by Michael Youssef
Many people—religious and non-religious—are asking questions about a word they hear the media use when referring to ISIS and other Islamist jihadists. That word is apocalyptic, which is used when specifically referring to the fatalism of Islamists.
People wonder, why do so many Muslims (both Sunni and Shi’ite) operate with such an “apocalyptic,” end-of-world mindset?
Our secular society, however, coupled with the media’s carelessness, is bandying about words like apocalyptic without using them properly and without explanation. That creates a great deal of confusion for some, many of whom just throw up their hands in resignation and say, “I don’t understand this.”
But for those who want to understand, I am offering this two-part column, taking excerpts from my newest book, Jesus, Jihad, and Peace. I hope this will put things into perspective, so when the media says that an Islamist entity (such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Iran, etc.) operate with an apocalyptic vision, you can make sense of it.
The word apocalypse does not, in fact, refer to a disastrous, catastrophic, end-of-world event. It’s a Greek word, the root of which means revelation, or revealing things that are hidden. For instance, we know the last book of the Bible as Revelation, but in the original Greek language, it is Apokalupsae. It reveals what is happening in the heavenly realm, as well as events in the future.
The Concept of the Antichrist
Both the Old Testament and New Testament spoke of an end-times figure, the Antichrist, some 600 years or more before Islam came on the scene. That timing will be important when I explain Islam’s “end of time” coming of a Mahdi in my next column.
The Antichrist is known by various names. Paul calls him “the lawless one,” “the man of lawlessness,” and “the man doomed to destruction” who “will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:1-12). The most detailed description of the Antichrist is in Revelation 13, where the Apostle John refers to the Antichrist as “the beast.” The Old Testament prophet Daniel describes the abominable works of the Antichrist, but gives him no name or title (Dan. 9:27).
Who, then, is the Antichrist, whose brief but terrible reign is predicted in both the Old and New Testaments? He will be a world leader of unparalleled political, military and religious power. He will be charming, persuasive and popular beyond measure. The world will not know him as the “Antichrist,” but by some attractive name and appealing title. But just as the word “Antichrist” suggests, he will be the opposite of the Lord Jesus Christ in every way. Everything Christ is, the Antichrist is not; everything Christ is not, the Antichrist is.
Jesus came from heaven (John 6:38); the Antichrist comes from the Abyss, the spiritual domain of evil (Rev. 11:7). Jesus came in the Name of the Father; the Antichrist comes in his own name (John 5:43). Jesus was despised by the world (Is. 53:3); the Antichrist will be worshipped by the world (Rev. 13:3-4). Jesus came in humility as a servant (Phil. 2:7-8); the Antichrist comes in pride, claiming to be God (2 Thess. 2:4; Dan. 11:36). Jesus is the truth (John 14:6); the Antichrist is the lie (2 Thess. 2:9-11). Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 1:1; Luke 1:35); the Antichrist is the son of perdition (2 Thess. 2:3, KJV).
The Apostle Paul tells us that the mystery (or secret) of godliness is that God Himself has appeared to us in human flesh (1 Tim. 3:16)—and that the mystery (or secret) of lawlessness is that Satan has produced a counterfeit Christ, the Antichrist, Satan wrapped in human flesh (2 Thess. 2:6-8). Jesus is the true Shepherd; Satan will have his evil shepherd, the Antichrist. Jesus is the Holy One of God; the Antichrist will be the lawless one of Satan. Jesus is the Man of Sorrows; the Antichrist will be the man of sin.
One Antichrist and many antichrists
First of all, the Antichrist is coming—a lawless man who will come in Satan’s power, demanding to be worshipped as God, destroying all those who love God. But John tells us that there are many other antichrists, lesser deceivers who are also self-exalting, evil and destructive. They are antichrists, but they are not the Antichrist.
Jesus tells us that, shortly before His return, the Antichrist will arise during a time of global chaos and confusion, when the world is in political, social, financial and ecological upheaval. The terrified people of the world, desperate for a strong leader, will turn to this man and give him control of the governments of the world.
Daniel tells us that the Antichrist will speak “boastfully” (Dan. 7:8), yet it is clear that these will not be empty boasts. The Antichrist will appear to possess superhuman brilliance. He’ll be the ultimate smooth talker, the greatest con man who ever lived, and he’ll unite the nations under his rule. At first, he’ll seem to be a wise and benevolent dictator, bringing peace, prosperity and hope. But once he is firmly in control of the gears and levers of power, he’ll reveal his true intentions.
The way has been paved for such a leader. Atheists, humanists, New Age mystics, Hindus, Buddhists and Islamists have little in common with each other—but they all share in the belief that Jesus is not the only way to salvation. There are even many self-styled “Christians” who deny the Lord’s claim to be the only way to God. So it will be easy for the Antichrist to establish himself to many as an acceptable alternative.
In these days of muddled and confused worldviews, it is vitally important to know the truth. After all, Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” As events unfold, we need to see them not only through the camera’s lens, but also through the lens of biblical revelation.
That the Antichrist is coming is known—only the timing is unknown. Although we know not the hour of night that the thief comes, we must be prepared nonetheless.
Muslims see the Mahdi as a savior who will lead a global revolution and establish a worldwide Islamic empire. The Mahdi will rule the Earth as the final Caliph of Islam (a caliph is both a political ruler and a spiritual representative of Allah on Earth).
Muslims revere Jesus (whom they call Isa) as the Masih or Messiah. In Islamic eschatology, the Mahdi will arrive at the same time that Isa returns. Isa will descend to Earth in Syria, east of Damascus, dressed in yellow robes, and will assist the Mahdi, who will rule over the world for seven years (or, in some Islamic traditions, nine or 19 years). At the end of the Mahdi’s rule, there will be a Day of Judgment for the entire human race.
The parallels between the biblical Antichrist and the Mahdi of Islam are chilling. Both are associated with the End Times and the Judgment. Both are said to possess political, military and religious power, and head up a one-world religion. The Mahdi will force all non-Muslim people to convert to Islam. Like the Antichrist, the Mahdi will establish Jerusalem as his capital, from which he will rule the Earth.
Islamic scholars Muhammad ibn Izzat and Muhammad Arif write, in Al Mahdi and the End of Time: “The Mahdi will be victorious and eradicate those pigs and dogs and the idols of this time so that there will once more be a caliphate based on prophethood as the hadith states. … Jerusalem will be the location of the rightly guided caliphate and the center of Islamic rule, which will be headed by Imam al-Mahdi. … That will abolish the leadership of the Jews … and put an end to the domination of the Satan who spit evil into people and cause corruption in the earth, making them slaves of false idols and ruling the world by laws other than the Sharia [Islamic law] of the Lord of the worlds.”
Though Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, they deny that Jesus is the Son of God. Jews and Christians are, to Muslim fundamentalists, “pigs and dogs” who must either convert to Islam or be eliminated. Bible prophecy makes it clear that the Antichrist will target Jews and Christians for destruction, just as Islamic prophecy states that the Mahdi will wage war against Jews and Christians. Those who oppose the Antichrist’s worldwide religion will be executed.
Muslim scholar Imam Muhammad Baqir states clearly how the Mahdi will establish his one-world religion: “There must be bloodshed and jihad to establish Imam Mahdi’s rule.” And Ayatollah Ibrahim al Amini of the Religious Learning Center in Qom, agrees: “The Mahdi will offer the religion of Islam to the Jews and Christians; if they accept it, they will be spared. Otherwise they will be killed.”
Daniel tells us (and Jesus affirms in the Olivet Discourse) that the Antichrist will establish “the abomination that causes desolation” in the Temple in Jerusalem. The apostle Paul adds that the Antichrist “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4). Since the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., as Jesus predicted, this has led some (not all Christians) to suggest that the Jewish Temple must be rebuilt on Temple Mount before the Antichrist can be revealed to the world.
Yet the golden-topped Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al-Aqsa mosque stand on Temple Mount today. One of the Islamic Hadiths (traditions) records that their Prophet Muhammad said, “[Armies carrying] black flags will come from Khurasan [Iran and Afghanistan], no power will be able to stop them, and they will finally reach Eela [the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem] where they will erect their flags.” In Islamic tradition, black banners symbolize violent conquest, and Muslims await the Mahdi’s conquest of Jerusalem, when he establishes his reign from the Temple site.
Daniel 9:27 tells us the Antichrist will establish a seven-year covenant with Israel—but he will break the covenant after three-and-a-half years, defiling the Temple with “an abomination that causes desolation.” The Hadiths of Islam also speak of a seven-year covenant that the Mahdi makes with Israel: “The Prophet said: There will be four peace agreements between you and the Romans. The fourth will be mediated through a person who will be from the progeny of Hadrat Aaron [Honorable Aaron, the brother of Moses] and will be upheld for seven years.”
There can be no doubt: Muslims are preparing to accept the Mahdi as their leader—and the Mahdi is indistinguishable from the world leader we know as the Antichrist.
I bring all of this to your attention so we can have a knowledgeable perspective when viewing current events unfolding in the Middle East.
But Christians should not fear.
Regardless of whether the Antichrist comes in this generation or a hundred years from now, those who have placed their faith in God’s Messiah, Jesus the Christ, fear no one nor even death. Their eternity is secure in the One who is the only One to defeat death and rise from the grave.