In Syria, some see a sign of the End Times

A Free Syrian Army fighter runs after a Syrian Army tank shell exploded in the Salah al- Din neighbourhood of … Continued

A Free Syrian Army fighter runs after a Syrian Army tank shell exploded in the Salah al- Din neighbourhood of central Aleppo

Over the past few weeks there has been a growing sense among some Christian groups that events in Syria herald the Apocalypse. A prophecy in Isaiah 17 describes the imminent and absolute destruction of Damascus, the capital of Syria. Christian radio hosts, organizations, blogs, and authors have come forward to testify that that we live in the end times. The story has received coverage on Fox News, in USA Today, and in TIME.

While interest in the apocalypse and the end of the world among Christians tends to rise during periods of political conflict, the publication of several books on the end times by evangelicals John Hagee and James Fitzgerald has placed Judgment Day back in the news. Updated doomsday websites are being launched and apocalyptic appears to be back in style.

There seems to be little immediate cause for concern. The biblical prophecy from Isaiah used to support the current theory of imminent apocalypse likely refers to the destruction of Damascus by the Assyrians in 723 BCE. Isaiah 17 was written in the eighth century BC. This prediction is thousands of years old and has been ‘fulfilled’ many times over. Isaiah is only in the news now that global attention is focused on Syria.

Christians have been predicting the end of the world since the 1st century, and –so far –they have been wrong about its timing 100 percent of the time. We may live closer to the end of the world than we ever have done, but that statement was as true in the first and 5th centuries as it is today. We may be further, but we’re nowhere closer.

Even so, the apocalyptic worldview itself is vexing. The end of the world is a descent into political and moral chaos. The book of Revelation describes it as a time when the majority of humanity will be killed by diseases, natural disasters, and war. All of this violence is prophesied by God and ultimately lies beyond human control.

The problem with introducing the Apocalypse into a discussion of events in Syria is that it tacitly endorses war and destruction as the will of God. The deaths of tens of thousands can be chalked up as collateral damage in the cosmic battle between good and evil. This is unsavory if doomsday predictions are right and horrifying if they’re wrong. Whatever an individual’s opinion about the proper course of action in Syria, using ancient prophecies to abdicate responsibility for intervention is irresponsible.

Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

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  • Joel Hardman

    It’s terrifying that people, including a fair few with real political power, actually believe this end times stuff. Consider that fact if you’re ever inclined to argue that religion does no harm.

  • Wildthing1

    And lots of the world could care less having not even given in to superstitious beliefs of such nature. Meanwhile the apocalypse of learning how to live within the means of our planet is bearing down on us. The apocalypse of poisoning the very planet we live on and the apocalypse of over-population and lack of food to handle it and the apocalypse of endless war to end endless wars.

  • donrhogue

    Maybe you are part of the ‘dry bones’ prophecy in Ezekiel. No wait, you’d have to be Jewish for that…

  • WmarkW

    The religion section of my local used bookstore has half a century of titles like “The current state of the middle east in biblical prophesy.” They usually portend impending doom, and explain why “Fidel Castro,” “Anwar Sadat,” “Mikhail Gorbachev,” or “Saddam Hussein” equals 666. I doubt it would take Google .15 seconds to find a million hits why “Barack Hussein Obama” or “Bashar Assad” does.

    I’m a little surprised that On Faith’s secularist writers never talk about how dangerous it is that some American voters actually believe that stuff, and cast ballots as if long-term issues like runaway debt, environmental degradation and unsustainable entitlements, simply don’t matter.

  • Dave Hill

    “Whatever an individual’s opinion about the proper course of action in Syria, using ancient prophecies to abdicate responsibility for intervention is irresponsible.” Hmmm… interesting! The problem is that the prophesied event will occur (if this is the correct timing) despite intervention and attempts to prevent it such as the birth and life of Christ in spite of Herod’s attempt to slaughter all children under the age of two. (Matthew 2:16-18).
    No one has been abdicating responsibility for intervention. It is being handled legally and responsibly The event will occur at some time in the near future; whether you agree with Scripture or not.
    At that point you will need to eat your words.
    Every Bible prophecy has it;s fulfillment. and it is not subject to your or my interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

  • jdpetric

    Many, as the article indicates, point to isolated incidences specifically in the Middle East as the start of the “end times”. Interestingly, Jesus spoke of combinations of events and occurrences to look for, what he called the “pangs of distress”, or the worsening world conditions that would signal, not only his presents, but the end of a “system of thing”, human governess.

    Note what Jesus prophesied in verses at Matthew chapter 24 concerning the “last days” and his presents or return in response to what his disciples asked him:

    3  ”While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”

    4-6 “And in answer Jesus said to them: “Look out that nobody misleads you;  for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. you are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet.”

    7-8 “For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.”

    11-13 “And many false prophets will arise and mislead many; and because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.  But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”

    14 “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”

    21-22 “… for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.  In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”

  • jdpetric

    29-30 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

    32-35 Now learn from the fig tree as an illustration this point: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see All THESE THINGS, know that he is near at the doors. Truly I say to YOU that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.”

  • tony55398

    The western powers interfering in Middle Eastern countries tend to acerbate rather than improve relations between those countries. There is little that this country can do when it’s a holy Muslim war between Muslim sects, Sunni vs. Shiite. Other than trying to keep ever greater weaponry from making things worse what would a third world war accomplish? Though I believe a world war is a very real possibility, and maybe likely, it would not be the end of the world. Great suffering? Indeed and perhaps the end of Islam as one of the world’s great, if it can be called that, religions. Mecca will be no more. Violence begets violence and those who live by the sword will sooner or later die by the sword. Islam was spread by and through the sword, so its death has been predicted.