Armageddon, the Middle East, and the Bible
“THE center of the entire prophetic forecast,” claims author Hal Lindsey, “is the State of Israel.” (The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon) Critical to the fundamentalists’ ‘Armageddon scenario,’ therefore, is their belief that God has special dealings with Israel. God, they believe, will intervene when her enemies seek to destroy her.
The Bible, however, indicates that the Jewish nation lost God’s favor and protection when they rejected his Son, Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:13, 14, 19) Jesus himself plainly told them: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.”—Matthew 21:43.
Theologians John F. and John E. Walvoord (previously quoted) nevertheless counter by saying: “The Apostle Paul clearly indicated that the Old Testament promises for Israel were still to be fulfilled. Paul wrote, ‘I ask then, Did God reject his people? By no means!’ (Rom. 11:1; NIV.)” They fail, though, to quote the rest of that verse: “For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” What did Paul mean by this?
Paul could not have believed that the Israelites as a nation still had a special place with God, for the apostle expressed “great grief and unceasing pain in [his] heart” over their unresponsiveness to God’s goodness. (Romans 9:2-5) At Romans 9:6 Paul adds: “However, it is not as though the word of God [to Abraham] had failed. For not all who spring from [natural] Israel are really ‘Israel.’” Note what Paul is saying: that because the Jews rejected Christ, God no longer considered them to be Israel! The anointed congregation of Jesus Christ’s followers was now the real “Israel,” the instrument through which God would bless all mankind.—1 Peter 2:9; Galatians 3:29; 6:16; Genesis 22:18.
God, though, did not reject the Jewish people as individuals, for Paul pointed out: “For I also am an Israelite.” Yes, individuals within the Jewish nation, like Paul, could become part of spiritual Israel if they accepted Christ. Only “a remnant,” a minority, chose to do so.—Romans 11:1, 5.
A Future Conversion?
Some, however, anticipate a dramatic change of heart on the part of all natural Jews. “The great tribulation, which will follow the rapture of the Church,” claims one fundamentalist writer, “will be the means of Israel’s conversion [to Christianity].” Interestingly, Paul does say at Romans 11:25, 26: “A dulling of sensibilities has happened in part to Israel until the full number of people of the nations has come in, and in this manner all Israel will be saved.”
Was Paul predicting a future mass conversion of the Jews? How could that be so, since he himself indicated that only a remnant of Jews would accept Christ? (Romans 11:5) True, Paul did say that the Jews would experience a spiritual “dulling of sensibilities” until “the full number” of Gentiles came into the Christian congregation.a However, Greek scholar Richard Lenski shows that here the word “until” does not necessarily imply some later conversion. (Compare the use of “until” at Acts 7:17, 18 and Revelation 2:25.) Paul is actually saying that the natural Jews’ sensibilities would remain ‘dull’ right down to the end. God, however, wisely completes “the full number” of spiritual Israel (144,000) by bringing believing Gentiles into the Christian congregation. “And in this manner [not by the Jewish nation’s change of heart] all [spiritual] Israel will be saved.”
Possessing the Promised Land—“For Ever”?
What, though, about the land on which the State of Israel is situated? Does God have some sort of special interest in it? Many, such as Protestant theologian William Hurst, think so. Said Hurst: “No parcel of land on the face of the earth has been more sought after or more constantly in the attention of the society of nations than has the land of the Jew.” Quoting Genesis 13:14, 15, he reminds us that God promised that he would give this land to Abraham’s seed “for ever.”—King James Version.
Is Jehovah God thus obliged to protect the land of Israel from invasion? If so, a Middle Eastern “Armageddon” could be imminent. Nevertheless, God merely told Abraham that his offspring would occupy this land, not forever, but for an “indefinite” period of time.b (Genesis 13:14, 15) By rejecting Jesus Christ, they lost all claim to this land—and God’s protection.
At Revelation 16:14, 16 the Bible shows that demon-inspired propaganda will lead the world’s leaders “to the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” It adds: “And they gathered them together to the place that is called in Hebrew Har–Magedon.” Does this not indicate a final war in the Middle East? No, for no geographic location called “Har–Magedon” (literally, “Mountain of Megiddo”) actually exists. In Bible times, there was a Middle Eastern city called Megiddo. It was located in the plain shown on the cover of this issue. Near Megiddo many significant battles took place. But there was, and is, no mountain there. “Har–Magedon,” or “Armageddon,” must therefore be a symbolic location. Symbolic of what?
Ezekiel’s prophecy shows that Armageddon is precipitated by the attack of a multinational army upon “Israel.” The attackers are led by ‘Gog of Magog,’ whose forces swoop down from “the remotest parts of the north.” Who is this “Gog”? Fundamentalist theologian Hal Lindsey confidently declares (as do others): “There is only one nation to the ‘uttermost north’ of Israel—the U.S.S.R.” He likewise theorizes that those making up Gog’s “military force” (called Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Ethiopia, Put, Gomer, and Togarmah in the Bible) will be Soviet allies, primarily Arab nations.—Ezekiel 38:1-9, 15.
The nations listed as Gog’s confederates, though, were not especially prominent on the world scene in Ezekiel’s day. The prophecy’s fulfillment was thus to take place in “the final part of the years,” when ancient Israel’s traditional enemies had passed off the earthly scene. (Ezekiel 38:8) Therefore, Gog’s obscure and remote “land of Magog” would not picture the prominent and far from remote Soviet Union.
Who, then, is it that dwells in a ‘remote’ land and harbors fierce animosity toward God’s people? At Revelation 12:7-9, 17, the Bible answers: “War broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels battled with the dragon . . . So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan.” How did Satan react to being cast out of heaven into the debased spirit realm? Says the Bible: “And the dragon grew wrathful at the woman [God’s heavenly organization], and went off to wage war with the remaining ones of her seed, who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus.”
Satan, therefore, is “Gog.” For decades, Satan and his demon hordes have carried out this warfare against the remnant of spiritual Israel—the anointed Christian congregation. (Galatians 6:16) These Christians are spread throughout the earth; they are not in some central location that could be invaded by a Middle Eastern confederacy of troops. But as Ezekiel prophesied, they are “dwelling in security” under God’s protection. (Ezekiel 38:11) Present-day natural Israel, surrounded by hostile neighbors and suffering internal difficulties politically and socially, is hardly “dwelling in security.”
The Bible, however, indicates that the world scene will undergo a drastic change. “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion, will suffer sudden destruction. (Revelation, chapter 18) With this debacle of false religion, the remaining true Christians will seem vulnerable, and Satan, or “Gog,” will not be able to resist attempting to destroy them. He will see to it that under demonic influence “the kings of the entire inhabited earth” are gathered together “to the war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Har–Magedon.—Ezekiel 38:12-16; Revelation 16:14, 16.
“Har–Magedon” is, therefore, not some tiny location in the Middle East. Rather, it is a world situation. The entire world will be united in its opposition to Jehovah God and his witnesses. (Isaiah 43:10-12) It is Satan’s vicious attack upon true Christians—not a battle between nations in an area of the Middle East—that arouses God to warfare in defense of His people!—Ezekiel 38:18-23; Zechariah 2:8.
True Christians today are therefore doing more than keeping a passive watch on the Middle East. Their prime concern is to direct people to what God’s Word really says about this coming war. Jehovah’s Witnesses have gained a worldwide reputation for fearlessly taking this message to the homes of people. Nevertheless, you may wonder why a God of love would bring about such a war. Is it possible to survive it? Our next two issues of The Watchtower will address themselves to these very questions.
a Christendom’s religions fail to recognize that a definite number, revealed in the Bible to be 144,000, makes up spiritual Israel. (Revelation 7:4) As a result, some draw the erroneous conclusion that Paul predicted a mass conversion of both the Jews and “the whole pagan world.” (The Jerusalem Bible) Paul’s illustration of the olive tree in Romans, chapter 11, however, makes little sense without a definite number being involved.
b Although the Hebrew word ‘oh·lam is rendered by some as “forever,” according to Hebrew authority William Gesenius, it means “hidden time, i. e. obscure and long, of which the beginning or end is uncertain or indefinite.” Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament adds: “With the preposition ‘ad, the word can mean ‘into the indefinite future.’”—Compare Deuteronomy 23:3; 1 Samuel 1:22.
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Are present events in the Middle East harbingers of Armageddon?
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Is Jerusalem the key to the events leading to Armageddon?