The race toward Armageddon is the stumbling toward self-destruction.
Armageddon! The great battle against the Antichrist; when the red mist of a vast firestorm is to descend from above to envelop all living creatures in its deceptive embrace, leaving the god of war to spit out the pips.
According to the tricky and treacherous text of the final book in the New Testament, the book of Revelation, when the end time of the world dawns, a scroll with seven seals will be opened. With each seal a new horror will be unleashed against humanity. First, a great dragon will appear; this is later identified with Satan. Next will emerge a monstrous beast ominously rearing its seven heads and ten horns. Finally, a servant of this beast will arrive on the stage, a “false prophet” (16:13)—the Antichrist—who will lead his international satanic army against the forces of God. All these satanic forces will be gathered together “at the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (16:16).
Abruptly, a white horse bearing a divine warrior will appear from heaven, a warrior described as “The Word of God” (19:13), whom many interpret to be Christ; he will lead the “armies of heaven” (19:14) in a vast and bloodthirsty battle that will erupt against a background of terrestrial plagues and earthquakes. The three satanic allies will be defeated: the beast and the false prophet will be thrown alive into burning sulfur; their followers will all be put to the sword by the heavenly rider. According to the book of Revelation, God will take no prisoners—except, strangely, for Satan, who will be quickly locked up in a bottomless pit. Then the calm following this mayhem will usher in a thousand years of peace.
But in a curious and unexplained twist, at the end of the thousand years of peace, Satan will be released from his prison for a short time. This act of apparent mercy will immediately lead to a second great war.
It does seem a very cruel trick for God to play upon the newly peaceful inhabitants of the world. God appears to be toying with Satan like a cat toys with a mouse, because this new satanic army will also be rapidly destroyed, permitting a shiny new Jerusalem to descend from the clouds—a new Jerusalem from which Jesus will rule forever over a world where death is no more.
Personally, I have always wondered why, if Jesus is destined to be victorious, he and God should put themselves to so much trouble first. It seems to me that by delaying the inevitable, they are actually colluding with the beast, the false prophet, and Satan. It is also pointless, and the collateral damage so extensive.
But it does not seem pointless to approximately 59 percent of Americans who, according to pollsters, say they believe in the coming battle of Armageddon. And this is in addition to the millions of fundamentalist Christians worldwide who hold the same belief. Indeed, fundamentalist preaching has been pushing this kind of material out for years, material that does not allow for any doubt in the literal interpretation of Revelation. John Hagee, a prominent Texas fundamentalist preacher and author, clearly has none: “Armageddon is an actual battle, and the Antichrist is a living, breathing person.”
It is evident from statements such as these that fundamentalist preaching operates in the service of fear—fear of the big battle to come and fear of not belonging to the side of Jesus so as to benefit from the thousand years of peace.
Fear is all to these people, and every opportunity to spread it is taken. In January 2007 fundamentalist evangelist and former presidential contender Pat Robertson told his television audience that millions of people would die that year in a huge terrorist attack on the United States. He claimed that God had personally told him this but added, rather as an afterthought, “I’m not saying necessarily nuclear, the Lord didn’t say nuclear.” Which is, of course, reassuring.
Such an attitude is not so far away from that of the Islamic suicide bombers who are sure that upon their deaths they will go straight to paradise to enjoy the favors of seventy-two young girls, favors they have missed out on in life due to their restrictive beliefs.
This battle of Armageddon and the return of Christ is, according to thousands of Christian fundamentalist preachers, coming soon. In fact many are convinced that our modem military involvement in the Middle East is linked to this fiery end. In the book of Revelation, Babylon is the source of all evil and is ultimately overthrown; Babylon, of course, is in Iraq, which has presently fallen to U.S. forces and their allies. To Christian fundamentalists, the connection, and the importance, is obvious.
But the Christian fundamentalists are not the only ones to believe in a final battle. Muslims, too, with increasing urgency speak about the coming of their messiah, the Mahdi, who—with the aid of Jesus—will fight against the demonic forces of the Dajjal, the Islamic Antichrist figure. Especially important is the belief held by many Muslims that the Mahdi will rule from Jerusalem, which the Muslims claim as their own. Muslims who follow these beliefs expect the final battle to come very soon, and this is affecting their politics, which, in turn, is affecting all of our lives.
Jewish fundamentalists, by contrast, do not think of a battle to come, but it is hard to see how their end times can appear without one. For they hold that when the Messiah comes, he will rebuild the Temple, referring to Solomon’s Temple, the very first temple, according to the Bible, to serve the ancient religion of the Israelites in Jerusalem, a temple that was pillaged and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. And with the Messiah’s coming, they hold that Jerusalem will be wholly Jewish. There will be no room on the Temple Mount for any Islamic structures, nor will there be room for the Islamic population within Jerusalem, indeed within all of Israel—which they define as stretching as far as western Iraq. They believe that the signs of the coming of the Messiah have already appeared; it will not be long now. The thousands of years of waiting are about to end. Of course, there are those who wish to hurry the time along and remove the mosques from the Temple Mount in advance of the Messiah’s arrival. The anti-Islamic position of these groups is inflexible and runs very deeply. Their true relationship with Christianity is prickly and kept rather close, for they all depend upon the constant flow of funds donated to them by Christian supporters, but the tensions are there to see. For them, there is no need for compromise or tolerance; God gave Israel to the Jewish people, and that is all that needs to be said.
At its heart, fundamentalism is a relentless progression deeper and deeper into intolerance and ignorance, which, unless opposed, will by default achieve its aims. Judged and measured against their own pronouncements, we must conclude that the fundamentalist religions of all denominations are opposing the free will and vibrancy of human life—they are, paradoxically, performing the very task they attribute to the feared Antichrist: they are attempting to convert a distorted view of reality into such a skillfully packaged shape that it might be taken as truth.
Fundamentalist religions are humanity’s greatest enemy. Blunt speaking, certainly, but time is short, and I see no reason not to call it as I see it. The fact we all have to face is that the fundamentalist religions leave no room for human frailty, for compassion, for forgiveness, or for creative freedom of thought. They are trying to return us to that time of darkness we thought was left far behind, where blind belief was considered more important than farsighted discovery, where the dogmatic was more valued than the tolerant and the false was more important than the true.
We simply cannot permit that future to occur; we must oppose that future with all the strength at our disposal. If, like those countless victims of the Nazi Holocaust, we are ever again asked to step into a cattle wagon for a trip to the Promised Land, we must remember that the correct response is always, emphatically, “No! Never again!”
But we need to move quickly for the fundamentalists are on the march; step by step they are encroaching upon the peaceful and tolerant high ground with their perverted idea of a heavenly realm filled with comfortable seats from which those who have been “saved” can eat their popcorn and watch the slaughter below. It all sounds like some deranged fantasy based on a dim memory of the Roman arena, for there is much blood in the message and so very little mercy.
Again Christian fundamentalist preacher John Hagee does not mince his words on this issue: The first time He came to Earth, Jesus was the Lamb of God, led in silence to the slaughter. The next time He comes, He will be the Lion of Judah who will trample His enemies until their blood stains His garments. It seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that, like those who once packed the Roman Colosseum to watch Christians or Jews thrown to the wild animals, Hagee cannot wait to take his seat before the carnage.
Hagee’s position closely resembles that of Islamic fundamentalist commentators for whom, of course, Jesus is an Islamic prophet. The Egyptian Sa’id Ayyub, writing in 1987, insisted that in the final days, “all of the books will be burnt at the end of the road. Those who sucked at deceit, spying, and hypocrisy will be burnt beneath the feet of the prophet of God, Jesus, and the army of Islam—[Jews and Christians]… will be trampled under after the dawn.” We have good cause to be deeply worried about these people and those who read and believe their words. We must never let them near to the seats of power, else we will wake up one morning in a world where madness is called sanity and true sanity is viewed as a heresy to be ruthlessly destroyed. But, ominously, we can see this world creeping closer and closer.
The apocalyptic view of Middle East events held by recent US administrations, most evidently with President George W. Bush, really began with President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. Famously, in 1981, Ronald Reagan revealed that he believed, “For the first time ever, everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.” He later echoed this belief, stating, “I turn back to the ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if—if we’re the generation that is going to see that come about.”
Two decades later, President Bush contented himself with advice from God. In 2003 He explained to the Palestinian prime minister, “God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam.”
He seems to speak like Moses or Joshua; perhaps he really did believe that he was leading us to the Promised Land.
The above is an excerpt from the book Racing Toward Armageddon: The Three Great Religions and the Plot to End the World by Michael Baigent. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2009 Michael Baigent, author of Racing Toward Armageddon: The Three Great Religions and the Plot to End the World