With the completion and activation of Iran’s first nuclear reactor (at Bushehr), an often-overlooked Old Testament prophecy comes again into focus. Importantly, this prophecy, and not the rapture, is the next one to be fulfilled. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons approaching in the Middle East, it could very well come in our lifetime. Find out what it is and why it still has not happened despite the constant expectations for it every year.
As most Christians know, the pretrib rapture doctrine states that the rapture comes before the Great Tribulation. What you may not know is that, like any doctrine, it brings with it associated beliefs that must also be accepted. One of the more troublesome of these is the teaching that, because the rapture is imminent or can happen at any moment, it is therefore declared as “the next event to happen in prophecy.”
I have a particularly hard time with this teaching because, quite simply, I have read the entire Bible myself. Or is it really as simple as that?
Why Bible Reading Does Change Everyone's Beliefs
As you get older you gain an appreciation for how complex things actually are that you earlier thought were simple. I recently came to realize that reading the entire Bible is not enough of itself for everyone. After all, the majority who read the Bible confess that they do not understand most if it. After reading it, they still believe the doctrines they are taught even when they differ from what the Bible says. Why is that?
It is because there is another factor needed for understanding the Bible properly. I discovered this ingredient through homeschooling my children. I saw that my children sometimes lacked confidence in their ability to come to the right conclusion. It surprised me because one of my strengths from a young age has been having this very confidence. I took it for granted that everyone else did, too, until I saw through my children that not everyone believes in their thinking ability in all areas or at all times. I saw how my children at times would have trouble with simple problems or doubt themselves even when the problem at hand was well within their ability to understand and solve. I realized the need build their confidence up and reassure them that they were smart enough and able to do everything before them.
This belief in your ability to come to right conclusions from your own study is severely tested when you read the Bible. The book is already full of difficulties that make it hard to understand. But the worst one is when it floors you by contradicting what you thought you already understood correctly. Between Genesis and Revelation you will come across many of these differences from what you were taught. Probably many Christians give up reading the Bible for this very reason. It is vexing to keep finding one contradiction after another against what you're supposed to believe. I think this is why I so often hear feedback from readers of my book along the lines of, “Thank you for writing your book because it confirmed so much that I had concluded from my own study. Now I know I'm not crazy!” Most of us need a little confirmation when we are coming to radical conclusions such as Bible reading leads to.
Of course, confidence in Bible study does not mean you automatically understand everything you read in the first time you read it. It's still a hard puzzle of a book. It just makes serious breakthroughs much more possible as you keep at it.
The Rapture Is Not Next According to Jesus
Bringing it back to the next event in prophecy, this confidence I had meant that when reading the Book of Revelation and Jesus' Olivet Discourse (Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21) there was no block to seeing that there were plainly many more unfulfilled prophesies left before the rapture. I could read what Jesus said and accept it readily, without doubts that many have because what it plainly says is not what you are supposed to think.
A cursory reading of Matthew 24 can bear this out if you accept that it means what it plainly says—and that you can understand plain words correctly. Read the chapter and note that Jesus does not mention the rapture until the very end of it (Mt 24:29-31). Before that, many other events are mentioned (Mt 24:3-28). Some of these have been fulfilled already, such as wars and rumors of wars (Mt 24:6). It even says at one point that until several events happen, “the end is not yet” or “the end won't come right away” (Mt 24:6-8; Lk 21:9-11). These next events in the timeline of the Olivet Discourse are called “the beginning of sorrows.” In a previous article I covered what these sorrows are.
However, the answer to this question of what prophesied event is next is not found in Jesus' words (or in Revelation). Only the Old Testament describes it which makes it easy to overlook. Further, it is easy to misunderstand its position on the end time timeline because, as you may be aware, the Old Testament prophecies are notorious for not coming in nice neat ordered sequences (like Revelation has with its seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls). Old Testament prophecies jump all over the place. Therefore, you often only can deduce the order of OT prophecies by mapping them to the timeline that Revelation and Matthew 24 lay out. To compound the problem, working out the NT end time prophecy timeline is no easy task either. Thus, now you can see why so few have correctly identified what the next event in prophecy is. It's a multi-layered puzzle that must be figured out by working through the Bible's prophecies from back to front.
Next Event – An Unexpected Middle East War
What, then, is this next prophetic event? As I have mentioned in several previous articles, the next unfulfilled prophecy that begins the end time progression will be a major war in the Middle East. However, it is not the one most expect these days. In recent years, since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began ruling Iran, many expect Israel to attack Iran or vice versa. This is due to tensions between them from Ahmadinejad famously refusing to halt uranium enrichment coupled and his belligerent rhetoric against Israel. This war may indeed happen, but a two-nation war like this is not prophesied. It could serve as a stepping stone to the war that is prophesied. Or something else may develop to get us there. Speculating about prophecy based on current events has historically proven to be unreliable.
Astute Bible prophecy students will know what prophesied war in the Middle East I am referring to. Isaiah 17 speaks about the end of Damascus as a city, leaving a ruinous heap in its place (Isa 17:1). Damascus is widely considered the oldest city, so what could destroy it after all this time? Isaiah 17 ends by describing many nations roaring and raging until God rebukes them like chaff blown on the hills in a gale because “this is what happens to those who try to plunder and ravage us” (Isa 17:12-14). Of course, "us" refers to Israel, the chosen nation in the Bible that God defends from the attack of nations. Importantly, Israel is, so far, the only nuclear power in the Middle East.
A major Syria-Israel war is not hard to imagine since Syria has been an enemy of Israel for years. In 2007 Israel made a military airstrike, called Operation Orchard, at a nuclear reactor under development deep in Syrian. Before that, in 2005 Israel was at war with Lebanon, who is widely considered one and the same with Syria.
This readily explains how Damascus could suddenly turn into ruins. Israel is a tiny nation whose borders afford no buffer at the event of an invasion from a neighboring enemy. Consequently, Israel's unofficial military policy is to nuke her enemies if they overrun her borders with their armies.
But why must this prophecy be next? There are two reasons.
First, because the next unfulfilled events listed in the Olivet Discourse and in Revelation depend on this event happening first. Both describe Jewish and Gentile believers being gathered in Judea (Mt 24:16) and even on the Temple Mount (Rev 14:1-5) before the beginning of sorrows/6th seal starts. Such gatherings are not possible today with the immigration policy of Israel for gentiles and the Arab policy of no prayer (let alone a major religious gathering) on the Temple Mount (Rev 14:1). If many Israelites die from this war and the Arab's military power and grip over the Temple Mount are neutralized, then we could see the way cleared for the next prophecies in Revelation and the “little Apocalypse” (as the Olivet Discourse is called) to happen.
Second, this event must be pretrib as it does not make any sense during the Great Tribulation. Isaiah 17 mentions payback for people trying to plunder Israel. Well, during the entire Great Tribulation, the Antichrist has already plundered their land and taken control. He will also have control of every other country. The few countries he will have to fight to achieve full global control are mentioned as being to the north and east (Dan 11:44) where there is an army of 200 million men (Rev 9). This points to China and other populous Asian countries.
What Precondition Has Been Missing?
If this war is the next unfulfilled prophecy, does that mean that it is “imminent” or able to happen at any moment? No. Just because you know a prophecy is next does not mean it is imminent. It would be faulty reasoning to say that unless you were sure there are not prerequisites for it happening.
In the case of this war, there is a prerequisite. Yet because most prophecy teachers are unaware of it, they tend to believe the war can happen at any time. As such, there are predictions of it every year for the last decade or so that I have been aware of this prophecy. Yet every time it fails to happen. This despite constant saber-rattling, border skirmishes, suicide bombings, rumors of Arab nuclear programs and other “wars and rumors of wars”, etc. that get to see when you watch the Middle East carefully. After a few years of watching, you soon become accustomed to this type of upheaval as normal there. As such it is not a useful predictor of when the prophesied war may come.
What is the overlooked prerequisite then? It is found in one of several parallels to Isaiah 17. I won't list all the parallel prophecies here because there are too many (and all are covered in my book already). The key one is in the Psalms. Yes, that's right, a prophecy in a psalm. This should come as no surprise because many of the gospel writers quote psalms as prophesying many of the acts they witnessed Jesus do.
Psalm 83 describes the same war as Isaiah 17 where “many nations” attack Israel and are defeated with God's help so soundly that they are likened to “chaff” or “dust” whirling in a “tempest” or “gale” (Ps 83:13-17=Isa 17:12-14). The important detail Psalm 83 offers (which Isaiah 17 lacks) is about a conspiracy among ten nations to “wipe Israel out as a nation to be remembered no more” (Ps 83:3-5). They specifically make a pact to join forces and go to war against Israel. As mentioned in my book, if you convert the ancient nations listed there into their modern equivalents you come up with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine/Gaza, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Do you see the problem with this war happening today? Several of these nations have peace treaties and trade with Israel. Only a few are active and vocal or extreme hateful enemies like Psalm 83 describes. What do they have to gain right now by fighting Israel? Israel is the only one with a nuclear arsenal. This makes even a large coordinated conventional attack on Israel suicidal. In other words, most of these nations have nothing to gain and everything to lose by risking an attack on Israel.
What To Watch For
Therefore, I believe two preconditions are implied by Psalm 83 that must appear before this Middle East Nuclear War that results in the destruction of Damascus and other Arab capitals happens:
1. The Arabs (or Iran) must achieve nuclear parity – I don't think this means one or two nukes. Probably they will want an arsenal like Israel has which they can use strategically. It does not have to be as big as Israel's because it is a small country, but it has to be reliable and large enough to be sabotage-proof until they are ready to use it.
2. The many nations must have a reason to join together and want to attack – I can only speculate on what this will be. Right now one would naturally guess that an attack by Israel on Iran's nuclear program could unite the Arabs in anger and for battle. Yet, Israel did this twice already now (Iraq in 1981, Syria in 2007) with no such response. Perhaps finally achieving the nuclear power in itself will be enough to inspire the more moderate Arab states to become like Iran and Syria are today? Or will it be something unforeseeable right now? Time will tell.
Speaking of time, how long will the above take? I do not know and would not dare say even if I thought I knew =). You see, if there is one thing I have learned in my years of study of and watching for Bible prophecy, it is to never set a date. They never work out as the date-setter expected. Instead, I have noticed how things always tarry longer than anyone ever expected.
Given that as the reliable trend for thousands of years, I would not be surprised to see this war tarry another five years or more (2015 and beyond). After all, how long does it take to develop a nuclear arsenal from scratch when you are watched by the IAEA and have sanctions against you? I've heard it said every year that some Arab nation has a bomb or will have a bomb this year or next, but an arsenal that you can reliably deliver is not so fast and easy to develop.
As noted above, my timing expectations are different than my peers. They imagine the war can come at any moment, in any year. I advise you ignore that and instead wait and watch for key things (nuclear program, war footing) to change radically among all those nations listed in Psalm 83.
In the meantime, there is no time to lose for building a faithful relationship with your Creator. No doubt some will see the wisdom of this article and use it unwisely as a reason to put off seeking God more diligently. That's human nature and we can't help that. But you can help it to not be yourself who responds in that way. Start reading your Bible and praying daily. Ask God for help if you find that hard to do (which you definitely will, speaking from experience). You'll be surprised how quickly God responds to your requests in those areas since you are praying according to his will. Whatever you choose now, all prophecy students like you and me will become suddenly much more serious about seeking God when they see these first end time prophecies fulfilled one morning when they turn on TV. That will be just the beginning of the seven years or so of end times events that is now finally understandable.
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Tim is the author of this site (since 1999) and the book Know the Future that explains Revelation literally at last--including the key event of Wormwood (Rev 6-8). To read more from Tim and not miss a single new article, sign up for his free newsletter above.