Our society is fascinated with apocalypses, but this is far from a new phenomenon. Over the past two millennia, believers have wanted to know how the world will end. The Bible talks about this event, so naturally we want to know precisely how it will occur. Even in the first century, members of the church in Thessalonica asked questions about the return of Christ. Paul addressed their queries, taking up a considerable amount of space in two epistles to do so.
Apocalyptic warnings filled the Internet when the Russians invaded Ukraine in February 2022. As soon as the Russians stepped onto Ukrainian soil, self-proclaimed prophets confidently announced that the end times were here and that Jesus could be just around the corner. Are these proclamations factual, or are they just another pseudo-prophetic false start?
Jesus Is Coming Soon…For Real This Time?
Prominent end times teachers have claimed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fulfills biblical prophecy. Popular pastor Greg Laurie wasted no time in connecting the dots between Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Bible. In a widely-circulated video, he drew several elements from Matthew 24 and compared them to current events, such as wars (the Russian invasion of Ukraine) and plagues (coronavirus), and combined them with a generous helping of misunderstanding about “the Antichrist.”
Laurie’s presentation was a masterclass in wishful thinking, but he was far from the only one to make such claims. Pat Robertson, the longtime host of the 700 Club, came out of retirement to make a video covering the same topic. Other speakers followed suit.
The appeal of these prophets is understandable. Human beings crave certainty. We are fascinated by mysteries and often find ourselves taken with a longing to solve them. Everyone wants to know the unknown. What will happen at the end of the world remains impenetrable, but we can positively identify poor attempts to explain it.
The Russian Invasion of Ukraine and Biblical Prophecy
What modern prophets have said about Russia and Ukraine is not merely problematic regarding prophetic predictions; it is a case study in flawed biblical interpretation. Speakers often cite Ezekiel 38 as evidence, but does a close look at the text support their claims?
In Ezekiel 38-29, God instructs the prophet to speak against Gog of the land of Magog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal (Ezekiel 38:1-3). The identity of this person is unknown, although the terms “Gog” and “Magog” appear in other places in the Bible (Genesis 10:2; Ezekiel 38:1-39:15; Revelation 20:8). Consequently, we see no shortage of speculation about him among scholars. Ezekiel uses the Hebrew word rosh, which typically means “head,” but also refers to a leader (like a “head of state” in English). Although “Rosh” and “Russia” share some sounds, this is where the connection ends. Scholars point out that the two terms have distinct etymologies and are unrelated.
The identity of Gog is a mystery, although its connection to the end times has been long identified in Jewish texts. Gog and Magog also appear in the Qur’an as peoples who will attack the Islamic world. The prophet Muhammad described them as half the height of an average human with beady eyes, claws, gigantic ears, and a hairy tail. Scholars propose various identities for Gog, but some identify him as Nebuchadnezzar based on geographical references in Ezekiel 38. If this is the case, then the prophet was referring to events in his own day, not an apocalyptic event almost three millennia in the future.
Three other considerations invalidate modern attempts to connect Ezekiel 38 with the invasion of Ukraine. First, Ezekiel says that Gog will be allied with Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, and Beth Togarmah. Today, the first three nations are Iran, Ethiopia, and Libya, while the last two appear to refer to areas around Armenia. Where are Putin’s allies from these regions?
Second, while Gog and Magog are able to deceive the nations (Rev. 19:8), Russia has very few supporters. Putin’s actions in Ukraine have drawn almost universal condemnation for committing war crimes like bombing hospitals and maternity wards, attacking the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, and targeting civilians. The nation has become a virtual pariah. Even Russian citizens took to the streets to protest the actions of their government.
Third, the text refers to Israel as having unwalled villages, suggesting a lack of defense. This was true in ancient times when God’s people comprised a small kingdom, often finding itself at the mercy of larger powers such as Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. Looking at the state of Israel’s military today, the picture is quite different. It has an armed population, sophisticated weaponry, an impressive missile defense system in the Iron Dome, a track record of holding its own against larger nations (e.g., the Seven Days’ War), and the world’s most powerful ally in the United States. Israel is hardly defenseless. The modern picture simply does not fit Ezekiel’s prophecy.
Once the invasion of Ukraine is over and Russian forces have gone back home with whatever spoils of war Putin desires, modern prophets will—yet again—find themselves exposed as prophetic shysters and spiritual snake oil salesmen. They will regroup and wait for the next time they can get another fifteen minutes of fame from a major world event. They will make clarifying comments to cover themselves and make their failed predictions seem like excusable miscalculations on their part, although a genuinely-inspired prophet would not make such mistakes.
The return of Jesus gets closer with each passing second. Instead of watching the horizon for prophetic events, we should follow Jesus’ instructions to go and make disciples of the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). God’s people must be concerned with helping men and women understand the need to become Christians in the here and now. Christ will come. In the meantime, we have work to do.