With the continuing tensions over Iraq apparently coming to a head, many questions arise concerning the prophetic future of this region, which on the one hand has such deep roots as the cradle of civilization and yet also has a destiny in the final Biblical scenario. There may be far more relevance to this region than is commonly recognized in most books and articles on end-time prophecy.
All of us are subject to limitations imposed by the presumptions we bring to a topic, and it may be essential to step back from time to time and reestablish a fresh perspective. The only certain barrier to truth is the presumption that you already have it.
The Coming World Leader
One of the dominant topics among prophecy buffs is the identity of the coming leader whom we call "the Antichrist." As current events seem to be increasingly drawing us into the threshold of the climactic Biblical scenario, speculations continue.
One of the most fundamental passages concerning the end times is the famous "Seventy Weeks" prophecy contained in the last four verses of Daniel 9. The Angel Gabriel interrupts Daniel's prayer to provide him with what has to be the most astonishing passage in the entire Bible: he predicts the precise day-five centuries in advance-the exact day that the Messiah would present Himself as king!1
In describing an interval between the contiguous group of years of 69 weeks (of years), and the final "70th week," we notice that the Angel Gabriel declares that the:
Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary - Daniel 9:26
After the Messiah is killed ("cut off"), the "people of the Prince that shall come" shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. This, of course, was fulfilled when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Roman legions in A.D. 70.
"The Prince that shall come," thus becomes one of the 33 titles in the Old Testament of the coming world leader that will figure so prominently in end-time prophecies.
This also becomes one of several passages which indicates that this final world leader will emerge out of the Roman Empire, whose legions destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.
A Case of Myopia?
All of us, I suspect, tend to equate the Roman Empire with Western Europe, and there have been many books suggesting conjectures involving Rome, the Vatican, and the rise of the European Union, etc.
We, too, have published numerous materials exploring these possibilities. However, all of us may have been subject to a myopia ("nearsightedness") by overlooking the fact that the Roman Empire had an eastern leg that, in fact, survived the western leg by a thousand years! [Roman Empire Map]
In A.D. 284 , Emperor Diocletian restored efficient government to the empire after the near anarchy of the 3rd century.2 He divided the Empire into two legs3 (just as Daniel had predicted when he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream nine centuries earlier).4
His reorganization of the fiscal, administrative and military machinery of the empire temporarily shored up the decaying empire in the West and laid the foundation for the forthcoming Byzantine Empire of the East.
In A.D. 312, the Emperor Constantine relocated the capital of the empire to its eastern leg, to Byzantium, naming it Constantinople (the "New Rome").
After Constantine's death in 395, Emperor Theodosius divided the empire between his two sons and it was never again reunited.5
(It was Theodosius who made Christianity the sole religion of the empire, and subsequently Constantinople assumed preeminence over the West.)
In the late 5th century, the western leg began to disintegrate, but the eastern leg, commonly dubbed the "Byzantine Empire," endured until 1453 when it finally was overrun by the Muslims.
There are a number of Biblical texts that strongly suggest that the coming world leader, commonly called the Antichrist, will emerge from the region of the eastern leg of the Roman Empire, and that profoundly impacts our prophetic perspectives.
Our clearest identification comes from prophecies relating to the precedent empire: the breakup of the Greek Empire after Alexander's death.
When Alexander the Great died, his four generals divided up the empire-which reached eastward even to India. Cassander took Macedonia and Greece; Lysimachus took Asia Minor and Thrace; Seleucus took over Syria, Babylon and the east; and, Ptolemy took over Egypt [See Map].
Since Israel was caught between the territories of Seleucus and Ptolemy, it subsequently was a buffer zone between these two rivals. Daniel Chapter 11 details the struggles between the Seleucid Empire ("the king of the north") and the Ptolemies ("the king of the south").
(Many scholars refer to the 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament as "the silent years." In fact, much of this history was written in advance, with an accuracy that has forced skeptical critics to attempt to "late date" the book of Daniel!)
The first 35 verses of Daniel 11 are summarized in [Table 1]. From verses 36-40, the passage focuses on Antiochus IV ("Epiphanes") whose desecration of the Temple, and placing a pagan idol in the Holy of Holies (the "abomination of desolation"), triggered the Maccabean Revolt that threw off the yoke of the Seleucid Empire.
Three years after that infamous desecration, the Israelites rededicated the Temple, and this event is celebrated to this day on the 25th of Kislev as Hanukkah.6
Jesus' Confidential Briefing
Two centuries later, when four disciples came to Jesus for a confidential briefing on His Second Coming,7 Jesus referred to a repeat of that historical event, the "abomination of desolation," as the key to end-time prophecy.8 A similar event will trigger the climactic three-and-a-half-year period that Jesus Himself labeled as the "Great Tribulation."9
In Daniel 11:40-45, the passage continues by looking forward to the final "king of the north," to the person we commonly call the Antichrist. It is significant that this climactic leader seems to be presented as the final member of this previous detailed line of the "kings of the north."
It would seem, taking the chapter as a whole, that the final world leader will emerge from this region which comprised the Seleucid empire, rather than from the western regions as commonly assumed.
It is provocative that the Prophet Micah refers to this final conqueror as the "Assyrian":
And this [one] shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders. - Micah 5:5, 6
Isaiah and Ezekiel also employ this very term.10
The Assyrian empire preceded the Babylonian empire by several centuries. This empire embraced the region we know today as Syria and Iraq.
The first world dictator was Nimrod (whose name means "we rebel"), who ruled from Babylon. 11 It is interesting that Micah also refers to this "land of Nimrod" in his passage quoted above. Could it be that this final world dictator will be, in some sense, a return of Nimrod?
This may add an additional dimension to the mysteries surrounding the future of Babylon: is it just used as a symbol, or will Babylon literally rise to prominence on the banks of the Euphrates once again?
* * *
In our next article we will continue to explore the potential implications of these passages. This article has been excerpted from our briefing package, Antichrist: An Alternate Ending.