In the concluding chapter of the Bible, Jesus Christ exhorts believers to live these principles in their lives (Rev 22:7). Bible prophecy is practical, therefore vital. Fulfilling prophecy provides believers with comfort and encouragement (1 Thess 5:1-11). Not only do these events prove the Bible true but they enhance our vision of the future. They help us to see our lives in perspective with God’s plan (Daniel 4:17). God is bringing our minds into alignment with His way of thinking, helping us see clearly His character and unfolding purpose. We learn to view the world as God sees it. As Christ’s return rapidly approaches, believers need encouragement to hold fast to the end. This is why so many Scriptures were fulfilled in the final hours of Jesus’ life. The fulfillments gave our Lord strength to continue through the most extreme trials. The Word of God is living and energetic. It gives us strength and purpose. The prophets were similarly strengthened by visions of God’s unfolding purpose right through to the glorious climax in the Kingdom age (Dan 10:8-12, 18-21 cp. Luke 22:43).

In the final week of his life, Christ prophesied that in the latter days there would be “distress of nations, with perplexity” (Luke 21:25). This literally means “no solution” or “no way out”. This dire world situation is summarised here by Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian:

The world is still intact but global malaise is palpable

“Is the world unraveling? This seems an overly dramatic question given that there is no global recession and no war between major powers. What is disturbing now is a new series of geostrategic crises, an anemic global economy and a break-down in governance. You can trace everything in the Middle East along a line of causality that goes back forever. It is more useful to see today’s crisis as arising from the Arab Spring. This movement initially had democratic aspirations. But its greatest consequence was the collapse of state authority. Society collapsed into competing primitive passions, localised loyalties and religious hatreds. The Sunni-Shia hostility is the crucial dynamic. Then there is Russia’s action in Ukraine. The third is China’s remarkable aggressiveness in its territorial disputes. What is giving people the shivers is that there is no sign of a solution to these crises” (The Australian 17.07.14).

The Sunni-Shia hostility is correctly identified as the crucial dynamic. The Shia nations of Iran, Iraq and Syria are forming a “Shia crescent” across the north of Israel, predominantly backed by Russia. In the meantime, moderate Sunni nations to the south are supported by Britain and the US. This north-south alignment is the one we have been looking for to bring about the events of Daniel 11:40-45. Also identified are the revolutions in the Middle East. This is particularly significant. The final sign in Revelation 16 just prior to Christ’s return is that a revolutionary frog-like spirit gathers the nations. Just like the plague of frogs in Exodus 8:5-15, the promise of freedom ended up being a delusion.

The Islamic State has brought another calamity to the Middle East. In the space of a few weeks, more than a third of Iraq was conquered by a small, little known group of terrorists. Recent events have revealed how dramatically the world situation can change. The lesson is to not be disenchanted, but to await God’s plan to unfold. Also spare a thought for those suffering in countries such as Syria, which receive scant western media coverage. The year 2014 was the deadliest year yet in Syria’s 4 year conflict, with over 76,000 killed. Human Rights groups estimate that 17,790 of the dead were civilians. Meanwhile more than 15,000 died in conflicts in Iraq in 2014, making it that country’s worst year since 2007. (BBC 1.01.15).

Islamic state implications

This drama is unfolding in a crucial portion of the ancient King of the North territory of Daniel 11. We expect the power vacuum in Iraq and Syria to eventually be filled by Russia who will assume the mantle of latter-day King of the North. The New York Post suggested that “with the US absence, the Middle East faces a power vacuum that could tear it apart with unforeseeable consequences for regional peace and stability” (16.02.14). The latter day Roman Empire will expand into this territory as Daniel’s fourth beast “stamps the residue” of the previous 3 empires (Dan7:7). Events of the past 12 months provide an insight into how this may come about:

War with Islamic State reaches a deadly stalemate

“Almost 1500 airstrikes have pounded IS forces, but little has been achieved to roll back the terror group. At best, the coalition of countries engaged in the fight has delivered a hard-fought stalemate. Continuing the status quo amounts to a significant political victory for IS and will terminally weaken Iraq, strengthen Iran and eat away at the resolve of the US and its allies”(Weekend Australian 27.12.14).

Islamic State militants have also issued a threat to Putin, vowing to oust him and “liberate” the North Caucasus over his support of the Syrian regime. The threat stated, “This is a message to you, oh Vladimir Putin. These are the jets that you have sent to Bashar. We will send them to you, God willing; remember that” (Yahoo News 3.09.14). In response, the leader of Chechnya, Mr Kadyrov, a key ally of Mr Putin, vowed to crush IS. He was specific in his reply. He said, “I state with full responsibility that the one who had the idea to express a threat to Russia and say the name of the president of the country, Vladimir Putin, will be destroyed, where he did it” (Fox News 3.09.14). This may imply a plan to attack the Islamic State at some time in the future. In fact Russia has already provided fighter jets to the Iraqi government to fight IS.

The plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria is a critical issue for both Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This may be a factor in future developments in the region. An alliance between these churches has been developing for some time due to these events:

The Russo-Papal Alliance in the Mideast

“What has brought Russia’s Putin and Pope Francis together? The Vatican has no troops. This explains why in truly troubled times, the Pope badly needs a world power that can be a defender of Christians. Russia, for its part, is active in the Middle East and has influence and hard power … Putin, never a man to miss a ready opportunity for a power play, decided to protect not just Orthodox Christians, but also Catholics in the Arab world. The Vatican also knows that many priests and patriarchs in Syria are pro-Assad, because they fear the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The Holy See and Russia share a negative view of the way the West has confronted Assad so far” (The Globalist 2.03.14).

Pope Francis says persecution is uniting Christians

“Pope Francis styled anti-Christian violence around the world as a force bringing the churches closer together, saying that “for persecutors, we Christians are all one.” The pope’s comments came to a group of Catholic charismatics, who practise a high-octane style of praise and worship associated with Pentecostal Christianity.“Today the blood of Jesus, poured out by many Christian martyrs in various parts of the world, calls us and compels us towards the goal of unity,” Francis said. “For persecutors,” the ponti said, such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Northern Iraq, “we Christians are all one!” The ponti referred to this as “ecumenism of blood” (Crux Catholic News 31.10.14).

Pope Francis reminded the audience that their origin was ecumenical. Francis has taken the world by storm in less than 2 years. He is revolutionising the Church. He is not only popular with Catholics, but Christians world-wide. Recent ‘Watchman’ articles in The Lampstand reveal how some see the Russian President as a “saviour” of Christians in Iraq. the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments saw the injection of Arab and Turkish ‘Caliphates’ (meaning “successors”) into the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. These Caliphates claimed to be successors to Mohammed. The sixth trumpet revealed the rise of a Euphratean power which eclipsed the Eastern Roman Empire. The sixth vial, however, sees the drying up of the river Euphrates and return of the dragon power (Rev 16:13). The Islamic State occupation along the Euphrates River may eventually lead to Russia’s push south into this region.

Russia’s push to the south

Over the past decade, Russia has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on re-establishing and modernising the power of its armed forces and navy:

Vladimir Putin’s new plan for world domination

“Putin appears convinced that he is embarking on a world-historical mission. It’s certainly true that such a moral mission has deep roots in Russian history. Russia [has a] ambitious programme to shape the world in its image … Russia is back as a major global player, and doesn’t care how much it costs to show it. The scheme has feet of clay, of course, as does Putin’s rule itself … They seem to believe they have found the ideology that will return Russia to its rightful place as a great power with a messianic mission” (The Spectator 22.02.14).

Recent economic events, however, have pushed a re-armed Russia into taking desperate measures. Russia is currently facing the biggest challenge since Mr Putin first came to power 15 years ago amid a dramatic fall in oil prices. A recent Wall Street Journal article (2.01.15) described Mr Putin as now “erratic and panicked,” declaring that “the end is coming for Putin” but also warning this end “will surely be ugly”. The article warned,“Before the battle of Austerlitz, the Austrians and Russians thought Napoleon was weakened, scared and bound to cave. The same things are thought today in Brussels and Washington about Russia’s 21st century Bonaparte. But of course Napoleon won Austerlitz.”

In late November, 2014, Georgia accused Russia of moving towards a de facto annexation of its territory, after the Kremlin announced a military agreement with the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia. This brings Russia to within 150km of the Turkish border. Under a treaty signed by both Putin and the leader of Abkhazia, a Russian commander will lead a new joint force of Russian and Abkhaz troops. Abkhazia also agreed to harmonise its foreign and defence policies with Moscow’s. Putin promised subsidies to the coastal Black Sea enclave, amounting to $270m over the next 3 years. There have been stern warnings about this Russian expansionism:

NATO commander warns Russia could control the whole Black Sea

“NATO’s top military commander, Gen Philip Breedlove, has warned that Russian “militarisation” of the annexed Crimea Peninsula could be used to exert control over the whole Black Sea. Speaking in Kiev, Gen Breedlove said Russian military assets being installed in Crimea would have an effect on ‘almost the entire Black Sea’” (BBC 26.11.14).

Russia’s push to the south

“The strategic implications of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine far transcend Ukraine, Russia, Poland and the Baltic States. They also prominently include the entire Black Sea littoral, including the Balkans, and even the Eastern Mediterranean. Historically, domination of the Black Sea opened the way to Russia’s projection of its power into these areas, and recent events show signs that this process may be repeating itself again. Moscow’s conquest and annexation of Crimea in February, 2014, has set the stage for a new Russian drive to the south. Russia’s expanding presence in the Middle East stems, in no small measure, from its ability to project and sustain naval power in the Mediterranean from its bases and robust presence in the Black Sea” (Eurasia Daily Monitor, 16.10.14).

Russia clearly anticipates an impending crisis. Recent events have caused many economists to warn of another global financial crisis. As such, Russia is currently stockpiling gold at a rapid rate. The Russian government snapped up 55 tonnes of gold in 3 months in mid-2014, and have tripled their stocks to around 1150 tonnes in the last decade (UK Daily Telegraph 13.11.14). Daniel 11:43 says that one of the spoils Russia seeks is the gold, silver and precious things of Egypt. There are said to be vast reserves of gold in the Sinai desert regions of Egypt that have been untapped due to political instability and mining complexities. With Russia currently focussed on gold, Egypt will also become a prized spoil when the king of the north moves south “like a whirlwind” (Dan 11:40).

Moscow has also been caught spying on Israel from the Syrian border. A secret base overrun by US backed Syrian rebel forces provided a grandstand view of the Israeli border. They found a military eavesdropping base with walls covered in maps of Israel annotated in Russian to show the layout of Israeli forces and signal stations. All this, less than 15km from the sensitive Golan Heights (The Times 11.10.14). Russia clearly believes that a world war is coming soon. The following is an excerpt from Putin’s speech delivered in Sochi in October 2014: “Russia does not wish for the chaos to spread, does not want war, and has no intention of starting one. However, today Russia sees the outbreak of global war as almost inevitable, is prepared for it, and is continuing to prepare for it. Russia does not want war, nor does she fear it … Russia will not close herself off from the world, but anyone who tries to close her off from the world will be sure to reap a whirlwind” (Valdai International Discussion Forum, 29.10.14).

Israel an energy superpower

Recent discoveries of oil and gas have transformed Israel into an energy superpower. This has significantly raised the stakes in the Middle East. One conflict surrounds the island of Cyprus, split controversially between Greek and Turkish sectors. Turkey recently sent navy vessels to protect the Cypriot off shore reservoirs (Jerusalem Post 6.11.14). Meanwhile, Israel recently announced the discovery of another major off shore gas field, the third to be located in its waters in the past five years. The new field is around 140km off Israel’s coast and is said to contain at least 3.2 trillion cubic feet of gas. Two larger fields, discovered in 2009 and 2010, have combined reserves of at least 33 trillion cubic feet. These fields are expected to serve the bulk of Israel’s gas needs for the coming century. Experts say that further exploration will likely uncover other sizeable fields in Israel’s deep off shore waters (United Press International 15.12.14).

Israel also launched airstrikes in Syria in December, 2014, which were met with warnings from the Russian Foreign Ministry. Russia demanded “explanations” from Israel. Moscow sent an official letter of complaint to the UN Secretary-General, Ban-ki Moon, citing “Israeli aggression” (I24 News 8.12.14). Israel continues to trust in its own military might. How Israel will eventually dwell “safely” (or “confidently”) as in Ezekiel 38 is a consideration of conjecture. However, an insight into the Israeli way of thinking that may lead to this scenario was given in mid-2014 at a time of conflict with Hamas. The following comments were made by a Jew living in Jerusalem: “Many of us developed an iron-dome delusion: because we felt safe and prosperous we ignored the brutality of the Middle East and futility of occupation. What emerged was an astounding bubble. For nearly a decade, Israelis ignored the existential challenges and numbed themselves with the notion that their consumerist democracy was all about start-ups, night clubs, restaurants. One could ignore the dramatic events in Egypt, Syria and Iraq because the Arab world seemed to be kept away by Israel’s technological superiority. The Gulf Wars and the Arab Spring have broken down most of the Arab nation-states and dispersed most of the mighty Arab armies. Iraq, Syria and Libya are pretty much gone. A new enemy has arisen: chaos” (The Australian 17.07.14).

And so we await the final unfolding of events. What a blessing it is to have all these events so clearly revealed in the Scriptures. The exhortation for us is not to be lulled into a false sense of security as many natural Jews have been. As Jesus said, “If the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt 24:43-44 ESV).