In 1971 I spent a summer in Jerusalem working on an archaeological project excavating around the Temple Mount. Hebrew University was working hard and fast to dig through 2,000 years of debris to expose the last period of Jewish dominance in Jerusalem. This was only four years after the Six-Day War, during which Israel regained control of this incredibly historic and incredibly significant piece of real estate.
During the course of our digging we uncovered a section of the southern wall that formed part of the foundation for the ancient Temple Mount. The distinctive large stone blocks dating back to the time of the biblical King Herod were exposed as we dug below the surface.
One day a director of the project walked by our team as we cleared one of these large stones. “Look at that 2,000-year-old Herodian stone,” he said. “That is the most valuable find you’ve made all summer!”
I did not understand what he meant until some years later. What he meant was we had uncovered evidence of the vast temple complex from the time of the Jewish state of Roman times. For the state of Israel it was important proof for their claim of a Jewish presence on that spot in ancient history. This was where the temple stood. It’s where Jews and others worshipped. And it is where Jesus Christ and His disciples walked and taught.
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is arguably the most contested and most important piece of real estate on earth. It is at the heart of the bull’s-eye of Bible prophecy—Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is at the crossroads of the volatile Middle East, where today we see the nations of Syria, Iraq and Iran in turmoil as revolution, ethnic conflict and terrorist activity push millions from their homes while threatening the existence of nations and the peace of the entire region.
The stage is being set for the fulfillment of key Bible prophecies that will take place before the second coming of Jesus Christ. What is happening, and why is it important?
New nations drawn on a map
In the aftermath of “the Great War,” World War I, the victorious allied nations were faced with a dilemma in the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, which for nearly 500 years had bound together the region from North Africa through Mesopotamia, had collapsed in defeat. Great Britain and France were eager to carve out separate states to serve their national interests. In addition there were promises to keep—promises made to some Arab tribes that supported them against the Ottomans during the war.
And one other promise had been made—one that would have significant impact on the politics of the region. In 1917, during World War I, the British government committed by policy to promote the creation of a Jewish homeland.
The Balfour Declaration, as it was called, committed the British government to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. This was a response to the strong Zionist movement in Europe. Thousands of Jews had already relocated to the Holy Land, buying tens of thousands of acres of land from the Arab occupants. Many more acres of land lay vacant, formerly owned by the rulers of the now-nonexistent Ottoman Empire.
The Jewish presence was significant and growing. Official recognition by Great Britain accelerated Jewish immigration after the war. Pressure to accommodate the Jews was strong.
By 1922 the map of the Middle East had been completely redrawn. New states had come into existence from the remains of the Ottoman Empire. Lebanon and Syria had been created and run by the French. Iraq and Jordan were created and given to the Arabian Hashemite family, descended from Muhammad. Saudi Arabia came into being. And a new creation called Palestine was run under a British mandate. Egypt also came under British rule.
The lines you see on a current map delineating these modern nations were drawn by men at a postwar conference in Paris. Not fully considered, understood or appreciated were the many religious and ethnic divisions among the many peoples of the region.
Whether it is the Maronite Christians and Muslim peoples trying to coexist in Lebanon, or Sunni and Shiite Muslims living side-by-side in Iraq, or the Kurds scattered among Muslims in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, there are major challenges to peace and cooperation.
In Jordan the transplanted Hashemite family has managed to hold the state together despite the differences between Bedouin and Palestinian refugees. The state of Israel, declared in 1948, has fought off various attacks and coalitions from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt along with persistent terrorist attacks from Hezbollah, Hamas and Fatah, among others.
Why so much turmoil in this region?
Most of us have difficulty keeping a legible score card of the players and events of the Middle East. We see the pictures of strife in Syria and the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe to escape the civil war that has been raging for more than five years—and we honestly do not understand the issues that divide the people into warring factions.
We hear of the divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, but we cannot understand or explain why these two largest divisions of Islam are so at odds and why they butcher each other in the thousands.
And yes, the turmoil within these countries impacts America and the Western nations. Terrorism spawned in these regions has spread its deadly tentacles to affect London, Madrid, New York, Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, California. Fear and uncertainty is the bitter fruit of these conflicts. They do matter, and they do impact our lives.
Powerful forces have been unleashed in today’s Middle East. What the leaders of 1922 thought was resolved is today coming apart. Britain and France failed to ensure that the states and dynasties created in this period would endure.
More recently the United States failed to establish a stable government in Iraq after invading the nation in 2003 and upending the ruling order, corrupt and despicable as it was. America pulled its last troops out in 2011 and left the nation to fend for itself. The result was chaos and the Islamic State, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims again at each others’ throats. A similar pattern has followed in Afghanistan.
The Arab Spring, which began in 2011, overturned governments in countries such as Libya, Egypt and Syria. Now the Islamic State boasts of its goal to erase all of these old national borders and unite Muslims in a single Islamic superstate.
The region’s old order swept away
Author David Fromkin wrote in his 1989 book A Peace to End All Peace that during World War I and afterwards, “Britain and her Allies destroyed the old order in the region irrevocably; they smashed Turkish rule of the Arabic-speaking Middle East beyond repair . . . and introduced a state system of the sort that exists everywhere else; but they did not quell all significant local opposition to those decisions” (p. 563).
Near the end of his book Fromkin speaks of the fundamental problem in the Middle East. The “modern belief in secular civil government, is an alien creed in a region most of whose inhabitants, for more than a thousand years, have avowed a faith in a Holy Law that governs all of life, including government and politics” (p. 564).
Western politicians and statesmen have long assumed that the peoples of the Middle East, seeing how advanced the modern Western nations are in comparison to themselves, would naturally want to copy Western models in government, education and other aspects of society. They’ve been proven sorely wrong again and again, as Western nation-building attempts have typically been spectacular (and spectacularly costly) failures.
Religion, whether Islam or Christianity or Judaism, continues to be a potent force in the daily affairs of the region. The disputes are deep—deeper than today’s statesmen can understand. And the solutions lie in a source most deny—the Bible.
Ancient roots of modern conflicts
I said at the start of this article that the Middle East matters because it’s where God had a home—the temple built in Jerusalem. It’s where God placed His name. It’s where He placed His nation to be a kingdom of priests, an example to the nations of how blessed a people could be if it lived according to His eternal law.
God owns the land, and those who live there today occupy it in tenancy only. God holds the title. In Genesis 17 we find the commitment God made to Abraham and his descendants regarding this land: “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8). Today descendants of Abraham, including those through his son Ishmael, are found in the Middle East, the boundaries of which are quite far-reaching.
At the heart of the Middle East's troubles is an ancient feud among the descendants of Abraham going back almost 4,000 years. The conflict is over who owns the land and who has the right to exist within the region. The Arab states, believing themselves to be the divinely chosen peoples, have never fully accepted the Jewish state of Israel. Arabs who were displaced when they lost or abandoned their land in the major Arab wars against Israel have not been fairly handled even by their own brother Arab states—their homeless status festering for almost 70 years.
Part of the hostility is the existence of a Jewish state within land the Muslim faith believes to be a part of the sacred Islamic entitlement. It’s all a part of the long and complicated hostility between descendants of one man, Abraham. So here we see Jew and Arab contending over an inheritance, a relatively tiny sliver of land that in the end ultimately belongs to God.
This is a critically important matter. If you are to understand why the Middle East matters you must understand this important truth from the Bible. The present religious and political turmoil in the Middle East is at its heart a family feud among Abraham’s descendants. It will take the return of another descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ, to settle this dispute—a dispute prophesied to erupt into a larger conflict much sooner than we might think.
Center of a coming conflict
Jordan’s King Abdullah recently said the current turmoil in the region is equivalent to a third world war. Europe, America and Asia have been drawn into the conflict by varying degrees. We are seeing major shifts in the balance of power in the region and in the world.
America has retreated from its preeminent position as the primary maintainer of order in the post-Cold War world. The European Union is experiencing fundamental changes. We are seeing changes in the region on the order God described to the prophet Habbakuk: “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told” (Habbakuk 1:5, New International Version). God ultimately controls history and the course of world powers. They rise and fall according to His eternal plan.
The Islamic State has proved capable of extending its deadly terror into Europe and the United States. Recent terror strikes in Paris and Brussels are harbingers of a coming time when a larger power from the Middle East, the biblical “king of the South,” “pushes” at (attacks) the “king of the North” (Daniel 11:40). These recent attacks are part of a longer historic effort by the armies of Islam to extend its reach into Europe. The book of Daniel holds the key to understanding that this is part of a larger spiritual conflict that drags the nations along in war and suffering.
The Middle East is the central cauldron of conflict that will draw the nations into the final “battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:14). This is why the region matters and why you need to understand the issues and the biblical story behind the headlines. Because it is a spiritual story, there are spiritual lessons to learn—lessons that matter to your eternal life.
Because of unwillingness to have a change of heart, peace treaties have been made and broken through the generations. Envy, jealousy and infighting—the kind one sees in a family long divided and fighting over things—dominate much of the thinking in the region.
Why the Middle East matters to you
Now more than ever is the time to understand why the Middle East matters to your life. The events we are seeing should motivate us to seek the true and living God. He is in control of these events, and they are not occurring without His knowledge and consent.
Now is the time to consider your life, your conduct and the way you live your life. Does it match the biblical standard you are learning through the pages of Beyond Today? The Bible holds us to a higher standard. Biblical truth is the path to a sound mind and heart—the key to peace of mind in today’s changing and often chaotic world.
Now is the time to live a holy and godly life. Consider your ways! The information we provide in Beyond Today about Bible prophecy and the Middle East is critical to your understanding the news and headlines of today and what they mean for your future.
Make a change in your life to obey God and to get in tune with His way. Do this now as a preparation for the time when the God of Abraham will begin to impose a peace throughout not just the Middle East, but the entire world at the return to the earth of His Son. Jesus is going to return as the Christ—or Messiah—a Messiah these faiths won’t recognize then because they don’t know Him now.
Get to know Jesus Christ—the Prince of Peace—now, and you’ll be prepared to work with Him to bring peace to these long-warring families at His return. Do it today, and you can begin to bring peace and purpose into your own life and into your own family, both now and forever!