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The Middle East in Prophecy

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The Middle East has seen a history of war—from ancient times through the present—and your Bible reveals that there will be even more regional wars in the Middle East, leading to what is commonly called "Armageddon"! Jerusalem will be a focal point of conflict in coming years.


Jerusalem is the most important city in the world. Scripture shows that the region surrounding it-the Middle East-will eventually explode into world war. Do you know what the Bible teaches about the end-time climax of world events in that region?

With its present uncertainty and turmoil, can we know the final outcome of the Middle East conflict? We can. The Bible outlines end-time events leading up to Jesus Christ's return. A Millennium of peace and prosperity is coming, under the rulership of the Messiah. As King of kings, Jesus Christ will rule the earth with justice and righteousness, and all nations on earth will learn a new way of life-the way to peace.

Yet throughout history, human nature has looked to war as the final arbiter of disputes. The Apostle Paul made a profound statement: "The way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:17-18).

The Middle East has seen a history of war, from ancient times through the present. More than one million were killed in the Iraq-Iran War from 1980 to 1988. Thousands upon thousands more died in the Persian Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91. In that conflict, Iraqi troops set fire to more than 600 oil wells in Kuwait. The black smoke evoked images of Armageddon. This widespread pollution was called at the time the "world's worst man-made environmental disaster" (Time Almanac 2000, p. 605).

Will there be more wars in the Middle East? Sadly, the answer is "yes." Your Bible reveals that there will be even more regional wars in the Middle East, leading to what is commonly called "Armageddon"! Jerusalem will be a focal point of conflict.

Arabs and Israelis have been at war again and again since the modern state of Israel was established [see inset]. Peace has often been proclaimed in the region, but has never been realized. At present, there is little prospect of lasting peace among Middle East nations.

Hopes were high in September 1993 when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed an accord in Washington, D.C. Two years later, they signed an interim agreement leading to increased Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In October 1998, the Wye River Memorandum provided steps to implement the 1995 interim agreement, looking to a May 1999 target date for a final resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But no resolution could be found. The July 2000 Camp David summit, called by United States President Bill Clinton, failed to formulate a final peace agreement-underscoring the bitter truth that both Israel and the Palestinians consider Jerusalem their exclusive capital, and do not want the other to have unfettered control of this historic city.

Jerusalem is sacred to the three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Muslims and Jews have been at odds for more than 1,300 years, since an Arabian trader named Muhammad, 800 miles southeast of Jerusalem, founded the religion of Islam [For more about Islam's role in history and prophecy, please see "Islam in History and Prophecy" on page 26 of this issue].

The Temple Mount is a focus for Muslims and Jews. Islam's Dome of the Rock stands where Solomon's Temple once stood. Jews are not allowed to pray on the Mount itself, so they come to the Western Wall-or "Wailing Wall"-at the base of the Mount to pray. Jews yearn to have a religious presence on the Temple Mount itself.

In September 2000, when he was still opposition leader, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, inciting Palestinian protesters to begin a new intifada of escalating violence against Israeli targets. Since Sharon's visit, more than 500 have been killed-at least 481 Palestinians, 88 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs as of late May-in Israeli-Palestinian clashes. In May, Israel used fighter-bombers against Palestinians for the first time since 1967. Arab countries have responded by calling for suspension of relations with Israel until the violence ceases.

What does Bible prophecy say will eventually occur in Jerusalem? Scripture is plain. "Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city" (Zechariah 14:1-2).

"All the nations" will fight in this conflict, during that period of time known as the Day of the Lord, the year just before Jesus Christ's prophesied return. But what major prophetic events will lead up to this battle in Jerusalem? "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:21-22).

All of humanity will then see dramatic and frightening activity in the heavens. Revelation 6:12-14 describes these "heavenly signs" as the "sixth seal." Jesus said: "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" (Matthew 24:29).

We need to be forewarned of these major events. The Great Tribulation is primarily the time of trouble for the U.S. and the British-descended peoples, who are descended from the ancient patriarch Joseph. When he was near death, Jacob blessed two of his grandsons-Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh-and said: "The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; let my name [Jacob, i.e. Israel] be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth" (Genesis 48:16).

The end-time prophecies relating to Jacob, or Israel, generally refer to the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh who were given Jacob's name. Scripture gives an end-time warning about the Great Tribulation. Upon whom does this tribulation fall? "Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:7). This is a time unique in all of human history-a time "that none is like it."

Watch and Pray

What does the Bible tell us to do? Jesus tells us: "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).

What should you watch for in the Middle East? When Jesus was on the Mount of Olives, He gave an outline of end-time prophecy, with parallel accounts recorded in Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13. We will review here the sequence of events Jesus described in Matthew. Jesus' disciples had asked him about the sign of His coming and the end of the world, or the end of the age. He spoke about religious deception, wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. These trends reveal, in sequence, the meaning of the four horsemen of Revelation, who, toward the end of this age, intensify their dangerous ride. Jesus declares: "All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8).

Religious persecution and martyrdom will follow. "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many" (Matthew 24:9-11).

But the Truth will still be preached. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). As Jesus Christ opens doors for the gospel to expand in coverage and power, you will know the end is drawing near. Do not be asleep to world conditions and the prophetic trends intensifying before your very eyes!

Jesus then warned: "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" (Matthew 24:15-16). What is this abomination of desolation?

The Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes issued a decree in 167bc that prohibited further Jewish sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. "And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation" (Daniel 11:31).

In addition to stopping the daily sacrifices, Antiochus erected a statue of Jupiter Olympus in the temple and directed everyone to worship it. This abomination, also described in Daniel 8, is a type of an end-time event-the end-time sacrifices are cut off 1,290 days before Christ's return. "And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days" (Daniel 12:11). Jesus warns us as Christians to be alert to an end-time abomination of desolation. Just as Antiochus Epiphanes profaned the Temple in 167bc and cut off the sacrifices, so will a profane authority cut off Jewish sacrifices in the future. In fact, the Apostle Paul warns of a great false prophet that will stand in the holy place. "Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

A false prophet will work great miracles and deceive millions of people. He will cultivate worship toward himself and claim he is divine. Revelation 13:13-14 shows that this great false prophet will work amazing miracles, even calling down fire from heaven, and that he will deceive millions of people around the world! Do not be deceived by these signs and wonders! As Scripture exhorts us: "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

The end-time religio-political power dominating Jerusalem will cause the sacrifices to cease. Remember that the Jews have not offered animal sacrifices since 70ad, when the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. In order for the end-time sacrifices to be stopped eventually, they need to begin! When animal sacrifices begin once again in Jerusalem, you will know that the prophecies Jesus spoke about are heading for a climax!

When the abomination of desolation prophesied by Jesus is set up, three prophetic milestones will begin over a period of three and one-half years-the Great Tribulation and the Heavenly Signs, culminating in the year-long Day of the Lord. The last three verses in the book of Daniel show that there will be 1,290 days from the time of the abomination of desolation until Christ's return, when Daniel will be raised in the first resurrection.

Elsewhere identified as the Beast (Revelation 13:1-10; 17:12-13), this king of the North (meaning generally north of Jerusalem) will invade the Holy Land, according to Daniel's prophecy. "At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through. He shall also enter the Glorious Land, [or the Holy Land] and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall escape from his hand: Edom, Moab, and the prominent people of Ammon. He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape" (Daniel 11:40-42).

A 20th century king of the North invaded North Africa during World War II. In contrast, the end-time king of the North will be provoked by the king of the South. We have already seen war in the Middle East over the issue of oil. Will there be another Arab oil embargo like that of 1974? When fuel costs began to rise last September, European protests of skyrocketing petroleum prices and shortages were even more vigorous than in the U.S. Europe is far more dependent on Middle East oil than is the U.S., importing more than half of its oil from Arab countries, compared to the U.S which imports roughly 20 percent of its oil from that region. Whatever the provocation, the king of the North will invade the Middle East.

Luke's account of the Olivet prophecy follows the same general sequence as Matthew's account. But he adds one important point of information. After religious persecution intensifies, Jesus states: "By your patience possess your souls. But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near" (Luke 21:19-20).

Escalating Violence Ahead

What should Christians be watching for in the turmoil of the Middle East? Watch for continuing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. A recent New York Times article described the damage done by the escalating violence. "The psychological frontier between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs has become a minefield.… [Many had believed] that the occupation was all that stood in the way of reconciliation, that if Israel dismantled Jewish settlements, withdrew from the territories and permitted a Palestinian state, the conflict would end. That may still be possible, but the worst fighting since 1967 has called the assumption into question" ("A Conflict's Bedrock," May 27, 2001).

Because of these trends, watch for increasing demand for international intervention and control, not only in Gaza and the West Bank, but in Jerusalem itself. The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has himself lobbied for a United Nations peacekeeping force in Gaza and the West Bank.

Watch for increasing unity among Arab nations in their stand against Israel. One prophetic Psalm lists those peoples who comprise Arabic and Muslim nations in the Middle East. They are supported by European groups in their strong opposition to Israel. "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" (Psalm 83:4-5). Watch for an end-time Arab-Muslim union or confederacy forming against Israel.

Watch the European Union's growing economic, political and military unification. As we saw in Daniel's prophecy, the king of the North will eventually occupy the Holy Land. In November 2000, the European Union chose a German general to head its Rapid Reaction Force, envisioned to project European power to crisis zones over a 2,500-mile area by 2003. "Why should we have to go through NATO?" asked General Jean-Pierre Kelche, France's Chief of Defense Staff, saying that the force would be operational by the end of this year even without NATO's agreement and that "the balance of power needed to be changed" ("EU Force Will Not Need NATO," London Daily Telegraph, March 28, 2001). Will these forces eventually play a significant part in the Middle East conflict? Watch the development of Europe's own military forces.

In Israel, watch for the preparation and eventual implementation of animal sacrifices by the Jews in Jerusalem. Many believe a physical temple will also be built, but history and the book of Ezra confirm that sacrifices can be conducted with just an altar at the holy place.

Watch for the increasing consolidation of religious power in Europe, long planned by some. Visiting Austria in 1983, Pope John Paul II appealed for European unity, stating: "Europeans should overcome the menacing international confrontations of states and alliances, and create a new united Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals" (The Principality and Power of Europe, Adrian Hilton, p. 36).

The developing European religio-political power will eventually exert controlling influence over the Holy Land. We have seen that the king of the North will ultimately dominate Jerusalem and the Middle East. The book of Revelation also predicts a conflict between Asian forces and the European Beast power, the king of the North (cf. Daniel 11:44; Revelation 9:13-19). Shockingly, upon Christ's return, these armies will combine as the world's armies are "gathered together to make war against Him" (Revelation 19:19). God Almighty says: "For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem" (Zechariah 14:2). Then "the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east…" (Zechariah 14:3-4). Jesus Christ will intervene! He will stop World War III and bring lasting peace to the world!

Also called the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the Kidron Valley (between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount) widens to the south. Here, God will judge the nations. "For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgment with them there" (Joel 3:1-2).

The Day of the Lord will bring judgment on the nations. Christ will conquer all the armies opposing Him! He will usher in the Millennium of peace on earth, and teach all nations the way to peace. Then the Arabs and Israelis will be reconciled. "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, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, 'Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance'" (Isaiah 19:23-25).

We all look forward to the world peace and reconciliation that only the Messiah, Jesus Christ, can bring to this earth. In the meantime, Jesus tells us to watch and pray always. Be sure to do so!

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