While on a return visit to northern Iraq earlier this year during “Nowroz,” the Persian and Kurdish new year, I was once again overcome by the absolutely stunning beauty of Kurdistan. Each year, after a few very damp and bone chilling winter months, the rugged Kurdish mountains burst to life, covered by a sea of vibrant green. For about a week, families and entire villages begin flocking to the countryside to celebrate spring, enjoy picnics, to dance and to be with family and friends. Almost immediately on the heels of Nowroz, much of the near neon green grasses begin to intermingle with the equally vibrant reds of the poppies. Few people realize how strikingly beautiful northern Iraq can be. The majesty of the countryside however, is surpassed only by the beauty of the peoples who live there. Whether the Yezidis, the Muslim Kurds, or the Assyrian Christians, its hard to visit this place and not fall in love with the various peoples who live there. This makes it all the more painful to me when I consider the endless atrocities that have shattered countless towns, villages, churches, families, and lives throughout region over the past three years.
The first time I visited northern Iraq was in January of 2015, roughly six months after ISIS had swept across the nation. Knowing that the light of Christ shines brightest in the darkest places, we took a team to visit with a ministry that was building micro refugee camps. Each camp would house a dozen or more families. The ministry we visited would build the camps and minister to many of the displaced peoples who were then scattered throughout Kurdistan. One day, we visited with a group of Yezidi families who had escaped from Mount Sinjar during the early days of the ISIS blitzkrieg. These were excruciating days for them. In the chaos of their escape from the assault on their ancient homeland, everyone had lost family members, neighbors, and friends. Despite fears of the worst, many held out hope that perhaps some had survived, perhaps having escaped to another part of the country. Sad to say, if they had fully known all that we know now, they would have been even more distraught. Since Sinjar mountain has been liberated, the mass graves have begun to tell the full story of what happened to tens of thousands of innocent Yezidis.
Before ISIS came, the Yezidis in Iraq numbered around 400,000. Before 2014, Christian missiologists categorized the Yezidis as completely unreached and unengaged. This is to say there were no known Christian missionaries or established church planters working among them. They had no true effective witness of Jesus and His coming Kingdom established in their midst. As the mass graves continue to be unearthed and the bodies counted, some estimates suggest that as many as one-fifth of Iraqi’s Yezidis were massacred under the exceedingly cruel hand of the ISIS Caliphate. The stories that are now being told by some survivors will take your breath away. While most of the women and young girls were taken as sex slaves, in order to save bullets, the ISIS soldiers would line up sons behind their fathers, place them on the berms of mass grave trenches and shoot them all together. Father and sons would die together in a heap at the bottom of the pits. One survivor, a young man, tells the story of having been hit by a fragmented bullet but surviving after his dead father fell on top of him. Eventually he crawled out of the ditch and escaped to tell of the atrocities. Exactly what “sin” did the Yezidis commit that would bring such unthinkable cruelty? The answer is simple: They were not Muslims.
On another trip, on September 11, 2016 — the fifteen anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks — just several kilometers north of Mosul, I found myself in the small, yet ancient Christian village of Alqosh. This is believed by many to have been the home of the Hebrew Prophet Nahum who prophesied the looming judgment and fall of Nineveh, the capitol of the Assyrian Empire. Today the city of Mosul sits on top of ancient Nineveh. For three years, Mosul was the Iraqi heart of the ISIS Caliphate. Satan’s stronghold in the region. During the ISIS occupation, besides Alqosh, several other significant Assyrian Christian majority villages fell to ISIS. Today the numerous hollowed and burnt out churches testify to the suffering of the Christians throughout the region. Like the Yezidis, the Christians who escaped testify of unspeakable atrocities. Countless survivors have fled to other nations. Now, repeated reports speak of Christianity virtually disappearing from the Iraq and Syria.
In the Book of the Prophet Daniel 7:7, we read of the system of the Antichrist. It is described using the metaphor of a beast, “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong.” After its initial assault on its enemies with its iron teeth, it continues to trample even the residual survivors. Its hard not to see this being fulfilled right now throughout the Middle East. After Muhammad died and his successors burst forth out of Arabia, they rapidly conquered the whole Middle East and North Africa. Within ten years the very heart of the ancient Christian Church was ripped out. All of the great former missionary sending capitals were conquered: Ephesus, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria. Yet while a smaller minority of Christians managed to hang on in those cities, they have forever since been a struggling minority among their Muslim neighbors. Now the residue is even being trampled.
Yet despite the gravity of what is unfolding before the eyes of the world and the global church, I genuinely don’t think that most Christians have truly put the prophetic pieces together. Before I continue, I need to make something very clear. I am a protestant, an evangelical, through and through. Yet, while I am indeed a child of the Reformation, and while I indeed reject many of the unbiblical Roman Catholic “traditions of man” that Luther and so many of the other great reformers rejected, there is one enduring legacy of the Reformation that I reject. That is to say, I simply do not believe there is any solid biblical basis to continue to cast the Roman Catholic or the Orthodox Christian churches as the fulfillment of the Antichrist beast system, or the Great Harlot. Let me repeat, I am no apologist for the Roman Catholic Church. There is however, a fairly vast difference between saying that as an evangelical Christian, I fundamentally disagree with numerous Catholic doctrines and practices, and another thing entirely to say that Roman Catholics are the collective body of “the Great Whore,” the greatest embodiment of satanic false religion that mankind will ever know. In light of all that has transpired around the world, and all that is continuing to transpire, I believe it is now long past high time that those of us who are diligently studying the words of the prophets and watching the signs of the times get past the excessive anti-Catholic polemics of the past and recognize that a beast far greater than Pope Francis and his crew has emerged.
I am still mystified when a village of Chaldean Catholic Christians are decimated because of the name of Jesus, simply because they are not Muslim, and some American prophecy teachers and watchmen continue to claim that it is the Catholics who are the real threat. Could it be that the eastern beast is now knocking at the gates of the city while far too many of the “watchmen” are either determinedly perched on the western wall looking in the wrong direction, or are asleep entirely? Of course, time will tell, only God truly know what tomorrow holds, and thus we must all remain humble. The way things are moving however, I truly believe we may be far closer than most think. Let us all repent, for the Day of the Lord is indeed at hand.