in the Middle East have some saying the end times
By Helen T. Gray
John Hagee and Stephen J. Stein are of completely
different minds when it comes to predicting whether
the world is fast approaching the biblical "last
Hagee, an author of 21 books and a San Antonio
pastor with a worldwide radio and television ministry,
is convinced recent armed conflict in the Middle
East and the specter of Iran are proof that the
apocalyptic battle of Armageddon - the war to
end all wars to be fought in Israel - is not far
"The end of the world as we know it is rapidly
approaching," Hagee writes in "Jerusalem
Countdown," the latest of his six books on
the end times.
Stein, on the other hand, is an Indiana University
emeritus professor who has made a study of the
apocalyptic predictions held by people like Hagee,
and to date, he contends, they've all been wrong.
"There have been evangelical preachers in
America talking about the end times for more than
2 1/2 centuries," said Stein, author of "The
Continuum History of Apocalypticism." And
the end has yet to come.
Historically the volume of talk of "end
times" prophecies, of the "final days"
and of Armageddon increases when armed conflict
breaks out in the Middle East, such as the recent
war between Israel and Hezbollah. And now, for
Hagee in particular, the standoff involving the
United States, Israel and Iran is a sign of biblical
To arrive at these predictions, conservative
Christian pastors like Hagee and the Rev. Jerry
Falwell interpret sections of the Old Testament,
particularly the books of Ezekiel and Daniel,
as prophecy, or predictions, of coming events.
Falwell recently said that "the present-day
events in the Holy Land may very well serve as
a prelude or forerunner to the future battle of
Armageddon and the glorious return of Jesus Christ."
Christians who subscribe to this biblical interpretation
generally come from the conservative Protestant
wing of Christendom. Other branches of Christianity,
such as Roman Catholics and many mainline Protestant
denominations, express little interest in end-times
discussions. Among those who believe certain world
events point back to biblical prophecy, not all
agree about how it will come or when.
Is Iran Magog?
Recently, President Bush and Iran's president
spoke separately to the United Nations. One issue
on which the men disagreed is whether Iran should
be allowed to develop its nuclear energy program,
with the possibility it could build a nuclear
Iran plays a major role in how Hagee sees Old
Testament prophecy playing out in the present.
"Israel cannot allow Iran to be nuclear,"
he said in an interview, "and America cannot
allow Iran to be nuclear." Stopping Iran
could mean some kind of conflict.
"Just before us is a nuclear countdown with
Iran," he wrote in "Jerusalem Countdown,"
which came out earlier this year, "followed
by Ezekiel's war (as described in Ezekiel, chapters
38 and 39), and then the final battle - the battle
To Craig Koester, however, Hagee and others are
reading too much into the Bible. That approach,
said the author of "Revelation and the End
of All Things," "generally involves
arranging verses from the Bible in different ways
to create scenarios of the future."
"Sometimes," said Koester, who teaches
New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul,
Minn., "they try to link specific verses
with events happening in the news today."
Hagee, however, is not the only author who sees
Iran having a major role in the final days. Best-selling
Christian author Joel C. Rosenberg, whose novels
deal with Bible prophecies, said the next war
on the prophetic timetable will be what Bible
scholars call the war of Gog and Magog.
Rosenberg foresees this fight "involving
a military alliance between Russia, Iran and a
group of other Mideast countries who try to wipe
Israel off the map. Russia and Iran have never
had a military alliance in the 2,500 years since
the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel wrote that prophecy,
but they are forming one today."
To the keepers of the Countdown to Armageddon
Web site (www.countdown.org), Armageddon is actually
a battle "where God finally comes in and
takes over the world and rules it the way it should
have been ruled all along."
In his book "The Shadow of the Apocalypse,"
Paul Crouch, co-founder of the conservative Christian-oriented
Trinity Broadcast Network, writes, "Jesus
Christ ... will rescue Israel, avenge those who
have suffered in his name, punish the wicked,
redeem the earth, imprison Satan and reign victorious
over the earth."
The name Armageddon is found in Revelation 16:16.
It is part of a vision of the Apostle John in
which kings from the East gather to oppose God.
The name in Hebrew means Mount of Megiddo.
"Since Megiddo was a place where various
armies were defeated (in history)," Koester
said, "the name Armageddon is suitable for
the battle at which the forces of evil are defeated
at the end of time."
The battle represents the final showdown between
the forces of good and evil, said Cathy N. Gutierrez,
religion professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia,
who writes on religion topics.
"While all three major monotheisms - Judaism,
Christianity and Islam - believe in some version
of an ultimate conflict between these forces,
the use of the word Armageddon itself usually
denotes a Christian understanding of these events,"
"The second half of the Book of Daniel (chapters
7-12) is the original Judaic source for an apocalypse,
or the final confrontation," she said. "The
Book of Revelation in the New Testament relies
heavily on the predictions in Daniel, and many
people have tried to use the two in conjunction
to predict the arrival of the end time."
In addition to Revelation 16:16, the chapters
of Isaiah 63, Joel 3 and Zechariah 14 also speak
of the final victory of God, Koester said.
"The battle itself is pictured in Revelation
19:11-21, where Christ appears as a rider on a
white horse," he said. "Literalistic
interpreters generally focus on the devastation
of the battle and link it to modern military technology,
though they usually have to ignore the fact that
the people in the vision are riding on horses.
"Interpreters who read Revelation literalistically
will argue that armies will gather at the site
of the ancient town of Megiddo," Koester
said. "... Other interpreters point out that
the Old Testament names used in Revelation frequently
have a symbolic meaning."
During the recent fighting between Israel and
Hezbollah, author Rosenberg told CNN that he sees
Bible prophecy unfolding bit by bit in the Middle
East right now. He has put forth his theories
of events leading to the last days in novels such
as "The Ezekiel Option" and "The
Copper Scroll" and an upcoming nonfiction
book, "Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings
in the Middle East Will Change Your Future."
"There's no question that we're living in
what the Bible calls the last days," he said.
But Gutierrez said that throughout history the
end-times prophecy passages have been interpreted
to relate to many different times and events.
"In the 20th century the fall of the Berlin
Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union were
seen as signs," she said. "With the
uncertainty in the world and particularly with
any crisis in the Middle East, people reach to
the idea of Armageddon in order to explain contemporary
suffering and to fit scary events firmly into
a divine plan so that history at least does not
seem random or out of control."
Stein added, "Some Christians have talked
about the re-establishment of the state of Israel,
the rebuilding of the temple in Israel, the conversion
of the Jews to Christianity, etc., as signs of
the times that precede the final struggle,"
he said. "Others have identified the defeat
of secular forces as the result of the battle.
Any opponent or enemy can be linked to the evil
Koester said he doesn't think the Bible gives
a step-by-step description of events that will
take place at the end of time.
"Biblical prophecies give Christians the
confident hope that God will defeat evil in the
end," he said. "... The Scriptures call
Christians to put their faith in God rather than
in their abilities to know where we are on God's
But Hagee is unwavering in his faith that his
assessment that Ezekiel's prophecy is coming to
"Following Ezekiel 38, Russia will give
military leadership to the radical Islamics who
want to destroy the state of Israel and control
Jerusalem," he said. "That is the battle
of Gog and Magog. And God himself will destroy
the Russian-Arab coalition. The world will see
God defending Israel as it hasn't seen since Pharaoh."
LAST DAYS SURVEY
In February author Joel Rosenberg commissioned
a national survey on the last days. Detailed results
are published in his new book, "Epicenter:
Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will
Change Your Future."
Among the findings:
Statement: Events such as the rebirth of the
state of Israel, wars and instability in the Middle
East, recent earthquakes and the tsunami in Asia
are evidence that we are living in what the Bible
calls the last days.
Agree: 42 percent
Disagree: 44 percent
Don't know: 14 percent
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