How Close Are We to the End? Part I
By Edwin de Kock
’Tis almost time for the Lord to come . . .
The signs foretold in the sun and moon,
In earth and sea and sky,
Aloud proclaim to all mankind,
The coming of the master draweth nigh.
Thus sang George W. Sederquist of the Advent Christian denomination in 1897. Since then more than a hundred tumultuous years have passed away. And so has he, and so have many Seventh-day Adventists before us. Every one of them was cheered by the blessed hope, yet also wondered: How close are we to the end? Yet now they are all gone to their rest in the dust of the earth and have left us with the same question.
New Testament Perspectives
Even the Bible, especially the New Testament, contains some passages that point to the nearness of the Second Coming. Two that easily come to mind are Paul’s clarion call: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Rom. 13:12), as well as the final message of both John and Jesus in the second last verse of the Apocalypse: “He which testifieth these things saith, “Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20). From such scriptures it is clear that both our Redeemer and his apostles were urging us to always keep the Blessed Hope in mind and orient our lives accordingly. But, of course, since those texts were written, more than 1,900 years have passed, and the Lord has not yet come. So we must also look at other utterances in the Book, particularly by Jesus and two of his apostles who had the gift of prophecy. A few days before he was crucified, the Saviour foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and its beautiful temple. Afterwards, “as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3) He answered by first warning them against those who would try to deceive them, even claiming to be Christ. To this he added: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (verse 6, emphasis added). Nevertheless, he also foretold that the idolatrous Roman standards set up in the holy ground [GC 26], “the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet,” would besiege Jerusalem (Matt. 24:15). Beyond its destruction lay a period during which his faithful followers would be persecuted. He said it would be a long and dreadful tribulation. Many believers would be killed, but for the sake of the elect, it would be shortened. From a comparison of scripture with scripture as well a study of history, we know he was referring to the 1,260 year-days mentioned seven times in Daniel and the Revelation. Through John, who wrote the Apocalypse, Jesus provided many more prophetic details about both the tribulation and the Roman Antichrist that would seek to destroy his people. 2 All this is corroborated by the second epistle of Paul to the believers at Thessalonica. Previously he had written to them about the Second Advent. But in reaction they concluded that this would take place very soon.
Apostasy and the Great Tribulation
But, exactly like his Lord, Paul prophesied to those early Christians that a great apostasy would first take place: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thess. 2:4, English Standard Version) The great apostle did say: “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way” (ibid., verse 7). But it is unclear who the restrainer was. Some think Paul was referring to himself. The book of Revelation goes into many more details about coming events. Among other things, it mentions three great astronomical signs which would herald the Second Coming and show that it was near: “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth . . .” (Rev. 6:12, 13). These predictions were fulfilled exactly, in that very sequence, by the unprecedented Lisbon earthquake and tsunami of 1755, the great Dark Day, followed by a bloodlike moon in 1780, and the tremendous meteor shower of 1833.
Waiting Since 1844
After this, William Miller foretold that the Second Advent would occur in 1844.
Elsewhere on the planet, others proclaimed a similar message. But here we are, more than 150 years later, and the Lord Jesus has not yet come. Therefore, many have become weary, complacent, and even a little cynical, inclined to say—at least in their hearts—“My Lord delays his coming!” Others just do not know what to think, though every so often some event or other arouses within them a panicky thought: Perhaps he is even at the door or the Sunday Law will be here in a matter of months. Do we have no way of avoiding extremes in what to expect, with some certain knowledge as to how close we are to the end? The Saviour said that nobody knew the day or the hour of his return, and yet he has not cast us adrift on a sea of uncertainty. Apart from the Biblical signs of its nearness, we also have other indications, from what his servant, Ellen G. White, has recorded for us. In The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (1888), she wrote two remarkable predictions. They made little or no sense at the time when that book was first published, though since World War II they have both been partially fulfilled.
Unity of Leading Churches
Here is the first one: “When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.” (GC, “God’s Law Immutable,” 445). How much of this has happened? A great deal. It is true that Protestants have not yet created an image of the Roman hierarchy or prevailed on the state to do their bidding with civil penalties for dissenters. But during the past decades at least some leading churches in America have made substantial progress toward uniting on “such points of doctrine as are held by them in common.” On 20 January 2002, at Memphis, Tennessee, a significant number of “mainline American denominations,” white as well as black, established Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). This is an ecumenical movement. Nine of these denominations are already bound together in full membership: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Episcopal Church, International Council of Community Churches, Moravian Church Northern Province, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church. As Ellen G. White predicted more than a century ago, they are “uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in
common.” These are known as the eight Marks of Commitment, which each member of CUIC has agreed to abide by: to “Receive each other as Christ’s church, Mutually recognize baptisms & members, Affirm apostolic creeds, Celebrate Eucharist together, Engage in mission & anti-racism, Promote wholeness & inclusion, Structure accountability, consultation & decision-making, Support ongoing theological dialogue.” Apart from full members, CUIC also has partners in mission and dialogue. These include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Council of Churches, and the World Council of Churches. (Wikipedia, s.v. “Churches Uniting in Christ.”)
Protestants Reaching Out to Spiritualism and Rome
Here is the other remarkable prophecy in The Great Controversy that we need to ponder: Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions. While the former lays the foundations of spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome. The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience. (GC, “The Impending Conflict,” 588) Again we ask: How much of this has already occurred? Scrutinizing the events of recent years, we notice partial fulfillments. Some of them have been dramatic. But crucial elements are still missing. Most obviously, American Protestants have not yet reached out for help to
Spiritualism, which at the present time is a little moribund, waiting for Satan to reinvigorate it. Likewise, no popular clamor has arisen to call for a national Sunday law. Yet this, according to the servant of the Lord, will be initiated by Protestants.
But ecumenism is already enticing some of them to link up with Rome. Evidence for this is a document entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” It was signed at New York City on 29 March 1994 by 21 of the former and 20 members of the Roman Church. Among them were prominent academics and members of Protestant denominations, from the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, Geneva College, and the National Association of Evangelicals, as well as the World Evangelical Fellowship. Among the Catholic signatories were dignitaries from the Archdiocese of Boston; the Archdiocese of Denver; the OMI Diocese of Yakima, Washington; and the Catholic Hispanic Ministries. Their ultimate goal was the reuniting of all Christianity. Because for the time being they considered this unfeasible, their immediate effort was cooperation. Among other things, they adopted a common front against abortion as well as the portrayal of pornography, violence, sexual depravity, and antireligious bigotry in the media. Both sides agreed to promote acceptance and understanding “across lines of religion, race, ethnicity, sex, and class. Together they believed that salvation was possible only in
Christianity to which the entire population of the world would one day be converted. Doctrinally they were even of one accord about individuals being justified by grace through faith, but noted a disagreement. Evangelicals believe that grace is unmerited favor received by faith alone, while for Catholics “salvation by grace refers to that divine grace which is mediated through the Roman Catholic sacraments administered by a duly ordained priest of Rome.” Most importantly, they agreed to evangelize pagans but to stop “sheep stealing.”
That is, Evangelicals would stop trying to convert Catholics to Protestantism and vice versa. (“Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, www.religioustolerance.org.) This document was signed on the very day when my wife Ria and I, on Aeroflot from Moscow, Russia, flying over northern Greenland and via Anchorage, Alaska, landed on the other side of the continent at the San Francisco International Airport on 29 March 1994. With me was the yet-to-be-completed manuscript of my Christ and Antichrist in Prophecy and History. It was eventually published in 2001. This book belongs to the Historical school of prophetic interpretation. It unmistakably depicts the papacy as the Antichrist foretold in Daniel and the Revelation, with many details, including its characteristic titles. One of these is vicarius Filii Dei (representative of the Son of God), which has a numerical value of 666. Moreover, in the year of our arrival, I did not yet know that prominent Seventh-day Adventist scholars would increasingly try to debunk this explanation, which had been derived from Protestant predecessors, Uriah Smith, and other pioneers, or that ecumenical tendencies within our Church would lead to a regressive chipping away at the Three Angels’ Messages. All this was destined, over the next two decades, to unleash my response in the form of further Historicist books, especially The Truth About 666 and the Story of the Great Apostasy (2011, 2013). Meanwhile, after 1994, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) incurred a great deal of opposition. Many Protestants reacted against it in fury. For them it constituted a denial of the Reformation, a terrible compromise with Rome. (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, www.religioustolerance.org.) But those who had signed it persevered, with follow-up meetings and documents. After an ECT meeting during 1996, a second ECT statement of beliefs was produced in 1997. It noted a number of things about which these Evangelicals had reached a consensus with their 5 Catholic colleagues, namely: 1. The Trinity, 2. The authority of the Bible, 3. The inspiration of the Bible, 4. That the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are faithful to God’s Word, 5. Sin made us powerless to overcome the gulf between humanity and God, 6. Salvation is only possible through Jesus Christ, 7. The atonement, 8. “In justification, God, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends.” 9. The process of sanctification progressively refines a Christian to be more Christlike, 10. Christians are to “evangelize everyone everywhere,” and 11. The defense of religious freedom. At the same time, the two sides were also frank about points of
difference, such as the Catholic understanding of baptism, the Eucharist, sacramental grace, devotion to the Virgin Mary, and the role of saints in one’s religious life. (Ibid.) On 1 and 2 October 2001, the consensus-seekers held another meeting. This was followed by the third ECT document (2002), which highlighted important differences. Evangelicals “define the Church as being composed of all people who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior over the past two millennia,” while Catholics “believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church: a body governed by the bishops in communion with the pope in Rome.” Further, it was not possible to agree about the canon of the Bible or how Scripture had to be interpreted. For the Evangelicals, this depended on the congregation of believers or
“a wider synodical or Episcopal connection,” guided by the Holy Spirit. But the Catholics saw this as a responsibility vested in the church Magisterium, i.e., the pope and bishops of the Roman Church. Although this was somewhat of an impasse, their work continued. (Ibid.) It is evident that in the entire ECT enterprise, Catholicism has been very manipulative without budging an inch, and further ecumenical developments can be expected. Last year, when Pope Francis visited America, both Evangelicals and other children of the Reformation were largely silent. They were really no longer Protestants, since they raised no protest. Even the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists officially said nothing, although some self-supporting ministries spoke up and distributed The Great Controversy, unabridged, without expurgations—unlike The Great Hope. With paralyzed vocal cords, none or hardly any of our denominational functionaries dared to even whisper the word “Antichrist.”
Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church
In the meantime, the papacy is not asleep. The shrewd eyes in the Little Horn grown so immensely large are surveying the planet. Lately the Vatican with bated breath expectantly gazed at the island of Crete in the Mediterranean. It was with much hope awaiting the outcome of a week-long gathering during 19-26 June of Eastern Orthodox bishops, led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I from Istanbul, which Greeks still call Constantinople. According to him, as reported by the Associated Press from Cairo, this meeting had been planned for since 1961. Its most important topic was to have been possible reunification with Rome. The Ecumenical patriarch called it the “Holy and Great Council,” and said it would be
unique. Indeed. Almost a thousand years ago, in 1056, the great schism finally tore apart the unity that had existed, however unsteadily, between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic communities. They were separated by a few, though not many, doctrinal points, but above all by the demand that all Christians should submit to papal supremacy. Ever since that year, from time to time, efforts were made to heal the breach, but always without success. Some 300 million people are now Eastern Orthodox. 6 A grave hindrance has always been the fact that Eastern Orthodox believers are not a single body, but now comprise fourteen autocephalous churches. That is, despite their doctrinal unity, each of them is really independent under its own bishop. Although Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical patriarch, is considered the first among equals, he cannot commandeer the other bishops, such as the one who heads the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, or Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest such body in the world. A special feature of the meeting on Crete was to have been that all fourteen autocephalous bodies would be represented. Nothing like this has happened since 1056. And the Pope has been waiting and watching. Imagine what an impact, political as well as religious, it could have internationally if all these churches, including the one in Russia, joined forces with the papacy. But some of these churches decided not to send representatives. Most disappointing for Patriarch Bartholomew I was the decision of Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill not to attend. He has, however, said that the meetings should go ahead and decide for a further convention at a later date. In the Christian world, the various pieces are, at least partly, beginning to fall into place, which the Roman pontiff no doubt finds most gratifying. There is, however, a prediction in both Revelation 13 and the writings of Ellen G. White that is as yet completely unfulfilled. It is also puzzling. We read: “All the world marveled and followed the beast” (verse 3, NKJV), the papal Antichrist. Not just America, Europe, or other traditionally Christian countries. “All that dwell upon the earth shall worship, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (verse 8). The two-horned beast, which symbolizes America, will powerfully support this endeavor. It will also create “the image of the beast,” a Protestant simulacrum of the Roman hierarchy, and endow it with life. Everyone will be required to worship this image, which this entity itself will seek to enforce through a death penalty for those who refuse to do so. The twohorned beast will reempower the papal beast by seeking to make everybody on the planet receive his mark. Which is what? A careful study of the Scriptures reveals that it is Sunday keeping, the distinctive symbol of papal authority. In other words, the United States will make a law to impose it on wherever its influence extends. This will be backed up with an economic boycott, a typical American expedient. Those who do not cooperate with such legislation will not be allowed to buy or sell. (Verses 11-17). But will this not be confined to the United States? The servant of the Lord with several statements has made it clear that it will not. “As America, the land of religious liberty, shall unite with the papacy in forcing the conscience and compelling men to honor the false sabbath, the people of every country on the globe will be led to follow her example” (6T 18 ). But how will that be possible?
A Largely Non-Christian Planet
A seemingly insurmountable obstacle is the fact that the great majority of the people in the world are not Christians. Let us look at a few statistics, all of which can be substantiated from data on the Internet, including Wikipedia. At present, the earth is inhabited by an estimated 7.4 billion people, of whom 2.18 billion (29.5 percent) are Christians. That is, 5.22 billion (70.5 percent) are not Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. Most of them are atheists, agnostics, or belong to other religions. Of the 7 world’s population 1.6 billion are Muslims, 1 billion Hindus, and 488 million Buddhists. Adherents of these three Asian religions are far more numerous than Christians, accounting for 3.88 billion human beings, or 43.8 percent of the earth’s population. Just how could these people be prevailed on to “worship the beast” and make draconic Sunday laws? These exotic things would surely not interest them. Part of the answer to this question would be the tremendous influence of the United States, the two-horned beast, on world affairs. It seems that this country will in the future become even more powerful than it has hitherto ever been, so that other nations will not risk opposing her. Why? For both financial and military reasons, America largely dominates the economy of the world. And all around the planet she has military bases. According to Politifact in the Tampa Bay Times, Ron Paul, a former presidential candidate, on 12 September 2011 asserted that the U.S. had as many as 900 of them overseas in 130 nations.
In his Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (2010), Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, discussed its objectives. Ostensibly this country seeks to spread around the world beneficent values like democracy and self-determination. In practice, she imposes her will, attempts to enrich herself from other countries’ resources, polices the world, and clobbers those who deeply irritate her—with cruise missiles or other fearsome weapons. Such a view may seem to be somewhat of an overstatement, but it does make the point that other nations are careful not to offend or thwart the United States. Of course, America is not omnipotent. The two mightiest and most populous pagan nations, China and India, will not in matters of religion easily kowtow to her. They also have nuclear weapons and a technology for destroying satellites in space, so mere intimidation is unlikely to work. But economically they are utterly dependent on the United States, which is the most important market for their goods. Other factors in those countries are non-Christian syncretism and ecumenical tendencies, as data on the Internet also make evident. Since the European voyages of discovery began a little more than five hundred years ago, persistent missionary work has made converts everywhere on the planet and also promoted religious globalism. The vast Hindu population of the Far East, especially India, as well as the Buddhists in China, Japan, and other Asian countries have thereby become aware of Christ. In him, they have found much that they admire. Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Some Hindus believe that Christ is a reincarnation of Krishna, himself supposedly a reincarnation of Vishnu, who belongs to the Hindu trinity. Shaunaka Rishi Das, an Irish convert to Hinduism and one of its priests, sees many parallels between the Christians’ Jesus and a Hindu saint called Ishu! And some Buddhists believe that he was a reincarnation of Buddha.
Christianity in India and China
Tradition has it that the gospel was first preached and planted in India by the apostle Thomas. According to the 2011 census, Christianity is the third largest religion in India, with 27.8 million believers. That, however, is only 2.3 percent of the population. By far, it is the Hindus that predominate. In their minds, their religion and nationality are often one and the same thing. Therefore, they resent, oppose, and sometimes seek to hinder the missionaries in their work. 8 Among the Chinese, Christianity is making rapid progress. While the Communist regime allows it to exist, it tries to control and restrict it, especially because the missionaries to that country had in the past been too closely linked up with Western imperialism or other interests. Protestants in China are therefore to this day not allowed to be directly associated with America or Catholics with the Vatican. Consequently, very many Christians have gone underground with unregistered house churches. Nowadays in that country as many as 100 million are followers of Jesus, according to John Sudworth, writing from Beijing for BBC News on 26 March 2016. Nobody knows what the future will bring. Perhaps the Communist regime will implode, and eventually China will have more Christians than any Western country, even the United States. In any case, as said before, both India and China are heavily dependent on the West, especially America, for marketing their goods. An economic boycott would be utterly devastating. Just a threat to impose one if they do not comply with the demand that they impose Sunday-law legislation could be enough.
Japan: A Religious Potpourri
When Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into Edo Bay on 8 July 1853 with his “black ships,” it was to force the island monarchy at cannon point to allow trade with America. That day and his second visit six months later accomplished far more than extorting a commercial treaty. It also began, after 220 years of isolation from the West, to open the country to all manner of techniques, ideas, and even theological concepts. This and more is also recorded on the Internet. Traditionally, Japan had an ethnic and rather nationalistic religion known as Shinto, with countless shrines. They still exist today, now numbering 81,000, with 85,000 priests. Some 80 percent of the population practices it. Essentially Shinto is the worship of kamis, which can be variously translated as “spirits,” “essences,” or “gods.” Originally the emperor was likewise considered divine, the offspring of the sun goddess. Folk Shinto includes divination, spirit possession, and shamanic healing. Some of its practices came from Buddhism, Taoism with its Yin Yang philosophy, or Confucianism, all out of China. Nowadays it is even more ecumenical, including ideas from Hinduism and the Abrahamic religions, i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. After World War II, at first General Douglas MacArthur governed Japan and unlocked it for Christianity. He called for 1,000 missionaries. The harvest was, however, meager, with fewer than a million Christians today. Nevertheless, their conceptions added to the syncretism. Already during the nineteenth century, Perry’s intrusion brought in its wake the first of what are known as the new religions. One of the earliest began in 1892, when Deguchi Nao declared that she had a “spirit dream.” She became possessed by Ushitora no Konjin and began to transmit his words. In other words, she became a medium. She founded Oomoto on the basis of her automatic writing together with her son-in-law, Deguchi Onisaburō, who was designated as a Messiah or Maitreya. This is a syncretic religion. Some of its ingredients, which have strongly influenced it, are Ko-shinto (ancient Shinto) as well as folk spiritual and divination traditions. Also featuring in it are modern ideas about world harmony and peace. Oomoto members believe in several kamis with a tendency to recognize notable religious figures from other religions. But all of them are regarded as aspects of a single God. In 1919-1921, it became very popular due to a method of inducing spirit possession but gave 9 this up because of a police crackdown. Oomoto was also persecuted in 1935 for worshipping figures other than Amaterasu, the sun goddess, which detracted from the dignity of the emperor. Following World War II, the religion resurfaced under another name but reverted to calling itself Oomoto in 1952. It has published a great deal in Esperanto, the international language, which most of its active members have studied to some extent. They even worship its creator, L. L. Zamenhof, as a god. Nowadays it has approximately 170,000 members. Two other new religions originated with members of Oomoto and are, in a sense, its offshoots. In 1930, Dr. Masaharu Taniguchi founded Seichō no Ie (House of Growth). It emphasizes gratitude for nature, the family, ancestors, and especially faith in one universal God. By the end of 2012, Seichō no Ie had more than 1.6 million adherents and 442 facilities, mostly in Japan. In 1926, Okichi Okada supposedly received a divine revelation and empowerment as a channel of God’s Healing Light (johrei) to remove illness, poverty, and strife from the world. On this basis, in 1935, the Church of World Messianity was founded. It claims to have 800,000 members, including many in Brazil. It also has related offshoots. New religions, originating in Japan, have especially spread to Brazil, where they now have more than 1,000,000 non-Japanese Brazilian followers.
The Abrahamic Religions
This is what a Wikipedia article calls Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Smaller religions similarly classified are Rastafari, Samaritanism, the Druze faith, Bábism, and the Bahá’i Faith. “As of 2005, it was estimated that 54% (3.6 billion people) of the world’s population considered themselves adherents of an Abrahamic religion, about 32% adherents of other religions, and 16% adherents of no organized religion. Christianity is the largest Abrahamic faith, with 33% of the world’s population. Islam is second with 21%. Judaism, on the other hand, is down to 0.2%.” These have also been called monotheistic religions. Each of them teaches the existence of one God, though in this respect Christianity with its Trinitarian ideas differs from both Judaism and Islam. A striking difference that sets the three main Abrahamic religions apart is their weekend holy days. For Judaism it is the Saturday Sabbath; for most of Christianity, Sunday; and for Islam, Friday. If all or most of those who espouse these Abrahamic religions were in harmony with one another and America, which at present they are not, they could tilt the planet to favor the papacy. Statistically Judaism is not a major factor. Nevertheless, it is a puzzle to image how Israel could be induced to pass Sunday laws. Perhaps there could be legislation to differentiate between the Jews, allowing them to continue resting on the Sabbath, and Christians in Israel, who would have to keep Sunday. A more ominous possibility is that future events could eliminate that state. Incidentally, nowadays there are more Seventh-day Adventist than Jewish Sabbath keepers, more than 18 million versus 14.2 million. Of the latter many are not observant. The other two much larger Abrahamic religions have more in common than most people think. The following details have also appeared on the Internet. Islam, with a membership which may soon overtake that of Christianity, acknowledges our Lord, whom the Quran in Arabic calls Isa ibn Maryām (Jesus son of Mary). Although Muslims do not believe he is the Son of God, they acknowledge him as a mighty prophet, the 10 last one before Muhammad. According to their tradition, he will, near the Day of Judgment, return “to restore justice and to defeat al-Masih ad-Dajjal (the false Messiah, also known as the Antichrist).” Both the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam expect the world’s history to be wound up by a soon-coming al-Mahdi. They teach that Jesus will come to support him. Together they will defeat the forces of evil, ushering in peace and justice for a world that will be fully converted to Islam. From shortly after the death of Muhammad, its founder, different factions have fought one another, with frequent assassinations. For centuries, the main bone of contention has been the caliphate. Muslims were to be ruled, in a religious as well as a secular sense, by a descendant of the prophet Muhammad as their caliph, but who would this be? This led to the divide between Sunnis and Shiites. A variety of caliphates have predominated at different times. The last great one was that of the Ottoman Empire, which went down to defeat in the First World War. It was abolished on 3 March 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Attatürk, who founded a secular Turkish Republic. But the idea of the caliphate did not die; it kept on haunting the Muslim imagination. Osama bin Laden, a Saudi billionaire, founded and funded Al-Qaeda. He claimed to be a new caliph and in 2001 on 9/11 aggressively attacked the United States. America fiercely struck back at Afghanistan, his base. Then it turned and attacked Iraq. Its forces eliminated Saddam Hussein, its Sunni ruler. Because a majority of that country are Shiites, the Bush administration simply sided with them, which proved to be an unfortunate mistake. Sunnis had been ruling the country. Suddenly they lost not only their dominance but in many cases even their jobs. The now dominant Shiite government would no longer allow them a place in the sun and discriminated against them. Thereupon Al-Qaeda gained great power among Iraqi Arab-speaking Sunnis. Using guerilla and terrorist tactics, they targeted both Shiites and Americans. After horrible years and unpopularity at home, the latter largely withdrew, effectively defeated much as they had been in Vietnam. A faction of Al-Qaeda, ISIL or ISIS, became even more aggressive. It founded another Caliphate, or Islamic State, with the secretive Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph, It set about reestablishing Sunni domination by carving out a territory for itself in Iraq as well as Syria. President Barack Obama was a more cautious president than George W. Bush. Nevertheless, he decided to intervene to a limited extent in both countries, due to the brutality of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, against his own people. Now, however, an avalanche of events began to trouble America as well as Europe. The warring groups in Syria fractured into several factions of Sunnis and Shiites. Iran got involved. Russia intervened to shore up a tottering Assad, and the Turks intervened. The Kurds attacked ISIS effectively. In retaliation against Westerners, the latter, who had taken to the decapitation of those who questioned their domination, projected its terrorism into
Europe and America. At the same time, millions of terrified Syrian refugees were on the move, to seek asylum in Germany and other Western countries. This was one reason for Brexit, the recent decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
What Lies Ahead?
The Muslim world—at least in North Africa, Iraq, and Syria—is now at war with itself as well as with Christianity. What will the outcome be? For the present, nobody knows. I think 11 that somehow ISIS and its so-called caliphate will be crushed, resulting in the death of the age-old Islamic dream. There is, after all, no going back to a glorious past, when Muslims during their heyday were well in advance of a benighted medieval Europe. At that time, especially in Islamic Spain, so far as scholarship, science, and art were concerned, they were the head and not the tail. But the Al-Mahdi will never come. Much of the Islamic world as we have known it may implode. In any case, for a few years, America will become the arbiter of what happens on our planet. Beyond the present conflict in the Middle East, an Abrahamic consensus could facilitate an international Sunday law; although for the present it is difficult to see just how that can come to pass. Since World War II, we have been living in momentous times. A partial fulfillment of prophecy, in the Bible as well as the Spirit of prophecy, indicates that the Second Coming and the final events that will precede it are drawing nearer. The next chapter will consider other developments that also still lie ahead, especially as they more directly concern the Seventh-day Adventist Church.