We left off in the last entry saying, “As with Christian interpretations of end-times prophecy, Israel will face an existential threat from a coalition of enemies invading from the north—the prophecy of the war of Gog and Magog recorded in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. Typically, Christians understand that this war will end when God intervenes and supernaturally destroys the invading army with ‘torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur’ (Ezekiel 38:22, ESV). The Messiah plays no overt role in this battle, and Christians debate whether they will still be on earth during this war, as some believe the conflict takes place after a Rapture of the Church.”
However, Jews believe the mashiach does participate. In fact, two are expected in Jewish prophecy—Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. Both are men of this world, observant Jews, rather than supernatural saviors.
The origin and character of the Messiah of the tribe of Joseph, or Ephraim, are rather obscure. It seems that the assumed superhuman character of the Messiah appeared to be in conflict with the tradition that spoke of his death, and therefore the figure of a Messiah who would come from the tribe of Joseph, or Ephraim, instead of from Judah, and who would willingly undergo suffering for his nation and fall as victim in the Gog and Magog war, was created by the haggadists.[i]
In short, Mashiach ben Yosef is killed during the Magog invasion and then replaced and later resurrected by Mashiach ben David (or Elijah), who then goes on to purify Jerusalem, gather the Jews to Israel, build the Third Temple, reinstitute the Sanhedrin, and restore the system of sacrifices.
To be sure, not all Jews believe in the literal coming of the mashiach. Generally speaking, Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are most likely to await his arrival, while Conservative, Reform, and Deconstructionist Jews tend to view the mashiach’s appearance as symbolizing the redemption of mankind from the evils of the world.
These divergent views within the body of modern Judaism, as with Islam, allow for a wide range of interpretations when it comes to analyzing the prophetic significance of current events. This is also true for Christianity. The quickest way to start an argument among a group of Christians is to ask, “Pre-, mid-, or post?” The question refers, of course, to the timing of the Rapture and where it falls relative to the Great Tribulation, the prophesied seven-year countdown to the Messiah’s return, a time when God pours out His divine judgment on an unbelieving world. And lately, “pre-wrath” has earned a place on that list, an interpretation that places the Rapture during the Great Tribulation but before the Day of the Lord.
There are also differences of opinion between Christian premillennialists, postmillennialists, and amillennialists. Those terms broadly describe people who hold differing beliefs in the timing of the millennial reign of Jesus—whether he returns at the beginning or end of the thousand-year period described in Revelation 20:1–6, or whether the Millennium is symbolic or spiritual (and clearly not a literal period of one thousand years), inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection.
In the second half of the twentieth century, charismatic Christians in North America spawned a new teaching about the end times that, frankly, is so far removed from Scripture that it is not even properly called an interpretation. Emerging from the apostolic-prophetic movement, which is itself an outgrowth of the Latter Rain movement of the 1950s and ’60s, the so-called New Apostolic Reformation takes a postmillennial view of prophecy (although that is not universally true in this movement) and teaches a “victorious eschatology” featuring a triumphant Church that completely Christianizes the world before the return of Jesus.
This view is called Dominion Theology, or Kingdom Now. Some under this umbrella teach that a select group of believers will literally defeat the enemies of God, including the Antichrist (if he is mentioned at all), sin, and death. In some iterations of this doctrine, this elite group of super-Christians literally becomes the incarnate Christ. This twist of Revelation 12:5 places the birth of Jesus, the “man child,” in the future as a prophecy of His return. It also transforms Christ into the Church, a “corporate Christ,” the Many-Membered Man-Child. This heretical doctrine, called Manifest Sons of God, is also an outgrowth of the Latter-Rain movement that has survived into the twenty-first century.
Furthermore, some teach that Christ, however He appears, will not or cannot return until Christians physically take back the dominion over the earth that was lost when Satan deceived Adam and Eve in Eden. This doctrine is based on a misapplication of Psalm 110:1:
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Dominionism thus substitutes the Church for God, making Christians responsible for defeating His enemies, or for Jesus, based on the notion that since Christ is the head of the Church, we Christians are the “feet” with his enemies subservient to us. Either way, this is heresy.
This teaching contradicts Hebrews 2:8, Ephesians 1:20–23 and 1 Corinthians 15:24–28. While it is clear that much of the world is still in bondage to the enemies of God, “He put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22, ESV). This is an “already but not yet” prophecy; creation is already subject to Christ, and a day is yet coming when He will return to claim the earth and all that is in it.
Dominionism is a variant of replacement theology, or supersessionism, which teaches that the Church has replaced Israel in all prophecies yet unfulfilled. This includes the land promised to Abraham’s descendants in Genesis 15:18–21 and Joshua 1:3–4, the area from the River of Egypt[ii] to the Euphrates. This would be problematic in today’s world, to say the least—that area includes the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
Quite frankly, Dominionist eschatology skips over the uncomfortable bits that foretell a time when the Antichrist will be “allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them” (Revelation 13:7; also Daniel 7:21, ESV). But just as with the Mahdi of Sunni Islam, modern-day prophets and apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation believe they are anointed to receive new revelations that allow them to interpret Holy Scripture in any way they see fit.
While Dominion theology may sound like an outlier in modern Christianity, this relatively small group wields a surprising amount of influence with the conservative right in America. Elements of Dominionist doctrine have found their way into such mainstream evangelical events as the National Day of Prayer.[iii] And while the trend of moral decay in the West makes it unlikely that Americans will ever elect an openly Dominionist president, the influence of Dominion theology may very well lead some conservative Christians to welcome a world leader who promises to usher in a new Judeo-Christian era.
Admittedly, these are incomplete descriptions the eschatological positions described above, and there is a range of often conflicting opinions within all of them. However, it should be enough to see that end-times expectations of the three major monotheistic religions are widely divided with one another and within themselves. As events unfold, they will be interpreted differently by those religions and their imams, rabbis, ayatollahs, pastors, priests, and teachers.
To outside observers, it must be confusing that adherents of a religion who rely on the same set of holy texts can arrive at conclusions that are so radically different. As this is true of the basic doctrines of the faiths, which are spelled out in the Quran, Torah, Tanakh, and Bible, it is even more true of their interpretations of prophecy, much of which must be drawn from symbolic language that may not even be part of the holy books themselves.
In the Bible, this vagueness is by design. The apostle Paul tells us that prophecy is the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7–8, ESV).
Paul was telling the Church at Corinth that Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah were vague enough that the fallen angels and their demonic minions did not understand Christ’s purpose on earth. If they had, Paul wrote, they would have done everything in their power to prevent the crucifixion.[iv] The messianic prophecies that seem obvious today—for example, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53—were not at all clear to those around Jesus as they were being fulfilled. Only in retrospect did the apostles understand, and apparently the Enemy was caught off guard, too.
Think about that. God, in His wisdom, obscured the prophecies of the Messiah just enough to prevent the Enemy from devising a convincing false fulfillment. And there have been plenty of false messiahs persuasive enough to lead people astray over the last two thousand years. Most notable was Simon bar Kokhba, who led a revolt that created a short-lived independent Jewish state before it was crushed by Rome in AD 136. More than half a million Jews were killed by the Roman army,[v] leaving Judaea depopulated, Jerusalem destroyed, and the land renamed Syria Palaestina—Palestine. The net result of bar Kokhba’s rebellion was the end of hope for an independent Jewish state in the Holy Land for nearly two thousand years.
We should not expect prophecies of Christ’s return to be any more specific than those of His birth. And that is the point: The principalities and powers who seek the destruction of humanity have been hard at work spreading extra-biblical teachings over the last two thousand years, both inside and outside the Church. The goal is to use wild misinterpretations of end-times prophecy to lure Christians, Jews, Muslims, and perhaps many of other faiths into welcoming the Antichrist when he appears on the world stage. That is why a firm grasp of the basics of Bible prophecy is critically important.
In spite of the clear warning in Scripture that Satan can appear as an angel of light, Christians should be especially wary of messianic claims as we approach the last days. Getting it wrong means literally siding with the Devil.
Consider the following scenario: War erupts between Israel and its nearby Muslim neighbors. This would not be a surprise in 2021-2022, given recent history in the Middle East, but the prophet Daniel was told about this twenty-five hundred years ago:
At the time of the end, the king of the south shall attack him, but the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships. And he shall come into countries and shall overflow and pass through.
He shall come into the glorious land. And tens of thousands shall fall, but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites.
He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape.
He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the precious things of Egypt, and the Libyans and the Cushites shall follow in his train.
But news from the east and the north shall alarm him, and he shall go out with great fury to destroy and devote many to destruction. ( Daniel 11:40–45, ESV)
It is generally accepted by scholars that this is a prophecy of the future wars of the Antichrist. The account is plausible enough that it reads like a summary of one of Israel’s wars from the last half-century.
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The king of the south is probably Egypt. Although the nation now appears to want Israel as an ally against the Shia power in the region, Iran, Egypt was long an enemy of Israel and holds a special place in the psyche of Jews as the nation that enslaved their ancestors. In recent history, Egypt was a principal belligerent in both 1967’s Six-Day War and 1973’s Yom Kippur War. And we saw in 2011, when the Muslim Brotherhood ousted former president Hosni Mubarak (with the tacit approval of the United States government), that Egypt is just one change of government away from becoming an enemy again.
The king of the north may represent an Arab coalition against Israel. Other than Egypt, invaders throughout history have traditionally attacked Israel from the north—Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome all came into the Holy Land from the north. It is not a coincidence that the “uttermost north,” the phrase used to describe the location of Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39, is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe the dwelling place of Ba’al, Mount Zaphon (Jebel al-Aqra in northern Syria).
In today’s world, it is not difficult to imagine Sunni nations forming an alliance as they did in 1948, 1967, and 1973, some combination of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq (or parts thereof), Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Given the apocalyptic expectations of the Sunnis in the Middle East, it is not inconceivable that these nations would unite behind a charismatic leader who might be proclaimed by his followers as the Mahdi.[vi]
Naturally, Christians and Jews in today’s geopolitical climate would be just as likely to identify this Muslim leader as the Antichrist[vii]—albeit incorrectly.
Such a coalition would seem to fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 83:
O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against your treasured ones.
They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
For they conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—
the tents of Edom [Jordan and Palestinians] and the Ishmaelites [Saudi Arabia],
Moab [Jordan and Palestinians] and the Hagrites [Egypt; from Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant],
Gebal [Hezbollah and Lebanon] and Ammon [Jordan and Palestinians] and Amalek [Arabs in the Sinai, where ISIS now has a presence],
Philistia [Hamas and Palestinians of Gaza] with the inhabitants of Tyre [Hezbollah—although Shia, definitely hostile to Israel—and Lebanon];
Asshur [Syria and northern Iraq] also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. (Psalm 83:1–8, ESV)[viii]
These verses name all of the Muslim Arab nations in the immediate vicinity of Israel. If Psalm 83 does foretell a future event, Daniel 11 may describe how it unfolds.
It is widely agreed that the “him” in Daniel 11:40–44 is the character called the Antichrist, and that he is distinct from the kings of the north and south. To many, it logically follows that this leader, who emerges from this war as the victor over Israel’s traditional enemies, will be an Israeli and will likely present himself to the world as a Jew.
Not all scholars agree with this interpretation, but it makes sense. First, it points to the most logical national origin of a political figure who can motivate the Jews to build the Third Temple and reinstitute the sacrifices and offerings. It is difficult to see that an Antichrist from any other faith tradition would allow this to happen. Second, it is difficult to imagine that a European or Muslim Antichrist would conduct the prophesied war of Daniel 11.
This is not a new idea. In fact, it’s a very old interpretation. Some early Church Fathers, including Irenaeus and Hippolytus, believed the Antichrist would be a Jew. Interestingly, Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John. So it is possible that the concept of a Jewish Antichrist came directly from the man who was given the Revelation by Jesus Christ Himself.
Certainly, this notion will not sit well with American evangelicals, who support the nation of Israel more enthusiastically than most American Jews. Please note that I only suggest this figure will present himself as a Jew. Given that he will seat himself in the rebuilt Temple and declare himself a god, we can safely conclude that he will not actually be a Jew.
The recent popularity of the Muslim Antichrist theory is understandable given the acts of raw, unspeakable evil committed by Islamic radicals in the service of their god. The reader may wonder, understandably, why the Antichrist would lead a war to destroy his most enthusiastic followers.
The answer is quite simple: Muslims, in the eyes of the Enemy, are already lost. Those who embrace the false teachings of Muhammad are destined for destruction. The real prizes are the followers of Jesus Christ and the people God chose for Himself when he called Abram from the city of Ur. Thus the best use the Enemy has for Muslims at this point is as cannon fodder—a bloody sacrifice to lure as many Jews and Christians as possible into worshipping the Beast, whom they will mistakenly see as a literal godsend.
In the interest of brevity, let us bullet-point a potential sequence of events triggered by this Psalm 83/Daniel 11 war:
- Arab nations launch a surprise attack against Israel.
- A dynamic military and/or political figure leads Israel to an overwhelming victory.
- He “comes into the glorious land,” possibly by taking the West Bank and Gaza (fulfilling the prophecy of Zephaniah 2).
- “News from the east and the north” provokes the next phase of the Antichrist’s war, possibly strikes against Muslim nations joining the conflict from farther away, such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and some of the Muslim republics in central Asia.
- Although it appears the country of Jordan is spared, it is not a stretch to read into Daniel’s account an expansion of Israel’s territory, which would likely be interpreted as God fulfilling the land promise made to Abraham.
Now, reflect for a moment: Certainly Muslims in the region, where the majority of Sunnis expect the Mahdi’s arrival in the very near future, would be tempted (and perhaps encouraged by religious and political leaders) to view a charismatic Israeli leader as the Dajjal. This would accelerate the recent trend of young Muslim men flocking to Syria to take part in what they believe are the final battles leading to victorious global jihad.
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After the decisive victory by the Antichrist, Muslim eschatology ceases to be relevant. As mentioned above, their beliefs serve the Enemy’s purpose, which is to draw them into a bloody war that they will lose to establish the claim of the Antichrist as the prophesied savior of Israel.
Jews, who are still looking for a geopolitical mashiach, could interpret this conflict as the war of Gog and Magog, which is the ultimate battle in Jewish eschatology. Some Orthodox rabbis are openly predicting the imminent arrival of the mashiach; in fact, some have already declared that the ongoing Syrian civil war is, in fact, the war of Gog and Magog.[ix] The hero of this apocalyptic war would be welcomed by many as Israel’s long-awaited mashiach.
And how would American Christians receive such a man? Evangelicals typically view strong Israeli leaders in a very positive light. Conservative American Christians, especially those with a poor understanding of Bible prophecy (or those not expecting a literal fulfillment of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation), might actually work to elevate such a man to the status of a world leader—which, of course, is his ultimate destiny, if only for a short while.
But the Dominionist segment of Christianity, which already ignores the Antichrist in its bizarre mutation of end-times prophecy, is looking instead for a Christianized version of victorious global jihad. In their world, Christ cannot return until Christians take over the earth, perhaps with Jews as a blended body of believers, the One New Man. The apostolic-prophetic movement might just see this victorious Israeli figure as Christ incarnate, a fulfillment of their expected Manifest Sons of God. Remember, since the apostles and prophets leading this movement claim the authority of their biblical forebears, which includes the men who wrote the New Testament, they have the freedom to twist and supplement Scripture as needed to make their doctrine fit current events.
Now, consider the world’s reaction to the next item in the chronicle of the wars of Antichrist:
And he shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him. (Daniel 11:45, ESV)
The Antichrist sets up his government somewhere between the Mediterranean coast and Jerusalem. But he meets an unexpected end, perhaps by assassination. How could this figure be the Antichrist, then, if he is killed before he commits “the abomination that causes desolation” by desecrating the Temple and declaring his divinity? We look to the Revelation of John:
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. (Revelation 13:1–3, ESV, emphasis added.)
The seemingly miraculous healing of the Antichrist will amaze the world, convincing many of his divinity. You will have realized by now that this is a chilling parallel with Jewish eschatology. Jews expect Mashiach ben Yosef to die in the war with Magog, after which Mashiach ben David arrives to kill the enemy leader with the breath of his mouth, and then brings Mashiach ben Yosef back to life.
In some traditions, Mashiach ben David goes on to purify Jerusalem and Israel. If the Israeli Antichrist theory is correct, that has disturbing implications. The purification includes removing non-Jews from Jerusalem. It is not our intention to cast aspersions on our Jewish brothers and sisters, but the Antichrist’s “war on the saints,” prophesied in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13, will happen at some point, and this seems the likely spot in the prophetic timeline.
It should be noted that the final break between early Christians and their Jewish neighbors in Judaea did not occur in the first century. During the revolt led by Simon bar Kokhba, which began in AD 132, he was hailed as the mashiach by the prominent Rabbi Akiva. Bar Kokhba’s name was actually Simon ben Kosiba; bar Kokhba (“son of the star”) was a messianic claim based on his supposed fulfillment of the prophecy of Balaam, son of Beor:
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel (Numbers 22:17, ESV)
Christians, who until that point had attended synagogue and were still considered a Jewish sect, could not agree to recognize a mortal man as Messiah and refused to fight for bar Kokhba. Their punishment was confinement and death.[x]
In recent years, a rise in Zionist sentiment among Israelis appears to have rehabilitated the reputation of Simon bar Kokhba. In the aftermath of his disastrous rebellion, he was derisively called bar Koziba (“son of the lie”).[xi] Today, however, bar Kokhba is something of a national hero.[xii] Bonfires are lit on Lag Ba’Omer to celebrate his short-lived Jewish state, and Rabbi Akiva’s definition of the mashiach, a temporal savior more closely realized in Simon bar Kokhba than in any other Jewish man over the last two thousand years, is still the standard by which Jews will evaluate future claimants to the title.[xiii]
Sadly, it appears all too likely that this misguided nationalist sentiment will be manipulated by the supernatural Man of Lawlessness to deceive Jews into following him, possibly citing the example of bar Kokhba as he singles out Christians for destruction. And those supporting his reverse pogrom will genuinely believe they are doing God’s work—at least until “Mashiach ben David” puts a stop to the sacrifices and declares himself to be God.
Delving into a more detailed, scholarly analysis of end-times prophecy is not the purpose of this series. Rather, it is hoped that by highlighting several points of congruence between Islamic, Jewish, and Christian eschatology (especially one particularly dangerous strain of Christian prophetic interpretation), the dangers of a poor grasp of prophecy might become clear.
We will not understand the prophecies of the years to come perfectly in every detail. But our hope is that through study and prayer, those of us still on earth when the prophesied Beast finally emerges will not fall victim to a cosmic deception that has eternal consequences for the unprepared.
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[i] Kaufmann Kohler, “Eschatology,” Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5849-eschatology.
[ii] Not the Nile, but the Wadi al-Arish, the traditional border between Egypt and Israel.
[iii] This event, held annually on the first Thursday in May, is not in itself a bad thing. It is endorsed by many respected American evangelical leaders. Since at least 2010, the National Day of Prayer Task Force has encouraged Americans to pray for the “seven centers of power”: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church, and Family. Those centers of power are virtually identical to the Seven Mountains of Culture that Dominionists believe must be captured by Christians to speed Christ’s return.
[iv] The Greek word translated “rulers” (archontes) is used in Scripture to refer to human political leaders and to supernatural entities—which are undoubtedly the forces directing human action opposed to God in either case.
[v]Based on the account by Roman historian Cassius Dio.
[vi] Something like this has happened in recent history. A 1979 rebellion in Saudi Arabia was led by Juhayman al-Otaybi, who declared that his brother-in-law, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani, was the Mahdi.
[vii] In Jewish eschatology, this would be Armilus, “a king who will arise at the end of time against the Messiah, and will be conquered by him after having brought much distress upon Israel.” auffman Kohler and Louis Ginsberg, Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1789-armilus.
[viii] Psalm 83:1–8 (ESV). Analysis per Joel Richardson, “Which Nations Does Psalm 83 Really Include?” WND, August 2, 2012, http://www.wnd.com/2012/08/which-nations-does-psalm-83-really-include/. Richardson was citing the work of Bill Salus, author of Psalm 83: The Missing Prophecy Revealed.
[ix] An interesting interpretation, since Ezekiel’s prophecy is very specific about the war taking place in Israel. Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, “Hassidic Rabbi: War of Gog and Magog Already Began in Syria,” October 9, 2015, http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/50649/hassidic-rabbi-reveals-god-sweetened-judgementon-israel-by-moving-war-gog-magog-syria-jewish-world/.
[x] Early Church writers Justin (First Apology) and Eusebius (Chronicle) mention bar Kokhba’s treatment of Christians. Cited at “Wars between the Jews and Romans: Simon ben Kosiba (130–136 CE),” Livius.org, http://www.livius.org/ja-jn/jewish_wars/jwar07.html.
[xi]By Akiva’s disciple, Yose ben Halafta, in his historical work, the Seder Olam Rabbah.
[xii] Elon Gilad, “The Bar Kochba Revolt: A Disaster Celebrated by Zionists on Lag Ba’Omer,” Haaretz, May 6, 2015, http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/features/.premium-1.655052.
[xiii] Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann, “Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kokhba: Two National Heroes,” http://www.manfredlehmann.com/news/news_detail.cgi/35/0. In his essay, Dr. Lehmann describes the Judaean Christians of Bar Kokhba’s day as disloyal and treasonous.