“Who are ‘Gog and Magog,’ that surround and threaten the ‘saints,’ as mentioned in Revelation 20:7-8?”

Let’s review the text from which this question comes.

“And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them” (Revelation 20:7-9 — ASV).

The context of Revelation 20:1-6 describes a period of 1,000 years during which Satan is “bound.” During this same time, people of God reign and have a peaceful regime compared to times of exceedingly fierce persecution.

The 1,000 years symbolically represent an era of full victory for Christian people. It does not refer to a literal millennium with Christ reigning on the earth from Jerusalem as millennialists allege (see: Examining Premillennialism.

Observe, then, that following this period of relative tranquility, Satan is released again for a “little season” (Rev. 20:3b).

This is a signal that persecution is about to be unleashed again with a brief but intense fury. There will be an attempt to “deceive the nations.”

How will this occur? Likely either by destroying the Scriptures, as attempted during the “Dark Ages”. Or, at the very least, by nullifying their influence in the hearts of people.

At the same time, Satan will try to take advantage of the opportunity in a last-ditch effort to crush the children of God.

He will attempt to do this through a certain agent, divinely allowed to be at his disposal, as in the case of Job’s persecution (cf. Job. 1:1ff).

This instrument of evil is called “Gog” and “Magog.” The Greek article qualifies both nouns, suggesting a single entity. Some contend that Magog is merely the realm of Gog (see below).

This evil force will “surround the camp of the saints” in what appears to be certain victory. But the Lord will have the final word. Fire descends from heaven destroying the enemy.

The Old Testament Background of Gog and Magog

Every serious student of Revelation is aware of the fact that the imagery of this final book of the New Testament is borrowed from the Old Testament.

Thus the Apocalypse becomes a sort of “code book.” The interpretative key to the vision is found in the Old Testament. The ultimate message of the Revelation of Christ is the glorious prophecy of his ultimate triumph for the Cause of the Almighty.

The background behind the names Gog and Magog is found in the book of Ezekiel. In that book, certain hostile forces rose against Israel.

Ezekiel was instructed to denounce these enemies and prophesy their overthrow by the Lord himself. Here is the text:

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal: and I will turn thee about, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them handling swords’” (Ezek. 38:1-4; emphasis added).

The identification of this evil entity has long been a point of controversy among Bible scholars. Clearly, though, Ezekiel’s Gog represented a sinister power that came against ancient Israel but was defeated.

Expositors are divided as to exactly what this force was. Vos identified Gog with Gyges (c. 680-645 B.C.) a Lydian king (514). But Harrison argued that other possibilities are equally valid. Perhaps it was Gaga mentioned in the Amarna tablets or Gago, king of the city-state of Sabi (890).

Professor William White thought that: “perhaps the most attractive application is to the Seleucids of the days of Antiochus Epiphanes.”

He noted that it was not uncommon to employ an earlier name for a later power as a means of avoiding political danger should the actual name have been mentioned. He further observed that the territory of the Seleucids was centered in Northern Syria and included also “Meshech and Tubal in Asia Minor” (42-43).

The Application in Revelation

Whether the precise historical application of Ezekiel’s prophecy can be identified for certain is irrelevant.

The point is this. A vicious enemy possessing seemingly overwhelming power would come against the Lord’s people. But Israel would not be vanquished. Jehovah himself would intervene and be their Savior.

In the Apocalypse, John borrows this imagery from the former prophet and applies it to what some scholars believe is a projected final assault against the truth at some point before the return of Christ. When this might occur is unknown — perhaps in close proximity to the Judgment Day.

In what form it could manifest itself is also not revealed. But the outcome is certain.

It is possible that the expression “the war” may be analogous to “the war of the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14; see Rev. 20:8 and note the definite article, as expressed in the better Greek texts — ASV). The full fury of this conflict is depicted in Revelation 19:11-16.

A substantial case can be made for the view that this is simply an equivalent image for the Day of Judgment. On that day, God will demonstrate his decisive wrath against all his enemies.

For a more detailed study, see my chapter on “The Battle of Armageddon” in Revelation: Jesus Christ’s Final Message of Hope

The main truth to be gleaned from the prophecy is this. Just as Ezekiel prophesied the delivery of God’s people in ancient times, so will they be delivered again — fully and finally as set forth by the imagery of John’s vision on Patmos.

As has been noted many times (and almost universally by scholars), “victory” is the primary theme of the concluding book of Scripture.

Final Thoughts

There is a final point that might be mentioned for further reflection.

If an uninspired writer had composed this account, it is highly unlikely that the narrative would have unfolded as it did in this case.

Would the people of God have been portrayed as being so mercilessly persecuted? Would Satan have been described as being permitted to escape his prison during that symbolic “thousand years.” Would he have been released to persecute again through his agents before the final destruction of evil?

This scenario does not appear to be a likely one after the manner of ordinary novelists. The apostle’s narration hints of supernatural guidance.