Is this the End Times?
Wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East are fueling speculation throughout the media and political world that perhaps we are living in what the Bible calls the last days before the return of Jesus Christ.
In a USA Today article entitled, “In The Headlines, Glimpes of the Apocalypse,” columnist Chuck Raasch last week raised a question on the minds of many around the world: “Are these the end of times?….You can’t look at the headlines these days and not conjure up apocalyptic visions….With the war in Iraq persisting, with fresh fighting in Afghanistan, with missiles raining down on even Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ, the world’s most powerful governments and the United Nations appear unable or unwilling to stop a chain of events that may be spinning out of earthly control.”
Raasch is not alone. A Columbus Dispatch headline asked: “Is The Mideast Rupture A Sign of the Rapture?”“the early stages of World War III.”
And not long ago, Senator John McCain speculated on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, “I think we could see Armageddon.”While it may be tempting to some to dismiss such language as overly dramatic, it is worth keeping in mind that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has told colleagues that he believes the end of the world is just two or three years away. He believes that the way to hasten the coming of the Islamic Messiah known as the “Twelfth Imam” or the “Mahdi” is to launch a global jihad to destroy the Jews of Israel and the Christians of the United States. What’s more, Ahmadinejad is feverishly trying to build, buy or steal the nuclear weapons to bring his Shiite end times beliefs to fulfillment.
With such apocalyptic talk in the air, and the Middle East going up in flames, I’m getting floods of emails from all over the world from readers of my novels and this weblog. They are asking whether I believe we are living in the last days and what we should be watching for next.
So let me be clear: Yes, I do believe we are living in the last days. When I read the list of events Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 to be watching for, I see each of them coming to pass: wars and rumors of wars, revolutions, the rise of false messiahs, earthquakes, famines, persecution of the believers, the spread of the gospel around the world, the rebirth of the State of Israel, Jerusalem back under Jewish control, and Jews preparing to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus warns us not to speculate on the exact date or hour of His return. But He does want us to know the season of His return, and He is quite clear: “When you see all these things, recognize that My return is near, that I’m right at the door.” (see Matthew 24:33)
That said, there are other end times Biblical prophecies worth watching for. Here are three:
1. Apocalyptic battles for control of Jerusalem. Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War and Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem under Jewish control. Numerous radical Islamic leaders have vowed to “liberate” Jerusalem and liquidate the Jews. Among them: Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leaders of Hamas, and Osama bin Laden, to name just a few.
The latest war in the Middle East is, in my view, merely the opening skirmish in a new bid for Islamic control of the Holy City. This is in keeping with the Hebrew prophets who warned that the violent struggle for Jerusalem would continue until the physical return of Jesus to the earth.
- The Prophet Ezekiel, for example, foresaw a multinational force led by Russia and Iran will seek to capture Israel and Jerusalem (the “War of Gog and Magog,” see Ezekiel 38-39).
- The Prophet Daniel warned that the Antichrist will one day seize control of Jerusalem and desecrate the Jewish Temple that will be built there in the end times (see Daniel 9).
- The Apostle John warned that Jerusalem will be attacked by all the nations of the earth in the battle of Armageddon (see Revelation 16:12-16).
- The Prophet Zechariah warned that the Lord is going to make Jerusalem “a cup that causes reeling to all the people around” and that God will make Jerusalem “a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured.” (see Zechariah 12:1-3) That is, numerous world leaders will get drunk on the dream of controlling Jerusalem and will do themselves and their countries severe damage in the process of trying to accomplish such dreams.
I believe we are already seeing these prophecies beginning to come to pass.
2. The destruction of Damascus. Syria is a key ally of Hezbollah and Hamas in their current battles with Israel. Moreover, Syria has been a leading enemy of the Jewish State since its rebirth in May 1948. Some Bible scholars point to the Hebrew Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah to explain that Syria’s capital city of Damascus will be utterly destroyed in the end times.
- “Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city and will become a fallen ruin,” we read in Isaiah 17, verses 1 and 3. “The fortified city will disappear…[along with] sovereignty from Damascus.”
- In Jeremiah 49:23-27, we read that “Damascus has become helpless; she has turned away to flee, and panic has gripped her….Therefore, her young men will fall in her streets, and all the men of war will be silenced in that day.” Then the Lord says, “I shall set fire to the wall of Damascus.”
There is debate among Bible scholars over such verses. Do they refer to events that will precede the “War of Gog and Magog”? Do they refer to a destruction that will happen during the “War of Gog and Magog”? Do they refer to destruction that will happen during the battle of Armageddon? Or do they merely refer to previous destructions of Damascus? It is not yet clear. But consider: should the current war in the Middle East escalate into a war with Syria, and were — God forbid — Syria to use weapons of mass destruction obtained from Iraq (see my previous interview with Iraqi General Georges Sada), we could very well see Israel launch a massive strike against Damascus, possibly in fulfillment of these Biblical prophecies.
3. The destruction of Iran’s leaders and military. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iranian leaders have uttered a seemingly endless series of curses against Israel, calling the Jewish people evil, insisting that the Holocaust never happened, and threatening to wipe Israel “off the map.” In Genesis 12:1-3, the Lord is crystal clear that He will bless those who bless Israel, and curse those who curse Israel. In Ezekiel 38-39, God specifically vowed to subject the leaders and military forces of Iran (among other enemies of Israel) to a massive earthquake, torrential rains, killer hailstorms, rampant pandemic diseases, and even hellfire and brimstone. What’s more, in Jeremiah 49:34-39, God again warned that the leaders and military forces of Iran (whose other ancient name was “Elam”) will be destroyed in the “last days.” Said the Lord through Jeremiah: “I shall shatter Elam before their enemies and before those who seek their lives; and I shall bring calamity upon them, even My fierce anger….And I shall send out the sword after them until I have consumed them. Then I shall set up My throne in Elam and destroy out of it king and princes.” The prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel are being discussed with growing frequency by Iranian followers of Christ, both inside and outside of the country. They increasingly believe the fulfillment of these prophecies is near.
That being said, make no mistake: God deeply loves the people of the Middle East. When He created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden in the heart of the Middle East. He chose an Iraqi by the name of Abraham to bless all the people on the earth. He chose a Hebrew raised in Egypt by the name of Moses to deliver His law and demonstrate His power. He sent one prophet after another to the Middle East to bless all the peoples of the region. and the world He sent His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be born in the Middle East, to teach there, to do miracles there, to die on a cross and rise again from the dead there. Jesus even traveled into southern Lebanon to tell people how much God loved them (see Matthew 15:21) . In fact, God wrote the Scriptures through Middle Easterners, the first followers of Christ lived in the Middle East, and God wants everyone in the region — Jews, Arabs, Iranians, Turks and others — to come to a personal relationship with Him through faith in Jesus.
Jesus told us that “God so loved the [whole] world that He gave His only begotten Son, and whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
The Apostle Peter told us that “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
The Hebrew Prophet Joel and the Apostle Paul both told us that “whoever will call on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” (Joel 2:32 and Romans 10:13)
This is the good news — that despite war and rumors of wars and man’s inhumanity to man, God deeply loves the people of the Middle East, just as He loves us all. The big question is whether the people of the Middle East are going to love Him back and to follow His ways as explained to us in the Bible. Let us be praying all the more for the people of the Middle East.
Living with hope
If you are looking for peace, there is a way to balance your life. No one can be perfect, or have a perfect life. But every one of us has the opportunity to experience perfect grace through a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.
Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? You can pray it right now, and Jesus Christ will come into your life, just as He promised.
Is this the life for you?
If you invited Christ into your life, thank God often that He is in your life, that He will never leave you and that you have eternal life. As you learn more about your relationship with God, and how much He loves you, you’ll experience life to the fullest.