ISIL and Christianity: not that different?

 
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As if there aren’t enough things in Australia that will kill you; in addition to crocodiles, bushfires and excessive UV radiation, it now has to worry about terrorists. When Man Haron Monis took hostages at the Lindt chocolate café in Sydney in December 2014, he brought to the country a terrorist agenda that was previously assumed to be mostly focused on the United States. 

Now, Australia is being threatened, along with other Western powers, by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a pretend nation that is as shrill and annoying as a kid brother on a long road trip. We would like to ignore them, but it’s hard to avoid blood-spattered news reports about ISIL beheading aid workers, shooting concertgoers in Paris or blowing up Brussels airport. 

Their behaviour doesn’t even seem to fit the world we know. It is the kind of out-sized, psychotic evil that before now you only found in fiction. Every new act of terror seems to beg the question, “Why are these people so nasty?” 

A partial answer, at least, is to be found in the end-time prophecies from the holy books of Islam. The armies of ISIL see themselves as key players in the violent series of events that mark the end of the world. And here’s the strange part: the Islamic prophecies that motivate the terrorists sound eerily similar to prophecies contained in the Christian Bible. 

In an article in The Atlantic Monthly, Graeme Wood gives an overview of ISIL’s prophetic timeline: First, a political and religious successor to the prophet Mohammad will arise to lead all true Muslims. This caliph will rule over a region that includes the city of Dabiq in northern Syria. Here, the armies of “Rome” will attack the true believers. This is an armageddon which the soldiers of ISIL expect to win—at least temporarily. 

Then into this great conflict will come an anti-messiah with one eye. He claims to be God and deceives many believers. He turns the tide against the true Muslims, driving them into the city of Jerusalem. When only 5000 of the caliph’s fighters remain, Jesus will return and kill the anti-messiah. Then the judgement and resurrection follow. 

Perhaps you recognise some familiar words from Christian prophecy. There is a deceiving anti-Christ (Daniel 7:24, 25) and an Armageddon (Revelation 16:16). Islam also shares an anticipation of the return of Jesus (John 14:2, 3) and a final judgement (Revelation 20:11–15). Not only that, but both traditions mention a beast that attacks believers and a reference to Gog and Magog (Revelation 20:8).

Does this mean that ISIL is on the right track prophetically? They certainly think so. From their point of view, the first two prophecies have already come true. In June 2014, ISIL announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was their caliph, ruling over their conquered region with strict sharia law. They consider this the first real caliphate since the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, and an essential condition of Islamic end-time prophecy.

ISIL has conquered parts of Iraq and Syria, including the city of Dabiq, just south of Turkey’s border. This is significant to supporters of the new caliphate, because the city is the prophesied location where they will win the initial battles in the apocalypse. The Atlantic Monthly quotes a Tweet from an ISIL supporter enraptured by the wide-open plains around the city: “Dabiq is basically all farmland. You could imagine large battles taking place there.”

The capture of Dabiq has been a prophetic trigger that has caused Muslims to slip away from home countries and arrive at ISIL’s borders to sign up for duty. At last count, 60 Australians are believed to have travelled to the Middle East to play a part in the apocalypse.

According to Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, 17-year-old Abdullah Elmir told his parents he was going on a fishing trip, then left Sydney for Syria. He later appeared in an ISIL video with other armed jihadists and made an address to “the people of America . . . the people of Britain . . . and especially to the people of Australia.”

“Bring every nation that you want to come and fight us,” he says. “Whether it’s 50 nations or 50,000 nations it means nothing to us.”

This is the confidence of someone who sees himself called to a prophetic destiny. It doesn’t matter to him that he has left one of the best cities on the planet (at least according to some polls) and is now squatting in the desert with lousy wi-fi access and even worse sanitation. He believes he’s a key player in the final apocalypse. So is he right?

Both Christian prophecy and Islamic prophecy seem to agree that a conflict will start in the Middle East and engulf the world (Daniel 11:40–45). No argument there. But when will it happen?

Tim Roosenberg, author of the book Islam and Christianity, believes that the end-time events predicted in the biblical book of Daniel are already upon us. “I used to say, that this is just the warm up,” says Roosenberg about terrorist activities during the past decade. “I was waiting for the Pope to say something.” 

When, in August 2014, the Pope did ask the United Nations to take action against radical Islam, Roosenberg felt the “warm up” was over. “We are in it,” he says. Just like the time of the crusades, we have Christian nations in the North confronting the Islamic South.

If he’s right about us watching the opening credits for the apocalypse, what are we supposed to do? “Get serious about Jesus and following the Bible as it reads,” advises Roosenberg. “Everyone says they have the truth. Obviously there will be many deceptions. Find out for yourself what the Bible says.”

His warning about deceptions is consistent with both Christian and Islamic prophecies, which say that an anti-Christ will deceive many. Even though an epic battle between good and evil will take place, it will apparently be very confusing about which side is good and which is evil. 

Both Christian prophecy and Islamic prophecy seem to agree that a conflict will start in the Middle East and engulf the world.

It certainly doesn’t seem confusing at the moment. ISIL is the one that bombed an airliner full of innocent Russian civilians. It was the ISIL spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani who asked Muslims to “kill a disbelieving American or European—especially the spiteful and filthy French—or an Australian, or a Canadian . . . kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military.”

On another occasion, al-Adnani seemed to be channelling the dark side when he threatened to “conquer your Rome, break your crosses and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”

So ISIL must be the evil side of the apocalypse and the rest of the world the good guys, right? Not necessarily, says Roosenberg. “ISIL is serving a false God when they depend on force, fear and anger. But some Christians are betraying that they serve the same false God when they want to turn the Middle East into a parking lot.”

He believes that as the conflict builds to a violent climax, only a minority of people will be found serving the true God of peace, love and forgiveness. And they aren’t going to be widely appreciated for their piety.

What will happen next? There are many end-time prophecies and their interpretations vary.* But as you study biblical prophecies, you will find that though they include a lot of scary stuff, they all eventually lead to a happy ending: Jesus is coming again and He will put an end to all the pain, suffering and everything that is wrong. And judging from the state of our world, the sooner He arrives, the better.  


* To learn more about what the Bible says about the prophecy of the end times, go to www.hop.ec/secrets.