The Islamic State in Syria also known by other names, is a newly emerging state that has grown rapidly especially in the last two years. It has produced world wide condemnation like nothing else even Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and other notorious regime leaders. Unlike most of these, it is a theocracy with both a spiritual and physical agenda. It is promoting a radical form of Islam and claiming to follow the Koran with greater purity than other forms.. It is strictly Sunni Islam and has shown extreme violence against other forms of Islam and of course Christians, Jews and others who refuse to accept its form of Islam.
In the Bible, the book of Daniel (chapter 8:9 and following verses) teaches that the ruler at the end of the age will start off small (he will initially be a little horn), then grow towards the south and the east and towards the land of Israel. He will keep on growing and be very successful and become very powerful. He will cause fearful destruction, destroy powerful nations and God’s people, but in the end be broken, but not by a human hand. Many biblical scholars identify this person with the Seleucid king Antiochus IV who reigned from 175 to 164 BC. However, although matching some of this rulers characteristics, it fails badly in others, especially in starting small, his degree of violence and his lack of success. Antiochus IV did not start small, was not very successful and indeed was defeated by the Jews before his sudden death.
Intriguingly, in recent times, there have been many speculative proposals about the identity of this end of the age ruler. If the criteria mentioned above had been applied to these proposals they would all have been rejected, for example President Obama. None of them have been likely candidates. None of them have resided north to north west of Israel which is necessary to fulfil Daniel 8:9. In contrast, it should be seen that ISIS matches quite a few of the criteria well, but it is too early to establish that identity since other criteria remain which have not been satisfied. Especially, we do not yet know how successful ISIS will be. The world is horrified at what ISIS is doing and confidently predicts its destruction. However, the longer it survives the stronger it is becoming. It is a very well organised state, has substantial wealth and is training an army of people who will die for their cause. It also has world wide domination as its objective.
World conditions are such today that it is very difficult for the high technology and military capability of the west to intervene as was done in Iraq in 2003. The west is extremely fragile economically being under huge debt. It cannot afford and is very unwilling to put many troops on the ground in the Middle East now even in spite of its heavy reliance on Middle Eastern oil. The west has lost much of the trust of Middle Eastern countries because of its ambiguous political alignments. The internal conditions of many countries in the Middle East is unstable and deteriorating with many disparate groups often fighting one another. Loss of life and human displacement is huge. Suffering is huge. This is making this whole region ripe for the emergence of radical groups just like Daniel 8:23 NIV says “In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, will arise”.
The other very significant feature of ISIS is their declaration of the reestablishment of the Islamic caliphate on 29 June, 2014. That status is currently rejected by the majority of Islamic nations. However, in my understanding of the book of Revelation, the reestablishment of the Islamic caliphate is a very significant event. Let me take a little time to explain its significance.
If your view of Revelation is some form of preterist view so that most of Revelation is fulfilled in the first century AD or perhaps until the collapse of the Roman Empire, you will probably interpret the “beast out of the sea” in Revelation 13:1-10 as the Roman Empire. If you are futurist, with most of Revelation being fulfilled in the last 7 or 3.5 years before Jesus returns, then the “beast out of the sea” will be the final anti-Christ kingdom and likely a “revived Roman Empire”. If you are a historicist who takes the visions in Revelation as history being fulfilled in the chronological order in which they were written, there will be a variety of identifications of the “beast out of the sea”. If you are an idealist, you will probably identify the “best out of the sea” first with Rome, but then as symbolic of all the emerging empires opposed to God’s kingdom throughout history. I am none of these. I am a historicist who sees a very close integration between Daniel and Revelation which therefore necessitates concurrently parallel visions in Revelation like in Daniel. I see that Revelation reveals the rest of the vision that was closed to Daniel in Daniel 12:9 and opened to John when he wrote Revelation and could only be opened once Jesus had won the victory on the cross. I do not know anyone who holds this view; let’s call it historicist with recapitulation.
That lead to the unambiguous identification of the “beast out of the sea” with the Islamic kingdom that began with Muhammad starting around 610 when he received his first vision. History reveals that the Islamic kingdom grew very rapidly for about 150 years under Arabic leadership, grew further until significant defeats in France in 732, and in Vienna when the Ottomon’s were defeated in 1683. From that time on the Islamic kingdom entered a period of slow decline until its most serious humiliation when the Caliphate was disbanded in 1924. In this perspective, this is the only reasonable way to interpret the head of the beast which seemed to have a mortal wound as described in Revelation 13:3. This is a very apt way to describe the status of the Islamic kingdom since 1924, a theocracy without a unifying leadership head. Reading Revelation 13:1-10 carefully then makes clear that the “now time” of this vision is when the head is healed, in other words, when the Islamic Caliphate is reestablished. This is seen by the world as like a resurrection since the whole world marveled at the beasts recovery. Note that up until and including verse 7, everything is in the past tense, however, the worship by the whole world of this beast in verse 8 is future. So if indeed the whole Islamic world comes to recognize the Caliphate established by ISIS, that will be very significant.
In my opinion, we should watch and pray with great alertness and not allow any of our well-formed end time theologies to prevent us from seeing what is happening. We need to be prepared spiritually for what is unfolding and be very excited at the spiritual revival that has been and is occurring in many parts of the world, especially in the last 20 years. Paul ensures us that if we remain alert we will not be surprised at the events that lead to the return of the Lord (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4).