When does the war of Ezekiel 38-39 take place in history?
The war described in Ezekiel 38-39 is a war prosecuted by Gentiles nations, led by a mysterious ruler, against Israel and Jerusalem. From the details given in Ezekiel, we can attempt to place the war in the overall timeline of eschatology.
First, notice the following verses:
Ezek. 38:8 “After many days you will be summoned; in the latter years you will come into the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had been a continual waste; but its people were brought out from the nations, and they are living securely, all of them.
From these few details, we can draw some initial conclusions:
1. The events of this war take place in the latter years, after many days.
2. They come against an Israel which has been "restored from the sword." To be restored from the sword means literally to have turn back from or to have repented from the weapons of war. This suggests that Israel has no war implements or armies with which to defend itself. The nation is only prepared for peaceful existence.
3. They live securely, at rest and without walls and defenses, presumably because they have no need for such things given #2 above.
These details combine to suggest an Israel unlike the one of our present age. This war will come upon an Israel that has repented of war and weapons, is peaceful, secure and at rest with the world of nations.
Next we read:
Ezek. 38:11 and you will say, ‘I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will go against those who are at rest, that live securely, all of them living without walls and having no bars or gates,
Ezek. 38:12 to capture spoil and to seize plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who live at the center of the world.’
From this passage we learn the attacking forces come upon a nation of Israel that is living at the "center of the world." The Hebrew word for center means "highest point" or the heart of the world. This description is not accurate for the Israel of today. Though Jews have always perceived Israel as the center of the word, the Gentile nations do not grant Israel this status. However, in the time of this war, the Gentiles nations themselves will acknowledge that the Jews live at the heart of the world. Again, this is not an accurate depiction of the world we know today.
Though these two passages do not describe the present-day Israel, they do match Old Testament descriptions of the Israel of the Millennial Kingdom:
Is. 2:2 Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
Is. 2:3 And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Is. 2:4 And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.
Notice that the Israel of the future will (once again) become the dwelling place for the Lord, for He will be literally dwelling among His people in Jerusalem. Because of the Lord's presence in the city, the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem will see its geography altered so that Israel is raised above all the hills of the Earth. Ezekiel also describes the Jerusalem of the Millennial Kingdom as a city occupying the highest mountain top in the world (Ezek 20:40; 37:21-23; 40:2; 43:12), and Isaiah says this results in all nations streaming to it. Finally Isaiah says the Lord will judge among the nations in perfect righteousness, rendering the implements of war unneeded.
These descriptions match the descriptions given in Ezekiel 38-39.
Furthermore, though the nations of the earth will no longer learn war (literally: train for war), the Enemy nevertheless will cause a final war to take place, according to Revelation 20:
Rev. 20:7 When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,
Rev. 20:8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.
Rev. 20:9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
This description also matches another passage from Ezekiel 38, describing the conclusion to this war:
Ezek. 38:21 “I will call for a sword against him on all My mountains,” declares the Lord GOD. “ Every man’s sword will be against his brother.
Ezek. 38:22 “With pestilence and with blood I will enter into judgment with him; and I will rain on him and on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, a torrential rain, with hailstones, fire and brimstone.
Ezek. 38:23 “I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the LORD.”’
The Lord Himself will fight the battle for Israel (since Israel has nor war implements), and He destroys the invading army by raining down fire, as Rev 2:9 describes.
Finally, Ezekiel names the participants of this battle:
Ezek. 38:2 “Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him.
The only other reference to a world leader of the name Gog, from the land of Magog, who fights against the Lord is found in Revelation 20:8, which describes the war that ends the Millennial Kingdom.
Based on these facts (and others in Ezekiel 38-39), we believe and teach that this war is the war that will end Christ's Kingdom. The main argument against this interpretation is where to fit the seven years of burning that Ezekiel says will conclude the war. Pastor Armstrong addresses that objection in the course of our Revelation study, when he teaches on the Kingdom in chapter 20.