Troublesome Topic: Gog and Magog in Revelation 20

Revelation 20:7


When the thousand years are complete, SATAN will be released

from his prison,


When complete dominance has been thoroughly proven, GOD’S ADVERSARY will be released from his prison,

Revelation 20:8


then he will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth,


to gather them together to make war, and their number is like the sand of the sea,


then he will go out to deceive different types of people in every part of the world, i.e. the ruthless, barbaric, hostile people, and gather them together to make war, and their number is as impossible to count as the grains of sand on all the seashores of the world.

Would the people of John’s day have understood the use of Gog and Magog as identifying information, or as imagery? First of all, because the vision we call Revelation is full of imagery, they most likely would have seen it as imagery; it fits perfectly with the rest of Revelation. Secondly, if God were giving us tools to use for identifying the source of a human army, He did not give us very good clues because not very much was known in those days about the people usually indicated by these terms. Thirdly, the people they usually associated with these terms had ceased to be a threat to anyone approximately 200 years before John was given this vision, making it even less likely that it would have a literal meaning. Fourthly, the immediate context of how it is used in this passage contradicts a literal interpretation, for it is used in conjunction with “the nations in the four corners of the earth,” i.e. everyone, or all nations. How could the text mean all nations, and a very specific nation at the same time? It can’t.

The intent of this imagery is to point to all peoples that are not submitted to the Lamb. Everyone is either on one side or the other; there is no middle ground. The people from the four corners of the earth (all peoples) are described as Gog and Magog (i.e. ruthless, barbaric and hostile) because everyone who is not for Christ is against Him.

Through ancient times Magog referred to the region of the Scythians, between the Caspian Sea and what we call the Black Sea, and Gog referred to their leader. This was so common that Josephus dropped the word Magog and substituted the word Scythians.

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But very little is divulged in Scripture about the people or the place, only that the people of Palestine and surrounding nations had great fear of them. Thus Magog became a symbol for the ruthless, barbaric, hostile people, who were greatly feared, and of whom little else was known. We don’t even know what the names Gog and Magog mean.

We should see this use of Magog as a symbol of a certain type of people, ones to be feared, rather than those from a certain place, i.e. Scythia. Although it is possible to take this as a reference to a specific place, time and event, it is more advisable, for the reasons listed above, to understand it as a type of people who oppose the people of God—something that has happened many times, in many places and in many ways. This interpretive method makes the text relevant to a majority of believers through all time, and it fits the purpose of the vision of Revelation—to encourage believers who are facing hardship because of their faith.

Extra-biblical sources confirm the reasons why this group of people were feared. They are credited by some as being among the first to master mounted warfare.

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They were known for their skills in archery, and also as extremely aggressive warriors in close combat.

The Scythians dominated a vast area extending from the Carpathian Mountains just West of the Black sea to central China and southern Siberia. They predated the Mongolian “Empire” in that area by several hundred years. The Scythian rulers lived in the western portions of their loosely organized “empire” and were very wealthy due to the trade route they established linking Greece, Persia, India and China, (long before Marco Polo reopened such a trade route). The Scythes were known to have invaded Palestine, but they did not occupy it.

By100 BC (some say 300 BC) they ceased to be a military threat to anyone. Since John penned Revelation around 90 AD, that means that at least 190 years before John received this vision the Scythians were no longer a force to contend with. Thus it makes more sense to see the reference to Magog in Revelation 20 as imagery rather than a real threat of actual military invasion. While a real threat may no longer have existed, the imagery would have persisted.

When Ezekiel was alive, the Scythes were in power to the North of Israel and were a fearsome people. But the prophecy of Ezekiel was not fulfilled while the Scythes were in power, so it had to be symbolic in some way. The debate is over what that symbolism refers to.

In modern times it has become popular to interpret this as an army coming from Russia to attack Israel. Ezekiel associates Magog with two other places called Meshech and Tubal, which were in the same region, between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Russia does indeed extend down as far as this region between the Black sea and the Caspian Sea, however, it would be highly abnormal for a country to be identified by one of its extremities, unless only that part of the country were involved, or if that were the place of its centralized power, i.e. its capital. In our modern context, we could say that Washington D.C. went to war against the Axis powers in WWII, but we would not say that Florida went to war against the Axis powers in WWII. Therefore, if Russia were intended, we could expect the text to say that Moscow, will invade Israel, but we would not expect it to say the southwestern corner of Russia will invade Israel. The term Magog fits the Scythians because the western region became the seat of quasi-centralized power where their wealthy rulers resided. However, it does not fit Russia.

To interpret this literally we must also assume that Israel is the target, not the people of God in a spiritual sense. We must assume that this is only about physical conquest, not spiritual advantage. While it is possible to make a case that Israelis are still the people of God, it is more fitting with the message of Revelation to say that the people of God are the pure and holy ones who are committed to following God even to the point of martyrdom.

Every time Israel has been seriously attacked (1948, 1967, 2023) people have assumed that it was a fulfillment of Ezekiel 38 and 39 and Revelation 20:7. It is commonly assumed that these passages are referring to Russia. In the first two cases, 1948 and 1967, these assumptions were proved wrong. Why then is everyone so quick to make the same assumptions in 2023? While Russia may be involved today behind the scenes, that is not the same as armies marching to war, as a geo-political fulfillment of Ez 38 &39 would require.

When we look at prophecy from a geopolitical perspective, we are forced to look around us in search of anything that might fit a literal interpretation of the prophecy. But if we look at prophecy from a spiritual perspective, we are called to look back at what God has done in the past and take encouragement from it regardless of the hardships we are facing.

In all honesty, there are places earlier in the book of Ezekiel that mention physical locations as well. This makes it seem like the prophecy of chapters 38 and 39 is talking about real places and real people. But problems arise when we try to predict how this will play out in the physical realm. We keep guessing and keep being wrong. We cannot know if a prophecy has a physical fulfillment until after the completion of the events. We cannot know the spiritual fulfillments of a prophecy until after, or part way through the fulfillments. I believe Ez 38-39 and Rev 20:8 are probably pointing toward a spiritual fulfillment first, and possibly to physical issues as a secondary fulfillment.

The next lesson is: The Horses and Their Riders



See the notes in Barnes Commentary on Rev 20:8.


Encyclopedia Britannica.