The world has long been fascinated by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, representing a sequence of end-time events foretold in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. You can read about them in the sixth chapter.
The first horseman rides a white horse and carries a bow, "and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer" (Revelation 6:2). This horseman symbolizes false religion, which often can have a political component. Jesus Christ said that His Kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). In stark contrast, false religions are often very political. The system prophesied here is also political, symbolized by the horseman's crown.
It's interesting to note that when Jesus Christ was asked about the sign of His second coming (Matthew 24:3), His first response was to warn the disciples of false religion—later explaining that false prophets and even false Christ figures would arise (verses 4-5, 24).
Jesus, in verses 4-8, showed that false religion inevitably leads to armed conflict, which in turn leads to famine and pestilence—disease epidemics.
In Revelation 6 we see the same sequence—false religion being followed closely by war, symbolized by a horseman riding a red horse (verse 4).
The third horseman rides a black horse, carrying "a pair of scales in his hand" (verse 5), symbolic of the famine that often follows war. In time of war, farmland is neglected or trampled on by invading armies; distribution systems and economies are disrupted. It's no wonder that famine is the result.
Then a lack of adequate nutrition weakens people, resulting in disease epidemics. This is symbolized by the fourth horseman, riding a sickly-looking pale horse (verse 8).
A look back at the 20th century enables us to see that this sequence has been followed before.
Nationalism, communism and fascism were three false religions or ideologies—false saviors—that led to war, famine and disease epidemics. All three "isms" are now discredited by history, but not before tens of millions died in brutal wars and their inevitable tragic consequence. Tens of millions of people followed false "messiahs" claiming they would lead them to a perfect society that would last forever.
Now, in the 21st century, we see another false religious system starting the same sequence of events. Because the West no longer takes religion seriously, it is difficult for people in Western countries to understand people who do, so there is little comprehension of the dire threat to Western civilization that comes from radical Islam.
Radical Islam on the rise
Three major conflicts are now being fought by democratic Western nations against radical Islam—in Afghanistan , Iraq and in and around Israel . While many in the West are hostile to Israel, the fact remains that Israel is a Western-oriented nation with a pluralistic society and democratic form of government that goes back to the foundation of the nation in 1948.
Israelis are in a conflict with Hezbollah, Hamas and various smaller groups, all radical Islamic terrorist organizations that are dedicated to the total eradication of the nation of Israel. Many are backed by Iran, a theocratic nation that espouses radical Shiite Islam.
The president of Iran has repeatedly threatened the destruction of Israel. The Tehran government also backs various factions in Iraq, where sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims increasingly threatens a full-scale civil war in the country.
Because so many in the West are hostile to Israel and blame the Israelis for the constant conflict with Hamas, Hezbollah and other factions, they view the recent war between Israel and Lebanon separately from the other two major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many in the West also separate the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some countries are quite supportive of the Afghan war but critical of the war in Iraq. In other words, the West is divided in dealing with three conflicts that all involve radical Islam.
The only commonality that many in the West see in all three conflicts is failures in U.S. foreign policy. But is it that simple?
Fourteen centuries of conflict
The religion known as Islam is almost 1,400 years old. It started with Muhammad, who claimed to receive visions beginning in A.D. 610. The revelations he received led to the birth of Islam, which in Arabic means "submission"—submission to Allah.
Muhammad died in A.D. 632. In his farewell address to his followers in March of that year, he is reported to have said, "I was ordered to fight all men until they say 'There is no god but Allah.'"
By the end of the seventh century his followers had spread out from the Arabian Peninsula, conquering territories and forcing people to convert to their new religion, right across North Africa and east and north into the Persian and Byzantine empires.
Professor Efraim Karsh, head of the Mediterranean Studies Program at King's College, University of London, notes what a group of Byzantine officials in Egypt said of the invading Arab armies: "We have seen a people who love death more than life, and to whom this world holds not the slightest attraction" (Islamic Imperialism: A History, 2006, p. 23).
"The great Muslim historian and sociologist Abdel Rahman Ibn Khaldun (d[ied] 1406) expressed the same idea in a somewhat more elaborate form: 'When people possess the (right) insight into their affairs, nothing can withstand them, because their outlook is one and they share a unity of purpose for which they are willing to die" (ibid.).
Throughout the centuries the followers of Muhammad have shown an incredible zeal to spread their religion around the globe. Today, theirs is the fastest-growing religion in many parts of the world, including the nations of Western Europe.
Clashes between Islam and Europe
Exactly 100 years after the death of Muhammad, Islamic forces were defeated near Paris by Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne. However, they were to remain in Spain for centuries.
Islam repeatedly clashed with the Catholic and Orthodox worlds down through the centuries. In 1095, following centuries that saw the spread of Islam into the Holy Land and other areas, Pope Urban II called on Europeans to launch a "crusade" to recover the Holy Land.
Over two centuries of conflict followed. The Muslim leader Saladin, who drove the crusaders out of Jerusalem, promised in January 1189, "I shall cross this sea to their islands to pursue them until there remains no one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah" (quoted by Karsh, p. 1).
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Islamic forces under the Ottoman Turks took control of the Balkans and Hungary before being repulsed at the gates of Vienna —in the heart of Europe—on two separate occasions.
These periods of Islamic expansion all took place before the existence of the United States. So the conflicts between Islam and the West could hardly be blamed on U.S. foreign policy!
In the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was in decline, enabling European powers to dominate parts of the Middle East. Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, many regions it controlled were put under the jurisdiction of the British and French.
After World War II, the area saw the birth of Arab nationalism (and many new countries), which pushed the colonial powers out of the region.
The United States, which had now reached its ascendancy, became more involved in the region, particularly in backing the new nation of Israel. But it wasn't long before disillusionment with Arab nationalism set in and people turned increasingly to radical fundamentalist Islam.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 was a major turning point and a critical failure of U.S. foreign policy at the time. The pro-Western shah of Iran was overthrown by the forces of radical Islam, and Iran became a theocratic state with real power in the hands of the clerics. Their influence has since grown throughout the region, leading to an "arc of extremism" stretching from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean.
At the time of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first leader of the new Iran, pledged: "We will export our revolution throughout the world . . . until the calls 'there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah' are echoed all over the world" (quoted by Karsh, p. 1).
What's at the root of the hostility?
Americans only really woke up to the reality of radical Islam with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, perpetrated by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
Two months later its leader, Osama bin Laden, proclaimed his motivation for the attacks: "I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Muhammad" (quoted by Karsh, p. 1). Many, however, blamed the attacks on U.S. foreign policy, failing to see them as part of a historic continuum that began 14 centuries ago!
As Professor Karsh puts it in his book Islamic Imperialism: A History: "The 9/11 attacks have inspired two diametrically opposed interpretations regarding their 'root causes.' According to the first school of thought, the attacks were the latest salvo in the millenarian 'clash of civilizations' between the worlds of Islam and Christendom . . .
"Not so, argues a vast cohort of academics, journalists, writers, and retired diplomats. The attacks were a misguided, if not wholly inexplicable, response to America's arrogant and self-serving foreign policy by a fringe extremist group, whose violent interpretation of Islam has little to do with the actual spirit and teachings of this religion" (ibid., pp. 1-2).
The flaws in the second view are evident from the fact that it's not just the West that has suffered attacks. Secular India, home to the world's second-largest Islamic community, has not escaped. The devastating Bombay train bombings that killed more than 200 and injured 700 others on July 11 were the work of Muslim separatists seeking to wrest control of Kashmir away from India.
Further east and south, Islamic extremists have staged terrorist attacks in Thailand and the Philippines and against Australian tourists on the Indonesian island of Bali (Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world). To the north, a particularly appalling terror attack took the lives of 186 schoolchildren and another 158 civilians when Muslim terrorists took more than 1,300 hostages at a school in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004.
To the west, 192 were killed and 2,050 wounded in the Madrid train bombings in March 2004, and 52 died and some 700 were injured in the London subway bombings in July 2005. Just weeks ago, British and American authorities broke up a plot to blow up a number of transatlantic airliners that, if successful, could have easily surpassed the death toll of 9/11.
This is truly a worldwide conflict, impacting almost every region of the globe. But there is a singular failure on the part of Western nations to see the threat as universal, as their governments and citizenry mostly isolate the different conflicts from one another.
Total victory over false religion
Islam explicitly denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, without whom salvation is not possible. As Acts 4:12 tells us, "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Nor can one reconcile the many other direct contradictions between the Koran and the Bible (or between the Koran and history, for that matter).
The Bible shows us that Jesus Christ will soon reveal Himself to all as the Messiah. He will return to establish the Kingdom of God and save the planet from total destruction. As Jesus Christ Himself foretold in Matthew 24:22, "Unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved [alive]; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened." We certainly appear to be entering that dangerous time in which humanity itself faces extinction.
After His return, Jesus will establish the government and the laws of God throughout the entire world. Everyone will at last learn God's truth and obey His laws—which include "You shall not murder" and "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3, 13).
Then a most remarkable thing will take place: "It shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:16).
The Feast of Tabernacles is a biblical festival commanded for all true believers (Leviticus 23:34). It looks forward to the coming millennial rule of Jesus Christ, when peace will replace the constant warfare of man's rule.
Continuing in Zechariah 14, we read that even those in nations that are today Islamic will have to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. "And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain" (verses 17-18).
Only when there is one universal religion—the true religion of the Bible—will the world enjoy true and permanent peace. GN