One of the most breathtaking developments in recent years is Russia’s religious revival. Reading Christadelphian prophetic literature written in the 1960s and 1970s, you sense a desperate search for anything which may suggest that Russia may be seeking after religion again. Any potential links with the Papacy were seen as a glimmer of hope for the fulfilment of latter-day prophecy. But it was not until the late 1980s, under Mr Gorbachev, that the influence of the Orthodox Church began to come back. Once the Communist Soviet system collapsed in 1991, the Orthodox Church regained its influence. But under Boris Yeltsin’s presidency and then Vladimir Putin’s, the Church is now right at the centre of Russian political life. At many meetings, the Russian President is accompanied by priests. When Yeltsin handed over the nuclear attaché case to Mr Putin, the priest was there to give the blessing of God. And so, too, with the new Russian president, Mr Medvedev.

The ancient Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium had the Church at the centre of decision making and power. The old system was religious at the core. In the last days, when the “dragon” reappears (Rev 16:13) it is a revival of the system that went before. The last time the “dragon” featured in Revelation was in chapter 13:2–4 where it represented the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople giving power and authority to Catholicism in Western Europe. So it will also be in the last days. Similarly in Daniel 2, 7, 8 and 11 we see that the Roman system that went before will be there at the time of the end. The Roman power is far more than Catholicism and the Holy Roman Empire. It also includes the Eastern Orthodox Church in Russia and Eastern Europe:

“Orthodox Church Unholy Alliance with Putin –  Russia’s Orthodox Church, despite decades of brutal repression under Soviet rule, is putting its trust in the KGB to ensure that a remarkable religious revival does not fade with the departure of President Vladimir Putin. In an unusual move, Alexei II, the Church’s patriarch, has endorsed deputy prime minister Dmitry Medvedev ahead of next week’s presidential election. It also illustrates the unholy alliance the Church has forged with the Kremlin since Mr Putin came to power eight years ago. The relationship might seem odd. It was the KGB, after all, that led persecution of the Church in Soviet times, when priests were regularly jailed, tortured and executed. Although he has never confirmed it, the patriarch, like the president, is a former KGB agent codenamed Drozdov, according to Soviet archives opened to experts in the 1990s. Many in the Orthodox hierarchy are also accused of working as KGB informers” (UK Daily Telegraph 23.02.08).

“Russia Embraces its Church , Distancing Western Faiths – There was a time after the fall of Communism when small Protestant congregations blossomed here in south-western Russia, when a church was almost as easy to set up as a general store. Today, this industrial region has become emblematic of the suppression of religious freedom under President Vladimir Putin. Just as the government has tightened control over political life, so, too, has it intruded in matters of faith. The Kremlin’s surrogates in many areas have turned the Russian Orthodox Church into a de facto official religion, warding off other Christian denominations that seem to offer the most significant competition for worshippers.

They have all but banned proselytising by Protestants and discouraged Protestant worship through a variety of harassing measures, according to dozens of interviews with government officials and religious leaders across

Russia. This close  alliance between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church has become a defining characteristic of Putin’s tenure,

a mutually reinforcing choreography that is usually described here as working ‘in symphony’” (International Herald Tribune 24.04.08).

Russia’s military revival is giving Russia incredible confidence, and we see that transferring through to affairs in the Middle East:

“Russia Enters 2008 at Geopolitical Highpoint – The rampant decay of Russia’s military has largely been halted, new weapons systems are beginning to be brought on line, the country is flush with petrodollars, its debt has vanished, the Chechen insurgency has been suppressed, the central government has all but eliminated domestic opposition, the regime is popular at home, and the U.S. military is too locked down to make more than a token gesture to block any Russian advances” (Russian News Agency 9.01.08).

“Putin’s Show of Force in the Atlantic – RAF fighters scrambled to track Russian long-range bombers joining a naval taskforce as it practised strike tactics off the coast of France and Spain and test-launched nuclear-capable missiles. The fleet of Russian warships, supported by fighter jets and the bombers, engaged in Russia’s biggest naval exercises since the end of the Cold War. The Admiral Kuznetsov is leading a carrier strike group of 11 vessels backed by 47 aircraft that began exercises in the Mediterranean before moving to the Atlantic” (The Australian 24.01.08).

“Return of Soviet Influence the Ultimate Middle East Aim – The evolution of Moscow’s Iran  policy is particularly troubling. Russia’s strategy  has changed to a far-riskier brinkmanship in  pursuit of a potentially enormous prize.  The longer Moscow resists effective sanctions  against Iran, the greater the likelihood of  the situation deteriorating, through a series  of miscalculations by both the US and Iran,  towards a full-blown crisis with a likely military solution. As Iran’s patron, Moscow  would be indispensable to any settlement of  such a conflict. Through that settlement it  would get its prize. In one fell swoop, Russia  could fulfill its strategic goals” (Wall Street  Journal / The Australian 29.12.07).

Ezekiel 38:7 says that a militarily strong Russia will become a “guard” or protector for Iran. That is exactly what we are seeing happen now. Russia knows that the grand prize is occupation of the Middle East. Control of the Middle-East will give Russia a springboard for world domination. Five years ago, such a suggestion would have been laughable. But today it is reality.

Iran’s threat to Israel

In late May 2008, new concerns have arisen about Iran’s nuclear program. This is in contrast to doubts expressed by US intelligence reports at the end of 2007. During 2007 it had become clear that Israel or the US may soon launch military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. That was until a bombshell US intelligence report was released in December 2007. The following article at the time by The Australian’s Foreign Editor, Greg Sheridan, was particularly sceptical, a scepticism which is now proving to be a reality:

“Agencies May be Wrong About Iran –

This is just in: The Third World War has just been cancelled. Iran, a founder member of the axis of evil, turns out to have been about as threatening as a ‘teddy bear’. There we were, all thinking that the Iranian leader was fashioning a nuclear bomb to further his dreams of a new caliphate, when it turns out he and the peace-loving mullahs of Tehran were busy beating their swords into ploughshares. The document eliminates the possibility of a US strike on Iran before Bush leaves office. The intelligence should be treated with as much scepticism as the US’s critics have directed at almost every other piece of American intelligence to have become public in the past two years.

In the early 1990s, the US was confident Iraq was nowhere near developing a nuclear weapon. When Saddam Hussein was forced to admit weapons inspectors at the end of the first Gulf War, they discovered he was in fact, not much more than a year away from nuclear capability. Israel is to launch a diplomatic bid to convince the world that arch-foe Iran still poses a grave threat to its existence. A US official working on Iran criticised the recent report as lacking enough data on Iran to draw meaningful judgments. ‘There are a lot of conservatives in this administration that don’t believe this report’, the official said. The US intelligence assessment that the Iranians have abandoned, for the moment at least, their nuclear weapons program has burst like a clap of Biblical thunder over troubled Israeli skies. Quite frankly, there is hardly a senior Israeli official who believes the US” (The Australian 8.12.07).

So we entered 2008 with pressure on Israel to do something about Iran in the face of the US retreating from the threat of military action. Pressure has also been on Israel due to Iran’s expected deployment soon of longer-range high tech Russian anti-aircraft systems “that would dramatically raise the cost of air strikes” (Financial Review 31.05.08). Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said that this “increases the pressure on Israel… if it feels Iran is on the verge of acquiring [nuclear weapon] capability, it brings the decision point home to use force” (Middle East Times 21.01.08). But in May 2008, the Israelis’ scepticism appears well-founded:

“Bush Strike at Iran Still Possible – In possibly  its most sceptical assessment so far, the  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  expressed serious concern about evidence of  suspected Iranian research into development  of a nuclear weapons capability. The IAEA, in  the report that went to the UN Security Council  on Monday, included 18 documents indicating  Iran was involved in activities not necessarily  consistent with its persistent claims that it  was not seeking to develop nuclear weapons.  ‘Today’s briefing showed strong reasons to  suspect that Iran was working covertly and  deceitfully at least until recently to build a  bomb’, said Gregory Schulte, the chief US  delegate to the IAEA.

Israeli intelligence is reporting that Iran’s  ability to build a bomb is much closer to fruition  than the most dire Western assessments have  concluded. Israel believes Iran will be capable  of building such a device by next year, although  it would remain several years away from  ‘weaponisation’” (Financial Review 31.05.08).

“Talk of Potential War on Iran from Top US Soldier  – Addressing a news conference in Washington,  Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint  Chiefs of Staff, said Friday, April 25, the  Pentagon is planning for ‘potential military  courses of action’ against Iran. He spoke of  the Tehran government’s ‘increasingly lethal  and malign influence’ in Iraq. A conflict with  Iran would be ‘extremely stressing’, he said,  but not impossible and ‘it would be a mistake  to think that we are out of combat capability’.  The admiral stressed the reserve capabilities of  the Navy and Air Force” (Debkafile 26.04.08).

In late April, the USS Harry S Truman Strike  Group took up position in Persian Gulf waters. It  consists of twelve warships led by the giant USS  Whidby Island landing craft, submarines and eight  assault squadrons. But if there are any doubts  about Iran’s nuclear program, there are certainly  no doubts about the Iranian leader’s views about  Israel’s future:

“Israel Will Certainly Disappear: Ahmadinejad  – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  slammed aggressive US policy in the Middle  East. He reiterated this view saying that the  demise of the Jewish state ‘will certainly happen  and is something that is already happening,  whether we are involved in it or not’” (Sydney  Morning Herald 5.06.08).

“Ahmadinejad’s War of Words with ‘Filthy ’ Israel  – In a speech given in the southern Iranian city  of Bushehr, carried live on state-run television  and directed at world leaders, Ahmadinejad  advised listeners to ‘abandon the filthy Zionist  entity which has reached the end of the line…  It has lost its reason to be and will sooner or  later fall’, he went on. ‘The ones who still  support the criminal Zionists should know that  the occupiers’ days are numbered’” (UK Daily  Telegraph 31.01.08).

As Nebuchadnezzar’s image reveals in Daniel  2, a latter day Persia will be an integral part of the  Kingdom of Men which will invade Israel in the  latter days. Ezekiel 38 also includes Iran as being  with Russia at the time of invasion. Increasing  Russian influence in Iran today is a clear indication  that the jigsaw pieces are finally fitting into place.

Middle-East on the brink

Russia’s influence in the Middle East continues to  cause significant problems for Israel. In the last two  years, Russia seems to be stepping up her military  moves in the region:

“Syria Places Massive Missile , War plane Order in Moscow – DEBKAfile has revealed that Damascus, in the process of peace talks with  Israel, sent a large military delegation to  Moscow, headed by air force-air defences commander Gen. Akhmad Ratyb with an Iranian $5 billion cheque, to buy the latest  Russian missiles, warplanes and other military  hardware for the Syrian armed forces. The  makeup of Damascus’ shopping list and its  financing source do not support the contention  that peace talks will pull Syria away from its  alliance with Iran and sponsorship of terror”  (Debkafile 2.05.08).

“Assad May Now Go for Revenge – US and Israel  intelligence experts upgrade the chances of  president Bashar Assad retaliating for the Israeli  attack, which irreparably damaged the secret  nuclear facility North Korea built for him in  eastern Syria – now that the episode is out in  the open. DEBKAfile quotes those experts as  recalling Saddam Hussein’s burning ambition  to hit Israel’s nuclear site at Dimona after  Israeli jets smashed Iraq’s French built nuclear reactor in 1981. Assad will find it hard to avoid  avenging his humiliation [after] America’s top  intelligence officials briefing congressional  committees laid bare detail after detail of  Syria’s nuclear program. They all agreed that  it was incumbent on the US to take further  steps against Iran as well as Syria to avert any  more developments which endanger the world”  (Debkafile 25.05.08).

As part of the ancient King of the North territory of Daniel 11, we believe that Syria will be occupied  by Russia at the time of the end. The time must  come when the latter-day Roman Empire, headed  by Russia, will occupy Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq to fulfil the prophecies of Daniel 8 and 11. The  “little horn of the goat” power (of Daniel 8:23–25)  will become the latter-day King of the North (of  Daniel 11:36–45). This military power will stand  against Jesus Christ in the Holy Land for its final  showdown.

Despite Russia’s pride and arrogance, she will  be broken by the Prince of Princes (Dan 8:25) who  is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 17:14).  Those “princes”, “kings” and “lords” are the saints  who are with Christ when he comes, because  “they that are with him are called, and chosen, and  faithful”. By God’s grace we can be there with  Christ to rid this world of the war and inequity that has dominated mankind for thousands of years.  God will surely “destroy them which corrupt the  earth” (Rev 11:18). These signs are shouting to us  clearly that the Kingdom of God will soon be here  to herald an age of peace and prosperity this world  could never have dreamed of.

Strengthen our ecclesias

As Christ prepares to step into this world he earnestly reminds us, “Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments” (Rev 16:15). By “watching” Jesus is speaking about strengthening our ecclesias in difficult times just before his return. The ecclesia in Sardis had not “watched” and Christ was about to come on them “as a thief” (Rev 3:3). What was the exhortation to that ecclesia? “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God” (3:2). So as the angel came to Elijah to strengthen him with “meat in due season” when he was “ready to die” so we need to strengthen our ecclesias both physically and spiritually. That requires care and thought. It also requires self-sacrifice.

The lesson for Elijah and Sardis is that which we also must remember in the last days. Show a love and a care for those in our ecclesias as Christ would if he were here. Forget our own selfish interests and look out for the needs of others. Jesus laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11–16), and so must we in these last days. Take a personal interest in all the members of your ecclesia that none may be lost and that by God’s grace, all may be with Christ in that day.