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Wednesday
Mar052014

The Russians Are Coming! Time to Check the Rapture Index

A Russian-Muslim alliance which threatens the nation of Israel, has long been a feature of dispensational prophecy punditry.  If Vladimir Putin so much as sneezes, the prophecy pundits jump into action. 

Just as the recent actions of Syria's Bashar al-Assad in attempting to crush all political opposition to his regime produced a spate of speculation about whether or not Damascus would return to prominence and threaten Israel's security (Damascus in Bible prophecy), so too, the Russian military occupation of the Crimea (a region attached to the Russian empire from the time of Catherine the Great, but now part of the Ukraine--a new and independent republic formed after the break-up of the Soviet Union) has sent end-times prognosticators into a state of apoplexy (or joy--I'm not sure which).

The "Rapture Index" has tied the record high (188), because, as the keeper of the index indicates--under the heading: Gog (Russia)--"Putin's invasion of Ukraine has maxed out this category."  The fear that Russia is about to do something on a grand scale which will lead to the Rapture and an invasion of Israel (precipitating the eventual Battle of Armegeddon) is based upon a serious misreading of Ezekiel 38-39.

Typically, dispensationalists appeal to Ezekiel's prophecy as a yet unfulfilled prediction of a Russian-backed Islamic invasion of the modern nation of Israel, at or about the time the seven-year tribulation begins.  Dispensationalists believe that the nations listed in the prophecy refer to people living in Ezekiel's time, who can then be traced to modern nations.  Following this method, Gog is the mysterious leader of Magog, a land north of the Caucasus mountains inhabited by the ancient Scythians.  This is in modern Russia.  Meshech is supposedly Moscow. Tubal is variously taken as Turkey or Tolbosk (a city in Russia).  Persia is clearly Iran.  Put is Libya.  Cush is Ethiopia.  Beth-Togarmah is Turkey.  Some have even identified Gomer as Germany. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Gomer is more often identified with Russia. 

Since the bulk of these people live to the uttermost parts of the north (Ezekiel 38:15), and since the predicted invasion of Israel will come from the north, any Russian flex of its military might is automatically tied to Ezekiel's prophecy.  At some point near the beginning of the tribulation, these pundits believe, Israel will be invaded by a Russian-Islamic confederacy, only to prevail militarily through God's amazing grace.

To be fair, the dispensationalists were not the first to tie this prophecy to contemporary events.  Ambrose identified these same figures as the Goths who were then threatening the Holy Roman Empire.  Luther applied this prophecy to the Turks, who were at the gates of Vienna at the time of the Reformation.

But there are two significant problems with this approach to Ezekiel 38-39.  First, as Edwin Yamauchi (a noted evangelical archaeologist and historian) has pointed out in his book, Foes from the Northern Frontier:  Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Baker, 1983), this identification is based upon a number of unsubstantiated assumptions.  For one thing, Gog and Magog cannot be directly tied to the Scythians.  Yamauchi believes that their identity is not certain at all.  Furthermore, he contends that Meshech and Tubal cannot be tied to Moscow or Tobolsk in any sense.  He believes these are references to ancient Assyria which did invade Israel from the north.  This means that Ezekiel is speaking of Israel's immediate future when writing his prophecy (an Assyrian invasion from the north), which also prefigures an end-time event.

How do we know that to be the case?  If you follow the basic hermeneutical principle that the New Testament interprets the Old Testament (something dispensationalists are not willing to admit when it comes to interpreting biblical prophecy), then in Revelation 20:8-9, John speaks of Gog and Magog as symbolic of the nations of the earth, gathering together to make war on the saints (the church). 

This leads to the second problem with the dispensational understanding.  In Revelation 20:8-9, John is universalizing Ezekiel's prophecy of Israel being invaded from the north to the church being attacked from the four corners of the earth--this "spiritualizing" of the Old Testament as practiced by John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is, of course, the very thing dispensationalists claim is illegitimate.  The fact of the matter is, this is exactly what John does.

In Revelation 20:8-9, John sees a vision of Gog and Magog leading all of the nations on the earth to wage war against God's people (the church), after Satan has been released from the Abyss.  These enemies of Christ and his church are ultimately and finally destroyed at Christ's second advent (see Beale, The Book of Revelation, Eerdmans, 1022-1024).  This means that the Assyrian invasion of Israel from the north foretold by Ezekiel, is actually typological of the end-times war upon the entire people of God as witnessed by John in his vision.

If you are interested, I deal with this topic more fully in my book, The Man of Sin (Baker, 2006).  Click here: Riddleblog - Man of Sin - Uncovering the Truth About Antichrist

Because our dispensational friends miss the point that Ezekiel is making, whenever Russia undertakes military action, the prophecy index immediately spikes, this time tying the record high.  Surely even dispensationalists who embrace this misreading of Ezekiel 38-39, must know that the expected Russian-Muslim invasion of Israel is not likely to come about merely because Putin wants to maintain Russia's long-standing naval base at Sevastapol, which gives the Russian navy access to the Black Sea.  This has little, if anything, to do with Israel.  This has nothing to do with Ezekiel 38-39.

Reader Comments (10)

Thanks for this post. The actions by Russian truly make me nervous, not because of end-times prophesy but because of the dangers to the United States today. Your explanation of Ezekiel 38-39 is helpful for me to clarify how dispensationalists understand that passage. By the way, who decides the final numbers of the "Rapture Index"?
March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark
Mark:

Putin worries me too. He strikes me as a Mussolini wannabe, performing "feats of strength" and "airing his grievances" with his shirt off. Maybe he's just celebrating Festivus. As Henry Kissinger points out, there is a long and complicated history between Russia and the Ukraine, and maybe it is best to let the two principles work it out with European mediation, if Ukraine wants it. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/henry-kissinger-to-settle-the-ukraine-crisis-start-at-the-end/2014/03/05/46dad868-a496-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html.
March 6, 2014 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
Yeah, he scares me a bit, too, but maybe not as much as some people on our side of the pond. We would probably be better off to take Ron Paul's advice and keep our nose out of it.
March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
Idea for app: RapCon

Rating would be same as the DefCon scale. Like this screenshot from one of my favorite movies, WarGames:

https://secure.flickr.com/photos/gimme5/392378131/

General Beringer: "Flush the bombers. Get the subs in launch mode. We are at defcon 1."
March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNeal Evans
Why worry about Putin when our own government is much more dangerous? Why worry about the world when the believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit and to die is to become reunited with Christ? Why worry about Israel when God Himself will fight for it if and when they repent and cry out to Him?
March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark P
Isaiah 8:12-16 might be a perfect passage for those who are concerned about this Gog-Magog "conspiracy."
March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark P
My question for Mark is ? who is Israel? the country over in the middle east or those who have come to faith in the Lord Jesus.
March 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterroger o.
Stronger is he that is in me than he that is in the world, Fear not, our maker has spread the heavens out across the universe and all that is in them, along with the earth and all of men that he controls, and has made his son the judge of all things...this world is passing away.
March 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan
Israel used to be the nation of Hebrews, but after Christ it is everyone who is the true believer, worshipping God in spirit and in truth. Romans 9 among others covers this topic.
March 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark P
I like this stuff but here's a thought: We all were sure the Soviet Union was dead, but Putin seems clearly intent on restoring the Russian empire, and the present US leadership is too weak to prevent it-- The mortal wound of the beast's head that is healed, and the world is astounded? I know, you think I missed the whole point...

Also, I believe modern Israel is in prophecy: "Shall a nation be born in a day?", "Many nations shall escort her to her place,", "The travail shall come after the birth."
March 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRichard E.

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