Joel Richardson's new documentary film, “End Times Eyewitness,” opens with a series of pointed questions.
"What are the signs" to look for among those expecting the second coming of Jesus Christ?
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"How do the events being played out on the world stage today relate to biblical prophecy?"
Richardson, author of the “The Islamic Antichrist” and “The Mideast Beast,” traveled throughout the Middle East interviewing pastors, missionaries and theologians, as well as Islamic and Jewish leaders, searching for answers.
After spelling out in Jesus' own words, in Matthew 24, why it is important for believers to study the prophets and be watchful of the signs of the times, Richardson makes his case that the signs of His coming are all around. From the historic return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel to the rise of radical Islamic, he said, world events are leading up to the grand showdown between good and evil.
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The first sign was the rebirth of modern-day Israel in 1948 and the subsequent regathering of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland against enormous odds. Th rebirth was predicted by Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Zachariah and Jeremiah, and it was also predicted by Christian leaders for hundreds of years before it happened.
Yet, "there is a division in the house," legendary theologian Walter Kaiser Jr. says in a passionate, on-camera interview. A sizable portion of today's Christian population still doesn't see anything particularly special about the return of the Jews to Israel. That's because they are blinded by a "replacement theology" that sees the church as replacing Israel in the eyes of God and usurping all of the promises of God that were given to the Jewish people, Kaiser said.
Kaiser points out that in Genesis 15, God "cut the covenant" with his people Israel. The fact that they have strayed from their part of the covenant doesn't make it null and void, he said.
"It was God himself who walked between the pieces (of the slaughtered animals)," part of a long-held symbolic practice that in ancient Middle Eastern times was meant to show the other party to an agreement that you were serious about keeping your end of the deal.
"God, in effect, said, 'May I die like these animals if I don’t keep what I promised here," Kaiser explains.
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Richardson then investigated what he believes is a second sign: the growing support for rebuilding the Jewish temple on the holy mountain in Jerusalem, now occupied by the Islamic Dome of the Rock mosque.
More than 10,000 Jews go to the Temple Mount each year to pray, up from a few hundred just a couple of decades ago. A 2009 poll showed that over 60 percent of the overall Jewish community in Israel, both religious and non-religious, want to see the temple rebuilt.
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But it's not only Jews who backs the ambitious and controversial project. Even some Islamic leaders are now talking about a new international house of prayer that would incorporate the existing mosque on the site as its centerpiece.
Richardson interviews a Muslim leader from Turkey, Adnan Oktar, as well as Israeli rabbis who agree that an international house of prayer for the three monotheistic religions should be built on the Temple Mount.
It would be a testimony to "religious tolerance," says Rabbi Yehuda Glick of the Temple Heritage Foundation.
"One house for all of those who are out to say 'God is one, his name is one,'" Glick says. "This is the dream. The Dome of the Rock has a strong potential to be that because it's in the right location, it represents a religion faithful to one God. It only needs one more thing: agree to religious tolerance and peace among faithful people."
The camera then flashes to the mosque, and the voice of messianic Rabbi Jonathan Cahn interjects a word of caution. Cahn, who is Jewish but believes Jesus Christ is the biblical messiah, explains that the Quran teaches "God has no son."
"That's just like the work of the enemy," Cahn says.
He sees the mixing of Christianity and Judaism with Islam in the last days as a demonic trap that will eventually be exposed.
"The enemy is a pre-emptor," Cahn says. "He seeks to stop the work of God before it happens. He tried to kill Moses as a baby. He tried to kill Messiah as a baby. … So it's just like him to take the place where everything not only happened but where it has to happen, where the throne of God will be, and set something up right there on top of it and say, 'Hey, you can't do it because it's my mount.' But God says, 'No that's not going to last.'"
The third biblical sign covered in the film is the rise of false prophets. Richardson believes that chief among these false prophets will be the Islamic messiah, called the Mahdi or the 12th Imam, who Richardson says will be accompanied by the Muslim Jesus. Many Christians aren't aware that Islam believes in Jesus as a prophet who will return in the last days to work with the Mahdi.
The Mahdi is seen by many Muslims as reigning on the earth for seven years, the same amount of time the Bible predicts the antichrist will reign. And, according to Richardson, the Muslim Jesus bears a striking resemblance to the biblical false prophet described in the book of Revelation. The Bible paints the false prophet as a clever deceiver, and Richardson believes he will convince much of the world's religious people that he, Jesus, is Muslim and that Islam is the one true religion.
"Discerning Christians would do well to be aware of the rise of messianic expectation throughout the Islamic world, particularly in light of Jesus’ warnings that the last days would be marked by the appearance of false prophets who will arise and mislead many," Richardson says.
Daniel and the Arab Spring
The fourth sign Richardson sees as having huge biblical consequences is what he calls “Daniel 11 and the Arab Spring.”
The revolutions and upheavals throughout the Islamic world that began in 2011 have led to realignments of alliances, with Turkey emerging as a great power allied with Syria and at least part of Iraq in the north, while Egypt is the dominant power in the south. Israel will be caught in the middle.
This could be a replay of the war between the “King of the North” and “King of the South” that already happened once in the second century with Antiochus Epiphanes, the leader of the northern kingdom, serving as a type of the future antichrist. Richardson expects the antichrist to rise from this same northern region of Turkey, Syria or Iraq.
Upheaval in Egypt
The fifth sign addressed in the film is changes in Egypt, including great upheaval, revolt and civil war, all of which were foretold by Isaiah 19 in the Old Testament, to be followed by great revival.
Richardson says Christianity has been gaining strength in Egypt for 10 years.
While filming for the documentary in 2013, Richardson and his team found themselves caught in the middle of a violent confrontation on Tahrir Square between protesters and Egyptian police. They escaped unharmed but came back with a new appreciation for the struggle of the Egyptian people and especially for Christians who are under constant threat of persecution from the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Isaiah 19 is falling into place, with the threat of civil war in Egypt, the prayer movement of Egypt, the problem with the Nile River, which I touch on in the film, and then you've got the nation turning to the Lord," Richardson told WND.
That's already happening, he said.
"It’s something you don't hear a lot about but there is a massive revival touching off in Egypt," Richardson said. "They're genuinely coming to Jesus whether they're former Muslims or nominally cultural Christians from the Coptic families. They all come together for the prayer meetings and that doesn’t mean they agree theologically but they're willing to come together for the prayer in the face of persecution."
The prayer movement in Egypt is about 10 years old, he said.
"It started real small and now it's to the point where 3,000 to 10,000 people are gathering and they'll pray and worship all night long," he said. "And that's in a country where Christians make up only about 15 percent of the population. In America where you have 80 percent Christians it's hard to get more than a couple of hundred to come together at one time for regular prayer."
He said the Muslim Brotherhood is still a menacing force in Egypt even though it was booted from power in a second revolution.
"There's still a lot of persecution of the Christians by the Muslim Brotherhood. They're furious that they're out of power, so there have been doing bombings and terror attacks all across nation," Richardson told WND. "The country is deeply divided and heading toward civil war. The Muslim Brotherhood feels like they were stripped of power and they are furious."
The Brotherhood's loss of power came in spite of support from President Obama.
"When they were removed from power, he should have totally supported that, but, if anything, he made statements that the new government wasn't legitimate and the Muslim Brotherhood was. He walked a fine line, but it was obvious who he supported," Richardson said. "The people of Egypt cannot stand Obama. They feel he sold the country out, and he has no fans among the moderate Egyptians."
Turkey, ISIS and anti-Semitism
Richardson closes the documentary with three more signs, including the rise of Turkey and transformation of that country into a fundamentalist Islamic state that is increasingly cracking down on journalists and dissenters.
The last two signs covered in the film are the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in the world. This is foretold by the prophet Zachariah who said, "Jerusalem will become a burdensome stone," or "a stumbling block," for the nations of the world.
Avnor Boskey, a messianic pastor living and ministering in Israel, says in an on-camera interview that the pieces are falling into place for the Messiah's return.
Anti-Israel fervor has spread among the nations and even crept into the Christian churches in the West.
"This is a popular trend," Boskey said.
Allen Hood, associate director of the International House of Prayer and a missionary to Israel, said not enough Christians are tuned in to the biblical signs of the times.
"Most are not living with that eschatological urgency of the hour," Hood said. "But the church will awaken."
Near the end of the 65-minute film, an Egyptian Christian named Rami, shrouded in shadows to protect her identity, gives her perspective that the end times are not just theoretical but practical in the lives of the persecuted church living in Muslim countries.
"Jesus is coming. What are you doing?” Rami asks. "We have to ask ourselves the question: How should we be living in light of the approaching hour?"
Richardson said he is now working on a follow-up documentary that will attempt to answer that question.
"There’s another film that will be part two coming out in the spring," he said. "Part two will be focusing on the application.
"The purpose of this first documentary was to explore primary signs of the return of Jesus Christ. Are we living in the last days? And after we answered the question, yes, the second film is going to answer the question of what should the church be doing. What should the response be?"