Behind Conflict With Iraq Is The Mystery Of Israel And Its Link To The 'End Times'
By Michael H. Brown
The issue of Israel and whether the Middle East figures into the end times are hidden factors behind widespread thinking on the current Iraq conflict (at least in evangelical circles) and may even factor into the considerations of the president himself. By denomination a Methodist but in spirit often evangelical, George W. Bush's conversion came through evangelist Billy Graham -- who has repeatedly spoken of the end times at his huge prayer crusades, some of which Bush has attended, according to reports.
What do evangelicals and other non-Catholic Christians believe is that end-times scenario? And how does it figure into events that may be tied to Iraq?
Of course, we always get back to Israel. Iraq is a sworn, blood enemy of Israel, and evangelicals are keenly supportive of Israel, quoting Scripture as saying that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse it will be cursed. Along with his concerns about terrorism, freeing the Iraqi people, and geopolitical considerations, this protective feeling toward Israel may factor into the equation.
Does prophecy factor in as well? In his earnest approach to the situation, and his feeling of a divine mission, does Bush possess a prophetic outlook engendered by many whose brand of Christianity he openly shares -- including Attorney General John Ashcroft, a minister in the Assembly of God, which has an apocalyptic view of current events and the role of the Mideast in them?
While mainstream churches don't openly preach about the end times, it is a significant theme within many evangelical, pentecostal, and fundamentalist denominations. They believe, as do many Catholics, that the Second Coming is approaching and it is a great battle involving Israel -- Armageddon -- that they believe will herald the return of Jesus. For this reason, they consider all events tied to Israel as crucial and follow each Middle Eastern development as bearing great prophetic importance.
"Jesus predicted the persecution of the church, the fall of Jerusalem with the destruction of the temple, the scattering of the Jews into all nations, and the amazing survival and growth of the church," notes one such author, John F. Walvoord, in Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis. "Along with the Old Testament prophets, He also saw a time when Israel would be reestablished as a nation. All this has been realized in history. But He also warned those who understood the Old Testament prophets to watch Jerusalem and the Middle East for signs of the approaching end of the world civilization, the end of the Time of the Gentiles."
Could this really be true? Does so much hinge upon the Holy Land?
Many of those who set such forth point to Matthew 24, which mentions the impending destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem after an "abomination" is placed in it. In Luke 21 there are warnings that many will die by the sword, that people should flee to the mountains -- that there will be famine and earthquakes and signs in the sky before the second arrival of Jesus.
An argument can be made that many of these prophesies were fulfilled in the decades immediately after Christ's death -- when swarms of Roman soldiers invaded Israel and committed a horrifying slaughter, surrounding and destroying the Temple itself, indeed sending many Israelis into the mountains. In that very Temple, Nero had tried to place his image -- to be sure, an abomination -- during this period in which quakes were felt in Rome (quakes, fire, and floods) and there was the horrifying destruction due to Pompeii -- a volcano that literally turned the region to pitch-darkness.
As for signs in the sky, in A.D. 66 -- the year Jerusalem revolted against Rome -- Halley's Comet hung in the sky over Palestine like a sword.
Whether or not these events are what was predicted in Matthew, or minor elements in the longer view of history, we can say this: portions of the prophecy clearly have not yet been fulfilled -- specifically that such events would herald the Second Coming. Simply put: Jesus has not yet returned. And there indeed seems to be an important future role, perhaps a crucial role, for the Holy Land; no one can deny the relevance of this remarkable place, which is like a spiritual vortex. Note the major events through history that have occurred on this little sliver of land and how recent conflicts have specifically targeted the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Wailing Wall, and the Temple area in Jerusalem. It is a power spot. Its role could assume any proportion.
Israel is the reason the U.S. was attacked on September 11 and largely a reason why the U.S. is attacking Iraq, which has been developing weapons that could greatly harm Israel (if not one day destroy it).
But is it really as clearly cut as the evangelicals assert? Is what will occur in Israel the entire ball of prophetic wax -- or is there a larger global picture?
We assert the latter, but we agree that Israel and the Middle East will be key players and that the stage is being set for something big. Many evangelicals believe that the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem (indeed, there are such plans afoot) and that a dictator of a confederation (by some measures, a new world power based around the Mediterranean) will desecrate the Temple three-and-a-half years before the return of Christ.
Thus, we see how crucial is the future role of Israel in the evangelical scenario.
"The prophecies about Jerusalem make it clear that the Holy City will be in the center of world events in the end time," asserts Walvoord.
Additionally, the period immediately before the Second Coming is supposed to involve the greatest distress since the beginning of time (something that events like Pompeii of the first century did not measure up to), and an evil ruler is supposed to reign for 42 months, which also has not yet happened. This "Mediterranean leader" is supposed to seize control of the new confederacy -- which many fear will come in the way of the new European Union -- and masquerade as a good man, a prince of peace.
Soon he will be seen for his evil, however -- according to one evangelical interpretation -- and war will be waged at the Mount of Megiddo, a small mountain in northern Palestine at the end of a broad valley where many conflicts have been fought in the past and where many believe will one day occur Armageddon (the name of which comes from this mountain). From some interpretations of the Bible, a great army will attack the Middle East from the south at the same time that Russia or other armies to the north will mobilize another powerful unit to descend on the Holy Land. Soon after will come an enormous army from the east.
How does Iraq play into such end-times scenarios?
It's not clear that it does. One can argue that the army from the east is supposed to cross Iraq and that current changes there may open up that region for such a crossing. That's one view. One might also postulate that Iraq and September 11 are simply part of a larger holy war that will become global in nature and see major battles fought in the Middle East. This we believe. No one really knows. But we can say this: Iraq itself has terrific connotation, and is itself a "power spot." This is where some believe the Garden of Eden was located. This is the territory of ancient Nineveh. And Babylon. This is the land of the River Euphrates in Revelation.
Something seems to be playing out. We just don't know as yet to what extent it will play, nor when the Mideast will truly enter into a final confrontation. Right now the world is undergoing a chastisement, and we must ask ourselves if it is simply the kind of chastisement men periodically encounter (as at Pompeii) or whether it is leading up to something far more apocalyptical.
While there is no question about the role of Israel (see Revelation), and while we seem to be approaching huge events, war is a part of any major global chastisement, and no one knows for certain if we are watching the very initial phase of a final end-times scenario, or a chastisement like previous historic chastisements (see the Middle Ages). Epidemics, violence, societal upheaval, famine, natural disasters, weather extremes, and war are often components in a purification. At the least, we appear to be entering the heightened phase of a very major one, with a final chapter that is a long ways from being written.
[note also the coincidence of the new bomb called MOAB, recently tested in Florida,
Excerpts from Matthew 24 and Luke 21:
Signs of Christ's
1 (1) Jesus (2) came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.
2 And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, (3) not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down."
3 As He was sitting on (4) the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of (5) Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, "(6) See to it that no one misleads you.
5 "For (7) many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.
6 "You will be hearing of (8) wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.
7 "For (9) nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be (10) famines and earthquakes.
8 "(11) But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
9 "(12) Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and (13) you will be hated by all nations because of My name.
10 "At that time many will (14) fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.
11 "Many (15) false prophets will arise and will mislead many.
12 "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.
13 "(16) But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
14 "This (17) gospel of the kingdom (18) shall be preached in the whole (19) world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
15 "Therefore when you see the (20) ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in (21) the holy place ((22) let the reader understand),
16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
17 "Whoever is on (23) the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house.
18 "Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.
19 "But (24) woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
20 "But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.
21 "For then there will be a (25) great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.
22 "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for (26) the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
23 "(27) Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him.
24 "For false Christs and (28) false prophets will arise and will show great (29) signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even (30) the elect.
25 "Behold, I have told you in advance.
26 "So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them.
27 "(31) For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the (32) coming of the (33) Son of Man be.
28 "(34) Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
The Glorious Return
29 "But immediately after the (35) tribulation of those days (36) THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND (37) THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
30 "And then (38) the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see (39) the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.
31 "And (40) He will send forth His angels with (41) A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His (42) elect from (43) the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
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