THE BIBLE GIVES us two reasons why we should be interested in Iran. Firstly we find that it is mentioned under its classical name of Persia, as one of the countries that will invade the land of Israel ‘in the latter years’. This reference is to be found in the book of the prophet Ezekiel chapter 38.
The second reason for our interest, is that the Bible uses a major incident in the early history of that country as a pattern to prophesy another event of the latter days, the way in which the kingdom of God will be set up on the earth. This pattern is found by reference to the prophecy of Isaiah and the book of Revelation.
The people of Iran are ethnically diverse from their southern and western neighbours. Though modern Iran is an Islamic country and they use Arabic script for their writing, they are not part of the Arab family of nations. The language of Iran (called Parsee) is reckoned among the Indo-European group of languages. The name Iran is akin to the word ‘Aryan’ which is further evidence that shows the Iranians to be drawn from European stock.
Today Iran, or to give it its full title, The Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country openly hostile to Israel. Public pronouncements from officials of the government frequently call for the destruction of the ‘Zionist entity’. Iran finances the ‘Hisbollah’ faction in southern Lebanon, which up to the time of their withdrawal, had been fighting a bitter guerilla war against the Israeli presence in that country. The hostility shown by Iran towards the State of Israel has not always been a feature of their relationship. Under the Regime of the Shah, who ruled Iran until 1979, relations had been much more cordial.
In 1960 Iran was one of the first countries in the region to recognize the State of Israel. Iran became a trading partner and was at that time the major supplier of oil but things were destined to change. After increasing unrest in the country which was met by an unsuccessful policy of repression, the Shah was at length forced to flee in January 1979. The leading Muslim cleric Ayatollah Khomeini who had been living in exile returned home in triumph and presided over the establishment of an Islamic republic but although Ayatollah Khomeini has passed off the scene, the attitudes he stood for are still in evidence.
|Ayatollah Khomeini: Architect of the Islamic revolution who set Iran on a course of conflict with Israel|
Iran is a country that is rich in reserves of fossil fuels in the form of oil and natural gas. It has been a cause of concern therefore that the country in recent years has sought to develop a Nuclear energy programme. For countries that have little in the way of fuel reserves such a programme is understandable but for a country with an abundance of oil, to do so is suspicious. Nuclear power stations can be the means of producing materials to make nuclear weapons.
The technology for the Iranian nuclear power programme is being supplied by Russia. The Interfax news agency reported in January 1999 that more Russian technicians would be sent to Iran to work on the reactor at Bushehr. This was to be in addition to the more than 1,000 specialists already there. Russian help for Iran is also aiding Iran’s long range missile programme. According to Israeli intelligence reports Russian scientists are in Iran helping them to develop a missile with a range of 1,500km. Such a missile would allow Iran to reach any part of Israel from a base on its own territory.
This is of particular interest to us today because it represents a situation envisaged by Bible prophecy. Ezekiel chapter 38 records a prophecy of a time which it calls ‘the latter years.’ For more than 150 years Bible students have been interpreting this prophecy in terms of a strategic alliance, including Russia and Iran. These will mount an attack against Israel in the final days before the kingdom of God is set up on the earth. The prophecy, with some words of commentary in bold type, is set out below:
`…Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, prince of Rosh (Russia), Meshech (Muscovy), and Tubal (Tobolski): and I will turn thee about, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armour, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them handling swords: Persia (Iran), Cush (Ethiopia), and Put (Libya) with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer (France), and all his hordes; the house of Togarmah (Central Europe) in the uttermost parts of the north, and all his hordes; even many peoples with thee...in the latter years (towards the end of man’s rule on the earth) thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, that is gathered out of many peoples, upon the mountains of Israel, which have been a continual waste; but it is brought forth out of the peoples, (the regathered nation of Israel) and they shall dwell securely, all of them. And thou shalt ascend, thou shalt come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy hordes, and many peoples with thee.’ (Ezekiel 38.3--9 ASV)
These events are the prelude, according to Ezekiel, of the time when God will intervene directly in the affairs of mankind. (Ezekiel 38.18--23)
In the year 539 BC Iran or Persia as it was then known, first appeared on the world scene in a dramatic way. Under their first great king Cyrus and in alliance with their neighbours the Medes, they overthrew the empire city of Babylon. They executed the king of Babylon and set up their own empire which lasted for about two hundred years. Their empire was to hold sway over the civilised world until the uprise of the Greeks under Alexander the Great.
Both biblical and secular history record how the forces of Cyrus laid siege to the city. To the defenders of Babylon this seemed like a futile gesture. The city, they thought, could withstand an indefinite siege. The city was well able to feed and water itself from within its extensive walls. The river Euphrates ran through the middle of Babylon but this was to prove its downfall. Where the river ran through the walls, the area was defended by double ‘gates’ consisting of a grid-work of bronze that stretched across the whole expanse of the river. It was to be this very feature that was to prove the means of Babylon’s downfall.
Unknown to the defenders of the city the forces of Cyrus were able to divert the flow of the river. They marched into the city along the dried up bed of the river Euphrates and through the great bronze gates that sympathisers in the city had opened for them. The city was taken completely by surprise. So sure of their defences had the rulers of Babylon been that they had spent the evening in feasting and merrymaking as recorded in the book of Daniel chapter five.
These events of two and a half thousand years ago were foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. They were of interest to the people of Israel at that time because they had a direct impact on their lives. The essence of what Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied about Cyrus and Babylon is set out in the table
|Israel would be taken captive into Babylon||Isaiah 39:6,7|
|In due time Babylon’s fall would come||Isaiah 13:19; 21:9|
|It would be besieged by the Medes and Persians||Isaiah 21:2|
|Cyrus their leader was called the Lord’s `Messiah’ (Christ or Anointed One)||Isaiah 45:1|
|...and the king from the East (or Sun’s rising)||Isaiah 41:2|
|...who would take it by means of the dried up river bed||Isaiah 45:1,2|
|Cyrus would decree the return of the Jews to their land||2Chronicles 36:22|
|...and the rebuilding of the temple||2Chronicles 36:23|
The fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus, this figurative ‘Messiah’, is taken in other parts of the Bible as a pattern for the future work of Jesus Christ the ‘Messiah’. Jesus at his return will likewise decree the return of the Jews to their land and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. This is the testimony of the prophets.
The book of Revelation chapters 16 to 18 uses this pattern of events to symbolize the things that are to happen when Jesus Christ returns to the earth.
Leaving aside what these things might symbolize we can clearly see that many of those same features are there:
|The drying up of the Euphrates||16:12|
|The unexpected coming||15:15|
|The fall of Babylon||1619;18:2|
|The kings of the East (Sun’s Rising)||16:12|
The lesson for us today is that the coming of Jesus to the earth in these latter days will be just as unexpected as the coming of Cyrus at the fall of Babylon. The Bible tells about the confederacy of nations including Iran, which will attack and initially defeat Israel just prior to Christ's return. But as the prophet Ezekiel tells us, the confederacy will itself be defeated and destroyed through Divine intervention with the result that: `...I (God) will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.' (Ezekiel 38.23 NKJV)
The warning that Jesus gave to his disciples is even more urgent as the time approaches.
Concerning that time he said:
`For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.’ (Luke 21.35,36 NKJV)