It seems as if it were a lifetime ago that U.S. President George W. Bush put the prestige of his office into the quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Yet it was only a little over a year ago— in June 2003—that the American president met in Aqaba with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to commit their efforts and energies to "the road map for peace."
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders shook hands, expressed regret for the suffering of the peoples, stated their desire for peaceful relations and committed to travel the road to peace.
But within days of this highly heralded meeting, another wave of violence broke on the streets of Israel. Sniper attacks and homicide bombings took more Israeli lives. Seventeen were killed in one grisly bus attack, followed by other suicide bombings that killed and maimed dozens more. Israeli counterattacks took the lives of Palestinian leaders as well as innocent children.
No sooner were the hopes for peace raised than they were dashed to the ground, leaving many to wonder if any peaceful solution to this problem is possible.
Diplomats shuttle between nations, while new solutions to age-old enmities are tried and found wanting. One U.S. senator suggested that the United States may need to commit troops to Israel as a peacekeeping force. The last thing Israel wants is the death of American soldiers in defense of its territory. The imposition of a foreign army into Israel sounds ominous notes to students of prophecy.
Fruitless search for peace
Where do we find the way to genuine peace? Beyond the Middle East, other areas of conflict continue to flare up. In Sudan and the Congo, little-noticed wars have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans. While attention is focused on Iraq, these wars have been all but ignored by the world powers. It is a sad and discordant commentary on those who try to work for peace in the world.
In the previous four installments of this series, we have focused on the rides of the four horsemen of Revelation 6. These horsemen, who make up the first four of the seven seals opened by Jesus Christ, show the coming destruction caused by false religion, war, famine and pestilence.
Christ said these seals would herald an unparalleled time of sorrow and great tribulation "such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:7-8, Matthew 24:21).
The prophecies show dark days ahead for this world and its inhabitants. Revelation 8 shows the effect of further plagues, which affect the earth's vegetation (Revelation 8:7) and devastate the waters of the rivers and seas, the planet's life-support system (Revelation 8:8-10).
Conditions will grow so bad that men will seek the escape of death in that day, but it will not be found (Revelation 9:6). Why will all this come on the earth, and where will it lead?
God's righteous judgment
We need to understand a basic principle of God's judgment on mankind. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would much rather see men and women live righteously and enjoy the blessings that come from obeying His way. But when the way of man becomes too wicked, there follows a time of righteous judgment, the end of which is ultimate restoration.
Notice Ezekiel 18:23, God rhetorically asks, "Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? . . . and not that he should turn from his ways and live?" Again in Ezekiel 18:30 He says, "Therefore I will judge you . . . , every one according to his ways . . . Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin" (emphasis added throughout).
The book of Revelation shows that God will bring a time of divine judgment on the world that in the end will result in peace. It is the only way this warring, fractious world will be brought to a state of harmony.
Notice what is sung at the throne of God in anticipation of the seven last plagues. A song of Moses and the Lamb includes these words: "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested" (Revelation 15:3-4).
Another angel, holding a bowl of judgment says: "You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due" (Revelation 16:5-6).
To the human mind, unaccustomed to thinking about divine judgment, these words strike a jarring and harsh note. How can a loving and merciful God do this to His creation?
Yet our judgment must be guided and shaped by the words of another angelic being from God's altar, who says, "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments" (Revelation 16:7).
The ride of the fifth horseman
However, the fifth horseman of Revelation, Jesus Christ, rides not with famine, pestilence or a false gospel like the earlier riders. His ride is not the fifth seal of Revelation 6. Instead He is the returning King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Christ rides onto the world stage at the moment of earth's greatest crisis—and "makes war." But it will truly be the war to end wars.
And it will be a war waged in righteous judgment. Notice the description in Revelation 19: "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" (Revelation 19:11).
Like the first horseman of Revelation 6, Christ sits astride a white horse, this image in both places symbolizing conquest. But here the similarity ends. Unlike the deception of the first rider, Jesus comes with truth. His name is "The Word of God" (Revelation 19:13) and He wields a sharp sword, which in other places is used to symbolize the Word of God.
Indeed, there will be a literal battle, after which the true way of God will replace the governments of this world and nations will be subject to the Kingdom of God, the divine reign of Jesus Christ over the entire world. Unlike the previous four horsemen, which foreshadowed increasing world turmoil and tribulation, Christ's ride will lead to a time of peace throughout the earth.
The war that finally brings peace
Christ will rule the nations according to all the prophecies that foretold His righteous government. Revelation 19:15 carries forward the thought recorded in Isaiah 11:4: "Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."
Christ's second coming, with power and great glory, will be a time of great conflict and a final battle of the nations gathered at Jerusalem. These armies gather for what will seem to them to be an earthly, temporal matter. But God will have another purpose.
An angel, emblazoned against the sun, appeared to John with this ominous command to the fowl of the skies: "Come and gather together for the supper of the great God" (Revelation 19:17). Plainly, after Christ destroys those armies gathered to fight against Him, there will be nothing left but food for the scavenging birds.
Read in your own Bible the words describing this dramatic scene at the end of this present age of human misrule. While not pretty, it is the only solution to the continual warring of mankind.
When giant oil wells are burning out of control, often the only way firefighters can extinguish the flame is by igniting an explosion in the well head. The explosion sucks out the oxygen, thus taking away a key element needed for the fire. Similarly, the righteous war Christ will wage is like a massive explosion of force that brings the raging flames of war to a halt. Only then will the conditions be set for ushering in the peace of the Kingdom of God.
The Desire of All Nations
Through the prophet Haggai, God sent a message of comfort that echoes through the ages. It speaks to the world at the time of great calamity mentioned in Revelation.
"'My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!' For thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) 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, and I will fill this temple with glory . . . The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former . . . And in this place I will give peace,' says the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:5-9).
Clearly, Jesus Christ the Messiah is "the Desire of All Nations." What do all nations long for? Is it not peace? Is it not the chance to live and love and grow old through the generations without fear of war, wasting diseases and want?
Throughout the ages men, women and children have looked and longed for one who would bring lasting peace to the world. The first-century world looked for a golden age that would bring justice and peace to mankind. They sensed the time was right for restoring a time of prosperity and wisdom when the physical and spiritual world worked together in harmony.
The Roman poet Virgil spoke of the return of justice from "a new breed of men sent down from heaven" and "the boy's birth in whom the iron shall cease, the golden age arise . . . He shall receive the life of gods, and see heroes with gods commingling, and himself be seen of them, and with his father's worth reign over a world at peace" (Eclogue 4.5-13, 15-18).
Of course, the Roman Empire did not bring a "golden age"—it was more like iron than gold. The peace of Rome was achieved at the end of the legionnaire's short sword—war, but not a righteous one. No leader or nation since then has brought lasting peace to any age of man.
A lasting peace
Where can you turn for a reliable promise of peace and justice?
The search will continue for a lasting peace among today's nations. Conferences will be held, treaties produced and accords signed. There will be short periods of calm giving the illusion of peace. But in the end, the only real peace must be brought by the hand of God through the ride of the fifth horseman of Revelation.
Today the world awaits the voices that will declare, as foretold in Revelation 11:15: "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!"