The modern nation of Israel has experienced almost constant conflict since its establishment in 1948. End-time prophecy focuses on dramatic events in that region, but can you recognize the signs leading to the return of Jesus Christ?
Will we ever see peace in the Middle East? Bible prophecy reveals that events in that region will determine the future of the whole world. Do you know what to be watching for?
The United States has spent billions of dollars fighting a war in Iraq. Cost estimates have ranged from $648 billion in direct military expenses—a figure offered last July by the U.S. Congressional Research Service—to as much as $3 trillion when all war-related costs are included, according to Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz, co-author of The Three Trillion Dollar War. American concern about the war was a major factor in last November's elections. Thousands of soldiers, and countless more Iraqi civilians, have died or been permanently disfigured by war in Iraq.
"When the Middle East sneezes, the rest of the world—especially America and Western Europe—may get the flu," observed Israeli journalist Yossi Melman. Indeed, conflicts in the Middle East are often keenly felt in the U.S., and the reverse is also true. One way or another, the Middle East seems to remain an ongoing focus of world conflict. Indeed, the war in Iraq is merely the latest in a long series of violent conflicts in that region. Will there ever be a time when the Middle East—or, indeed, the whole world—will be at peace?
The good news is that your Bible foretells of a time when world peace will ultimately reign on planet Earth, but that time will come only after a period of intense war and suffering such as our world has never before seen. Yet, if we know what prophetic signs we should be looking for, we can have hope and confidence in God's promised future of peace, even while we are still in the midst of terrible fighting and devastation. In this article, we will examine five key prophetic signs for which we should all be watching.
Sign 1: Military Alliances East of the Euphrates River
Do you remember the Iran-Iraq War? It lasted from 1980 to 1988, and more than a million people were killed. The Euphrates River figured prominently in that conflict, and your Bible shows that it will again be central in prophesied end-time events.
The Euphrates River runs from Turkey through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf. The nation of Iran lies immediately to the east of Iraq. During the prophesied Day of the Lord, an immense army of 200 million soldiers will move westward across the Euphrates River into the Middle East.
In the Book of Revelation, we read about a powerful army from the east, which will kill billions of people. The Apostle John describes this as the sixth trumpet plague. Notice where this huge force will be gathered: "Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates'" (Revelation 9:13–14).
Yes, the Euphrates River is the focal point for this prophecy. John continues: "So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths" (Revelation 9:15–18).
This is describing a world war in which billions of human beings will die, as an army of 200 million drives west across the Euphrates River and destroys one-third of the planet's population! This is why Jesus Christ told us that unless those days would be shortened, no flesh would be saved alive (Matthew 24:21–22).
What world powers are east of the Euphrates? Look at a map, and you will find nations including Iran, India, China and Russia. Be sure to watch those nations' military developments and international alliances. Watch these nations for growing investments in military power, including nuclear weapons!
Sign 2: Greater Unity Among Israel's Traditional Enemies
In June 1967, Israel fought what came to be called the "Six-Day War." Pitted against the combined forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This victory gave Israel access to Jerusalem's ancient holy sites, including the Western Wall (also known as the "Wailing Wall") at the Temple Mount. At the close of the war, Israel offered to return the West Bank to Palestinian control, if they would accept Israel's complete ownership of Jerusalem. Gamel Abdul Nassar, Egypt's president at the time, joined with his Arab neighbors in saying "No!" to Israel's land-for-peace offer.
Seven years later, on October 6, 1973, Israel again was at war. In what became known as the "Yom Kippur War"—since it began on the Day of Atonement that year—Israel repelled invasions by Egypt and Syria. Eventually Israel, Egypt and Syria agreed to a United Nations cease-fire plan ending that conflict.
Since then, there have been occasional military strikes, as well as the years-long intifada (Arabic for "shaking off") in which Palestinians expressed resistance—sometimes bloodily—to what they considered unjust Israeli rule. Fighting and bloodshed also continued among warring Palestinian factions; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at one point described his nation as being "on the verge of civil war" due to struggles between his Fatah organization and the Islamic militant group Hamas.
History has shown that while intra-Arab conflicts may continue, warring Arabs will not hesitate to join forces to fight against Israel. More than once, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to "remove Israel from the region." Iran continues its push toward developing nuclear weapons. Although traditional disputes among Arabs and Muslims will continue, watch for growing unity of these forces against Israel. Your Bible shows that a future "King of the South" will unite several Arab nations, and that this combined force will be seen as a threat by the "King of the North" and will intensify conflict around Jerusalem (Daniel 11:40–45). This will bring about a frightening conflict that will shake our world, but Bible students will be able to recognize that this is also a sign of Jesus Christ's imminent return.
Sign 3: International Attempts to Control Jerusalem
Historically and religiously, Jerusalem is important to followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All these religions look to Jerusalem as the site of major events central to their faith. Jews treasure Jerusalem as the city of the great prophets, and as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel and Judah under King David and his son King Solomon.
Solomon's Temple, also known as the "First Temple," was built in Jerusalem under King Solomon's direction in the tenth century bc, and remained as Judah's center of worship until the Babylonians destroyed it in the sixth century bc, when the people of Judah were taken into captivity. Rebuilt as the "Second Temple" after the Jews returned from Babylon, it remained the focal point of Jewish worship until it was destroyed by Roman armies in 70ad.
Jerusalem is also considered the third most holy city of Islam, after Mecca and Medina. It is home to the "Dome of the Rock"—a massive gold-domed mosque which has dominated the Temple Mount since 691ad, and remains the oldest Muslim-built structure known to exist. Muslims refer to the Temple Mount as the Haram al-Sharif ("The Noble Sanctuary") and believe that the Dome of the Rock marks the location from which Muhammad ascended to heaven, accompanied by the angel Gabriel.
Christians, of course, look to Jerusalem as the city where Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected, but also as the site of His prophesied Second Coming—when His feet will first touch the earth at the Mount of Olives in eastern Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4).
For years, Jerusalem's importance to three major world religions has made its administration a focus of international controversy. Although Israel has controlled both East and West Jerusalem since 1967, many other governments want to see Jerusalem administered internationally. The original 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (UN General Assembly Resolution 181) proposed that Jerusalem be treated as a corpus separatum—an internationally administered zone—and although this status never took effect, many still hope for something similar to be achieved. In 1984, Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter Redemptoris Anno that he hoped Jerusalem could be given a "special internationally guaranteed status." Who might guarantee that status? In 1975, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger proposed that Jerusalem become an international city, with the control of holy places and religious administration given to the Roman Catholic pontiff.
Will such international control of Jerusalem be achieved? The Bible reveals that a shocking turn of events will occur, through which Jerusalem will be controlled not by Israel, but instead by other governmental powers. The Apostle John wrote, "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 under foot for forty-two months'" (Revelation 11:1–2).
Yes, Jerusalem ("the holy city") will be controlled by the Gentiles for 42 months before Jesus Christ returns! A great world power, described as the "Beast" in the book of Revelation, will invade the Middle East and take control of Jerusalem for the three-and-a-half years preceding the return of Jesus Christ! During that time, two prophets of God will be witnessing with great power, and will contend against the Gentile force that will then be dominating the Middle East (Revelation 11:3–14).
Sign 4: Animal Sacrifices Restored by Jews in Jerusalem
If you have read the books of Daniel and Matthew in your Bible, you may have been puzzled by the mysterious "abomination of desolation." What is it, and what will it mean in end-time prophecy? First, let us look at Jesus' own words: He said, "'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).
Clearly, this is an important sign to understand. It signals the time when God's people are to flee to escape the final three-and-a-half-year sequence of devastating end-time prophetic calamities.
Historically, the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes issued a decree in 167bc that prohibited the Jews from making sacrifices in the 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). Historically, not only did Antiochus stop the daily sacrifices; he erected in the temple a statue of Jupiter Olympus, and directed everyone to worship it.
This event, also described in Daniel 8, prefigures a prophesied end-time milestone. "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). Yes, 1,290 days before Jesus Christ's second coming, animal sacrifices will again be cut off! 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 great false prophet will work great miracles and deceive millions of people. He will cultivate worship toward himself and claim the mantle of divinity. This great false prophet will work amazing miracles, even calling down fire from heaven, and he will deceive millions of people around the world (Revelation 13:13–14)! But we must not be deceived by these signs and wonders! Scripture tells us, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
But there is a catch. The Jews have not offered animal sacrifices since 70ad, when the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. In order for end-time sacrifices to be stopped, they need to have been started! When animal sacrifices begin again in Jerusalem, you will know that the prophecies Jesus spoke about are soon heading for a grand-smash climax!
Watch for developments in Israel leading to the reinstitution of animal sacrifices. This may or may not mean the rebuilding of a full-scale temple structure. Notice what happened when the Jews returned from Babylonian exile around 536bc. They had a holy place, but not yet a temple. The book of Ezra describes their coming to the "House of God" before they had a temple in which to offer sacrifice (Ezra 3:6). Later, in the verses that follow, we read about the laying of a temple's foundation.
The point is that sacrifices must be presented in a "holy place"—but we have seen in Ezra that sacrifices could be made daily even without a physical building called a temple! At present, only Muslims are allowed to worship on the Temple Mount; the holiest site currently controlled by Jewish religious authorities is the Western (or "Wailing") Wall. One way or another, sacrifices will resume, though it remains to be seen exactly where and how this will occur. Watch for a great national crisis in Israel to precipitate this event!
Sign 5: A European Superpower Controlling Jerusalem
We have seen that before Jesus Christ's return, Israel's enemies will unify against the tiny besieged nation. We have seen that there will be a push to take control of Jerusalem out of Israel's hands, and put it in the hands of an international administration. We have seen that this crisis will spur religious Jews to reinstitute animal sacrifices. What other sign should we be watching for?
The Bible shows that shortly before the return of Jesus Christ, a European superpower will take control of Jerusalem. The prophet Daniel described the rise of a southern power that will push against a northern power. Notice: "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 [the king of the North] 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).
The king of the North will enter into the "Glorious Land"—the location of the modern state of Israel. Bible scholars identify Ammon (which escapes out of the king's hand, along with Edom and Moab) as modern-day Jordan, leading many to believe that Jordan will be allied with the European power. Who will be part of this alliance against Israel? Notice Psalm 83. Assyria (modern-day Germany) will lead an alliance including Moab, Ammon and Edom. Look at your Bible maps to find their historic locations, and if you have not already done so, write for a free copy of our informative article Resurgent Germany: A Fourth Reich? to learn about Germany's role as modern-day Assyria.
What does Scripture tell us about the king of the North? We have seen that he is also known as the "Beast"—but who is the Beast? Notice this marginal note from the Douay-Rheims (New Catholic Edition) of the Bible, commenting on the beast of Revelation 17:11. "The beast spoken of here seems to be the Roman Empire, as in chapter 13." In other words, both the Beast of Revelation 17 and the Beast of Revelation 13 represent the Roman Empire. This Catholic Bible also comments concerning Revelation 13:1 as follows: "The picture of the first beast is based on the seventh chapter of Daniel. This beast is the figure of kingdoms of the world, kingdoms founded on passion and selfishness, which in every age are antagonistic to Christ and seek to oppress the servants of God. Imperial Rome represents this power."
Yes, the "Beast" is a revival of the ancient Roman Empire. If you are watching world events, perhaps you have observed that the European Union is developing political, military and economic characteristics of the empire described in Scripture. You can read about the economic power of this empire in Revelation 18.
As we near the Great Tribulation, true Christians will increasingly be persecuted. But Jesus instructs us how to react as religious persecution intensifies. "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).
We are now in the prophesied period known as the end-time. We need to be prepared for the Second Coming. Christ will be King over all the earth, ruling from the new world capital, Jerusalem. "And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—'The Lord is one,' and His name one" (Zechariah 14:8–9).
Thank God, this wonderful world government under Jesus Christ is coming soon. May we pray with all our hearts, "Your Kingdom come!"