The Beginning of the End?
Putting Current Events in Biblical Perspective
by Mark Esposito
Do the current events today (March 2003) have any connection to Endtimes related prophecy? Do they indicate anything at all from a Biblical perspective? The answer is a complex one.
There is no specific prophecy in the Bible that is fulfilled by political struggles and wars in the world, or even in the Middle East, at least not as of March 2003. There have always been political struggles and wars in the world. However, that's not the end of the story. There are some interesting trends and historical events of significance in our day, and my interest is in seeing if these trends mean anything on God's prophetic calendar. Of course this assumes that I actually believe there are prophecies in the Bible that are not yet fulfilled, and were specifically directed at the Endtimes.
Those of you that have frequented this site know that I am not given to much speculation publicly concerning current events. Dabbling too much in current events can cause us to lose credibility (when things don't pan out), which could put a dark cloud over our theological content, most of which is not speculative. Having said that, there are some things going on in the world today that I believe are applicable to our studies of the Endtimes. Here's how:
We have expected, or at least thought it possible for some time, that we would see certain preparatory things happening on the world stage to lay the groundwork for the fulfillment of Endtimes related prophecy. If our understanding of Endtimes prophecy is wrong, then of course we are looking for something that will never materialize, and even if it did, it would have no special meaning prophetically. However, if our understanding is correct, we are expecting to see certain trends in our world in preparation for prophetic events. The rest of this article looks at these trends, and attempts to answer the following key question:
Do these trends indicate that Endtimes related prophecies found in the Bible are very close to being fulfilled?
Ok, if this question sounds too ambiguous, allow me to refine it by using an analogy that Jesus himself used.
Discussing events leading up to his second coming, Jesus says in Matt 24:8 "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs." The idea being that the events he described in Matthew 24 would happen on a timed schedule, and they would increase in speed right up to the point of his return. While I do believe the birth pangs represent the events that happen during the 7 year tribulation, indicating his second coming is close, I'd like to explore the analogy a bit more. In the analogy Jesus made, I can't help but notice that there is a period of time during a pregnancy when the delivery is yet far off. (Even though Jesus didn't make any mention of this as part of the analogy) During this time, there is no urgency, and the process itself is not speeding up. In this analogy, we ourselves are living in the time of the pregnancy, or to put it in more theological terms, the times of the gentiles. (Luke 21:24) The question is to whether we shall have any indication at all that the birth pangs are about to begin. Traditionally, the belief in the imminent return of Christ (impending) has ruled out any specific sign for us to know that the Endtimes are near. Since we at Endtimes.org believe in a Pretribulation rapture (John 14:2-3, 1 Thess 4:16-18, 1 Cor. 15:51-52) (the snatching away of believers before the time of judgment on the world,) that means that there will be no sign of his coming for true believers living in that day. On the contrary, we are told to live in expectation of his coming at any moment. (1 Thess. 1:10, Titus 2:13) Now, there will indeed be signs for those living during the tribulation, and those signs are the ones Jesus speaks about in Matthew 24.
So, if there are no signs of his coming before the tribulation, does this also mean that those living right before his return will not see the foundations being laid for the things that need to happen? This seems impossible to me. The Bible discusses the Endtimes in terms of politics, powers and peoples. It only makes sense then that these politics and peoples would need to exist for the Endtimes prophetic events to begin. This is where the speculation comes in, and this kind of speculation is very tricky. We have to acknowledge that even though we might see things being put into place, that doesn't mean that we should have the confidence to start setting dates. I don't just mean the day and hour, but the year or decade as well. For all we know, the trends we see today are to continue for another 100 years before the baby is ready to be born. (Matt 24:36) Ok, that was my disclaimer.
Now, just because we can't know the specifics doesn't mean we should lose interest in what should be a daily hope of his coming. Many Christians have fallen into this trap. I think that what has happened is that people have been excited about Endtimes prophecy, and become convinced that he is coming this year, or this week, and then when it doesn't happen, they get discouraged. That's a bit of a selfish way of looking at God's promises, especially this particular promise. After all, God is the sovereign, isn't he? He makes things happen when he's ready, not when we wish for it with all our heart, as we are taught by Hollywood and Walt Disney. If God had to do things for people based on how badly they wanted them to happen, he would no longer be sovereign, but a big powerful puppet. If Christ had returned in the first century, when well-meaning Christians prayed for it, we wouldn't have ever lived. We need an attitude adjustment. There are some things worth considering in an ongoing study of God's word and Endtimes related prophecy. There are very interesting things happening in the world today, not the least of which is seeing the nation of Israel in their land after almost 2000 years of absence. I know that this is completely written-off in our day as mere luck, but let me say this: you've never been that lucky! Truth be known, God told them they would be dispersed for their unbelief, and he told them he would bring them back. That's not luck. That's power, and intention.
If that's not enough, consider that fact that killing Jews seems to have been a favorite sport of human beings for the last 3000 years. (Egypt 1200 B.C., Assyria 733 B.C., Babylon 604-587 B.C., Seleucids 168 B.C., Rome 67-70 AD, Crusaders 1096 AD, Europe 1000 AD - Today (Persecution and Expulsion), Hitler 1935-1945 (Extermination). Hitler didn't just try to exterminate Jews from Germany, but to wipe them off the face of the earth. They systematically murdered Jews from all over Europe. If Hitler had succeeded in conquering the world, he would have not only tried to exterminate them, but he would have done it with a smile.
To imply then that the existence of the nation of Israel, populated by the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is mere coincidence, reminds me of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Concerning this Jesus said in Luke 16:31 "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'" So it is today trying to convince people that God is executing his plan.
Finally then, here is the better question:
Do the trends we see today indicate that we are in a time just before the birth pangs begin?
Endtimes trends in Biblical Prophecy
Based on a literal interpretation of prophecy, (Old Testament prophecies came true literally) the Bible tells us that in the Endtimes a number of events will happen, all by God's design. Rather than just listing a summary of the trends found in these events, I'll try to give some support by quoting from key passages. Some of this is complex, and developed progressively through the Old Testament and New. One important aspect of the progressive nature of the Endtimes revelation should be noted. Since a legitimate offer of the everlasting kingdom was made to the Jews by Jesus and John the Baptist, the time we live in now was mostly hidden in scripture. I believe this was done in order to make the offer of the kingdom legitimate. Therefore, the complete understanding of some Old Testament prophecies can't be made without looking at the New Testament, which explains them in greater detail and sometimes expands them. In other words, once national Israel rejected their Messiah, the New Testament prophets were free to fill in the gaps by explaining the plan of God more fully, which included the times of the Gentiles, which we now live in. Now on to the trends. (The first one is lengthy. Skip over it if you don't need to see the support for the New World Power/Empire.)
A New World Power will emerge, and it will resemble and come from (in some way) the old Roman Empire. (Daniel 2, 7-9) This is the key event in all Endtimes prophecy. It is key because the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation link the antichrist with this world power. While it is impossible to predict which country is going to be in power at a date in the future, the prophecies related to this new world power are unusual. They predict a world empire, with domination that goes way beyond what we see in the US. It indicates total world power.
World Empires predicted: In Daniel chapter 2, Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and explains to the King that from the time of his kingdom up to the time of the kingdom of God there would be four kingdoms. There is more info to come, but this is what we get from this dream. We know now that the three major kingdoms that did come after the Babylonian empire was Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman, so this prophecy proved to be true literally. For those that haven't studied this, and think we are possibly reading too much into the prophecy, take a look at how clearly the following verses from Daniel explain this scenario.
In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has a dream of a statue made of different kinds of metal. He calls on Daniel to interpret the dream. Dan 2:38 "...You are the head of Gold. 39 After you will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. 40 Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. 41 In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. ... 44 "In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 "Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy."
In Daniel chapter 7, During the reign of Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzer's son, Daniel has a vision from God, and this one gives us a bit more information. He sees four beasts coming up out of the sea. Dan 7:2-8 Daniel said, "I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 "And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. 4 "The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. 5 "And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, 'Arise, devour much meat!' 6 "After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it. 7 "After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 "While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts. ... verses 9-12 show someone called the "Son of Man" come before the throne of God, and he is given dominion over an everlasting kingdom. This is Jesus, who called himself the Son of Man, the Messiah. Once again, verse 16-17 explains clearly what the vision is referring to: "16 I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 17 'These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. 18 'But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.' This tells us that Gentiles will rule the earth until the Messiah comes and sets up his everlasting kingdom.
There is a multi-king and therefore multi-national empire that is somehow related or comes from the fourth kingdom of Iron, the Roman Empire
Daniel 7:23-28 gives us the first indication that there is something special about the fourth kingdom mentioned in the previous prophecies. It does this by introducing ten kings coming out of the Roman Empire. We don't learn much about them yet, but we will. Dan 7:23-28 23 "Thus he said: 'The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. 24 'As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. 25 'He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 'But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. 27 'Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.' 28 "At this point the revelation ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself." Notice that this kingdom will spawn ten more kings or nations, and then an eleventh. The timing is not clear yet. We never saw ten kings coming out of the Roman Empire. More to come on this. Evidently, there is something special about the eleventh king. He will subdue three of the other kings or kingdoms. He will speak out against God, and will persecute believers. He will be given power for a period of time called a time, times, and half a time, or 3 1/2 years. Ultimately, it says that this person will be defeated by God, and the power and kingdom will be taken by God and given to believers.
There is an objective to the hidden king and kingdom.
This king is described in the New Testament as the antichrist. In 2 Thessalonians he is called the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. ... the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
The antichrist's linkage to this kingdom that comes out of the Roman Empire is further described in Daniel 9:24-27 24 "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. 25 "So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 "Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate." The identification of "the people of the prince who is to come" is very interesting. The angel Gabriel is telling Daniel what God's plan is for his people. He tells him that the amount of time indicated for the remainder of human history is 70 weeks. I am not a Hebrew scholar, but those that are tell us that the word for weeks (shabua) really means seven. It refers then to a group of seven. Thus seventy weeks is really literally seventy sevens. The question is Seven what? I believe that it can be proved that it was exactly 69 sets of 7 years (sevens) or 483 years from the issuing of a decree to rebuild Jerusalem, with city walls, streets, etc by King Artaxerxes in 445 BC to the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, as their King. This word is used to mean seven years also in Genesis 29:27. This is not my main point though.
There is a clear division here between the 69 groups of seven and the final 1 group of seven. This passage tells us that the Messiah will come after the 69 weeks of years, and be cut-off, or killed. Finally, it says that the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and sanctuary. We know now that the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. And yet, this verse says that it is the people of the prince who is to come, future, that will destroy Jerusalem. This seems to tell us that the new world empire will be in some way like, or related to the fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire, since it was the people of the Roman Empire that destroyed Jerusalem. In some way it will be like the Roman Empire, since it is seen as coming from it. Also, notice that there is still one week, or seven year period remaining. This is a bit complex. If this were all we had, it wouldn't be very convincing. However, as we will see, Jesus himself links this individual with a time yet future.
The remaining week is further described in the Bible as a time called The Tribulation. It is also called the Time of Jacob's Trouble, which indicates that the focus during this time is once again the nation of Israel, which agrees completely with what Gabriel told Daniel, Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city. Notice that the 70th week is part of God's focus on Israel, as was the first 69 weeks. We are living in-between the 69th and 70th week. Remember that I said that we live in a time that was undisclosed in Old Testament Prophecy. There is one week yet to come. That week is the 7 year tribulation.
Jesus believed the book of Daniel in his day. In Matthew 24, Jesus warns the Jews and validates the prophecy in Daniel saying "Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 "Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 "Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19 "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 "But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 21 "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.
Some will say that this all came to pass in the year 70 AD when Roman Titus destroyed Jerusalem. However, this doesn't make sense in light of the passage that Jesus quotes from in Daniel 9, quoted above that mentions the goal of bringing in everlasting righteousness. In the context of the book of Daniel, this has to equate with the everlasting kingdom of God, that begins when the antichrist and his kingdom is destroyed, and the kingdom of God begins. I don't believe that we are currently living in the promised perfect and sin-free everlasting kingdom of God. We are not living in the fulfillment of the promised kingdom of the book of Daniel. We are living in a sinful world where Satan himself is called the god of this age.
God will re-gather his national people Israel to the land that he gave them. This land was given by promise as an inheritance to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes that came from Jacob, the Jews. Jacob was later renamed Israel by God. Ezekiel 37:21-23 says 21 "Say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; 22 and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. 23 "They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God. The full re-gathering of Jews to Israel is not complete. It is in progress.
The Birth of Ecumenicalism - (2 Thess 2:3, Rev 13:8)Ecumenicalism promotes unity among denominations and religions. It does this by eliminating absolutes and doctrinal specifics. (Like the Beatles said "All we need is Love") That pretty much defines the ecumenical movement. (See more on this in the analysis)
The World's Focus will turn to Jerusalem and Israel. Endtimes prophecies tell us that the antichrist makes a peace treaty with Israel. This assumes unrest in Israel. In years past, Bible readers have no doubt wondered what would cause this focus, or how it could happen when there was no nation of Israel. Living in our day we wonder no longer. Israel exists as a nation. The Muslim world has made it clear that their objective in life is to get rid of the Jews. This is not really even debatable. Major Muslim leaders of our day have said very clearly that this is their objective. This preoccupation with the destruction of Israel also causes the focus of the world to be on Israel in our day. Zechariah chapter 12 has something to say about this. It speaks of Jerusalem becoming a heavy stone for all peoples.
1 The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel. Thus declares the LORD who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, 2 "Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. 3 "It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.
Mockers of Religion will come. 2 Peter 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." This displays a certain atheistic attitude towards those that worship God.
Morals and Attitudes of people will change. 2 Tim 3:1-4 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. This is not conclusive. People could point out that there have always been people that fit this bill. However, the passage doesn't really teach that some will look like this. It teaches that people in general will be recognized as having these traits. It teaches mass immorality. We're getting close to this today. Just watch the Television. Things that happen on our public television today would have been considered pornographic and immoral in times past. Today evil is celebrated.
The Death of Nationalism - In order to have a new world power that is made up of more than one nation, nationalism would need to be thrown out in favor of internationalism. This is especially interesting if the people located in the area of the Roman Empire were to move in this direction. As we will see, this is indeed happening now in the creation of the EU and the UN.
The Cashless Society - This is based on Revelation 13:17 - and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Whether taken literally or not, it does say that this leader of the new world power will have it in his power to control all buying and selling. This is hard to imagine unless cash goes away. As long as there is cash, and precious metals, someone out there will take it in exchange for goods and services. If the mark itself is not taken too literally, this could be fulfilled with technology being used now in advanced credit cards. (Smart cards) This is what has people worried about the current technology available that would allow animals or people to be located with a chip implant. We already have the technology to store a persons complete history on a chip smaller than a fingernail.
The Existence of a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem - Based on prophecies from Daniel 9 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the antichrist is to sit in the temple in Jerusalem and declare himself to be God. If taken literally, and we do, this means that there must actually be a temple in Jerusalem, and currently there is not. Since we do hear news of a group in Israel that has recreated the temple objects, and since we do hear of multiple groups that want to rebuild the Jewish temple, these are important trends.
Increase in those that claim to perform Miracles - This is very speculative, but in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus tells about certain people that would question Jesus at the judgment by claiming to have been workers of miracles. Never in history have there been so many that call themselves Christians that claim to perform miracles as there are today. Before our day, people could rightly wonder in amazement when reading this passage of scripture, but no longer. We see it on our television every day. Come and get your miracle today, and bring your checkbook too. This is not to say that God doesn't still do miracles, but certainly he doesn't do them for show or for money. We live in a culture that is replete with false prophets.
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'
Analysis of the Trends
For those that think I came up with the trends first, and then went to the Bible to find them, let me assure you that this isn't the case. I learned about Endtimes prophecies before thinking this through. My objective was to dig out as much as I could from the events of the Endtimes, and then see if I could determine what trends should be present in the world during the time of the Endtimes. As it turns out, many of the trends I was looking for are present in the world today, and uniquely characteristic of our day. The nation of Israel is at least partly re-gathered to their land. There are plans to rebuild the Jewish temple. Morals and attitudes of people seem to match the characteristics foretold in prophecy. A cashless society is in sight, although it doesn't seem right around the corner. A single currency is indeed in progress in one part of the world. The focus of the world is on Jerusalem quite often these days. When my parents were born Israel didn't even exist.
Rather than spending a lot of time on the smaller trends, which may be more debatable, let's look at the two key trends. These are the ones that can't be faked or imagined. The two key trends are as follows:
The antichrist and the One World Power
The Birth of Ecumenicalism
These are important because they are the key attributes of the Endtimes. The book of Revelation describes a scenario where the leader of a one world power is able to lead the world, make a peace treaty with Israel, control the world economy, and eventually persecute anyone that won't bow down to him. He is called the antichrist. Secondly, the Endtimes speaks of a second person called the False Prophet. This person is a spiritual leader, possibly over the predominant world religion, and eventually causes the people of the world to bow down to the antichrist. If these things are to happen, the two trends mentioned above are necessary.
The EU and the death of Nationalism
Since the Roman Empire broke up, the land masses once encompassing the empire were broken into various separate nations. This took 1500 years. In the last 50 years the trend has reversed. These countries are beaten economically, and are tired of fighting each other. They are now uniting, at least in Europe. Interestingly, in order to unite, they must be willing to give up some sovereignty and nationalistic thinking. This would have seemed unbelievable a mere sixty years ago when Hitler was trying to take over the world. The EU already has a single currency, which is very important since it gives them the potential to become a single entity economically. There is talk of a court/legal system for the EU.
Interestingly, Rome is right in the middle of the EU. What is the significance of all of this? I think it has huge significance. The prophecies of Daniel speak of a future empire coming out of Rome, but one that has multiple kings. In other words, it's not an empire controlled by a single people group, but by a multinational entity. That is exactly what is happening in the EU. Another powerful indication of a supporting trend here is how in our day the people's of the world are seen with such a clear division of power. This is important in relation to Biblical prophecy, since the Bible mentions the people of the earth as uniting in large groups. The division are shown in the graphic below. Who are they currently?
The West - The EU (Much of Europe), the US, and Russia with one foot in this door.
The Muslim World - Russia with the other foot in this door.
The Asian World - not organized together, but China is so big (1.2 billion people) they don't need anyone else.
The Jews - Israel
Note that the area in red representing the Muslim world indicates countries where the majority religion is Islam. Some of the more southern African countries may represent a slim majority, while the others are close to 100%. It is also important that these countries are indicated together since the Muslim world seems to see itself as a single group at times, united behind their religious objectives. Just because they don't have a single government doesn't mean that they aren't a somewhat unified force, just like a government. The unification doesn't have to last very long either. They can act together for a few months, and then go right back to having clear national divisions. Of course this is not unlike the way Europe acts today. The EU is not yet a single voice, but many voices. The difference with the EU is that they have as an objective to move towards more of a single power. (Currency, Court, Language, Military, etc) The area in red could join with the EU for economic gain.
When one sees the tiny blue area representing Israel, it supports the evidence that this battle is a spiritual battle, just as the Bible predicted. Anyone can see from the map above that the Arab/Muslim people have millions upon millions of square miles, while Israel encompasses around 8000 sq. miles. Notice how no country in the red area of the map is offering their fellow Muslim Palestinians any land. It's clear that the objective is NOT to give Palestinians land, but to get the Jews out of Israel, and off of planet earth. I don't say these things on an emotional level. Many Arab leaders have made this objective clear verbally.
Having said all that, what are the odds over thousands of years of world history that the following events could happen within a fifty year timeframe, or one personís adult life?
- National Israel comes back into existence after 1877 years.
- The revived Roman Empire is rebuilt from a bunch of countries that have hated each other.
- At the moment when the Empire is gaining strength, Israel finds itself in constant conflict, and in dire need of peace?
- The Christian world is moving towards an ecumenical form of religion.
The movement of the EU is coming together very quickly now, and it looks to me like the Empire is close to being complete. What I did was take a look at the first Roman Empire and its territory, and then see what the EU has now, and what they will shortly have. The EU is currently made up of 15 member states, and 13 more from Eastern Europe are candidates. Once Eastern Europe is in, the majority of the Empire is complete. The Bible never says that it must have the exact territory that the first empire had. Once they become a working Empire, everything is in place. It looks to me like we could see it all come together very soon, now that the initial group of 15 has their one currency, a court structure, the potential for a large military, and they are actively building the infrastructure. With the infrastructure in place, it will be far easier for them to admit new countries.
The Birth of Ecumenicalism
The idea of a one world religion in prophecy comes from the book of Thessalonians and the book Revelation. It speaks of mass apostasy, and mass worship of the leader of the new world power. Please note that Endtimes prophecy doesn't come right out and say that there will be only one religion. However, the idea of apostasy, the falling away of people from true Christianity, and the mass worship of this individual suggests a new development in the world towards traditional religious practices. It suggests a willingness for everyone to get together and worship the antichrist. (Everyone that is not a believer) Currently this would be impossible, since the different religions of the world have specific beliefs that include their specific doctrines and theology.
This is why the logical trend that would need to be in place for this shift to take place is some form of ecumenicalism that embraces all or most religions. Some might say that this couldn't happen any time in the future between the Christian and Muslim world. However, I don't believe bible prophecy demands this. For the first 3 1/2 years, the antichrist doesn't demand worship. He is a world leader, not necessarily a spiritual leader. It is not until the second half when he reveals himself for who he is when he sits in the temple demanding worship from the Jews, and the world. This could be the point where the kings of the east or the kings of the south begin to make plans to go against him. Take a look at 2 Thessalonians 2:3
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
This speaks of apostasy, but doesn't give us a lot of detail. This would not be a very important characteristic if we were talking about a small number of people. The logical conclusion then is that this is speaking of mass apostasy. Are there any other passages in scripture to support this idea of mass apostasy? Revelation 13:8 tells us that at some time the masses will see the leader of the new world power in religious terms, and they will worship him. True believers in Jesus Christ would of course not do this. But, an all-embracing ecumenical world religion would.
All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
This prophecy would have seemed completely impossible not long ago. It still seems difficult. However, it should be noted that the word worship doesn't necessarily demand that people are all bowing down to him for the same reason. Some will no doubt be devout worshippers of this man. The reason we call him the antichrist is because he is a false Christ. The signs and wonders that he and the false prophet will perform will cause people to believe that he is actually a true prophet, or messiah, and they will worship him. He will also be the world economic leader, so others will no doubt bow down to him for their own selfish reasons. All of this necessitates a world where people's religious beliefs are flexible and have no absolutes. There is no room for right and wrong when it comes to which god to worship, or what to call him (or her), and what this god teaches. These things lead to absolutes and exclusivity, which are all incompatible with a one-world religion willing to place their religious faith in this man.
The world is crying out for a unified tolerant religion, with no absolutes, something that has never happened in human history since the tower of Babel. The ecumenical movement is in full force in the world today, especially in Europe. Note that I am not equating the term Ecumenical movement with the World Council of Churches, even though it often is. The council may be the beginning of the trend, but it isn't the only voice. The Roman Catholic church, not an official member of the WCC also seem to be moving in this direction. Some religious leaders are happy to discard any intolerant doctrinal beliefs they have in the name of peace, love, and tolerance. They don't believe in the inerrancy of scripture, so they can't be too insistent on doctrinal distinctives. If the bible isn't trustworthy, it's not hard to see their point. Why hold people to beliefs that are based on potentially inaccurate information? Unfortunately, they don't follow this to it's logical conclusion. If the words are inconclusive, then they don't know what Jesus really said, if he said anything at all. If Jesus never said he was God, if he didn't rise from the dead, they are wasting their time. Agnosticism has more reason to it. 1 Corinthians 15:16 has something profound to say about this.
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Finally, Roman Catholics embrace Eastern religions, Charismatics embrace Roman Catholics, and the circle is complete. The only thing remaining is to get rid of us evangelicals and our intolerant beliefs in God. God will take care of that! (1 Thess 4:16-18)
Aren't I arguing then against imminency? It might sound like it, but I would still hold that God could have brought about these events in a much shorter period of time had he chosen. Therefore, the bible can rightly teach the imminent return of Christ while not explaining in detail that xy & z are going to be put in place before the rapture of the church. If his return was imminent in 1900, before many Jews had returned to the land, how much more must it be now that they are there? After-all, imminency doesn't mean that nothing recognizable would happen before the rapture, but that nothing specific on God's prophetic calendar would happen allowing us to identify the time of his return.
If my analysis is correct, the trends we see today do indicate, at least to me, that we are in a time close to the beginning of birth pangs. The pregnancy has run it's course. I wouldn't say that we could conclude that we are at the time just before, because again, that would too much like date setting. As I said earlier, these foundational events could continue for some time.
2 Peter 3:8 says - But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
However, I do think there is enough evidence to say that we are seeing the final preparations being made. I'd like to note two things about God, and these attributes help us in this study, and at the same time they cause us to be careful about trying to nail down a timeframe.
- He is deliberate
- He takes his time
When you see the nation of Israel reborn, remember that God is deliberate. He wasn't just feeling bad for them one day and decided to give them back their land ahead of his official time table for their re-gathering. He has a plan, and he executes it when he's ready, at the predetermined time. The balance to all of this is that sometimes God's plans take what seems like a significant amount of time to us. Even with this balance in place, I believe that God has given us every reason to be excited today about what we see, and that his coming is near. What do I mean by near? Personally, I've begun even more to believe that it will be in my lifetime. (I am 43 years old) We don't live in a time just like any other time in history. People 100 years ago didn't have the evidence that we have today. They couldn't look for the antichrist to sit in the temple in Israel. There was no temple. There was no Israel. We still don't have a temple, but we do hear of a group in Israel that has prepared all of the temple objects. I don't believe that this is all just by coincidence.
Where should that lead us? It should lead us to consider our lives, and our allegiances. It's not time to go on the housetop to wait for him, but it is time to pay attention and be found working and waiting when he comes. For those that haven't put their faith in Jesus Christ, believing in him, that he died on the cross for them to pay the penalty for their sins, there may not be much time left. For believers, if it doesn't happen in our lifetimes, the bible tells us to be on the lookout anyway.
1 Timothy 4:7-8< font color="#FF0000"> - I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Luke 21:28 - And then shall they see the
Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
As Dr John Walvoord was known to say "it's time to start eating our desert first, just in case"