Howdy! Long time no post!
I put together a sermon recently for one of my local churches that I thought some might appreciate. As the end of 2008 approaches, I am reminded of those “Year in Review” news programs I used to enjoy watching when I was younger, where the hosts showed clips and discussed the major events that occurred that year.
Well, 2008 saw many developments with potential connections to biblical prophecy that caught my eye this year.
Dominating the news has been the global financial crisis, born and bred in the USA but generally affecting the entire globe. This has had — and will have — many ramifications, and it would be hard to wedge it into a single category of influence. Among those ramifications might be a stronger European Union.
There has been some “renationalization” of certain sentiments among some in the EU, and the panic induced by the crisis has caused a certain resurgence of the “Sinatra doctrine” among some nations who want to “do it their way” (see “EU tries to avoid ‘Sinatra doctrine’ in crisis”). But as the crisis deepened, the instinct to band together seemed to prevail and some nations who had been the “trouble makers” concerning attempts at closer unification and/or broader adoption of the euro — such as Denmark, Iceland, Ireland — have begun to rethink their positions (see “Letter from Berlin: As Financial Crisis Grows, EU Emerges Stronger” and “East Europeans Embrace Once-Spurned Euro as Currencies Plunge”). Even ever-independent England has begun to look anew at the euro (see “Britain thinking of joining euro: Barroso”).
The efforts haven’t been easy. Many leaders in Europe want centralized, Keynesian-style intervention — as American is doing — while Germany, clearly at this point the strongest nation financially in the EU, is balking somewhat at that notion. Still, the overall cry from a people who are increasingly impacted in their wallets and pocketbooks by the financial crisis is for a stronger and more active European Union (see “Europe’s leadership crisis”).
Prophetically, we know that a final resurrection of the Roman Empire is to appear on the stage right before the return of Jesus Christ (Daniel 2:40-45; 7:23-27, et al.). It will be internally tumultuous to a great extent, with some internal disagreement (composed of a forced mix of iron and clay: Daniel 2:33, 41-42). But it will stand as an economic powerhouse in the end times leading up to its destruction (Rev. 18:3, 9-19).
That kingdom is prophesied to be a military powerhouse, as well (Rev. 13:4, 7; Daniel 2:40; 7:7). Currently, we do not see this in the EU in our day, but 2008 did contain news that relates to the development of such conditions. News of the World quoted French President Nicolas Sarkozy — taking the reins of the EU in its rotating leadership — as saying, “I want Europe to be capable of ensuring its security autonomously” (no link, but referenced in the “Open Europe” webpage’s Press Summary Archive). Earlier this year, Poland sounded the call for a stronger EU military and a centralized European command structure (see “Poland calls for stronger EU military”) — a call it has sounded before (see “Poland recommends a (much bigger) European army”), as has Germany and others (see “Ante is Upped: ‘German proposes a European army'”). Even the ambassador to NATO for the U.S. — a nation normally suspicious of efforts to organize militarily in Europe outside of the umbrella of NATO — said, “Europe needs a place where it can act independently, and we need a Europe that is able and willing to do so in defense of our common interests and values.” This, of course, ignores the fact that the US and Europe do not always share common interests and values. Perhaps even more remarkable (at least to some, perhaps), the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, echoed such comments with the blessing of Downing Street, saying that “the countries of Europe need to be better at using their hard power” (see “Miliband backs strong EU military force”). Related to all of this is the fact that Europe has switched gears concerning its up-and-coming Galileo satellite system — a rival to the American GPS system and an improvement over it — and has approved it for military use (see “European Parliament Approves Military Use of Galileo Satellite”). This is stark contrast to the constant promises of the British Government that Galileo is a “purely civilian project.”
The nations that sat impotent as America came in and — in a real sense, single-handedly — solved the Balkan crisis in their own backyard are looking to have more muscle, and a centralized, strong EU seems to many to be the best means for developing such muscle.
While nationalistic sentiments and patriotism are often impediments to such unity, in the current economic environment such sentiments are waning in favor of the extra sense of security that comes from banding together. Financial Times writer Gideon Rachman explains the shift in his excellent, recent opinion article: “And now for a world government.” (It was an article for which he has paid a price, receiving 200 e-mails from a number of folks — who found him on Drudge — who seemed to think that he is part of a “world government” conspiracy, including many from the “‘End of Days’ crowd.” His reaction is funny and worth reading here: “World government and internet slime.” Talk about killing the messenger!)
Yet more is in the works to help Europe overcome national pride and cultural differences to unite more fully and to bind iron and clay together. Europe continues to be “invaded” by an increasing growing Muslim population, leading to an inevitable “major cultural clash” according to a former Mossad chief (see “Halevy: Europe heading to major cultural clash”). A major source of the difficulty is that a growing number of Muslims in Europe do not want to live by European norms but according to Islamic law. Even England is considering whether or not Islamic law or sharia law should be considered in marital disputes (and potentiall others) between British Muslims instead of British law — a concept given a boost by comments and endorsements from England’s Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams (see “Sharia law SHOULD be used in Britain, says UK’s top judge”). This is significant, considering that by 2050 it is projected that 50% of the population of major European nations could be Muslim.
While Europe remains a very secular continent, the tide is changing and deseculariztion is beginning to take place (see “A Return to Rome?”), and the presence of a large and powerful foreign religious group in their midst has great potential (I believe) to get Europeans looking for what supranational roots they share — a situation ripe for the Catholic Church to take advantage of in a way for which it is uniquely qualified. The nations of Europe may very will seek that which binds them together in reaction to the intimidating foreign religious element that they see growing in their midst, and the Catholic Church will be a natural consideration in reasserting “authentic” and united European culture against the rising threat of Islam on the continent.
Prophecy does indicate that it will be a powerful religion — with a powerful and charismatic false prophet at its head — that will help to unify this conglomeration of iron and clay and that will point people to its authority and to its leader (Rev. 13:11ff; 17:1-6; et al.).
The mark or sign of this beast power and of the religion that gives it unity and life will be, as we have long taught, the enforced keeping of Sunday as a day of worship, as opposed to the seventh day Sabbath (see “Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?” and “The Beast of Revelation: Myth, Metaphor, or Soon-Coming Reality?”). In this area, 2008 held news, as well. The COMECE — the European Episcopal Commission — has proposed laws to protect Sunday as a day of rest, and is doing so as a human rights issue, given the current economic environment and labor considerations, and as a pro-European culture issue (see “Church representatives meet the French EU-presidency” and “The financial crisis is a test for the values of European society”). Prophecy ties the use of the mark of the beast to obedience and to the ability to buy and sell and to engage in commerce (Rev. 13:16-17, Daniel 7:25; cf. Deut 6:8 & 11:18, Rev. 12:17).
As discussed above, the potential for a Europe/Catholic conflict with Islam is growing, and 2008 saw conditions put in place that may very well pave the way for the rise of a King of the South. Spurred by a proposal made by Nicholas Sarkozy, a Union for the Mediterranean (previously, the “Mediterranean Union”) has been created, including nations that would be expected to be a part of the King of the South (e.g., Egypt – Daniel 11:8, 43). It is not currently intended to be a force in opposition to the EU and in some sense (something Turkey is counting on) can be considered a stepping stone for inclusion in the EU. Nonetheless, its formation is potentially significant and worth keeping an eye on, especially considering that the confederacy of peoples listed in Psalm 83:5-7 — which we believe is related to the King of the South — mentions an agreement with Assyria/Germany in verse 8, and comments in Daniel 11 seems to refer to a possible agreement (however shortlived) between the King of the North (the coming beast power) and the King of the South. (It should be noted: While the story of Antiochus IV Epiphanes is very much related to the prophecies of the King of the North and the King of the South as a precursory partial fulfillment, Jesus Christ indicates in Matthew 24:15 that there yet remains a complete fulfillment of Daniel’s vision.)
Concerning the Israelitish nations of America and the UK, the big news of the year was the blossoming of the economic crisis (see… uh… articles in virtually every newspaper printed over the last several months). That these dire straits had their origin in the U.S. has not been lost on the nations of the world. Some foreign nations have taken advantage of the opportunity to buy up American financial companies and assets at “fire sale prices” while others have simply solidified their resolve to unhitch their wagon from the American “star” (see “The Financial Crisis: An ‘American problem’ but a Japanese ‘shopping spree'” and “Decoupling: World shaking its economic addition to U.S.?”). If I were to dive into the financial crisis, this post would never come to an end, but still some things should be pointed out. That the U.S. can remain the financial powerhouse of the world is a foolish stand, as the pride America has had in its generally market-based economy has been broken (cf. Lev. 26:19) at least to the point that even cries of “socialism” — generally anathema to most Americans — were not enough to change the outcome of the recent presidential election. Tired of a generally uni-polar world with America at the reigns, the world — in particular powers, such as Europe and Russia — are rolling up their sleevesand putting in the work to prepare for, and encourage, a multi-polar world in which America has a vastly reduced presence (see “Russia and Europe want a multi-polar world”).
The American dollar, which has recently experienced a slowing and even a relatively small reversal of its huge declines, is predicted to begin its plunge anew and come to a “hard landing in 2009” as U.S. debt approaches “unsustainable levels” (see “UN team warns of hard landing for dollar”).
And the American military continues to loose the PR war, even as its hard-working troops have begun to turn things around in Iraq. As an analysis this year in the BBC pointed out, a lesson learned by Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany in the 19th century, was that “great powers had to be very careful when they put their military strength to the test. Unless they are overwhelmingly successful, he meant, the perception will be that they have been defeated” (see “BBC analysis: Limits of US power showing”). While success in Iraq seems within grasp (though decisions of the new administration will potentially impact this), it looks as though it will not be a Bismarckian “overwhelming success” and the state of things in Iraq — and in Afghanistan — and the time and effort needed to reach this point has taken their toll on public perception. Though, in many ways that count, still the most powerful military in the world (and one full of remarkable men and women, I must say), the pride of America’s military power is, indeed, being broken (again, cf. Lev. 26:19).
We have long talked of the blessing God provided the US and the UK in providing them with the “gates of their enemies” (Genesis 24:60) — in particular the sea gates of the world. Yet, those are gone, and this past week Russia flaunted that loss, sending a Russian warship through the Panama Canal for the first time since World War II (see “Russia to send warship through Panama Canal”). That the event was, indeed, intended to inflict a black eye on American pride was made clear in ways both subtle and direct. As an example of the former, the Russians announced it would be visiting “Rodman naval base” — the name it possessed while under US control. Analysts believed the show, which had no real military purpose, was a “tit-for-tat” over America’s attempt to sway the outcome of Russia’s invasion of Georgia this year — an attempt that was seen by many as toothless and impotent (see “Commentary: Russia, Georgia, and the near-impotent West”).
And these are difficult times for America and the UK to be weakening financially and militarily. This month the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism reported that “[t]he United States can expect a terrorist attack using nuclear or more likely biological weapons before 2013” (see “Panel warns biological attack likely by 2013”). Leviticus 26:16 prophesies that in the absence of national repentance, God “will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart,” and verse 33 of the same chapter speaks of the land being desolate and the cities waste.
But national repentance in the US and the UK seems as far away as ever. The people of Britain have been declared the most promiscuous of any Western nation (see “Britain is among casual sex capitals of the Western world, research claims”). In the US, California injected new hope into those who have lamented America’s descent into such ethical confusion that it has begun to allow men to “marry” men and women to “marry” women when voters rejected homosexual “marriage” in November — an encouraging sign in the state seen by many to be one of the most liberal in the nation, yet a depressing one, as well, in that barely more than half the voting citizens seem to understand what’s at stake. While the reaction of those pressing for the ability to wed those of their own sex was to be anticipated, particularly shameful was the reaction of Episcopal minister Ed Bacon who said, “It’s very unfortunate and embarrassing that the (Christian religion) is in large part responsible for this act of bigotry” (see “Proposition 8, protests, priests, & prophecy”). Ezekiel 22:26 speaks of the failure of Israel’s priests to teach the people the difference between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the unholy. Mr. Bacon sure seems to fit the bill.
Wow — when I began this post, I didn’t realize the potential it had to eat up a whole day, though I should have. I didn’t even begin to get into so many significant news items of 2008, including ecological difficulties, the chaos and volatility of the commodities markets, and the very significant event of England’s (and Queen Elizabeth’s) agreeing to the terms of the Lisbon treaty — really, there is just so much. (Feel free and add your own observations below in the comments.)
But I want to wrap this up on a positive note of some sort! Matthew 24:14 prophesies that “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.” And this year saw real advances in the proclamation of that gospel, as the responses to the Tomorrow’s World telecast continued to shatter previous records, as new doors continue to be opened by Christ, as the brand-new HD-ready TV studio set nears completion, and as the incredible amount of work and planning that has gone into our website and Internet efforts have begun to be implemented.
While there are, indeed, difficult times ahead, we can be encouraged by the words of Jesus Christ: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).
[Finally, a tip of the hat to those out there who are great “news finders” from whom I obtained many of the articles referenced above: BT, CM, DD, and others. Great job!]