Rising conflict in the Middle East stirs within us a sense of worry as we see numerous areas of our lives affected by what transpires in the Middle East: rising oil prices, terrorist activity throughout the world, and the increasing power of hostile regimes bent on the destruction of Israel and America. However, it should also awaken our awareness of Bible prophecy and God’s activity in the world as we near the return of Christ.
The uprisings in the Middle East today should capture our attention, for several nations involved in the conflict today will play key roles in the battles which will take place in the end times. My purpose in this article is to present a brief overview of the unrest occurring in the Middle East today and to explain their connection with Bible prophecy.
Current Conflict in the Middle East
Many of us are aware of the uprisings going on in the Middle East. The nations experiencing uprisings at this time are Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
Several factors have led to these massive uprisings. First, there has been a long history of growing unrest against the corrupt regimes whose leadership has left the majority of their people in poverty while only a small upper class enjoys the wealth gained in the oil trades. Second, the desire for freedom is a universal longing in all people. With greater access to the internet, many citizens in these countries can now observe the freedoms other nations have, and the desire to attain their own freedom grows. Third, the internet provides the ability to communicate and mobilize a large number of people for mass movements. When many of us were observing the riots in Egypt, it was often said this revolution was made possible by Facebook. Fourth, with the decline of the Soviet Union, and the United States involved in three Middle East conflicts, it is difficult for the western powers to maintain stability in the region.
Although the upheavals seem disorganized with no clear leader, is there a mastermind behind these uprisings? Is there an emerging leader? It appears that two influential powers are at work.
First, we must understand a little about the Islamic world. In Islam there are two major divisions: the Sunni and the Shi’ites. The two groups have been at war for nearly 1,400 years since the death of Muhammad. 90% of the Muslim world is Sunni. The Sunnis believed Muhammad’s successor should be the most committed and worthy disciple while the Shi’ites believed it should be a blood relative. The first three caliphs were Sunni: Abu Bakr, Uthman, and Ali. After several internal wars in which Umar and Uthman were assassinated, the Shi’ites were able to install Ali, a blood relative of Muhammad. However, shortly after his installation, he was assassinated. This 1,400-year-old conflict between these two parties remains intense and hostile.
The Shi’ites are primarily in the countries of Iraq and Iran. An important facet of Shiite Islam is the belief in the 12th Imam, or the Mahdi, who Shi’ites believe was placed in hiding as a child by Allah in 941 AD. He will bring about the golden age of Islam by arising, returning, and defeating the non-Muslim world when the world is in chaos and at war. There has been a movement in countries with large Shi’ite populations to overthrow Sunni led governments and replace them with Shi’ite leaders. There is also the desire to replace current moderate leaders with more radical Islamic leaders.
One country having an influential role in the midst of these uprisings is Iran. Iran has sought to be the major power in the Persian Gulf. Iran has the largest population (75 million) of the Middle East nations and the largest military force. Iran seeks to encourage countries with Shi’ite majorities to overthrow their Sunni governments. Its current president, Mahmoud Amahdenijad, has expressed his goal to destroy Israel and the US. Amahdenijad is a Shi’ite who believes the 12th imam will return when war breaks out.
Dore Gold, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the UN, wrote this regarding Shi’ites view of the apocalypse: “The appearance of the twelfth Imam can be hastened through apocalyptic chaos and violence by unleashing a holy war against Christians and Jews. It is within man’s power to bring about the end of days.”1 Ahmadinejad believes his mission is to pave the way for the rise of the Mahdi. Iran has been a major leader in the spread of radical Islam. Ali Ansari, expert on the history and politics of Iran, writes in his book Confronting Iran, “Iran is not simply a problem; it is the problem. It’s not just a member of the Axis of Evil, but the founding member, the chief sponsor of state terrorism, or to use a more recent characterization, the central banker for terrorism.”2 U.S. News and World Report stated, “Iran today is the mother of terrorism. Tehran openly provides funding, training, and weapons to the world’s worst terrorists, including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and it has a cozy relationship with Al Qaeda.”3
We know Iran is working in the country of Iraq. With the U.S. withdrawing from Iraq, Iran seeks to influence the outcome of this nation. In numerous reports, military officials have compelling evidence that Iran is supplying training and arms to the insurgents. U.S. officials are greatly concerned that Iran will exert itself and become a powerful force shaping the future of Iraq.4
Another country of great interest to Iran is the island nation of Bahrain, which has a Shi’ite majority. Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway, and the U.S. 5th fleet is stationed there. Iran is encouraging the Shi’ites to overthrow the Sunni government in Bahrain. The toppling of the Bahrain government by the Shi’ites would potentially encourage the Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich nation northeast of Bahrain.
Another country of interest is Yemen. Yemen is a strategic country south of Saudi Arabia along the Gulf of Aden, which controls the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia and other oil rich nations. Yemen is also a country where the U.S. has a naval presence. The fall of Yemen to a hostile regime could weaken the U.S. Navy’s ability to secure the flow of oil to Asia and the West. Although the se are tiny nations, a change in the regimes could have worldwide impact. The Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden, and the Straits of Hormuz are the three channels through which oil is shipped to Asia and the West. The rise of hostile regimes in Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen could put a choke hold on these critical channels.
Another prominent group emerging in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan Al-Bana. They claim that their intent to spread Islam is strictly philanthropic and spiritual. Since its beginning the Muslim Brotherhood has aspired to reassert Islam through the establishment of Shari’ah law in all countries and to reestablish an Islamic caliphate and destruction of Israel.
The banner of the Muslim Brotherhood appears has the Koran with two crossed swords underneath and the Arabic word, “prepare.” On the surface the motto may appear to be a peaceful exhortation, except that the Koranic reference comes from Surah 8:60, which states, “Prepare against them as you are able of force and cavalry to terrorize Allah’s enemies and yours.”
The philosophy of the Brotherhood is as follows:
• Allah is our objective.
• The Prophet is our leader.
• Qur’an is our law.
• Jihad is our way.
• Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.
Although they claim to be a charitable and spiritual organization, they are in fact an international Islamic terrorist organization that has, over the last eight decades, given rise to the jihadist terror groups, Hamas and al Qaeda. The Brotherhood is involved in terrorism against all American interests in the Middle East and Israel. The Brotherhood, an active supporter of Hamas, has pledged violence against Israel whom they view as occupiers. Dr. Robert Spencer writes, “The chief player in this stealth jihad in America today is the shadowy international organization known as the Muslim brotherhood. The Brotherhood is an international Islamic organization that has, in the course of its tumultuous eight decades of existence, given rise to the jihad terrorist groups Hamas and Al Qaeda.”5
The Center for Global Security states, “Hamas, which includes military and political wings, was formed by the late Sheik Ahmad Yasinat at the onset of the first Palestinian uprising or Intifada in the late 1987, as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.”6 Unfortunately James Clapper, Director of US National Intelligence, stated the Muslim Brotherhood is largely secular and has ignored the facts regarding this group.
What are the possible outcomes of these uprisings? The most desirable outcome is that peaceful moderates take over, and stable democracies are established. Another dangerous, but very possible, outcome is that civil wars break out in these countries allowing even worse regimes to rise to power in these nations. If radical groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, take over, their goal will be to carry out the agenda expressed by many Islamic fundamentalist groups and Iran to destroy Israel and West. These regimes would seek to overthrow the leadership of other Arab nations and replace them with hardline Islamic leaders. These regimes could put a stranglehold on oil supplies to the West, and their leaders would continue to seek the destruction of Israel and her allies.
This is the situation in the Middle East today. Is there a connection to Bible Prophecy? One famous passage is the prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39 which mentions several of these nations.
The Background of Ezekiel
Ezekiel means God will strengthen or God remembers. According to 1:3, Ezekiel is the son of a priest. Ezekiel’s ministry begins in 590 BC and extends for about 20 years. Chapters 38-39 speak of a future war involving specific nations which will take place somewhere in the first half of the seven-year tribulation.
According to pre-millennial eschatology, this present church age will end with an event called the rapture mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Cor. 15. This is when the church is suddenly taken out of the world. Following the rapture will be the Seven-Year Tribulation (Revelation 4-19) in which God’s wrath is unleashed upon the world. At the end of the Tribulation is the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 20, Zechariah 14). Then Christ will return with the heavenly hosts to establish His Millennial rule (Revelation 20:1-6).
Presently, since her re-establishment in 1948, Israel has been at war with the Muslim nations surrounding her. What is noteworthy is that many of the tumultuous nations that seek the destruction of Israel today are named in a specific battle mentioned in Ezekiel 38-39. This is the first of several major campaigns against the nation of Israel which take place in the first half of the Tribulation. The prophecy begins identifying the coalition armies that attack Israel.
The Invading Army (Ezekiel 38:1-16)
In this battle there is a coalition of nations who arise against Israel (Ezekiel 38:1-6). Gog is the military leader of the coalition who comes from Magog. Magog is the land between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, which is present-day Russia. Meschech, Tubal, and Gomer are present-day northern Turkey. Persia is present-day Iran. Cush is present-day Sudan and Northern Ethiopia. Put is modern-day Libya. This coalition will gather to march against the nation of Israel sometime early in the Tribulation. This is not an unrealistic scenario since these nations were previously involved in such a coalition. The Battle of Yom Kippur in 1973 featured a coalition of nations which included these nations and others.
Chapter 38:8 of Ezekiel states that the people of Israel will have been gathered from many nations. Some believe this regathering to be the return from Babylonian exile (500 BC), but that was a return from a single country. Instead, this regathering spoken of in this passage is from many countries and seems to better fit the return of the Jews to Israel which occurred in 1948. Also, the passage states that at the time Israel will be living in a state of peace (Ezekiel 38:11). However, Israel has not known peace since her return from Babylon. They have always been harassed or ruled by a gentile power. The attack will come from all sides of Israel, Gog from the north, Persia from the east, Cush and Put from the south. The result of their attack is that God will reveal Himself to His people through His miraculous deliverance (Ezekiel 38:16).
Presently the Muslim nations that surround Israel seek its destruction. If radical regimes take over in these current uprisings, Israel will be in great danger. Several of these nations fund Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorist organizations created for the destruction of Israel. Russia has financially funded many of these nations and provided them with military arms. Robert T. McLean, a research associate at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., writes, “From Algeria and Venezuela to Syria and Iran, Moscow displays few reservations to arming any regime that can help fuel its defense industry.”7 Russia has equipped Iran with approximately 500 million in Russian arms.8
The events of today are not the fulfillment of the Ezekiel prophecy or the prophecies of Revelation. However, these may be significant in that they may be precursors to set the stage for these events to happen very soon. These nations will attack Israel, but God will intervene in a miraculous way.
God’s Miraculous Deliverance (38:17-39:8)
When the armies reach Israel, God’s anger will be aroused against Gog (Ezekiel 38:18). God will cause a great earthquake that will cause pandemonium between the invading armies,and they will turn on one another (Ezekiel 38:19-21). God will reign down torrents of rain, hail, and burning sulfur (Ezekiel 38:22). The armies will be decimated, and they will be food for the animals (Ezekiel 39:4). Both Israel and the world will see the hand of God protecting the nation of Israel (Ezekiel 39:7). Israel will plunder those who came to plunder Israel and use their weapons for fuel for several years. Through this deliverance, God will teach Israel that He is holy and is not to be profaned by their sins (Ezekiel 39:7). Also the nations will see that He is the Holy One in Israel. The road east of Jerusalem will be blocked by the graves of the armies (39:11). For seven months, the dead will need to be buried (Ezekiel 39:11-12). As a result of this battle, several significant things will happen.
The Effects of the Battle (Ezekiel 39:21-29)
First, Israel and the nations will recognize God’s intervention (vv. 21-29). The nations will recognize God (vv. 39:21). Israel will turn back to God (vv. 39:22- 29). The victory will hasten the return of more Jews to the land of Israel (vv. 39:28). There will be a national repentance. God will pour out His spirit among the Jews. Even through this tragedy, God’s will shall be accomplished. God’s glory and his justice will be exalted.
Throughout history, God has judged the sins of man to uphold His holiness and righteousness. The Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Belshazzar, and Herod in Acts 12 should instill a healthy fear of God whose justice and holiness will be honored. God will vindicate His holiness and justice on sin and those who oppose him. To focus exclusively on a God of love and kindness is to develop an imbalanced view of God. If holiness and righteousness are not part of a person’s concept of God, he has an imbalanced view of God. End time prophecy reminds us that God is indeed a holy and just God.
The events in the Middle East today are not the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 or the prophecies of Revelation. However, they appear to set the stage for the event prophesied in these books. Is the return of Christ imminent? I believe if the situation continues to intensify, perhaps His return is near.
In light of the events at hand, what should be our response? First, we must pray for our leaders so that they would have wisdom in dealing with both the present crisis and future ones that will arise, for conflict will continue until Christ returns. Second, we must pray for the peace of Jerusalem and also pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries around the world. Many are suffering much more intense persecution since the falling of their governments, and their population is decreasing as many flee their countries for safety.
Third, understanding prophecy gives us an understanding of world events and how they fit into God’s plan. God is in control and working world events to fulfill His purpose. These events are not catching Him by surprise, and He will be triumphant in the end. Fourth, we can have hope in the midst of a world in turmoil. Jesus said in Matthew 24:32-33, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” We should be concerned about the situation in the Middle East, but we must also look beyond the conflict to His return.
- Dore Gold, The Fight for Jerusalem, (Washington: Regenery, 2007), 230-1, quoted in Ron Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 2008), 30.
- Ali Ansari Confronting Iran (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 3, quoted in Ron Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 2008), 29.
- Ron Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 2008), 29.
- Jennifer Griffin “Iran Waiting in the Wings” Fox News.Com, 6 July 2011, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/07/06/iran-waiting-in-wings.
- Robert Specer, Stealth Jihad (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2008), 14.
- “Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement)” GlobalSecurity.org, 06/2010, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/hamas/htm, 02/10/2011.
- Robert McLean, “From Russia with Arms,” American Spectator, 2 May 2006. http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=9760.
- Rhodes, 44
© Evidence and Answers 2011