As the situation in Syria intensifies and the United Nations reports that 93,000 civilians have been killed since 2011, the United States is taking increased action. With the deadly drama continuing to progress, it's likely that some -- especially considering Syria's Biblical and geographical significance -- will see End Times prophecy unfolding.
A silly suggestion to non-believers and others who disagree with conservative views on the Bible and an undeniable reality to others, the debate over signs and symbols associated with Jesus' return presents ever-fascinating discussions. But while author Joel C. Rosenberg embraces prophetic notions, others, like "Bible Answer Man" Hank Hanegraaff reject these ideals.
TheBlaze spoke with both Rosenberg and Hanegraaff in an effort to better understand how Syria might fit into Christian theology and prophecy. The former, an author and communications expert who has been called a modern-day Nostradamus, has produced intriguing, yet eerie, writings, as they often highlight and seemingly predict major world-wide events months before they actually occur. The latter, however, takes a more literal approach to the scriptures.
Rosenberg's Theological Views on Syria
Consider Rosenberg's track record. As TheBlaze previously reported, in January 2001, he began working on his first novel, “The Last Jihad.” The book, which is a fictional account of a U.S. war with Iraq (yes, this preceded the actual war that America launched in that region), describes the highjacking of an airliner in an attack on America.
Then, there was his second novel, “The Last Days,” which starts by recapping the death of Yasser Arafat (and published 13 months before the Palestinian leader perished). Call it coincidence or divine providence, but Rosenberg definitely seems to have a knack for clairvoyance.
It is for this reason that his views on Syria -- a nation that is very literally central to the Middle East -- are worth exploring. While Rosenberg doesn't pretend to be a psychic, his track-record and Biblical knowledge lead one to wonder what sort of voluntary -- or involuntary -- insight he might have on the matter.
Bible expert Joel Rosenberg (Photo Credit: Facebook/Joel Rosenberg)
During a phone interview with TheBlaze, Rosenberg explained Syria's significance in the Bible, noting two prophecies in the Old Testament -- one in Isaiah 17 and another in 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.
And Rosenberg knows these chapters well, as the purported prophecies are the basis for his new fiction book, "Damascus Countdown." Isaiah 17 is entitled, "A Prophecy Against Damascus," a chapter that details impending disaster, and, in Jeremiah 49, Damascus' fate is further described. Here's just a portion of the former chapter:
Photo Credit: Bible Gateway
"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, claiming that the city will be utterly obliterated.
Certainly some would dismiss this as mere fable, but Rosenberg notes that Damascus has never, to date, been destroyed and he believes that the prophecy could still hold true.
"They have been conquered, but it has never been obliterated and uninhabitable -- even though it was conquered in the past it was a livable city and it is today," he explained. "One begins to watch this mounting carnage and you start to wonder, look at the horrific cruelty of the Assad regime and the radical Islamists who are battling Assad."
The Bible expert said he doesn't see "clean hands in the fight"and he wonders if it's possible "that the judgement of Damascus is not only coming" but that it could also be coming in our lifetime.
Rosenberg believes it's important for people to get involved and help Syrians by feeding the hungry and providing water for the thirsty, especially considering what he believes could be impending Biblical judgement on the city.
"Most Christians don't realize that there is not just one, but two [chapters] about the destruction of Damascus -- drawing attention to its importance, not because we're sure, but because we don't know," he said, urging that it is important for believers to pay attention to what happens in that city.
Rosenberg's General Take on Biblical Prophecy
Prior to delving into the Syria question, Rosenberg responded to a more general -- and a monumentally-loaded curiosity: What does the Bible say about the End Times? Quipping that it's not only a question that has massive scope, but also one that could be a "doctoral dissertation," the famed author focused mainly on the second coming of Christ -- a central Biblical teaching. His worldview, in this regard, helped put his Syria views into perspective.
"The disciples asked Jesus, 'Would you give us one sign of the End Times -- when is this all coming to an end' [Matthew 24]. Jesus could have said, 'No comment. Next question,' but he didn't," Rosenberg said. "He actually walked through a whole list of signs to watch for that will be indicators that will culminate in the second coming of Christ [Mark 13 & Luke 21]."
With this, the author explained that Jesus noted dozens of times that he would be back again -- something that was widely documented and explained by the apostles. The Bible's elements of prophecy, Rosenberg argues, are intended to give believers some idea surrounding what might happen before Jesus returns.
A Syrian man crosses a street in Damascus on June 17, 2013. Russia said it would not permit a no-fly zone to be implemented over Syria, following reports that plans for such a measure were being drawn up by the United States. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
"He does want us to be aware that he's coming and [that] we're getting close so that we're ready ... you don't know when he's coming, but he'll come like a thief in the night," he continued, noting, though, that not everyone buys into these contentions. "There's obviously skeptics and critics."
The author further explained these elements, describing the notion that Jesus would come back "quickly" (found in the first chapter of Revelation). At the time, some interpreted this to mean that Christ's return would be imminent, but that obviously wasn't the case.
"And, yes, this was interpreted that he would come near to the end of the first century -- it gave a sense of immanency," Rosenberg said. "'Quickly' has been interpreted as soon -- when he comes, he's coming fast -- he uses the expression of a flash of lightening."
The author explains that this language was employed to urge people to be ready, as they would not know exactly when the Christian savior was returning. In what he called an "understandable disagreement," some assumed that, since Christ didn't return, that the so-called prophecies were actually not meant for the 20th and 21st centuries, but, instead, for people living in earlier centuries.
While Rosenberg explained that it is understandable why some would hold these views, once Israel was re-established as a state, the notion that the Bible wasn't predicting what would come centuries after its contents were penned was turned on its head. The re-birth of the state of Israel -- predicted in the Book of Ezekiel -- he claims, solidified this.
"In the End Times, the Bible describes that the Jews will be coming back to the land in Ezekiel 36 and 37," he told TheBlaze. "For many, many, many centuries -- basically for 19 centuries -- even most of our church fathers ... did not understand that God literally meant the physical, geopolitical birth of the state of Israel."
These Christian leaders apparently thought that the Israel mentions were symbolic, but Rosenberg claims that the state's re-creation forces believers to pause and re-read other portions of the Bible that were once also viewed as symbolic.
Hanegraaff's Wildly Different Take on Christian Prophecy
Despite Rosenberg's confidence in Biblical prophecy and its application to modern-day living, Hanegraaff has a wildly different take on the matter. In a phone interview with TheBlaze, he rejected the notion that Revelation and other alleged predictions apply to today's world. However, there is one point on which the two experts agree: That Jesus Christ will return.
When asked that same loaded question about what the Bible says about the End Times, Hanegraaff was candid. 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 judgement 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."
Hank Hanegraaff (Photo Credit: Hank Hanegraaff)
From there, though, Rosenberg and Hanegraaff couldn't be more theologically separated -- at least when it comes to the End Times. As for the latter Bible expert, well, he simply doesn't believe that the book's writers were looking so fervently into the future.
In fact, he contends that they were speaking about prophecy that would unfold in the immediate and that has already come to pass.
In Revelation, Hanegraaff argued that John wasn't speaking about the 21st century. While he was clear that his "opinion is no better than anyone else's," the theologian outlined where he stands on the prophecy matter.
"When Jesus says that the apocalypse will soon take place and that the time is near ... his words are meant to convey the events in the future," he said. "If he wanted to say that 2,000 years later he could easily do that, but instead, he said the time is soon and the time is near so it has to do what is happening to the Seven Churches that God is circulating the letters to" (here's more on the Seven Churches).
These literal churches, Hanegraaff contends, are being told by John what they will face -- "an apocalypse of unparalleled proportions." Through Revelation, he argues that John is telling the churches to be faithful and that their vindication would be eternal. While the Bible expert didn't speak about Damascus explicitly (and we did not ask him about the verses that Rosenberg mentioned), his view on the Bible is clear: It's not talking at all about the 21st century.
"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 that none of it ever comes to pass. Rather than reading the scriptures for what they are, he believes that these theologians are "reading into the scriptures their own eschatological views."
While it's clear that Rosenberg and Hanegraaff have very different views on the Bible and its prophetic application, the debate surrounding Syria and its role in the Bible is a fascinating one. After all, one can certainly patently reject the applicability of the Old Testament verses that Rosenberg mentions. However, it is entirely interesting to note that Damascus is still a viable city, unlike many of the other localities in the Bible that have since vanished.
It could be by chance that Damascus is still around -- or it could be part of a broader theological plan. Regardless of where one stands, considering these elements is certainly intriguing.
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Two Bible verses have been corrected to reflect Mark 13 and Luke 21.
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