As the United States debates what, if anything, should be done in response to allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people, there’s a theological debate brewing, too.
Bible experts aren’t just sparring over whether the U.S. military should attack; they’re also going back-and-forth over theories surrounding the End Times (events surrounding Jesus Christ’s return).
Earlier this summer, TheBlaze began dissecting the subject, speaking with experts about what role, if any, they believe Syria will play in this theoretical occurrence. Numerous outlets have jumped into the fray, noting that many faithful are wondering just how important Damascus and Syria might be in this debate.
For starters, there’s one particular Bible passage that’s rekindling the entire discussion of how Syria fits into End Times theology: Isaiah 17:1-3.
The verse reads, “’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 ike the glory of the Israelites,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
The first portion about a “heap of ruins” has some wondering if the present Syria crisis was prophesied in the Bible. But as The Huffington Post recently noted, some scholars believe that Damascus was already destroyed and that this particular Scripture refers to an attack by the Assyrians that unfolded in 732 B.C.
Some Believe Damascus Could Be Key to End Times Prophecy
Joel C. Rosenberg, a communications specialist and author, has become known for his fascinating insights into both the Bible and End Times. Specifically noting Isaiah 17:1-3 and Jeremiah 49:23-27, Rosenberg explained on his blog earlier this summer that Damascus’ destruction has not yet happened (the latter verse also promises this same destruction).
“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. But Damascus has never been completely destroyed and left uninhabited,” he writes. “Yet that is exactly what the Bible says will happen. The context of Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49 are a series of End Times prophecies dealing with God’s judgments on Israel’s neighbors and enemies leading up to — and through — the Tribulation.”
While Rosenberg is definitive in this sense, he does note that the Bible is not specific, in his view, about how the city will be destroyed or what the event will look like. Additionally, he notes that the implications of this destruction are not known either, as the holy book does not go into detail on the matter.
During a phone interview with TheBlaze earlier this summer, Rosenberg also explained Syria’s significance in the Bible, again bringing up both Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49. Charging that these alleged predictions get “very little attention,” the author explained that both speak specifically about the future of Damascus, the capital of Syria and one of the oldest cities in the Middle East.
“The Bible indicates clearly that Damascus will be utterly and completely destroyed at some point in the future — it will be a great cataclysmal [event] and it will be part of God’s judgment,” he explained.
The Bible expert said at the time that he didn’t see “clean hands in the fight” in Syria today and wonders if it’s possible “that the judgment of Damascus is not only coming” but that it could also be coming in our lifetime.
As The Christian Post noted last year, Rosenberg isn’t alone. Many biblical experts and theologians share a similar view. Jack Kinsella, another biblical expert, gives a particularly striking recap, especially given the fact that it was written in July 2012, but seemingly references events currently unfolding:
Olive Tree Ministries shared a commentary on its website earlier this week from prophecy author Jack Kinsella, who expresses the opinion that, based on Scripture, it is quite possible that Syria might look to engage neighboring countries, such as Israel, Iran or Turkey, in the conflict.
Kinsella believes that if Syria uses chemical or biological weapons in an ethnic cleansing campaign, foreign governments would be forced to take military action against Damascus. Such action would prompt Syria to retaliate with military strikes against its northern neighbor Israel. That could eventually lead to a domino effect, with counter-strikes from Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey and perhaps even Jordan, the “The Omega Letter” editor conjectures.
Some of these elements are certainly coming into play on both national and international stages. Whether as a result of prophesy or just by chance, critics on both sides are likely to spar over the matter.
What Critics of Some End Times Theories Say
“Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaff spoke about alleged Biblical prophecies associated with End Times earlier this summer on his radio show. A caller named Steve asked about claims he recently heard from pastors that maintain that the book of Isaiah details coming destruction for Damascus, the capital of Syria.
Hanegraaff took aim at those advocating that the verses in question speak to events that have yet to come to fruition.
“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.”
And he wasn’t done there.
“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 prophecy to the 21st century is irresponsible. He called the action “embarrassing” and said that those pastors who embrace the idea are “dragging Christ’s name through the mud.”
In an interview earlier this summer, he told TheBlaze about his overarching End Times views. Noting that “paradise lost becomes paradise restored,” he highlighted that those who want a relationship with Christ will have it, while those who have denied the savior will not enjoy this benefit.
“Well, the Bible says … that Jesus is going to appear a second time,” he said. “Those who have lived on the planet … Jesus said, do not be amazed by this … there will be the ultimate judgment that takes place, which those who have a relationship with God in this time-space continuum are given that relationship in eternity, and those who did not want a relationship will have that validated in eternity as well.”
Hanegraaff simply doesn’t believe that the Bible’s writers were looking so fervently into the future. As stated, he contends that they were speaking about prophecy that would unfold in the immediate and that has already come to pass.
“I think the point we have to probably recognize is that all of the Bible was written for us, but none of it was written to us,” he contended. “This book of Revelation was written to seven churches.”
Hanegraaff said that End Times prophecy has been touted for centuries but none of it ever comes to pass. Rather than reading the Scriptures for what they are, he believes that some theologians are “reading into the Scriptures their own eschatological views.”
And he’s not alone.
Dr. Candida Moss of Duke University recently penned an article debunking Christians’ claims that Damascus may play a role in End Times. Noting, among other reasons, that the city has already been conquered, she writes:
Isaiah lived and wrote in the eighth century BCE and scholars think that the original prophecy referred to the conquest of Damascus by the Assyrians in 732 BCE.
But that’s not the only time Damascus has seen conflict. Since then Damascus has been conquered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and by Alexander the Great; it was tossed back and forth between Alexander’s successors, the Seleucids and the Ptolemies; it fell to a Muslim siege led by the general Khalid ibn al-Walid in the seventh century, and to a different Muslim army in the eighth century; it was sacked by the Turco-Mongol armies of Timur around the turn of the 15th century, and conquered by the Ottoman empire in the 16th.
Recently, Professor David J. Lose at Luther Seminary attempted to explain the reason some people apply the Bible to current events, telling The Huffington Post that literal interpretations can sometimes be problematic.
“Some read almost any prophetic utterances as blueprints about the future rather than as metaphors meant to inspire hope and offer comfort in the present. If that’s your lens, then the Bible is full of clues through which to read current events,” he said, noting that looking at events in this light may give a sense of security to help discern when the End Times might unfold.
In the end, the debate is fascinating, as both sides — comprised of individuals who believe in Christ and who contend that Jesus will one day return — couldn’t disagree more about the alleged signs and symbols present within the Bible’s complex text.
And, of course, there’s a third group: Those who don’t believe in any biblical prophecy at all. Interestingly, these people would dismiss both Hanegraaff and Rosenberg’s theories.
Where do you stand? Let us know in the comments section below.