The world is a scary place right now isn't it? Just one look at the headlines and you’ll see stories about terrorism, the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, Ebola, economies in trouble and a jittery stock market.
I was asked to give an update about the events in the Middle East, and I realized I could easily talk for hours on just that topic alone. But in my job, I do a lot of press interviews and I’ve learned over the years that all stories can be condensed if you focus on the 5-W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why.
So, in an effort to keep this to 20 minutes, I figured the best way is to focus the story about what’s happening in the Middle East is to simply ask the 5-W’s. Let’s start with the two easiest of the 5: What and Where.
What & Where
What’s going on where? From Wikipedia…you can actually get a list of ongoing armed conflicts around the world ordered by # of deaths. Isn’t technology great?
1. Afghanistan: Civil War: 1-2M depending on when you start counting
- The modern conflict started following the 9-11 attacks with the US led effort to defeat Al-Qaeda to toppling the Taliban-led state
- Lately, there has been a significant increase in the number of Taliban-led terrorist attacks against the Karzai government following the US withdrawal.
2. Somalia: Civil War: 500K+
- Popularized by the movie “Black Hawk Down”.
- Continuation of the ongoing civil war started in the 1980’s between radical groups fighting the Somali government for control
3. Syria: Civil War: 260K+
- The unrest began in the early spring of 2011 as part of the Arab Spring protests
- The Assad government responded with violent crackdowns
- Conflict gradually morphed from protests to an armed rebellion
- The opposition consists of various groups including the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State (ISIS) all fighting for control
4. Mexican Drug War: 150K+
- Most are familiar with
5. Pakistan: 54K+
- Between the government and various al-Qaeda-related groups.
- The conflict began in 2004 when fighting broke out because Pakistan participated in the War on Terror and has now escalated.
6. Iraq: Insurgency: 27K+
- Started with the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011
- Since the U.S. military's withdrawal, the level of violence has risen as Sunni militant groups have stepped up attacks to undermine confidence in the Shia-led government
- This conflict has escalated dramatically with the rise of ISIS which has now taken control of major parts of the country
7. Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: 22K+
- The conflict has been ongoing since Israel became a state in 1948, but intensified this year with the all-out war between Israel and Gaza.
8. Nigeria: Islamic Insurgency: 22K+
- Began in 1999 when Sharia law was established in several Muslim-majority states in the North
- The conflict has intensified since 2009 when the Islamist group Boko Haram started an armed rebellion against the secular government of Nigeria
- Most people are familiar with the kidnapping of 276 female students, predominantly Christian, who were kidnaped and forced to convert to Islam
9. Sudan: Ethnic Violence: 15K+
- Violence erupted following the Southern Sudanese independence referendum in 2011 and a full-scale civil war is now underway
10. Egyptian Crisis: 4K+
- Started during the Arab spring with the overthrowing of President Hosni Mubarak
- After an election where the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate won and declared he had unlimited powers, there was another uprising that led to a coup and violent clashes have existed ever since.
11. War in Ukraine: 3K+
- Russia sent troops and military equipment into Ukraine in what has been termed a stealth invasion
12. Libya: 2K+
- Since the end of the Civil War, which overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, there has been violence involving various militias who fought against Gaddafi but refused to lay down their arms when the war ended.
- The violence has escalated into the current conflict which included the attacking of the U.S. consulate building in Benghazi.
The list could go on and on…these are only the conflicts that kill more than 1000 people per year.
Suffice it to say, there is a log happening in the world today and it seems like chaos, but the ‘What’ and the ‘Where’ is less interesting than the ‘Who’ and the ‘Why’.
It’s worth asking what do these conflicts all have in common? What is the underlying motivation for all these conflicts? Anyone watching the evening news can easily get confused and overwhelmed, but at the heart, most of these conflicts are related – they all share a common thread and it is this:
- Of the 30 conflicts happening around the world right now, that result in more than 100 deaths per year or more, at least 25 are rooted in Islam.
- Let me restate that – at least 85% of the top conflicts in the world today are rooted in Islam.
They are being conducted by Muslims in the name of Islam. Pick your country: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus, Indonesia, Iraq, Kashmir, Kosovo, Nigeria, Pakistan, Chechnya, Somalia, Sudan, Israel or some other country, at the heart is a war to “purify” Islam of “infidels”, whether they be Christians, Jews or other Muslim sects that one sect disagrees with.
But let’s dig deeper. If you look at the organizations instigating most of these conflicts: ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Boku Haram, the Taliban, or many of the others, what you’ll find is most all have their roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was started in the 1920s and is an umbrella organization of Islamic groups that have basically franchised the concept of radical Islam. Osama bin Laden was heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan is:
“God is our objective; the Qur'an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of God is our wish." Nice huh?
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 or Caliphate. Adherents to hardline Islam believe the Islamic Caliphate will be re-established through territorial expansion and force just as Muhammad did in the 6th and 7th centuries.
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.
I know many in the press think Islam is a “religion of peace”, but the history is very different. In spreading Islam in the 7th century, Muhammad himself conducted 27 battles and planned 39 others. Muhammad personally oversaw mass slaughters and beheadings. There is no question Muhammad led with the sword and his personal example was one of violence. That’s not to say that all Muslims are violent – they are not, if you look at the statistics from Pew Research, you’ll see that we’re not talking about a tiny minority:
|Country||# Muslims||Favor Strict Sharia Law||Other|
|79% blame the US for 9/11|
|~70% positive feelings for Bin Laden|
|~25% say suicide bombings are justified~67% believe honor killings of women is sometimes justified|
|32% support honor killings|
|78% support honor killings|
|76% support honor killings|
|60% approve of Hamas|
|78% positive feelings for Bin Laden89% support terror attacks on Israel|
|78% wanted Muhammad cartoonist prosecuted|
|19% favorable to Al-Qaeda|
In total, just looking at the above countries, 680M have radical Muslim beliefs. That’s not to say they’re terrorists, but what I’m focusing on is their belief system that fosters an ideology. If you extrapolate these figures around the world, you get more than half of the 1.6B Muslims on earth share these beliefs. This stands in stark contrast to Christianity.
In the Bible, there is only one recorded incident where one of Jesus’s followers drew a sword. It occurred in the garden during Christ’s arrest and is recorded in each of the Gospels. In this incident, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest arresting Jesus. Instead of rejoicing as Muhammad did when one of his followers cut off the head of an opponent, Christ rebuked Peter saying “Put your sword away! For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Christ then touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Christ’s personal example sets quite a contrast to that of Muhammad’s.
So now we’ve discussed the “What”, “Where” and “Who”, so let’s discuss the “Why” which I think is even more interesting. This past month, to his credit, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in discussing ISIS hit the nail on the head by emphasizing how dangerous they were stating:
They are “beyond just a terrorist group”. They are driven by “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”.
I think as a Christian, it’s worth asking what is this apocalyptic vision that these groups all share? What’s driving them? In the Islamic view of the end times:
- The Mahdi (‘Messiah’ or successor to Muhammad) is the prophesied redeemer who will rule for seven or more years before the Day of Judgment which is also called the Day of Resurrection)
- He will come to 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 “false Messiah" or Antichrist.
There are some differences between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims, but here is the key: Muslims believe they can hasten the coming of the Mahdi/Messiah and the end-times through Jihad and by establishing a new Caliphate which will pave the way for his return. This is why ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Boku Haram, etc. are all so militant and all so driven to :
- Conquer territory,
- Attack the West,
- Force converts to Islam and
- Re-establish the Caliphate
Because they believe it is exactly what Allah wants them to do and what will hasten the return of their ‘Messiah’.
I’ve pointed out to readers of my newsletter 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.
- Muslims 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.
- Muslims 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.
- Muslims 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.
- Muslims 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.
- Muslims 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.
- Muslims believe Jesus Christ will return during this period.
- -> Christians believe the same.
As I said – these people aren’t crazy as it relates to their view of the end-times – the beliefs they hold in the major events and timeline of the end times aren’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 fascinating. 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 spiritual war 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 use the term ‘spiritual war’ very intentionally. I believe in Ephesians 6:12 that says ‘our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’
Which brings us to the final of the 5-W’s: “When”. It’s interesting to me that all these events are happening now. As many of you know, I study, write and teach about prophecy a lot. As I’ve said many times, I’m not a prophet – I’m just a student of the Bible, and I have no idea if we are 1, 10 or 100 years away from Christ’s return to Earth.
But what I do know is these things are all happening at a unique time in history:
- Prior to 1948, the end-times as described in the Bible couldn’t have happened because Israel wasn’t a nation. It’s only since then that a true end-times scenario as described in Revelation could even play out.
At the same time we’re seeing the rise of radical Islam across the Middle East, we’re also seeing:
- A rise in infectious disease around the world such as AIDS, West Nile, TB, and of course, most recently, Ebola
- We’re also seeing increasing hostility toward Christianity. Not only in Islamic countries, but also in our own country.
- Consider this: just this year Christians have been put out of business for not wanting to participate in Gay weddings
- Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship has kicked off all the State Universities in California because they insisted that leaders sign a statement of faith.
- This week in Houston, the mayor issued subpoenas demanding pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality or gender identity
- Ministers who fail to comply will be held in contempt of court.
- I could go on, but when you look at the signs of the times outlined in Matthew 24, it’s hard not to argue that we live in a unique time where the stage could be set for Christ’s ultimate return.
So, what are we as Christians to do? I think a lot of people become fearful of these events, but that is the opposite of what Christ asked us to do.
First, I think we need to remember that God is in control. Amid all the confusion and fear in the world, God is in control of all things according to His plan and purpose. As they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn, and the dawn, in this case, is the return of our Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of his Kingdom to the earth. This is precisely what Christ taught us to pray for…that “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven” – we are praying for Him to return!
Second, we should not have a fatalistic attitude. I think it’s easy to give up or think that we can’t do anything in times like these, but that is not what Christ taught. Just the opposite, When He told His disciples of His return to earth, He said, “Do my business until I come” (Luke 19:13), and “It will be good for the servant whose master finds him working faithfully when he returns” (Matthew 24:46). This is what we should be doing.
Dwight L. Moody once said, “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. Its ruin is getting nearer and nearer. God said to me, ‘Moody, here’s a lifeboat. Go out and rescue as many as you can before the ship sinks.’” If there was ever a time when we should man the lifeboats and go out and rescue as many as we can, it is now.
I think we should look toward the prophet Daniel who lived in a pagan nation and under the worst possible conditions. He knew that God’s judgment was about to come, but he did not give up and wait for it to strike. Rather, he opened wide his windows and prayed. He also carried on his business of helping lead in a hostile government.
Finally, we should realize that God’s timing is not our timing. We may think we live in a fearful and unique time, but God is patient.
- In the first century, most Christians felt they were living in the end times due to the persecution under Nero and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. It was during this time that God raised up Paul and Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire.
- In the dark ages, many Christians also felt they were living in the end times because the Church had become terribly corrupt and embraced many false doctrines. It was during this period that Martin Luther rose up and started the Protestant Reformation.
- In the early 1700’s, most Christians also felt they were living in the end times. It was during this period England had become a moral abyss and suppressed Christianity.
- It was during this time that committed Christians like John and Charles Wesley, John Milton and John Bunyan started the Sunday School movement, and William Wilberforce committed himself to the abolition of the slave trade.
I could probably add in some other periods of time (i.e. World War II), but you get the point. In all of the above periods, committed Christians felt they were living in the end times. However, in each of the time periods above, a group of faithful Christians prayed, committed themselves to the Word, and led spiritual revivals that eventually transformed the world. My question is what would happen, as in periods past, if a group of truly committed Christians rise up today, insisting on reform our world? I don’t know, but that is precisely what God has called us to do.
Let me close with a true story:
It was during a time of economic collapse, high unemployment and worries about war, that a group of half-a-dozen men gathered at the home of one of the men to pray. They prayed for economic renewal, and more importantly, spiritual renewal across our country.
They prayed (and I quote): “By faith, we are going to put God to the test. On this day, we are going to ask God to give this nation – no, all nations – a voice to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Are we all agreed on this one thing?” One by one, all the men joined hands in strong, solid agreement and prayed “Oh Lord, out of this very city, may you raise up such a one as will go out and preach your gospel to the ends of the earth.”
Eavesdropping on this group of men was the 15-year-old boy of the person whose home they had gathered at. The boy was not a Christian and though the meeting was ridiculous.
The year was 1934, during the Great Depression. The boy’s name was Billy Graham.
It was out of the Great Depression that Billy Graham and others arose preaching the Truth that led to a revival in our country and across the world that led tens if not hundreds of millions of people to Christ.
I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I do know that a few committed Christians praying together can have a tremendous impact on the world and that God uses events like economic collapse and wars to refocus people on Him.
Something to consider…
P.S. The title of this talk/update ("World in Crisis") was actually the title of a talk Billy Graham gave in 1976 discussing current events and the end-times. I think it's as important now, as it was then, during times of trouble for Christians to stand up and preach the truth of the gospel message.
Note: The previous notes are from Bryan Mistele's recent speaking engagement on the topic of current events in the Middle East and the World.