As conflict rages unabated in Israel and surrounding countries, tensions continue to rise. Will Muslim nations drive Israel into the sea? Will foreign troops enforce peace upon Jerusalem? The Bible reveals the surprising truth!
Jerusalem is the most important city in the world. Many of its landmarks are sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Crusaders and Arabs fought for control of the city centuries ago. Even in modern times, the desire for control of Jerusalem has pitted bitter enemies against one another.
News events may catch us by surprise, as one group or another gains advantage in the long-term struggle for control of Jerusalem and its surrounding countryside. But did you know that Bible prophecy reveals plainly the future of this war-plagued city—and indeed reveals the future of the entire Middle East?
Jesus Christ foretold that there would be an end-time invasion of Jerusalem. But who will invade—and come to control—the Middle East?
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke give three parallel accounts that are vital for our understanding. First, however, note that Luke gives us some unique information, which he prefaces with a vital warning: "By your patience possess your souls" (Luke 21:19). Or, as another translation puts it: "By your endurance you will gain your souls" (NRSV).
Bible-reading Christians will know what to expect in the Middle East, but God's exact timetable is not for us to know. So God shares promises that can strengthen us and give us hope during trying times.
Of course, we know the ultimate outcome. The gospel of the kingdom of God shows us that a time of lasting world peace is just ahead. The King of kings and Lord of lords—Jesus Christ—will rule over every nation on the earth, and will do so in the not-too-distant future! In the pages of the Tomorrow's World magazine, on the Tomorrow's World telecast and at www.tomorrowsworld.org, we have been sharing that good news with you and with millions of others who want to know more about God's plan for our world—and for every one of us. This good news helps us have patience, while we wait for God's kingdom to come.
Jesus gives us a warning sign concerning Jerusalem's end-time fate: "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near" (v. 20). Do we know whose armies these are? Some Bible commentators believe this prophecy applies only to the first century ad, when the Roman commander Titus besieged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Hundreds of thousands of Jews died of starvation and disease. You can read the details of this destruction in the Jewish historian Josephus' book, The Wars of the Jews. Josephus recounted that "no fewer than six hundred thousand were thrown out at the gates, though still the number of the rest could not be discovered" (Book V, chapter 13, section 7).
The army of Rome brought disaster upon Jerusalem once before. Will another Roman army repeat history in the 21st century? We will cover this point later, and you can read about it in detail in our free booklet, The Beast of Revelation: Myth, Metaphor, or Soon-Coming Reality? which you can order online at www.tomorrowsworld.org or by writing to the regional office nearest you (listed on page 2 of this magazine).
Jesus' warning in Luke 21 certainly applied to this first century desolation. But, as regular readers of this magazine know, prophecy is often dual. There is type and anti-type. There is a former fulfillment and a later fulfillment of prophecy. Such is the case here in Luke 21.
Additionally, notice the context. Jesus said: "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 the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:25–27).
In other words, following the heavenly signs and the desolation of Jerusalem, many would see Jesus' return to earth. The context of Jerusalem's desolation, then, is clearly the end-time. What does this mean for the end-time invasion of the Middle East and its most important city, Jerusalem?
A common but incorrect teaching is that Russia will take over the Middle East before Jesus' Second Coming. Perhaps your minister has taught you this. It is true that Revelation 16:12–16 does speak of an invasion of the Middle East by an alliance of nations lying east of the Euphrates River. A huge army of 200 million will sweep westward to the mount of Megiddo, about 55 miles north of Jerusalem in order to confront the European-led "Beast power." However, according to Revelation 16:12 this invasion takes place after the seventh trump and shortly before Christ's feet stand once again on the Mount of Olives. Shockingly, the armies of the "Beast" and those of the eastern alliance combine to fight against the returning Christ just outside of Jerusalem. Jesus Christ will utterly destroy all of these armies opposing Him and usher in a millennium of peace.
The idea of a Russian-led conquest of the Middle East comes mainly from a passage in Ezekiel: "Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, 'Thus says the Lord God: "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops; many people are with you" (Ezekiel 38:1–6).
Most Bible scholars, like Wilhelm Gesenius, identify Rosh, Meshech and Tubal as peoples from northern Russia, pointing out that the city of Moscow derives its name from the Hebrew name Meshech. Notice that the house of Togarmah is from the far north (north of Jerusalem). When you look at a map, Russia is indeed in the far north. Additionally, we see that Persia is mentioned; scholars widely agree that this indicates modern-day Iran. The Hebrew word for Ethiopia is Cush, the eastern branch of which is identified with India. The Hebrew word for Libya is Put (Put was the third son of Ham, according to Genesis 10:6), whose eastern branch, like Cush, is also identified with India. Magog is identified with the Mongols and Gomer with Indochina. Togarmah is most likely identified with Siberia.
So we can generally agree upon the identities of these peoples mentioned in Ezekiel 38. But will these peoples comprise the armies that Jesus mentions in Luke 21? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is: No!
Certainly these non-European nations will eventually enter the Middle East, but the question is: when? After Jesus' Second Coming, He will work to bring world peace and reeducate the nations (Isaiah 2; Micah 4). But this will take time. All nations will not automatically accept the rule of Jesus Christ when He returns. Even Egypt will apparently refuse God's command to keep the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:18–19).
Russia's alliance will attack after the millennium begins—after the Second Coming of Christ and the establishment of peace in the Holy Land. Notice what God says of the invading armies: "You will say, 'I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates'—to take plunder and to take booty, to stretch out your hand against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell in the midst of the land" (Ezekiel 38:11–12).
Does Israel today "dwell safely" in "unwalled villages"—that is, without military protection? Of course not! Ezekiel is speaking of a time yet future, when Christ establishes peace in the Holy Land. Notice: "Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, 'Thus says the Lord God: "On that day when My people Israel dwell safely, will you not know it?"'" (v. 14).
God will punish Russia and its armies. There will be so many dead bodies that it will take months to bury them. "For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them, in order to cleanse the land" (39:12). Almighty God has all the power in the universe to fulfill His will. It is folly for nations to fight against Him and His purpose. But the nations will fight Him, and will learn who is in charge. As God states: "Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord" (38:23).
We have seen that Russia and its allies will attack Jerusalem after Jesus' Second Coming. What, then, will happen to Jerusalem before Jesus returns? The Apostle John wrote of what he saw in vision: "Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, 'Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months'" (Revelation 11:1–2).
Yes, for 42 months—three-and-a-half years—Jerusalem will be controlled by this Gentile power. It is Jesus' return that will end this Gentile control of the city. As we have explained in previous articles, the seventh trumpet completes the prophetic Day of the Lord—God's one-year intervention in world affairs before the Second Coming. "Then the seventh angel sounded: and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'" (v. 15). This is the good news in which I hope you personally rejoice. It is the only hope for the earth.
Luke further describes Jerusalem's condition just before Jesus' return. Notice Jesus' powerful statement: "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:21–24).
This is clearly describing an end-time fulfillment of prophecy. Jerusalem will be controlled by a superpower during a period of time called the "times of the Gentiles"—and God's people are commanded to flee.
Notice another key event. In an account parallel to Luke 21, Matthew reminds us that we need to pay careful attention to Jesus' words: "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).
Historically, Antiochus Epiphanes placed an idol in Jerusalem's temple after occupying the city in 168bc. The prophet Daniel spoke of this. But now we read of an end-time abomination of desolation. What religion will dominate the Middle East in the end-time? The book of Revelation refers to the great false end-time religion as MYSTERY BABYLON. The Apostle John sees, in vision, the judgment of a great harlot—which symbolizes a great false church or religious system. John writes: "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication" (Revelation 17:1–2). This woman rides a Beast that has seven heads and ten horns (v. 3).
Who is that Beast? It is the political and military power that will invade the Middle East. John goes on to describe the great harlot: "And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (Revelation 17:5). This will be that system dominating the Great Tribulation. The leader of that system will even call down fire from heaven (Revelation 13:13). Do not let yourself be deceived by such displays! Revelation 13:11 tells us that this religious figure symbolically looks like a lamb—the symbol of Christ—but speaks as a dragon! He will stand in Jerusalem's holy place, and even claim that he is God (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4).
In Revelation 17, we saw that the harlot rides the Beast. Who is this Beast? The answer will tell us who will invade the Middle East. John writes: "The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful" (Revelation 17:11–14).
For years, the Church of God has pointed out that the end-time Beast power of Revelation will be a revival or final resurrection of the ancient Roman Empire. That empire continued from about 31bc to 476ad. There were six revivals including the Imperial Restoration under Justinian in 544 ad and another revival led by Charlemagne in 800ad.
Other commentators have also identified this Beast as the Roman Empire. In the notes of many older copies of the New Catholic Edition of the Bible, translated from the Latin Vulgate—commonly known as the Douay-Rheims—one can find the following comment concerning Revelation 17:11—"The beast spoken of here seems to be the Roman Empire, as in chapter 13."
The book of Revelation, in combination with Jesus' Olivet prophecy and the book of Daniel, reveals a coming revival of the Roman Empire, influenced and "ridden" by a "woman." The woman is symbolic of a church. The Beast power eventually turns against the woman: "And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth" (vv. 16–18).
Interestingly, as the Douay-Rheims comments on the Beast's ultimate destruction of the woman, "ten other kingdoms are allies of the beast and battle against the Church. But their dominion is short, typified as an hour." While the Douay-Rheims identifies the Beast with the Roman Empire, and the woman with a church, it does not admit that the great city mentioned in verse 18 is Rome itself. However, many Bible commentaries plainly agree that the great city of Revelation 17:18, is, in fact, Rome!
The prophecies we have briefly examined indicate that a great historic power will intervene in the Middle East. Historically, the Roman Empire in Jesus' day enforced a Pax Romana—a "Roman Peace"—on the Holy Land. Daniel's prophecies also reveal an end-time Roman Empire. Daniel recounts that King Nebuchadnezzar was going to execute all the wise men of Babylon if they did not tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream, as well as its interpretation (Daniel 2). God used Daniel to reveal the rise and fall of great empires—even down to our modern times. Here is what Daniel told the king: "But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days" (Daniel 2:28). Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that God had made him a king of kings (v. 37). Daniel described the image envisioned by the king. A great statue had a head of gold. Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonian empire, "You are this head of gold" (v. 38). The remaining elements of the great image symbolized the great empires to follow after the Babylonian empire.
What were these empires? Virtually all reputable Bible scholars agree on their identity and their prophetic fulfillment. Daniel continued to describe what would eventually happen to this great image. The head of gold represents the Babylonian Empire from 625 to 539bc. This empire was replaced by the Medo-Persian Empire from 558 to 330bc, represented by the chest and arms of silver. The belly and thighs of bronze represent the Greco-Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great from 333 to 31bc. The two legs of iron represent the Roman Empire from 31bc to 476ad. Finally, the ten toes on two feet of iron mixed with ceramic clay represent a future revival of the Roman Empire.
How do we know that the feet of the image will continue into our modern times? Daniel describes a great stone that smashes the image on its feet. What is that stone? Daniel describes its meaning: "And in the days of these kings [symbolized by the ten toes] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (v. 44).
The end-time power that will eventually dominate the Middle East will be a revived Roman Empire—symbolized in the prophecies of Revelation and Daniel as a "beast." This great power will be political, military and economic. The current European Union is moving toward fulfilling all three dimensions of that power. The EU could have the potential of being a force for good. However, history teaches us that great empires and political alliances can also revert to dictatorial power for the purpose of global expansion and domination, without regard for the welfare of conquered nation-states.
God will use such an empire in the future, just as He has in the past. God used Assyria to punish the rebellious kingdom of Israel. In the opening verses of Isaiah 10, God indicts Israel for all her sins. Then He states: "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, to seize the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Yet he does not mean so, nor does his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and cut off not a few nations" (Isaiah 10:5–7).
God will once again use the end-time descendants of Assyria (the nation of Germany) in punishing His people, the modern descendents of the ancient House of Israel—the American and British-descended peoples. Even now, Germany is considered the leading nation of the European Union. Be sure to watch developments in Europe, as they will have profound consequences for the future of the Middle East.
In Daniel 11, we find two antagonists: the "king of the north" and the "king of the south." In ancient times, Syria was considered the king of the north. Later, the Roman Empire conquered Syria, which became a province of Rome in 64bc. At the time of the end, the king of the North is identified as the revived Roman Empire. Then: "And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon" (Daniel 11:40–41, KJV).
Notice that the king of the North enters into the "Glorious Land." That is modern Israel. Edom, Moab and Ammon (generally identified as modern-day Jordan) escape out of his hand, which indicates that Jordan will be allied with the European power. Psalm 83 identifies those peoples who will confederate with Assyria against Israel, an alliance including Moab, Ammon and Edom.
Daniel 11:43 gives us an indication of which nations will ally with the king of the south. They include the peoples of North Africa.
We have seen (v. 40) that the king of the South will push at the king of the North. What will provoke this aggression? Will it be the passion of Islamic fundamentalists? Be sure to read the article "Will the Terrorists Win?" on page 8 of this issue.
Who will invade the Middle East? Look for a revived Roman Empire, now beginning in type with the European Union as a nucleus. There will be a forced peace upon the nation of Israel, but the Beast power that comes to occupy the Middle East will be overthrown by the returning commander of heaven's armies—Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will see that the Beast and the false prophet are cast into a lake of fire (Revelation 19:20). Jerusalem will be occupied by the new King over planet earth, Jesus Christ. "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). The name of the city will even be called "The Lord is There" (Ezekiel 48:35). Let us rejoice in that future vision of peace. Yes, peace will finally come to the Middle East—and to the City of Peace, Jerusalem.
As we await that glorious day, we can be mindful of one more sign that Jesus gave, which will mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation and trouble in the Middle East. He said: "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).
You have been hearing that gospel on the Tomorrow's World telecast, and reading it in this magazine. Jesus Christ will expand the preaching of that gospel in this beginning of the 21st century, before He returns to usher in Tomorrow's World. May we wait patiently, and with hope, doing His will so that we may be found "so doing" (v. 46) upon His return!