Do the prophecies in Ezekiel 38–39 mean that the U.S. should simply accept the inevitable and give up its attempts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
The answer to this question is no. Even though the Bible makes it clear that Iran will join forces with Russia and attack Israel, that doesn’t mean the U.S. should sit idly by and wait for it to happen. Stopping Tehran from building or acquiring nuclear weapons is essential for the stability and security of the Middle East and the entire world.
Keep in mind that the Bible doesn’t specifically say that Iran must acquire nuclear weapons for Ezekiel’s prophecy to be fulfilled. And Iran could do a horrendous amount of damage and snuff out a horrific number of lives with a nuclear bomb before the War of Gog and Magog takes place. That’s why I believe Iran’s nuclear ambitions must be stopped. And the longer we wait, the greater the danger we face.
So what is to be done? Can the U.S. rely on sanctions and other diplomatic strategies to force Iran to desist in its efforts to become a nuclear power? Can we rely on our intelligence agencies to tell us when we’re approaching the point of no return?
There is no question that Iran—particularly under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—is a dangerous regime. As we have seen, Iran is currently enriching uranium. When they successfully build 50,000 centrifuges they will be able to build a nuclear bomb in sixteen days. Will we know when that day is? Or will the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud in Washington, New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles? Remember that back in 1998 India tested a nuclear weapon and in so doing completely stunned the CIA and most of the world’s intelligence agencies, who had no idea that India was so close to getting the bomb. And India is a friend. I personally have little confidence that our intelligence agencies will be able to be more precise with the Iranian nuclear program, especially with the Russians helping Tehran.
Combine that with the fact that Ahmadinejad has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the map and has asked Muslims to envision a world without the United States. He believes that Israel is the Little Satan and the U.S. is the Great Satan. He believes the end of the world is just a few years away and that it is his mission to bring it about. Deterrence, therefore, will not work. Negotiations are not working. And the time to foment a popular uprising to overthrow Ahmadinejad and the mullahs before they go nuclear is rapidly running out.
President Bush has done an excellent job defending the U.S., and I have strongly supported the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq in light of the 9/11 attacks. But let’s be clear: if Iran goes nuclear on President Bush’s watch, all the gains that have been made thus far in the War on Terror will be wiped out, virtually overnight.
We absolutely cannot let Iran go nuclear. To do so would put Americans and all freedom-loving people in existential danger. It is time to prepare for war. It is not my best-case scenario, but prudence demands we move before it’s too late.
Doesn’t Ezekiel’s scenario rule out any attack on Iran by the U.S. or a Western-led coalition?
Not necessarily. Ezekiel rules out the possibility that any country—including the United States—will come to Israel’s defense once Russia and Iran and their allies have surrounded Israel. Only God will come to Israel’s defense in the final throes of this prophecy. But a number of scenarios could unfold between now and then:
- The U.S. could effectively use preemptive military force against Iran, defusing the crisis for a number of years and buying the world more time before the day of judgment Ezekiel foretold.
- Likewise, Israel could use preemptive military force against Iran, with the same result. (Remember that Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 resulted in the capture of massive amounts of Soviet weaponry, thus forestalling a Russian invasion of Israel.)
- In yet another scenario, Israel might use preemptive military force but not destroy all of Iran’s weapons of mass destruction. In the process, Israel could trigger international condemnation against them and give Russia a pretext to take Iran’s side and form a coalition against Israel.
U.S. foreign policy cannot be expected to be based on biblical prophecy. It should, however, be based on U.S. national interests. Stopping Iran from going nuclear is in our supreme national interest. Protecting the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates—on which we depend—from Iranian domination is in our supreme national interest. Safeguarding against an Iranian takeover of Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq is also in our supreme national interest, as is protecting Israel, our most faithful and effective ally in the region and the first and strongest democracy in the Middle East. We should, therefore, act accordingly.
That said, there is very little political support in the United States for another war in the Middle East. Most Americans want to pull out of Iraq, not invade Iran. And members of Congress and the intelligence services note very real and serious risks of launching any sort of military strike against the mullahs. We could get all of their nuclear sites but one, and the retaliation could be devastating. Iran could also—as Ahmadinejad has vowed to do in the event of an attack against Iran—launch thousands upon thousands of new terrorist insurgents into Iraq, worsening the violence there. They might also send suicide bombers into the U.S., possibly through the all-too-porous U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada (scenarios I wrote about in The Last Days). Or they could unleash their missiles on the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, destroying pumping, refining, and shipping facilities and driving the price of oil—already at record highs—through the roof.
I can, therefore, envision a scenario in which the current president or the next takes no military action against Iran, or plans to do so but waits too long, even as Russia develops a full-blown military alliance with Iran. We could then see Ezekiel’s prophecy play out in the not-too-distant future.
I can also envision a scenario in which, under great international pressure, Iran announces that it will dismantle its nuclear weapons program if Israel agrees to give up its nuclear weapons as well. Diplomatic pressure would then begin to grow for the adoption of a “Middle East nuclear-free zone” resolution at the United Nations.
Israel would surely resist such a diplomatic ploy, insisting (rightfully, in my view) upon the need to retain its arsenal as a matter of self-defense. In such a scenario, Russia might then begin building a coalition to force Israel to comply with the U.N. demands, much like the U.S. built a coalition to force Iraq to comply with U.N. demands. This was the scenario I used in The Ezekiel Option. The Egyptians in particular have been pushing a nuclear-free-zone option in the Middle East. As the crisis with Iran intensifies, their proposal may pick up widespread support.
The thing to remember is that there are many roads that could ultimately lead us to the events described in Ezekiel 38–39. As individual believers (as opposed to national policy makers), we should keep our eyes on the big picture—praying for peace and working to communicate the good news of Christ’s redeeming love to the nations of the epicenter as this terrible drama unfolds.
Are you really certain that the West, particularly the U.S., will not come to Israel’s defense during the War of Gog and Magog? Given the historically strong and strategic relationship between our two countries, that just doesn’t seem possible.
Unfortunately, Ezekiel’s account is clear—no one comes to Israel’s defense. By definition, that includes the United States. I agree that is difficult to imagine, especially when one considers how consistent American public opinion has been in favor of the Jewish state over the past four decades. During the Six Days’ War in June 1967, for example, 56 percent of Americans told the Gallup poll that their sympathies lay with Israel, while only 3 percent sided with the Arab states. In February 2006, 59 percent of Americans told Gallup they sided with Israel, compared with 15 percent who said they sympathized more with Palestinian Arabs.1
What’s more, the number of Americans who view Israel as a reliable ally has climbed from only 33 percent in 1982 (when Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor and invaded Lebanon to stop terrorism and a massive buildup of Soviet armaments) to 41 percent in 2005, though it has fluctuated along the way.2
American support for Israel stands in marked contrast to Europe, however, where anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments are rising rapidly. Synagogues and Jewish schools and cemeteries throughout Europe are being burned, vandalized, or otherwise desecrated in ever-increasing numbers. Jews are being verbally and physically assaulted throughout Europe. Rockwell Schnabel, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said at a dinner of the American Jewish Committee in Brussels in 2004 that anti-Semitism in Europe “is as bad as it was in the 1930s.”3 European polls increasingly show antagonism toward Israel and Israeli policies. In November 2003, a majority of Europeans actually named Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, ahead of Iran and North Korea.4
It seems like a safe bet, therefore, that Europe would not raise a hand to help protect Israel against attack. But would the U.S.? Even given historical trends and current indications of American support for Israel, we should expect that the closer we get to the War of Gog and Magog, the fewer Americans we will see strongly supporting the Jewish state. I’m already beginning to pick this up anecdotally on radio interviews in which a surprising number of callers say things like, “Why should we spend a dime to save Israel?” and “Let the Jews fight their own battles” and “The only reason we as Americans are getting attacked by Muslims is because we support Israel—the sooner we stop, the sooner there will be peace.”
The real test, of course, will come when Russia and Iran and their allies begin to move forces toward Israel. How many Americans would be willing to risk nuclear war with Russia and Iran to protect even a loyal ally like Israel—especially if Moscow and Tehran argue that they have no desire for a confrontation with the U.S. if we will just stay out of the way? Sadly, I suspect the number today is much lower than most supporters of Israel are willing to admit.
Those who already want American forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan are not likely to support a new war. Nor will undecided voters or those who believe we should finish the job in Iraq but then be done with the Middle East. Under such circumstances, it will be extremely difficult for any American president to commit forces to defend Israel.
What should be the attitude of Christians toward Israel in the days leading up to the showdown with Russia and Iran?
I believe the vast majority of evangelical Christians will maintain support of Israel to the bitter end. Many Catholics and Christians from other denominations who are also passionate about their love for Jesus and their understanding of God’s plan and purpose for the Jewish people will also stand with Israel. Indeed, true followers of Jesus Christ may be the only friends Israel and the Jewish people have left as this terrible war approaches.
It is vitally important, therefore, that Christians become faithful in praying for the peace of Jerusalem every day, visit and tour Israel while they still can, and find new and creative ways to show Israel and the Jewish people how much the church loves and cares for them. If at all possible, it would be my hope to take my family to Israel and live there in the run-up to the war as a show of solidarity.
At the same time, it is vitally important to remember that God loves the Muslim people of the Middle East as well as the Russians and others living in the former Soviet Union. Jesus made it clear that he died in order to give eternal life to everyone who believes in him (John 3:16), regardless of nationality or heritage. Thus, followers of Christ must show love and compassion to all the people of the region, both now and as the war approaches. That does not mean excusing the actions of certain hostile or anti-Christian governments or troops. But Christ died on the cross to save sinners from every country, even countries he has, in his sovereignty, chosen to judge. Our job is to find a way to demonstrate and communicate Christ’s love during mankind’s darkest hours. This is the reason my wife and I formed the Joshua Fund (see chapter 15).
Will the War of Gog and Magog happen before or after the Rapture?
The truth is we simply do not know the answer for certain, because Ezekiel does not say. Many of the theologians I have cited in this book believe the war will occur after the Rapture. In the novel Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins describe the War of Gog and Magog as having already happened before the Rapture takes place. In The Ezekiel Option, I also chose to portray the war occurring before the Rapture.
In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (NASB). We also know from Ezekiel that God will use the War of Gog and Magog to display his glory to all nations and to pour out his Holy Spirit, particularly on the nation of Israel. As a result of the entire world seeing God defend Israel from the onslaught of the Russian-Iranian coalition, a dramatic spiritual awakening will occur around the globe. It would certainly be consistent with God’s heart for humanity that he would cause this cataclysmic moment to occur before the Rapture in order to shake people out of their spiritual apathy and/or rebellion and give them at least one more chance to receive Christ as their Savior before the terrible events of the Tribulation occur.
But let me be clear: I believe that the Rapture could occur at any moment, and I would certainly not be surprised in any way if it occurred before the events of Ezekiel 38 and 39 come to pass.
Christian theologians speak of the “doctrine of imminence.” This means that according to the Bible there is no prophetic event that has to happen before Jesus snatches his church from the earth. That is, the Bible teaches us that we should be ready for Jesus to come for us at any moment. I fully believe that. But it should be noted with regard to this doctrine that while no major prophetic event has to happen before the Rapture, that doesn’t mean no such event will happen first. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this truth is the rebirth of Israel. This major prophetic event was foretold in Ezekiel 36–37, yet its fulfillment happened before the Rapture. Thus, it is certainly possible that other events—such as the events of Ezekiel 38–39—could happen before the Rapture as well.
Ezekiel says the War of Gog and Magog will happen in the last days. Doesn’t that by definition mean it will happen during the seven years of the Tribulation?
Ezekiel 38:16 does say these events will happen in the “last days” (NASB), but this term is not necessarily limited to the period of the Tribulation. The apostle Peter, for example, used the term in Acts 2 to refer to the period he was living in, and that was nearly two thousand years ago. Likewise, consider the words of another apostle in 1 John 2:18: “Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come.” Again, John was writing nearly two thousand years ago. It’s important to note that the Hebrew term translated as “the last days” can also be translated as “in the distant future” (NLT) or “in days to come” (NIV). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that the term the last days refers to an indeterminate period of time leading up to the second coming of Jesus Christ. This period includes—but is not limited to—the seven years of the Tribulation.
Isn’t it possible that events look like they are leading up to the War of Gog and Magog but that the war won’t actually happen for hundreds or thousands of years?
God could certainly forestall the fulfillment of this prophecy for some time until he, in his sovereignty, is ready to move. But He will not postpone it for hundreds or thousands of years. We know this because of what Jesus said in Matthew 24:32-34: “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place.” In other words, when we see certain events happening, we can know that the Rapture and the Second Coming are imminent.
So what are “all these things” that we should be watching for?
Jesus described the signs in detail in Matthew 24 and Luke 21: the rise of false prophets and false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, revolutions, famines, earthquakes, persecution of believers, the spread of the gospel, and the rebirth of the State of Israel (described as a “fig tree” in the Jewish Scriptures6).
Today, for the first time in two thousand years, we are seeing all of these signs come true, and the rebirth of Israel is the most dramatic sign of them all. We can, therefore, have confidence that Jesus’ return is closer than ever. What’s more, we can be confident that our generation will not pass away before we see this remarkable event occur. No other generation in history has been able to say that, but we now can. It is true that Jesus cautions us not to speculate on the exact day and hour of his return. But we are encouraged to watch current events closely and know when the clock is running out.
In this regard, I often think of the words of Gandalf from the last film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King. As events unfold and the clouds of war are brewing, Gandalf says, “The board is set. The pieces are moving.” As I write this, I would say the board is almost set, and God is putting the pieces in place for the final drama to begin.
Doesn’t the Bible tell us that the War of Gog and Magog will happen at the very end of time—after the Rapture, after the Tribulation, after the Battle of Armageddon, and after the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth—not before all these things as you have described?
Revelation 20:7-10 does speak of another War of Gog and Magog that occurs at the end of time, after all these other events. But this is a second war, not the war referred to by Ezekiel 38–39. We know this for several reasons.
First, Ezekiel’s war is described as occurring relatively soon after the rebirth of the State of Israel and the ingathering of the Jewish people from around the world (Ezekiel 36–37). The war in Revelation, by contrast, occurs after Jesus has reigned on earth for a thousand years.
Second, Ezekiel’s war involves a fearsome but limited coalition of countries that surround Israel, as we learned in earlier chapters. The war in Revelation involves all the nations from “every corner of the earth” coming to attack Israel (Revelation 20:8).
Third, after Ezekiel’s war, life continues. Bodies are gathered and buried for seven months, weaponry is gathered and burned for seven years, and Ezekiel 40–48 describes the Temple that will be built. By contrast, the war in Revelation is followed immediately and literally by the end of the world. Satan and his followers are judged and thrown into the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10). The heavens and earth are destroyed. A completely new heaven and a new earth are created, and followers of Christ will live on this new earth for the rest of eternity.
You wrote in The Ezekiel Option that Ronald Reagan was fascinated with the coming War of Gog and Magog. Is that really true?
It is. In 1971, Reagan—then governor of California—attended a banquet to honor State Senator James Mills. After the main course, he asked Mills if he was familiar with “the fierce Old Testament prophet Ezekiel.” He went on to explain that Russia was the Magog described in Ezekiel’s prophecy and was thus doomed to destruction.
“In the thirty-eighth chapter of Ezekiel it says God will take the children of Israel from among the heathen [where] they’d been scattered and will gather them again in the promised land,” Reagan told Mills. “Ezekiel says that . . . the nation that will lead all the other powers into darkness against Israel will come out of the north. What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel [besides Russia]? None. But it didn’t seem to make sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description perfectly.” Reagan conceded that “everything hasn’t fallen into place yet,” but he strongly believed the end of the Soviet empire and the second coming of Christ were increasingly close at hand.7
In his 1997 book Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, Edmund Morris—the president’s official biographer—revealed that Ezekiel was actually Reagan’s “favorite book of prophecy.”8 Morris also recounted an intriguing scene he personally witnessed in the Oval Office in which Reagan discussed the Ezekiel option with White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker and National Security Advisor Colin Powell.9
“We talk mainly about religion,” read the notes of Morris’s meeting with Reagan on February 9, 1988. “I have been reading a book about his Armageddon complex, and, when I mention the subject, am rewarded by an animated speech, full of jovial doom, that lasts the rest of the half hour. . . . [White House chief of Staff] Howard Baker and [National Security Advisor] Colin Powell arrive, impatient for their own thirty minutes. ‘We’re having a cozy chat about Armageddon,’ I say. They stand grinning nervously as he continues.”
“When it comes [Ezekiel 38–39],” Reagan explained to his senior staff, “the man who comes from the wrong side, into the war, is the man, according to the prophecies, named Gog, from Meshech, which is the ancient name of Moscow—”
“I tell you, Mr. President,” Baker replied. “I wish you’d quit talking about that. You upset me!”
But Reagan continued to talk about such things, as he had for many years.
I once asked Michael Reagan, the president’s son, if such accounts rang true. He confirmed that they did, noting that his father firmly believed he was living in history’s last days and thought that he might even see the return of Christ in his lifetime. 10
Ronald Reagan was a devout Christian. He was a student of the Bible. He was fascinated with end-times prophecies. He believed they were true. He talked about them with friends and colleagues. They helped shape his view that the Soviet Union, and the system of evil it advanced and perpetuated, was not long for this world. For a movie actor turned president like Ronald Reagan, the Bible was indeed the greatest story ever told. He had read the last chapter, and thus he knew for certain that a day of reckoning—a day of justice—was coming.
I understand you and your family lived in Egypt while you were researching and writing this book. But if Egypt will not play a role in the War of Gog and Magog, why did you choose to live there?
You’re right, we did live in Egypt for several months while I was working on this book, and it was a wonderful experience for my wife and kids, as well as for me. Egypt, with a population of 70 million, is the largest Arab country. It is also the intellectual and cultural center of the Arab world, and by extension of the Islamic world. It is strategically located close to several Ezekiel 38 coalition countries (Sudan, Ethiopia, Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia) and it is, of course, a direct neighbor of Israel.
While Egypt has historically been a great enemy of Israel and the Jewish people, it does currently have a peace treaty in place, which is no small thing. In fact, I took my boys to the gravesite of the slain Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to pay tribute to the courage he displayed in visiting Israel, speaking to the Knesset, cutting a deal for peace, and telling his people that no good could be achieved for the Arab people through war.
Egypt was an excellent place, therefore, to immerse myself in Islamic culture, to meet players in this unfolding drama, and to conduct interviews that have strongly affected this book, though nearly all of them were off the record or on “deep background.”
One of the things that struck me most about living there was how many Bible characters crisscrossed through Egypt during their lives. Abraham and Sarah did, as did their sons, and later Joseph, who rose to become the country’s first and only Jewish prime minister. But many others were there as well, including Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. The more I studied the Scriptures while I was there, the more I realized that God has a special place in his heart for the Egyptian people. Indeed, the prophet Isaiah says that one day God will shower his grace upon the Egyptians and the Assyrians (including the people of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and northern Iraq) and draw them to himself and to peace with Israel in a way few can currently imagine.
In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and there will be a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and a witness that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is worshiped in the land of Egypt. When the people cry to the Lord for help against those who oppress them, he will send them a savior who will rescue them. The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians. Yes, they will know the Lord and will give their sacrifices and offerings to him. They will make a vow to the Lord and will keep it. The Lord will strike Egypt, and then he will bring healing. For the Egyptians will turn to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas and heal them.
In that day Egypt and Assyria will be connected by a highway. The Egyptians and Assyrians will move freely between their lands, and they will both worship God. And Israel will be their ally. The three will be together, and Israel will be a blessing to them. For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will say, “Blessed be Egypt, my people. Blessed be Assyria, the land I have made. Blessed be Israel, my special possession!” (Isaiah 19:19-25)
Jordan currently has a peace treaty with Israel. Why, then, do you believe Jordan will participate in the War of Gog and Magog?
To be clear, I am not certain that Jordan will participate. I sincerely hope not. I had the privilege of visiting that beautiful, historic country in 2005 and have many friends among the Jordanian people. The late King Hussein was a man of character and courage who deserves great respect for signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. His son, King Abdullah II, has impressively carried on in his father’s tradition. He sided with the West against Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein after the 9/11 attacks. He is working hard to fight radical Islamic insurgents inside his country. He is also building bridges of friendship with evangelical Christians and Jews, even speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2006—the first Muslim king ever to do so.
That said, however, I fear Jordan may tragically wind up being part of the Russian-Iranian coalition. Not only did the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan participate in numerous wars against Israel prior to the treaty that currently exists, its present leadership is increasingly at risk of a coup or revolution. Terrorist forces from Iran, Al-Qaeda and Hamas, and others are trying to gain a foothold in Jordan. They would like nothing more than to assassinate or overthrow the current king and create a new radical Islamic regime there that could help them in their battle to annihilate Israel.
In April 2004, Jordanian authorities narrowly stopped a terrorist attack in the capital city of Amman meant to decapitate the Jordanian government as well as destroy the U.S. Embassy. An astounding 20 tons of explosives and chemical weapons were discovered. Authorities said that if the poison gas attack had been successful, more than 80,000 people could have been killed and over 160,000 wounded. The Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (who until his death in June 2006 was Al-Qaeda’s top man in Iraq) was believed to have been behind the attack.11
Iraqi general Georges Sada told me the only place Al-Qaeda could have gotten 20 tons of chemical weapons for that attack was from Syria, which he says now possesses Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Sada explains that Saddam Hussein moved all of his WMD to Syria in the summer of 2002—several months before U.S. and coalition forces invaded—a charge now being followed up by U.S. and British intelligence.12
On November 9, 2005, Al-Qaeda struck in Jordan again, launching three attacks on hotels in Amman—including one where a wedding party was taking place—killing 57 people and wounding more than 150 others. Zarqawi further vowed to behead King Abdullah II.
“These people are insane,” the king responded, vowing to hunt down and destroy radical Islamic forces trying to use his kingdom as a base camp. Jordanian authorities said they had thwarted fifteen separate terrorist plots since April 2004 but noted that the hotel bombings were further evidence of just how determined the jihadists were to destabilize the kingdom.13
Al-Qaeda isn’t the only threat, of course. At a luncheon I attended in Washington as I was finishing this book, I asked Bernard Lewis—the renowned Middle East scholar and author of numerous important books about the region including The Crisis of Islam—to assess the potential impact of Hamas coming to power in the post-Arafat environment. “The Hamas-Palestinian government may pose more of a danger to Jordan than to Israel,” he said.14
Lewis is right. Some 70 percent of Jordanian citizens are Palestinians, and Hamas would love to radicalize them and use them to help overthrow the king and unify Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza into one jihadist state poised at Israel’s throat.
The good news is that King Hussein was one of the longest-serving monarchs in modern Middle Eastern history, and we can and should hope and pray that King Abdullah II is likewise able to maintain stability, defeating the radicals while continuing to give the Jordanian people more freedom and building bridges to Christians and Jews.
But we must acknowledge this is by no means certain. Should Jordan falls into the hands of the jihadists, Israel will be in grave danger, as will the newly democratic government in Iraq, and the nominally pro-Western government of Egypt.
Why do you believe Morocco plays no role in the War of Gog and Magog?
Okay, this isn’t a frequently asked question, but it is a question important to me and one that can shed some light on this whole issue of God blessing those who bless Israel.
The truth is I don’t know for certain whether Morocco will join the Russian-Iranian coalition against Israel or not. In The Ezekiel Option, Morocco does not participate in the war, and I think that is a reasonable conclusion. That’s certainly my hope.
I have had the privilege of visiting Morocco a number of times over the years, and I have really fallen in love with the country. I have always been treated with great warmth and kindness as an American and as a Jewish person, as well as a follower of Christ. Indeed, the kingdom has a long and impressive history of protecting the Jewish people and of trying to broker a series of peace deals between Israel and the Arab world.
When I visited Casablanca and Rabat in the fall of 2005, I had the privilege of meeting with a man named Serge Berdugo, a Jew who has served as one of the top advisors to a number of recent Moroccan kings. He gave me some fascinating insights.
He noted, for example, that the first thing King Mohammed V did when he returned from exile in 1956 and led his country to independence was to declare that the “Jews are equal citizens.” From 1956 to 1961, the king made a point to install at least one or two Jewish leaders into senior-level positions in each cabinet ministry. He also allowed Jews to freely emigrate when they wanted, and there are now some 600,000 Moroccan Jews living in Israel.
Berdugo told me that Morocco’s relationship with Israel began in the late 1960s with top-secret meetings with Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Dayan, who at that time were two of Israel’s leading defense officials.
In 1984 the king invited fifty Jewish and Israeli leaders to Rabat, Morocco’s capital, for an interfaith conference—and then decided that the entire senior leadership of the Moroccan government, including the crown prince, should attend the conference’s gala dinner.
In 1986, the king invited Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres to Morocco for a highly publicized visit, a move that stunned most of the rest of the Muslim world.
When a series of bombings ripped through synagogues and Jewish clubs in Morocco in 2003, the new king—Mohammed VI—blessed a series of candlelight vigils and later a rally in which one million Moroccans, including more than a thousand Jews, marched in unison to denounce the radical jihadists and called for peace. “We were applauded as Jews,” Berdugo told me. “We were kissed. People came up to us and said, ‘You are our brothers.’ It was extraordinary.”
All of this suggests two things: First, secret talks between Israel and her Arab neighbors have been going on for years, and there may be other countries willing to make peace with Israel before or immediately after the War of Gog and Magog. And second, Morocco’s relationship with Israel and the Jewish people could prove to be a model for other Arab and Islamic countries to follow, particularly if the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38–39 is still some years away. After all, my sources inside the Moroccan government say the king is seeking to play a “bridge builder” role between the Israelis and Palestinians and can do so with considerable authority since Morocco has proven that Jews and Muslims can live and work together in peace and harmony.
Joel, would you tell me more about your spiritual journey?
This is by far my most frequently asked question. I appreciate it every time, for it goes to the core of the things that matter most in life. In 2005 I posted on my Web site a response to the many e-mails I receive every week on this topic. Here is an excerpt from that response:
First some background: My grandparents and great-grandparents were Orthodox Jews who fled from the pogroms of czarist Russia. As they hid in a hay wagon that was crossing a border into an Eastern European country, czarist soldiers drew their swords and plunged them into the hay, in case any Jews were trying to escape. By God’s grace, none of the children coughed or sneezed or said, “Are we there yet?” By God’s grace, no one was injured. And by God’s grace, my family didn’t succeed in escaping the vicious anti-Semitism of Russia only to say, “Phew, let’s settle in Poland. Or Germany. Or Austria.” They made their way across Europe, got on a ship to the New World, landed at Ellis Island, and like any good Jewish family, set up shop in Brooklyn.
That’s where my father was raised, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section, in a devoutly religious home—religious, but sadly, almost devoid of love. Every meal was kosher but served without the kind of warm and engaging family conversations children should grow up enjoying. Every day my father attended Hebrew school, and every Sabbath he and his family went to synagogue, but he was never taught what the words he recited each week meant or why they mattered. His family celebrated every Jewish holiday, from Passover to Hanukkah, but such times were often spent with arguing relatives, and the holiday meaning was lost.
My father’s father was angry and abusive. His mother was distant toward him. The public schools my father attended were scarred by violence, gangs, and drugs. His was certainly nothing like the healthy, inviting Orthodox families I have come to know here in the United States and in Israel. In fact, for years my father refused to talk much about the days of his youth because there was so much pain and alienation wrapped up in those memories.
My father left home when he was eighteen. He moved as far away as he could, studying architecture in California under John Lloyd Wright (son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright). He eventually found a job in Syracuse, New York, where he met and fell in love with my non-Jewish mother, further deepening the ever-growing rift with his parents.
How could he even consider marrying a Gentile? It was unthinkable to his parents. But my father had already left behind the religious trappings of his childhood, which held nothing for him but bad memories. He did not feel compelled to marry someone of a faith he did not share.
To make matters worse for my grandparents, my mother wasn’t just a Gentile. She was of English descent—a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. A Methodist, of all things!
My Jewish grandmother couldn’t bear the thought. She actually offered to buy back the engagement ring my father had given to my mother—at a profit to him—if my father would call the wedding off. He refused, and they were married in August of 1965.
Two years later, in April of 1967, I was born. Though agnostic, my parents were both intrigued with the idea of finding God. They would take long walks through the streets of suburban Syracuse and later a little town called Fairport, New York, just outside of Rochester, where they moved in 1969. As they walked they would talk about whether there really was a God and, if there was, how one could know him.
They read the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. They talked to neighbors and friends about their spiritual journeys. One Sunday they happened to visit a church where a group of visiting laypeople explained how they had found a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and how becoming followers of Jesus had transformed their lives.
For the first time, someone simply and clearly explained that God loved my parents. They heard the New Testament verse John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in Him shall not perish [be eternally separated from God] but have eternal life” (NASB). They heard that a person must make a conscious, willful choice to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord in order to experience God’s love and plan for his or her life.
It was all new to my parents, but it resonated instantly with my mother. Suddenly she knew that a personal relationship with God through Jesus—not through some sort of devotion to a religious code—was exactly what she had been looking for. When one of the speakers invited people who wanted to ask Jesus to become their Savior to come to the front of the church and be led through a short prayer, my mother went forward immediately, just assuming my father was right behind her. But he wasn’t.
This was too big a leap, even for an admittedly lapsed Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn. My father wasn’t sure how one got to God, but he couldn’t believe that the path led through Jesus. That was one thing that had been drilled into his head as a kid, and it had stuck.
He agreed, however, to begin attending a Bible study with my mother because he was curious and wanted to support her. The weekly study took a small group of young married couples like themselves through the Gospel of Luke, the third book of the New Testament, and there, week after week, my father began to read and increasingly understand the life and work and person of Jesus of Nazareth.
He began to learn that according to the Hebrew prophet Micah, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. He learned that the Hebrew prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would be born of a virgin, and live and minister in the region of the Sea of Galilee, and that he would suffer and die to pay the penalty for our sins. “We considered him [the Messiah] stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted,” wrote Isaiah in chapter 53, verses 4 and 5. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (NIV). And over time, my father saw that each of these messianic prophecies was fulfilled in the person of Jesus.
Jesus, who was Jewish.
Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and preached in Galilee and lived in Israel.
Jesus, whose disciples were all Jewish.
One day while riding home from work on a bus, my father read two little booklets published by an organization known as Campus Crusade for Christ. One was called The Four Spiritual Laws. It explained God’s plan of salvation simply and clearly. The second was a little blue pamphlet that explained that when a person chooses to turn away from his own way of living and prays to receive Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord, he or she can experience a new life through the transformational power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Suddenly, it all seemed to make sense. It all rang true.
My father walked into our house, into our kitchen, and announced to my mother that he believed Jesus was in fact the Messiah and that he had prayed to become a follower of this Son of the living God.
I was six years old and didn’t think much of it at first. Then Mom and Dad started dragging my sister and me off to church every Sunday morning. They made us go to Sunday school. Worse, they sent us to something called Vacation Bible School. Ugh. I can’t sing. I hate crafts. And that’s all you do in VBS. That and listen to stories about Jesus. It was horrible. Pretty much. Except those stories . . .
I listened to those stories. I was curious about Jesus. He seemed so loving, so kind, and he could do the coolest miracles. It began to sink in that he was more than a man; he was and is the Messiah. I came to know this not just because of what I heard in VBS, but over the years as I saw the lives of my parents changing before my eyes. My mother was no longer racked with anxiety and fear or stricken with constant migraine headaches. She had a peace that I couldn’t explain. My father was no longer the bitter man with a quick temper that I had long feared. He was becoming gentle and kind, a man who loved to study the Bible—and to teach it, especially to kids.
Who were these people? They were followers of Jesus. That was the only explanation I could come up with. God was real to them. They knew him, and he was changing their lives.
As a teenager I began to hope that he could change my life too. Perhaps Jesus could give me the purpose and direction I so desperately wanted and needed.
In January of 1984, the winter of my junior year of high school, I became a deeply convinced and devoted follower of Jesus. And yes, my life began to change in ways I never dreamed possible, and I began to see my place in God’s plan and purpose for his chosen people.
One of the most welcome but least expected changes God made in me was a sudden and growing interest in all things Jewish. With a name as distinct as Joel Rosenberg everybody I knew in my little town knew that I was Jewish. But I’d had little idea what that really meant. I hadn’t been raised going to Hebrew school or synagogue or celebrating the Jewish holidays. I never had a bar mitzvah. But the more I read the Bible, the more intrigued I became by the fact that Jesus and his disciples were Jewish. I began asking my father a thousand questions, and to my surprise, he began answering them. We began celebrating Passover as a family. We began studying the Jewish Scriptures together, especially the Hebrew prophets, with whom I became intrigued.
In 1987, I had the opportunity to study for six months in Israel at Tel Aviv University, and I jumped at the chance to see the Holy Land for myself. It is hard to describe the deep sense of connection I felt when I arrived in the land of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. It was as if I had come home—studying Hebrew (six hours a day!), eating falafel, and visiting the ancient sites where the Bible was written and passed down through the ages.
I had a powerful sense that Israel was the epicenter of human history—a land chosen by God for the most important event of human history (the death and resurrection of the Messiah); a land reborn in modern times, as foretold by the prophets; and the stage upon which the cataclysmic final events of history would be acted out. I knew then and there that I wanted to write. And not just about Israel, but about her enemies, about the forces of freedom and tyranny in the Middle East. And I wanted to write about the clues the prophets told us to watch for so that we would know beyond the shadow of a doubt when the final chapter of history was about to be unveiled.
It was exciting, but a little lonely. To my knowledge, I was the only Jewish believer in Jesus on the Tel Aviv campus. My American roommates insisted I was no longer Jewish because I had “converted” to Christianity.
“Nonsense,” I said. “I didn’t convert to anything. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. I’ve simply believed in the Anointed One God sent to us.”
When they still insisted I wasn’t Jewish, I’d shoot back, “What are you talking about? You guys barely believe God exists, much less follow the Jewish Scriptures.” It was true. They were good guys, but they didn’t read the Bible and weren’t interested in living lives of faith.
It has been almost twenty years since my first visit to Israel, and I still remember that semester so vividly. When I go back these days, I am amazed that people are still asking me the same question that dogged my roommates: “How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?” Some ask because it’s a theme woven through my novels. They also ask, I think, because they sense I am willing to answer. And I am. It’s an important question, and one that deserves a thoughtful, honest reply.
When my father became a follower of Jesus in 1973, he thought he was the only Jewish person on the planet since the apostle Paul to believe Jesus is the Messiah. Besides my father, I certainly don’t remember knowing any Jewish believers in Jesus in my childhood. But in the past few decades, the number of Jewish believers has spiked dramatically—as Jesus said it would.
Just before his crucifixion, Jesus told his Jewish followers, “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:39, NIV). In other words, Jesus is coming back—at a time when lots of Jewish people will not only believe in him, but will be ready and waiting with excitement.
Not long ago I was in Israel doing research for my fourth novel, The Copper Scroll. I was having coffee at the King David Hotel with the head of a messianic Jewish congregation. As we looked out over the Old City and the Mount of Olives, I asked him, “In 1967, when I was born, how many Israeli Jews believed in Jesus?”
“Maybe a handful,” he said.
“How many Jews worldwide in 1967 believed Jesus was the Messiah?” I asked.
“Based on my research, less than 2,000,” he said.
How much has changed since then. Today there are some 10,000 Israeli Jewish believers in Jesus. Worldwide, conservative estimates put the number around 100,000. Some believe the number is closer to 300,000. What a startling increase—and my father and I and my sons are part of those numbers, part of that dramatic trend. Jews are turning to Jesus in record numbers, and they are getting excited about his Second Coming.
So I write my books and I answer the question of how a Jew can believe in Jesus. And no, I’m not a psychic and I don’t have access to secret government information. But I do have access to the Jewish prophets—and so do you. God has told us what the future holds for Israel, for the world, and for you as biblical events continue to unfold. It’s all in the book . . . not mine, but his.
He is coming back soon. Maybe sooner than you think.