Global Challenges 2013
by Dr. Steve Elwart
While we cannot set dates for the Rapture, we can look at the world and see that we are viewing the signs of the end times. All around us we see the signs of Christ’s return prophesied millennia ago.
Since you are reading this article, the end of the world didn’t come on December 21, 2012. (Well played, Mayans, well played.) That doesn’t mean though that people will give up on setting dates for the Rapture.
Trying to set dates for Christ’s coming is a foolish activity. When the apostles asked Jesus about the apocalyptic time, His response was, “It is not for you to know what times or periods the Father has fixed by his own authority.”1 Only God knows what time it is, and only God knows when the clock will run out.
That doesn’t stop some people from trying. William Miller, a farmer and licensed Baptist minister, predicted that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur on March 21, 1843. When the appearing did not occur, Miller said that his calculations were off and the real date was March 21, 1844. When that date came and went without the Second Coming, Miller’s followers referred to the experience as “The Great Disappointment.” Many left the group, but those who remained formed the foundation for what became the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
While we cannot set dates for the Rapture, we can look at the world and see that we are viewing the signs of the end times. We look at our political leaders and their actions with a certain degree of wonder, asking how the world can be so blind to their actions and why are they allowed to lead the nations away from God and His Word. All around us we see the signs of Christ’s return prophesied millennia ago.
The Middle East
Israel is being assaulted more today than at any time since May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion, using Ezekiel as his authority, announced on international radio the name of “Israel” as the new state and homeland for the Jews.
Israel is under a fragile peace with Gaza after a period when Palestinians fired hundreds of rockets into the heart of Israel. If it weren’t for Israel’s Iron Dome weapons systems, hundreds of innocent Israeli citizens would have died from the barrage.
The Palestinian aggression did, however, accomplish several things. First, it established the fact that the Palestinians can reach deeper into Israel than ever before, reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time. Every rocket fired into Israel brings the IDF closer to a military invasion of Gaza and occupation of the area. Not surprisingly, the Palestinians are taunting the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to do just that.
As Israel troops amassed at the Gaza border, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said the prospect of a ground war in Gaza was an empty threat. “If you wanted to launch it, you would have done it,” Meshal said, according to the New York Times. The troop buildup along the border was an effort to allow Israel to “dictate its own terms and force us into silence,” Meshal said.
For its part, Israel knows that if it were to enter Gaza to seize the rockets and launchers, the world would forget about the missile attacks and condemn Israel for “invading” the Gaza Strip. But Israelis are reaching the end of their diplomatic tether. They are seeing themselves as becoming more isolated from the rest of the world, with even the United States distancing itself. They are coming to the realization that they may have to “go it alone.”
The Iron Dome defense system also proved its worth during the conflict, stopping more of the Palestinian Fajr-5 rockets from hitting populated areas. In a perverse sense of logic, Israel was condemned for protecting themselves too well. They were criticized by UN member nations for inflicting more casualties than they suffered. They reasoned that Israel should not have responded since “they weren’t hurt too badly.”
Iran has been a big winner in the conflict as well. It quickly became obvious that this was primarily a Hamas-Iran alliance against Israel with Iran providing the rockets through tunnels originating in the Sinai. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari confirmed the missile technology transfer to Gaza by stating that “we provided them with technology [to build Fajr-5 missiles] and their production was rapid.”
The war has also emboldened Hezbollah by exposing Israel as being vulnerable to outside attack. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader in Lebanon stated:
Israel, which was shaken by a handful of Fajr-5 rockets during eight days—how would it cope with thousands of rockets which would fall on Tel Aviv and other (cities) … if it attacked Lebanon? …The time when Israel could terrorize us has expired.
Iran also gained from the war by diverting the world’s attention away from Iran’s nuclear program and toward the Gaza crisis. Iran has been free to pursue its goal of a nuclear weapon relatively unmolested in recent months. To keep the pressure on Israel, Iran is resupplying Hamas with even more missiles. Many analysts believe that Hamas only agreed to the cease-fire as a way to make it easier to bring in more rockets to fire on Israel.
Syria also gained from the crisis for the same reasons as Iran. Very few countries were concerned with the civil war in Syria, and this gave the Assad regime time to regroup and try to hold a tenuous grip on power.
Egypt also used the conflict to burnish its image. It allowed Egypt’s President Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to act as a “peacemaker” in the conflict and project to the world the image of a “moderate” Islamist. He also was able to score points with the United States by holding off on the cease-fire announcement he brokered until U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the region from her recent trip to Burma.
Brokering a tenuous peace in Gaza also gave Morsi some political capital worldwide to allow for his massive consolidation of power. After the cease-fire, President Morsi appeared on Egyptian television and stunned both his allies and adversaries by issuing a presidential decree effectively banning all challenges to his decrees, laws and decisions. In his decree, Morsi wrote:
The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution. … The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.
The decree also stated that the courts have no authority to dissolve the country’s Constituent Assembly, which is now rewriting the constitution along Islamist lines. Mohamed El Baradei, an opponent of Morsi, accused the president of establishing himself as “a new pharaoh.”
It is interesting to note that to the north of Israel in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist “The Justice and Development Party,” has also been consolidating power. Over the past 10 years, Erdogan has dismantled Turkey’s secular government in favor of a state headed toward implementing Sharia Law and guaranteeing his own power for many more years to come.
Egypt and Turkey are aspiring to be regional hegemons and are on a collision course. Today’s events are reminiscent of Daniel Chapter 11 where the historic conflicts between the Kings of the North and of the South are repeated in the last days: “At the time of the end, the southern king will oppose him, and the northern king will overrun him with chariots, cavalry, and many ships. He’ll invade countries, moving swiftly and sweeping through.”2
The year 2013 will see continued turmoil in the Middle East with Egypt growing in influence in the region and Israel continuing to be under siege. Iran will continue to stoke the fires of revolt in Gaza while it continues to move ahead with its nuclear weapons program. Syria will continue its civil war with the warring factions fighting to a stalemate within the country. The final look of the country will be similar to Libya, with its different areas controlled by local tribal leaders.
The Far East
The Kings of the East have had a low profile in world affairs but are starting to assert themselves. China’s fledgling blue water navy is starting to cause large ripples in world affairs.
China has carried out its first successful landing of a fighter jet on its first aircraft carrier. The homegrown J-15 jet fighter took off from and landed on the Liaoning, a reconditioned Soviet-era vessel from Ukraine that only came into service in September. The carrier is listed as a training vessel and is billed as the first carrier of a Chinese-built fleet of five carriers that will start construction in 2015. The jet landing was a symbolically significant development as China’s neighbors worry about the Middle Kingdom’s military ambitions.
China has advertised its long-term military ambitions with shows of new hardware, including a test flight of the Chengdu J-20 fifth-generation, stealth twin-engine fighter in January 2011. (The J-20 is to be operational in 2017–2019.)
China is boosting military spending by 11.2% this year, bringing official outlays on the People’s Liberation Army to about $100 billion for 2012, after a 12.7% increase last year and a near-unbroken string of double-digit rises across two decades. Japan is very concerned about this increased military spending and is acting accordingly. Japan is becoming more militaristic itself, which gives China its own concerns. Recent Japanese actions remind China of the Japan of the 1930s when the nationalistic, militaristic faction of the Japanese government assumed power, and China has yet to forget the Rape of Nanking. Today’s Japan is starting to repudiate its role in World War II, and Japanese atrocities are being expunged from its textbooks. In 2013 look for increased tensions between these two regional powers, especially around the Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea that may become a flash point between the two countries.
The European Union
The European Union is continuing to fray at its seams. Italy and Greece are close to defaulting on their loans while Socialist French President Hollande is rolling back that country’s austerity plans while increasing the top income tax rate to 75% to pay for the increased spending. One of the results of these disastrous policies is that France has lost its coveted Moody’s Aaa credit rating.
To the South of France, the Catalonia region of Spain has voted to secede from its mother country. Catalonia borders France and Andorra to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the east. Catalans make up 16% of Spain’s population, yet contribute 19% of Spain’s gross domestic product. Within the region there is a growing sense that the people of Catalonia do not want to be burdened with Spain’s economic problems with Spain now in recession and facing a need for a European bailout.
The year 2013 will see an increasingly desperate Germany, trying to hold the EU together with member countries not wanting to take the bitter medicine fiscal responsibility would require. Expect to see Germany pushing for a political union to replace the financial union for the EU, with Germany taking a leading role in the initiative.
The one question that seems to be asked in the capitals of the world is “What about the United States?” The United States will begin 2013 beset with financial problems. Even if it avoids the “fiscal cliff,” the United States is still not on solid financial footing. With the Senate not having put forth a budget for the last four years and calls for the debt ceiling to be removed completely, the U.S. Government does not seem interested in getting its financial house in order.
The newest idea being floated in Congress is to nationalize every 401(k) account in the country. This represents the last large pool of cash in the country and the government seems determined to seize it to keep fueling its massive budget.
The New Year seems to be a year of constraints for the world’s only superpower. The United States will continue to pull back from its commitments as budget constraints continue to hamper both its foreign and domestic policies.
Our Role in 2013
With the world seeming to hurl toward the end times, this can be a great time for us to be a witness to the things prophesied in the Scriptures. It is our responsibility to be a “watcher on the wall” and be prepared for His coming. It is also a time for us to prepare others for Christ’s return and to proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God is at hand.