Russia in the Bible

Russia always seems to find its way into the middle of world affairs. Historically, who are the Russians? Do they have a role to play in biblical prophecy?

Today, tensions are again rising between the United States and Russia over political and military disagreements in Syria’s civil war. The Russians have a strategic interest in the Middle East, and their positions on conflicts in this region of the world have traditionally been opposite those of the United States and other Western powers.

Why does this political tension between Eastern and Western powers continue and never seem to dissipate?

Russia has been a superpower in recent history. For the last half of the 20th century, Russia and the United States of America were the primary nuclear powers behind the Cold War. Other less powerful nations lined up behind each of these two countries to create blocs of nations and further the long divide between East and West.

Today Russia continues to dominate nearby nations. Russia sits as one of the members of the Security Council at the United Nations and wields great international influence with strong allies around the globe. Even with its downsized confederation, Russia is still a powerful and populous nation, exerting significant political influence in our world. Based upon its influence, Russia is clearly a key player in the world’s political arena.

What influence will Russia have on world affairs in the future? What does the Bible say about Russia? Does the Bible address the Russian influence in end-time prophecy? What role, if any, will Russia play in the future 1,000-year Millennium?

Gog and Magog

In the book of Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39, we find some interesting prophecies concerning “Gog and Magog”—people who have a connection with Russia today.

To the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, God said, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal”’” (Ezekiel 38:2-3).

Many Bible scholars conclude that the descendants of these ancient peoples are found in Russia and the former Eastern bloc of nations today. A study of genealogy and the peoples mentioned in Ezekiel’s prophecy provides plenty of evidence.

Historically, the land of Magog was home to the Magogites of Ezekiel’s day. According to the Greek historian Herodotus and the Jewish historian Josephus, the Magogites’ descendants can be traced to the Scythians of Roman times. They were a constant problem for the Romans and hailed from the region of southern Russia and the Ukraine (John Phillips, Exploring the Future: A Comprehensive Guide to Bible Prophecy, 2002, p. 310).

The Russians themselves claim the ancient Scythians as ancestors. The descendants of Meshech and Tubal can also be traced to the modern-day Russians. According to ancient Assyrian texts, these people lived in northern Turkey in the sixth century B.C., but eventually migrated to southern Russia (Joel Rosenberg, Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future, 2006, p. 86). (We should also note that the Scythians who lived in northern Turkey after the fall of the ancient nation of Israel also included Israelites, who later migrated to Europe. For further study, see “12 Tribes of Israel Today: Who Are They?”)

Ezekiel 38 also speaks of Gog coming out of “the far north” (verse 15). This supports external sources identifying the nations described in Ezekiel’s prophecy as the modern nations of Russia and the former Eastern bloc countries.

Ezekiel’s prophecies

Now that we have identified the descendants of Gog and Magog and fixed their approximate geographical location, what do the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39 tell us will happen? When do these prophecies take place?

Let’s notice more of this prophecy addressed to Gog in Ezekiel 38:8: “In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely” (emphasis added).

This event has not yet occurred. One could never describe living in the nation of Israel today as living in safety! The Middle East, and in particular, Israel, has historically been one of the most dangerous places to live, constantly under the threat of terrorism and war.

In this passage, the term “latter years”—like “latter days” (Isaiah 2:2; Daniel 10:14; Micah 4:1), “in that day” (Isaiah 4:2; 10:20) and “in those days” (Joel 3:1; Jeremiah 50:4)—refers to the time of the end of man’s rule or the beginning of the Millennium. It is used elsewhere in Scripture to describe the beginning of the Millennium and the reestablishment of Israel as a nation under Christ’s rule as King of Kings (Isaiah 24:21-23; Ezekiel 34:12-16).

The description of people “brought out of the nations” is a reference to the regathering of Israelites after the Great Tribulation and at the beginning of the Millennium. God, through the prophet Jeremiah, said, “‘But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. …

“‘Behold the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS’” (Jeremiah 23:3-6).

Some read the invasion prophecies in Ezekiel 38 and 39 and conclude that these chapters are describing a battle or end-time event that coincides with the prophecy about Gog and Magog in Revelation 20. But a careful reading of the prophecy in Ezekiel 38 informs us of characteristics of this particular prophecy that differ from the Revelation 20 prophecy.

Prophecy of Gog and Magog in Revelation

In Revelation 20, it is Satan who draws the deceived multitude (including Gog and Magog) from the far reaches of the earth to destroy Jerusalem (Revelation 20:8). In Ezekiel 38, Gog is pictured as a man who is drawn to Israel for the purpose of “plunder” (verses 11-12). The nations of the north will want the great blessings and resources God will give to the restored Israelites.

In the prophecy of Revelation we read, “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea” (Revelation 20:7-8).

The Revelation 20 battle occurs at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7), while it appears that the one in Ezekiel 38 will take place shortly after the beginning of the Millennium, shortly after Israel has recovered from war and the Great Tribulation. Then for a thousand years there are no prophesied wars until the Millennium is over. As such, the battle referred to in Ezekiel 38 is not the same battle as the one mentioned in Revelation 20.

Additional differences

The invasion of Ezekiel 38 at the beginning of the Millennium will be such an event that it will go down in history as an assault on God’s people by an army of carnal men lusting after the blessings and riches of Israel—blessings that were restored at the beginning of the Millennium.

In Ezekiel 39, the invaders are destroyed by fire, earthquake and infighting; while in Revelation 20, God destroys the rebellious invaders with fire from heaven.

Also notice some additional details of the conflict: “‘Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and bucklers, the bows and arrows, the javelins and spears; and they will make fires with them for seven years. They will not take wood from the field nor cut down any from the forests, because they will make fires with the weapons; and they will plunder those who plundered them, and pillage those who pillaged them,’ says the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 39:9-10).

Some have wondered why the weaponry described seems primitive, primarily made of wood and combustible material when far more sophisticated armament is available today. The answer may be that Ezekiel was using the terminology of his day to describe what would occur in the future.

Or it may be that modern weapons were all destroyed and banned after Christ’s return. These more primitive weapons represent items the invaders could quickly secure. Whatever the reason for the terminology, the prophecy says that Israel will use the invading armies’ leftover weapons as fuel for “seven years” (verse 9)—an extended reminder of God’s victory over those who disdained peace.

Why will God permit Gog and Magog to fight?

The reason God allows Gog and Magog to attack Israel at the beginning of the Millennium is to confirm His greatness and His holiness in the sight of all nations, so that there is no doubt that He alone is the God of peace (Ezekiel 38:16, 23; 39:6-7, 21-23, 28). Christ may still be relatively unknown to many of the nations of the world when His millennial reign begins (see Psalm 2), and this battle will help shape their view of the King of Kings and the Kingdom of God.

As the thousand years unfold, “Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).

In time, the whole world will know the true God and His ways. Then God says, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). During this time, it seems likely that many descendants of Gog and Magog will turn to God and receive salvation.

We are not told why at the end of the Millennium God will allow Satan to deceive Gog and Magog and to rally them and other nations once again to battle. Perhaps it will be to test their hearts to see if they really want to live God’s way of life or if they have simply complied with God’s laws until given the opportunity to rebel.

Gog and Magog summary

Based on the passages we have looked at, we may conclude:

  • The future invasion from the north by Gog and Magog, mentioned in Ezekiel 38 and 39, will take place shortly after the beginning of the Millennium. That army will be destroyed by an earthquake, by sword and by fire.
  • The battle of Revelation 20 will occur after the thousand years has ended. This army will be stirred up by Satan, and will come from the breadth of the earth to attack the saints and Jerusalem, but it will be devoured by the fire from God.
  • After this final rebellion in Revelation 20 is put down, God will banish Satan forever and will then resurrect billions of people who never had a chance for salvation. He will give them the opportunity to have their sins forgiven and to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior (for more about this, see the section on the second resurrection in the article “Resurrections: What Are They?”).

Lesson for us

While there are undoubtedly many lessons to be drawn from what the Bible says will happen to Gog and Magog, there is one critical lesson for us: God is looking for people who wholeheartedly choose to live His way of life (2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 119:2). If you would like to learn more about developing such a relationship with God, we recommend you study the articles on “Christian Conversion.”