The BBC News reported on 13/3/07 that the Russian President Vladimir Putin had met Pope Benedict XVI for the first time, during an official visit to Rome. They discussed ways to improve relations between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches which have been separated by a schism for over one thousand years.

Mr Putin attended the meeting with the Pope with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is one of Putin’s favoured contenders for the Russian Presidential elections to be held next year. Under the current Russian Constitution, Mr Putin is unable to stand for a third term.

Mr Putin has close ties with the Orthodox Church and, despite his background in the KGB, regularly attends Orthodox services in Russia. Mr Putin has for a long time favoured improved relations with the Vatican, and a Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta citing observers stated that Putin wanted to go down in history as the initiator of a dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Vatican officials commented that Mr Putin’s visit was significant and could help further boost ties between the two Christian churches.

Daniel 8:25 has this to say concerning the latterday “king of fierce countenance” (“Gog” in Ezekiel 38): “… through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many.”

The rsv translates the word “craft” as “deceit”, and Brother Thomas, in his Exposition of Daniel, comments on this aspect regarding the involvement of Gog in ecclesiastical affairs: “… with a hint also of its future ecclesiastical peculiarities, as appears from the testimony ‘through his policy he shall cause falsehood to prosper by his power’. As the head of a confederacy of the adherents of the Greek a n d L a t i n churches, it will be his p o l i c y t o cause their priesthoods to be respected a s u s e f u l co-operators in the subjection of Europe to his will… Whatever may be the individual prejudices existing between individuals of the two schisms matters not; their ecclesiastics, whose spiritual authority is deathstricken by infidelity, on the principle of selfpreservation will have to place themselves under the shadow of the Autocrat” (Exposition of Daniel, page 57).

Brother Thomas had a remarkable understanding of prophecy and the latter-day intrigue that would develop between Gog and the Vatican. The historic meeting by Mr Putin with Pope Benedict XVI is evidence of the continuing fulfillment of prophecy in our day.

Iran’s Sabre-rattling against Israel Continues

The attitude of Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, towards Israel is well-known. For some time he has made it clear that he wants the nation of Israel to be destroyed. Shortly after coming to power in 2005, he stated that Israel should be “wiped from the map” and then repeatedly predicted the State would disappear.

Last year he convened a Holocaust Denial conference in Teheran. He had previously labelled the Holocaust a myth and invited several researchers who have played down the mass slaughter of Jews in World War 2 to the conference. Ahmadinejad’s intentions at the conference were clear. If he could establish that the Holocaust never occurred, then in his warped reasoning the world did not owe any sympathy towards Israel and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 should never have occurred. The conference was naturally discounted by many world leaders, but nevertheless the mere fact of it being held was indicative of Ahmadinejad’s desires. In the meantime, Ahmadinejad continues to defy any UN sanctions brought against his country because of their refusal to halt their nuclear programme.

Iran has stated that the nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only, but the West is convinced that Iran wants to develop a nuclear bomb. The UN is now preparing further sanctions against Iran, but Iran officials have made it clear that their nuclear fuel cycle was a ‘redline’ from which Iran would never retreat.

In the midst of all this, Ahmadinejad in recent days has once again made it very clear about his intentions regarding Israel. “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a new verbal attack on Israel on Sunday, saying a ‘countdown’ has begun that will end with Lebanese and Palestinian militants destroying the Jewish State” (The Sydney Morning Herald 4th June 2007).

The United States is naturally concerned about Iran and despite representatives of the two countries meeting recently to discuss the deteriorating position in Iraq, the US has made it clear she will not back down in her pressure against Iran because of her nuclear programme. In the last few weeks the US has ratcheted up tensions between the two countries with the biggest display of naval power in the Persian Gulf for years. An armada, led by two aircraft carriers, steamed into waters near Iran for exercises.

The Australian Financial Review, in an article dated 22nd March 07, made these observations: “One of the great geo-political risks on world markets in the coming years is a US confrontation with Iran, over Iran’s nuclear activities.

If the US does decide to do anything, this year seems the most likely, given that a US presidential election is due next year.”

between the US and Iran in the near future, and regardless of whether Iran is forced to back down for the time being, the fact remains that there is a time coming when Iran as an ally with Russia will invade the land of Israel, in their quest to destroy the Jewish State. Ezekiel 38 is crystal clear in stating that Persia (Iran) will be with Gog in the time of the end.

The world is hoping that Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric will come to nothing, but our understanding of prophecy is that one day the rhetoric will be turned into action.

Cold War Tensions with Russia Again and Putin Stamps his Autocratic Style

Last year ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko died in hospital after being poisoned with the highly toxic Polonium 210. A day before his death he blamed Russian President Mr Putin for his poisoning. That was denied by the Kremlin. The British police have been extensively investigating this case and have now determined that another ex-KGB spy, Andrei Lugovoy, should be extradited from Russia to be tried for the deliberate poisoning of Litvinenko. The Kremlin has refused to hand over Lugovoy and there are now fears of a new Cold War type crisis arising between Russia and Britain because of this case. The UK paper The Independent predicted that if Russia continued to refuse to cooperate in the Litvinenko case “UK-Russian relations would be in the deepfreeze for a good while to come. But Britain is not alone; the tensions between the West and a newly assertive Russia have led to an escalation in hostile rhetoric that has not been seen since the days of the Cold War.”

It is widely believed that Litvinenko’s murder was deliberately arranged by high officials in the Kremlin because Litvinenko was getting too close to home in his investigations into the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in October last year. Anna Politkovskaya was working on a book entitled A Russian Diary in which she described the decline of democracy under Vladimir Putin’s presidency, when she was gunned down in a lift in a Moscow apartment.

These two high-profile murders only days apart are indicative of the risks involved for anyone being critical of Putin’s regime. Whilst the finger can not be directly pointed at Mr Putin, yet it is becoming obvious that any opposition to Mr Putin’s authoritative style of government is quickly suppressed.

Interestingly, a contender for next year’s Russian presidential elections, the famous chess maestro Gary Kasparov, had no doubts who was responsible for Litvinenko’s death. “When I heard about Polonium, I had no doubts”, says Kasparov. “I know the address where you can find the true killers: it’s the Kremlin” (The Weekend Australian, April 21–22, 2007).

Gary Kasparov himself knows that his life is now in danger and employs armed bodyguards in Russia to protect him.

The decline of democracy under Vladimir Putin’s Presidency is well-documented as he goes about establishing his authoritative regime in all parts of the country.

An article in The Australian Financial Review, 12th April 07, dramatically highlights the increasing control Putin is establishing in Russia.

“Seven years after ex-KGB agent Putin took over as President from an enfeebled Boris Yeltsin, Russia has gone back, critics say, to the classic authoritarian model of the state that flourished under the Tsarists and the Communists. Putin has clinically restored the old system of Russian authoritarianism. In this new era, critics of the President mysteriously fail to appear on television; courts eagerly anticipate the Kremlin’s wishes; the killers of troublesome journalists are rarely, if ever, caught. Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of a handful of independent MPs left in Russia’s Duma, or parliament, says—‘it’s a restoration of the traditional Russian model of the State, society and political system, and of rhetoric in Russian-Western relations’ .”

Brother Thomas described the latter-day Gog/ King of the North as the autocrat of all the Russias. The word Gog means “one at the top” and Putin is certainly positioning himself as an autocrat lording it over all and sundry.

Of course, we cannot say of a certainty that Putin is Gog himself, but we are seeing in this man all the hallmarks of the autocrat who will initiate the invasion of Israel.

In that day we know from Ezekiel 38 that Russia and her allies will be challenged by the Tarshish powers, and tensions between Russia and the West have certainly been heightened recently through the decision of the US to establish a Missile Defence System in Poland and the Czech Republic. The US insists the system is designed to offer protection from rogue states, such as Iran or North Korea, but Mr Putin in a sharp and unexpected retort warned that he could take retaliatory steps if Washington were to proceed with the missile plan, including possibly aiming nuclear weapons at targets in Europe!

If Mr Putin went ahead with his threat, then Europe would be targeted with nuclear missiles for the first time since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. This most recent spat between Russia and the US is but another chapter in the increasing tensions that have developed in recent months.

A series of newspaper headlines and statements from Putin over the past few months indicates the development of Cold War tension again and the increasing autocratic rule of Putin:

  • “100 arrested as anti-Putin rally flares” (The Australian Financial Review, 5th March 07).
  • “Kremlin crushes Putin protest” (The Australian, 26th March 07).
  • “Russian fury as US fuels cold war fears” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 12th April 07).
  • “Putin tightens grip on media” (The Australian Financial Review, 18th April).
  • “Cold War or just a cold shower? – Russia seems to be reverting to old habits as authoritarian rule takes hold” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 21st–22nd April 07).
  • “Putin signals pull-out from arms pact” (The Australian, 27th April 07).
  • “Russia is back with a vengeance” (The Wall Street Journal, 26th May).
  • “Putin revives cold-war era” (The Weekend Australian, 26th–27th May 07).
  • “President Vladimir Putin warned overnight that a planned US Missile Defence Shield would make Europe a powder keg” (The Australian, 30th May 07).
  • “Last gasps of honesty in Putin’s empire” (The Australian, 2nd–3rd June, 07).
  • “Putin fears nuclear war in Europe” (The Australian, 4th June 07).
  • “Amid economic growth and revived nationalism, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has rediscovered its formidable arrogance” (The Australian, 6th June 07).

One final quotation from the papers will highlight for us where Russia is heading. We know from Ezekiel 38 that when Gog comes down upon the mountains of Israel it will be “to take a spoil, and to take a prey” (verse 12). Territorial expansion and the spoils of war will be the goal of the autocrat.

Robert Skidelsky, writing in The Australian Financial Review, 9th March 07, had this to say: “It is important to grasp that power in Russia has always been intimately connected with possession. The two words vlast (power) and vladenie (possession, domain, estate) have a common root, both expressing the idea of patrimony. Putin has reconstituted this connection in a particularly striking form.”

A former Prime Minister of Russia, Yegor Gaidar, says of the Russian tradition: “lose your position—lose your property. Property is the natural prey, and the state is the natural predator, always in pursuit, always redividing and redistributing existing spoils.”

So the issue is clear. The invasion of Israel is all about taking a spoil and the comments from Robert Skidelsky above make the connection between taking a spoil and maintaining one’s power very apparent.

How far are we away from the invasion of Israel?

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Whilst at present civil war battles are raging in both Gaza and Lebanon as opposing power-blocs wrestle for control, we should not lose sight of the fact that since the Lebanon war last year, significant overtures have been taking place between Israel and moderate Arab states.

The backing by Iran of Hezbollah in the Lebanon war made it very clear to these moderate Arab states that Iran was a serious threat to their long-term future. And if Iran were to develop nuclear arms, then they would be in a very precarious position.

It is for this reason that since the Lebanon war, the moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt have been working much more closely together and forming closer positions with Israel. Whilst Egypt and Jordan have had peace agreements with Israel for some time, this has not been the position with Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia has come to realize that it is in their interests to be much closer to Israel in view of the Iranian threat.

We would expect from our understanding of Ezekiel 38 that there would be cooperation between the Tarshish powers and Sheba and Dedan in their opposition to Gog.

Whilst the US in particular and the UK have been great allies of Israel, and whilst the US and UK have had close connections with Saudi Arabia, there has not until recently been any form of closeness between all these powers, viz US/UK/Israel/Saudi Arabia/Gulf States (Sheba and Dedan).

An article in The Weekend Australian 17th–18th March 2007 highlights the dramatic shift now taking place in the Middle East.

“Delicate negotiations to shift alliances

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction.

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat.

They have been involved in direct talks and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations” (Geoff Elliott).

These are very exciting developments, and illustrate to us the wonderful way in which the certainty of God’s Word is realized. For many years we have wondered how Sheba and Dedan would become close to Israel. Commentators have labelled the Lebanon war last year as a disaster for Israel. Humanly speaking, she did not achieve her objectives, but behind the scenes far more important outcomes were being developed by the angels. We can now see that the involvement of Iran in the war has had the effect of pushing the moderate Arab states more and more into the US-Israel alliance. This is exactly what we have been looking for, and we wait with great interest the next moves on the chess board of the nations.