A few days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, I called my father at his home in northern Minnesota to get his opinion: “Was this as bad as Pearl Harbor?”
“Far worse,” he said. “When I saw the second tower collapse, I said ‘I’m watching the beginning of World War III.’”
My father is not given to overstatement. On the day after Pearl Harbor, the submarine on which he served fired the first U.S. torpedo in World War II. He was an 18-year-old radioman on the sub in Guam, bombed that day by the Japanese air force. He has never stopped talking about his
But World War III?
Is the Western world really fighting a war on a par with the two greatest wars of the 20th century?
Consider. In the crisis that ignited the First World War in the spring of 1914, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand quickly brought belligerent alliances into conflict. A generation later Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, plunging the world into war on a scale never before seen. In both cases, clearly visible tensions had built for years. Nations had amassed armies, many were entangled in a web of alliances, and war was obviously inevitable.
Somehow today is different. The United States is the world’s only superpower, dwarfing other nations in military might. Yet the attack on New York and Washington caught Americans completely by surprise.
Even months later the memories of the burning 110-story World Trade Center towers disintegrating before our eyes on television are vividly surreal, and the devastation to the world’s financial epicenter so complete, it seems natural for politicians, pundits and priests to invoke biblical language to describe the horror of the events.
News anchormen adopted the descriptions of biblical prophecy. Referring to the final battle between God and the armies of Satan toward the end of the book of Revelation, CBS anchorman Dan Rather said downtown New York “looks more like Armageddon than Gotham.”
Indeed, talk of God filled America immediately after the event as never before in memory.
Somehow the vocabulary of God has become interlaced in the daily news with descriptions of mass murder, terror, suicide martyrdom and war between the United States-which terrorists refer to as the Great Satan-and what President George W. Bush calls evil itself.
The Armageddon prophecy
People in the Western world are suddenly much more interested in Bible prophecy, particularly descriptions of the end time. Sales of Bibles are dramatically higher since Sept. 11. Multitudes are suddenly fascinated by the symbols, the global scale and the descriptions of mass tragedies in many Bible prophecies. These sound like a religious version of their evening newspapers.
Perhaps the most horrific prophecy in the Bible is what is referred to by many as the Battle of Armageddon, when vast armies, one numbering 200 million (Revelation 9:16 Revelation 9:16And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
American King James Version×), are predicted to assemble to fight against the returning Jesus Christ in a climactic military battle in the Holy Land.
The Bible says: “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates …, And I saw three unclean spirits … spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of the great day of God Almighty … And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (Revelation 16:12-16 Revelation 16:12-16 12 And the sixth angel poured out his vial on the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
American King James Version×).
“Armageddon” is the Greek form of the Hebrew har Megiddo, meaning “Hill of Megiddo,” an ancient fortification overlooking the great northern plain in the modern state of Israel.
The prophecy, then, is of future events beginning in the lands east of the Euphrates River and ending in the state of Israel. Actually, while armies will gather at Megiddo, the front lines of the final battle itself will meet at Jerusalem, as other prophecies show. This battle will represent the culmination of mankind’s struggles with evil and spiritual powers called “demons.”
Armageddon has come to be synonymous with massive devastation and God’s final intervention to forcibly end the violence of a developing global war involving terrifying weapons of mass destruction.
Is there any connection between the attack in New York and Armageddon? Has something happened in recent events that could lead to such a titanic battle?
Warriors of God
In late October, six weeks after the attack, I visited the site of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. As I gazed at the astonishing destruction, with these greatest tributes to economic splendor reduced to absolute desolation, the Bible’s descriptions of the end-of-the-world civilization seemed appropriate.
We live in an amazing time in which God is on the lips of those on both sides of the new world war. In one hour some 4,000 American, British, Israeli and German citizens, and many from other nations, were incinerated or pulverized by Islamic terrorists under the spell of Osama bin Laden, who had been brainwashed to believe their act was the highest will for them ordained by Allah.
Like events written in Bible prophecy thousands of years ago, the horrors in New York and Washington are centered in conflicts about God in the Middle East.
The day after the attack, President Bush proclaimed a “crusade” against terrorism. Arab reaction was shock and dismay, even among those friendly to America. Mr. Bush never used the term crusade again, and for an important reason. If misused, the term could wreck his efforts to create and sustain an alliance with friendly Muslim governments to carry out a successful war against terrorism.
Crusade, to the Muslim, means Christians invading Muslim lands and killing Muslims in the name of God. To stay the diplomatic damage, President Bush was quick to reverse his language. He said later that the terrorism tactics of Osama bin Laden no more represent true Islam than the Crusades represented the teachings of Jesus. But, to understand the nature of the threat to the world, we must understand that we have entered a period of profound and violent conflict between two different cultures, concepts of God and, above all, religions.
Crusades aren’t forgotten
To Muslims the Crusades are the most abhorrent period in more than 1,300 years of the history of Islam. Arab culture has never forgotten, nor intellectual fundamentalists forgiven, the wholesale slaughter of Muslims by white Europeans during the Crusades.
Of the First Crusade’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, organized by Pope Urban II, a knight named Raymond of Aguilers gave an account of the slaughter in the city: “Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets,” he wrote. He then exulted in the Christian soldiers joyfully killing 10,000 on the Temple Mount alone: “In the Temple and the porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.”
“Indeed,” he said, “it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies.”
Today more than one billion Muslims and their clerics, from Morocco on the Atlantic North African coast to the Philippine Islands in the Pacific Ocean, do not forget the eight Crusades lasting into two centuries. It may seem bizarre to the people of the Western world that Muslims keep this conflict alive in their minds as though it were yesterday. The invasions of Italian, French, German and Norman English soldiers under the behest of the papacy in the Middle Ages are current frames of reference for Arab reaction to American foreign policy.
As author James Reston writes in his book Warriors of God, “what to one religion is glory became disgrace and shame to another.” The slaughter at Jerusalem “was a memory no Muslim could forget.
If the city itself still stank six months later from the carnage, the memory still stank ninety years-and nine hundred years-later” (2001, p. 73).
Continual war with the infidels
Many Islamic youths, from young schoolchildren to university students, are taught a specific Muslim perspective of the historic meaning of the European invasion and slaughter of Muslims 900 years ago. They are taught to theologize today’s conflict as part of the continual war by the infidels to take Muslim land. They perceive the Crusaders’ establishment of the Roman Catholic government centered in Jerusalem, called the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, as simply the ancestor of the Western imperialist state of Israel.
Both, they are taught, were established illegally, unjustly and against the will of Allah. They are taught that they are now fighting these same people to wholly take back their sacred land invaded by today’s American and Christian proxies, the modern Jews. In their view, behind the Jews stands the Great Satan, the United States, which they see as the world’s greatest evil power, a threat to the very existence of Islam.
The Palestinian radical fundamentalists have constantly called for religious war- jihad or “struggle”-to expel Western infidels from Jerusalem and the Holy Land. But, largely unnoticed by the public before Sept. 11, a new form of jihad was being created by radical fundamentalist terrorists directed against all religions, beliefs and ways of life deemed contrary to Islam.
The Ayatollah Khomeini proved to Muslim fundamentalists that radical terrorism could be coupled with public demonstrations and manipulation of public opinion through the news media to topple Islamic governments allied with the United States. His son Ahmad Khomeini said in late 1991 that, “as long as Islam exists, U.S. hostility exists, and as long as U.S. hostility exists, the struggle exists.” Armed struggle must extend beyond the Middle East, he said, “because the struggle against Israel is a war against the U.S. and Europe with no short end” (Yossef Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, 2001, p. xvi).
This moves jihad far beyond the scope of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, this Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, which has emerged in the last 35 years, represents a profound threat to the continued existence of the Western way of life. It is directly responsible for the recent attack on America.
From Saladin to bin Laden
The teaching of personal struggle against evil, jihad, is central to Islam. It is found in the Koran, which Muslims view as the holy scriptures revealed by Allah to Muhammad. The greater jihad for each individual is a “jihad of the heart,” as Reston writes, “against his sinful inclinations.” It is a “jihad of the tongue,” he continues, and a “jihad of the hand,” which prohibits him “from committing abominable acts.” It is the believer’s obligation to dedicate his entire life to wrestling with and overcoming lust, injustice and the commission of any evil acts at the personal level.
The outwardly directed jihad is an obligation just as binding, many Muslims believe. Each individual Muslim must strive with the infidel who attacks the faith or defies the will of Allah.
Jihad involves war against any individual or nation that would attempt to convert Muslims away from the true worship of Allah and any nation that would steal or desecrate Muslim fatherlands-especially the birthplace of Islam in Saudi Arabia or Jerusalem, where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven. Jihad is directed against those who overtly blaspheme Allah and deny Muhammad as his prophet.
Osama bin Laden was a principal organizer of the jihad against America. His followers have compared him to the greatest of Islam’s liberators, Saladin, who led the jihad against the Crusades. But Saladin never advocated suicide or mass murder of innocent women and children-a sin according to the Koran.
Saladin vs. the West
After the invasion of the First Crusade, the Muslim sultans from Cairo to Baghdad sought revenge. They called for a jihad against the infidels of the West, what Reston says was “the jihad of the sword for slaying idolaters and especially Trinitarians.”
By consolidating the caliphates of Damascus and Cairo into one power, the Kurdish leader Saladin emerged strong enough to systematically challenge the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem with its ring of brilliantly engineered Norman fortresses and castles scattered throughout the Holy Land.
In 1187 Saladin proclaimed a jihad , and Muslim fighters poured in from Mesopotamia to Egypt. Saladin systematically took apart the Latin Kingdom by liquidating the fortresses. By September 1187 Saladin was ready to take back Jerusalem. Within a few weeks the walls were breached.
Saladin was amazingly merciful, in dramatic contrast to the Crusaders of the previous century. His humanity became renowned to his contemporaries and later ages. He ordered the execution of only the Templars, who had controlled the Temple Mount, and set a huge number free for payment of money or out of leniency. He would probably have prevented thousands more from entering slavery had it not been for treachery by those professing Christianity.
Saladin was neither a mass murderer for political objectives nor a terrorist in the sense of Osama bin Ladin.
Radicalizing of Islam
In the 1970s, as wealth from the oil boom flowed into the region, a significant number of intellectual youths in the universities of Egypt and Lebanon and elite families of Saudi Arabia turned to radical teachers of Islamic fundamentalism. It was in reaction to the encroaching influence of alcohol, sexual immorality and material consumption that they sought to return to earlier teaching. They began listening to university professors who said Islam was being destroyed through corruption by the West.
Specifically, Islamic instructors preached in fiery sermons the idea that the culture of the United States was a satanic power intent on redefining life without obedience to the law of Allah and Islam. American culture was accused of being the direct cause of Muslim corruption from the inside out, leading Muslims to become apostates, no longer obedient to Allah and Muhammad the prophet.
“In Islamic law, apostasy is a capital crime,” writes Yossef Bodansky, and all radical Muslims agree “that the United States and Western civilization must first be evicted from their midst” before Muslim lands can be pleasing to Allah ( Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, p. xvii).
In their theology, radical Muslims consider the United States their greatest challenge in the battle of ultimate good against evil. America and the culture of the West represent an idolatry of materialism and decadence that will rob Muslims of eternal life in paradise by leading them to follow this idolatrous path in this life and reap everlasting punishment in the next.
Armageddon on the doorstep?
On Sept. 11 a battle began over the future of the Middle East, global peace and the relationship between Islamic countries with the West that will profoundly affect the future of everyone alive.
This war is centered on the most profound concepts of values, good and evil. It is also about whether Western nations can eradicate terrorism (now primarily a war of genocide against Americans and Israelis everywhere) and about the future of the global economy-in short, all the elements important to humanity’s success and security.
These are dangerous times, even scary times.
Jesus Himself said His disciples should not give their lives to corruption, lust and love of money. Islam says the same. But Christ forbade hate and murder, a commandment obeyed by neither traditional Christianity nor Islam.
But, whether from the Western nations with their history of Crusades or Muslims with their history of jihad, Jesus Christ’s’ teaching is the only way out: “Love your enemies … Do good to those who hate you,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 5:44 Matthew 5:44But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
American King James Version×; 22:39).
If that doesn’t happen-and prophecy indicates it won’t before Christ’s return-then Armageddon awaits, because God will not permit either the sinners of Christianity or Islam to thwart His plan to establish the spectacular Kingdom of God to rule the earth.
Jesus Christ was a realist. For that reason He gave His beloved friend John, in the book of Revelation, the vision of the future battle now commonly known as Armageddon. It will come if the nations don’t respond to God’s teaching as found in the Bible.
In fact, the world appears to be on the brink of events that may lead to a period spoken of in the Bible as “the time of the end,” when virtually all the nations of the world will be drawn into a scenario of conflict undreamed of even a few short months ago. In this maelstrom of conflict, the relevance of Bible prophecy will become ever clearer and more important than ever before. GN