Whenever Israel goes to war Christian attention turns to end times prophecy. During the Summer of 2006 Israel went to war against Hamas, in Gaza, and against Hezbollah, in Lebanon. In response, a number of questions tend to surface in conversations. For example, “Bob, what is your take on the events in Israel?” or “Where is all this leading?” In addition, this statement has been voiced, “The way things are going, we may be raptured sooner than we think?”
What is My Take on the Events of the Middle East?
Let me attempt to respond to these common statements and questions. First, what is my take on the events in Israel? Here are my personal and subjective observations and understanding. The events in the Middle-East conflict need to be understood on two levels—the societal/cultural level and the spiritual level.
Let me start with the societal/cultural arena. The phrase that would most aptly characterize the 2006 war with Hamas and Hezbollah is the phrase “Prisoner Swap.” In order to comprehend the significance of that phrase, one has to understand the extremist Middle Eastern mindset. Middle Eastern culture contains three important elements that I will categorize conveniently under three words: Force, Family, and Faith.
We begin with “Force.” The only language extremist Middle Eastern society understands is brute force. The idea would be best summarized in the phrase that entered the English language in 1846, “might makes right.” Coupled inseparably with brute force are the ideas of honor and humiliation. You solve your problems by force and the strong prevail. You are humiliated if you loose or if you do not stand up for yourself. Compromise is humiliating. Compromise means you are weak. Raw power means you are strong and proud. The strong do not compromise. Only the weak compromise.
Did you notice that these societal values are the exact opposite of the values we, in the Western world, embrace. Our view is that brute force is wrong unless used for the defense of what is right. For example, in the West we speak of a “just war.” We see compromise as a valued and honored approach to problem solving. To compromise is to be strong and honorable. To use brute force is to be weak and dishonorable.
With this background in mind, do you now understand the dilemma that faces Israel? Israel’s culture is that of a Western nation. Her modern roots go back to the Zionist Movement in Russia, Eastern Europe and Western Europe. However, Israel is sitting in the middle of a Middle Eastern culture. The Israelis know that they must respond to their enemies in a manner the enemies understand and respect—brute force. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, when Israel responds in a manner appropriate to her enemies expectations, the Western nations are appalled. They ask her to “exhibit restraint” and criticize her for using a “disproportionate amount of force.” As soon as Israel accedes to the demands of the West, her enemies view her as weak and afraid, and they are encouraged to press their aggression with even more brutality.
In a similar manner, whenever Israel sits down at the negotiating table she is viewed as weak and humiliated. From our Western perspective, we view her as strong and honorable, doing the right thing to hammer out a compromise agreement acceptable to both sides. In contrast, from their extremist Middle Eastern perspective, her enemies view her has cringing, weak, powerless, and begging for mercy. This is why negotiated agreements with her enemies go nowhere. Why? Because from her enemies perspective, there is no need to make or keep agreements with an enemy afraid of you and weaker than you. When you are the stronger, you do not lower yourself to the humiliating posture of compromise. You take all that you want by brute force.
As a result, Israel finds herself between a rock and a hard place. If she uses force, she is criticized by the West. If she uses negotiation, she becomes a victim of aggression. Her restraint is interpreted as weakness.
Before I close this section, I want to be sure that a previous comment is not misunderstood. Previously I stated that the modern roots of Israel go back to the Zionist movement of Russia and Europe. Make no mistake, the European roots of the modern state do not invalidate Jewish claim to the Land. The ancient roots of the modern state are Middle Eastern. The Jewish people are a Semitic people who were given the title deed to the Land of Israel by God in approximately 2,100 BC (Gen. 12:1.3). We took possession of the Land in approximately 1,400 BC.
Later, because of our disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant and the Land Covenant and in accord with the discipline promised in those covenants (Lev. 26, Deut. 28, 29), the Jewish people have suffered temporary times of exile from the Land. While in exile all over the earth, we have been forced to adopt the culture of the lands to which we have been driven. Therefore, Western culture has become the culture of Western Jewry.
However, the Mosaic and Land Covenants both promise that the Jewish people will return to their Land after experiencing a world.wide dispersion (Lev. 26:43-45; Deut. 30:1.10). When we began to return to our land from Europe in the mid-1800’s, we brought our European Jewish culture with us. However, Jews are Semites, like our Middle Eastern neighbors. We are not a foreign element imposed upon the Middle East.
In truth, Israel is a nation of many cultures because the Jewish people were scattered all over the earth and absorbed the cultures of the planet. In Israel you will discover Jews of Middle Eastern culture, of European culture, of African culture, as well as Jews of Near Eastern and Far Eastern backgrounds. Jewish possession of the Land depends on the Abrahamic Covenant, not our cultural background.
Let me move on to the second descriptive word: Family. The brute force viewpoint of extremist Middle-Eastern culture is guided by family or tribal boundaries. It could be described in this manner: me against my brother, but me and my brother against our cousin, but me and my brother and our cousin against the outsider. The Middle-Eastern nations will fight against each other on a regular basis (for example, the Iraq vs. Iran war in 1980-88 or the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990-91). However, these nations will put aside their differences and unite to fight against an outsider. You guessed it—Israel is considered the outsider. Her enemies are willing to cooperate for the purpose of her annihilation.
Finally, let me deal with the word “Faith.” The dominant religion of the Middle East is Islam. Islamic theology approves of territorial conquest in the name of Allah. This is why the Islamic hordes came out of Arabia in the 700’s and conquered the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. This is why modern Islamic fundamentalists preach world conquest (see previous essay). Once territory is conquered in the name of Allah, it becomes a Islamic waqf or religious behest. As such, it must never be surrendered to non-Muslims. If so, the Muslim is obligated to reconquer the territory in the name of Allah.
Seen in this light, Israel is an outsider who has taken control of Islamic territory. Therefore, the Islamic “nation (umma)” is obligated to retake the territory for Allah. This is one of the two reasons why fundamentalist Islam refuses to negotiate with Israel. First, to negotiate would be humiliating, and second, a negotiated settlement would recognize the existence of the State of Israel on Islamic territory which is totally unacceptable. Israel must be completely and totally destroyed by brute force in order to be properly submissive to Allah.
Please note that I use the term Allah rather than the term God. It is often taught that Islam is one of the three monotheistic religions and that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all worship the same God. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Islam is simply Seventh Century Bedouin idolatry. The wandering Arabic tribes of the Seventh Century BC worshiped 360 different idols. When Mohammed established Islam he destroyed 359 idols and proclaimed the idol of his tribe, Allah, as the one true “god.” According to FaithDefenders.com the term “Allah became the Islamic substitute for any idol.” Islam is in reality mono-idolatry not mono-theism. The “god” of Islam in not the God of the Bible. If that were true, then the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Bible, would be attempting to annihilate his own covenant, chosen people (unsuccessfully, I might add) whom He has sworn (Deut. 4:31) to preserve forever (Jer. 31:35-37; Isa. 66:22). This is a biblical and logical impossibility. Let me repeat: make no mistake, the “god” of Islam is not the God of the Bible.
Now, with this background, we can return to the phrase, “prisoner swap.” Prisoner swap is a euphemism for blackmail and kidnapping. It is the abduction of a human being with the threat to harm or kill unless a ransom of some sort is paid. Kidnapping is a heinous crime. Unfortunately, Israel has submitted to prisoner swaps in the past when her citizens or soldiers have been abducted (for example, with Hezbollah in January, 2004).
Israel’s willingness to exhibit restraint and submit to terrorist blackmail of this sort has been noted by the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas. They feel that they have found a vulnerable spot in the Israeli armor that they can exploit to destroy Israel. Israel’s participation in prisoner swaps has also sent the message that Israel is afraid, weak and humiliated. Hamas and Hezbollah do not understand that Israel acts in response to strategic considerations and not because of fear, weakness or humiliation.
The war in the summer of 2006 against Hamas and Hezbollah has occurred because of Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s deliberate kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers; one held in Gaza by Hamas and two held in Lebanon by Hezbollah. Hezbollah and Hamas are demanded the release of 1,000 terrorists held in Israeli jails for these three soldiers. Israel came to the conclusion that the exercise of Western style negotiation and compromise is of no strategic and practical value. Consequently, she chose to respond in the native language of her opponents—brute force. This strategy seems to have been successful. The extremist leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, admitted after the fighting died down, “Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it (Time, Sept. 11, 2006, pg. 21).” Hezbollah got the message and will think twice before attempting aggression against Israel again.
This is the reality of Israel’s situation. Although the Jewish people have returned to their God-given, ancient homeland, they are regarded as an undesirable, foreign, criminal and imperialistic element by their neighbors. Israel, a sovereign state recognized by the United Nations, must be destroyed in spite of the fact that Israel only consists of a tiny “notch” of land, to use the words of England’s former Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur James Balfour.
At this point, I have dealt with understanding the Middle East conflict on the societal/cultural level. Now we need to dig a little deeper and look at the conflict through the perspective of the Bible. If I stop at this point, the Middle East conflict will make no sense at all. The intractable hatred, constant fighting, and continual suffering seem all so pointless and confusing. We have to go to the spiritual level before the Middle East conflict, and anti-Semitism in general, makes sense.
On the spiritual level the Middle East conflict boils down to Satan’s rebellion against God. In God’s program for mankind, He chose to enter into a covenant relationship with Abraham and the Jewish people. The summary of the Abrahamic Covenant is found in Genesis 12:1-3 (see chart). There the three basic stipulations of the Abrahamic Covenant are laid out. God promises Abraham and the Jewish people land blessings, nation blessings and spiritual blessings. If Satan can pervert or destroy only one of these three promises, he has reduced God to his level, and Satan who wishes to be like God (Isa. 14:14) has a claim to “divinity.” Therefore, Satan relentlessly attacks the promises and people of the Abrahamic Covenant. This is the only avenue he has to protect himself from judgment for his deliberate rebellion.
The Spiritual Blessing Promise of the Abrahamic Covenant is developed and elaborated in the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31ff. The essence of the New Covenant is forgiveness of sin appropriated through faith in Yeshua. This is the reason why Satan relentlessly tempted Yeshua and tried to have Him killed prematurely during His ministry on earth. Satan failed miserably to pervert or destroy the spiritual blessing aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant. Jesus successfully instituted the New Covenant in 30 AD through the triumphant and perfect completion of His mission of death and resurrection. Currently, Satan does whatever he can to hinder the outworking of the spiritual promise which flows through the Church today.
The National blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are developed and elaborated in the Davidic Covenant of 2 Samuel 7:10-17, 1 Chronicles 17:10-15 etc. There must be a nation for the Davidic King to rule over. Therefore, if Satan can destroy the Jewish people, the National Promise can never be fulfilled. In addition, there would be no Jewish people around to call on Jesus to return as Messiah King (Matt. 23:39). Satan’s most current attempt at Jewish genocide occurred during the Holocaust of World War 2 when one-third of the world-wide Jewish population was murdered by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. Satan’s final attempt to destroy the Jewish people lies in the future Tribulation Holocaust of Zechariah 13:8 when anti-Christ successfully murders two-thirds of the world-wide Jewish community.
Fortunately, Christians know the end of the story. The nation will call out for Yeshua and be saved (Rom. 11:25-27). He will return, destroy Israel’s enemies, and institute the Messianic Kingdom. The Jewish people will survive. Satan will fail to pervert or destroy the nation blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.
From Satan’s perspective the nation of Israel has no right to exist. It must be destroyed by any means possible, including brute force. Since Islam wants to destroy Israel, and Satan wants to destroy Israel, then who is the “god” of Islam? You, the reader, can decide the self-evident answer for yourself.
This leaves the final leg of the three legged stool remaining, the Land Promise. The Land Promise is expanded and developed by the Land Covenant of Deuteronomy 29 and 30. The Jewish people must occupy the territory promised in the Abrahamic and Land Covenants. The modern State of Israel occupies only a small percentage of that territory (see map in essay #1). The fact that Jewish people are, in fact, living on even a small percentage of the Promised Land infuriates and terrifies Satan. From his perspective, he must keep the Jewish people outside the boundaries of the covenant land at all cost.
We know from the prophets that Israel will experience two world-wide regatherings. As stated earlier, the modern State of Israel is the fulfillment of the first world-wide regathering. This means that one more world-wide diaspora awaits the Jewish people. We learn from the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:15-28 and Rev. 12:14) that Israel’s final diaspora will begin in the middle of the Tribulation Period when anti-Christ erects the Abomination of Desolation, desecrates the Temple, and begins his Tribulation Holocaust. The Jewish people will be cast out of the Land for the last time.
We also know the rest of the story. At the end of the Tribulation, the Jewish people come to faith in Yeshua and call for Him to return. When He does, He regathers the Jewish people from all over the globe (Isa. 11:11, 27:12; Ezek. 34:12; Amos 9:9). With the Jewish people occupying the entire Promised Land, He institutes the Messianic Kingdom. The Land Promise along with the National Promise and the Spiritual Blessing Promise see complete fulfillment. Satan is judged in the Abyss (Rev. 20:1-3) and the Messianic Kingdom commences.
Satan’s rebellion against God (Isa. 14:12–14; Ezek. 28:14.19) is the invisible reality that underlies the visible events we call the Middle East Conflict. In his rebellion, Satan cannot touch God, so he touches God’s treasured possession (Deut. 26:18, 7:6, 14:2; Ps. 135:4), the Jewish people and the covenants that bind them to God. On the surface, the Middle East Conflict and anti-Semitism do not make sense. Why is so much hatred directed at one tiny family on the face of the earth? Why is so much hatred focused at one little plot of ground? With all that antagonism, why do Israel and the Jewish people survive? Both the relentless hatred and the unprecedented survival just do not make sense. However, if we look at the Middle East Conflict and anti-Semitism through biblical binoculars, clarity emerges. There is a clear spiritual war going on. The sides and the stakes are clearly identified. Satan is in rebellion against God. The only way to save himself is to attack the people and promises of God which he does relentlessly and brutally.
The Upcoming Prophetic Events
Now let us turn to the question, “Where is all this leading?” The first principle Bible students must understand is the nature of the times in which we live. We live near the end of the age. The end of the age commenced with World War One (Matt. 24:7-8). The end of the age is characterized by local wars, world wars and natural disasters. The Bible does not specifically lay out for us the contribution that each local war, world war or natural disaster makes to the course of history. All we can say is this; the events we experience today are setting the stage for the next major prophetic event. Exactly what role an event contributed to history will only be determined with hindsight. God has given us a general, rather than detailed, glimpse into the future. When prophetic sensationalists start expanding a specific event in the news out-of-proportion, exercise responsible skepticism, research and analysis. Do not be gullible.
The second principle to keep in mind is to note what God has told us in scripture. Scripture is our guide and anchor, not current events. The next major prophetic event we can expect to occur in the Middle East is the Russian coalition’s invasion of Israel. We may or may not see the world-wide blackout of Joel 2:31, the return of Elijah, or the erection of the Third Temple. Please note the I did not mention the Rapture of the Church. Why? I did not include the Rapture because the Rapture is not particularly tied to the events in the Middle East. We are to be expecting it at any moment. However, we will cover more of that later. Please note that I did not include the Tribulation in the list of events we may see either. That is because the church will be snatched away from planet earth before the Tribulation begins. It is conceivable that we may observe the event that starts the Tribulation in motion. That event consists of Israel signing a seven year covenant with the anti-Christ. It is possible that we may observe that ceremony, but before God’s wrath is poured out we are gone!
The Third Temple
What about the Third Temple? Many Christians ask questions about it. There is little chronological data associated with the Third Temple. All we know is that it has to be up and functioning by the middle of the Tribulation (2 Thess. 2:1-4). The Third Temple may be erected after the Tribulation commences. In that case, we will not see it as a current event. However, that scenario is not likely considering the nature of the first half of the Tribulation. The first half of the Tribulation is filled with wars and natural disasters. It is not exactly the best environment for Temple building. More than likely, the Third Temple will be erected and functioning prior to the Tribulation period. In this case, we may see it. If God keeps the Church on earth until after the Temple is up and running, let me issue a warning to Christians, especially Jewish Christians. Have nothing to do with the Third Temple. It is the one temple God rejects (Isa. 66:1-4). The Temple of God today is the Church and the body of every believer (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19). Do not support the Third Temple. Do not become involved in the Mosaic sacrificial system it will reinstate. God does not forgive sins through that system. Salvation today only comes by grace through faith in Jesus the Messiah (Eph. 2:8).
The infrastructure of the Third Temple is being laid by such groups as the Temple Institute (www.templeinstitute.org) and the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement (www.templemountfaithful.org). A visit to these organizations reveals that very practical steps have already been taken toward the realization of the Third Temple. These groups are hampered by the political realities of Israel today. However, given the removal of restrictions, they would begin construction of the Third Temple.
The Russian Coalition’s Invasion of Israel
Another event we may witness is the Russian Coalition’s Invasion of Israel. This event must occur a minimum of three and one half years prior to the Tribulation (Ezek. 39:7-24).
As with the Third Temple, the pieces of the Russian Coalition’s Invasion puzzle are likewise slowly moving into place. For the Russian Coalition’s Invasion to occur, a number of factors must be in place.
- A coalition army led by Russia must be formed. The coalition needs to include the nations of Iran, Ethiopia, Somalia, Germany, Armenia, and possibly other less prominent unnamed partners. We can expect alliances to develop among these key nations as is happening between Russian and Iran today (Ezek. 38:1.6).
- Israel must be back in the Land living securely and prosperously (Ezek. 38:7-12).
- The United States, Israel’s only friend at present, must be unwilling and/or unable to support her. The nations of the world who do not join the coalition will criticize the invasion but do nothing to stop it (Ezek. 38:13).
God will provide circumstances that will motivate the invasion; a hook in Russian’s jaw (Ezek. 38:4).
Exactly how these factors will play out remains to be seen. However, these are the puzzle pieces we have been told about and that we should keep our eyes on.
Current Events and the Rapture
The final item I want to deal with is the statement, “The way things are going, we may be raptured sooner than we think.” Many Christians appear to think that conditions on earth have to get bad enough for the Rapture. Nothing is further from the truth. The Rapture has no preconditions to it. It can happen at any moment. Conditions do not have to get bad enough for the Rapture to occur. This includes whenever Israel goes to war or whatever conditions may be prevailing in the Middle East.
In the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:36-41), the Rapture occurs when conditions on earth are fairly normal. The world will be going about its daily affairs. People will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, men at their jobs and women in the home. Not too much war. Not too much peace. Not too many disasters. Not too much prosperity. In other words, when you would least expect it!
This is not to say that the days will not be difficult. There are trends we can anticipate. However, these trends do not govern when the Rapture will occur. They only describe the end of the age which will get worse and worse. Such trends are:
- Apostasy, demonism, hypocrisy, marriage forbidden, unidentified foods forbidden — 1 Timothy 4:1-3
- Ungodly personal character qualities — 2 Timothy 3:1-5
- Evil and deception — 2 Timothy 3:13
- Mockery of the Second Coming — 2 Peter 3:1-4
- Self-absorbed, worldly-minded mockers causing divisions — Jude 17-19
Remember, these trends do not govern when the Rapture will occur. We must not look at these characteristics of the end times, or to Israel’s wars, or to wars in the Middle East with the expectation that they will provide an answer to when the Rapture will occur. The Rapture is imminent.
In response, we must heed Yeshua’s admonition to be alert, to be ready, to be working for the Kingdom program, and to be prudent because we do not know when our Master comes (Matt. 24:42-25:30; Mk. 13:33-37; Lk. 21:34-36). Even so, come Lord Jesus.