Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (March 2011)
The Bible contains a wealth of information on the end-time, and particularly on conditions in the Middle East. The restoration of Israel in their God-given land is an important theme in the Bible. The hostility which they experience from neighbouring nations (specifically the Arab nations) is discussed in detail in the Bible. It is even indicated that at a certain stage Israel will be besieged by a global force. According to the Bible, Israel and Jerusalem are not only the focal points for Christ’s end-time world government, but at an earlier stage also for that of the Antichrist, who will be followed and worshipped by all nations (Rev. 13:3-4,7). Big wars are prophesied for this time, also major natural disasters (Matt. 24:6-7). Serious religious deception and a virulent campaign of hatred against Jews and Christians will occur, which will strongly manifest in the Middle East (Matt. 24:4-5, 23-27; Zech. 12:2-3).
In view of this scenario we should not lose touch with the Bible – neither with the unfolding of religious, political and military conditions in the Middle East. All the aspects of this important matter should be thoroughly investigated if we wish to correctly interpret them and ensure that our loyalties are always correctly determined. In historical times, the future of the world was determined in the Middle East, and in the end-time it will again be the case – to even a greater extent. The Bible refers to the following important events in this region:
God gave the land of Israel as an eternal habitation to the founding fathers of Israel, namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their posterity, and confirmed it with a solemn covenant (Gen. 13:14-15; 26:3; 28:13). Before the people of Israel occupied the land it was called Canaan (Gen. 17:7-8) but afterwards it was named Israel – not Palestine. In many cases reference is only made to the regions or provinces of Israel, i.e. Judea, Samaria and Galilee.
When Israel is restored in their God-given land in the end-time, they specifically return to Israel, regardless of whatever name has been given to the land by foreign occupiers. The Lord says: “I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel” (Ezek. 11:17; cf. Ezek 20:42).
Israel’s long periods of dispersion from the land because of apostasy never abrogated the eternal covenant between God and them. Even if they are unfaithful, God remains faithful (Lev. 26:44-45). In the end-time, the Lord brings the people of Israel back to their land to test and refine them in order to spiritually restore a remnant (Ezek. 22:18-22; Jer. 30:7; Zech. 13:1,8-9; Rom. 11:25-28). They will definitely yet be fully restored as God’s people:
“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you... Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezek. 36:24-28).
When Israel are all saved after the dark days of the great tribulation when the Messiah comes (Zech. 12:10-12; Jer. 31:31-34), they will be highly regarded and honoured by all the nations of the world (Zech. 8:23; Isa. 60:11-15).
The word “epicentre” means “a central point”. The Messianic Jew, Joel Rosenberg, uses this concept in his book Epicenter to indicate that Israel is the epicentre of the earth, Jerusalem is the epicentre of Israel, and the Temple Mount which is part of Mount Zion, is the epicentre of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is an absolute focal point of the whole world: here, Christ has paid the ransom for the sins of the whole world, from this city He ascended to heaven, here, the Holy Spirit was poured out and the Christian church established, from here the message of salvation was carried out and proclaimed in the entire world, and to this city the Lord Jesus will return to establish His reign of peace when He will rule the whole world from the restored throne of David.
During the coming dispensation, Jerusalem will be exalted to a praise in the earth (Isa. 62:6-7). All the nations will go up to “the city of the great King” (Ps. 48:2) to honour the Lord and take counsel from Him; and they will all live in peace without any warfare among them (Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:20-22).
It is obvious that in the light of Jerusalem’s important historical and prophetic significance, the alternate kingdom of darkness will try to seize this city and country in the centre of the earth. They will allocate the land to a people of their own choice, offer their own ‘Christ’ as saviour to the world, and promise humanity a world government that will endeavour to bring peace and unity to the spiritually divided and hostile nations.
These factors explain the great hostility which Israel met with since their restoration in 1948. During their long absence the kingdom of darkness had enough time to establish an alternate monotheistic faith in the Middle East in which a false god is worshipped instead of the Bible’s Triune God, to change the name of the land from Israel to Palestine, to assemble a number of nomadic Arabs and declare them to be a Palestinian people, and also to lay hold on the Temple Mount and erect three mosques to the honour of their god and his prophet.
The big influence which Israel’s Arab and Muslim enemies enjoy in the Middle East as well as the whole world can mainly be attributed to their oil wealth. The world cannot even for one month survive without the sustained delivery of this “black gold”, and for that reason they will do anything to appease these oil barons. They are even executing Islam’s demand to divide the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem between Jews and Palestinians.
America is in the forefront of the campaign which promotes a two-state solution in Israel. This idea has been espoused by the entire world, and tremendous pressure is exerted on Israel to act accordingly. Should Israel fail to comply, plans are in place for a unilateral declaration of independence for Palestine by September 2011, with the full support of the international community.
It is this unjustified campaign of hatred against Israel which will induce the Lord to gather all nations against Jerusalem in the end-time, in order to enter into judgement with them there (Zech. 12:2-3; 14:2-3l Joel 3:2).
Israel’s Arab neighbours (moderate as well as radical ones) are forming a united front against Israel and are committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Many of the wars that were fought in the Middle East since 1948 were between Israel and its Arab neighbours. These nations have not yet accomplished their sinister objective because the Lord is helping Israel in their struggle for survival. But this has rendered Israel’s enemies even more fanatical, and their hatred for the Jews will continue to increase until they conspire together to obliterate Israel from the face of the earth. The psalmist pleads for Israel:
“Oh God! Do not hold your peace, and do not be still, o God! For behold, your enemies make a tumult, and those who hate you have lifted up their head. They take crafty counsel against your people, and consulted together against your sheltered ones. They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more. For they have consulted together with one consent; they form a confederacy against you: the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab and the Hagarites; Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assyria also has joined with them; they have helped the children of Lot” (Psalm 83:1-8).
In this section, the ancient peoples are mentioned from which the modern Arabic peoples are descended. The northern Arabs, among who were also Mohammad and his followers, descended from Ishmael and regard themselves as Ishmaelites. According to them, the promises to Abraham were inherited by Mohammed and his successors through Abraham’s eldest son, Ishmael. The southern Arabs (Egypt and surrounding nations) say that they are descended from Kachtan, which probably refers to Joktan (Gen. 10:25-30). All the Arabs, like the Jews, are descended from Shem and are therefore Semitic peoples. To allege that the Arabs are anti-Semitic if they hate the Jews, is an anomaly as they, themselves, are Semites. This term was coined by Hitler before World War II, when the Jews were regarded to be the most significant representative of the Semitic peoples.
Large-scale Arabisation occurred in the 7th and 8th centuries during the conquests of the Islamic Arabs. Linguistic and cultural assimilation occurred, which caused many peoples from other nations to also regard themselves as Arabs. There are currently about 286 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, and another 14 million dispersed throughout the world – a total of 300 million. The Arab League which was established in 1946 defines an Arab as a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arab country, and who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic speaking peoples. Many of the descendants of Nimrod in the present Syria (the ancient Assyrians) also regard themselves as Arabs. The psalmist says “Assyria also has joined with them” (Ps. 83:8).
Israel is surrounded by a large number of Muslim Arabs in the Middle East. Many of them are contemplating Israel’s downfall as they intend to establish a leading Muslim state in its place with Jerusalem as capital. Sheikh Riyad Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, is actively teaching the tenets of Islamic revolution: “We are at the gates of the Islamic revolution,” he says to Arab citizens of Israel. “The global forces of evil will be eliminated from the world and the Islamic nation will remain in place in order to bring about the world Islamic revolution, with its capital, Jerusalem.” But before that can happen they first have to remove Israel and replace them by the Palestinian nation. The hatred of Jews is a fundamental aspect of Islam’s worldview and is instilled in their children from a very young age.
According to Ezekiel 38 and 39, various Arab countries will attack Israel under the leadership of Russia, in an effort to bring them to their knees and wipe Israel off the map. Gog, of the land Magog, (that is modern Russia in the land north of the Caucasus Mountains) will join forces with Persia (Iran), Togarmah (Turkey), Ethiopia, Libya, and Gomer (Germany or one or other East-European nation) to invade Israel. Other nations will also join them to form a very big and formidable power.
Israel’s enemies plan to obtain the participation of Russia for this big war. To Russia there is the benefit of interests in the Middle East oil fields. They would also want to prevent China from rendering military aid to the Arabs, should Russia itself refuse to do so. Although reluctantly, Russia will, according to the Bible, agree to participate in a war of annihilation against the Jewish state (Ezek. 38:4).
The war of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is steadfastly approaching. The Lord will reveal Himself in a very definite and unmistakable way through preventing this war (Ezek. 38:16). The sudden supernatural destruction of the invading forces by fire is clearly mentioned (Ezek. 39:4-6). There will also be a very big earthquake in Israel (Ezek. 38:19).
Russia, Israel and all the nations will recognise God because of this very clear supernatural intervention. That will bring about a major change in thinking as most of the peoples of the world, including Israel, have largely lapsed into agnosticism, materialism and humanism and consequently rejected, ignored or degraded the Triune God and His Word. Virtually all of them regard Christianity to be on an equal level with the pagan religions. In a typical postmodern fashion they view the religious statements and moral guidelines of the Bible as old-fashioned, irrelevant and obsolete.
With the supernatural destruction of Israel’s enemies, the nations will acknowledge that the God of Israel and the Bible is the true God who should be feared and worshipped. That will override atheism, agnosticism and secularism. There will however be such feeble knowledge of God that they will accept the wrong person, the Antichrist, as Christ and representative of God. He will exploit the nations’ veneration for supernatural signs and, together with the false prophet, present a spectacle of signs and wonders (2 Thess. 2:9-10; Rev. 13:12-14). Humanity will accept it in reverence and awe.
The signs and wonders of the Antichrist and false prophet will be so amazing, and the claim by the Antichrist that he is a descendant of King David who was sent to the world on behalf of all faiths, will sound so convincing, that even Israel will be deceived into accepting him as their promised Messiah (John 5:43). He will claim credit for the sudden termination of the threatening war in Israel, and that will overnight propel him to the position of prince of peace and unchallenged world leader. The Gentile nations will join Israel in concluding a seven-year treaty with him and recognise him as their leader. They will follow him in amazement (Rev. 13:3-4) and hail him for delivering humanity from a threatening third world war, averting a certain economic collapse, and restoring the ailing world economy and getting it back on track.
The Antichrist will make extensive use of electronic facilities to operate his global government. Among others, he will institute a computer-based cashless monetary system in which no one will be able to buy or sell without a number (Rev. 13:16-18). Technology has already been developed to supply every economically active person with a small silicon chip with a micro processor imbedded in it. The chip will be put into a glass capsule and injected under a person’s skin – on his hand or forehead.
Everybody will have a unique identity number which will be registered on a global computer network, and be used to debit his account electronically when purchases are made. The moment when a person exposes his hand or forehead to a scanner, al his personal details will be known and his account will immediately be debited. At the same time, his exact whereabouts will also be known, which means that nobody will enjoy much freedom.
The number which Revelation 13:16-18 refers to is specifically called the number of the “beast” (Antichrist). To be able to obtain this number, a person will have to sign an oath of allegiance to this ruler. That will include the acknowledging of his global government, as well as the willingness to worship him as world messiah. That will only be enforced on all people in the middle of his seven-year reign. People who comply with these conditions just for the sake of getting a number will actually be selling their souls to the devil as they will then be compelled to worship the Antichrist and his image. The judgements of God have already been proclaimed upon such people (Rev. 14:9-11).
The future e-government of the Antichrist will deprive people of all their basic freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of political allegiance, and also economic freedom. Even all their movements will be known – not only by information about the places where they make e-payments, but also by way of satellite-linked tracking systems which operate through cell phones. The e-messages which are sent to other people will also be recorded, which means it will be very difficult to conduct a propaganda campaign against the coming new world order and its rulers. It will not be possible to topple them through a national revolt.
The great wealth which has been accumulated, particularly in the rich oil-producing countries, is mostly not spent to the advantage of the ordinary citizens. Mammon (the devil) is the god of money, and everybody who makes friends with him will end up in his everlasting habitation (Luke 16:9,13). James also warns against the dangers associated with the amassing of great wealth, particularly in the last days:
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord... You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in the day of slaughter” (Jas. 5:1-5).
That is the major problem which the Arab nations also have with the rich billionaires in their countries. They shamelessly exploit their own people, but for themselves they build up treasures which their families cannot spend in a whole lifetime, even if they buy everything that their eyes can see. The children of the rich elite are so spoilt that they are not willing to study hard to obtain good qualifications; that is why foreigners are employed to do the work in their country. Add to this wealth Islam’s strong commitment to expanding its power, as well as their religious hatred of Jews and Christians, and you have a problem of global proportions.
King David was surrounded by wealthy heathens and he bewailed his fate to the Lord – also in Psalm 17. This psalm definitely has a prophetic application to end-time Israel. Surrounded by rich Islamic countries who are seeking its destruction, Israel has no real way out other than calling on the Lord to save them from the violent actions of the callous and very rich heathen:
“They have closed up their fat hearts; with their mouths they speak proudly. They have now surrounded us in our steps; they have set their eyes, crouching down to the earth, like a lion that is eager to tear his prey, and as a young lion lurking in secret places. Arise, O Lord, confront him, cast him down; deliver my life from the wicked with your sword, with your hand from men, O Lord, from men of the world who have their portion in this life, and whose belly you fill with your hidden treasure. They are satisfied with children, and leave the rest of their substance for their babes. As for me, I will see your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness” (Psalm 17:10-15).
The hidden treasures which Israel’s enemies have, can in our time be nothing else but the oil riches which remained hidden below the ground for a very long time. They have so much of it that they have become satiated and are leaving the abundance of their wealth to their children. Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 804) say the following in their introduction to Psalm 17:
“In this psalm David was conscious of his own integrity while he was surrounded by enemies whose portion was in this life only. He prayed to be kept from the evil world that oppressed him as he looked to a glorious future in the Lord’s presence. The psalm is similar in many ways to Psalm 16, but there is a major difference. In Psalm 16 David was aware of danger in the background, but his faith encouraged him not to fear. In Psalm 17, however, the danger was pressing in on him, so help from the Lord was urgently needed.”
Modern Israel is in great distress, surrounded by a large number of enemies, while many of its former friends such as the USA are turning their backs on Israel and collude with their enemies. Because of Israel’s spiritual blindness there will not be complete salvation to them now. First, there will be the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7) which will be the tribulation of seven years. After that, a remnant of the nation will be saved when the Messiah comes, but only after having passed through a time of severe tribulation and testing (Zech. 13:8-9).
When the Lord Jesus sets foot on the Mount of Olives at His second coming, after the dark days of the great tribulation (Zech. 14:4-5), the remnant in Israel will look on Him whom they have pierced and bitterly grieve for Him (Zech. 12:10). Paul says, “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26). Then, Israel will be fully reconciled with God through the Messiah: “They all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34).
The Messiah will rule from the restored throne of David (Acts 15:16-17) and Jerusalem will be exalted and made a praise in the earth (Isa. 62:6-7). The devil will be bound (Rev. 20:1-3) and peace will prevail all over the world. “At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; they shall walk no more after the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. 3:17).
Israel will then fulfil their calling to which they were unworthy as a people during the first coming of the Messiah. Before His ascension the Lord Jesus said to them that they would accept Him at His second coming: “I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39). Then, they will be a blessing to the whole world (Rom. 11:11-12). Isaiah says: “Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6).
On the day of Christ’s second coming, not only a remnant of Israel will be saved but also a remnant of the Gentiles. Unfortunately, most of the unsaved ones will be dead by then, because the preceding seven years are described as a “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And if those days had not been shortened, no flesh would be saved” (Matt. 24:21-22; cf. Isa. 13:9-13). When the surviving ones see Christ coming, they will mourn for their sins and accept Him as Saviour:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30).
John says that a world power under the leadership of the Antichrist and false prophet will assemble to fight against Christ and His heavenly army on the day of His second coming. This confrontation will lead to the destruction of the antichristian powers (Rev. 19:19-21). The Lord will judge the armies of the nations who fought against Jerusalem (Zech. 14:2-5,12-13). Those among them who survive this judgement, will be saved and go up to Jerusalem every year to worship the Lord (Zech. 14:16). The hostility of the past will be forgotten.
A future blessing is promised to some of Israel’s present enemies who still seek Israel’s destruction, particularly Syria and Egypt. Those among them who survive the great tribulation will all accept the Lord Jesus as Saviour and worship Him with all their heart. The Islamic faith will no longer exist: “In that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered” (Zech. 13:2). There will be Christian reforms everywhere, in all countries, but the strongest testimony for the Messiah will go out from the Middle East:
“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land [or earth], whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed is Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance” (Isa. 19:23-25).
In Jerusalem, in the centre (epicentre) of the earth, the Messiah’s throne of righteousness will be established. All the nations will go up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord and to be instructed in His ways; they will no longer learn to make war (Isa. 2:2-4).
The wonderful message to true Christians among the nations is that they are not destined for the dark days of God’s judgements that will be poured out upon a sinful world during the tribulation period. Just as Christians escaped the first century siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Roman forces, which was a judgement of Gods because of Israel’s unbelief (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24), they will also escape the end-time judgements that will be poured out upon the whole world: “Watch therefore and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). This escape is the rapture, as promised in John 14:2-3 and further explained in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
The promise in Luke 21:36 that we will “escape all these things that will come to pass”, is very clear in the context in which it is given. It is part of Christ’s Olivet Discourse which refers to both first generation and last generation judgements in the Christian dispensation. In the first generation after the crucifixion of Christ there was a literal, physical escape for Christians from God’s judgements that came upon Jerusalem and the unbelieving Jewish people. In the last generation before the second coming of Christ there will also be a literal, physical escape for Christians before the tribulation upon an evil and God-rejecting world.
The word “escape” (Gr. ekfugo) means only one thing: to be taken to a place of safety outside the area of divine judgements, in this case to the presence of the Son of Man. A physical escape is also exactly what happened during the outpouring of divine judgements in the time of Noah and Lot. There are unfortunately theologians and Bible translators, including all those who are deceived by them, who simply refuse to believe in this clear promise. That is the reason why the concept “escape” was omitted from some of the new translations of the Bible, e.g. the Good News for Modern Man. In the case of the rapture thus being misrepresented it is certainly no good news that true believers will pass through the time of judgements and tribulation. What happened to the “blessed hope” of the coming of Christ for His holy ones? (cf. Titus 2:13).
It will be a big testimony to Israel, their Muslim enemies and all nations and faiths of the world that only true Christians will have suddenly disappeared. When they investigate the matter by consulting the Bible and good Christian books or websites, and also talking to backslidden but informed Christians who remained behind, they will quickly discover that the heavenly Bridegroom had snatched away His bride. They will also see how the Antichrist is revealed in the midst of great spiritual deception, although initially hailed as a prince of peace, and look on as the judgements of God are being poured out upon the earth (cf. Rev. 6:15-17).
The judgements will gradually get worse as the seven-year tribulation progresses. Close to the end of this period, conditions will be at their worst but people will then know that the public appearing of Christ at the end of Daniel’s 70th year-week – a seven-year period starting with the revelation of the Antichrist – will soon occur as explained in Daniel 9:24-27 and 12:1-13. The dictatorship of the Antichrist will then reach its climax. The Lord Jesus said in His Olivet Discourse:
“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27). Christ will return with all the saints who were earlier taken away by Him (Zech. 14:5; Col. 3:4). That will be the beginning of His thousand-year reign of peace on earth (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:6).
The world is in turmoil and the time for the secret coming of the Messiah is at hand. His coming at the rapture will be “as a snare” to all people (Luke 21:35). Although there are various signs of the times, e.g. the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem, the emerging new world order and rumours of wars in many places, most people will not expect the imminent return of Christ. The coming of the heavenly Bridegroom in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, will come upon then as a snare and they will suddenly find themselves in the hour of darkness during the tribulation. Even many Christians fail to pay close attention to the signs of the times (Luke 12:54-56).
It is for reasons such as these that we should take interest in world events and see to it that we have oil in our lamps, i.e. that we are filled with the Holy Spirit and are living under His guidance (cf. Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16). We should look beyond the fear for a new war, the sharp rise in the fuel price, revolutions, uprisings, anarchy and earthquakes, and realise that in a time such as this we should be spiritually vigilant. However, the love of many Christians is growing cold when sin and unrighteousness increase (Matt. 24:12). They will react in panic at a very late stage to get their deteriorated spiritual lives in order (Matt. 25:6-9). Blessed are those who will be prepared.