How Prophecies of the Old Jerusalem are Fulfilled
Revelation 19-21 on Ezekiel 38 and 39
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. Revelation 20:7-9.
Brief Idea: Revelation borrows figures from Old Testament stories. In the case of Gog and Magog, however, the figures are borrowed, not from a story, but from a prophecy in Ezekiel. Revelation shows that the original prophecy will not be fulfilled in all its literal detail, but will largely be fulfilled in a spiritual sense.
The Old Testament, especially in Ezekiel and Zechariah, contains prophecies of an age of Israeli triumph and revival that seem to have never been fulfilled. And not only do they seem to have never been fulfilled, but neither do they fit well with the predictions that other prophecies (notably in Daniel and Revelation) make about the end of time.
These prophecies predict, for example, that a temple will be built (see Ezekiel 40-46) that will host sacrifices and be a center around which will dwell the twelve tribes of Israel. Judah and the Ten Tribes will be reunited (Ezekiel 37) after God changes their hearts and cleans them from sin.
Then the capitol city Jerusalem and its surrounding villages will be attacked by the king of Magog at the head of a multinational force. God will destroy this army and feed its flesh to the birds and animals. Seven years will be spent burying the bones and even after that bones will occasionally be found by travelers and need to be interred by full-time burial specialists. (Ezekiel 38-39).
The few heathen who are not destroyed by this means will be generally converted and will highly respect God’s people. Most of these will go up every year to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. Those that don’t go up to keep it will suffer a plague of no rain. Meanwhile, the pots in the temple will be holy and sacrifices will be offered in them. (Zechariah 14).
All of this follows a time when God gathers the scattered persons from the tribes back to Jerusalem. They were scattered in terrible judgments for their sins. But they are to be gathered again before Gog and Magog attack them. (Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 14).
What do Bible students do with these and kindred prophecies? That is the subject of this paper.
How to Handle the Age to Come Prophecies
Expositors have handled these prophecies a variety of ways. One group, most prominent among evangelicals today, treat them as very literal prophecies that will yet be fulfilled. A temple will be built, sacrifices renewed, etc.
Another group views these prophecies as very symbolic. William Miller was of this opinion and gave a fascinating spiritualized explanation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 that went so far as to turn the seven years of bone burying into a 2520 year prophecy.
A third group, that includes most Adventist teachers during the last few decades, view these prophecies as conditional prophecies that, due to the failure of the Jews, never will be fulfilled in any real sense.
So what is the truth? Literal and future? Symbolic and happening now? Conditional and never to be fulfilled? Revelation 19-20 provide the key evidences needed to answer these questions.
Revelation 19 and 20 Modify the Prophecies
There are many parallels between Revelation’s picture of the end and the picture found in Ezekiel.
Both involve a gathering of a remnant from it scattering in Babylon. Both involve a show-down at the end of time where the forces of the world unite to destroy God’s people. Both involve a resurrection of God’s deceased army. Both involve a meal of blood and flesh of the enemies for the birds of the air. Both involve an attack on the holy city, after many days, that is put down by fire and brimstone.
In fact, the story as found in Revelation seems like a running summary of Ezekiel 38-39 with some modification. See Revelation 19:17-20:2, 7-9.
Differences between the Narrative in Ezekiel and other End-time Prophecies
In Revelation Gog and Magog are explained to be the nations in the four corners of the earth. This is a wider application than the one made in Ezekiel.
“the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog.” Rev 20:8.
In Revelation the saints are gathered to the city New Jerusalem after the first resurrection. In Ezekiel they are gathered to a literal Jerusalem in Palestine.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. . . But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. Revelation 21:2, 8
In Revelation the earth is empty of human inhabitants for the 1000 years after the bird feast, and the wicked are burned up when they attack the New Jerusalem. In Ezekiel some humans and nations live on, honoring the Jews, and the bones are buried by human hands.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. . . . Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection . . . they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. Revelation 19:5-9
The summary of the differences is that while Ezekiel 38-39 describes the final events as they would occur in a local setting of the literal Jerusalem, Revelation takes these prophesies and places them into a world-wide setting with a heavenly Jerusalem.
This changes some details and makes some parts of the initial prophecy obsolete while preserving the bulk of the prophecy as an accurate description of what God will do. The rebuilding of a temple that models the heavenly (Ezekiel 40-48) is modified. The heavenly city has no temple for “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” Revelation 21:22
Why the change? Ezekiel was written before the 490 years were expired. Jerusalem still had a chance to accept Christ as Messiah, to become the metropolis of the world’s faithful, the center of the end-time events.
But when Israel rejected Christ as Messiah to the very end of the 490 years she became obsolete. The Christian church became the new Israel. The unwalled towns of Israel became the defenseless Christians of the final events. And the parts of the prophecy in Ezekiel that related to the literal situation of the nation became meaningless in their end-time application.
Extrapolation as a Principle for Interpreting Old Testament Prophecies (and Zechariah 14)
The opportunities that belonged to Israel could not be ignored by the prophets. Just as Judas was offered a life that he would not ultimately accept, so Judah was offered a destiny that she would not ultimately accept.
And as an apostle was chosen to replace Judas, so Jerusalem “which is above” replaced “Jerusalem which now is” (Gal 4), and became the mother of a spiritual Israel.
Yet the blessings promised to Jerusalem are not voided. From Revelation 16-22 we learn that they are fulfilled in every practical way for believers.
Some predicted elements, however, would build up the wall of distinction that the cross demolished. (See Ephesians 2). These elements of the prophecy, relating to location, race, temple services, holy-day rituals, are not found carrying over into the book of Revelation.
The key that introduced this principle is discussed in the article on the Remnant where it is observed that the captivity of Israel under Babylon is spiritualized by Paul who calls the development of the Christian church the gathering from captivity.
This captivity is also mentioned in the narratives of Ezekiel 36-39 and in Zechariah 14 (this is when the city is “taken” in the first few verses.) And this is the hint, understood in the light of Romans, that these prophecies will be fulfilled in part, in a spiritual sense, under the Christian dispensation. And the uniquely Jewish elements? These were prophesied when it was feasible that the Jews would finish the work. Except as spiritualized, as in the book of Revelation, they will never be fulfilled.
Jer 18:9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
For Word Document: Rev_20_-_OT_Unfufilled_Prophecies