Summary of Judgement Seat and Crowns in Heaven

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.
—Revelation 22:12 ESV

This past Sunday, late in Bible class, someone raised the subject of “The Judgement Seat of Christ“, “crowns“, the “Bema” and so on. There was no time for me to put in my own two cents, but it is a subject that touches me personally. I was raised in a very legalistic fundamentalist church, and the whole question troubled me at the time more deeply than any other doctrinal issue. If “Jesus paid it all“, “not of works, lest any should boast“, and heaven is the carefree paradise we’ve been led to believe, then how is it that the first thing that happens after the Rapture is that we face judgement, possible humiliation in front of our peers, and maybe worse still, potential forfeiture of a fancy, jeweled crown to wear in our new mansion over the hilltop? And what’s the point of working hard for a crown if we have to give it right back, by “casting it at Jesus’ feet“?

This is a diversion from what I’ve been working on, a discourse on God’s omnipresence in space and time, and what that implies about creation, so I’m not going to do an exhaustive study of this subject. I’d be reinventing the wheel anyhow, because the late J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M., did an excellent job of nailing it down in an article, The Doctrine of Rewards: The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ. Below is a short summary of aspects that I have pondered over the last few days:

The Judgement Seat of Christ

The term “judgements” is used many times in Scripture, mostly regarding punishment. I am limiting this discussion to the major formal judicial reviews of the End Times recognized by many conservative theologians. There are variations in terminology, and some count three or five but for this purpose, I’m going with the diagram below, which lists four. In general, I think that the source book shown in the caption is pretty good, though I question LaHaye’s own previous judgement, in view of the terrible theology in his Left Behind series.

One view of the end-time major judgements, from Charting the End Times, by Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, ®2001.

The “Judgement Seat of Christ” is the most common name used by Christian theologians for the evaluation of Christians that occurs after the Rapture. The diagram shows the Rapture occurring simultaneously with the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation period. I strongly believe in a “Pre-Trib” Rapture, but I don’t think that Scripture requires the Tribulation to happen immediately after the Rapture. I personally think that there will be a time of major geopolitical developments on earth between the removal of the Holy Spirit and all Christian influence, on the one hand, and the beginning of Tribulation on the other. The war of Ezekiel 38 and 39 may be one of them (see The Coming World War: Gog and Magog).

Purpose of the Judgement Seat

This is emphatically not a judgement for sin, because Jesus’ crucifixion paid that cost, but rather an evaluation of the quality of our service. I think for a twofold purpose: (1) for recognition and kudos; and (2) for handing out of assignments. As discussed in Keathley’s article, the Scriptures imply that the Raptured Church will function administratively during the Millennial Kingdom. I don’t know that I can definitively back this up from Scripture, but my personal impression is that our individual responsibilities in the Kingdom will be based on our aptitudes and attitudes shown during our mortal lives. Although without sin, our glorified selves will still be recognizable, both physically and by non-physical personal traits.

Timing of the Judgement Seat

Many scholars (e.g., Keathley) show it at the beginning of Tribulation, others (e.g., LaHaye and Ice) show it as taking place during the entire seven-year span. I would say the beginning, and not the entire span. Why? First, because of its connection with Rosh Ha-Shanna, coming up in late October this year (see below), and also because I think that the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be the focus in heaven during the period. Christian scholars tend to ignore Jewish cultural analogs when interpreting Jewish Scripture. Even though all Scripture is Jewish! Jesus (Yeshua ben Yosef) and most of the Gospel protagonists were thoroughly Jewish, and all but one of the canonical writers was Jewish. The exception being Luke, who I think was a Jewish convert. Jewish wedding customs in the 1st Century clearly pictured Jesus’ relationship with the Church, His bride (see Jesus and Hebrew Wedding Imagery). The Jewish wedding supper was a seven-day feast, so I think there is ample reason to think that the heavenly marriage supper might span seven prophetic days.

How could all of that “evaluation”, of all the Church saints from two Millenia of Church history, be accomplished virtually instantaneously? That is something I’m already working on for my next post: In God’s “native” realm, there is no such thing as “time”, or even “space”. He is independent of both and unbound by both. He exists simultaneously everywhere and everywhen. In 2 Peter 3:8, the apostle is paraphrasing Psalm 90:4 when he says that, to God, a day is as a thousand years. That is poetic language, not literal. The truth is, he could have said a million, or a billion, or trillions and trillions. Or conversely, a femtosecond (10-15 seconds), for example, is no more obscure to Him as a day.

The Bimah—Jewish, too, not just a Greek concept!

Here is where I depart from Keathley and other Christian scholars.

The Greek term béma (βεμα, pronounced BAY-muh) is defined by Strong’s as “a platform to which someone [ascended] to receive judgment; (figuratively) the administration of justice – literally, given from “a tribunal-chair” (throne) where rewards and punishments are meted out.”

The Hebrew term bimah (מִמַּה, pronounced BEE-muh) is no doubt related, and has a similar meaning in general, but, for our purposes here, there is a much more specific meaning, attested as early as Neamiah’s time, in the Persian era. According to Encyclopaedia Judaica, the word means an “elevated place“, more specifically a “platform in the synagogue on which stands the desk from which the Torah is read. Occasionally the rabbi delivers his sermon from the bimah, and on Rosh Ha-Shanah the shofar [ram’s horn] is blown there.” The reading desk is also often referred to as a bimah. Significantly, I believe that the Rapture will occur on a Rosh Ha-Shanah (also known as Yom Teruah, The Day of Trumpets; see The Jewish Feasts: Part 11, Trumpets)!

Reading at the bimah, Bialystoker Synagogue, New York, N.Y., U.S.
©Juda S. Engelmayer
Parenthetic notes on the photos...

Above: The photo above shows three men standing at the bimah table in a small synagogue in Lower East-Side Manhattan. The synagogue is never called a "temple" by orthodox Jews, but it nevertheless serves many of the Temple's functions in the post-Temple world. The bimah stands near the center of the room, just as the altar stood in the center of the Court of Priests. The man seen in this photo in his woolen tallit (prayer shawl) is standing at the table with his face to the aron HaKodesh (the Holy Ark, a cabinet in which one or more Torah scrolls is stored. In this synagogue, the Ark is behind the red tapestry. Most likely the reader is not the rabbi, but rather a congregant who has been invited to "make aliya", or "go up" onto the bimah to read assigned passages from the Torah. Typically, when the Torah is taken out to be read before the community, one person reads the Torah, and that person is surrounded on either side with two gabbaim (as here) who ensure that the Torah is being read and treated respectfully and accurately.

Below: The photo below shows another feature of early synagogues, associated with the bimah, that I think is germane to this discussion—the "Seat of Moses". 
The restored “Moses Seat” in the synagogue of Korazin, in Galilee.

The Bimah Seat

Also associated with the bimah platform was “the seat of Moses”. This seat was used by a scribe or other authoritative interpreter of scripture. Today it would be the rabbi. In Matthew 23, Jesus validated the authority of the interpretations made from the seat of Moses, even though, in the same breath, He said, effectively, “Do as they say, not as they do.”

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,
so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
—Matthew 23:1–3 ESV

I think that, to understand the concept of the Judgement Seat of Messiah, you have to consider the Jewish concept and not just the Greek. We will be evaluated in the heavenly realm, not for sin, but for our performance in light of God’s expectations for His people as expressed in Scripture. Jesus will be the one, sitting on a heavenly bimah seat of Moses, who will be evaluating us and handing out crowns.

Crowns

Sad to say, even as a young adult, my vision of kingdoms and crowns was informed mostly by Walt Disney. So, I pictured literal golden streets and pearly gates in heaven, my home a palace, and on my head a jewel-encrusted crown. I think now that the glitz and bling is meant to convey a sense of beauty and purity, not to arouse materialistic jealousy and greed. The crowns may not be literal headwear but are certainly meant to convey the Greek and oriental picture of the victor’s laurel wreath.

In every case, the Greek word for these “crowns” is stephanos, for which the proper translation is “wreath”, i.e., a chaplet worn as a badge of royalty, honor or victory. The royal crown is always a diadem. Jesus’ crown of thorns was a stephanos, so it was most likely an ironic insult from the Roman soldiers, not something ordered up by Pilate as a complement to his sign of indictment nailed on the cross.

Depiction of Jesus’ crown of thorns, photographed in the back garden of the Bible Times Center, Ein Kerem, Israel. ©Ron Thompson, 2008.

A common Christian tradition says that at some point after receiving crowns at the bimah, we will cast them back at Jesus’ feet in adoration. This appears to be a corruption of Revelation 4:10–11, where 24 elders sitting in a circle of thrones stand and cast their own stephanos in front of the central throne, occupied, apparently, by Yahveh, the Father, not the Son:

10 the 24 elders fall down before the One sitting on the throne, who lives forever and ever, and worship him. They throw their crowns in front of the throne and say,

11 “You are worthy, ADONAI Eloheinu, to have glory, honor and power, because you created all things — yes, because of your will they were created and came into being!”
—Revelation 4:10–11 CJB

Opening the Golden Gate

In the various Facebook Archaeological groups that I frequent, there are often discussions about the Eastern, or “Golden Gate”, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Most tourists are probably introduced to the Mount by way of the overlook on the Mount of Olives. From that viewpoint, you get a wonderful, panoramic view of the eastern wall. The first three features of that wall that you notice are the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque on top and the grand gate in the wall—The Golden Gate. Oddly, it turns out that almost everybody is hugely impressed by the gate, but almost nobody comes away from Jerusalem understanding its history or its prophesied future.

Golden Gate, eastern wall of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem. ©Ron Thompson 2008

The mythology of the Golden Gate has several common features that I think are confusing to some people:

  • Some equate the Golden Gate with the Beautiful Gate of the Gospels.
  • It is said that Muslims sealed the gate and established the cemetery in front of it in order to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering through it.
  • Many people believe that Jesus entered Jerusalem through this gate on the first Palm Sunday.
  • It is commonly believed that this is the “Eastern Gate” through which the Divine Presence left the Temple before the Exile
  • It is further believed that Jesus will one day triumphantly enter the Temple through this same Eastern Gate.

A brief overview of the Temple, past and future

By one way of thinking, there have been four Jewish Temples on Mt. Moriah, with two more coming in the future. Two of the historical Temples have simply been extensive upgrades due to declining physical condition, so they aren’t considered to be separate new Temples.

Although there are important variations in the construction from one Temple to the next, many important details are the same for all, because the specifications for those are either Biblical or were unalterably decided by the rabbis and codified in Jewish law.

The “First Temple”

Solomon’s original Temple complex, shown below, was ornate, but relatively small. The Temple itself was built on a small platform erected on the threshing floor purchased by King David from Araunah the Jebusite. Solomon built a large palace for himself adjacent to the Temple platform and connected to it by a stairway.

First Temple, and Palace of King Solomon, Jerusalem. ©Leen Ritmeyer

Over the following 400 years, both edifices crumbled from age. Various kings made repairs and upgrades. Hezekiah in particular, demolished much of what remained and built a new Temple on the site, much as Herod did in Second Temple days. Hezekiah’s Temple, shown in the next diagram, was built on a much larger platform, a square, 500 cubits (around 875′) on each side. As with all renditions of the Temple, the doors leading to the Temple porch and antechambers faced east towards the Mount of Olives. A separate eastern gate named, appropriately, the East Gate was set into the eastern retaining wall, near the northeast corner and recessed below the level of the platform.

First Temple as Rebuilt by King Hezekiah, Jerusalem. ©Leen Ritmeyer
The “Second Temple”

In 586 BC, Hezekiah’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian army, and the 3rd and final deportation of Judeans into captivity began. The retaining walls were damaged, but not totally destroyed. When Jews returned decades later to rebuild the temple, the East Gate was repaired. It was renamed the Shushan Gate, because a memorial picture of the Palace of Shushan was portrayed on it.

As for Zerubbabel’s “Second Temple” itself, it was built along similar lines as before, but it was a pale imitation of what Solomon’s craftsmen had produced. In Intertestamental Times, under Hasmonean rule, it was upgraded, and the platform extended to the south. Then after the Romans conquered Judea, their appointed puppet ruler, King Herod, gutted the entire edifice, rebuilt the structures (but again based on the same general plan), and again extended the platform, this time to the north, south and west. The Shushan Gate remained in its previous location.

Herod’s Temple, in Jesus’ time. ©Leen Ritmeyer. Mr. Ritmeyer is widely regarded as the ultimate authority on the architecture of everything associated with the Temple Mount, and I believe that he has definitively established that the Dome of the Rock is sitting where the Holy of Holies should be.
The “Tribulation Temple”?

Of course, there has been no Jewish Temple in Jerusalem since Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. I believe that some time before the Tribulation period, the Gog and Magog war prophesied in Ezek 38 and 39 will result in the complete incapacitation of the Israeli and Arab militaries, setting the stage for a peace agreement to be administered by the Antichrist. I believe that part of the agreement will enable Israel to hastily build a very short-lived Temple that will function during the first half of the Tribulation; but this is only my opinion, and beyond the scope of this post.

Ezekiel’s “Millennial Temple”

In 573 BC, Ezekiel was given a vision of a new Temple to be built in Jerusalem. He records that vision in great detail in chapters 40 and following of his prophetic book. In an excellent book entitled Messiah’s Coming Temple, John W. Schmitt and J. Carl Laney, analyze both the design of this temple and the use to which it will be put. It bears a superficial resemblance to previous Temples, but is by far the largest, and in even some of the “essential characteristics”, it differs from them in ways that do not correspond to Jewish law. This is because its purpose will be different in many respects, as outlined in the Schmitt/Laney book. The three outer gates on the model pictured below are, from the right, the north, east and south gates. By the time this Temple is built, I believe there will be no trace left of the present Temple platform or the Golden Gate.

Model of the Millennial Temple, ©John W. Schmitt
The “Golden Gate”

All versions of the Temple faced east, with an eastern door, or gate. All were surrounded by one or more courtyards, and each of those had an east-facing gate. The preexilic East Gate, the postexilic Shushan Gate, and the present Golden Gate are all apparently at the same location. The “monolithic gate posts” shown in Ritmeyer’s diagram, below, were most likely the lentils of the Shushan Gate so, though somewhat elevated, the Golden Gate, probably built in the 7th Century under Umayyad rule, incorporates the earlier gates. An arch covering a mass grave was discovered below the gate in 1969, and for a time it was thought to be the actual Shushan Gate arch. Instead, it appears that it was part of a staircase connecting the elevated gate with the ground level below.

The Golden Gate, architectural drawing. ©Leen Ritmeyer
The back side of the Golden Gate, from the Temple Mount platform. The doors lead into a quadruple-domed chamber. ©Ron Thompson 2008

Questions and answers about the Golden Gate

To the best of my ability, I will now respond to the list of questions mentioned at the top of this post.

Is the Eastern Gate the same as the Beautiful Gate of the Gospels?

And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.
—Acts 3:2 ESV

It is not credible that beggars would seek alms at a gate that was used only by priests, and that only rarely. Nor is it likely that the Beautiful Gate was the ornate, nearby Gate of the Pure and Just, the eastern gate of the Court of Women; that gate was only for VIPs, and we know that they tended to be stingy. I believe, along with many, that it is the Double Gate on the south side of the Mount, with its beautiful domed passage through to the interior Hulda Gate. That gate would see not only the largest crowd, but probably the most generous.

Is it true that Muslims sealed the gate and established the cemetery in front of it in order to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering through it?

More or less. When the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman I, learned that Jews and Christians expected the Jewish Messiah to be led onto the Temple Mount by the Prophet Elijah, he ordered that it be permanently sealed, in AD 1541. Knowing that Elijah would not defile himself by passing through a cemetery, he ordered that one be established outside the Gate. Later, plague victims were buried in a mass grave at the foot of the Gate.

Is it true that Jesus entered Jerusalem through this gate on the first Palm Sunday?

The answer is, no, in part because the Shushan (Susa) Gate was never open to the general public. The sages of the Mishnah pretty much ignored Herod’s extensions to the Temple Mount, so when they wrote about the gates, they were referring only to the gates giving access to the 500-cubit square platform. According to them, the Temple Mount gates were used as follows:

A. Five gates were in the [wall of the] Temple mount:
B. two Hulda gates at the south, serving for entry and exit;
C. Qiponos [Kiponus] gate on the west, serving for entry and exit;
D. Tadi gate on the north, serving no purpose at all;
E. the Eastern Gate—
F. on it is a picture of the Walled City of Shushan—
G. through which the high priest who burns the red cow, and the cow, and all who assist in its rite, go forth to the Mount of Olives
[M. Par. 4:11.]
—Middot 1:3 MISH-N

Another Mishnah tractate indicates that the scapegoat, Azazel, was also led through this gate each year on Yom Kippur.

Most Internet maps showing Jerusalem in Jesus’ day indicate a switchback road from the Kidron Wadi, ascending to the eastern gate. If that road existed at all, I think it would have been for ceremonial use only. Yet another tractate indicates that an arched causeway crossed the Kidron from the gate to the Mount of Olives where the red heifer ceremony was conducted. In any case, the Shushan Gate would have been inappropriate for access to the city, because pack animals would have to be led up the stairway to the gate, and once on the Temple Mount, they would have to pass through the outer courts and exit through another Temple gate to get to the city.

How, then, did Jesus enter the city? There were probably two routes in from Bethany. The map below shows the dubious switchback road, and a road to Jericho that may or may not be correct. Other maps say that Jericho travelers came in through Bethany on the road shown here. The exact location of Bethphage is unknown, but it was probably somewhere on the east slope of the Mount of Olives, roughly east of Gethsemane. I believe that another, more tortuous road, probably came around the south slope of the Mount of Offense, at the southeast corner of the map (not shown), and divided, with a branch going up the Kidron Valley to connect with the other road, and other branches leading to the southern gates to the city. If Jesus came in past Gethsemane, He would have most likely entered through the gate north of the Temple mount and passed the Pool of Bethesda and the Antonia Fortress. City streets are not shown on this map, so He would have had multiple choices once in the city. When He entered the Temple, He could have gone through the Sheep Gate on the north side or used the more traditional route of the Double Gate on the south side of the Mount.

First Century roads and gates around Jerusalem. I don’t know the source of this map, but I have little confidence in the accuracy of the roads on any similar map that I have. However, other features on this map correspond well with my understanding of the city at that time.

Whichever road He took from Bethany to Jerusalem, I think He was expected by the populace, and the crowd was alerted and waiting for Him on the west slope of the Olivet chain of hills.

Many prophecy enthusiasts point to the sealed Golden Gate as proof that Jesus entered the city by that route:

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut.
And the LORD said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it.
—Ezekiel 44:1–2 ESV

But this prophesy refers to the eastern gate of Ezekiel’s Temple, described in Ezek 40 and following. That Temple has not been built yet and will not be built until the Millennium. More to the point, that prophecy does not point to Jesus (see below). Also, the Shushan Gate was destroyed or at least damaged in 586 BC, and the Golden Gate not built on top of it until hundreds of years later. Once built, it was later sealed, then opened, then sealed permanently, but not until 1541 BC!

Is it true that this is the “Eastern Gate” through which the Divine Presence left the Temple, as prophesied in Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11?

Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim.
And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the LORD, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
—Ezekiel 10:18–19 ESV

Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.
—Ezekiel 11:22–23 ESV

God is omnipresent, both in space and in time. As our infinite, Almighty God, He can’t be contained in a tent or a building. But because He chose to deal with humanity, as represented by the primitive Israelites, He picked a form in which to appear to them. In the desert, it was “a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” In the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, His “Divine Presence” was in the Holy of Holies, above the Mercy Seat of the Ark.

Chapters 8 through 11 of Ezekiel record a vision that came to him while he was sitting in his house with “the leaders of Judah”. In the vision, he was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem and shown men in leadership positions performing “disgusting” idolatrous religious rites in the Temple precincts. God then ordered a scribe to pass through the city and put a seal on the foreheads of innocents, while six other presumably angelic beings followed him and executed anyone not so sealed. The six beings were then told to set fire to the city. After the return of the scribe, God’s Sh’kinah Presence left the Temple, rose above its threshold, paused for a bit over the “east gate of the Lord’s house” (this could be the gate of an interior courtyard, or it could be the Shushan Gate), and then “stood” over the mountain on the east side of the city (no doubt the Mount of Olives).

It doesn’t matter what gate, or what mountain, because it was a vision. It was not real, and the Divine Presence left by air, not through any gate. Yet it was prophecy of something that was real, which came very soon thereafter. God withdrew His protection from the city and the Temple, and both were sacked and burned by Nebuchadrezzar’s army.

Is it true that Jesus will one day enter the Temple through this same Eastern Gate, per Ezekiel chapters 43 and 44?

Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east.
And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.
And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face.
As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east,
the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.
—Ezekiel 43:1–5 ESV

Beginning in chapter 40, Ezekiel has been once again taken to Jerusalem in a vision, but this was to show him events far in the future, at the start of the Millennial Reign. The vision shows him a new Temple, to be built presumably at the start of the Reign. In chapter 43, suddenly God’s Glory returns to the Temple, but this time through the gate facing east, not above it. The assumption that many people make is that “God’s Glory” here refers to Jesus. That is possible, but the parallels between this and the earlier vision indicate it is God’s Sh’kinah returning. The Father, not the son.

The sequence in chapter 43 is as follows: God’s Glory returns, through the “gate facing east.” God goes into the Temple itself and fills it with His Glory. Ezekiel is standing outside the Temple with the angel who has been showing him around. God calls out from inside, saying that He will now dwell with His people forever, and never again will they defile His house.

So, if it wasn’t Messiah entering through the eastern gate, was Jesus “the prince“, who is mentioned several times in the prophecy. Clearly it is not! The prince, whoever he is and whatever his function, has sins to atone for, and evidently, he has children.

We know from other prophecies that Jesus will reign from Zion. But nowhere does scripture seem to say he entered through the eastern gate. And incidentally, there does not seem to be a throne room in Ezekiel’s Temple.

God with the Wind

Recall that in 1Kings 19, the Prophet Elijah has fled from the irate Queen Jezebel and is hiding in a cave near Mt. Horeb (Sinai). He is moaning about his fate, and God drops in to confront him:

And he [God] said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
—1 Kings 19:11–12 ESV

Two interpretive issues stand out here for me. The first is God’s demonstration for Elijah’s benefit of His power to control events, including even the forces of nature. That will be the subject of most of this post.

The second is an interesting side issue: how does God normally communicate with humans? Over the years I have heard many pastors and teachers refer to the inward prodding and conviction of the Holy Spirit as “God’s still, small voice.” That is a distortion of theology going back, I think, to the early church fathers. The ancient Jewish Rabbis taught that God most often spoke to His people in post-prophetic (but pre-Scriptural) times audibly but quietly, in a low, soothing whisper. This has been termed, in Aramaic, the bat kol, or “daughter voice”, and you can read one description of that here.

Some background before I proceed…

Book cover.

Some time back I read a book titled Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science, by Carl Drews. Drews is, like me, a self-taught amateur theologian with a technological background. He is also, again like me, passionately interested in the Egyptian sojourn, the Red Sea Crossing, the years of wandering, and the conquest of Canaan. The main difference between us is that I am a Conservative Evangelical who believes in the Divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, while Drews takes a “Higher Critical” approach to Scripture.

The central reason for Drews’ book is to provide an engineering analysis of the following verse in order to discover the most likely site of the Red Sea (Sea of Suf) crossing:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
—Exodus 14:21 ESV

Drews is an expert on mathematical modeling, i.e., using computers to simulate real-world conditions. For example, meteorologists use mathematical models to provide fairly accurate weather forecasts and to predict storm movements. Astrophysicists use them to study how stars and galaxies form and interact. In my own field of petroleum engineering, I have used (and even designed) them to predict reservoir responses, such as oil and gas flow in rocks and pipelines, and depletion of reservoir pressure.

Drews used computer modeling to study “wind setdown” at various supposed locations of the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea. Setdown is a form of storm surge. Where high winds blow across an expanse of open water, shear forces can move the surface waters, piling them up on beaches and exposing shallow beds that are normally flooded. Drews proved, conclusively I think (but see below), that wind blowing across any body of water in the Egypt/Sinai/Arabia area, with one exception, would have to blow so hard to achieve the necessary setdown effect that no human could survive the crossing. Not the currently favored Bitter Lakes area on the present-day Suez Canal; not the current fad choices, at Nuweiba Beach in the Gulf of Aqaba or the Timor Straits area at the southwest extremity of Aqaba; and not the traditional (my own preferred) area in the northern Gulf of Suez, south of Suez City.

The one exception found by Drews is the shallow Lake of Tanis in the Nile Delta. He states that a strong easterly wind has been historically known to drive the water off the shallows from time to time, and that at those times the lake can be traversed by foot. His premise is that the Exodus miracle is in the timing, not in the actual moving of the water.

But consider that the crossing of the Red Sea, wherever that may have occurred, was the definitive, miraculous demonstration of God’s awesome power, whereby He showed His people, for all time to come, that He is worthy of all praise, glory and undying worship!

We know that God transcends time and place. He sees everything, everywhere and everywhen! So, Drews is asking us to see God checking His Weather Channel listing for the next hundred years or so, finding a convenient windstorm predicted for the time period, and deciding, “Yeah that would be a good time to send Moses to get my folks out of Dodge.”

I don’t buy it! What God came up with was something way, way more spectacular!

So, here’s where I’m going with this…

If you have heard many sermons on the Ten Plagues of Egypt, then you have probably heard that each plague was a challenge to one or more of Egypt’s pagan gods. In each case, the True God bested the pagan deity at his or her own specialty. Time and time again throughout Scripture, you see God delivering judgement, warnings or promises through or while accompanied by natural forces. This is partly a demonstration of His awesome power, and partly a polemic against the pagan deities that His people tended to fear or follow. Sometimes the accompaniment is a small thing, like a bush that burned without being consumed, or a gourd that withered and died in a hot wind. Sometimes much more, like fire and smoke over Mt. Sinai.

Read again the passage I quoted to start this post. Elijah was waiting to hear from God. When he felt a mighty wind, he thought it was the arrival of God. When he felt an earthquake, he thought, “Surely this is God…”. When he saw a fire, he probably remembered that it was right there on Mt. Sinai where God had appeared to the Israelites in fire and smoke. Surely God brought all of those things along to remind Elijah what He could do, but in this case, Elijah needed also to hear a tender voice.

Egyptian God of Wind and Air, Amun. ©Richard Maschmeyer—Design Pics/Getty Images

I’m going to concentrate the rest of this discussion on the wind, because there is a particular idea that I have been exploring. Pagan wind deities tended to be particularly important in the ancient world because wind is almost always with us, and some of the most powerful natural phenomena are related to wind. In particular, this was true in Egypt, and therefore front and center in Israelite memory and lore. By the time of Moses, Egyptian mythology had merged the Sun God, Ra, with the God of Wind and Air, Amun, to produce the chief deity of that age, Amun-Ra.

Hebrew is a language that is rich in homonyms, or words with multiple meanings. The word רוּחַ, or ruach, is one of these. Depending on the context, ruach can mean “breath”, “spirit”, or “wind”. Sometimes there are specific clues in the context, like in Gen 1:2, where it appears as “the Spirit (Ruach) of God”, evidently referring to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it is not as clear to me as it apparently was to the Bible translators. Very often, God’s miraculous works are accompanied by ruach. In some of those cases I have begun to wonder, “Is this interpretation cast in stone, or was it an assumption that has become ingrained as an unquestioned tradition?” Is it Spirit, is it literally wind, or is it perhaps both? I think that, perhaps, the idea of “both” has been underappreciated!

Take, for example, the following:

The festival of Shavu‘ot (Pentecost) arrived, and the believers all gathered together in one place.
Suddenly there came a sound from the sky like the roar of a violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire, which separated and came to rest on each one of them.
—Acts 2:1–3 CJB (emphasis added)

Here we see a great spiritual miracle, the imparting of the indwelling Holy Spirit, accompanied by two physical phenomena: the sound of wind in the sky above them, probably indicating that wind was in fact blowing; and “tongues of fire” over the individual recipients.

What about “the strong east wind” that we observed in Ex 14:21? The verb in the phrase translated as “drove the sea back” (ESV, NIV, et al) or “caused the sea to go back” (CJB, KJV, et al) has the Hebrew root הָלַךְ (halakh, to walk, or go). It is described by Strong’s as having, “a great variety of applications, literal and figurative”. The specific form of the verb appearing here, וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ, is syntactically a Hiphil, which I’m told makes the passage read more like “caused the sea to go [back]”. What is clear to me is that it was God who moved the waters. I don’t believe that you can say definitively from the Text whether the wind was His agency or was simply an accompanying phenomenon as seen elsewhere in Scripture. Since I am theologically convinced that the event required more than a minor “miracle of timing”, then I believe it is fair to say that Drews’ research proves scientifically that wind could not have been the agency. God miraculously parted the waters, while announcing His presence with a strong but less than lethal wind. For me, that’s a satisfying answer that makes any of the candidate crossing sites tenable!

Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing.
—Hosea 13:15 ESV

Is there any significance to the easterly wind direction? Absolutely! The prevailing wind direction in the northern temperate regions is westerly. In the Eastern Mediterranean region around Anatolia, the Lavant and Egypt, these winds bring ashore relatively cool, moist sea air. But during certain seasons there is sometimes a dry, hot wind blowing out of the deserts to the east and southeast, raising temperatures and withering crops. This is the beruakh qadim (“east wind”), or sometimes for brevity, just the qadim (“easterlies”), of Scripture. A more modern term for these winds is the Hebrew, sharav, or in Arabic hamsin winds. If the rain is God’s blessing on the Land, then the east winds are surely His curse. It is easy to see why the east wind appears over and over in Scripture, especially in prophecy, to symbolize and accompany God’s judgement.

Passages where wind accompanies miracles. “Whirlwind” includes dust devils through tornadoes and typhoons. ©Ron Thompson 2022

Many creationists believe that Earth’s present topology is mostly the result of upheavals caused by the Flood itself. At the time represented by this verse (after the flood itself, when things had calmed down), one would thus expect that the peak of Mt. Ararat was close to its current height of over 16,000 feet above sea level. Wind alone could not have dropped the water level over 3 miles! Only the power of God could have caused the flood, and only the power of God could have ended it! My conclusion is that either the wind was there as God’s signature, or ruach should have been translated as “Spirit” here, as it was in the similar scenario of Gen 1:2.

God remembered Noach, every living thing and all the livestock with him in the ark; so God caused a wind [ruach] to pass over the earth, and the water began to go down … It was after 150 days that the water went down.
—Genesis 8:1–3 CJB

I opened with Elijah in a cave, expecting God to appear to him in wind, an earthquake, or fire. I’ll close with a parallel text, with another prophet looking to the end times.

But the multitude of your foreign foes shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the ruthless like passing chaff. And in an instant, suddenly,
you will be visited by the LORD of hosts with thunder and with earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.
And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel [possibly meaning “altar hearth”, but referring here to Zion], all that fight against her and her stronghold and distress her, shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.
—Isaiah 29:5–7 ESV (emphasis added)

The Coming World War: Gog and Magog

Updated January 2022; original May 2015

There are two major events on God’s prophetic calendar which could occur at any time, now or years from now. One, of course, is the Rapture. There are no other prophetic events which have to occur before the Rapture. The same can be said for the other imminent event, the War of Gog and Magog, described in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. It is this war that I want to discuss here, because it seems to me that all of the pieces for it are in place.

Gog and Magog, which I will refer to hereafter as, simply, The War, may happen either before or after the Rapture, but must precede Antichrist’s treaty and the Tribulation period. Why? A number of compelling reasons are proposed by Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his book, The Footsteps of the Messiah: The Sequence of Pretribulational Events. I may reprise additional reasons in a future posting, but for now I will simply say that the prophesied seven years of cleanup after the war seems to preclude any other possibility.

There are numerous geopolitical events and conditions that I saw as lining up or lined up when I first wrote this post in 2015. Now, in late 2021, not much has changed to alter my views.

The Triggers

The War will be an invasion of Israel by Russia, Iran, and a number of additional players. As most news-savvy Americans know, Iran is allied with Russia, which sends them military technology, including advanced offensive and defensive armaments.

The West has long been worried about Iran’s nuclear missile development program. Over the last decade or so, Israel has launched several limited strikes against Iranian facilities in Iran itself and in their client state, Syria. Unfortunately, serious physical and political risks prohibit them from attacking in a more decisive manner.

With all the talk about Iran’s nuclear development, relatively little has been said about their build-up of conventional forces and armaments. According to GlobalFirepower.com, as of April 1, 2015, Iran had at that time over a half million active front-line military personnel, with 1.8 million reserves and almost 40 million citizens fit to serve. They were and surely are very highly trained and well equipped. The result is that their level of aggression against other Arab states was high. They continue to flex their military muscles, with two primary ends in view: (1) hegemony in the Middle East and ultimately the world; and (2) the total destruction of Israel in the short term, and the United States eventually.

The Deterrent

The reason that The War has not yet begun is simply Eastern fear of Israel’s might, particularly with the US as her ally, along with a perennial inability of the Muslim faction in the Middle East to unite effectively in a common cause.

Clearly, the US alone is no longer a viable deterrent. Anti-Israel sentiment in our political and educational institutions and even in some American Jewish circles, has grown too strong. America is not mentioned in Biblical prophecy because we will voluntarily take no part in the defense of our allies. The EU and the United Nations will also certainly not side with Israel. I don’t believe that Iran would risk an attack on Israel on its own without first completing its nuclear program, but with Russia’s help and additional Shiite allies, there simply is no longer a viable deterrent. As for the lack of Muslim commonality, I believe that with powerful non-Muslim allies, the potential reward to Islam as a whole could at any time prove to be an overriding factor.

The Players

Ezekiel 38:2-6 lists the participants we can expect to see coming against Israel in The War:

38 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, 3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. 4 I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. 5 Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; 6 Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops — many people are with you. NKJV

Nations are defined Biblically by their peoples, not necessarily by the lands that they occupy; furthermore, they are named as they were in the day of writing, and boundaries occupied by the lands and peoples must be understood to be fluid over time. One would like to say, “Magog is Russia”, and “Gomer is Germany”, as was common in the early days of American “popular prophecy”, but it just is not that simple. Modern Eurasian civilization is an incredibly complex mixture of peoples who can only roughly be identified, based largely on archaeological and linguistic evidence. With the exception of Gomer and Rosh (see below), I am more or less inclined to stick with my conclusions from some seven years ago when I prepared the attached map.

Gog and Magog: The invading forces will be led by “Gog, of the land of Magog” (v2a). Magog corresponds roughly to the area of modern European Russia, particularly the southwest region, between the Caspian and Black Seas, including Georgia and Azerbaijan. Of course, we won’t see a war launched by “Southwest European Russia.” My assumption is that the entire Russian Federation will be involved. Gog is not a name, but rather a leadership title, like “Pharaoh.” Presumably, then, this refers to Vladimir Putin or a successor. Russia is closely allied to Iran. With extensive natural resources of its own, Russia still desires to control Middle Eastern oil and natural gas, for strategic purposes.

Rosh, Meshech and Tubal: Gog is also the “prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal (v2b)”. These three names, and most of the others, can most likely be equated with some of the many nomadic tribes that over centuries swept west and south from Mongolia and the Russian Steppe regions. Meshech and Tubal constitute most of modern Turkey and are probably Scythian in origin. Though I seem to have omitted it from my map, I think that Rosh refers to the well-attested Rus people, namesakes of modern Russia, who migrated from western Russia and Belarus, southward into the Baltic regions. The peoples of the coastal areas west of the Black Sea are largely of Rus (again, Scythian) origin. European Turkey and parts of modern Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia were known as Rus until after the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans.

Persia: Persia (v5a) of course refers to Iran, probably along with her client states of loyalist Syria; Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, eastern Iraq and perhaps Yemen.

Cush: Ethiopia (or Cush, v5b) may refer to the upper Nile regions of modern Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, or it may refer to parts of Iraq. Or both. I believe that Cush, as referred to in Genesis 2:13, refers to the upper Mesopotamia region around the Diyala River, and that river is, in fact the Gichon, or Gihon, River of the same verse. Cush, a son of Ham, is thought to have populated a wide region of the ancient Middle East and Africa. The ancient empire of Babel, in modern Iraq, was founded by Nimrod, a Cushite. The later (1st century AD) Kushan Empire is probably Cushite, in my view. It covered much of the Hindus and Ganges Valleys, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the name survives in the Hindu-Kush Mountains.

Put: The KJV and most modern translations equate Put (v5c) with Libya; however, some authors including Fruchtenbaum claim that Libya is equivalent to “Lud”, and Somalia corresponds to “Put.” My own opinion is that Libya is primarily Put, and Somalia is part of the general region of Cush. I would place Lud in Tunisia and far western Libya.

S1cyythian Gomer?

Gomer: According to Josephus and some other early sources, Gomer (v6a), corresponds to Anatolian Galatia, in central Turkey; however, many conservative scholars have identified it with Germany, and that was the view taken by Hal Lindsey and Herbert W. Armstrong. I went with that in the original writing of this post, but I am now convinced that Gomer refers instead to the ancient Scythians, who were once united in a nomadic empire that covered much of the Steppe region north of the Black and Caspian Seas, eastwards into Mongolia, and westwards into Eastern Europe. I would surmise that the region in view here is the Islamic regions of Eastern Europe.

Beth Togarmah: The “House of Togarmah” (v6b) is located around present-day Armenia.

As you can see from this listing, all these pieces of the puzzle make total sense today, in the context of current geopolitical alignments. In fact, I would not hesitate to say that all or most of the colored regions on the map above will be included in the alliance.

The Protest

I don’t believe that the US, the EU or the UN will lift a hand to help Israel. At most, there might be a weak diplomatic protest from these entities. They are becoming more and more anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. The Bible mentions no allies for Israel, aside from Almighty God Himself! Ezekiel 38:13 hints at the only protest from Israel’s neighbors:

13 Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you, ‘Have you come to take plunder? Have you gathered your army to take booty, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great plunder?'”‘ NKJV

Sheba was located around modern northern Yemen, and Dedan is the present Al Ula in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Tarshish, mentioned in a number of Biblical passages, is known only to be someplace in the ancient Mediterranean area “far away” from Israel. Possibly the site of Carthage, or as usually cited, Spain. The reference to its “young lions” is an idiomatic expression indicating colonies or an empire; I would speculate that it actually has in mind the Emirates of Arabia, which are Saudi and American allies, and lean towards friendship with Israel.

The War

Ezekiel 38:8-17 describes the setting and prosecution of the war:

8 After many days you will be visited. In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely. 9 You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you.”

10 ‘Thus says the Lord God: “On that day it shall come to pass that thoughts will arise in your mind, and you will make an evil plan: 11 You will say, ‘I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates’ — 12 to take plunder and to take booty, to stretch out your hand against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell in the midst of the land. 13 Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you, ‘Have you come to take plunder? Have you gathered your army to take booty, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great plunder?'”‘

14 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “On that day when My people Israel dwell safely, will you not know it? 15 Then you will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army. 16 You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It will be in the latter days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes.” 17 Thus says the Lord God: “Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days by My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied for years in those days that I would bring you against them? NKJV

This passage describes Israel today, a peaceful nation though not at peace, alive again after nearly 2,000 years, and dwelling in their own land, in relative safety, comfort and confidence. The invasion will come from the north, up into the mountains of Israel (and Jerusalem is always considered “up”, no matter where you come from). Russia, at least, is seeking booty: oil and gas, the mineral riches of the Dead Sea, and above all, the strategic positioning of the nation at the “crossroads of the world.” The booty listed here, as well as the weapons used, are metaphorical because Ezekiel could know nothing of today’s riches and weaponry.

The Outcome

As described in Ezekiel 38:18-23

18 “And it will come to pass at the same time, when Gog comes against the land of Israel,” says the Lord God, “that My fury will show in My face. 19 For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken: ‘Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel, 20 so that the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all men who are on the face of the earth shall shake at My presence. The mountains shall be thrown down, the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.’ 21 I will call for a sword against Gog throughout all My mountains,” says the Lord God. “Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22 And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. 23 Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.”‘ NKJV

God will overtly and miraculously intervene, and the invading armies will be totally destroyed. The effects of God’s wrath will be felt and recognized around the world, with Russia’s homeland itself leveled. Reading on, the mountains of Israel will be literally covered with the dead and their armaments. Seven months will be required to bury the dead and seven years to dispose of the armaments.

I believe that tremendous damage will have been done to Israel and its armed forces, but at the close of this war, the power and might of Russia and the militant Muslim countries will be at a complete end. Into this milieu, I see the rise of a world leader, the Antichrist, who will take advantage of the chaos, offering to guarantee peace to all sides. Neither the Muslims nor the Anti-Semitic West will have power to prevent him from granting Israel the right to rebuild the Temple; thus will begin the Tribulation.

The Timing

I have shown that The War could happen at any time. It may follow the Rapture, but I would not be at all surprised if it happened first, in order to give the world, and especially Israel, one final glimpse of God’s awesome power, and to give them one final chance to repent–or more likely, to demonstrate how utterly blind humanity can be!

Ezekiel 39:6b-8:
6b Then they shall know that I am the Lord. 7 So I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel, and I will not let them profane My holy name anymore. Then the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel. 8 Surely it is coming, and it shall be done,” says the Lord God. “This is the day of which I have spoken.” NKJV