The Pools of Bethesda were dual Roman baths (Figures 1 and 2) that are mentioned prominently in John 5. There is some confusion of place names there. Bezetha (Heb. Beitzata, probably meaning “house of olives”) is a mountain ridge trending southeast from above the top center of the map to just northeast of the Pools. The valley stream that feeds water to the Pools is also named Bezetha. That name was later applied to a broader area that became a suburban community also known as “the New City“, north of Biblical Jerusalem. The name Bethesda (Heb. BeitHisda, meaning “house of mercy”) appears in some manuscripts, and applies only to the Pools. Archaeologists, including Dan Bahat, author of this map, for long equated the Bethesda Pools with the “Sheep Pool“, where animals were washed prior to sacrifice, but I was skeptical of that from the day I first laid eyes on it, and in fact scholarship now equates the Sheep Pool with the Pool of Israel, just outside the Sheep Gate in the Northern wall of the Temple Mount. Why my skepticism? First, I couldn’t conceive of a possibility that the Romans would share their healing pool with Jewish livestock. Just as obvious to me was an observation that the Bethesda pools looked way too deep and steep-sided to dip and extract thousands of animals quickly enough, or even at all, on feast days (Figure 3). At the same time, the Pool of Israel, right outside the gate used for sacrificial animals, was ideally shaped for the purpose, with a shallow end and sloped bottom, and was clearly not suited for ritual cleansing of humans.
Although Bethesda may have originally been a Jewish pool, by the 1st Century AD it was a thoroughly Roman facility. It was a two-pool bath house, either built or upgraded by Herod, for the use of soldiers stationed in the nearby Antonia Fortress (Figure 2). Almost certainly, it was an Asclepeion, a shrine to the Greek God of Medicine, Asclepius (Figure 4). Water flowing down the Bezetha Valley was collected in the upper pool and flowed across a weir into the lower pool, before spilling off into the Kidron Valley. Bathing in the pools would presumably bring healing.
John 5:1-9 (ESV) The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath [5:1] After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.  In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.  One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”  Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.
Most translations do not include the famous verses 3b – 4 because this wording is not present in “the best” manuscripts. Encyclopedia Judaica calls it a later gloss, but states that excavations reveal that “a health rite took place there during the Roman period.”
John 5:3-4 (KJV)  In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
If these words are legitimate, it would help explain vs 7. Though the pools were intended for Roman use, this was during the days right before Passover, and it makes sense that Jews might have been given an annual privilege in its honor. It is inconceivable, though, that devout Jews would have expected a medical miracle at a pagan shrine dedicated to healing by a pagan deity! The story about an angel appearing in a pagan pool would have likewise been pure superstition, possibly explained by roiling of the water when attendants opened a sluice gate to move water from the stream, or from pool to pool.
To answer one more frequent question, based on verse 6, when Jesus asked the paralytic if he wanted to be healed: No, I don’t think He was really asking him if he wanted to have his sins forgiven. Nowhere in the chapter is it indicated that the paralytic had any interest in salvation. Jesus never explicitly offered him forgiveness, He just gave him a warning, after which he ratted Jesus out!
John 5:14-16 (ESV)  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”  The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.  And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.
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 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 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.
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 ofthe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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