Is Syria's Current Unraveling Tied to Biblical Prophecy?

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.
Reuters/Abdalrhman IsmailSmoke rises after airstrikes on the rebel-held al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. April 29, 2016.

Are the biblical end times upon us? And, if so, what can we discern from the scriptures when it comes to the actual events that will comprise the so-called "end of the age?" These are just two of the central questions that I address in my newly released book, The Armageddon Code: One Journalist's Quest for End-Times Answers, as the text includes interviews with around 20 of the most prolific and thoughtful Bible experts about where they stand on a plethora of eschatological issues.

The book tackles the oft-times contentious debate over the rapture, the tribulation, the Millennium, the possibility of a future Antichrist, the modern state of Israel and a number of other subjects related to the contemporary study of Bible prophecy.

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(Photo: Charisma House/Billy Hallowell)Billy Hallowell, journalist, author, and editor at The Blaze.

Presented through a journalistic lens, The Armageddon Code takes readers through the ins and outs of the debate, while more specifically offering believers the opportunity to check their own beliefs against experts' claims, and better understand why eschatology is a such a complex and multifaceted subject — one that continues to be hotly debated among Bible scholars.

What follows is a sample chapter from the book titled, "Syria's Current Unraveling and Its Tie to Biblical Prophecy." The text focuses on the debate among some scholars over whether the current violence and chaos in Syria could be related to prophetic scriptures in the Books of Isaiah and Jeremiah:

Is the world also about to see biblical prophecy come to fruition in Syria? Among others, Joel Rosenberg has questioned whether events inside the war-torn country in recent years are also related to prophecy, especially in light of what's found in Old Testament scriptures like Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49.

"We're watching Damascus unravel...is that the prelude to the completion of those prophesies?" he rhetorically asked. "We don't know, but Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the planet . . . so the fact that it is coming apart is quite extraordinary."

Following Russia's air strikes targeting rebels in Syria in October 2015, questions began reemerging in Evangelical circles about whether events surrounding the country's ongoing civil war, which began in 2011, were tied in any way to biblical prophecy.

Rosenberg published a blog post in the wake of the air strikes claiming that Russian president Vladimir Putin is "working hand-in- glove with Iran's government" in formulating operations in Syria.3 It came the same week as reports that Iran was waging a ground attack, while Russia was carrying out assaults from the air.

Rosenberg, as he did in interviews for this book and past exchanges with TheBlaze on this same subject, specifically referenced the Old Testament in addressing the matter, invoking many of the themes that we dissected in previous chapters.

"The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel wrote 2,500 years ago that in the 'last days' of history, Russia and Iran will form a military alliance to attack Israel from the north," Rosenberg wrote. "Bible scholars refer to this eschatological conflict, described in Ezekiel 38–39, as the 'War of Gog & Magog.'" He added, "Are these sudden and dramatic moves by Moscow and Tehran...simply coincidental, or [do they] have prophetic implications?"

Rosenberg's question is at the center of the very debate surrounding Iran, Syria, and Russia and their perceived involvement in the end times — one that has attracted a great deal of attention both in Christian circles and in media over the years.

The military alliance between Russia and Iran was also discussed by Laurie, who said that the "entrance of Russia . . . as an ally of Syria and Iran, and this alliance between Russia and Iran is a special interest in the Bible."

He called the current alignments between Russia and Iran particularly notable, though he said that it is important to differentiate between the details he's certain of and those that he cannot definitively speak to.

"I'm very careful when I teach Bible prophecy to not paint myself into a corner and say things that I can't be certain of," Laurie told me. "Do I know with 100 percent certainty that Gog is Russia? No, I do not."

But, despite not being able to say with complete and utter confi- dence the identities of Gog and Magog, there are some elements sur- rounding Ezekiel that Laurie said he is most confident about. "Do I know that a force called Gog and Magog will march against Israel? Yes, I do. That's the way I teach it," he said. "I offer my views, but I always give myself a little wiggle room, because clearly people have thought other things in the past and have been wrong, so we want to be very careful to not say this is absolutely the interpretation unless the Bible is completely clear on the topic."

Back in 2013 I first began dissecting this subject in a series for TheBlaze, speaking with experts about what role, if any, they believe Syria will play in eschatological scenarios. I noted at the time that there's one par- ticular Bible passage that's rekindling the entire discussion surrounding how Syria might fit into end-times theology: Isaiah 17:1–3.

It reads, "See, Damascus will cease from being a city; it shall be a ruinous heap. The cities of Aroer are forsaken; they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and no one shall make them afraid. The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Aram; they shall be as the glory of the sons of Israel, says the Lord of Hosts."

The Syria example is perhaps a perfect paradigm to see how those with different theological viewpoints approach the same texts in very different ways. Consider that the first portion about a "ruinous heap" has some wondering if the present Syria crisis was prophesied in the Bible, but some scholars have countered that Damascus was already destroyed and that this verse refers to an attack by the Assyrians that unfolded in 732 BC.

Specifically noting Isaiah 17:1–3 and Jeremiah 49:23–27, Rosenberg explained in a separate 2013 blog piece that — despite some experts referencing the Assyrian attack — Damascus's destruction has not yet happened. Jeremiah 49:23–27 pledges judgment upon Damascus, pro- claiming that it has "become helpless" and that a fire will be kindled in its walls.

"These prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. It has been attacked, besieged, and conquered," Rosenberg wrote. "But Damascus has never been completely destroyed and left uninhabited."

The prophecy expert went on to explain that Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49 speak to prophetic judgments that he believes God will dole out on Israel's neighbors and enemies before and during the Tribulation period.

(Photo: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi)A boy, whose brother was killed, reacts at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria, June 2, 2016.

While Rosenberg was definitive in this sense, he did note that the Bible is not specific, in his view, about how the city will be destroyed or what that event will look like. Additionally he noted that the implications of this destruction are not known either, as the Holy Book does not go into substantial detail on the matter.

During a phone interview with TheBlaze in 2013, Rosenberg also explained Syria's significance in the Bible, again bringing up both Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49. Claiming that these predictions get "very little attention," he explained that they each speak about the future of Damascus: "The Bible indicates clearly that Damascus will be utterly and completely destroyed at some point in the future — it will be a great cataclysmal [event] and it will be part of God's judgment," Rosenberg said.

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(Photo: Charisma House/Billy Hallowell)The Armageddon Code: One Journalist's Quest for End-Times Answers, by Billy Hallowell. Released May of 2016.

He added that he doesn't see "clean hands in the fight" in Syria and

wonders if it's possible "that the judgment of Damascus is not only

coming" but if it could be coming within our lifetime. Not everyone is on board with the claim that the Old Testament could be describing future — or even current — events that will befall Syria. 

Hank Hanegraaff also spoke about supposed biblical prophecies associated with the end times back in 2013 on his radio show. A caller asked about claims that the Book of Isaiah details coming destruction for Damascus, the capital of Syria, a claim to which Hanegraaff pushed back.

"So, what you're saying is they're tying in the passages in Isaiah to what is currently happening in Syria...and this is just a classic example of newspaper eschatology and shame on the pastors that are doing this, because it either is a case of them not knowing the Word of God, which seems unlikely to me, or simply wanting to invite sensationalism and sophistry," he responded. "If you look at what the Bible actually says, it is very clear that the fulfillment comes in the biblical text as well." And Hanegraaff wasn't done there.

"This whole notion is fulfilled in biblical history when the king of the Assyria captured and destroyed Damascus...if you look at Isaiah chapter 7, there's a permutation of this as well...you see the fulfill- ment in the very next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8," he continued.

Hanegraaff went on to say that some pastors' decisions to transport pieces of prophecy to the twenty-first century are irresponsible. He called the action "embarrassing" and said that those pastors and Bible experts who embrace the idea are "dragging Christ's name through the mud."

He simply doesn't believe that, on these matters, the Bible's writers were looking so fervently into the future, and he contends that they were speaking about prophecy that would unfold in the immediate and that has already come to pass.19

"I think the point we have to probably recognize is that all of the Bible was written for us, but none of it was written to us," he contended. "This book of Revelation was written to seven churches."

Hanegraaff said that end-times prophecy has been touted for centuries, but none of it ever comes to pass. Rather than reading the Scriptures for what they are, he believes that some theologians are "reading into the Scriptures their own eschatological views."

Dr. Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, also penned a 2013 article attempting to debunk claims that Damascus may play a role in end times. She said that the city has already been repeatedly conquered.

"Isaiah lived and wrote in the eighth century BCE [BC] and scholars think that the original prophecy referred to the conquest of Damascus by the Assyrians in 732 BCE [BC]," she wrote. "But that's not the only time Damascus has seen conflict."

Moss went on to list those who had conquered Damascus, including Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great. She also explained that, in the seventh century, Damascus was in the middle of a Muslim siege led by General Khalid ibn al-Walid. Later the Turco-Mongol armies of Timur conquered it around the turn of the fifteenth century, killing the entire population and apparently erecting a tower built with severed heads.

In the end, the debate is fascinating, as both sides — comprised of individuals who believe in Christ and who contend that Jesus will one day return — couldn't disagree more about the alleged signs and symbols present within the Bible's complex text.

Billy Hallowell, author of "The Armageddon Code," has contributed to TheBlaze, the Washington Post, Human Events, the Daily Caller, Mediaite, and the Huffington Post, among other news sites. Through journalism, media, public speaking appearances, and the blogosphere, Hallowell has worked as a journalist and commentator for more than a decade.