Islam, a totalitarian religio-political ideology that combines religious beliefs with a body of law and an aggressive, belligerent outlook, has in the past few decades been re-asserting itself after centuries of quiescence.
A. The Islamic Revival
The ferocious military power of Islam, rightly feared in Christendom for many centuries, was broken around the turn of the 19th century. The last Muslim power, the Ottoman Empire—called the “sick man of Europe” because of its long decline during the 19th Century—was finally destroyed by the Allied Powers during the First World War. Kemal Atatürk, who emerged as Turkey’s leader, looked to the West for governing principles, abolished the caliphate, and took elaborate precautions to guard against a resurgence of political Islam in Turkey. Soon many Muslim territories became colonies, client states, or protectorates of Christian nations.
The European powers all eventually relinquished their Muslim colonies, but the native regimes that followed were secular and modeled after the Western governments that had recently colonized them. These benign governments were eventually overthrown by dictators, but the dictators were almost always secularists and in some cases socialists. (An example of secular Arab socialism was the Baath Party in Iraq and Syria.) For the most part, the new Arab leaders wanted nothing to do with Islam as a governing ideology.
There were very few Islamic governments in the Muslim world for decades. The most notable exception was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, founded after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and never a Western colony. It long had the most Islamic government in the world. Close ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia prevented it from becoming jihadist in character, but the Saudis have used their enormous oil wealth to promote Salafism, a fundamentalist version of Islam, around the world.
Then came the Iranian Revolution of 1979, in which a pro-American secularist dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was replaced by an explicitly Islamic government, a government run by Muslim clerics who sought to implement sharia law as interpreted in the Shia tradition. During the past four decades, Iran has promoted Islamic fundamentalism and Jihad terrorism to the greatest extent its wealth and influence permitted.
After Kemal abolished the caliphate in the 1920s, a Sunni Islamist organization was established in Egypt called the Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan. The Ikhwan, though it does not itself carry out jihad terror, is the ideological mother of all the Sunni Islamist groups we have seen in the past few decades, including Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The past decade has also witnessed the slow death of Kemalism (Turkish secularism) under the Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In summary, what is happening in the Muslim world is an Islamic revival. Secular governments that had looked to the West for governing laws, principles, and structures are being rejected by their Muslim constituents. They are being replaced, often violently, by governments that look to Islamic law (sharia law) for guidance. Sharia law is a system of law, developed mostly in the 7th through the 10th centuries, derived from the Quran, the hadith (collections of oral traditions about the life and teachings of Muhammad), and the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
The West has reacted poorly to the Islamic revival. Western governing elites have failed to learn what Islam is, to understand the threat it poses to Western values and modes of government, or to realize that Islam is at best a competing civilization, if not an enemy civilization. This has resulted in foolish and self-defeating policies.
For example, the U.S. toppled the regime of Baathist (secular-socialist) Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, thereby greatly increasing the power and influence of Islamist Iran, as well as giving space to Sunni fundamentalist groups like ISIS. A similar mistake was made in removing Muamar Khaddaffi in Libya, creating a power void filled by Islamist terror groups. But the worst mistake was to allow mass Muslim immigration into the West. The U.S. has admitted over a million Muslim immigrants since 9/11, and now has two Muslim congressional representatives who reflect typical Muslim values, such as antisemitism.
The current Islamic revival, and the West’s strange reaction to it, has many Christians wondering about Islam's place in Bible prophecy.
B. The Historical Method of Prophetic Interpretation
Any discussion of prophecy must begin with a discussion of the methodology of prophetic interpretation. One school, preterism, contends that the prophecies were all fulfilled by events that took place close to the time they were written. Another school, futurism, contends that everything remains to be fulfilled; it is all still in the future, and will take place shortly before the Second Coming of Christ. A third school of prophecy, historicism, contends that many of the prophecies were fulfilled during the 19 centuries between John the Revelator's time and our time. Although preterism and futurism are now more popular in evangelical circles, Seventh-day Adventists have taken the historical approach.
Historicists have generally seen Islam as prefigured in the fifth and sixth trumpets, or first and second woes, of Revelation Chapter Nine. The fifth trumpet, or messenger, which is the first woe (Rev. 9:1-12), is seen as the Arab wave of Islamic expansion, which began shortly after Muhammad’s death in 632 AD. A century of rapid Arab Muslim conquest stripped the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire of most of its territory, swept away Christian Egypt and North Africa, destroyed a Christian Visigothic kingdom in Spain, and was finally stopped in northern France in 732 A.D. by Frankish forces led by Charles Martel.
The sixth trumpet/messenger, which is the second woe (Rev. 9:13-20), is interpreted as the Ottoman Turkish wave of Islamic expansion. This Turkish wave finished off the old Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, conquering Constantinople in 1453, eventually conquered most of Greece and Southeastern Europe, and reached its high-water mark at the gates of Vienna in 1529, and again in 1683, finally being halted by King Jan III Sobieski of Poland, who came to Austria’s aid.
The historical school of prophetic interpretation views Islam as divinely-allowed retribution against the apostate Christianity of the middle ages, that period of 42 prophetic months or 1,260 literal years lasting from 538 to 1798 AD, which was a time when pure, Bible believing Christians were often persecuted and the biblical witness was muted, forced to testify “clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:2-3; 13:5). Muhammad was born in 570 AD, not long after the beginning of the period of darkness and Papal persecution in 538 AD; Islam's assault on Christendom began in earnest soon after his death in 632 AD.
As Uriah Smith wrote, “The Saracens [Arabs] and the Turks were the instruments by which a false religion became the scourge of an apostate church . . . . The hordes of the Saracens and Turks were let loose as a scourge and punishment upon apostate Christendom. Men suffered the punishment, but learned no lesson from it.”
C. The Fulfillment of Revelation Nine
Let us now see how what was written down by John the Revelator has been fulfilled by Islam, in both its Arab and Turkish phases. On the Isle of Patmos, John wrote the following:
“And the fifth messenger did sound, and I saw a star out of the heaven having fallen to the earth, and there was given to it the key of the pit of the abyss, and he did open the pit of the abyss, and there came up a smoke out of the pit as smoke of a great furnace, and darkened was the sun and the air, from the smoke of the pit.” Rev. 9:1-2
The star that fell from heaven to earth was Lucifer, now Satan (Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:14-187; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:7-9, 13, 17). Muhammad believed he was inspired by the angel Gabriel (Quran 2:97); in reality, his inspiration came from a different angel, a fallen angel.
In the New Testament, the “abyss” is a dark abode where demons are held (Luke 8:30-31; 1 Pet. 3;19; Jude 6), and a place from which demonic things emerge (Rev. 17:8). Satan was given the key to open the abyss, meaning that he was allowed to inspire Muhammad to form a false religion. After the Second Coming, the lifeless, empty, desolate earth forms an “abyss” in which Satan is locked (Rev. 20:1-3, 7-10).
The abyss is both a dark abode for demons and a desolate place. In Revelation nine, the “abyss” symbolizes both, 1) that Islam would emerge from the abyss from which demonically inspired doctrines come, and 2) that Islam would emerge from the desolate desert wastes of Arabia.
Like every false religion, Islam is a mixture of truth and error. Islam has some positive aspects to it. It claims to worship the same God as Judaism and Christianity, it acknowledges the inspiration of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (although it argues that the Quran contains the most faithful version of the Bible stories), it is fiercely monotheistic and condemns polytheism, and it is extremely vigilant about condemning idolatry and any sort of veneration of icons or statuary.
But Islam denies the divinity of Christ and denies that Christ died on the cross to save humanity from its sins. These denials are the dark smoke that obscures the saving light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the smoke that “darkened the sun and the air.”
“And out of the smoke came forth locusts to the earth, and there was given to them authority, as scorpions of the earth have authority, and it was said to them that they may not injure the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but--the men only who have not the seal of upon their foreheads.” Rev. 9:3-4
The false religion of Islam was soon to invade Christendom like a plague of locusts—although obviously not a literal swarm of locusts, because such swarms always destroy every green and growing thing. These “locusts” do not injure the grass or the trees. Gibbon notes that Abu Bakr, the first successor (caliph) to Muhammad, ordered his warriors not to destroy palm trees, fruit trees or grain fields, thus fulfilling this part of the prophecy.
Those who lack the seal of God will be sorely afflicted by these locusts. The seal of God is the Sabbath; the Fourth Commandment describes God's creation of the heavens and the earth, and thus establishes God's sovereignty over that creation, and His right to make laws to govern it. (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:8-11; 31:13, 17; Ezek. 20:12, 20. See, also, PP 307). Most Christians of the seventh century embraced the name of Christ while neglecting His laws and precepts, beginning with the Sabbath commandment. They had for centuries been neglecting Christ's commandments while persecuting and killing each other in pointless, inane controversies over the exact mixture of human and divine in the person of Christ.
“And the likenesses of the locusts are like to horses made ready for battle, and upon their heads as crowns like gold, and their faces as faces of men, and they had hair as hair of women, and their teeth were as those of lions, and they had breastplates as breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings is as the noise of chariots of many horses racing to battle . . . and they have over them a king--the messenger of the abyss–his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek his name is Apollyon.” Rev. 9:7-11
We are here being shown a ferocious warrior nation that specialized in fast-moving cavalry attacks. This mode of warfare was the signature of the Arab Muslim armies, composed of magnificent Arabian horses ridden by skilled horsemen. These fearsome mounted armies rapidly conquered much of the civilized world; within a century after the death of Muhammad (570-632 AD), Muslims had conquered all of Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain, and had raided deep into France.
The “crowns” upon their heads were the distinctive conical-shaped helmets they wore. The brimless turban shape was a traditional Arab headdress in pre-Muslim times, but it also allowed Muslims to touch their foreheads to the ground when praying toward Mecca. With regard to the helmets being like a crown, Islamic armor was noteworthy for its opulent decoration; it was known for inlaid gold or silver, known as “damascening,” after Damascus, where the technique became popular.
Islamic arms and armor were decorated using a variety of techniques such as damascening, gilding, inlay, gold and silver encrusting, as well as setting with jewels and enameling. On some ceremonial items, the decoration could achieve such sumptuous and spectacular effects that the final appearance of the object has more in common with an item of jewelry [or a crown] than a weapon.
Arab warriors wore their hair long—the “hair of women”—a fact known from the surviving poetry of Antarah ibn Shaddad (AD 525-608) and from the Roman historian Pliny, who noted that Arab warriors tucked their long hair under their turbans.
The reference to their teeth being like those of a lion is likely symbolic for the ferocity of their attacks, and the great chunks of territory they were able to bite off and quickly consume and incorporate into the growing Arab Muslim empire.
“And they have over them a king--the messenger of the abyss–his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek his name is Apollyon.”
The king, the messenger or prophet of the abyss, is of course Muhammad. As the “messenger of the abyss,” Muhammad was the prophet of the false religion inspired by Satan. Each of Muhammad’s successors, each “caliph,” assumes Muhammad authority, which is a dual authority over both temporal and religious affairs. Because Muhammad and each caliph had both religious and political authority, there is no separation of mosque and state in Islam.
Abaddon and Apollyon both mean “destruction” or “destroyer.” From the perspective of a 7th or 8th Century Christian in the Middle East, North Africa, or Spain, Islam destroyed your society and civilization. Destruction is what the Muslim Arab conquerors brought. The term “destroyer” aptly describes Muhammad and his followers.
“[A]nd it was given to them that they may not kill them, but that they may be tormented five months, and their torment is as the torment of a scorpion, when it may strike a man; and in those days shall men seek death, and they shall not find it, and they shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. . . . and they have tails like scorpions, and stings were in their tails; and their authority to injure men five months . . .” Rev. 9:5-6, 10.
In order to understand this prophecy, one must be familiar with the tenets of Islamic law as it relates to Jihad and the conquest of non-Muslims by Muslims. Islam is a militant creed that teaches, and requires of its adherents, constant warfare against the infidel until sharia law is established throughout the world. However, Islam makes provision for a treaty (dhimmi, Arabic) that protects the lives of conquered non-Muslim “people of the book”--Christians and Jews—on condition that they accept the strictures of the treaty and live in submission to Muslim overlords. Christians and Jews who live under the protection of the treaty are called dhimmis. In other words, under Muslim law, “it was given [to the Muslim conquerors] that they may not kill them . . .”
There was however, torment. The plight of the dhimmi is not a pleasant one. The details of dhimmitude varied from place to place, but the main features remain the same. Because Islamic persecution of the Copts has recently resumed in earnest, we will discuss the conditions of dhimmitude with special reference to the Muslim conquest of Christian Egypt. Over the course of about a thousand years, the harshness of dhimmitude reduced the Egyptian Christians from the overwhelming majority of the population to a small minority of about ten percent.
First, the Coptic dhimmis were required to pay a special poll tax called the jizyah that Muslims were not required to pay, and typically paid other commercial taxes at a higher rate than Muslims. The jizyah is paid in a humiliating public ceremony at which the dhimmi is slapped in the face or hit on the back of the neck. He was then issued a receipt that allowed him to travel, but if he lost the receipt he was subject to execution. Dhimmis were not allowed to travel without a passport, and any boat transporting a dhimmi lacking a passport was burned.
Second, title to land was forfeit to the Muslims; dhimmis had to pay a land tax called the kharaj to continue to cultivate their own land. The kharaj instantly reduced many of the Copts to destitution. Thousands left the land or converted to Islam. But the Muslim rulers could not afford to lose their peasant class, so they rounded up Coptic villagers and branded them with identifying brands, so that they could not escape their serfdom. For many years, Copts were forbidden to sell their land to Muslims, because that would exempt the land from the kharaj, which the Muslim rulers needed. To discourage mass conversion, the jizyah was extended to new converts to Islam, so that not even converting to Islam could provide complete escape from the taxes.
In theory, dhimmis are allowed freedom of religion, but they are not allowed to build new churches or repair existing churches. They must worship in quietness and are not allowed to ring church bells, or have singing at church or lamentations at funerals. They were forbidden to proselytize. Disparaging or criticizing Muhammad or Islam is considered a serious breach of the treaty, punishable by death. (When today we see Muslims demand that Westerners not disparage the prophet, they are treating Westerners as already conquered dhimmis; many Western leaders accommodate these sharia demands, not realizing that submitting to one sharia demand will only lead to more and still more such demands until submission is complete. Islam means submission.)
A dhimmi man is not allowed to marry or have relations with a Muslim woman; this also is breach of the treaty serious enough to warrant death. By contrast, Muslim men are allowed to marry Christian women. A dhimmi is not allowed to own or carry a weapon. Dhimmis are not allowed to have any authority over a Muslim, nor testify against a Muslim in court. Dhimmis were required to wear special clothing, usually ugly, ill-fitting and ridiculous, to distinguish them from Muslims; they could not wear clothes that Muslims wore, nor certain colors, such as green. The purpose of these clothing regulations was to both humiliate and to easily distinguish dhimmis. Dhimmis were not allowed to ride noble mounts such as horses or camels, but were relegated to donkeys and mules. Dhimmis were not allowed to build houses as high as the houses of Muslims, and often were consigned to ghettos away from the Muslim neighborhoods. Dhimmis were required to stand and remain standing in the presence of Muslims.
The enforcement of the treaty fell to the Muslim ruler of the land, and these varied greatly in the extent to which they enforced it. On many of those occasions when enforcement was lax and dhimmis got too far above their station, however, the Muslim “street” would take matters into its own hands; rioting Muslims would often destroy dhimmi property and kill dozens to hundreds of dhimmis. They reasoned that by ignoring the restrictions of the treaty, the dhimmis had forfeited its protection of their lives.
The bleak life of dhimmitude was indeed “as the torment of the scorpion.” It is little wonder that most of the Copts eventually chose conversion to Islam, and even this route out of serfdom was not always open to them. Clearly, during the First Woe, many Christians would “desire to die, but death would flee from them.”
But the plight of the dhimmi was better than the fate of non-Muslims captured in raids and in piracy; these were not entitled to the protection of the treaty. Piracy has always been a perfectly acceptable Muslim occupation, following the example of Muhammad, who practiced brigandage against desert caravans. For hundreds of years, Muslims raided the coasts of Greece, Sicily, Italy, France, and even Ireland. Mediterranean shipping was not safe from Muslim piracy until after the Napoleonic Wars.
Captives taken in these raids were booty, the spoils of war. They could be killed or forced to convert to Islam. Typically their fate was slavery, which usually meant concubinage for the women, and often meant castration for the men. Although we think of Islam as the realm of the veil, niqab, chador and burka, slave girls could be exhibited in the marketplace naked from the waist up. Muhammad's example in owning slaves and concubines legitimized slavery, both sexual and non-sexual, for his followers down through history. (One of Muhammad's concubines was “Mary the Copt,” who was gifted to him by the Byzantine governor of Egypt in 628 AD.)
Again, the scorpion-like sting of dhimmitude was “in the tail,” meaning that it was not immediately apparent to the conquered Christians. In fact, when the Arabs first conquered Egypt in 641 AD, the Copts found them preferable to their erstwhile Byzantine rulers, for two reasons. First, the imperial government in Constantinople heavily taxed the Egyptian Copts. Second, the Byzantines were Chalcedonians and, they persecuted the Copts who were monophysites (monophysitism and Chalcedonianism are competing schools of thought regarding the exact human and divine nature of Christ). The Muslim conquest of Egypt immediately put a stop to this persecution of Christian by Christian. It was only years later, after the Muslims had consolidated their grip on power, the Copts, to their everlasting regret, learned the true nature of Islamic tolerance. The sting is in the tail.