Like many people, I’ve been fascinated to watch the events of the past month (Aug. 2014) unfold across the Middle East, including:
- The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and the subsequent condemnations of Israel and calls for cease fires and peace accords.
- The rapid expansion of ISIS (aka ISIL or ‘The Islamic State’ – the successor of Al-Qaeda in Iraq), which has now taken over significant parts of Syria and Iraq. ISIS published a map of the territory they aspire to conquer which includes almost every nation between Spain and the borders of China as well as Eastern Europe.
- The ongoing civil war in Syria between the Assad government and the Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella group of the opposition.
- The warning by Libya that fighting there is likely to descend into a full-scale civil war.
- The continued aggression of Boku Haram in Nigeria and it's apparent joining the Islamic Caliphate with ISIS.
- The list could go on and on…
There is no question there is a lot happening in the world today and it seems like chaos, but it’s worth asking what do these events all have in common? What is the underlying motivation for all these conflicts? Why are they happening now and where do we think they will lead? Anyone watching the evening news can easily get confused and overwhelmed, but at the heart of the matter all of these conflicts are related – they all share a common thread.
This past week, to his credit, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hit the nail on the head by emphasizing how dangerous and volatile ISIS was describing them as “beyond just a terrorist group” driven by “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”. This statement was overshadowed in the press by the President’s statement that the US has “no strategy yet” for dealing with ISIS, but I think Chuck Hagel at least correctly diagnosed the root of the issue. ISIS claims to be a Caliphate (an Islamic state led by a successor to Muhammad) and is, in fact, driven by an apocalyptic vision.
At its heart, ISIS (as well as Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Boku Haram, etc.) are all Sunni groups with their roots in the Muslim Brotherhood that follow a hardline ideology and adhere to global jihadist principles. These groups all aim to return to the early days of Islam when Muhammad unified the Arab world into a single religious and political entity. Unlike Christianity which is a faith spread through voluntary belief, Islam under Muhammad spread through force. This is why when Boku Haram, for instance, abducts Christian girls, they force them to convert to Islam. When ISIS took over Northern Iraq where many Christians live, they gave Christians one week to convert to Islam or die. Those that didn’t were beheaded and some were crucified. Adherents to hardline Islam believe the Islamic Caliphate (following a ‘purified’ form of Islam) will be re-established through territorial expansion and force just as Muhammad did in the 6th and 7th centuries and want to remove all borders between Islamic Middle Eastern countries. (1)
It’s interesting to point out the Bible says in Revelation 20:4 that Christians will be beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because they refused to worship the Antichrist. I remember reading this as a child thinking “‘beheaded?’ Really? No one is beheaded anymore – this is the 20th Century, not the Middle Ages. This must be a figure of speech or something…”, and yet here we are in 2014 and we’ve seen play out on our TV’s in the past month thousands of Christians quite literally beheaded and crucified for their refusal to turn to Islam.
More important than their view of the Caliphate, is the fact that all these groups share the same view of the end-times. In Islamic eschatology, the Mahdi (‘Messiah’ or successor to Muhammad) is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will rule for seven or more years before the Day of Judgment (literally, the Day of Resurrection) and will rid the world of evil. According to Islamic tradition, the Mahdi's tenure will coincide with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (they believe Christ is a prophet), who is to assist the Mahdi against the Masih ad-Dajjal (literally, the "false Messiah" or Antichrist). Differences exist in the concept of the Mahdi between Sunni Muslims and adherents of the Shia tradition. For Sunnis, the Mahdi is Muhammad's successor who is yet to come. For most Shia Muslims, the Mahdi was born but disappeared and will remain hidden from humanity until he reappears to bring justice to the world. Muslims believe they can hasten the coming of the Mahdi and the end-times through Jihad and the establishment of a new Caliphate which will pave the way for his return. (2) In June Ayatollah Khamenei revealed his latest thinking on the subject promising a world free of infidels and nonbelievers with the coming of the Islamic messiah, Mahdi, a 9th-century descendant of the prophet Mohammad whom the Shiites refer to as the 12th Imam.
This is why ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Boku Haram, etc. are all so militant and all so driven to 1) conquer territory, 2) attack the West, 3) force converts to Islam and 4) re-establish the Caliphate – because they believe it is what Allah wants them to do and what will hasten the return of their ‘Messiah’.
I’ve pointed out many times before that these people aren’t crazy (at least as far as it relates to their end-times beliefs). In fact, I would argue that they have a far deeper understanding of the true Biblical end-times timeline than most Christians do. Consider:
- They believe in the rise of the Mahdi who will rule for seven or more years. Christians believe in the rise of the Antichrist who will rule for seven years.
- They believe the Mahdi will usher in 7 or more years of peace following a time of war in the Middle East. Christians believe the Antichrist will broker a 7 year peace treaty during a time of war in the Middle East, but the 7 years will descend into chaos.
- They believe in persecuting Christians and Jews. The Mahdi will do this as a means to purify the world. Christians believe there will be extreme persecution of Christians and Jews in the end times at the hand of the Antichrist.
- They believe at the end of the 7-year period, there will be a time of judgment and resurrection of the dead. Christians believe the same.
- They believe Jesus Christ will return during this period. Christians believe the same.
- They believe they can hasten the end times by causing massive conflict in the Middle East as they re-establish their Caliphate. Christians believe the end times will be preceded by massive conflict in the Middle East.
As I said – these people aren’t crazy as it relates to their eschatology (view of the end-times) – the beliefs they hold in the major events and timeline of the end times isn’t wrong – they are just being deceived into playing for the other side. This is what makes the conflicts in the Middle East today so interesting. Although the events of the Arab Spring; the civil wars in Syria, Libya, Nigeria; the war in Israel against Hamas; and the rapid expansion of ISIS all seem separate and distinct – they are not. They are all just battles in a major war of ideology that has at its core a belief system and end times view that plays right into the Christian view of the events leading up to the rise of the Antichrist.
I think it’s worth pointing out that many Christians do not believe the Antichrist will be Muslim and are looking for a restored “Roman Empire” to usher in the rise of the Antichrist. I’ll save this topic for my next newsletter, but it’s interesting to point out that the map that ISIS published showing their territorial ambitions (which included part of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula) looks surprisingly like the territory controlled by the Romans during the time of Christ. With the rapid demographic growth of Muslims throughout Europe (‘Muhammad’ is now the most popular boys name in the UK, France, and Norway), it’s not hard to see how the traditional Christian view of a restored “Roman Empire” and the rise of the Antichrist could merge with that of the Islam to become one in the same.
Something to consider…
1. Based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant#Ideology_and_beliefs
2. Based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahdi