Does War with Iraq Signal the Beginning of 'End Times?'
Rob Oller Crosswalk Correspondent
The bombing of Baghdad does not mean the end is near - only the beginning of the end.
While some end times interpreters see the U.S. war with Iraq as a sure sign that the Second Coming is at hand, at least one prophecy authority prefers patience over pinpoint predictions.
"My basic take is that stuff going on over there now is no direct fulfillment of prophecy, and that is very important to see," said Mark Hitchcock, Pastor of Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Okla. and author of nine books on Biblical prophecy. "Some people will say this is the beginning of Armageddon ... but my whole view is more of a stage-setting kind of scenario."
Hitchcock, who holds to a pre-tribulation theology, likens the recent events in Iraq to actors preparing to go on stage.
"There will be a rapture someday, but right now the curtain is down and the players are behind that curtain getting ready," he said. "It's like a shadow ahead of a person walking along; the shadow is not the person, but an indication of what is coming behind. I think this strikingly foreshadows many of the things the Bible says about the end times."
Hitchcock somewhat bristles at those who point to the war as the fulfillment of some obscure Bible passage. For example, Saddam Hussein can be translated "Destroyer," which also is the word for Abaddon, the army leader in Revelation 9, Verse 11 - yes, 9:11 - who is filled with evil.
"The problem is that Abaddon is the king of the abyss, which is the underworld. I don't think that is Saddam, but Satan or a demon," Hitchcock said. "I think it's wrong to [broadcast incorrect conclusions], but it's also wrong to go to the other extreme and say there are no signs of the times at all. I try to come down in between."
In other words, he is intrigued by some of the seemingly prophetic tidbits - e.g. - Revelation 16 includes the only mention of Armageddon and mentions the Euphrates River, which runs through Iraq - but doesn't see them as airtight answers to end times questions.
While not convinced that the war with Iraq signals the imminent return of Jesus, Hitchcock does believe the conflict's eventual result - the removal of Hussein and his regime - is a big step in that direction.
In his latest book, The Second Coming of Babylon, the author lays out what the Bible says about how Babylon (modern-day Iraq) will be rebuilt in the final days and how the country will become a great world commercial center (Revelation 18) before it falls again.
"What's going on now is we're getting Saddam out of there and going to get the oil flowing again," he said, adding that Iraq only pumps 20 percent of the oil it can produce and would become much more of an world economic impact player if that production reached its potential.
Hitchcock, like much of the world, sees Hussein as an evil terrorist threat, but his reign has been even more hurtful to his own people.
"He's done nothing but ruin his country for 20 years (an eight-year war with Iran followed by 12 years of United Nations economic sanctions)," Hitchcock said. "With the removal of Saddam, the building of Babylon is much more likely."
What fascinates Hitchcock is how few paid much attention to that part of the world 60 years ago, but the focus has shifted that way again - primarily because of oil.
"That's where everything began, in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization. Then it moved west; the Greek Empire, then the Roman Empire, then the British Empire and now the United States. But now the world focus is moving back east again," he said. "And what does it boil down to? The main reason is oil, and who put the oil there? God did. I'm not saying all [the U.S.] is doing over there is because of oil, but we wouldn't be as interested in Kuwait if not for oil. That's just being realistic. Oil has put the attention over there."
Hitchcock sees the war in Iraq and bloodshed in Israel and Palestine creating two effects that touch on Bible prophecy. First, the conflict is keeping the world focus on the Middle East, which is the staging ground for all the events to happen in the end times. Secondly, he sees the anti-war push for peace coming from the corners of the world paving the way for the antichrist. "The antichrist will come on a platform of peace," he said.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, a coalition of Jews and Christians seeking to advance the nation toward faith-based principles, agrees with Hitchcock that it's not simply coincidence that all eyes are on Iraq and the Middle East. He also is not surprised that the United States is front and center in the conflict.
"This flows very naturally from the preliminary observation, which says that America itself is part of the fulfillment of prophecy," Lapin said. "America itself is to have divine involvement."
Ultimately, the events in Iraq serve only as a lead-in to the coming of the antichrist, said Hitchcock, who likes to impart history lessons where applicable.
"Alexander the Great died in Babylon. He was planning to make Babylon his eastern capital," he said. "And Napoleon, who spent a lot of time rummaging around the Middle East, had plans to build the city of New Babilonia."
Neither completed their missions, leaving the door open for the antichrist to finish the job. "I think the antichrist will do what Alexander the Great and Napoleon never did," Hitchcock said.
It just may not happen this week.
Rob Oller is a homeschool dad, a sportswriter and a columnist for The Columbus Dispatch, the second-largest circulation paper in Ohio.
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