Our understandable fascination with the Middle East, examined through the lens of history, politics, culture, geography and socioeconomics, is colored even further, and complicated, by studying the region from a theological perspective. 

The Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam trace their beginnings to the Holy Land, which is positioned in Israel, the Palestinian territories, western Jordan, parts of southern Lebanon and southwestern Syria. 

Within the field of eschatology, concerned with the final events of history, the three faiths display certain convergences.

The Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 12 is among the most determinative revelations of scripture. God calls upon Abraham to journey to Canaan, a region approximating present-day Israel, where He promises to make of him and his descendants “a great nation.”

Abraham’s grandson Jacob took the name Israel, and his progeny became known as Israelites. The Book of Deuteronomy states: “God has chosen you to be his treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth.”

More than a thousand years after Abraham, the covenant was renewed with the Prophet Moses, who leads the Israelites out of Egypt after their centuries-long enslavement. They journey through the Red Sea to Mount Sinai, where Moses receives the Ten Commandments.

God speaks to Moses: “After I have brought them to the Promised Land they will reject me and break my covenant.”

Moses spells out the consequences for failing to obey his commands: “Disaster will confront you because you will act wickedly before the Lord, inciting Him to wrath because of your works.” 

Moses dies within sight of the Promised Land on Mount Nebo (present-day Jordan). Under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites enter the land of Canaan and establish the Kingdom of Israel. 

Four centuries pass. King David makes Jerusalem the capital, and his son Solomon builds the First Temple, the seat of the Divine Presence. (Both David and Solomon are regarded as prophets in Islam). 

However, as decreed, the Jews stray from God and are expelled from Israel. 

The Babylonians arrive in 597 BC and set the temple on fire. The Jewish people are invited back to Israel seventy years later under the rule of Cyrus of Persia but the return to their homeland did not amount to sovereignty. Jews are expelled again by the Romans in AD 70 following the destruction of the Second Temple. 

So begins a dark and bitter journey. For nearly two thousand years, Jews experience marginalization, persecution and expulsions, culminating in the Holocaust, in which six million Jews are killed.

When Moses warned the Israelites, he also prescribed a cure for the curse: “When all these things happen to you, remember them in all the nations where God has exiled you ... God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you.”

Return to the homeland

From 1517 to 1917, the Ottoman Empire ruled much of the Middle East. But after World War I, the colonial powers carved up Ottoman provinces into arbitrary states, with complete disregard for tribal loyalties and the deep ethnic and religious differences in the region. Palestine came under the British mandate and the Balfour Declaration gave legal basis for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people.” 

On May 14, 1948, Israel was officially declared an independent state with David Ben Gurion as the prime minister. “A Jewish state on only part of the land is not the end but the beginning,” he wrote to his son. “We must expel Arabs and take their place.”

After the six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967, Israel took control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, taking East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Confronting feeble Arab opposition, Israel continued annexing more Palestinian territory and expanding Jewish settlements. 

Source: Middle East Monitor

Arabs react with incredulity and shock as each new stage of Israeli expansion unfolds, yet, the eschatology is unambiguous. There is no room for a two-state solution. It is foretold in Muslim scripture. 

In the Qur’an, there is a passage about the return of the Children of Israel to their land from the four corners of the earth. “They will dwell securely in the Promised Land, when the promise of the hereafter will be near,” it says in Surat Al-Isra (verse 104). 

Woe to the Arabs

“Woe to the Arabs,” the Prophet Muhammad told his companions. “The nations will flock against you [the Muslims] from every horizon, just as hungry people flock to a kettle.” 

“Will we be few on that day?” they asked. “No, you will be many as far as your number goes,” Muhammad replied, “but you will be scum since fear will be removed from the hearts of your enemies, and weakness will be placed in your hearts (love of this world and fear of death).”

According to Islamic eschatology, the end of time will be made manifest by struggles between Muslims. God tells Muhammad that his followers will not be dominated by an outside foe. They will instead fight amongst themselves and kill and enslave one another. 

“Shall we be destroyed though there are righteous people among us?” the companions inquired. “Yes, if evil increased.” The Prophet warned that Najd, a town in Saudi Arabia, was to bring forth trials and calamities for the Muslim community. “From there appears the horn of Satan,” he said. 

This hadith refers to the birthplace of Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabi ideology. He denigrated the prophets, scholars, saints and other pious figures, and denounced all Muslims unwilling to accept his austere views as idolaters and apostates who should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated.

Wahhab charted a pact with another local rebel, Muhammad bin Saud, to “reform” Islam and establish the first Saudi state (1744-1818). Launching ruthless raids, they succeeded in conquering most of the Arabian Peninsula in two generations.

In 1801, Wahhabis stormed Karbala in Iraq. They slaughtered thousands of its inhabitants, destroyed shrines, and wrecked and looted the sacred tomb of Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. 

On taking Mecca and Medina in 1806, they stole the treasure, demolished religious sites and burial grounds, and imposed Wahhabism as the official creed. They whipped, robbed, or murdered pilgrims who disobeyed.

This new jihad directed against Muslims did not sit well with the Ottomans, who administered the holy cities. They sent forces to crush the Wahhabis. 

Abdullah bin Saud, reigning Saudi ruler and great-grandson of the founder of the first Saudi state, was taken to Constantinople to be tried and convicted for heresy. He was beheaded outside the Hagia Sophia, and his body was propped up in public for three days, his severed head under his arm.

Saudis re-established their authority in Najd, but Ottoman military invasions deprived this second Saudi state (1824-1891) of much of its territory. Succession occurred by assassination or civil war in all but one instance—an exception that led to the dynasty’s own downfall. 

In 1902, a young Abdul Aziz became the new leader of the House of Saud. Ibn Saud, as he came to be known, spent the next three decades trying to re-establish his family’s rule over central Arabia, starting with his native Najd. He allied himself with the British and led a pan-Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. 

The revolt failed but the Allied victory in World War I resulted in the end of Ottoman control in Arabia. By 1932, Ibn Saud tightened his grip on the entire Arabian Peninsula and declared himself king. We are in the time of the third Saudi state. 

Source: Getty Images

The downfall of the Islamic world

An explosion of oil wealth in later years helped the Saudis promote Wahhabi radicalism around the world.

The state published Wahhabi doctrine and distributed over 130 million Wahhabi translations of the Quran; it funded mosques, charities and schools that promoted a negative view of other religious faiths and an intolerantly sectarian understanding of their own, gravely undermining Islam’s traditional pluralism. It promulgated the ideas of modern Islamic scholars whom Saudis found congenial through the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia, Pakistan, the US and Europe. Most of all, it funded Wahhabi militants and terror campaigns across the globe: the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Salafists in Egypt and Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, ISIS and many others.

An estimated $100 billion has been spent by Saudi Arabia to promote Wahhabi ideology, disrupting diverse Muslim cultures worldwide. The control of Mecca and Medina affords the Saudis great influence, and many Muslims now confuse a fanatical religious doctrine practiced in Saudi Arabia as the dominant, Sunni Islam.

The Prophet cautioned: “There will appear some people who will recite the Qur’an, but it will not go beyond their throats, and they will go out from Islam as an arrow darts through the game’s body.” 

To a growing set of Muslim and non-Muslim observers, ostentation and debauchery have become hallmarks of the Saudi aristocracy, with perpetual reports of ignorance and brutality doing nothing to dispel the image.

“The Final Hour will come when you see barefoot, destitute shepherds of camels competing [for praise] in the construction of tall buildings,” said Muhammad. “Pride and arrogance are characteristics of the rural Bedouins.” (The Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia intends to knock Dubai’s Burj Khalifa off its throne as the world’s tallest skyscraper.)

The prophecies also tell us that Syria, Iraq, and Yemen—once centers of Islamic civilization—will face chaos and destruction. “There will be a strife in Sham (Syria) that begins with children playing, after which nothing can be fixed,” according to one hadith. “When it calms down from one side, it ignites from the other.” 

The conflict in Syria has killed nearly six hundred thousand people, including tens of thousands of children. More than twelve million Syrians—57 percent of the prewar population—have fled their homes. 

Iraq is still ravaged by America’s protracted 2003 war and the ISIS invasion after 2014. A precise death toll is impossible to calculate.

The reckless Saudi war in Yemen is intensifying after failed efforts to arrange a ceasefire. Over two hundred and thirty thousand Yemenis have been killed while twenty million are facing deadly hunger. Gross human rights violations, including war crimes, are on display. “Fire would burn forth from Yemen,” Muhammad said. 

Prophet Jesus also told his disciples: “When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and epidemics in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”

All has come to pass except a hadith regarding the conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul). 

Empire and Russian destiny

In 330 AD, Constantine I turned the Roman world from its pagan roots towards Christianity. Constantinople served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which stretched from the Atlantic Ocean across the entirety of the Mediterranean Sea, northern Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, and eastern and western Europe, extending to the Black Sea.

Source: Britannica

The once mighty empire fell after the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453. For the next four and a half centuries, the sultan in Constantinople was also the religious leader, or caliph, of the entire Muslim world. Turkey’s President Erdogan is reimagining a modernized version of the Ottoman past to lead Muslims to greatness.

But Prophet Muhammad divulged that Orthodox Christians will take back control of Constantinople in the final days, reclaiming the legacy of Byzantium. There are about three hundred million Orthodox Christians around the world. Russia, which accounts for a third of those followers, has long been the largest and most powerful group within the faith’s fourteen jurisdictions.

The Grand Duchy of Moscow, the predecessor state of the Tsardom of Russia, claimed the title “The Third Rome” as successor to the Byzantine Empire and the political and religious position of Constantinople and Rome. This historical reality is deeply embedded in the Russian nationalist psyche.

Built in the sixth century by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, the cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is an iconic monument for Russian Orthodoxes. In July, Erdogan reverted the church from a museum to a mosque. Islamic eschatology says that it will be renovated again as a worshipping place for Orthodox Christians.  

What comes next

To fulfill God’s covenant, Israel requires full control of Jerusalem. There can be no Zionism without Zion—a biblical synonym for Jerusalem. The most urgent challenge is to expel Palestinians, who make up 38 percent of the city’s population. 

This is being done by revoking residency rights, forcing evictions through various legal mechanisms, redrawing of municipal boundaries, and making life as uncomfortable as possible. There are over three hundred thousand Palestinians living in East Jerusalem; 98 percent have either Israeli residency or citizenship. 

Since America opened its new embassy in Jerusalem in 2018, Israel has been working quickly and intensively toward this objective. Once that’s done, Israel will seize control of the Temple Mount in the Old City, which is the holiest site in Judaism. Orthodox Jewish tradition maintains it is here that the Third Temple will be built prior to, or in tandem with, the arrival of the Messiah.

The rebuilding of the Third Temple also plays a major role in some interpretations of Christian eschatology.

Source: Middle East Monitor

Among Muslims, the Mount is revered as the Noble Sanctuary, the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque from where Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven. The Temple Mount is under Jordan’s custodianship under the terms of a 1994 peace treaty.

Israel will demolish the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque on the Mount to construct the Third Temple. No one will stand in their way. As the Prophet stated about Muslims, “you will be scum.” 

This is already true. There’s no Muslim or Arab world to speak of—just artificial, socially fractured statelets. It is America who is standing up to China for the injustices against more than one million Uighur Muslims. Nations that claim to be defenders of the faith offer no protest to the concentration camps. 

In July 2019, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and other Muslim-majority states helped to block a motion at the United Nations calling for China to allow “independent international observers” into the Xinjiang region. 

The security dilemma

The Gulf monarchies, whose biggest fear is a threat to their hereditary rule, realize that it is neither beneficial nor possible for them to withstand Israel. 

The Abraham Accord, the recent agreement between Israel and the UAE to establish normal relations, is just a formal recognition of this. Intelligence cooperation and dealings between Israel and Gulf countries—especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain—have been on the ascendant for years. 

Bringing the Israelis and Arabs together is their shared distrust of Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the UAE saw “the strength that we demonstrate in the region, the fact that I don’t hesitate to confront Iran.”

As America has transitioned from energy dependence to dominance, the Middle East no longer ranks high in their hierarchy of national interests. President Trump said going into the Middle East was the “worst decision ever made in the history of our country.” The administration shows no signs of wishing to play an active part in the military challenge posed by Iran. 

Washington failed to bring the UN Security Council on board for a resolution to extend an arms embargo on Iran, which is to expire in October. European countries, including France, Germany, and the UK, abstained and want to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. European companies rushed to invest in Iran’s energy sector after sanctions were lifted.

If Iran goes nuclear, it would dramatically change the geopolitical standing in the Middle East. Even if no mushroom cloud appears over Tel Aviv, Israel would return to a real existential fight for its survival. The security dilemma is explained in Jeremiah 4. We are told that Elam (an ancient civilization centered in the far west and southwest of modern-day Iran) will come under the judgment of God for conspiring to launch an attack against Israel in the “latter days.”

Source: Associated Press 

Revelations and implications

The eschatological convergence among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam ends when the Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled, and the Israelis have safely settled in the Promised Land. 

Jews believe that their Messiah will bring order and harmony to the world. Christians and Muslims believe that same figure will actually be the Antichrist sowing chaos and discord prior to the Last Judgement. Matthew 24 says there will be “great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now.” 

The Antichrist will reign triumphantly. He will only be defeated by Jesus, who will return from the heavens to Damascus and then lead the fight for Jerusalem. The Battle of Armageddon will be the final war of humanity.

Our task is not to predict the end of the world. We just want to provide an eschatological framework in which to place contemporary events. The Middle East is undergoing a major transformation, but it is still entirely possible to know exactly what will happen in the future. Maktub. It is written.

Source: Shutterstock