It's not uncommon for evangelical Bible scholars to regularly ponder what relation and role, if any, current events have to eschatology — or, as it's more commonly known: the study of the end of the world.
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The ongoing crisis in Syria is no exception, with Bible experts questioning whether Old Testament scriptures predicted the chaos that is unfolding in the Middle East eons before it actually began.
With Russia's recent airstrikes targeting rebels in Syria, this end times subject matter is once again getting some attention, though it remains controversial, as many counter that the Old Testament simply doesn't offer up any eschatological proclamations about the modern era.
Joel C. Rosenberg, a communications specialist, author and end times expert, published a blog post on Thursday claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "working hand-in-glove with Iran's government" in formulating operations in Syria. This follows reports that Iran is waging a ground attack, while Russia carries out assaults from the air.
Rosenberg specifically referenced the Old Testament in addressing the matter.
"The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel wrote 2,500 years ago that in the 'last days' of history, Russia and Iran will form a military alliance to attack Israel from the north," Rosenberg wrote. "Bible scholars refer to this eschatological conflict, described in Ezekiel 38-39, as the 'War of Gog & Magog.'"
He added, "Are these sudden and dramatic moves by Moscow and Tehran are simply coincidental, or have prophetic implications?"
Rosenberg's question is at the center of the very debate surrounding Iran, Syria and Russia and their purported involvement in the end times — one that has attracted a great deal of attention both in Christian circles and in media over the years.
It was back in 2013 that TheBlaze first began dissecting the subject, speaking with experts about what role, if any, that they believe Syria will play in theoretical biblical eschatological scenarios. At the time, we noted that there's one particular Bible passage that's rekindling the entire discussion surrounding how Syria might fit into end times theology: Isaiah 17:1-3.
It 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 some scholars have countered that Damascus was already destroyed and that this verse refers to an attack by the Assyrians that unfolded in 732 B.C.
Some Believe Damascus Could Be Key to End Times Prophecy
Rosenberg has become known for his biblical and end times insights. Specifically noting Isaiah 17:1-3 and Jeremiah 49:23-27, Rosenberg explained on his blog back in 2013 that — despite some experts referencing the Assyrian attack — Damascus' destruction has not yet happened (the latter verse also promises this same destruction).
Damascus is the capital of Syria and one of the oldest cities in the Middle East.
"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 wrote. "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."
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While Rosenberg was definitive in this sense, he did 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 noted 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 in 2013, 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 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 said.
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, Rosenberg isn't alone. Many theologians share a similar view.
What Critics of Some End Times Theories Say
“Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaff also spoke about supposed Biblical prophecies associated with the end times back in 2013 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.
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"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 are irresponsible. He called the action "embarrassing" and said that those pastors and Bible experts who embrace the idea are "dragging Christ's name through the mud."
In a 2013 interview, Hanegraaff told TheBlaze about his overarching end times views, embracing the second coming of Jesus, despite disagreeing on other eschatological theories posed by Rosenberg. 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 penned a 2013 article debunking some 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.
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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.
Rosenberg responded to critics in a point-by-point rebuttal in 2013 as well. Read that here.
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.
As the chaos continues to unfold in Syria, it's quite likely that the end times debate will continue as well.
Where do you stand? Let us know in the comments section below.
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