Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (January 2015)
Unmistakable signs world-wide are all pointing to a looming third world war. In response to this reality frantic efforts are being made to establish a new world order (NWO) with the capacity to solve global problems, reduce conflict and prevent the terrible suffering and destruction of a world war. The protagonists of war and peace are each hoping that their own scenario for the future will prevail. However, the warmongers are posing such a serious threat that the peacemakers are actually forced to engage in military action against them to try and limit their bloodshed and stop them from realising their evil objectives. The global struggle against terrorists and militant regimes is part of the rivalry between these two movements and their respective endeavours to take initiative in determining the destiny of the world. Who will succeed with their plans – the supporters of a new world order of global unity and peace, or the morally blind revolutionaries who are ruthlessly adhering to their fearful strategy to conquer the world with the sword?
From a biblical perspective these two movements are both wrong as each one in its own way is casting a dark shadow over the future of humanity. Neither of them honour the biblical principle of sovereign and free nations living within secure boundaries (Acts 17:26). Not any one of the two widely-supported ideologies are serving the interests of peace and unity and will both be used by the coming Antichrist to establish himself as a political and religious world leader – first as a peacemaker and then as a military dictator. The emerging new world order is antichristian to its very core, while World War III will be used by the Antichrist to forcefully establish himself as world leader and save his self-exalting new world order from destruction. His ultimate strategy will be the mustering of global military forces in a final bid to confront the true Christ when He sets foot on the Mount of Olives at the end of the great tribulation (Rev. 19:19-20).
It is important to understand the approaching Third World War as a final sequel to the first two world wars. Apart from Germany’s imperialistic objectives for declaring war, those two 20th century wars prepared the stage in the Middle East for a global confrontation between Israel and a spiritually deceived world power under the leadership of the Antichrist. The main points of contention in the coming war will be the restored Israeli nation’s right of existence as an independent state, the boundaries of their land, conflicting historical claims over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, growing animosity between the nations and religious groupings which identify with Israel as opposed to those who defy and reject them, and radical Islam’s contemplated war of annihilation against Israel (cf. Ps. 83:4).
World War I liberated the land of Israel from Islamic domination as the allied forces gained control over the territories formerly held by Turkey’s Ottoman regime. Britain was granted mandatory power to administer large tracts of land in the Middle East, and that paved the way towards returning portions of Israel’s traditional homeland to them. World War II liberated the people of Israel from their long Diaspora by driving them back to their ancestral land, mainly through Nazi persecution, which left many of the Jews no other choice but taking refuge in their ancient land and starting a new life there. On 15th May 1948, Israel was recognised as an independent state by the UN.
At the end of World War III, Israel as a nation will be spiritually liberated and reconciled to their Messiah on the day when He returns to Jerusalem after an absence of almost two millennia (Matt. 23:39; Zech. 12:10). However, before that happens, a number of world-reforming events will occur that will forever change the lives and destiny of all people on earth. Not only will there be unprecedented wars and suffering, but also divine intervention to judge the unbelieving nations and surrender them to the satanic rule of the Antichrist. The Bible associates the following events with the period leading up to Word War III, and also describes the nature of this war, its participants and its outcome:
The Bible states that the dispensation of world evangelisation (the church dispensation) which was initiated in Jerusalem after the first coming of Christ (Luke 24:46-47), will be dramatically concluded when Christ returns to remove His true church from earth (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This event will be followed by a relatively short period of judgement and testing (the tribulation period) before Christ will return with His glorified church and set foot on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4-5). A very specific series of events are predicted for the end of this age and we will do well to take note of the prophetic sequence of end-time events to ensure that we maintain a correct future expectation. True believers will reach their destination in heaven (John 14:2-3) while the unbelievers will be subjected to God’s judgements in the tribulation period, which will soon culminate in the battle of Armageddon (World War III).
It is prophesied that Jerusalem was destined to be trodden down by Gentiles during the major part of the church dispensation: “And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke. 21:24). Israel’s national rejection of the Messiah resulted in their Diaspora among the nations, and during those many centuries their land became desolate and was eventually occupied by their enemies (Matt. 23:37-39; Deut. 28:64).
However, this was never meant to be a permanent state of affairs. The Gentiles would be afforded a time of grace during which the gospel of salvation was to be preached in the entire world. Towards the end of this dispensation, dispersed Israel would return to their ancestral land and also regain authority over their ancient capital, Jerusalem. The remarkable fulfilment of these prophecies are well-known events in contemporary history, although not yet in a final stage. More Jews still have to return to their land, while Jerusalem’s restoration will not be complete until the Messiah has come, the throne of David has been restored and the Millennium temple built on the Temple Mount. We are very close to the final fulfilment of these prophecies.
There will be a number of major divine interventions at the end of the church age – that includes the ingathering of the heavenly harvest of saved souls at the rapture, followed by the seven-year period of tribulation under the rule of the Antichrist. During this time, Israel will pass through the time of Jacob’s trouble to refine them spiritually with a view to saving a remnant of the nation. The tribulation period will also be a time of divine judgement over the unbelieving nations for having rejected the true Messiah and becoming followers and worshippers of the false messiah. At the height of this period of judgements, Christ will return to fight against His enemies and to establish His millennial kingdom on earth.
It is important to appreciate the fact that the time of wrath which will culminate in World War III will definitely be preceded by the rapture: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Why is spiritual preparedness to escape the coming tribulation period so vitally important to believers? It fixes our attention on the undeniable fact that the church dispensation is drawing to a close when we see Israel and Jerusalem being progressively restored. In the light of these developments we should increase our efforts to reach the lost with the message of salvation while we are still in the time of grace. The grave afflictions and distress awaiting those who remain behind should move us to greater compassion to pluck the unsaved like brands from the fire (cf. Jude 1:23). We should also be more vigilant in our personal preparations to meet the heavenly Bridegroom in a spotless robe, which obliges us to guard against spiritual slumber and sleep, compromising with the depraved world, sinning, and neglecting the duties which have been assigned to us (Matt. 24:48-51; 25:1-13).
The tribulation period will very clearly be a time of divine wrath upon the multitudes who have refused the gospel of salvation, thereby rejecting the grace of the Saviour. By their actions they will leave the Lord no choice but to judge them. Before the worldwide time of divine judgements begins, all true believers must first be removed from the earth as the Lord never judges and destroys the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18:23). That was the reason for first safeguarding Noah and his family during the Flood, and removing Lot and his family from Sodom and Gomorrah before judging the wicked. The tribulation which Christians suffered in the world was never prompted by divine judgements but always the cause of hatred emanating from an evil world which lies in the sway of the Evil One. The 24 elders (the glorified church – Rev. 4:1-4; 5:9-10) will be in heaven before the seals of God’s judgements will be broken by Christ on His heavenly throne (Rev. 6:1-8), which underscores the fact that they were not destined for divine judgements.
We must fully understand the necessity of a pretribulational rapture. During the church dispensation neither the kingdom of God nor that of Satan function as earthly-based kingdoms. God’s kingdom is not of this world and is only experienced as a spiritual reality in our hearts, while Satan’s kingdom is also controlled indirectly from the spiritual realm. Consequently, children of God and children of the devil can coexist on earth like wheat and tares growing together in the same field (Matt. 13:24-30). However, when these two kingdoms are about to be revealed on earth, the possibility of further coexistence completely ceases as the one has to make way for the other. For this very reason it is a futile exercise to proclaim kingdom theology (dominionism) during the church dispensation, pretending that Satan’s power can be utterly broken and that God’s kingdom can be physically manifested all over the world before the end-time judgements.
The rapture will introduce a period of dramatic revelations of the kingdom of God but also of the opposing kingdom of Satan. First of all, the heavenly Bridegroom will reveal Himself to His earthly bride directly after the resurrection of the saints (Rev. 20:5; 1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-52). The unsaved and backslidden people on earth will not witness this meeting in the air, but they will definitely witness the sudden absence of true believers. This major intervention by God will cause shock waves across the globe and force the millions of agnostics to re-evaluate their beliefs about the spiritual dimension, and particularly also the existence of God.
Another very dramatic event that will demonstrate God’s power to intervene in judgement against the enemies of Israel will be during the Russo-Arab invasion of Israel (Ezek. 38 & 39). Israel and the nations will give honour to God for preventing the destruction of Israel, and also for stopping a war that could potentially ignite WW III (Ezek. 38:15-16; 39:6-7).
However, this spiritual awakening will give rise to diverse reactions since millions of people have become alienated from the true God of the Bible over a long period of time. Their inadequate understanding of the prophetic Word will effectively be exploited by the kingdom of darkness to offer the world a false messiah who will institute a global government in collaboration with a false prophet whose main task will be to ecumenically unite all religions behind the global interfaith messiah. Severe persecution will be imposed upon the Antichrist’s adversaries who reject his claim as world messiah by insisting that Jesus is the only true Messiah and Saviour of the world.
The rivalry between the two kingdoms will render an explicit religious character to the impending Third World War. The true Messiah represents God’s kingdom and He is also God Himself in a glorified human body, while the Antichrist will represent Satan’s kingdom and claims to be God himself (2 Thess. 2:4). We are already in the run-up to this religious war, as witnessed by the fact that two divergent concepts of God are advanced by the major monotheistic faiths. On the one hand, the God of the Bible (the Triune God, Elohim or Yahweh) is proclaimed, and on the other hand the God of the Koran who is said to have no son – only prophets such as Mohammad and Isa (the Islamic Jesus, who is devoid of any divine characteristics and is only referred to as the son of Mary).
It is inevitable that there will be a major military confrontation between the kingdoms of God and Satan as both are seeking to reveal and physically establish an earthly kingdom under the leadership of their respective messiahs. Jesus Christ promised to return to earth, spiritually revive the remnant of Israel, restore the throne of David in Jerusalem (Acts 15:16-17), judge His enemies and establish His thousand-year reign of peace. However, the kingdom of Satan has a carefully planned action to pre-empt the revelation of God’s kingdom by revealing the Antichrist and establishing him as a global leader.
After the withholder of the Antichrist (the true church indwelt by the Holy Spirit) has been taken out of the way by means of the rapture (2 Thess. 2:6-10), Satan will appear on the world scene in the guise of an angel of the light. His special representative will be the universal christ of all faiths, who is depicted in Revelation 6:2 as the rider on a white horse – a false prince of peace who will conquer the world with his ideology of unity and peace. Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30) will give the Antichrist “his power, his throne, and great authority” (Rev. 13:2). The deceived world will follow their new leader in amazement, to the extent of openly worshipping him as a god (Rev. 13:3-4). They will also worship his spiritual father – not in his capacity as Satan or the dragon but as the universal god of all faiths.
The worldwide following of the false messiah will also include the majority of Jews as they will mistake him for the true Messiah (John 5:43). However, a minority of Jews will not be guilty of this grave error and commit their lives to the true Messiah right at the beginning of the seven-year reign of the false messiah. They will be the 144 000 witnesses of the Messiah and will represent all 12 the tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:4), but they will be subjected to severe persecution by the powers of the false messiah. Through their ministry, a great multitude of people from all nations will also be saved during the tribulation period (Rev. 7:9-17). The Antichrist will do everything in his power to eradicate all opposition against his deceptive policies, but most of these martyrs will refuse to bow the knee to the end-time Baal.
During the middle of the tribulation period, after 3½ years of the reign of this false prince of peace, rebellion will break out against his regime. It will be prompted by the Antichrist himself who will enter the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem where he will desecrate the Most Holy by declaring himself to be God and placing an image of himself in this special place which is dedicated only to the God of Israel. He will demand that all people on earth only worship him as God, and refusal to do so will be punishable by summary execution (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:15).
Israel will be the first nation to break their covenant with the false messiah because of this blasphemous act. Many other groups and nations will also rise against him, which will greatly infuriate him. However, his biggest problem will be Israel, as well as their newly-stated faith in the soon coming of the true Messiah in power and glory. The false messiah will then start mobilising forces for a major battle against the Messiah of Israel in Jerusalem. That will be the early beginnings of WW III.
The second half of the Antichrist’s government will be an unprecedented reign of terror which will be waged on all continents. This evil world leader will suddenly exchange the white horse of peace for the red horse of war (Rev. 6:2-4), and “he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many” (Dan. 11:44). The starting point of his military rule will be the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem when he will deify himself, followed by Israel’s abrogation of their covenant with him. He will immediately order the killing of all Jews who severed their ties with him, and they will have to flee from their territories in great haste.
The Lord Jesus warned apostate Jewish leaders of the first century against all the trouble that would befall them because of rejecting Him as Messiah. In His Olivet Discourse He specifically made mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, followed by the international dispersion of the Jews. He also warned them against a future covenant with the false messiah – the one who will profane the temple and order the killing of all his adversaries – as well as the great distress that will break lose when he is revealed as the ultimate rebel against God and all people associated with Him. Jesus said:
“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place … then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. … For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And if those days had not been shortened, no flesh would be saved” (Matt. 24:15-16, 21-22).
Despite the Antichrist’s cruel military rule and his merciless campaign of terror against those who are not loyal to him, his major military objective will be to fight against Christ and His heavenly army when He returns to physically establish the kingdom of God on earth. The Antichrist will be conscious of the biblical prophecies indicating the fact that his reign will only last for seven years, consisting of the two halves of a year-weak which are each 42 months (1 260 days) in duration (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 13:5). Daniel says that this violent “king of the North” will “come to his end, and no one will help him” (Dan. 11:40, 45).
During the tribulation period, Messianic Jews, notably the 144 000 special witnesses of the true Messiah, will proclaim the gospel of the kingdom everywhere, while also emphasising a clear time frame for Christ’s return at the end of the year-weak of Jacob’s trouble at the hands of the false messiah. (We cannot at this stage offer such a time frame because we do not know on which day and year this critical year-week will begin; but after it has begun a count-down to the middle and end of the seven-year period will indeed be possible). The Lord Jesus referred to the ministry of these end-time Messianic Jews: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). This is not merely the gospel of grace, but the gospel of the soon coming King of kings.
During the final phase of the false messiah’s seven-year rule, a worldwide mobilising of forces will be ordered to fight against Christ and His heavenly army. This will be the Antichrist’s great religiously-driven war against the eternal kingdom of God, and he will even make use of demonic deception to convince the kings of the earth that they should all participate in this war in an effort to avert the revelation of God’s kingdom. John says: “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. … And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (Rev. 16:13-14, 16).
All human as well as satanic powers will be harnessed to fight against the coming King. John describes this evil venture: “And I saw the beast [the Antichrist], the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him [Christ] who sat on the horse and against His army” (Rev. 19:19).
The entire land of Israel, but particularly the area in and around Jerusalem, will become a battleground where troops from all over the world will amass to await the appearance of Christ while that fateful and decisive year-week draws to a close. God will not only allow this military mobilisation to take place but also use it to judge the nations for rejecting Him as God, His Son as Messiah and Saviour, His promised earthly kingdom, His people Israel, and also for dividing up the land which He gave to Israel: “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; they have also divided up My land” (Joel 3:1-2).
The nations will pay dearly for their intense and continued hostility towards the Chosen People. God says: “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it” (Zech. 12:2-3). This is where the battle of Armageddon will be fought.
However, what about the inevitable suffering of Jews in their besieged city? What is the purpose of that? Their continued rejection of Jesus as Messiah is the cause of their suffering which will, in the end-time, give rise to “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) during the tribulation period. God says that spiritually speaking His people have become dross, and because of that He will gather them in the midst of Jerusalem and blow on them with the fire of His wrath. The purpose with their increased suffering will not be to destroy them but to refine them and restore the knowledge of the Lord among a remnant of Jewish believers (Ezek. 22:17-22). The great tribulation will be a particularly trying time for Israel and the casualties will be very high: “And it shall come to pass in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, This is My people; and each one will say, The Lord is my God” (Zech. 13:8-9).
The multinational forces of the Antichrist will besiege Jerusalem, close in on the city and start driving people from their houses. They will still be busy with their violent invasion when the Messiah will descend from heaven and set foot on the Mount of Olives: “For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. … Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You” (Zech. 14:2-5).
The battle of Armageddon (WW III) will be a quick, dramatic and decisive war as the Antichrist and his global army will come up against Him who has all power in heaven and on earth: “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Rev. 19:20-21).
Zechariah gives more information on the nature of this devastation of enemy forces: “And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, and their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths. It shall come to pass in that day that a great panic from the Lord will be among them. Everyone will seize the hand of his neighbour, and raise his hand against his neighbour’s hand” (Zech. 14:12-13).
Armageddon will be a divine judgement upon all the wicked people who are enemies of God and His kingdom, and set the scene for the glorious revelation of the Messiah’s kingdom. In a fully-fledged kingdom situation there can be no coexistence between Christ and the Antichrist as only one of them can be king of the world in the absolute sense of the word. That is the reason why the Antichrist is unable to reveal himself as a commonly accepted world leader as long as the true church of Christ is still here. Although the kingdom of God is not yet visibly established on earth, Christ is the Head of the church (Eph. 1:22) and He promised that He would build His church, and that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Evil powers of deception and persecution are indeed constantly unleashed against the church, but we have the Lord’s promises of protection as well as the full armour of God to prevail against evil. The devil cannot defeat and obliterate the church during this dispensation. For that reason the Antichrist can only take full control as a universal leader after the church dispensation has been concluded and the true believers have been removed from the planet.
Conversely, Christ cannot take full control of the world as King and institute His global rule of peace before the Antichrist and his followers have been defeated and removed from the planet. That explains the scenario at His second coming when the two kings will face each other in the battle of Armageddon. The enemy forces will be utterly defeated and all the survivors in this war will mourn for their sins and accept Christ as Saviour and King (Matt. 24:29-30). The entire remnant of Israel will be reconciled to the Messiah and serve Him with all their heart (Zech. 12:10; Isa. 27:6).
Finally, there will be true peace on earth and Christ will be worshipped by all: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zech. 14:16). The true Prince of Peace will rule the world from the restored throne of David in Jerusalem (Isa. 9:6-7; Acts 15:16-17), and the kingdom of heaven will never again be intruded by the enemy and his evil forces (Rev. 21:27). At the end of Christ’s millennial reign, after Satan has been released from the pit, he will launch a last effort to overthrow God’s kingdom on earth but he will not be allowed to succeed with his renewed rebellion, and that will lead to his absolute and eternal condemnation during the final judgement (Rev. 20:7-10).