Christian Dispensationalists and Muslim Mahdists: Unlikely Bedfellows
by Grayson Robertson
Iran has been prominent in the news once more over the past few weeks as the Iranian government continues to press its nuclear program. It seems like Iran offers another antagonistic tidbit of information into its progress every week. Given its past stated hostility toward the nation of Israel through the mouthpiece of its firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Israel and the United States have justifiable concerns about the true nature of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Ahmadinejad is a Muslim by faith who often speaks in apocalyptic terms when addressing what he refers to as the “crime” of Israel’s existence. He has advocated the wholesale destruction of Israel (although there is some controversy over whether his translated comments actually indicated this), and his government is a major benefactor of the Hezbollah and Hamas movements in Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip respectively, movements which Israel and the United States consider to be a terrorist organizations. His speeches often are peppered with imagery of a final battle between good and evil, and his public prayers call for the return of the al-Mahdi (“rightly-guided one”), the Islamic figure who, alongside Jesus, will defeat the Antichrist.
Sound familiar? It should if you have any familiarity with Christian eschatological (end-times) theology. Evangelical Christianity often features references to a final battle between good and evil that will herald the return of Jesus Christ for a millenial rule. This strain of millenialism is known as pre-millenialism and forms the basic theology behind Christian dispensationalism.
Can any parallels be drawn between the behavior of Ahmadinejad in Iran and dispensational Christianity? The example of the Iranian president suggests that a preoccupational with the end times has a tendency to foster actions that are geared toward the fulfillment of eschatological prophecy. Christian Zionists, i.e., those that espouse the preservation of the state of Israel as a fulfillment of God’s will, become equally belligerent when, in their minds, signs of the Apocalypse begin to appear. Most often these signs are represented in some form, according to Christian Zionists, by a threat to the existence of Israel as a secular nation-state.
The fact of the matter is that strong parallels in thinking do indeed exist between Muslims and Christians who are preoccupied with the end times. Both groups seem willing to encourage events leading to the climactic end times battle that they anticipate will occur in the near future. A majority of Christian Zionists are dispensationalists - for them, the 1967 capture of Jerusalem by Israeli forces was the beginning of “the end” (see Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth). Since that time, dispensationalists have prominently warned the larger sphere of Christendom that the apocalyptic battle is nigh and have sought to identify current events and figures based on biblical prophecy. Some have even pointed to Ahmadinejad himself as a possible candidate for the role of Antichrist.
When asked about his view of the Book of Revelation, a professor of mine once replied that it could be summarized in two words: “God wins.” As he elaborated, it became clear that he viewed the various interpretations of Revelation as a sideshow that detracts from the central, positive message of the prophecy and prompts otherwise faithful Christians to view other faiths with suspicion and, in some cases, hostility. Rather than demonizing those that we do not understand and with whom we have quarrels by casting them as antagonists to Christianity, should we not focus on that underlying joyful message of biblical prophecy? It is a message addressed to all God-fearing men and women regardless of race or creed. I can hear Harry Carey now....”God wins! God wins!”
Grayson Robertson is a 2011 graduate of Georgetown University’s Islam and Muslim/Christian Relations Master’s program and lives with is wife and twin daughters in the Washington, DC area.
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