“Is this the beginning of World War III?” queries the cover story in the September issue of Jerry Falwell’s “National Liberty Journal.”

“The crisis in the Middle East is escalating beyond imagination,” writes Edward Hindson, assistant to the chancellor at Liberty University. “In fact, it is beginning to look a lot like the scenario of God and Magog predicted by the prophet Ezekiel. In its incredible prophecy of an ‘end times’ invasion of Israel by an alliance of nations, Ezekiel 38-39 names many of the nations that have been raising voices of hostility in recent days: Iran, Libya and Jordan. The evening news is punctuated with biblical names that carry great prophetic significance: Tyre, Sidon, Damascus, Tiberias and Jerusalem.”

Best-selling author John Hagee puts forth a similar argument in his newest book, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World. He suggests a nuclear showdown between Iran and Israel could signal the beginning of the end of the world.

“We are on a countdown to crisis,” Hagee, senior pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, wrote in the spring and summer of 2005. “The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty.”

“The war of Ezekiel 38-39 could begin before this book is published,” Hagee wrote. The book came out in January.

“Israel and America must confront Iran’s nuclear ability and willingness to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons,” he said. “For Israel to wait is to risk committing national suicide. The leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Government of Iran are passionate in their hatred for Israel and America.”

Hagee said, “No prophetic scripture is more crystal clear than Ezekiel’s vivid and specific description of the coming massive war in the Middle East that will sweep the world toward Armageddon.”

Ezekiel’s war as described in chapters 38 and 39 will consist of an Arab coalition of nations led by Russia for the purpose of exterminating the Jews of Israel and controlling the city of Jerusalem,” he explained. “The Russian payoff will be the ability to control the oil-rich Persian Gulf.”

Hagee believes the Bible prophesies a chain of events set to unfold in the near future. Israel and/or America must confront Iran concerning its nuclear program, he said. If they are required to use military force and fail to crush all eight nuclear sites at the same time, Ezekiel’s war will follow.

God will intervene to destroy Russia and its allies on the hills of Israel, creating a power vacuum, filled when the head of the European Union appoints the anti-Christ, a false Messiah, to lead Israel and eventually a one-world government.

That will awaken the “kings of the east,” described in Rev. 16:12 with a marching army of 200 million soldiers, which Hagee takes as a reference to China. The two kings will meet to battle it out for world supremacy on a battlefield in Israel called Armageddon.

All that sounds farfetched to anyone but biblical literalists, but it is the theology underpinning the successful “Left Behind” books, which have sold 65 million copies over the last 10 years. Authors Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye describe their work as fiction, but what builds suspense is their claim that the events they dramatize are actually foretold in Scripture.

Hindson reasons that since the particular prophecy in Ezekiel “was never fulfilled in biblical times, those who take the Word of God seriously believe it will be fulfilled in the future.”

Hindson says the Bible prophesies an invasion of Israel by a number of nations including Gog and Magog, which he identifies with a number of Islamic states; Persia, which is modern-day Iran, along with modern Libya, Sudan and Turkey.

“Can we really take this prophecy literally?” he asks. “The Scripture speaks of it with absolute certainty…. No such event ever occurred in the ancient world. Therefore the prophecy remains to be fulfilled in the future. How close we are, only time will tell. But the current crisis, and its subsequent escalation, indicated how quickly such a conflict could accelerate into a ‘war of biblical proportions.'”

Hagee contends that all this places America at a crossroads, urging U.S. support for Israel and opposing the “Roadmap for Peace,” which calls for dividing Israel to create “a terrorist-ruled Islamic Palestinian state, whose stated objective is the destruction of Israel.”

The problem, he writes, is “God’s promises to pour out His judgment on any nation that tries to divide up the land of Israel.”

“God’s Word is very clear!” Hagee warns. “There will be grave consequences for the nation or nations that attempt to divide up the land of Israel.”

“At this very moment, America finds itself bogged down in an unprovoked, worldwide war with radical Islamic terrorists with no end in sight,” Hagee writes. “America is very vulnerable to terrorist attacks in the future, whose consequences could be much more severe than the 3,000 lives lost on 9/11. This is not a time to provoke God and defy Him to pour out his judgment on our nation for being a principal force in the division of the land of Israel.”

Such statements prompt concern for some who fear that Armageddon theology is finding a hearing in debate over U.S. policy toward Israel. Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker dismissed that concern in an Aug. 4 column saying no one in Washington–including President Bush or Karl Rove–is listening to Hagee.

But the July 26 edition of CNN’s “Live From” featured a segment discussing the apocalypse and events in the Middle East. In it, Joel Rosenberg, author of New York Times bestsellers including The Copper Scroll, said he has been invited to the White House, CIA and Capitol Hill to discuss the Middle East through the lens of Bible prophecy. “It’s not that they necessarily believe the prophecies,” he said, but they want to understand the prophecies in the Bible in light of what’s going on right now.”

Hagee closed his book with this: “In March 2002, when White House rhetoric was moving against Israel, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., gave one of the greatest speeches ever given on the floor of the U.S. Senate.”

Hagee summarized Inhofe’s speech, titled “Seven Reasons Why Israel is Entitled to the Land.” His last point was, “We must support Israel’s right to the land because God said so,” citing Gen. 13:14-17, which says, “The Lord said unto Abram … ‘Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art … for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever.”

LeAnn Snow Flesher, author of Left Behind? The Facts Behind the Fiction, published by Judson Press, says many readers of “Left Behind” and Hagee are unaware the books are based on poor scholarship.

In a companion column today in EthicsDaily.com, she says passage in Ezekiel and Revelation refer to events occurring in the era when they were written and not some distant future. Meaning isn’t found in scanning headlines for current events that seem to fit “unfulfilled” prophesies, she says, but rather in the larger message that God is in control and will not abandon God’s people.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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