Whenever tensions begin to skyrocket in the Middle East, the rest of the world gets worried. It’s no surprise, since the area has been known for its turmoil for most of human history. Many, though, also recognize that it is the center of the majority of Biblical prophecies.
The Syrian conflict and the U.S. decision to strike a base inside the country are leading to further concerns. The future of the nation’s civil war, the state of the humanitarian crisis, and the best political path to move forward are all under hot debate. People are confused on how to best diffuse the situation.
In addition to the conversations on how to remedy the crisis, there has also been intense debate within the theological space. Christians are starting to discuss the possibility of the events in Syria being connected with prophecies in the Bible.
A Biblical prophecy is a prediction of an event that has yet to unfold. There are many who whole-heartedly believe the Syrian conflict is written explicitly in Biblical prophecy. For example, Joel Rosenberg, a New York Times’ bestselling author, has pointed to Old Testament scriptures to support his case.
Questions began to make their way around evangelical circles following the event of Russia’s air strikes targeting rebels in Syria in October 2015. The discussion surrounding Syria’s ongoing civil war, which started in 2011, and if it was tied to biblical prophecy reemerged.
Rosenberg laid out his thoughts by publishing on his blog in the wake of the air strikes. He claimed that Russian president Vladimir Putin is “working hand-in- glove with Iran’s government” in formulating operations in Syria. This came the same week that reports of Iran waging a ground attack, while Russia was carrying out assaults from the air, were circulated.
“The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel wrote 2,500 years ago that in the ‘last days’ of history, Russia and Iran will form a military alliance to attack Israel from the north,” Rosenberg wrote. “Bible scholars refer to this eschatological conflict, described in Ezekiel 38–39, as the ‘War of Gog & Magog.’” He added, “Are these sudden and dramatic moves by Moscow and Tehran…simply coincidental, or [do they] have prophetic implications?”
The question Rosenberg poses is at the epicenter of the debate surround Iran, Syria and Russia and their potential involvement in the end times. This has gained a great deal of attention in both the Christian community and the general media over the years.
For those who believe Syria will play a role in end times scenarios, Isaiah 17:1–3 is the cornerstone.
“’See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
The first portion that focuses on a “ruinous heap” has many wondering if the present crisis in Syria was prophesied in the Bible. However not everyone is buying it. Some scholars have countered that Damascus was already destroyed and that this verse refers to an attack by the Assyrians that unfolded in 732 BC.
Rosenberg combats his critics and shuts down the idea of the Assyrian attack being the event prophesied in the Bible. Specifically citing Isaiah 17:1–3 and Jeremiah 49:23–27, Rosenberg explained in a separate blog piece that Damascus’s destruction has not yet happened. Jeremiah 49:23–27 pledges judgment upon Damascus, proclaiming that it has “become helpless” and that a fire will be kindled in its walls.
“We’re watching Damascus unravel…These prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. It has been attacked, besieged, and conquered,” Rosenberg wrote. “But Damascus has never been completely destroyed and left uninhabited.”
“Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaff doesn’t believe in the claim that the Old Testament could be describing future or current events. Hanegraaff has spoken about supposed Biblical prophecies associated with the end times before. Back in 2013 on his radio show a caller asked him about claims that the Book of Isaiah details impending destruction for Damascus. Hanegraaff pushed back the notion.
“So, what you’re saying is they’re tying in the passages in Isaiah to what is currently happening in Syria…and this is just a classic example of newspaper eschatology and shame on the pastors that are doing this, because it either is a case of them not knowing the Word of God, which seems unlikely to me, or simply wanting to invite sensationalism and sophistry,” he responded. “If you look at what the Bible actually says, it is very clear that the fulfillment comes in the biblical text as well.”
“This whole notion is fulfilled in biblical history when the king of the Assyria captured and destroyed Damascus…if you look at Isaiah chapter 7, there’s a permutation of this as well…you see the fulfillment in the very next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8,” he continued.
Hanegraaff went on to say that some pastors’ decisions to transport pieces of prophecy to the 21st century are irresponsible. He called the action “embarrassing” and said that those pastors and Bible experts who embrace the idea are “dragging Christ’s name through the mud.”
Rather than reading the Scriptures for what they are, he believes that some theologians are “reading into the Scriptures their own eschatological views.”
In the end, the debate is compelling, intriguing and fascinating from both sides. The debate is comprised of individuals who agree on a central Christian doctrine, however couldn’t disagree more about the signs and symbols that are presented within it. We cannot be sure when the end times are coming or how they will unfold, but it’s worth discussing in the Christian space.