Earlier this month, former Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, declared “that the nuclear agreement reached between Iran, the United States and five other world powers is nothing more than the fulfillment of End Times prophecy found in the Bible, and added that the world will likely see the ‘strong right arm’ of the Lord strike in judgement.”
For centuries this kind of nonsense has been going on. Books and pamphlets were written during the outbreak of last century’s two world wars, the rise of the Soviet Union, and with every new Middle East announcement.
Even former President Ronald Reagan engaged in some prophetic speculation:
“Ezekiel tells us that Gog, the nation that will lead all of the other powers of darkness against Israel, will come out of the north. Biblical scholars have been saying for generations that Gog must be Russia. What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel? 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 Cummunistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly.”1
So much of the prophetic speculation that is being passed off as “the fulfillment of the End Times” is actually about prophecies that were fulfilled centuries ago.
Former Congresswoman Bachmann was being interviewed on Jan Markell’s “Understanding the Times” radio program on August 8, 2015. “Markell quipped that such an event was foretold in Zechariah 12:3, which states: ‘On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.’”
Is she right? I don’t believe so. Zechariah 12 has its own interpretive historical clues to help us identify the time of fulfillment: battles are fought by men riding horses (12:4); those in captivity have returned to Jerusalem after a period of exile (12:7; cf. Jer. 30:10, 18); the southern kingdom of Judah is the main population center (12:4, 6, 7, 8); the people are grouped by clans (12:5); the “glory of the house of David” is still recognized by the former exiles (12:7, 8, 10; cf. Neh. 3:15; 12:24, 36, 45); and the death of King Josiah by Pharaoh Necho (2 Kings 23:29–30; 2 Chron. 35:22–27) is still remembered as a national tragedy (Zech. 12:11).
These historical events would not be significant to Jews living in Israel in the twenty-first century or the church throughout its nearly 2000-year history. Today’s Jews most likely would recall the tragedy of the holocaust, the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the 1967 Six-Day War, and on-going battles with Muslim extremists over the issue of national sovereignty.
Zechariah 12 begins with new creation language in describing the rebirth of Israel from the days of captivity among the nations. Just like God created the heavens and the earth and formed the first man, God will recreate Israel back in their land (Zech. 12:1b; Ezek. 37). He will do this by defeating her enemies in a dramatic way. Keep in mind, Zechariah is writing to offer encouragement to the returning exiles. It’s “a burden . . . concerning Israel” (Zech. 12:1a) of Zechariah’s day. John Calvin makes the point “that the Israelites were now as it were rotting among foreign nations without any hope of deliverance, having refused to be gathered under God’s protection [cf. Isa. 12:12–13], though he had kindly and graciously invited them all to return.”2 If this was the condition of Israel and Judah when Zechariah delivered his prophecy, it hardly seems reasonable to offer Israel hope that the promises would not be realized for 2500 years or more!
What about the “all the nations will be gathered against” Israel? When was that fulfilled? Cyrus, the king of Persia who conquered Babylon and under whom the Jews were allowed to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple (Ezra 1:1–4; Isa. 44:28; 45:1, 12, 13), declared, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezra 1:2; 2 Chron. 36:23). The Persian empire was nowhere near global in terms of today’s geo-political map, and yet Cyrus considered his rule to encompass “all the kingdoms of the earth.”
The Persian empire consisted of conquered nations throughout its “127 provinces,” from “India to Ethiopia” (Esther 1:1). This included Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem. When Persia conquered Babylon, it inherited the nations that Babylon had conquered. Nebuchadnezzar thought of himself as “the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth” (Dan. 4:1; cf. Jer. 27:7).
Notice in the following examples how “all nations” is used to describe nothing more than a kingdom-wide dominion:
- “Then the fame of David went out into all the lands; and the LORD brought the fear of him on all the nations” (1 Chron. 14:17).
- “And many were bringing gifts to the Lord at Jerusalem and choice presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter” (2 Chron. 32:23).
- “And all the nations shall serve him, and his son, and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant” (Jer. 27:7).
- “And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Even so will I break within two full years, the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations”’”(Jer. 28:11).
- “All nations surrounded me; In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them of” (Psalm 118:10).
- “I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated behind them, so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate” (Zech. 7:14).
- “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).
- “But now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26).
As these examples show, “all nations” does not refer to every single nation of what we know of the world today. The prophecy was about Israel’s Old Testament enemies and how God defeated them.
Bachmann, Markell, and others are engaged in “newspaper exegesis,” interpreting the Bible though current events rather than the historical context of Scripture, and their take on the topic could prove dangerous. “Bachmann, who stated in April that Jesus Christ’s return is ‘imminent,’ admits that she is ‘excited’ about the prospects that a nuclearized Iran could lead to the Lord’s impending judgement on the world.”
Foreign policy should be handled in terms of wisdom, justice, and righteousness not by prophetic speculation which leads to a form of prophetic inevitability at the hand of man.
- From an address that Ronald Reagan gave at a dinner with California legislators in 1971. Quoted in Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1992), 162. [↩]
- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950), 5:340–341. [↩]