This same distinction also takes place within several passages in Revelation:

[1] Revelation 13:1-18; The “beast rising out of the sea” (verse 1) is distinct from the “beast rising out of the earth” (verse 11), though the second beast ends up working on behalf of the first one (verses 12-17; Rev. 16:13) and is captured along with it (Rev. 19:20, 20:10). In our study of Revelation 13, we gave good reasons for believing the sea-beast to be Rome (in the general sense) and Nero (in the singular sense), and the earth-beast to represent Jewish leadership.
[2] Revelation 16:19; The “great city,” explicitly shown to be Jerusalem in Rev. 11:8, is shown to be distinct from “the cities of the nations.” The terms “earth” and “sea” are not used here, but this same idea is communicated.
[3] Revelation 17:15-18; An angel refers John back to Rev. 17:2-3 where he had seen “
the great prostitute who is seated on many waters…sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.” She is equated with “the great city” (verse 18), which we know is Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8), and the “waters…are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” The Jewish prostitute is seen sitting on the Gentile beast. Early on they are on good terms with one another, but later the beast causes the demise of the prostitute (verse 16).

The picture before John then is of Israel’s national and religious leadership having taken a stand against God’s people in partnership with the primary Gentile force of her day, Rome. This is signified by the “sea” and “earth” dichotomy in the book of Revelation. One more reference to “the sea” in Revelation, which some scholars do take to indicate Gentiles, is in Revelation 21:1. There we read, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” Does this mean that when this passage is (or was, or is being) fulfilled, that there are to be no more non-Jews? No, but it certainly could mean that there would be no more distinction made between Jews and Gentiles. After all, this is the message of Revelation 10:7, the fulfillment of “the mystery of God” (cf. Eph. 3:6; Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28, 5:6, 6:15). One’s view on whether or not this is John’s indication here in Rev. 21:1 depends on whether one takes the “new heaven and a new earth” and “the holy city, new Jerusalem” (verse 2) to be New Covenant Christianity (Gal. 4:24-26; Heb. 12:22-24) or simply a literal and future dwelling place.

Verse 2: John saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” As noted earlier, many today see the “new Jerusalem” as a future, physical reality. Is there any precedence elsewhere in the New Testament for seeing the New Jerusalem as a present, non-physical reality? Recall Spurgeon’s quote at the beginning of this post, and how he related the dichotomy of the old and new heavens/earth with the Old/New Covenants. I haven’t read his entire sermon, but I’m willing to bet that he had this passage in mind:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons,one by a slave woman andone by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, whilethe son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are twocovenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers,like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say?“Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave butof the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31, emphasis added).

Bear with me as I take us on a brief rabbit trail here, but one that should prove to be valuable. The passage quoted in Galatians 4:27 is Isaiah 54:1. Most are agreed that this passage in Isaiah is parallel to Isaiah 66:8-9, seen in context here: “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word: Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for My name’s sake have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy’; but it is they who shall be put to shame. The sound of an uproar from the city! A sound from the temple! The sound of the Lord, rendering recompense to His enemies! ‘Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?’ says the Lord; ‘shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?’ says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn for her (Isaiah 66:5-10).

Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists insist that Isaiah 66 predicts Israel’s birth as a nation in 1948. However, if it is indeed parallel to Isaiah 54:1, it must be seen in the same way that Paul made application of Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4. Isaiah foresaw the birthing and the breaking forth of the heavenly Jerusalem (66:8-10), even as earthly Jerusalem met her demise (66:6). Ironically, Isaiah 66 does not speak of the restoration of earthly Jerusalem into the hands of mostly unbelieving Jews in 1948. Rather, it mirrors the taking away of the earthly kingdom from apostate Israel (in 70 AD), and the giving of the heavenly kingdom exclusively to God’s holy nation, the Church, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 21:43-44; cf. Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). It speaks of the full establishment of the New Jerusalem for the Church invisible, the dissolving of the Old Covenant in favor of the New Covenant. This is the point of Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and John.[3]

In our study of Revelation 17, we noted the same dichotomy which we just saw in Galatians 4, as John was shown a contrasting picture of two women: the harlot of chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 19 clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure…the righteous deeds of the saints (see verses 1-8). In Hebrews 12:22-24 we see the same language, where the picture of the New (heavenly) Jerusalem is again linked with the New Covenant: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Looking at the larger context, the author of Hebrews is comparing and contrasting the giving of the Old Covenant (verses 18-21) with the granting of a non-physical kingdom even as the old physical kingdom (the Jerusalem temple; cf. Heb. 9:8-10) was about to be removed.

In John’s letter to the Church in Philadelphia, this promise was also given to those who would be found faithful: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from My God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12). This was a promise to first-century believers. The temple of which Christ spoke, of course, is the Church (I Cor. 3:9, 16-17; 6:19; II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22), a very present reality.

In this same vein, Kenneth Gentry stated, “The new Jerusalem is a symbol of the redeemed people of God in whom God dwells (Rev 21:3), much like the “temple” in Paul’s writing often represents the people of God and not a physical building (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21).”[4] Steve Gregg adds (p. 490), “Since the New Jerusalem is later described as the ‘Lamb’s wife’ (v. 9), we can readily identify the symbol with the church, which is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:31-32).”

Can you see it in these passages? It’s time that the Church shakes off the false teachings of dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, with their heavy emphasis on an earthly kingdom for one particular ethnic group (the Jews), and lives in the present realities of the New Covenant, the heavenly kingdom which cannot be shaken.

Steve Gregg also adds, on pages 489-490:

The mixing of metaphors in the holy city, New Jerusalem…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (v. 2) is arresting. That a city could be dressed in bridal attire is difficult to picture with the mind. Yet it is not the first time the images of a city and a woman have been joined in describing one entity. In Revelation 17, the great harlot was also Babylon, and a divine interpreter explained that “the woman whom you saw is that great city” (17:18). The figure of a woman to represent a city goes back to the Old Testament, where Jerusalem is referred to as “the virgin, the daughter of Zion” (Isa. 37:22)…

The bride is here prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (v. 2), suggesting the wedding day. In chapter 19, the announcement was made that the marriage of the Lamb had come and His wife had made herself ready (19:7), yet no description of the wedding or the bride was offered. This vision seems to pick up where that one left off, for here we see the procession of the bride in her readiness to be joined to her husband.

Verse 3: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.’” The language used here is quite similar to the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The phrase “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men” also hearkens back to Ezekiel 37:27-28, a passage which follows shortly after the New Covenant promises articulated in Ezekiel 36:24-28. Furthermore, in Ezekiel’s own vision of a city, he was told that it would be the place where God would dwell with His people (Ezekiel 43:7, 48:35). Steve Gregg notes that this promise was first made conditionally in Leviticus 26:11, and further comments:

The destruction of Solomon’s temple and the removal to Babylon in 586 B.C. was God’s way of revoking this privilege because of the Jews’ disobedience. While in Babylon, however, Ezekiel prophesied that there would come a time of ultimate restoration of God’s people under the terms of the New Covenant, resulting in the renewal of the original privilege: “My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezek. 37:27). Many interpreters apply Ezekiel 37 to the Millennium, though the repetition of Ezekiel’s words in this place [Revelation 21] would favor a fulfillment in the new creation.

Is this promise awaiting future fulfillment? The apostle Paul didn’t believe so when he quoted Exodus 29:45 and Lev. 26:11 as a present reality for the Church in his own day (II Corinthians 6:16).

Verse 4: John is told that tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, “for the former things have passed away.” Of all the statements in Revelation 21, this might be the hardest one to explain as a present reality. Here are some questions that we can ask to help us think through what John is told in this verse:

1. Since God can’t wipe away what isn’t there, can we conclude that tears are present when He wipes them away? If this is so, what is the likely setting where this takes place – on this earth during our lifetimes, or beyond the grave?

2. What does the rest of the New Testament say about “death” and its relationship to followers of Christ? What does the New Testament say about what Jesus has already accomplished with regard to death?

3. What does the New Testament teach regarding “former things” passing away, or “the old order of things” (as the NIV puts it) passing away? Does the NT elsewhere present the passing away of former things as an accomplished reality, or a future reality?

From Isaiah 53:4, we know that Jesus bore our griefs and sorrows on the cross. From John 3:16, we know that God gave His Son, Jesus, so that those who believe in Him would not perish. From II Timothy 1:10, we know that Jesus has already abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel. From II Corinthians 5:17, we know that the old has already passed away, the new has come, and we are new creations in Christ. From Galatians 6:15, we know that this new creation counts as everything. From Hebrews 12:24, we know that we have a new covenant with better promises and realities than ever existed in the old covenant. 

Revelation 21:4 is based on Isaiah 25:8, which says: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth…” The context shows that God would ruin one city (Isaiah 25:2, 26:5), but on a mountain He would create “for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines…” (verse 6). He would destroy “the veil that is spread over all nations” (verse 7) and bring salvation (verse 9). The walls of the new city would be marked by salvation (26:1) and a righteous nation would enter the open gates (26:2; see Rev. 21:24-26). 

According to Paul, there was a veil over the mind when reading the old covenant, and that veil is only taken away in Christ (II Corinthians 3:14). The old covenant was also a ministry of death (II Cor. 3:7). So, when examining the background of Revelation 21:4, we can see that the death and sorrow was covenantal, and those “former things” passed away with the creation of the new covenant at the cross (Matthew 26:28) and the destruction of the old covenant system in 70 AD.

Steve Gregg remarks on these things (p. 490),

Some have so construed the promise God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (v. 4) as to teach that there will be tears in heaven. Biederwolf, however, suggests that the words simply mean “that He will so constitute things that no more tears will be shed.” …The causes of present mourning and crying are eradicated forever.

There is also a present realization of these truths, since, for the Christian, Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1:10), so that “whoever lives and believes” in Christ “shall never die” (John 11:25). As for sorrow, grief, and pain, our relationship with God through Christ has even transformed these experiences so that, while we do still mourn the loss of loved ones, we do not “sorrow as others who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13).

Is Rev. 21:4 also a reflection of the truths laid out in Hebrews 2:14-15? There we read, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In any case, one of the provisions of the New Covenant brought about by Christ’s death on the cross is the deliverance from the fear and sting of physical death (and, of course, exemption from the second death—Rev. 20:6, 14).

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Before moving on to our next post, where we will continue with our study of Revelation 21 (beginning with verse 5), I would like to close this post with some pertinent quotes from Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and John Owen (1616-1683) which mirror what we have been saying here:

[1] Jonathan Edwards: “The Scriptures further teach us to call the gospel-restoration and redemption, a creation of a new heaven and a new earth… The gospel-state is everywhere spoken of as a renewed state of things, wherein old things are passed away, and all things become new… And the dissolution of the Jewish state was often spoken of in the Old Testament as the end of the world. But we who belong to the gospel-church, belong to the new creation; and therefore there seems to be at least as much reason, that we should commemorate the work of this creation, as that the members of the ancient Jewish church should commemorate the work of the old creation…

Heaven and earth began to shake, in order to a dissolution, according to the prophecy of Haggai, before Christ came, that so only those things that cannot be shaken may remain, i.e. that those things that are come to an end may come to an end, and that only those things may remain which are to remain to all eternity.   So, in the first place, the carnal ordinances of the Jewish worship came to an end, to make way for the establishment of that spiritual worship, the worship of the hearts, which is to endure to all eternity.   This is one instance of the temporary world’s coming to an end, and the eternal world’s beginning.  And then, after that, the outward temple, and the outward city of Jerusalem, came to an end, to give place to the setting up of the spiritual temple and the spiritual city, which are to last to eternity.

[2] John Owen: [regarding II Peter 3] “It is evident, then, that in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by heavens and earth, the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, were often understood… On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state.

(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews, some of them believing, others opposing, the faith. Now there was no particular concernment of that generation, nor in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation…

(2.) Peter tells them, that after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of (vers. 7-13), “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,’ etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. lxv. 17. Now, when shall this be that God shall create these new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness? Saith Peter, “It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell.” But now it is evident from this place of Isaiah, with chap. lxvi. 21, 22, that this is a prophecy of Gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of Gospel ordinances to endure forever. The same thing is so expressed Heb. xii. 26-28…

He will come- He will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God Himself planted, -the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church, -the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.” (Sermon on 2 Peter iii. 11, Works, folio, 1721.).

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In Part 2 of our study of Revelation 21, we will examine the remainder of the chapter (verses 5-27). We will also note a number of similarities between Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21, Ezekiel 40-48 and Revelation 21, and other fascinating allusions to other Scripture texts in Rev. 21.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] Kenneth Gentry, “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues,” GoodBirth Ministries: Fountain Inn, SC, 2009.

[2] Kenneth Gentry notes that “John Walvoord (Revelation, 311) takes a strongly literal approach,” saying, ‘The new earth apparently will have no bodies of water except for the river mentioned in 22:2.’” Gentry himself agrees that the replacing of the old heavens and earth with the new heavens and earth is a picture of the Old Covenant order. Gentry comments,

John witnesses the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven” (Rev 21:2). In John’s drama the collapse of the Jewish temple in AD 70 opens direct access to God (Rev 11:2, 19; cp. 19:1–2, 9; 22:14). If God descends with his New Jerusalem people “then the barrier of the glassy sea [Rev 4:6; cf. 4:2–5, 9–5:1, 6–7], which in the present age separates his dwelling from the earth, will have to have been done away with” (Mealy, 195). This is precisely what we see in Rev 21:3–5.

This new covenant principle of open access to God appears elsewhere in the NT. For example, we see this when Jesus promises that soon people will no longer need to worship in Jerusalem but can call upon God from anywhere (Jn 4:21, 23; cp. Mal 1:11). This begins to occur when the temple veil is torn and creation is darkened and shaken (Mt 27:45//, 51b; cp. Rev 21:1), for after that event Christians are urged to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16; cp. 7:19) because of the removal of the old covenant (Heb 8:13; 12:22–28) which blocked access to the holy place (Heb 9:8). This removal of the old covenant is dramatically exhibited and finalized in AD70.

In that the Exodus motif appears frequently in Rev, the removal of the sea may also reflect the drying of the Red Sea so that Israel could enter the Land (Ex 14:21–22; Ps 18:15; 106:9; Isa 44:27; 50:2; 51:10; 63:11–12; Jer 51:36; Nah 1:4). But even here we may note the separation from God involved, for the sea separated Israel from God’s promised inheritance, requiring that God overcome this impediment. Hence, the image of the Exodus / Red Sea underscores the symbol of open access to God.

I do believe the absence of the sea in Rev 21:1 portrays just this sort of image. The new covenant access to God is a major consequence of the removal of the old covenant and rituals portraying the hiddenness of God. As Christianity takes the place of Israel at AD 70, God’s people can come boldly before the throne of grace in a way they could not have in the OT.

Source: Kenneth Gentry, “No More Sea” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

[3] Some (e.g. Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Gary DeMar) would say that Peter makes the same point in II Peter 3:1-14, where he speaks of scoffers “in the last days” (of the Old Covenant age?), the existence (at least in his day) of “the heavens and earth,” and the coming “day of the Lord” (70 AD?) in which the heavens would pass away with a roar along with the burning up of “the earth and the works that are done on it,” giving way to “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Others, like partial-preterist Kenneth Gentry, see Revelation 21:1-2 as primarily speaking of the events of 70 AD, but II Peter 3 speaking of what will take place at the end of world history with the future Second Coming of Christ. Here is what Kenneth Gentry says regarding these things:

My understanding of Revelation 21–22 is that John provides an ideal conception of new covenant Christianity as the new creation and the new Jerusalem. Though the ultimate, consummate, eternal new creation is implied in these verses, his primary focus is on the redemptive new creation in Christ. John is encouraging the beleaguered Christians to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls and Nero dies, they will have entered into the final redemptive-historical order in history. And he paints Christianity in glowing terms [p. 1, underlining added]… John’s new creation revelation differs from Peter’s (2 Pet. 3:10ff) [in that Peter highlights the eternal result of the temporal redemption in Christ that John speaks of].

Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation As New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, pp. 1, 4.

Rightly or wrongly, some have taken Gentry to task for inconsistency in these matters.

[4] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “Dispensationalism and the New Jerusalem” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 5.

A Discussion of Two Ages: “This age and the age to come”


A Discussion of Two Ages

Adam Maarschalk: April 10, 2010

Readers familiar with the New Testament will recall that there are two ages frequently spoken of within its pages. NT writers spoke often of “this present age,” i.e. an age that was present in their day. Is this same age still present in our day? Interpreters are divided on this point. The way one answers this question has a significant bearing on one’s eschatology. The well-known and well-respected Puritan theologian Dr. John Owen (1616-1683) would have answered “no” to this question, which would have put him in the minority if he was living today. This is what he once said on this matter:

Most expositors suppose that this expression [In Hebrews 1:2], “The last days,” is a periphrasis [euphemism] for the times of the gospel. But it doth not appear that they are anywhere so called; nor were they ever known by that name among the Jews, upon whose principles the apostle proceeds… It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called “The last days,” or “The latter days,” or “The last hour,” 2 Peter 3:31 John 2:18Jude 1:18… This phrase of speech is signally used in the Old Testament to denote the last days of the Judaical church (John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Volume 19, pp.12 – 13).

Source: David Duncan (Facebook)

Source: David Duncan (Facebook)

This topic was broached briefly during the “Evening of Eschatology” forum moderated by Pastor John Piper in September 2009, and the division between the forum members was evident. Here in this post I will only be presenting one point of view, the same view that John Owen held to. Do feel free, though, to take up this discussion in the “Comments” section below this post, and even to point out any other well-written articles taking up an alternative position.

The bulk of what follows is an article on this subject by Pastor David B. Curtis, based on a message he preached March 14, 1999 at Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. This discussion has a bearing not only on our study of Revelation 20, but also our study of Revelation 21 which will be posted soon. David draws on a large number of texts which refer to “this age and the age to come” and other similar language used in the New Testament. His premise is that we are living in the New Covenant age (which the New Testament often called “the age to come”), and that the previous age, i.e. the Judaic or Old Covenant age, came to an end in 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. I chose to highlight David’s article because I don’t know that I’ve seen a more thorough or well put-together discussion on this subject. I will only be quoting from the portion of his article which discusses this dichotomy of two ages.

Curtis begins his article by asking whether or not the Bible teaches that this world will end. This is beyond the scope of our discussion here, but one relevant point he does make early in his article is that passages like Matthew 13:40 (and Matt. 24:3) have often been taken to refer to the end of world history when in fact they do not. In the King James Version, Matt. 13:40 reads: “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.” However, “world” here is [perhaps not so correctly] translated from the Greek word “aion” which means “age, dispensation, era, or a period of time.” Newer translations do in fact implement this change, such as the New King James Version: Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.” Clearly Jesus was living in the age He was speaking of, which Curtis believes (and I agree) ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

Curtis goes on to show that the end of that age was connected to the destruction of the temple in Jesus’ famous sermon known as the Olivet Discourse (see especially Matt. 24:3, Mark 13:4, and Luke 21:7). For the sake of space I will only sum up Curtis’ closing thoughts regarding the Olivet Discourse (but one may follow the link in the paragraph above to see all that he had to say):

[The disciples’] question was, “When will the end be?” …Jesus tells them quite clearly that the end would come in “this generation” (v 34). The word “generation” means: “those who are contemporaries or live at the same time.” So, the age that was to end was the Jewish age. It would end with the destruction of the Jewish temple and the city Jerusalem. The end of the age did not happen at the cross or at Pentecost but at the destruction of Jerusalem. The world was not going to end but the age of Judaism was. The disciples knew that the fall of the temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the Old Covenant age and the inauguration of a new age.

As far as I know, this understanding that 70 AD was a dividing point between two ages is not at all consistent with most Futurist and premillennial ideas. Even some preterists, though, would articulate Curtis’ thoughts just a little bit differently. For example, when reviewing the “Evening of Eschatology” hosted by John Piper (video included), I noted this observation from one partial-preterist:

Doug Wilson made the point that the years 30-70 AD were the overlapping of two ages, the Judaic (Old Covenant) age and the Christian (Church) age. He likened this transition to the passing of a baton between two runners, where the first runner keeps running alongside the second runner for some distance, before completely letting go of the baton and giving way to the second runner. One relevant text for this idea is Hebrews 8:13. Doug noted that the Christian age began at Pentecost, but the Judaic age only ended 40 years later with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD (See the video, roughly from the 18:30-22:00 mark).

Source: Cindye Coates, The Porch

So Doug Wilson speaks of the Church age beginning at Pentecost, while David Curtis speaks of it being inaugurated a generation later in 70 AD. Perhaps this is a small distinction, for I know that some preterists will say, for example, that in 70 AD the Church age “carried on exclusively, no longer encumbered by Old Covenant Judaism.” With that caveat out of the way, I’d like to come back now to the article by David Curtis and quote a sizeable portion from it regarding these two ages:

This brings us to a very important question, “HOW MANY AGES ARE THERE? William Barclay says: “Time was divided by the Jews into two great periods– this present age, and the age to come. The present age is wholly bad and beyond all hope of human reformation. It can be mended only by the direct intervention of God. When God does intervene, the golden age, the age to come, will arrive. But in between the two ages there will come the Day of the Lord, which will be a time of terrible and fearful upheaval, like the birth-pangs of a new age.”

Zechariah 14 teaches us that the “Day of the Lord” and the destruction of Jerusalem were connected. So, the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the Day of the Lord, marked the end of one age, the Jewish age, and the beginning of the new age, the Christian age of the New Covenant.

To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as “the world to come.” All through the New Testament we see two ages in contrast: “This age” and the “age to come.”

Matthew 12:32 (NKJV) “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

The word “come” at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello, which means: “about to be.” We could translate this, the “age about to come” (in the first century). Many think that the age to come will be a sinless age; not according to this verse. Sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in that age, referring to the age of the New Covenant, our present age. We see here that both of these ages have sin in them.

Ephesians 1:21 (NKJV) far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

Here again we see the two ages. So, the New Testament speaks of two ages, “this age” and “the age to come.” The understanding of these two ages and when they changed is fundamental to interpreting the Bible.

Let’s see what the New Testament teaches us about these two ages. Questions that we need to try to answer are: What age did the new testament writers live in? What age do we live in? How is ‘this age” characterized in the New Testament? What does the New Testament say about “the age to come”? When does “this age” end and “the age to come” begin?

WHAT AGE DID THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS LIVE IN?

The New Testament writer lived in the age that they called “this age.” To the New Testament writers the “age to come” was future, but it was very near because “this age” was about to end.

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NKJV) However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The wisdom and rulers of “this age” were coming to nothing because the age was passing away. He is speaking of the Jewish leaders and the Old Covenant system. The rulers of “this age” crucified the Lord. These rulers would shortly have no realm in which to rule because “this age” was about to end. Think about this. If the Jewish age ended at the cross, as so many claim, why were they still ruling the age?

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Paul said very plainly that the end of the ages was coming upon them, the first century saints. “This age,” along with its wisdom and rulers, was about to end.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV) God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Jesus was speaking in the last days. What last days? The last days of the Bible’s “this age” — the Old Covenant age.

Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

When was it that Jesus appeared? He was born, not at the beginning, but at the end of the ages. To suppose that he meant that Jesus’ incarnation came near the end of the world would be to make his statement false. The world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. Jesus was manifest at the end of the Jewish age. Peter says the same thing.

1 Peter 1:20 (NKJV) He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.

Jesus came during the last days of the age that was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age. That age came to an end with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. All the things prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24 occurred at the end of that age. Alright, so the New Testament writers lived in what the Bible calls “this age.”

HOW IS “THIS AGE” CHARACTERIZED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?

1. It is an evil age:

Galatians 1:3-4 (NKJV) Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Paul says here that the “present age” which is “this age,” the one that was about to pass away, is an “evil” age. Christ came to deliver them from the “present age” because it was evil. Could “evil age” be referring to Christianity? Could the Christian age be called an “evil age” that we need to be delivered from? No! Christ came to bring us out of the evil age and place us into His kingdom.

2. It was an age of darkness:

Colossians 1:12-13 (NKJV) giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,

Christ came to deliver them from the “power of darkness.” This is a reference to the Old Covenant or “this age.”[1]

John 8:12 (NKJV) Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Jesus was speaking to the Jews, He was calling them to leave the darkness of the Old Covenant and follow Him.

3. It was an age in which Satan ruled.

Acts 26:18 (NKJV) ‘to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

The “present age” was one of darkness. Satan is called the god of “this age.”

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NKJV) But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

Remember “this age” is not referring to our age, it was the “this age” of the first century. Satan ruled in the Old Covenant world of Judaism but his reign was shortly (in the first century) to come to an end.

Romans 16:20 (NKJV) And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

Satan would be crushed when the “present age” of darkness came to an end. When John wrote his first epistle he said that the darkness was passing.

1 John 2:8 (NKJV) Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.

The “darkness” is speaking of the Old Covenant age, and the “true light” is speaking of the New Covenant age.

4. It was an age of death and condemnation.

2 Corinthians 3:5-11 (NKJV) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

Here Paul is comparing the two Covenants, the Old Covenant was one of death and condemnation, but the New Covenant was one of life and righteousness. When Paul wrote this to the Corinthians, the Old Covenant age, the “present age,” was in the process of passing away.

Paul spoke to the Galatians about these two covenants and said that the Old Covenant was at that time in effect.

Galatians 4:21-26 (NKJV) Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar; 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Hagar, represented both the Old Covenant and the Jerusalem that “now is” (the Old was still present at that time), and Sarah represented both the New Covenant and the New Jerusalem that was “above” (it was still to come).

5. It was an age that was called “night.”

Romans 13:11-12 (NKJV) And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.

Their salvation was drawing near, and the night was just about over. Is the Christian age day or night? It is day! The night of Old Covenant Judaism was just about to end, the day of the New Covenant, the Christian age, was just about to dawn.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 (NKJV) But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.

Paul told the Thessalonian Christians that they were not in darkness, they were sons of light and sons of the day that was about to dawn.

So, “this age” of the Bible is the age of the Old Covenant that was about to pass away in the first century. It was characterized as evil, darkness, Satan’s rule, condemnation, death, and night. It should be clear to you that “this age” is not the Christian age in which we live. In the first century the age of the Old Covenant was fading away and would end completely when the temple was destroyed in AD 70.

Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The book of Hebrews was written at around 65-69 AD. At this time the Old Covenant was still in effect but it was ready to pass away. It passed away in AD 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. The “this age” of the Bible is now ancient history.

 I will conclude with these words from David Curtis:

We now live in what was to the first century saints the “age to come.” When most Christians read in the New Testament and see the words “the age to come,” they think of a yet future (to us) age. But the New Testament writers were referring to the Christian age. We live in what was to them the “age to come,” the New Covenant age. Since the “present age” of the Bible ended in AD 70 with the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Lord, we must be in the “age to come.”

David Green, who shares this same viewpoint, has listed 101 Scripture passages from the New Testament which indicate that a very significant event (or series of events) was about to take place in the days of the early Church. The study he has presented is valuable in seeing how frequent this language is in the New Testament, and what was to take place not in the 21st century (or beyond) but at that time.

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All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

All of our studies on Revelation 20 and the Millennium can be found here.

We are now ready to move on in our study of the book of Revelation to Revelation 21, where John presents his readers with a picture of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.


[1] Another text that gives credence to this idea is Matthew 22:1-14, the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In this parable, speaking of the kingdom of heaven (vs. 2), a king (God) was to prepare a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), but those who were originally invited (the Jews) refused to come (vss. 3-5) and even killed the king’s servants who had invited them (v. 6). Therefore, these murderers were destroyed (cf. Matthew 23:29-38; Rev. 16:4-7, 17:6, 18:20, 18:24), and their city was burned (cf. Rev. 18:8-10, 18; 19:3). This is precisely what we see having happened in Jerusalem’s destruction and burning in 70 AD. The invitation then goes out to others (Gentiles as well as Jews; vss. 9-10), but only those with proper wedding garments were allowed to remain (vss. 10-14; cf. Rev. 19:8). Those who lacked these garments remained in outer darkness and were not part of the chosen people of God (vss. 13-14; cf. Matt. 8:11-12).

Revelation 20: Four Views of Gog and Magog


Revelation 20: Four Views of Gog and Magog

Adam Maarschalk: April 5, 2010

Scripture texts for this study: Ezekiel 38-39; Revelation 20:7-10

Gog and Magog are referenced together twice in Scripture by name, first in Ezekial 38-39 and very briefly in Revelation 20. A third related passage is Revelation 19:17-18, where Gog and Magog are not mentioned by name but the language there appears to be borrowed from Ezekiel’s prophecy. How are Gog and Magog to be identified? The battle prophesied in Ezekiel, in particular, has merited much speculation among prophecy pundits. I would like to discuss four different interpretations for the references to Gog and Magog by both Ezekiel and John (Rev. 20). The following are some questions/factors to consider as we do so:

  1. Does John (in Rev. 19 or Rev. 20) refer to the same historical event as Ezekiel does, or is the battle described by Ezekiel merely a precedent for the battles John is describing?
  2. Is the book of Ezekiel written in a chronological manner, so that the chapters which come before this battle description (e.g. chapters 36-37) and those which follow it (chapters 40-48) suggest the timing of this battle’s occurrence?
  3. The battle described in Rev. 20:7-10 takes place “when the thousand years are ended,” i.e. at the end of the Millennium. One’s eschatological system, therefore, is a large factor in determining when this battle takes place. For Futurists and premillennialists, it will take place 1000 years after the future Second Coming of Christ. For amillennialists and for postmillennialists, it will take place sometime in the future, but before the Second Coming of Christ, since we are in the Millennium now. For full-preterists (those who believe in the past fulfillment of all Bible prophecy), it took place in or just before 70 AD.

The four interpretations we will consider[1] are these:

[A] The position of partial-preterists David Lowman and Gary DeMar that Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled in Esther’s day. For this position, the battles of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 are not one and the same.

[B] Partial-preterist Kenneth Gentry’s position that Ezekiel 38-39 was likely fulfilled in the second century BC, and its imagery is used by John to foreshadow the events of Revelation 19:11-21 and Revelation 20:8-10. For this position, the battles of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 are not one and the same (nor are the battles of Rev. 19 and Rev. 20).

[C] The popular Futurist/premillennial position, which says that Ezekiel prophesied of a Russian-led attack on national Israel which is very soon to take place, and that John prophesied of an attack on the literal city of Jerusalem at the end of a future 1000-year Millennium. For this position, the battles of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 are not one and the same.

[D] Full-preterist Kurt Simmon’s position that Ezekiel 38-39 was a prophecy concerning Rome’s invasion of Jerusalem in 70 AD, as was John’s prophecy in Revelation 20. Clearly, then, for this position, the battles of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 ARE indeed one and the same.

After each position is presented, I will offer some pros and cons as I see them (i.e. as I see them at this time; these are not easy texts to interpret, and my views on this subject are not necessarily set in stone). For clarity, my pros and cons will be listed in red and green font, respectively. Feedback is welcome in the comments section.

[A] David Lowman and Gary DeMar: Ezekiel 38-39 Was Fulfilled in Esther’s Day

1. David Lowman’s View

David Lowman is a Presbyterian pastor, and a partial-preterist (one who sees a past fulfillment in many, but not all, Bible prophecies). In the first post in a brief 4-part series on this subject, David Lowman notes that many “prophecy experts…have over the years…promoted the idea that the names used for [Gog, Magog, and their allies] are related to current nations that will supposedly lead a multi-national conglomerate of nations preparing to attack Israel. Those names are Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.” In this thinking, Rosh is supposed to be Russia, Meshech to be Moscow, and Tubal to be Tobolsk. Lowman says that only the NASB (New American Standard Bible) uses the translation “Rosh” in the first place (having been translated by dispensationalists), but even futurists like Charles Ryrie disagree with this translation. He adds,

The term “Rosh” in Hebrew means “chief” or “leader” [and] is a Hebrew word. “Russia” comes from the 11th century Scandanavian word “Rus” and has no relation in root and etemology to the word “rosh.” It’s beyond a stretch of all credulity [to link the two]… “Meshach” and “Tubal” were actual city/nations before the time of Christ and were part of the larger Persian Empire. These words come from the Asiatic words “Mushka” and “Tabal” and they are both literal locations located in modern day Turkey and, again, have NO relation to the nation of Russia in any way. This is such poor exegesis and now many modern Dispensationalist have abandoned these claims, though the more popular prophecy experts still promote it.

In David Lowman’s second post, he makes the point that Ezekiel described a style of warfare that is very much ancient, and that the weapons he mentioned were made out of wood and thus able to be burned (Ezek. 38:4-5; 39:9). Many believe that Russia’s identity is confirmed because these armies were to come from the north (Ezek. 38:6, 15; 39:2), but Lowman notes that other significant invasions of Israel in the Old Testament were also from the north: [1] Babylon (Jeremiah 1:14, 4:6, 6:10, 10:22), Persia (Isaiah 41:25, Jer. 50:41), and Assyria (Zephaniah 2:13). Lowman then adds:

The truth of the matter is that nearly all attacks against Israel came from the north directionally speaking. The easiest way to travel to attack Israel would be from the North. As noted all the great enemies of Israel were from the East or West but their attacks all came from the North. This is also true in several instances in Ezekiel. There are several mentions of nation from the North attaching even though the nation of origin came from the East or West… The closest nation from a northern proximity to ever attack Israel would have been Rome, from across the Mediterranean Sea.

In Lowman’s third post, he agrees with Kenneth Gentry (as we will see) that the battle of Revelation 20, with its reference to Gog and Magog (verse 8), is only an allusion to the battle described in Ezekiel 38-39, but is not a reference to the same historical event.

In Lowman’s fourth post, he notes that many believe that “this event was fulfilled during the time of the Macabbean Revolt [during the second century BC]. This view argues that the enemy in question is Antiochus Epiphanies which would fit the Persian expectation and the worldwide expanse of the Persian empire at that time.” This doesn’t really fit, though, he says, because the Macabbean Revolt involved throwing off the rule of an occupying force after several years, while the attack in Ezekiel describes divine intervention at the time of an invasion.

Instead, Lowman submits that the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 “is found during the time of Esther and involves the Israelite victory over Haman’s “schemes” and complete victory of the outmatched Israel forces.” In the second part of this section, Gary DeMar will expand on the idea that Ezekiel 38-39 was fulfilled in Esther’s day.

2. Gary DeMar’s View—Similar to That of David Lowman’s:

At the outset of Gary DeMar’s article, I would like to include a small disclaimer that I personally appreciate some of DeMar’s works more than others. I have read/skimmed excerpts from his books “Last Days Madness” and “Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future,” and appreciated what I read. In short, I have appreciated his articulation of the preterist viewpoint which I also share. However, I’m not on the same page when it comes to the Postmillennial position of his ministry, American Vision, as well as some of the political rants of AV which seem to follow in the vein of World Net Daily, a publication which I respect just about as much as I respect The National Enquirer. Having said that, DeMar’s article on Gog and Magog is quite thought-provoking:

…If the battle described in Ezekiel 38–39 does not refer to modern-day nations that will attack Israel, then when and where in biblical history did this conflict take place? Instead of looking to the distant future or finding fulfillment in a historical setting outside the Bible where we are dependent on unreliable secular sources, James B. Jordan believes that “it is in [the book of] Esther that we see a conspiracy to plunder the Jews, which backfires with the result that the Jews plundered their enemies. This event is then ceremonially sealed with the institution of the annual Feast of Purim.” Jordan continues by establishing the context for Ezekiel 38 and 39:

Ezekiel describes the attack of Gog, Prince of Magog, and his confederates. Ezekiel states that people from all over the world attack God’s people, who are pictured dwelling at peace in the land. God’s people will completely defeat them, however, and the spoils will be immense. The result is that all nations will see the victory, and “the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God from that day onward” (Ezek. 39:21–23). . . . Chronologically this all fits very nicely. The events of Esther took place during the reign of Darius, after the initial rebuilding of the Temple under Joshua [the High Priest] and Zerubbabel and shortly before rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah. . . . Thus, the interpretive hypothesis I am suggesting (until someone shoots it down) is this: Ezekiel 34–37 describes the first return of the exiles under Zerubbabel, and implies the initial rebuilding of the physical Temple. Ezekiel 38–39 describes the attack of Gog (Haman) and his confederates against the Jews. Finally, Ezekiel 40–48 describes in figurative language the situation as a result of the work of Nehemiah.

Ezekiel 38:5–6 tells us that Israel’s enemies come from “Persia, Cush, and . . . from the remote parts of the north,” all within the boundaries of the Persian Empire of Esther’s day. From Esther we learn that the Persian Empire “extended from India to Cush, 127 provinces” in all (Esther 8:9). Ethiopia (Cush) and Persia are listed in Esther 1:1 and 3 and are also found in Ezekiel 38:5. The other nations were in the geographical boundaries “from India to Ethiopia” in the “127 provinces” over which Ahasueras ruled (Esther 1:1). “In other words, the explicit idea that the Jews were attacked by people from all the provinces of Persia is in both passages,” and the nations listed by Ezekiel were part of the Persian empire of the prophet’s day. The parallels are unmistakable. Even Ezekiel’s statement that the fulfillment of the prophecy takes place in a time when there are “unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11) is not an indication of a distant future fulfillment as Grant Jeffrey attempts to argue:

It is interesting to note that during the lifetime of Ezekiel and up until 1900, virtually all of the villages and cities in the Middle East had walls for defense. Ezekiel had never seen a village or city without defensive walls. Yet, in our day, Israel is a “land of unwalled villages” for the simple reason that modern techniques of warfare (bombs and missiles) make city walls irrelevant for defense. This is one more indication that his prophecy refers to our modern generation.

* * * * *

Ezekiel’s reference to “dwell safely” and “without walls . . . neither bars nor gates” refers precisely to Israel’s current military situation, where she is dwelling safely because of her strong armed defense and where her cities and villages have no walls or defensive bars. The prophet had never seen a city without walls, so he was astonished when he saw, in a vision, Israel dwelling in the future without walls. Ezekiel lived in a time when every city in the world used huge walls for military defense.

In Esther we learn that there were Jews who were living peacefully in “unwalled towns” (KJV) (9:19) when Haman conspired against them. Israel’s antagonists in Ezekiel are said to “go up against the land of unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11). The Hebrew word perazah is used in Esther 9:19 and Ezekiel 38:11. This fits the conditions of Esther’s day. Jeffrey is mistaken in his assertion that “Ezekiel had never seen a village or city without defensive walls.” They seemed to be quite common outside the main cities. Moreover, his contention that Israel is currently “dwelling safely because of her strong armed defense” is patently untrue. Since 2006, the Israeli government has built more than 435 miles of walls in Israel.

The chief antagonist of the Jews in Esther is Haman, “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” (Esther 3:1, 10; 8:3, 5; 9:24). An Agagite is a descendant of Amalek, one of the persistent enemies of the people of God. In Numbers 24:20 we read, “Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.” The phrase “first of the nations” takes us back to the early chapters of Genesis where we find “Gomer,” “Magog,” “Tubal,” and “Meshech,” and their father Japheth (Gen. 10:2), the main antagonist nations that figure prominently in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Amalek was probably a descendant of Japheth (Gen. 10:2). Haman and his ten sons are the last Amalekites who appear in the Bible. In Numbers 24:7, the Septuagint (LXX) translates “Agag” as “Gog.” “One late manuscript to Esther 3:1 and 9:24 refers to Haman as a ‘Gogite.’” Agag and Gog are very similar in their Hebrew spelling and meaning. Agagite means “I will overtop,” while Gog means “mountain.” In his technical commentary on Esther, Lewis Bayles Paton writes:

The only Agag  mentioned in the OT is the king of Amalek [Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:9]. . . . [A]ll Jewish, and many Christian comm[entators] think that Haman is meant to be a descendant of this Agag. This view is probably correct, because Mordecai, his rival, is a descendant of Saul ben Kish, who overthrew Agag [1 Sam. 17:8–16], and is specially cursed in the law [Deut. 25:17]. It is, therefore, probably the author’s intention to represent Haman as descended from this race that was characterized by an ancient and unquenchable hatred of Israel (cf. 3:10, “the enemy of the Jews”).

A cursive Hebrew manuscript identifies Haman as “a Gogite.” Paul Haupt sees a relationship between Haman’s descriptions as an Agagite and “the Gogite.”

There is another link between Haman the Agagite in Esther and Gog in Ezekiel 38–39. “According to Ezekiel 39:11 and 15, the place where the army of Gog is buried will be known as the Valley of Hamon-Gog, and according to verse 16, the nearby city will become known as Hamonah.”[12] The word hamon in Ezekiel “is spelled in Hebrew almost exactly like the name Haman. . . . In Hebrew, both words have the same ‘triliteral root’ (hmn). Only the vowels are different.”

Haman is the “prince-in-chief” of a multi-national force that he gathers from the 127 provinces with the initial permission of king Ahasuerus to wipe out his mortal enemy—the Jews (Ex. 17:8–16; Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:8; 1 Chron. 4:42–43; Deut. 25:17–19). Consider these words: “King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him” (Esther 3:1). Having “authority over all the princes who were with him” makes him the “chief prince.” In Esther 3:12 we read how Haman is described as the leader of the satraps, governors, and princes… (More here).

A few of the parallels between the accounts in Esther and Ezekiel 38-39, which Gary DeMar didn’t mention but David Lowman does, are as follows:

  • Ezra and Nehemiah both mention the large amounts of silver and gold that the Jews brought back from exile. These are the same items we are told the approaching armies were attacking to plunder.
  • The battle with Haman’s armies takes place after Israel is returned to the land—during Darius’ reign. Ezekiel prophesied until just a few short decades before this time.
  • Esther and Ezekiel’s enemies from the north both contain Persia and Ethiopia.
  • In a very short battle [in Esther] the Israelites destroy Haman’s army killing nearly 100,000 despite being greatly out-manned.
  • In fact, both passages state that the Jews were attacked by all of Persia’s provinces.

PROS: [1] Lowman makes a good point that Ezekiel went to great lengths to describe ancient warfare (“horses and horsemen…full armor…buckler and shield, wielding swords…shields and helmet…bow and arrows, clubs and spears” [Ezek. 38:4-5; 39:9]). Unless context clearly dictates otherwise, it would be a huge stretch to make this a description of modern warfare.

[2] I appreciated DeMar’s effort in noting the context of the chapters surrounding Ezekiel 38-39 (i.e. the first return of the exiles from Babylon under Zerubbabel), thus legitimizing his statement that it’s plausible for this text to be applied to Esther’s day if the other data fits.

[3] DeMar argues well for parallel boundaries between the Persian Empire in Esther’s day and Gog/Magog and her allies in Ezekiel’s vision.

[4] In Ezekiel’s vision, the Jews were living in unwalled towns. DeMar notes that this was also the case in Esther’s day, which makes sense since they were part of the Persian Empire at that time, an empire known for its benevolence and for taking good care of its subjects.

[5] The Agag-Gog connection is very intriguing, where Haman (the enemy of Esther) is shown to be an “Agagite” and even a “Gogite” in some manuscripts. That the invaders in Ezekiel’s vision would be buried in the Valley of Hamon-Gog only adds to the intrigue.

[6] The five parallels between the accounts in Esther and Ezekiel are all credible, making this interpretation a very legitimate possibility.

CONS: [1] There is no Biblical record explicitly stating that what took place in Esther’s day was first prophesied by Ezekiel. The connections, though fascinating, are implicit rather than explicit.

[2] There are details recorded in Ezekiel’s vision that are not recorded in Esther’s account, which can be seen primarily in Esther 9.

[B] Kenneth Gentry: Ezekiel 38-39 is Historically Distinct from Rev. 19 and 20

Kenneth Gentry is an ordained Presbyterian minister and author who, like Gary DeMar and David Lowman, is a partial-preterist. On page 160 of his newest book titled “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues, Gentry notes several parallels between the structure of Ezekiel and how John organizes the book of Revelation. Among these structural parallels, he says, is the correlation between Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 19-20.[2] Gentry’s main contribution here, though, will be his explanation that Revelation 19 and 20 simply draw on Ezekiel 38-39, but are not the same event. In other words, John, in both Revelation 19 and 20, only alludes to the prophecy given by Ezekiel (future to Ezekiel, but past to John) as a harbinger of what is to come in his own future.

Aside from this explanation, I haven’t been able to find Gentry’s precise position on the interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39. At “The Forerunner” website where many of his products are sold I did find an article written in 1990 by his ministry associate, Jay Rogers, titled “Is the Soviet Union Gog and Magog?” In this article, Jay Rogers proposes that Ezekiel’s prophecy concerned the Scythian invaders of the 2nd century BC:

Others have understood this vision as a prophecy which was fulfilled in the 2nd century B.C. at the defeat of the Assyrian invaders of Palestine by Judas Maccabeus… Ezekiel 38-39 should be understood in the context of its apocalyptic literary style; this is a highly visionary passage depicting an earthly struggle of Ezekiel’s time which is only a smaller reflection of a spiritual conflict between the forces of heaven and hell. Historically, the nations mentioned in this passage, Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer and Beth-togarmah, were a barbarous people known as the Scythians. These were a nomadic people who had moved from central Asia to southern Russia. Just about the same time that Ezekiel was born, the Scythians terrorized southwest Asia and the Middle East.

Whether this is Kenneth Gentry’s personal position at this time, I don’t know. The closest admission I could find from Gentry on his own view of Ezekiel’s prophecy is this statement:

[Greg] Beale (980) allows the possibility that Eze. 38–39 could point to second century BC events (Antiochus Epiphanes) that serve as “typological patterns” for what will “happen at the end of history” (cf. Bøe 373). Riddlebarger recognizes that “Divine judgments in history are, so to speak, rehearsals of the last judgment.” That is precisely my understanding of John’s use of Ezekiel to refer to AD 70: for AD 70 is a distant adumbration of the end of history which will come at the Second Advent.

These thoughts from Gentry, as well as what follows, can be found in a publication written by Kenneth Gentry titled “Recapitulation v Progress.” This is a primer for a full-length, verse-by-verse commentary on the book of Revelation which Gentry is currently working on. This particular publication is #13 among his Revelation Commentary Updates so far, and these excerpts are from pages 2-9 of that publication.

What follows is a summary of Gentry’s view that Ezekiel’s prophecy is merely drawn upon by John to signify the events of Revelation 19-20. In our introduction to Revelation 20 we noted that Gentry’s partial-preterist views cause him to agree with the premillennial position that Revelation 20:7-10 does not cover the same historical ground as Revelation 19:11-21 either. The reason that this is important to note is because both of these passages in Revelation allude to Ezekiel 38-39. His (rare) agreement with premillennialists on this point comes, though, “with quite different results,” as he explains:

I hold that Christ’s coming from heaven to wage war in Revelation 19:11ff represents His judgment coming on Israel in AD 70. As such it reflects the theme of the book found in 1:7, where he comes against those tribes who pierced him (the Jews). Consequently, 20:1ff presents the consequence of Christ’s judgment of Israel, Christianity’s first major enemy: the binding of Satan, the vindication of the martyrs, and the spiritual rule of believers with Christ in the present age.

Here Gentry makes the following statements regarding the non-explicit references to Gog and Magog in Revelation 19 and the explicit mention of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:

R. Fowler White notes [that Revelation] 19:17–18 is “virtually a verbatim quotation” of Ezekiel 39:17–20 (1989: 326), and [Revelation] 20:7–10 specifically mentions “Gog and Magog” (Ezekiel 38:2; 39:1, 6), showing God destroying them with fire from heaven (cp. Rev 20:7–10; Eze 38:22; 39:6). Clearly then, John bases both “the Armageddon revolt (19:17–21) and the Gog-Magog revolt (20:7–10) on the same prophetic passage” (1989: 327)… [Both Revelation 19:19–21 and Revelation 20:7–10] allude to the same OT eschatological battle prophecy (Ezekiel 38–39).

Gentry notes that there are those who draw from these facts the premise that the events of Revelation 19:19-21 and Revelation 20:7-10 must therefore refer to the same historical event. This is most common among amillennialists who also hold to the Historicist (rather than futurist or preterist) position. However, he adds:

Though “significant correspondence” of a “highly peculiar” nature exists between Rev. 19 and Ezekiel 39, problems confront this interpretation: First, similarity does not entail identity. Simply because John patterns both the battles of Rev. 19 and Rev. 20 on Eze. 38–39 does not mean they are the same battle. Similar language is used because similar fundamental realities prevail: God is catastrophically judging oppressive enemies of His people.

Many scholars see AD 70 as a microcosm of the final judgment. Consequently, we may expect the same imagery to apply to both AD 70 and the end. For instance, of those first century events, Bloesch states: “The catastrophe that befell the Jewish people in A.D. 70 is a sign of the final judgment.” Morris agrees: “…[We see that there is] a theological unity between the two judgments, and that some of what Jesus says [in the Olivet Discourse] could apply equally well to both.” Second, as Bøe notes, John often makes double use of Ezekiel’s images (Bøe, 275). The imagery from Ezekiel’s scroll vision in Eze. 2:8–33 applies both to Rev 5:1 and 10:8–11; Ezekiel’s measuring imagery in Eze 40–48 appears in quite distinct passages in Rev 11:1–2 and 21:10–27 (Bøe 371).

…If John had wanted us to understand recapitulation [the repetition of the same events] rather than sequence in this passage [Revelation 20], John “did us no favor” by: (a) recasting the beast and false prophet (19:20) as Gog and Magog (20:8); (b) inserting a thousand year period between the two battles (20:2–5); (c) representing the period of Christian history from the first century to the end as “a short time” (12:12) and as “a thousand years” (20:2–6)… (d) offering no hint that Satan is bound before Rev 19:11ff while emphasizing his being bound before Rev 20:7ff; and (e) telling us that Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and false prophet already are (20:10).

…[The judgment of] AD 70 (in Rev. 19:11–21) anticipates the final eschatological battle (Rev. 20:8–10)… It even seems that the NT emphasizes AD 70 more frequently — probably because it was looming in the near future, directly relevant to first century Christians, and of catastrophic significance in re-orienting their thinking regarding the flow of redemptive history… Indeed, it seems that the NT knows of only two great battles remaining in redemptive history: AD 70 which closes the old covenant era (and inaugurates the new covenant) and the Second Advent which closes the new covenant era (and history). Jesus certainly seems to link AD 70 and the Second Advent in his large Olivet Discourse… In addition, John limits Revelation’s prophecies to the near term (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10), which suggests a strong emphasis on AD 70.

Having made his case that Revelation 19:11-21 and Revelation 20:8-10 are separate and distinct events, Gentry then makes his case for why Ezekiel 38-39 is also not one and the same with Revelation 20:

Ezekiel 38–39 does not fit either the imagery of Rev 20:7–10 or its consummational setting… We see this in that:

(1) In Ezekiel God is on the offensive and gathers Gog (38:1–4; 39:1–2), whereas in Revelation Satan takes the offensive and gathers “Gog” (20:7–10).

(2) In Ezekiel Gog is motivated by plunder (Eze 38:12–13), whereas in Rev. 20:8 he is moved by Satan’s deception without regard to plunder.

(3) Ezekiel speaks of an actual battle wherein God causes men to fight one another with swords (38:21), which is a common motif description for confused historical battle (Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 14:20; Haggai 2:2; Zech. 14:13). This is a common way of showing God providentially and indirectly (rather than miraculously and directly) punishing men in history (e.g., Isaiah 10:5; 13:17). But Rev. 20:7–10 seems to present a purely final-eschatological judgment, involving direct divine destruction by fire (20:9b), with no mention of human implements of war involved.

(4) Ezekiel speaks of Israel becoming faithful at that time because of that battle (39:22–24), whereas Rev. 20 has God’s people already ruling and reigning (20:4) and living in obedience in the “beloved city” (20:9b) at the time of this final judgment…

(6) Ezekiel emphasizes certain events occurring after the battle, including burning the weapons for seven years (39:9), burying the dead (39:12–16), and other nations witnessing God’s triumph and Israel’s faithfulness “from that day onward” (39:21–24). These clearly show history continuing after the battle. But Revelation presents the climactic end-time wrath of God (20:9c), which is followed by the final judgment and the end of history (20:11–15).

PROS: [1] While Gentry says very little about how Ezekiel 38-39 may have been fulfilled, he provides plenty of well-thought-out reasons for why this passage is to be seen as historically distinct from Revelation 19 and Revelation 20. To add to his reasons already given, I offer these as well: [a] Those being attacked in Ezekiel 38-39 dwell in the cities of Israel (Ezek. 39:9) with livestock, goods (38:13), and are dependent on wood from the forests (39:10). Those who are attacked in Revelation 20:7-10 are identified as “the camp of the saints and the beloved city,” a clear parallel to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22-23; i.e. the Church). [b] In Ezekiel, Israel’s attackers come from “the uttermost parts of the north” (Ezek. 38:6), while in Revelation Gog and Magog comes from “the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 20:8).

[2] The first-century historian Josephus, as will be noted in the futurist section below, affirmed that the Scythian peoples of his day could trace their descent from Magog.

CONS: Kenneth Gentry, at least here in this material, doesn’t offer much of an explanation for how Ezekiel 38-39 may have been fulfilled by events in the second century BC. This does nothing, however, to take away from his well-argued premise that this prophecy is historically distinct from the prophecies of Revelation 19 and 20.

[C] The Futurist Position: Ezekiel 38-39 is Not Yet Fulfilled (and neither is Revelation 19 or 20)

In this section, we will only deal with the futurist position on Ezekiel 38-39, and not on Revelation 19 and 20 (it’s a given that the majority of futurists see Revelation 19 as taking place in the future prior to Christ’s Second Coming, and Revelation 20 taking place 1000 years later at the end of the Millennium. When it comes to discussions on Gog and Magog, futurist authors have had a great deal to say regarding Ezekiel 38-39. The highly resourceful Preterist Archive has preserved several quotes from well-known futurist authors on this subject. For example, Hal Lindsey had this to say:

“When the Russians invade the Middle East with amphibious and mechanized land forces, they will make a ‘blitzkreig’ type of offensive through the area… The current build-up of Russian ships in the Mediterranean serves as another significant sign of the possible nearness of Armageddon” (The Late Great Planet Earth, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970,  p. 145-146)

“Dr. Cummings, writing in 1864, said, “This king of the North I conceive to be the autocrat of Russia.. that Russia occupies a place, and a very momentous place, in the prophetic word has been admitted by almost all expositors.” (ibid., p. 52)

(Hal Lindsey changing tune after [the] fall of Russia) “But world domination — as Ezekiel makes clear — was never in the script for Russia!” (italics in original, Cited in Pate and Haines, p. 138)

Patti and Paul Lalonde made this sweeping statement in 1992:

“Bible scholars agree that ‘Gog’ also described as ‘prince of Rosh,’ is the leader of what is modern day Russia.” (In the Edge of Time: The Final Countdown Has Begun)

And Tim Lahaye made these remarks, also in 1992:

“Etymology is the study of linguistic changes and the history of words.  We will investigate the etymology of the names of nations.  As we will see, “Magog” is an ancient name for the nation now known as Russia.  “Gog” merely means “the chief prince of Magog,” or more literally, the chief prince of Meschech and Tubal (38:2-3; 39:1).

The name “Moscow” derives from the tribal name “Meshech,” and “Tobolsk, the name of the principal state, from “Tubal.” The noun “Gog” is from the original tribal name “Magog,” which gradually became “Rosh,” then “Russ,” and today is known as “Russia.” (“Will God Destroy Russia, in Storming Towards Armageddon: Essays in Apocalypse, ed. Wm. James (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press, 1992), p. 260-261)

“Russia is unquestionably the nation identified in the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39.” (“Will God Destroy Russia, in Storming Towards Armageddon: Essays in Apocalypse, ed. Wm. James (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press, 1992), p. 259)

Dispensationalist futurist Thomas Ice notes that “Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their best-selling novel Left Behind, place this invasion of Israel right before the rapture of the church.” Ice adds: “The strength of this position is that it accounts for the burning of the weapons of war for seven years as mentioned in Ezekiel 39:9. However, Tim LaHaye has told me personally that even though they represented a pre-rapture position on Ezekiel 38 and 39 in their novel, he tends to place it after the rapture but before the tribulation.” Ice then accounts for several other variations within the futurist (mostly dispensationalist) camp regarding the placement of Ezekiel’s vision:

The next view, which is the one I hold at this time, is that it will happen after the rapture but before the tribulation. It will be during the interval of days, weeks, months or years between the rapture and the start of the seven-year tribulation. This view also accounts for the seven years of Ezekiel 39:9. I have always thought that one of the strengths of this view is the way in which it could set the stage for the Biblical scenario of the tribulation. If the tribulation is closely preceded by a failed regional invasion of Israel, in other words Russia and her Muslim allies, then this would remove much of the Russian and Muslim influence currently in the world today and allow a Euro-centric orientation to arise. So the tribulation is preceded by a failed regional attack on Israel and this is why the tribulation ends with all the peoples of the world attacking Israel at Armageddon. It could also set the stage for the rebuilding of the Temple as a result of Islamic humiliation.

Perhaps the most widely held view put forth within dispensational literature is that this invasion will take place around the middle of the seven-year tribulation. This view often identifies Ezekiel 38 and 39 with an invasion of the king of the north in Daniel 11:40. Another major argument is based upon the statement that Israel will be “living securely, all of them” (Ezek. 38:8), which is the result of the false peace brought by the anti-Christ in the first half of the tribulation. This view has a lot in its favor.

A significant number of Bible teachers believe that the Gog and Magog event is synonymous with what the Book of Revelation calls the Campaign of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Since Armageddon is a huge invasion of Israel around the time of the second coming and the invasion of Israel described in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is said to be in “the latter years” (Ezek. 38:8) and “in the last days” (Ezek. 38:16), then they must be the same event. A similar, but slightly different view is that the invasion occurs after the second coming of Christ, during the interlude between the tribulation and the start of the millennium. The main argument for this view is that Israel would be dwelling in peace (Ezek. 38:8).

The last major view is that the battle of Ezekiel 38 and 39 will occur at the end of the millennium. The basis for this view is significant since Revelation 20:7–9 speaks of a conflict at the end of the millennium when Satan is released. Verse 8 says, “(Satan) will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corner of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war . . .” The strength of this view is obvious, Gog and Magog are specifically mentioned in the text.

In Part 2 of this same study, Thomas Ice speculates on the identity of Gog and Magog:

“The name Gog means ‘high, supreme, a height, or a high mountain.’”  The only references to the Gog of Ezekiel’s prophecy appear in the passage itself and there is virtually no information about Gog outside the Bible in history. However, when Gog leads his invasion of Israel he is said to come “from the remote parts of the north” (Ezek. 38:6). Louis Bauman tells us that “L. Sale-Harrison says in his booklet, The Coming Great Northern Confederacy: ‘It is interesting to note that the very word ‘Caucasus’ means ‘Gog’s Fort.’ ‘Gog’ and ‘Chasan’ (Fort) are two Oriental words from which it is derived.’”  So there does appear to be a faint reference to Gog in the general area of Russia that Gog is likely to be from.

Who then is Gog? Bauman says, “Without doubt, Russia will furnish the man—not the Antichrist—who will head up that which is known to most Bible students as ‘the great northeastern confederacy’ of nations and lead it to its doom upon the hills of Israel’s land.” …Hal Lindsey tells us, “Gog is the symbolic name of the nation’s leader and Magog is his land. He is also the prince of the ancient people who were called Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.”  Arnold Fruchtenbaum informs us: “Who Gog will be can only be determined at the time of the invasion, for ‘Gog’ is not a proper name but a title for the rule of Magog, just as the terms ‘pharaoh,’ ‘kaiser,’ and ‘czar’ were titles for rulers and not proper names.”

…The fact that Magog is used in the table of nations (Genesis 10)  provides a basis for tracing the movement of one of the earliest post-flood descendants of Noah. It appears that Ezekiel is using the names of peoples, primarily from the table of nations, and where they lived at the time of the giving of this prophecy in the sixth century B.C. Therefore, if we are able to find out where these people and places were in the sixth century B.C. then we will be able to trace figure out who would be their modern antecedents today. I believe we will be able to accomplish this task and be able to know who will be involved in this battle if it were to come to pass in our own day.

It is probably fair to say that most scholars and experts would trace Magog’s descendants to the ancient people that we know as the Scythians. Chuck Missler notes that a wide collection of ancient historians “identified Magog with the Scythians and southern Russia in the 7th century B.C.”15 These ancients include: Hesiod, Josephus, Philo, and Herodotus. Josephus lived in the first century A.D. and said, “Magog founded the Magogians, thus named after him but who by the Greeks are called Scythians.”

Who are the Scythians? Edwin Yamauchi tells us that the Scythians were divided into two groups, a narrow and broad grouping. “In the narrow sense, the Scythians were the tribes who lived in the area which Herodotus designated as Scythia (i.e., the territory north of the Black Sea),” notes Yamauchi. “In the broad sense the word Scythian can designate some of the many other tribes in the vast steppes of Russia, stretching from the Ukraine in the west to the region of Siberia in the east.”

I haven’t read further in Ice’s narrative, not in any real detail anyway, but the reader can get the idea where he is going from here, in painstakingly attempting to trace through more than 2000 years of history who are the modern descendants of the Scythians. To continue reading, though, by all means see Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10 (which only brings the reader up to Ezekiel 38:6!), and all the other parts that I lost the energy to link to.

PROS: Aside from identifying these speculations as bad exegesis (critical interpretation), it’s difficult to prove them wrong because they are always said to be just ahead in God’s prophetic calendar [I suppose this is part pro / part con]. Thus, it might be said, who can say that these things won’t play out in the way that futurists say that they will?

CONS: [1] This interpretation, ironically, highly allegorizes the references to ancient warfare (“horses and horsemen…full armor…buckler and shield, wielding swords…shields and helmet…bow and arrows, clubs and spears” [Ezek. 38:4-5; 39:9]). This is ironic because futurists and dispensationalists tend to pride themselves on holding to a literal interpretation of Scripture far more often than those who hold alternative viewpoints.

[2] This interpretation virtually ignores the fact that Ezekiel’s prophecies were, in the primary sense, contemporary to his day and concerned the period in which the Israelites were to return from exile in Babylon under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

[3] This interpretation makes the modern, political nation of Israel the recipients of God’s special blessing, promises, and protection in this present age. However, the promises were made to Abraham and his singular offspring, Christ (Galatians 3:16), and Abraham’s true offspring (the heirs according to promise) are only those who belong to Christ (Gal. 3:29).

[4] This prophecy must take place when the nation of Israel, according to this view, is dwelling securely (Ezek. 38:8) in “the land of unwalled villages” (verse 11). This is not even close to the situation in Israel today. Many dispensationalists, though (e.g. Lahaye), say this must be the situation prior to a future 7-year Tribulation period, because the weapons of Israel’s attackers will be burned for seven years (Ezek. 39:9), AFTER seven months of burying their attackers (Ezek. 39:12). Yet, dispensationalists say that peace will be secured for national Israel when “the Antichrist” makes a covenant with that nation at the very beginning of the Tribulation (an idea which I believe to be a severe misapplication of Daniel 9:27), only to break it 3.5 years later.

In this scenario, the 7-month burial period would mean that Israel will be dwelling in security more than half a year prior to the alleged future covenant established by “the Antichrist.” Why would such security exist for months before “the Antichrist” comes along to establish it?

[5] There is much more which could be addressed concerning the various futurist viewpoints noted by Thomas Ice above, but I’d rather not take up  more space in doing so. Perhaps I will do so later in the comments section. For the record, though, I personally happen to believe that the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14) was fulfilled during the Roman-Jewish War leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, a subject which has been addressed at length elsewhere on this blog.

[D] Kurt Simmons: Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 19, and Revelation 20 Were All Fulfilled in 70 AD

Kurt M. Simmons is a full-preterist who believes that “Gog and Magog [as mentioned in Revelation 20:8] was a symbol employed for the persecution under Nero and the Jews.” In other words, for Simmons, the battle described in this passage brought an end to the Millennium just before 70 AD, thus making the Millennium last for only 40 years (beginning around 30 AD and ending around 70 AD). This idea was discussed more fully in Part 2 of our Minority Views on the Millennium. Simmons’ viewpoint is the only one discussed so far which sees Revelation 20:7-10 as not merely alluding to Ezekiel 38-39, but being one and the same event described in both texts.

By way of background information on Ezekiel 38-39, Simmons says,

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 [true] Israel and lead them unto spiritual Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem.

Simmons then cites Hosea 1:11, 3:4-5 and Amos 9:8-14 as two examples of prophecy having a more immediate sense as well as ultimately a fuller sense. Moving on to the book of Ezekiel, Simmons remarks:

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 prophecy of the dry bones [Ezekiel 37:11-12] 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 [Acts 2:29-34]… 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 [Ezekiel 38:1-8]. 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 theBritish 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.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip much of what Simmons says regarding Revelation 11-12, the on and off persecution of the Church between Christ’s ascension and Nero’s reign, his speculation regarding Claudius Caesar being the angel of Revelation 20:1, etc. It can be seen by following the link to this article, but quite honestly I find some of the details in this section to be noteworthy, and others to be rather odd. Simmons then moves in on his conclusion by saying this:

“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; cf. Ezek. 39:17) Following the world-wide devastations of the last days, God renews the earth, in which the church reigns supreme with Christ. (Rev. 21, 22)

Conclusion

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

PROS: [1] I appreciated Simmons’ development of the chapters surrounding Ezekiel 38-39, as he rightfully (I believe) pointed out that Ezekiel 37 was a prophecy (at least in the primary sense) of Israel’s return to its land and subsequent restoration under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. I was also intrigued by his discussion of the double fulfillment of certain prophetic passages, i.e. having both an immediate sense and an ultimate sense.

[2] Simmons points out that Ezek. 38:8 speaks of this attack taking place in “the latter years,” which he defines as the end of the Mosaic age marked by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Being that Ezekiel and Daniel were near contemporaries, it’s interesting that Daniel was told that his visions would see fulfillment at “the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4, 9; cf. Dan. 8:17, 26). The phrase(s) used in Daniel are a bit stronger, but it’s possible that “the latter years” could be a synonym for the “the time of the end.” Some of what Daniel prophesies is thought to have taken place, though, during the 2nd century BC and earlier (e.g. the events of Daniel 8:20-22, Dan. 11:1-19), and not as late as the period leading up to 70 AD.

CONS: [1] Simmons pointed out that Ezekiel 37 (the prophecy of the dry bones) is the immediate context of the battle of Ezekiel 38. Since, in the ultimate sense, the end of Ezekiel 37 foreshadowed “restored Israel (the church) under ‘David,’” he then concludes that Ezekiel 38 must speak of an attack on the Church. Why, though, can’t the immediate sense of Ezekiel 37 (the return of the Israelites to the land of Israel in the 5th century BC) also be the context by which we see the battle of Ezekiel 38? If this is allowed, then Ezekiel 38-39 could very well speak of events in Esther’s day as Gary DeMar and David Lowman have proposed (or, one might say, events in the second century BC as Gentry seems to propose).

[2] The armies in Ezekiel 38 are described in great detail as being arrayed in ancient armor and bearing ancient weapons. It seems to be a very large stretch to equate this type of battle imagery with persecution of the saints. Elsewhere in Scripture, and even in a book like Revelation filled with apocalyptic language, the idea of persecution appears to be presented in a much more straightforward manner. This imagery of armor and weapons is also completely absent from Revelation 20:7-10, although, granted, it could be said that space doesn’t allow for it there.

[3] One goal of the invaders in Ezekiel 38 is to sieze silver, gold, livestock, and goods (Ezek. 38:13). This doesn’t seem to be a goal at all in the attack recorded in Revelation 20.

[4] If Ezekiel 38-39 speaks of the events of 70 AD, in what sense did the church burn the wooden weapons of their persecutors at that time for seven years (Ezek. 39:9-10)?

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Having now presented and analyzed each of these four positions, I will now list in descending order how I see these positions in terms of Biblical accuracy and plausibility. At the top of my list is the position I agree with the most, and at the bottom is the position I agree with the least:

#1: David Lowman and Gary DeMar’s position that Ezekiel 38-39 was fulfilled in Esther’s day, Revelation 19 in 70 AD, and Revelation 20:7-10 remains unfulfilled.

#2: Kenneth Gentry’s position that Ezekiel 38-39 was likely fulfilled in the second century BC through the Scythian peoples, Revelation 19 in 70 AD, and Revelation 20:7-10 remains unfulfilled.

#3: Kurt Simmon’s position that Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 19, and Revelation 20 were all fulfilled in 70 AD.

#4: The futurist position (or one of them anyway) which sees Ezekiel 38-39 as yet to be fulfilled with a Russian/Iranian led invasion upon modern Israel, Revelation 19 awaiting fulfillment at Christ’s future Second Coming, and Revelation 20 as awaiting fulfillment at the end of a future 1000-year Millennium period.

What would your list look like, and why? Do you have an alternative view on these matters which hasn’t been given attention here?

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In the next post, we will examine a discussion of the two ages spoken of frequently in the New Testament. This post will serve as a transition into our study of Revelation 21.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

All of our studies on Revelation 20 and the Millennium can be found here.


[1] Another viewpoint which could have been considered is the viewpoint of amillennialist and Historicist Kim Riddlebarger. I have greatly appreciated and learned from quite a few of his writings, but chose not to include his viewpoint in the main body of this article as I am quite limited in my understanding of Historicism. I also noted that he declared Ezekiel’s vision of Gog and Magog to be a prophecy of “the Assyrian invasion of Israel from the north.” I’m puzzled by this idea, as the Syrian invasion took place in 722 BC and Ezekiel ministered in the time period before and after Babylon’s invasion of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC. Riddlebarger sees Ezekiel’s vision as “typological of the end-times war upon the entire people of God as witnessed by John in his vision.”

Another amillennialist article also postulates that Ezekiel predicted the Syrian invasion. Though I’m not in agreement with a number of things in this article, the author (Nollie) does provide an interesting comparison chart for the three passages where Gog and Magog is either mentioned directly or clearly alluded to:

Revelation 19:11-21 Ezekiel 38-39 Revelation 20:7-10
Gog & Magog (38:2; 39:1, 6) Gog & Magog (8)
“to gather them for the battle” (ton polemon) in v. 19 (cf. 16:14, 15a) “to gather them for the battle” (ton polemon) in v. 8
birds feast on defeated humans (“kings” “captains” “mighty men” “horses and their riders”) (17-18) animals and birds feast on defeated humans (“mighty men” “princes” “horses” “charioteers” “warriors”) (39:4, 17-20)
fiery judgment on nations, beast, and false prophet (20) fiery judgment on Gog & Magog (38:22; 39:6) fiery judgment on Gog and Magog and Satan (9-10)
total cosmic destruction by earthquake, hail, rain, and fire (38:19-22) total cosmic destruction (11)
total destruction of wicked (19-21) total destruction of the wicked (9-10)

[2] Duncan McKenzie provides an even more comprehensive analysis of the parallels between Ezekiel and Revelation, here and here.