Author Joel Richardson's end-times prophecy books are getting a fresh look in light of the ISIS reign of terror across large swaths of the Middle Eastern countries of Syria and Iraq, but he believes the jihadist network's days could be numbered.
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ISIS will be chopped down long before it reaches its stated goal of controlling the Levant, which includes part of southern Turkey and all of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.
But Richardson's forecast of who is most likely to deliver the knockout blow to ISIS might surprise some Middle East watchers. It won't necessarily be the United States or NATO, he says, despite President Obama's suddenly toughened stance against the terror group.
Rather, he has his eye on Iran.
"I find it fascinating that Obama is laying out his game plan now," said Richardson, New York Times bestselling author of "The Islamic Antichrist" and "Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist," both published by WND Books.
"Every time the U.S. does something in the Middle East, I watch history repeat itself," the author and internationally recognized Bible teacher told WND. "The issue is, can we convince the American people on the front end that ISIS is bad and here's what we need to do to stop them? But rarely does anyone think of the long-term effect of these policies."
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President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein only strengthened Iran, creating an area from Baghdad through southern Iraq that is now "basically a proxy for Iran," Richardson said.
ISIS is a brutal Sunni Muslim caliphate and a natural enemy of Iran's Shia Muslim government.
The emergence of ISIS sets the table for the recently empowered Iran to flex its muscle in the region, either directly moving in to stop the Sunni juggernaut, or supplying the Kurds with weapons and support to take out ISIS.
"Now if either [the United States] or the Kurds take out ISIS, what will the implications of that be?" Richardson asked. "To me, it opens the door for Iran to expand its power. There's no question the Middle East is an incredibly multi-layered chess game, but most would agree that Iran is a much more existential threat than ISIS. Yes, ISIS is loud, it's outrageous, it's evil, and it's gotten the attention of the media. But long term, Iran is much more dangerous, and Turkey is the wild card that most in the West aren't willing to acknowledge yet. But Turkey is probably even more dangerous than Iran."
He said ISIS could serve "as the perfect fuse" for a war that ends up further empowering Iran.
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He looks at the biblical book of Daniel, Chapter 8, as his cue for the next big move in the Middle East chess game.
That passage of Scripture describes Persia, the modern-day Iran, expanding to the east and north and south.
"There's going to be a massive Iranian war, an opportunity for Iran to expand its influence to the east and north and south, and then out of that will come a confrontation with Turkey," Richardson said.
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ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has carried out atrocities that have shocked the world, including the recent beheadings of American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley. ISIS also has beheaded Christians, including women and children, who refused to convert to Islam.
This follows the Quran's teaching to "smite the necks" of idolaters and "prisoners of war."
In his first book, "The Islamic Antichrist," Richardson lays out his case for Islam as the end-times world religion that will produce the Antichrist, who will use it to conquer the entire Middle East and subdue large portions of the rest of the world.
His second book, "Mideast Beast," expands on the theme and explains that this global Islamic empire won't necessarily encompass the entire globe. When the biblical prophets talked about "all nations," they often spoke in hyperbole, Richardson said, and to them "all nations" usually meant all of the nations around Israel.
But that doesn't mean Islam won't have a firm foothold of influence in nations throughout Europe, Asia and North America. This is already happening to various degrees.
In the meantime, there is ISIS, the threat of the moment, but one that Richardson sees as a temporary blip on the road to greater geopolitical upheaval. The beheadings are significant, however, in that they could be a harbinger of things to come.
"The ISIS practice of beheading has been on a level not seen since Medieval times, and biblical prophecies see that as the predominant method of martyrdom (for Christians) in the last days," Richardson told WND. "In Revelation 6, we see a picture of the souls of the saints by the altar. In John 16, Jesus says the time is coming 'when those who kill you will think they're offering a service to God.'
"So here you have a people, ISIS, who are executing Christians and Jews because they believe that is what God commanded them to do. Islam fits that passage perfectly, and no other people or religion does, and [Muslims] also deny the father and they deny the son."
In Revelation 20:4, John also speaks of seeing in a vision "the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God.
"They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands."
With the beheadings by ISIS in Iraq and Syria and Hamas' beheading of Arab informants working for Israel, Richardson sees radical Islam only gaining strength in the years ahead.
Richardson also sees Micah Chapter 5 as a key prophetic scripture. The Old Testament prophet speaks of the Jewish Messiah being born in Bethlehem.
"Everyone acknowledges that's the Messiah, but then it talks of him delivering Israel from the invasion of Assyria," Richardson said.
That passage about an Assyrian invasion and deliverance by the Messiah has puzzled many students of prophecy over the years because it has never been fulfilled.
"It never happened in ancient history, and it never happened with Jesus, so many scholars see it as a type of the Antichrist titled 'the Assyrian,'" Richardson said.
"Thus He shall deliver us from the Assyrian," states Micah 5:6.
Clarence Lark, G.H. Lang and Arthur Pink are among the Christian scholars who have examined the prophecy of the Assyrian, which is mirrored in Isaiah 8, and concluded it must be a reference to the Antichrist.
Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria. Nineveh today is the Iraqi city of Mosul. It fell under ISIS control in June, and ISIS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the caliph over a caliphate he calls ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Today that ancient land of Assyria is part of several nations: the north of Iraq, part of southeast Turkey, northwest Iran and northeast Syria.
"I don't believe the specific caliphate under ISIS is going to produce the Antichrist," Richardson said. "However, the fact that the attention of the world, with the movement of borders and all, is being redirected to that region, it clearly tells me it's moving in that direction. That doesn't mean ISIS will produce the Antichrist. I believe the Antichrist is going to try to emerge as a man of peace, and I don't think ISIS is going to pull that off."
Richardson cites Chapters 8 and 11 of the book of Daniel, which foretold of a "type" of the future coming Antichrist. His name was Antiochus Epiphanes.
"We see in Antiochus a foreshadowing of the Antichrist and he had two capitals, one in Mosul (Nineveh) and the other at Antioch in Turkey," he said. "So you have part of the region from which Antiochus Epiphanes came from now under ISIS control, pointing to that region."
Turkey, interestingly, has been providing support for ISIS with key transportation lines and a training camp, WND reported this week.
Another challenge for many students of Bible prophecy is Ezekiel 38 and 39, which refers to the Antichrist as Gog with his chief prince of Magog. Many see this as a reference to Russia. Richardson doesn't agree with that analogy.
"In the last days, there are going to be some wars, and many of the modern boundaries of the Middle East are going to be rewritten, and there will be sort of a new, greater Turkey that will include the regions that will produce the Antichrist," Richardson said. "First, Iran is going to make a move and probably be largely responsible for mopping the floor with ISIS, and then Turkey will respond and defeat Iran.
"Then out of that general region of Turkey and Syria and Iraq – the Scriptures are just hammering that region – comes the Antichrist."
Throughout history, armies marched from Greece and Rome, then the Byzantines, followed by the Ottoman Turks, to conquer this volatile region of the world known as the Middle East.
"So that region constantly is in conflict throughout history, and Turkey and Iran are lining up today to again become enemies. They're in historical conflict and, again, they're the two alpha dogs that are positioning for control of the Middle East," Richardson said. "I see Iran as eventually conquered, defeated by Turkey."
And what about Iran's budding nuclear capabilities?
"That's kind of a wild card, but there's a powerful prophecy in Jeremiah 49 that speaks of the inhabitants of Elam being dispersed throughout the nations, and that's the general location of Iran's nuclear program, so if there is some sort of a nuclear catastrophe in that region it could explain why there is this major dispersal," Richardson said.
The Obama administration's use of the term ISIL ,as opposed to ISIS, does not carry any special weight with Richardson.
"There's a lot of conspiracy theories going around about that, but a lot of the talk about ISIL comes out of the military, and the international community has been consistently using that term, so I just think Obama's picked it up from them," Richardson said. "It's just a more proper translation of the Arabic acronym.
"I know others are saying it's because they believe Obama is a secret Muslim and he wants ISIS to take out Israel. I don't believe he's a secret Muslim," Richardson continued. "I think he's a radical leftist, a communist and an anti-colonialist. I think he has profound Muslim sympathies because of his upbringing, but I don't think he has sympathies with ISIS. His brushing them off as the 'junior varsity' terror squad was before they took over the whole northern portion of Iraq."
Richardson also has a view on Russia's future role on the geopolitical stage that goes against the prevailing view of most Western Bible teachers.
"I think Russia is just self-interested in its dealings with Iran and different nations for the purpose of energy deals, but I think the church has largely misinterpreted Ezekiel 38 and 39 as being all about Russia," he said.
"They take one or two names and then use blood lines as a method of interpretation, and then they take later verses and use the historical-geographical interpretation, as in Ezekiel's day Tubal was in Turkey. But you don't say, 'Oh, they migrated up here, and if we did a gene testing the Russians would have some of these people's blood running through their veins.' If you did that with all of Europe, you'd end up with the Germans, Gauls, Scottish and Irish, too, and none of these guys say they are about to invade Israel.
"You have to take a responsible interpretation and then look out at the world and say it could line up this way," he said. "The talk of Russia invading Israel has been politicized toward America's particular view of the world."