Earlier this month, California megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, who was part of President Donald Trump’s inner circle of pastor-counsellors, told his followers he saw “prophetic significance” in what is happening in Ukraine. And Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin was “forced by God” to attack Ukraine. Since then, people who engage in prophecy have given their own biblical interpretations to world events, particularly around Russia’s role in bringing about the end of the world.
A rapture index that tracks what it considers end-times activity recently increased its index to 187 out of 200. The index reached 182 after September 11, 2001. In its latest update, it notes climate change, coronavirus and rising oil prices as factors in recent developments.
Conservative Christians have long looked to world events and pointed to biblical references as signs that what is happening in the world could fulfill Bible prophecy, and this time is no different, said Michael Brown, host of the Charlotte-based Christian radio show “The Line of Fire.”
“When you have Christians who are already thinking about the way we live in the last days and they see America’s continuing moral decline, they see the church being marginalized, it doesn’t take much to tilt the balance,” he said. “Whenever Russia gets involved, it’s like, ‘Ah that’s it, this is the final conflict.'”
Some evangelicals once believed that Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union, was the Antichrist, in part because he had a birthmark on his forehead that raised concerns that he might act of “the mark of the beast”, a biblical sign for Satan at the end of time.
Perhaps Putin is “an Antichrist of our present time,” Jeff Kinley, who writes Bible prophecies and lives in Harrison, Ark., said in a recent interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. However, Brown said he thinks Putin is different from the Antichrist because most of the world seems hostile to Putin while the Antichrist as described in the Bible will bring the whole world under his sway.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll from Feb. 20-24 found that white evangelical Christians were just as negative toward Russia and supportive of sanctions as Americans in general. Among white evangelicals, 47% said Russia was an enemy of the United States and another 33% said it was hostile. Similarly, 68% supported the sanctions and 51% said they would still support them if energy prices rose.
White evangelicals were also much more likely to say they disapprove of President Biden’s handling of the situation with Ukraine (75%) than the rest of Americans (47%).
Brown said he understands why recent world events, including the pandemic, seem to bother some conservative evangelicals. Many, he said, are concerned about vaccine mandates and the World Health Organization as possible preparation for a one-world government or international leader who will make decisions for the world.
“We got a little taste of how people can be moved by fear,” Brown said. “It gave a glimpse of how we could quickly get to a situation where everyone agrees on certain standards around the world. If you don’t, you can’t participate in real life.
Based on some Christians’ interpretation of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, Jesus will return to Earth, believers will be taken up to heaven and unbelievers will be left behind.
For many white evangelicals, Russia is part of that narrative, said Matthew Avery Sutton, professor of history at Washington State University and author of “American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism.”
The literature of people such as John Nelson Darby after the Civil War and the Scofield Bible in 1909 linked Russia with biblical stories. The Scofield Bible identifies a “northern kingdom”, described in the book of Daniel, as Russia. Hal Lindsey’s 1970 bestseller “The Late Great Planet Earth” also popularized the idea that Russia was the land of Magog, the prophesied invader from Israel in the Book of Ezekiel.
In their 1995 bestseller “Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days,” Jerry B. Jenkins and the late evangelical pastor Tim LaHaye interpreted Russia as Magog in a modern version of the book of Ezekiel. “Left Behind” opens focusing on Israel, but then Russia attacks Israel over new technology, setting the stage for the end times.
“Apocalyptic obsession comes and goes in times of crisis,” Sutton said. “We are at another time when prophecy is invoked to make sense of current events.”
Daniel Hummel, a religious historian working on a book about a system that emphasizes a literal interpretation of the Bible called dispensationalism, said Christians would write in the 1840s and 1850s about Russia using links literals between the Bible and what would happen in the future. . Other Christians tended to view biblical descriptions as more symbolic or allegorical.
Christians using a more literal interpretation draw connections between Russia and Bible prophecy and turn to a reference in the book of Ezekiel where it speaks of the prince of Rosh, which sounds like Russia. During the Cold War, Christian leaders applied the American understanding of good and evil, viewing communism as an evil force.
In recent decades, Christians, especially those of Pentecostal or Charismatic traditions, have seen world events, such as the modern state of Israel, as a fulfillment of God’s prophecies. Since 9/11, some of these leaders have focused on “Islamic terrorism”, particularly the role of Iran due to the way Persia is portrayed in the Old Testament. And anything about Israel especially provokes comments about God’s active role in the world.
“There are many people who say cheap [Russia’s war in Ukraine] is prophetically significant,” Hummel said. “You get some credibility by saying prophetic things are happening, but they lose credibility if they try to specify anything. A lot of these people don’t have a clear idea of what the United States should do, but they want the credibility to say they’re on the right side of interpreting these things.
Recent events have given rise to older narratives about Russia, but they’ve also blurred them, said Amy Frykholm, editor of Christian Century magazine and author of “Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America.” Frykholm said recent events have complicated how people view Russia’s role in the end times, including how some right-wing commentators have been more complimentary about Putin’s actions.
Over the past decade, Trump’s rise to power has also resulted in altered prophetic predictions, she said, because it did not fit past accounts of the end of the world and the rapture of Christians, and it nor did it quite represent a theology where conservative Christians seek power themselves.
“For much of the 20th century, many evangelicals felt that everything that happened fit the prophetic pattern: Israel becoming a nation, the Cold War, and the way it was divided between good and evil, and the atomic bomb,” Frykholm said. “It was built on reading the news like it was the Bible and reading the Bible like it was the news. I’m not sure you can do that with the current situation.