War and Peace in the Middle East
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The land to which God sent Abraham some 4,000 years ago lies at the very crossroads of three continents. It is also holy to three religions.
More than 2,500 years ago God revealed to the prophet Daniel that the land of His people would be fought over throughout the centuries (as described in chapter 3 of this booklet). Interestingly, we see a long time gap in Daniel's prophecy that accurately foretold what would happen in the centuries ahead. To understand this, we need to turn again to Daniel 11.
As earlier explained, the first 35 verses of Daniel 11 are an accurate, detailed account of what would befall the people of Judah caught up in a conflict between the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt to the south and the Seleucids of Syria to the north. The rulers of these kingdoms were descended from generals of Alexander the Great, who also was foretold in the book of Daniel.
(In an interesting historical footnote, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus recounts a meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, who pointed out that Alexander's coming had been prophesied by Daniel more than two centuries before he emerged on the scene! See Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, chap. 8, sec. 5.)
The four verses that follow in Daniel 11:36-39, appear to jump forward in time. As explained earlier, Daniel 11:32-35 appear to concern the faithful Maccabees, who would not abandon God's laws for pagan Greek ways. Yet these same verses appear to be dual, as the group referred to in Daniel 11:35 continues to the "time of the end"—meaning that God's faithful people in New Testament times, His Church, are included.
Daniel 11:36 continues the story line— but at what point? Since Daniel 11:40 clearly advances the story to the "time of the end," it may be that verses 36-39 apply to the whole history of the kingdom of the North from the time of the Maccabees and the beginnings of the New Testament Church continuing up to the time of the end (just as verse 35 appears to extend from ancient times all the way to the end time).
And who was the king of the North during this period? In 65 B.C., Seleucid Syria was swallowed up by the Roman Empire. Thus that empire then became the kingdom of the North. Verses 36-38 appear to describe the actions of the Roman emperors and their successors, leading all the way up to the final leader of the end time, as we will see. While the duality of the prophecy serves to advance the time frame, Antiochus Epiphanes himself being a type of this end-time ruler, we might wonder why there are such major jumps to the future.
State of Israel had to be established to fulfill prophecy
Why the time gap in Daniel's prophecy between the ancient world and the world of today—a period of at least 2,000 years —with only sparse and cursory details of events in between? The answer is simple: For almost 2,000 years there was no Jewish nation in the Middle East. The restoration of the Jewish state in 1948 has made the kings of the North and South relevant again to impacting the Jewish people in the Holy Land.
End-time prophecy could not be fulfilled without the restoration of the Jews to their homeland. Although their nation is called Israel, remember that the 10 tribes of the ancient northern kingdom known as Israel were taken into captivity by Assyria more than a century before the kingdom of Judah (comprising the Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with a considerable portion of Levi) was invaded and its people taken to Babylon.
Many of the Jews returned from their captivity, but the 10 tribes seemingly disappeared. The Bible shows that in time all the tribes of Israel will return to the Promised Land, but at this point only the tribe of Judah—or at least a portion of it—has been restored to its historic home.
In the Old Testament prophetic book of Zechariah we read that Jerusalem and Judah (Jews constituting the modern state of Israel) are at the center of world conflict immediately before Christ's return. But this prophesied event could not have taken place without the physical restoration of Judah (now named Israel) to some extent in the Holy Land before the end of the age.
In Zechariah 14:3-5 we see this prophecy about Christ's second coming: "Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley ..." Clearly, this prophecy is still for the future.
The preceding verses show that the reason the people need to flee is because Jerusalem will once again be a scene of great turmoil: "For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city" (Zechariah 14:2).
Previously Zechariah had recorded these words from God: "Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it" (Zechariah 12:2-3).
Judah (the Israelis, most of whom are Jews) and Jerusalem are destined to be at the very center of end-time events. The nations that come against her will be so ideologically and emotionally driven they will not be able to think straight (the "drunkenness" Zechariah refers to). Already, some nations and peoples are obsessed with destroying the Jewish homeland of Israel. Another prophet tells of the fall of end-time Israel (descendants of the northern lost 10 tribes) and Judah (the Jews) together, apparently in the same month, an event that never happened in ancient history. We read of this in Hosea 5.
Condemning Israel and Judah for their repeated idolatry, God says: "The pride of Israel testifies to his face; therefore Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity [sin]; Judah also stumbles with them ... They have dealt treacherously with the LORD ... Now a New Moon shall devour them and their heritage" (Hosea 5:5-7). A New Moon "devouring" them would seem to mean that they both will fall within a month, a 30-day period. (To understand where the other 10 tribes of Israel are today, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)
The struggle continues
We can now understand more clearly why the struggle between the kings of the North and South resumes again "at the time of the end" (Daniel 11:40).
The verse continues to describe how "the king of the South shall attack him [the king of the North]; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships [all symbols of military action]; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them and pass through."
Clearly, at the time of the end another round of great turmoil will engulf the Middle East, only this time it will be far worse than anything ever seen before.
And again, the fulfillment of this prophecy would not have been possible until after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the division of those Arab territories that were a part of it into the various nations of the Middle East today.
From chapter 3 of this booklet we saw that the expression "king of the North" applied anciently to the Seleucid dynasty of Syria, while the "king of the South" referred to the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. But who might these terms refer to in our time or the time of the end? It's doubtful that they could once again apply to Syria and Egypt, as they are now brother Arab and Islamic nations. Also, while relatively strong by regional standards, neither currently has the military might to fulfill this prophecy.
As already noted, Rome swallowed up Syria and became the kingdom of the North thereafter. But did not Rome fall in ancient times?
Part of the key to understanding this passage is to realize that the center of the prophecy is the Holy Land and Jerusalem, the historic land given to the children of Israel. The "kings" referred to are powerful leaders who will come from regions to the north and south and vie for control of the area, trampling all over Judah in the process.
A century ago no one could have understood many of the prophecies relating to this part of the world because the Ottoman Empire ruled over the places now occupied by the chief adversaries in the Mideast conflict. This fact helps us understand God's words to Daniel at the end of his prophetic book: "Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (Daniel 12:9). It would have been impossible for Daniel, living in the sixth century B.C., to have understood the astounding changes that would lead up to today's complex Middle East situation.
Just as the modern states of Israel, Egypt, Iraq and Syria did not exist a century ago, so at this time the final kings of the North and South have not emerged—yet. But the Bible does help us understand what to expect.
We read in the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation that another global superpower will arise at the end of this age. We find further details of this end-time power in Revelation 17. Just as Daniel saw various beasts that represented the dominant powers to come, so the apostle John saw a vision of another beast that would dominate the world at the very time of the end (Revelation 17:3).
The 10 horns referred to here, as an angel explained to John, represent 10 rulers who receive power "for one hour" —symbolic of a short time—with a single ruler who is also called "the beast" (Revelation 17:12-13). Notice the time setting of these events: "These will make war with the Lamb [the returning Jesus Christ], and the Lamb will overcome them ..." (Revelation 17:14). This prophecy, then, is for the future, and leads right into the return of Jesus Christ to earth.
But these are not the only significant end-time players. A religious leader symbolized as having "two horns like a lamb" but who speaks "like a dragon" (Revelation 13:11) will play a prominent role in this end-time union of nations. Jesus Christ is the true Lamb of God (John 1:29-36; Revelation 5:8-9;Revelation 19:7-9), so this religious leader apparently will claim to be Christian. But he is really of Satan, "the dragon who ... deceives the whole world" (Revelation 12:9).
The "beast" referred to in Revelation 17 is a continuation of the four beasts of Daniel 7. As we saw earlier, Daniel, while in captivity in Babylon, recorded a vision of "four great beasts" (Daniel 7:3), gentile empires that would dominate the Middle East and have a major impact on the people of God. The empires were, in chronological order, the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire.
Attempts to revive the Roman Empire are to succeed dramatically at the time of the end. At that time a successor empire is prophesied to restore the European unity that Rome first achieved more than 2,000 years ago. This empire is to lead right into Christ's return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth (Daniel 7:9-14).
Since the fourth beast described in Daniel 7 exists at the time of Jesus Christ's return, and the same is true of the beast John saw in Revelation 17, both prophecies speak of an end-time resurrection of the Roman Empire. This is the other key to understanding the prophecy. The kingdoms of North and South concern successive powers. Rome took over Syria. And Rome did indeed fall. But the Roman Empire has been revived in numerous forms over the centuries. And one final revival remains.
This final resurrection of the Roman Empire, like the original empire, will be centered in Europe. It appears that it can be seen today in its embryonic form in the European Union. That is not to say that all current EU nations will be part of the final configuration, but those that choose to participate will combine to form a powerful military force that will involve itself in the Middle East.
This end-time king of the North spoken of in Daniel 11, then, appears to be the final ruler of this end-time, European- centered superpower, the same one called "the beast" in Revelation 17.
The final king of the South
What about the king of the South? To understand who that might be, we must first have some understanding of the history and thinking of the people in this region.
In Islamic thinking, the world is divided into two spheres, dar al-Islam, meaning "the land of Islam," and dar al-harb, meaning "the land of the unbeliever" or "the land of struggle." The Koran teaches that Allah "sent for His apostle [Muhammad] with guidance and the true faith, so that he may exalt it above all religions, much as the idolators may dislike it" (Surah 61:9, Dawood translation). A fundamental aspect of Islamic teaching is that Islam must eventually become the dominant religion of the entire world.
Remember also that the dream of the Arab peoples is for Arab unity. The warring tribes of Arabia were first united by Muhammad through a new religion, Islam. The Ummah, the community of Islam, has been a constant dream through the centuries. For 750 years now the sons of Ishmael have not been united. Only in the last 50 years have they even been independent of foreign control. The dream is still there, unfulfilled.
For a time, after the 1952 revolution in Egypt, President Nasser was the inspiration for Arab unity, and many thought he would bring it about. More recently Iraq's Saddam Hussein thought the same way, desiring to unite the Arab world against the United States and Israel.
Going back further in time, Sudan's Muhammad Ahmed Ibn el Sayed (1844-1885) proclaimed himself the Islamic messiah, the Mahdi ("divinely guided one") who would unite Muslims and defeat the infidels. He failed in his mission, but he had greater success at uniting Arabs than the secular leaders have had. We should also note that many Muslims believe that another Mahdi is prophesied to appear in a tumultuous time to restore the Islamic faith and ensure its final victory over all other religions.
In more recent times Osama bin Laden became the spiritual successor of the Sudanese Mahdi and found considerable success in uniting Muslims against the West. Wherever you go in the Islamic world, Bin Laden is the peoples' hero, giving them hope of a final triumph.
As Muhammad's followers brought about the defeat of the two great superpowers of his day, Byzantium and Persia, so Osama bin Laden and his followers have desired to bring down the two superpowers of our era. One, the Soviet Union, dissolved in 1991—its collapse due in large part to the Afghan rebels, led by Bin Laden, who defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Sept. 11 showed how vulnerable the second superpower, the United States, is to terrorism. Repeated warnings from Washington have made it clear that the country remains susceptible to terrorist attacks potentially even more devastating than the first.
This end-time king of the South will rise up to defy the West, striking out against the king of the North. Whoever the end-time king of the South might be—whether a popular figure similar to Osama bin Laden, a political leader as were Gamal Abdel Nasser and Saddam Hussein, or a religious figure such as the Ayatollah Khomeini or the prophesied Mahdi to come—someone will engage in this final conflict against the West—possibly in yet another attempt to bring about long-sought Arab and Islamic unity. He will unwittingly set in motion a cascade of events that will lead to unimaginable carnage before Jesus Christ intervenes to put a stop to it.
The climactic Mideast war unfolds
Returning to Daniel 11:40, we see that the forces of these two end-time leaders, the kings of the North and South, will clash: "At the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over" (King James Version).
The word "push" is translated from the Hebrew word nagach, which can mean either "to push" or "to attack." It is used of a bull or ram attacking with its horns. Figuratively, this means "to war against." The form this "push" or "attack" may take isn't spelled out.
What is evident, however, is that this end-time leader from the south will attack the north in such a way as to warrant a major military invasion of the Middle East. Considering the ways Islamic extremists have attacked the Western powers in recent years, something like a series of major terror attacks against European targets could be the "push" referred to here. From this point on the king of the South is no longer specifically mentioned in Scripture. What happens to him isn't spelled out.
The same chapter shows that the king of the North, the European-centered Beast power, will be the victor, as he invades the Holy Land and overthrows "many countries" (Daniel 11:41). Among them are Egypt and the Libyans and Ethiopians (understand that these biblical names for peoples and places may not be precisely identical with today's national borders, although the regions are certainly the same.)
First and second woes
However, "news from the east and the north shall trouble him," and "he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many" (Daniel 11:44). These actions by the end-time king of the North appear to be connected with the fifth trumpet or "first woe" of Revelation 9:1-11, as both the forces bringing the first woe and the end-time Beast power are described as ascending out of the bottomless pit (verses 1-2; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 17:8). For more details, request or download our free booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled.
At the time the book of Revelation was written, the eastern border of the Roman Empire was the Euphrates River, which begins in Turkey and bisects Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. The countries referred to in the last few verses of Daniel 11 are all far to the west of this river. Yet in the end-time events prophesied in the book of Revelation this river is a significant geographic marker.
Notice Revelation 9:13-16: "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.' 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."
Here we have the sixth trumpet (and second woe) identified as a massive 200-million-man army "released to kill a third of mankind." Clearly we are talking about major clashes between the Western world (in the form of the forces of the king of the North) and a massive army from regions along or beyond the Euphrates River.
Threatened by a major foreign military presence that has invaded North Africa and modern-day Israel, this military force combines to fight against it.
What nations come together to form these vast armies? Two possibilities seem likely in today's geopolitical climate—or a combination of the two.
The presence of non-Islamic forces (infidels) on Islamic ground has been a source of contention in the region since the time of the Crusades almost 1,000 years ago. The presence in the Middle East of forces of the revived Roman Empire—the prophesied Beast power, a spiritual successor to the Crusaders—will no doubt inflame Islamic feelings once again.
It is possible, therefore, that this massive army is a multinational Islamic force formed from some or all of the Islamic countries along or to the north and east of the Euphrates. This would include nations like Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even participants from India (with the second-largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia, though most of its citizens are Hindus).
Further to the north and east of the Holy Land are the relatively new Islamic nations that came into existence after the fall of the Soviet Union—Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The world's Muslim population totals some 1.3 billion, most of whom are in this general geographic area.
Another possibility for these forces includes Russia and China, two major world powers that often share common interests, along with their allies and other nations from the Far East. A threat to the Persian Gulf oil supplies, real or imagined, could provoke action by these nations. China, with its population of 1.3 billion, could certainly field a massive military force, and Russia's weapons technology still makes it a formidable military power.
Additionally, it is possible that all these forces will come together briefly, fearful of the increased military might and presence of the king of the North. Indeed, important defense and economic ties already exist between Russia and China and some Muslim nations of Central Asia and the Middle East.
Setting the stage for Armageddon
Later, as part of the chain of events that follow the sounding of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15, we find the Euphrates River mentioned again: "Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared" (Revelation 16:12).
Who these leaders and forces are isn't explicitly spelled out either; we know only that they come from east of the Euphrates. Like the earlier 200-million-man army, it appears this force is primarily from either the Muslim world or from China and/or Russia and their allies. Or again, it could be a combination of some or all these nations. In fact, it could well be the same general power bloc as that in Revelation 9, though, this being a different episode, it doesn't have to be.
Contributing to this conflict, "demons, performing signs,... go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty ... And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon" (Revelation 9:14-16).
In the end it doesn't seem to matter specifically which countries are involved in this growing world war at which point in time, for ultimately Revelation 16:14 tells us that the kings "of the whole world" will be gathered to the Middle East for a final battle. So it seems likely that all of the aforementioned Eastern powers will be engaged at some point.
Indeed, however it plays out, virtually all remaining military forces apparently will be drawn into this final maelstrom of destruction to some degree, just as happened in the two great world wars of the 20th century. Yet ironically, this is all part of God's plan and absolutely necessary for peace to finally be established in this war-torn region.
Christ's intervention to save mankind
All this maneuvering, destruction and devastation—which takes the lives of at least a third of the human race (Revelation 9:15-18)—is the prelude to Jesus Christ's second coming. He has to return to save mankind from this final cataclysmic conflict that otherwise would leave no human survivors. As He said of the time immediately preceding His return to earth, "unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved ..." (Matthew 24:22).
But at His return, the peoples of the world will not automatically accept Him. As we saw earlier, the 10 kings allied with the Beast will fight against Him (Revelation 17:14).
Revelation 16:16 tells us that armies will be gathered "to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon." Armageddon is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Har Megiddon, meaning hill or mountain of Megiddo, an ancient town about 55 miles north of Jerusalem and 15 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. It overlooks the Valley of Jezreel or Esdraelon, a large open plain.
Yet the final battle will not be here. Instead it appears that this will be the final staging area for the armies that will fight against Jesus Christ. The battle itself will take place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat near Jerusalem, as prophesied in Joel 3: "For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat ... Assemble and come, all you nations ... For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations" (Joel 3:1-2; Joel 3:11-12). Jehoshaphat even means "Judgment of the Eternal."
Revelation 19:11-16 describes what happens next: "Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns ..." This is a description of the returning Jesus Christ, who will now execute God's judgment on a rebellious, sin-filled world and on those who resist Him by force.
"He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses ... Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations ... And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS."
Several verses describe what will happen to the assembled forces that fight Jesus at His return (Revelation 19:17-21; Zechariah 14:12). But like all human resistance to God's plan and purpose, it will prove futile.
Peace at last
After so much death and destruction, and centuries of war and unrest in the Middle East, imagine what a difference the second coming of Jesus Christ will make.
Jews, Christians and Muslims not only have a common spiritual ancestor in Abraham; adherents of all three religions expect, in different ways, a Messiah.
Only after the true Messiah comes can all three begin to live in true harmony. Devoid of religious differences and finally understanding and appreciating the blood ties between them, they will be able to work together under the returned Jesus Christ to resolve their differences.
Haggai 2:6-7 prophesies of this time: "Once more ... I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations ..." The "Desire of All Nations" is the promised Messiah, the hope of all three faiths.
Described as "the Prince of Peace" in Isaiah 9:6, Jesus Christ will establish His government on earth with Jerusalem as its capital. "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain [prophetic symbol of a government] of the LORD'S house shall be established on the top of the mountains [over all other governments of the world] ... and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Micah 4:1-2).
All the children of Abraham—Arab, Jew and Israelite alike—along with all the inhabitants of the entire earth, will then have the opportunity to learn God's truth and receive His gift of salvation. No longer will they be at war, but they will be allies, cooperating together in a spirit of peace and brotherhood, all acknowledging the true God and living according to His ways, all receiving His blessings (Isaiah 19:20-25). To better understand this time and how it will finally come about, request or download our free booklet The Gospel of the Kingdom.
Satan the devil, the instigator of so much war and suffering and the unseen influence behind the scenes, will be locked away so he can no longer deceive and oppress the nations (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:1-3). To discover more about this evil being and his influence, request or download our free booklet Is There Really a Devil?
Under Christ's righteous rule, peace, not war, will break out in this long- troubled land. "He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken" (Micah 4:3-4).
Terror-ravaged Jerusalem will be fearful no longer. God decrees: "I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the LORD of Hosts, the Holy Mountain ... Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing" (Zechariah 8:3-5).
Zechariah 14:8-9 adds to the beautiful picture of the wonderful, glorious future ahead: "And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem ... And the LORD shall be King over all the earth."
Finally, beyond the darkness and gloom, after thousands of years of war and travail, at long last mankind will see peace in Jerusalem and throughout the land that God gave to Abraham 4,000 years ago—a peace that will extend across the entire Middle East and ultimately fill the whole world.