Who or What Are Gog and Magog? Why Are They So Famous?

Bishop Sylvester (Stoichev), the Rector of Kiev Theological Academy, on the meaning of the mysterious Gog and Magog.

These two names are mentioned in the Revelation of the Holy Apostle John the Theologian: “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.” (Revelation 20:7-8).

The same names can be found in Ezekiel 38 and 39: “[S]et thy face against Gog, the land of Magog” (Ezekiel 38:2); “And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that my fury shall come up in my face.” (Ezekiel 38:18).

We have to point out a certain difficulty of the exegesis of eschatological texts (i.e., those that deal with the last days of human history) of the Holy Scripture. Aside from that, there are few examples of such exegetical efforts undertaken by Holy Fathers. Renowned 20th-century theologians could have been expected to have interpreted the book of Apocalypse but they often ignored it [1]. “Florovsky, Lossky, Meyendorff et al. paid little attention to the exegesis of Apocalypse and apocalyptic theology in general,” a contemporary researcher states [2].

However, we can still speak of a recognized explanation of the aforementioned verses of the Holy Scripture.

The Ezekiel passage (Ezekiel 38:2) leads us to assume that Gog is a leader or a king of the nations that aim to conquer Jerusalem, while Magog is the name of his kingdom. Alternatively, Gog is the name of the people, while Magog is the name of the land where those people live. Some commentators attempted to “identify” the enemy king and his tribe. They assumed that the people were either Scythians or Barbarians: “Some think that Gog and Magog are the remotest Scythian tribes that live far up north… they are the most belligerent and numerous of all peoples. It is only thanks to the Divine power that they are kept at bay until the devil is released, at which moment they will conquer the entire universe,” St. Andrew of Caesarea writes in his well-known commentary on the Apocalypse.

Holy Fathers routinely interpreted the names Gog and Magog allegorically, as godless peoples that will rise up against the Church of Christ in the last times. Most authors (including Blessed Augustine, Jerome, Ecumenius, et al.) reject the idea that Gog and Magog are historical nations. “For these nations which he names Gog and Magog are not to be understood of some barbarous nations in some part of the world, whether the Getae and Massagetae, as some conclude from the initial letters, or some other foreign nations not under the Roman government,” writes Blessed Augustine of Hippo in his City of God. They understand Gog and Magog as the collective term for all people who, in the end times, will form a hostile tribe (an anti-Church of some kind, so to say) led by their hatred of Christ and his Church and aiming to eliminate all Christians.

Medieval commentators saw those names not just as a collective term for all anti-Christians: they used the name Magog to describe all anti-Christians and the name Gog to denote their godless leader – the Antichrist.

Therefore, Gog and Magog are human masses that are subservient to the Antichrist and will rise up in the end times against the Lord and his Church only to be defeated by our Savior Jesus Christ.

Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds


Notes:

1. In fact, there were authors who studied the Apocalypse in the 19th and the 20th centuries, e.g., Archimandrite Theodore (Bukharev) (Studies in the Apocalypse) or Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov (The Apocalypse of John: An Attempt of Dogmatic Commentary.) However, their works aren’t treated by many researchers as authoritative sources due to a number of peculiar personal opinions they contain.

2. Prof. Paul Vallier, “Interpretation of the Revelation of John by Contemporary Russian Theologians.”

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