Of late the word “Armageddon” is popping up more and more in popular usage. “Armageddon” conjures up thoughts about the end of the world, annihilation, and utter destruction. Although there are numerous interpretations of the word found in Revelation 16:14, the precise biblical meaning seems to refer to the Hebrew phrase “har + Megiddo,” or “mount Megiddo.” But studying the topography of the nation of Israel described in the Old Testament reveals no “mount Megiddo,” but instead a plain of Megiddo. The clearest visible mount viewed from the plain is Mount Carmel, the famous place where the prophet Elijah confronted 400 false prophets of Baal and challenged them to a test that pitted Yahweh against the (false) god of Baal (1 Kings 18). When one applies the historical context to its allusion in the book of Revelation, the symbolism suggests a spiritual confrontation at the end of time between the true God (Yahweh for the Jews, Jesus Christ for Christians, and Allah for Muslims) and all other “false gods.”
Modern crises of religion and political violence, such as that produced by ISIS, appear to be related in some ways to the biblical idea of Armageddon. As Michael Baigent describes in Racing Toward Armageddon: The Three Great Religions and the Plot to End the World, the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) each have their distinct understanding of how the world should end.1
From a Jewish perspective, Rabbi Ariel and the Temple Institute espouse certain eschatological (“study of the last days”) ideas that center on the restoration of the Temple of Solomon by removing the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque to usher in the Messiah.2 For Jews, the Messiah is not Jesus, who they believe did not even fulfill the qualifications outlined in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah. The Jewish view of the Messiah does not include any idea of divinity. Events leading up to the climactic moment of the Messiah’s arrival include the appearance of the Red Heifer, which will be used to ritually purify those Jews who cross the Temple grounds to destroy the Dome of the Rock. After erecting Solomon’s Temple, Jewish eschatology teaches that it will serve as the spiritual center for all of humanity because the world’s population has had physical contact in different ways with the dead and thus need ritual purification.3
Christian eschatology centers upon the return of Jesus Christ to this world amid worldwide political and religious turmoil, and is often based upon the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Baigent attempts to discredit biblical authority by referring to archaeological and historical data that seem to contradict biblical chronological records. He utilizes such a polemic to assert that the book of Revelation is mere symbolism and not to be taken literally. However, he notes that many fundamentalist Christians do take the prophetic passages of the end-time in such a literal manner that their views are “spilling dangerously over into our politics and foreign policy.”4 He refers to such Christian authors as Hal Lindsey, John Hagee, Tim LaHaye, and Jerry Jenkins as proponents of a literalistic interpretation of the apocalyptic passages of the book of Revelation that mislead their audience into believing in an end-time scenario involving Russia and China against the rest of the world, or even referring to demons in human form combating earth’s inhabitants to establish the rule of the beast.5 Ultimately, Christ the Messiah returns to defeat the forces of evil and establish a millennium of peace on earth.
Consideration of an Islamic perspective about Armageddon results in views widely different from those of Christians or Jews. Baigent brings out the historical background of frictions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, dating back to the defeat of Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad, at the battle of Karbala (A.D. 680).6 Shiite Muslims believe the legitimate rule should have continued through the descendants of Muhammad, whereas the Sunnis accept the rule of the Umayyad caliph. Contention between both groups to the present day can be traced to that event, leading Shiite Muslims to question the legitimacy of any Sunni rule. Baigent speculates that such a division ultimately will be the determining factor regarding the future outcome of politics in the Middle East.
However deep the divide between both groups, they each affirm an Islamic eschatological scenario in which the Mahdi (Messiah) will return with Jesus to establish the messianic capital in Jerusalem. In the Islamic scenario, the ensuing battle of Armageddon will result in the destruction of all Jews and the defeat of the West. All the technology of Europe and the U.S. will be given to Muslims, and a worldwide Islamic caliphate will be established, especially over Europe through the annihilation of the Catholic Church and the conversion of earth’s inhabitants to Islam.7
While Racing Toward Armageddon is heavily laden with evolutionary theory and a skepticism toward deity (or at least organized religion) without due consideration of contrary arguments, Baigent should at least be credited with accurately assessing the underlying religious motivations of adherents of the three major world religions whose actions may be categorized as political violence. Some of Baigent’s analysis of Middle Eastern politics, however, overlooks political realities. He views Iran and its efforts to secure nuclear warfare capability as a catalyst to the appearance of the Twelfth Imam, who some Muslims believe is the Mahdi. By instigating a final showdown with the West, Iran could usher in the time of the Mahdi and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. While certainly a plausible scenario, many Islamic countries in the Middle East do not by their political leanings indicate support of such radical ideas. In fact, a coalition of Islamic countries has assisted Western efforts in downgrading ISIS. Additionally, the politics of economics bears strong sway in the Middle East. Leaders of Islamic countries realize that political turmoil and rumors of war ruin tourism and weaken the overall economy because multi-national corporations shy away from investing in areas of political instability.
A Muslim scholar, Dr. David Liepert, concurs with some of the conclusions that Baigent draws in Racing Toward Armageddon. In February 2015 Liepert wrote an article entitled “Muslims Predict Jesus Will Defeat ISIS, Beginning in 2015,” in which he explains Islamic eschatology.8 He refers to some Islamic Web sites where Muslims are beginning to predict the return of Jesus (not as the Son of God, but as the sixth in a lineage of holy prophets sent from Allah) in 2022, which will lead up to the final conflict of Armageddon. Between now and that time there are a series of prophetic events that Liepert describes as including the destruction of ISIS, because their actions cannot be justified by teachings of the Quran. Islamic eschatology is patterned after much of Christian eschatology found in the book of Revelation, such as the rise of the antichrist, the beast of the earth that ascends to power, Gog and Magog, each vying for power and control of the world. In the midst of their grasping for power, ‘Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus) returns to defeat the antichrist and usher in the final scenes of earth’s history. Liepert has noted that radical Muslims misinterpret traditional Islamic eschatology, distort fundamental principles of justice, and mislead uninformed Muslims to join their ranks.
Against such a potentially explosive “Armageddon psyche” of some adherents of the three major world religions, it behooves all political figures to tread lightly and judiciously regarding public statements that have the potential to ignite underlying misperceptions about the end of the world. Thus far, the Obama administration has managed to steer clear of playing into the “Armageddon psyche” of radical religionists by avoiding straw-man strategies attempting to portray U.S. actions in the Middle East as the initiation of an end-time holy war of Christians (the U.S.) against Islam. However, some of the political rhetoric in the presidential campaign could negatively impact U.S. interests both domestically and internationally. Candidates should emphasize American values of democracy, cultural and religious pluralism, and make public statements tempered with prudence, caution, and reality checks that demonstrate the clear distinction between Muslims who respect and uphold values of Western democracies and those Muslims who have radicalized into outright war against any and all who do not embrace their misplaced holy zeal.
How might these events of Armageddon and politics unfold in the future? While the realities (or misconceptions) of Armageddon ultimately lie in the hands of Deity, politics lie in the hands of humans, and through diplomatic actions the die can be cast either for prosperity or calamity, religious freedom or the worst of all conflicts—religious war.
1 Michael Baigent, Racing Toward Armageddon: The Three Great Religions and the Plot to End the World (New York: Harper Collin’s Publishers, 2009).
2 Ibid., pp. 18-22.
3 Ibid., p. 20.
4 Ibid., p. 45.
5 Ibid., pp. 87-90.
6 Ibid., pp. 62, 63.
7 Ibid., p. 64.
8 David Liepert, “Muslims Predict Jesus Will Defeat ISIS, Beginning in 2015,” posted online Feb. 24, 2015, www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-liepert/muslims-predict-jesus-def_b_6725486.html?ncid=txtlinkusaolp00000592.
Author: Ed Cook
Ed Cook has a doctorate in church-state studies from Baylor University, Waco, Texas, where he currently leads in church religious liberty activities.