By Joel C. Rosenberg.. (Denver, Colorado) — In my recent novel, The Third Target, a New York Times reporter criss-crosses the Middle East, trying to understand and explain to the world the rise of the Islamic State and the objectives of its leaders. Among the questions my fictional character — J.B. Collins — is trying to answer:
- Why are ISIS jihadists are so blood-thirsty?
- Why do ISIS leaders want to establish an Islamic kingdom or caliphate?
- Are ISIS leaders are really serious about slaughtering and/or enslaving all of the Christians of the region, in addition to annihilating Jews and all Muslims who don’t subscribe to their theology or eschatology?
What he discovers is evil beyond his worst nightmares — a Satanic movement determined to rob, kill and destroy everyone in its path, and particularly Christians.
Now, in real life, a must-read feature story has been published in the New York Timesmagazine by a reporter who has crisscrossed the epicenter, documenting the slaughter of Christ-followers by ISIS, and asking the provocative but very relevant question: “Is this the end of Christianity in the Middle East?”
I highly recommend that you read and share the article with others. But I also urge you not to be discouraged. Here’s why:
- Bible prophecy is clear that wars and revolutions will increase and intensify in the Middle East and around the world in the “last days” as the return of Christ draws increasingly near. “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” (Matthew 24:6-8; see also Luke chapter 21, Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 12-14, etc.)
- Bible prophecy is also clear that persecution of Christ-followers will increase and intensify in the last days before Jesus returns. “[T]hey will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matthew 24:9)
- The prophecies found in the Biblical book of Revelation indicate that many Christians in the Middle East will be martyred for their faith. “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.” (Revelation 6:9-11)
- The prophecies of Revelation also make clear that many followers of Jesus Christ will specifically be beheaded in the last days before the Lord’s return. “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God…” (Revelation 20:4)
- That said, Bible prophecy further makes clear that amidst all the wars and persecution of believers in the last days, the good news of God’s offer of salvation and forgiveness and eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be communicated to every person in every nation, including throughout all of the Middle East. That is, as chaos and carnage spread, the boldness of Christians to share the Gospel with all those who are lost — including throughout the Muslim world — will also deepen and intensify. “This Gospel of the kingdom [of Jesus Christ] will be preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end shall come.” (Matthew 24:14)
- Not only will all people in the Middle East (and around the world) hear the Gospel during the End Times, so many will repent and receive Christ as Savior and Lord that the total number of new believers will be difficult to count. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God…” (Revelation 7:9-11)
- yes, this is the most dangerous moment in the history of the Middle East for Christianity — Satan and the forces of evil are on the rampage in the region
- but no, this is not the end of Christianity in the epicenter — rather, this is the dawn of Christianity’s greatest waves of evangelism, conversion and discipleship.
- Even now, millions of Muslims are converting away from Islam and becoming truly devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, as I have written about in my non-fiction book, Inside The Revolution, and in blog columns like this one.
I’ll discuss this more at the August 6th event I’ll be speaking at in Denver. (please click here to register).
For now, here are excerpts from the New York Times article:
- One hundred years ago, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and World War I ushered in the greatest period of violence against Christians in the region. The genocide waged by the Young Turks in the name of nationalism, not religion, left at least two million Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks dead. Nearly all were Christian. Among those who survived, many of the better educated left for the West. Others settled in Iraq and Syria, where they were protected by the military dictators who courted these often economically powerful minorities.
- From 1910 to 2010, the number of Christians in the Middle East — in countries like Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan — continued to decline; once 14 percent of the population, Christians now make up roughly 4 percent. (In Iran and Turkey, they’re all but gone.) In Lebanon, the only country in the region where Christians hold significant political power, their numbers have shrunk over the past century, to 34 percent from 78 percent of the population. Low birthrates have contributed to this decline, as well as hostile political environments and economic crisis. Fear is also a driver. The rise of extremist groups, as well as the perception that their communities are vanishing, causes people to leave.
- For more than a decade, extremists have targeted Christians and other minorities, who often serve as stand-ins for the West. This was especially true in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, which caused hundreds of thousands to flee. ‘‘Since 2003, we’ve lost priests, bishops and more than 60 churches were bombed,’’ Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, said. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christians began to leave Iraq in large numbers, and the population shrank to less than 500,000 today from as many as 1.5 million in 2003.
- The Arab Spring only made things worse. As dictators like Mubarak in Egypt and Qaddafi in Libya were toppled, their longstanding protection of minorities also ended. Now, ISIS is looking to eradicate Christians and other minorities altogether. The group twists the early history of Christians in the region — their subjugation by the sword — to legitimize its millenarian enterprise. Recently, ISIS posted videos delineating the second-class status of Christians in the caliphate. Those unwilling to pay the jizya tax or to convert would be destroyed, the narrator warned, as the videos culminated in the now-infamous scenes of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya being marched onto the beach and beheaded, their blood running into the surf.
- The future of Christianity in the region of its birth is now uncertain. ‘‘How much longer can we flee before we and other minorities become a story in a history book?’’ says Nuri Kino, a journalist and founder of the advocacy group Demand for Action. According to a Pew study, more Christians are now faced with religious persecution than at any time since their early history. ‘‘ISIL has put a spotlight on the issue,’’ says Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, whose parents are from the region and who advocates on behalf of Eastern Christians. ‘‘Christianity is under an existential threat.’’
- “Israel, Iran & ISIS: What’s next?” I’ll be speaking about this in Denver on August 6th) — register today for tickets to the event.
- Is Bible prophecy relevant for our troubled times? (7 videos from a seminar I co-taught with Anne Graham Lotz on Bible prophecy.)