It has certainly shocked and shaken the world.
Shocked…because of the sheer audacity of Russia to snub its nose at the entire free world and launch a full-scale military attack into another sovereign nation.
Shaken…because Russia’s aggression and Putin’s hubris could potentially escalate into another world war…a war which many feel could signal the end of the world as we know it since the technological advance in weaponry could unleash unparalleled destruction.
In the midst of the fear and uncertainty, it is natural to wonder what the future will bring. It is also natural for people to wonder if the Bible says anything about it.
Let’s face it…prophecy is a big attraction.
Pat Robertson came out of retirement to announce that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the beginning of the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38.
Other prophetic teachers have followed suit.
And their prophetic speculations will gain a boatload of listeners, garner lots of headlines, and goad on more prophecies from others looking for similar attention.
That is not to say that prophecy is not real.
The Bible is filled with prophecy. God is sovereign and He abides in the Eternal Now so He not only sees the future but He controls the future and ordains the future as well.
In Jesus’ first coming, He fulfilled over a hundred prophecies of the Old Testament.
And there are many more prophecies to be fulfilled in Jesus’ second coming.
History is moving toward a climax and Jesus Christ will reign on this earth.
So my concern is not with biblical prophecy but with the quick reaction to every news headline and the readiness to fit it into a Bible passage with almost 100% confidence.
I have seen this far too many times in my short lifetime.
88 Reasons Why Jesus Is Coming Back in 1988. Mikhail Gorbachav. Ronald Reagan. The rebuilding of Babylon. Saddam Hussein. The Gulf War. Y2K. The four blood moons. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. COVID-19. And now Vladimir Putin.
I’m sure if I was alive in 1939, I would have definitely thought that Adolf Hitler was the Anti-Christ and that the end of the world was around the corner. How could you not? But eighty years later, we can look back and see that World War 2 may have been a foreshadowing of the end times but it wasn’t the real thing.
One of my favorite issues of Christian History magazine is its history of the End. In it, they cover all the dates and events that have been pegged as the end of the world. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Of course, all of them were wrong.
When the disciples wondered when Jesus was going to bring His kingdom to earth, Jesus responded to them very clearly:
It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. (Acts 1:7)
It is not for us to know. We have a more important thing to focus on.
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
So what do we make of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
I don’t know.
I do not think it is the beginning of the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38.
Ezekiel 38 is a favorite passage of prophetic teachers. And rightfully so. It does point to a future war against the nation of Israel (probably at the mid-point of the Tribulation). But the mystery surrounding the names and the places in Ezekiel’s prophecy makes it a perfect place for people to insert their own opinions and speculations about its meaning. Of course, they won’t call it their opinion and their speculation but they will instead proclaim their viewpoint as the obviously correct one.
Gog and Magog, Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, along with the coalition of Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, and Togarmah, may refer to modern-day Russia and the nations around it including Iran, Turkey, and Ukraine, but that is an exegetical interpretation that is open to debate. Associating the names from the English translation to modern Russian towns (Moscow and Tobolsk) is a stretch. What we know from the text of Ezekiel 38 is that the nations mentioned are coming from the “far north” of Israel (38:15), attacking Israel during a time when Israel feels safe and is without need of defense (38:8, 11, 14), and that God will supernaturally intervene to protect Israel and to destroy these invading armies (38:18-23).
In this present crisis of Russia-Ukraine, Israel is certainly not dwelling safely in the land with all of their defenses down. They are on high alert and ready to defend themselves if need be.
So I don’t believe Ezekiel 38 is being fulfilled at this time. At best, this present invasion could signal the rising power of Russia in the far north. But, on the other hand, this invasion could end up diminishing Putin’s power, unifying Europe as never before thus leading to a revival of the Roman Empire, and enabling another more potent power to arise in the world.
Or it could be another war that just reminds us that the human heart is desperately wicked, that nations rise up against nations, that hatred, cruelty, tragedy, and death exist in this world, and that Jesus Christ could come back at any moment to rapture His church.
Yes, I do believe in the rapture of the church before the Tribulation. It is not a belief that I am going to wall on but it makes the most sense to me in God’s grand redemptive story. And by holding this view, I also believe that the Bible teaches that Christ’s return is imminent, that there are no particular signs immediately preceding it, and that it will happen like a “thief in the night” when people are proclaiming “peace and safety” in the world and not expecting it.
Thus, I also believe that the signs that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24 will follow the rapture of the church not precede it.
Does that mean that there are no signs of Jesus’ imminent return?
No, not necessarily. I think there are general signs that we are nearing the end of the story. Israel is miraculously back in the land as a nation again. The world is more connected than ever with the very real potential of a one world government. Deception has never been more difficult to discern since technology has made even reality hard to discern. Nuclear and military arsenals can literally destroy the whole world. And people are desperately looking for “political messiahs” to save the day.
That sounds a lot like the world is being primed for a deceptive leader to step onto the political scene, resolve the conflict in the Middle East, unify the world politically and economically, promise peace and safety to all, and then reveal his true intentions.
And the nation of Israel will be at the center of it all.
So how do we respond to this current crisis in Russia-Ukraine?
You do exactly what Scripture says you do in light of the imminent return of Christ.
The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the multifaceted grace of God. (1 Peter 4:7-10)
You keep your head on straight. You don’t panic or overreact. You think soberly and wisely. You pray fervently. You love one another. You show grace and give forgiveness. You open up your heart and your home. You bless others. You take the resources that you have and you use them to help others in need. You serve the Lord as you have opportunity. And you speak the good news of Jesus Christ to a broken world.
In other words, whether Christ comes back today or one hundred years from now, you fix your eyes on Him, you love your neighbor, and you live faithfully each day.
In this particular case, pray for the leaders and the people of Ukraine, pray for peace, pray for God to protect life, to avert the plans of the Russian army, and to point people to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray for the church in Ukraine. Give to ministries which are on the ground helping refugees. Find ways that you can help your local church minister to people locally and around the world.
Stay informed but also stay on your knees.
Watch and pray.
Love and give.
Be sober-minded and zealous for good works.
And fix your hope on Jesus Christ.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)