Mar
2022

Is Russia the Antichrist?

Firefighters extinguishing a fire in the Kharkiv regional police department building, which is said was hit by recent shelling, in KharkivThe horror and violence of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine has, thankfully, unified most of the world in opposition.  But it has also seen the resurrection of a read on  biblical prophecy that I have not heard since I was a young Fundamentalist, in the days before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the U.S.S.R.  Pat Robertson of the 700 Club has said,

I think you can say, well, Putin’s out of his mind, and yes, maybe so, But at the same time, he’s being compelled by God. He went into Ukraine, but that wasn’t his goal. His goal was to move against Israel, ultimately. . . . And he will link up with Turkey across the little (land) bridge, and they will come together,” Robertson explained. “And then, you look down into North Sudan, you’ve got a Muslim country down there, and there they all are. Persia, of course, is Iran.

While reviewing a world map, Robertson brought attention to a “choke point” between Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece, stating that point may be of great interest to Russia.  “And there is the land that is set up in Ezekiel 38 and you see how Ukraine is key because you see the land bridge between Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey,” Robertson added. “And all of that area is going to be mobilized against Israel in the latter days. And God says, ‘I am going to deal with it.”

Robertson ended his remarks by saying: “And God is getting ready to do something amazing and that will be fulfilled.”

The title of this blog is a bit sensational, I will admit–Mr. Robertson does NOT in fact claim that Mr. Putin, or Russia, is the Antichrist–although Robertson certainly believes that that future world dictator, whoever he may be, will come into power through Putin’s actions.  Robertson’s claim, rather is that Russia is Gog.

Gog and Magog
Gog appears twice in Scripture: in Ezekiel 38—39 and in Revelation 20:7-10 (the Gog mentioned in 1 Chronicles 5:4 is a descendant of Reuben—clearly, not the foreign ruler Ezekiel and Revelation describe).   Magog (Gog’s kingdom, in Ezekiel) appears in Genesis 10:2//1 Chronicles 1:5 as second in the list of nations descended from Japheth, youngest son of Noah, whose descendants populate the lands north of Israel. In those lists, Magog is grouped with other nations in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), including several mentioned as well in Ezekiel 38: Gomer (likely Cimmeria, 38:6), Togarmah (a descendant of Gomer in Genesis 10:3; called Beth-Togarmah in Ezek 38:6), Meschech, and Tubal (Gog of Magog is identified with Meshech and Tubal in 38:2-3 and 39:1; see also 27:13; 32:26-27).  The name “Gog” may be derived from Magog (which meant “land of Gog” in the language of Babylon).  But whatever the source of the name, its referent belongs not to history, but to eschatology– the consideration of final things:
After many days you will be called out. In future years you will enter a country that has been freed from the sword, a gathering from many peoples on the mountains of Israel, which had become a perpetual ruin. This country was brought out from the peoples, and all of them live securely.  You will invade like a sudden storm. You and all your troops, and the many peoples with you, will be like clouds covering the earth (Ezekiel 38:8-9).
Gog of Magog is the last enemy, called up and then defeated by the power of God to demonstrate God’s sovereignty over the world and sure defense of Israel.
The justification for identifying Gog with Russia is Ezek 38:2–3, where Gog is called nasi’ ro’sh. The Septuagint (and an NIV footnote) render Rosh as a place name, so that Gog is “the prince of Rosh.” During the Cold War, some American apocalyptists interpreted Rosh as Russia, particularly as the text describes Gog as the enemy from the north, and Russia is definitely north of Palestine.
However, the expression “enemy from the north” was first used for Israel’s ancient enemies, Assyria (Isaiah 14:31; Zephaniah 2:13) and Babylon (18 times in Jeremiah: e.g., 1:13-16; 3:12,18; 6:1, 22-25; cf. Ezek 9:2; 23:24; Zech 2:6-7; 6:8). Although these enemies were to the east of Israel, geography forced their armies to march north around the desert wastes, then south along the coastal plain, approaching Palestine from the north.
Empires Attack the Promised Land — Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY
As a result, the “enemy from the north” became a prophetic code for all threats against Israel, and especially for the final threat (see not only Ezek 38–39, but also Joel 2:20 and Dan 11:40-45).
As for nasi’ ro’sh, the most natural reading of the Hebrew, followed by nearly all the versions (the Aramaic Targum, the Latin Vulgate, and the Syriac Peshitta) and nearly every modern English translation (not only the CEB, but the NIV, NRSV, NJPS, as well as the KJV), is to see this phrase as a title: nasi’ meaning “prince,” and ro’sh meaning “head,” in the sense of “leader” or “chief.” But what does it mean to say that Gog is “chief prince”?
Walther Zimmerli offers the most likely explanation: “already in his title Gog is introduced not as the ruler of a great united empire, but as the leader of a number of national groups” (Ezekiel, Vol. 2, translated by James E. Martin; Hermeneia [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983], 305). Gog is first among equals, a prince (albeit the chief prince) among princes.
Another problem for those who want to identify Gog as Russia, and Putin’s vile assault on free Ukraine as a biblical harbinger of the endtimes, has to do with the relationship between Ezekiel and Revelation.  While Ezekiel 38—39 certainly stands back of Revelation 20:7-10, in John’s vision, Gog of Magog is not the leader of an alliance of kingdoms from the north. Instead, Gog and Magog (evidently, John regarded both as personal names) represent “the nations in the four corners of the earth” (Revelation 20:7-8). Since Gog and Magog are explicitly said to represent all the enemies of God’s people, it is a mistake to try to identify Gog or Magog in Revelation with any particular power.
A major difference between these two passages is the motivation given for Gog’s assault. In Revelation, Gog and Magog are deceived by Satan into rebellion against God and all God’s people:
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison.He will go out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog. He will gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea. They came up across the whole earth and surrounded the saints’ camp, the city that God loves (Revelation 20:7-9).
In Ezekiel, however, Gog is brought out against Israel by the LORD:
Thus says the Lord God: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal; I will turn you around and put hooks into your jaws, and I will lead you out with all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great company, all of them with shield and buckler, wielding swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Put are with them, all of them with buckler and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; Beth-togarmah from the remotest parts of the north with all its troops—many peoples are with you.
Be ready and keep ready, you and all the companies that are assembled around you, and hold yourselves in reserve for them. After many days you shall be mustered; in the latter years you shall go against a land restored from war, a land where people were gathered from many nations on the mountains of Israel, which had long lain waste; its people were brought out from the nations and now are living in safety, all of them (Ezekiel 38:3-8, NRSV).
A final problem with Robertson’s read of Russia as Gog is a matter of timing.  Curiously, Ezekiel and Revelation agree in their odd placement of Gog’s attack. In Ezekiel, the battle with Gog comes only after Israel’s ultimate restoration and renewal, when all its exiles have been gathered home and all its enemies have, apparently been vanquished:
In future years you will enter a country that has been freed from the sword, a gathering from many peoples on the mountains of Israel, which had become a perpetual ruin. This country was brought out from the peoples, and all of them live securely (Ezekiel 38:8).
Likewise, in Revelation, Gog and Magog emerge only after a thousand years of Christ’s rule on earth.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon, the old snake, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the abyss, then locked and sealed it over him. This was to keep him from continuing to deceive the nations until the thousand years were over. After this he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and people took their seats on them, and judgment was given in their favor. They were the ones who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and God’s word, and those who hadn’t worshipped the beast or its image, who hadn’t received the mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and ruled with Christ for one thousand years (Revelation 20:1-4).

So–Russia cannot be Gog.  But nonetheless, what sense can we make of this bizarre claim–that after God’s people are at peace, and everything seems to have been put to rights, Gog attacks?

In Revelation as in Ezekiel, Gog stands as a rebuke to complacency and misplaced confidence. My old friend and fellow Bible Guy Jim Durlesser writes, “The message of the Gog oracle is that sin, oppression, and the brutality of war are not vanquished without significant effort, and that we ought not become lax or over-confident” (“The Timelessness of Apocalyptic,” in Approaching the New Millennium: Student Book [Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1995]).

Chaaban Wealth Management Group - Murphy's LawOn a personal level, in Ezekiel and Revelation alike, the Gog narratives address a universal experience: everyone knows what it is like to be blindsided by failure or tragedy, at the very moment when everything seems to be under control. Perhaps the lesson of Gog is, after all, very simple: “Don’t get cocky!” Even the best of us fail.

However, ultimately, our salvation depends not on our success or failure, but on our Lord’s faithfulness.  Remember that, despite their differences, Revelation 20 and Ezekiel 38—39 agree in giving credit for the victory over Gog entirely to God–and in strikingly similar language.  Ezekiel says, “I will pour out flooding rain, hailstones, fire, and sulfur on him, on all his troops, and on the many peoples with him” (Ezekiel 38:22), while John more succinctly writes, “fire came down from heaven and consumed them” (Revelation 20:9).  As the Lord told Jehoshaphat, “Don’t be afraid or discouraged by this great army because the battle isn’t yours. It belongs to God!” (2 Chronicles 20:15).

The fact that Robertson is wrong about Putin’s Russia being Gog does not, of course, mean that we should take Putin’s civilization-ending nuclear threats any less seriously.  However, we can find wisdom for these days in an essay Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote in 1948, called “On Living in an Atomic Age.”

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Lewis’ essay concludes,

[I]t is part of our spiritual law never to put survival first: not even the survival of our species. We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honourable and merciful means. 

The sacrifice is not so great as it seems. Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs. Those who care for something else more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved. Those who want Heaven must have served Earth best. Those who love Man less than God do most for Man.

WHATEVER comes next, let us trust God, love one another, and hold fast to our faith.  That, friends, is far better advice than taking refuge in fanciful reconstructions of biblical apocalypses.

 

 

AFTERWORD:
If, by way of loving God and one another and serving humanity, you wish to make a contribution to support people in Ukraine, I recommend that you consider giving through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  Since administrative costs are covered through the church by other means, 100% of money you donate will go to Ukrainians.  UMCOR is communicating with partners in the region to coordinate a humanitarian response. You can support UMCOR’s international disaster response efforts by making a gift to Advance #982450. Global Ministries’ Advance #14053A supports Methodist pastors in Ukraine and Moldova.