02 Oct What is the Mandate of the Church? Bible Prophecy and Muslims
In anticipation of the conference, this article was recently featured in Koinonia House’s October 2013 Personal Update NewsJournal.
There is power in Biblical prophecy. Properly understanding the testimony of the Biblical prophets literally gives one the ability to look into the future—albeit only as the apostle Paul says, “as through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12).
But consider, for instance, the accurate foreknowledge of the Biblical exegete Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. Long before it could have ever been predicted, Tregelles confidently declared that the land of Israel would someday be repatriated by the Jewish people:
It is plain that at [that time], these things will be found in existence—a portion of the Jews will have returned in unbelief to their own land.
This was written in 1846, just over 100 years before Israel was reestablished. But Tregelles was far from alone in predicting a future Jewish state. Several other great expositors of the 19th century such as David Baron, Adolph Saphir, J.C. Ryle, Horatius Bonar, and Charles Spurgeon also made similar very confident predictions based solely on their reading of the prophetic Scriptures. Despite this, some skeptics have stated that these men were only mirroring the aspirations of the early Zionist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. But a simple examination of the time frame in which the predictions were made, versus the actual birth of the Zionist movement, shows this claim to be nonsense.
Treggeles’ predictions, for instance, were made and written 14 years before Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionist movement, was even born! Beyond this, predictions of a future return of the Jewish people to their land was seen in the Scriptures by exegetes down through history. Consider for example the comments of Ishdo’dad of Merv. Merv was a Christian Bishop over the city of Hadatha, near modern-day Tiberius. In his commentary on Micah 5:3, Merv said the following:
“He shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth.” This is what the prophet calls Jerusalem. This means He will abandon them to the afflictions of captivity until the time of the return. This means that these predictions will not come true before they are back from their captivity.
When did Merv declare this? It was written in 850 A.D., well over 1100 years before the modern Jewish state was born. Preterists—those who claim that most or all Biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the events of 70 a.d.—would have us forget the confident and striking predictions of these men.
In an effort to besmirch the study of Biblical prophecy, preterist teachers will only draw attention to the various fringe figures of history who tried to place dates on the return of Jesus, or who sought to identify the Antichrist—most often in their political or theological enemies of the day—or who combined various pagan or unbiblical predictions with the words of Scripture. While history certainly has its fair share of these kind of fringe prophecy teachers, we must also be reminded of those forgotten men who were responsible in their exposition of the Word, and thus saw the future—and saw it accurately.
The Power of Prophecy
If the unbelieving world ever truly grasped the powerful resource of futurist information that we as Bible believers have in the accurate exposition of the Holy Scriptures, they would be clamoring to us to discover what is coming next. Yet, at this time in history, even vast segments the Church have very little interest in considering the words of the prophets. Many even treat the effort to do so with disdain.
Our desire, however, is to not only recognize the blessing of Bible prophecy to convey accurate information about the future, but to utilize it in a truly strategic manner in order to spend our very limited time, energies and resources for the going forth of the Gospel to the nations. As watchers of the signs of the times, we are often well-attuned to the increased lukewarm spirit within many of the churches today. We flee from preachers who offer sermons that merely tickle the ears. But we must also be aware that there is danger in merely hearing a message about Bible prophecy if it is not strategically applied to our lives.
Prophetic-strategic information is for the purpose of developing an “action plan” for the days ahead. Because the primary mandate of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, this must then be the ultimate end of gaining a strategic perspective—to inform us concerning how we can best allocate our time, energies and resources, as we seek together to complete the Great Commission in our own neighborhoods, and among the nations. Prophecy is about the Gospel.
The Spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus! Anything aside from this is a distraction from our mandate as disciples of Jesus.
Having said this, I would like to briefly skim the surface of why I believe it is high time for us to reconsider the popular interpretation of Ezekiel 38–39, most often referred to as the Battle of Gog of Magog.
Reaching Muslims with the Gospel Message
Today, the number of Muslims globally is approximately 1.6 billion.
Muslims are far and away the largest non-Christian people group in the world. More than any other people group in the world, Muslims need the Gospel. The Islamic world needs missionaries more than anyone else. But despite this, the Muslim world is the least reached and the least “missionized.”
Although the Islamic world represents the greatest need, we send fewer missionaries there than anywhere. In fact, on average, for every half million Muslims, there is only one Christian missionary! Generations of people live and die without ever hearing a faithful telling of the Gospel story and without ever having truly received an invitation to the coming wedding feast. This is an absolute scandal and a terrible injustice.
Now, we could speak of several reasons why so few Christians are going to the Islamic world, such as the fact that the modern Church has lost that vibrant early Church theology of the cross and martyrdom. But I want to briefly focus on the popular prophetic interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 that I believe is deeply destructive to the Great Commission mandate of the Church among Muslims.
Briefly, this prophetic scenario holds that a series of imminent wars, most often referred to as the “Battle of Gog of Magog” (many now also add “The Psalm 83 War”) will soon result in Islam as a religion essentially drying up and fading away. Consider just a small sampling of what some prophecy teachers claim concerning what we should expect to see soon in the Islamic world and religion:
I believe that the Ezekiel 38–39 war plays a key role in the rise of the Antichrist. It is clear in this passage that Iran and the Muslim coalition suffers a humiliating defeat. I believe God will use this war to bring the ultimate downfall of the Islamic religion and the false god Allah.
[T]he war of Ezekiel 38 will result in the annihilation of nearly all the armies of the Muslim nations of the Middle East… Thus, if the Antichrist is a Muslim who is going to rule a Muslim empire in the Middle East during the Tribulation, then he is going to rule over an empire that has been reduced to ashes!
Islam is just another system that will be wiped out before the Antichrist instills his system.
Again, there is power in prophecy. What prophecy teachers teach has very real and lasting implications. As a result, we will all be held accountable for what we teach on the day of judgment. The notion that Islam is about to be “wiped out” and that the entire Middle East is imminently going to be “reduced to ashes” is outright destructive to the completion of the Great Commission among Muslims. Not only is this view demotivating a multitude of potential missionaries from pursuing missions or Church-planting among Muslims, but it is also demonstrably unscriptural and does not represent a proper exposition of the relevant prophetic texts.
This year at the Strategic Perspectives conference, we will examine these texts together in order to have a more accurate understanding of what the Scriptures say and, even more importantly, what we as the Church should be doing about it.
As we will see, rather than simply disappearing long before the return of Jesus, the Scriptures inform us that Islam represents the most significant threat the civilized World has ever known and also the greatest challenge the Church has ever, or will ever face.
What Is our Mandate?
The mandate of the Church at this moment in history is not to sit back and passively hope for Islam’s destruction. Absolutely not! Now is the time, this is the moment for the Church to rise up to meet our greatest and final challenge.
Joel Richardson is a featured speaker at this year’s Strategic Perspectives conference. See khouse.org/conference for details. We hope you can join us!