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Prophets of Doom Profit from Gloom

Is the war with Iraq a sign of The End, or just the beginning of more failed attempts to interpret the book of Revelation?

By Carl E. Olson

Is Saddam Hussein and his violent regime predicted in the book of Revelation? Is the war in Iraq part of the “end times” events revealed, albeit in mysterious and puzzling ways, in the last book of the Bible? Does St. John’s Apocalypse provide a blueprint for the final days of the world—and are we living in them today?

According to many self-proclaimed “Bible prophecy” writers and “experts,” the answer to all these questions is an emphatic “Yes!”

In a March 2003 Washington Times article (“For believers, Iraq crisis means the end is near” by Bill Broadway), pastor and prophecy buff Irvin Baxter insists that Saddam is the “Destroyer” (Hebrew: Abaddon; Greek: Apollyon) spoken of in Revelation 9:11. “Iraq fits like hand in glove,” he claims, predicting that The End is nigh. Other prognosticators link Saddam’s construction of palaces and power to a rebirth of “Babylon the great,” the “strong city” spoken of in Revelation 17 and 18. While some are less willing to make these same direct connections, the overwhelming consensus is that time is short, the end is near, and the book of Revelation is being fulfilled.

Been There, Done That

Back in 1991, I was a Fundamentalist attending the evangelical Briercrest Bible College in Saskatchewan, Canada, when the U.S. went to war with Iraq. A number of students and teachers began earnestly searching the Scriptures for clues about what was going to happen, and how the Persian Gulf War figured in Bible prophecy. A continually changing list of passages from Old Testament prophets, Matthew’s Gospel, and the book of Revelation were compared to daily events in the Middle East. Some seemed to indicate that Saddam was the Antichrist. Others, such as Jeremiah 51, apparently pointed to the destruction of the modern-day Babylon:

Thus says the LORD: Behold, I am going to arouse against Babylon And against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai The spirit of a destroyer. And I shall dispatch foreigners to Babylon that they may winnow her And may devastate her land; For on every side they will be opposed to her In the day of her calamity. . . . Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken; Wail over her! Bring balm for her pain; Perhaps she may be healed. (Jer. 51:1-2, 8. NASB)

Not surprisingly, the same sort of mix-and-matching of Scripture with current events took place following the attacks on September 11. As I noted in my November 2002 First Things article, “No End In Sight,” [] Bible prophecy “students” quickly discovered Bible verses that had “predicted” the events in New York:

The Los Angeles Times reported that a North Carolina pastor has linked the attacks in New York City to Isaiah 30:25, which speaks of “the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.” And the irrepressible John Hagee, a fervent premillennial dispensationalist and best-selling author based in San Antonio, flatly states: “I believe World War III actually began Sept. 11, 2001.” Of course, Hagee made similar comments after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, but that’s already ancient history.

Such practices have been a pastime—even an obsession—for some Christians, dating back to the first decades of the Church. Common characteristics of such folks include a gloom-and-doom view of all current events, the belief that Christ will return in their lifetime, and (in most cases) the conviction that Christ will establish an earthly, millennial kingdom that will last a thousand years (based on Rev. 20:1-10).

The most well known and important of the early Christian millenarianists were the Montanists, formed in Asia Minor by the “prophet” Montanus in the 170s. Adhering to a strict, ascetic lifestyle, the Montanists based their beliefs on ecstatic gifts of the Holy Spirit they claimed to have received on an exclusive basis. They expected Jesus Christ to return to Phrygia, in Asia Minor, and establish the New Jerusalem. Eventually the Montanists faded away, although many of their defining traits endured. Later individuals, such as Hippolytus (170-236) and Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 160-240), calculated the year of the Second Coming by using the supposed date of creation and adding 6000 years to it. This was based on 2 Peter 3:8 (“with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and thousand years as one day”) and the belief that each of the seven days of creation corresponded to a thousand year period, with the seventh “day” marking the end of time.

Modern-day Bible prophecy has its roots in the French Revolution, antagonism towards the Catholic Church, and the resulting explosion of end time studies in England during the ...

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