Led along the edge of a Libyan beach by Islamic State militants, 21 Egyptian Christians wearing the orange jumpsuits of prisoners received the white robes of martyrs. A gruesome video released in mid-February depicted their captors forcing the men to the ground and beheading them with swift, simultaneous strokes of the blade.
The mass execution sparked international outrage, military retaliation from the Egyptian government, and mournful reflection throughout Christendom.
The fear which had ever so subtly crept into the evangelical conscience when ISIS declared itself a caliphate less than a year earlier now reached an alarming crescendo: Is this how the world will end?
THE LAST HOUR
In late February, The Atlantic published the article “What ISIS Really Wants,” an in-depth look at the goals and aims of the Islamic group and an indictment on the Obama administration for not taking seriously the jihadists’ religious claims. Graeme Wood, contributing editor for The Atlantic, describes ISIS as an Islamic group reviving the violent origins of its religion in an attempt to usher in the apocalypse, or what Muslims call the “last hour.”
ISIS is a Sunni jihadist group that declared itself a caliphate — an Islamic state led by a religious and political leader — in June 2014 after taking control of large portions of Iraq and Syria, a territory now larger than many nations. In March, the group also accepted the pledge of Nigerian-based Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group which captured international headlines with the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in April 2014.
The escalation of violence since ISIS rose to prominence is due in part to the rejection from many Muslims. ISIS adheres to a fundamentalist Islamic practice known as takfir, which punishes apostates — Muslims and Christians who do not accept their totalitarian rule — through means of crucifixion, stoning, beheading, or enslavement.
“We are horrified at the inhuman acts of ISIS,” writes Michael Youssef in his recent book, Jesus, Jihad and Peace. “If ISIS and other Islamist groups get their way, they will bring these horrors [to the United States]. They won’t stop at gobbling up Iraq and Syria or the entire Middle East or Europe and Africa. Their goal is to establish a global caliphate.”
Youssef is founding pastor of The Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia, and president of Leading the Way, a worldwide broadcast ministry to spread the gospel of Jesus in Muslim-majority countries. In an interview with Towers, Youssef said that all Muslims, whether Sunni or Shiite, believe that the chaos arising from the quest to establish a global caliphate will bring about the Mahdi, a messianic figure who will “rule and dominate the world.”
“The interesting characteristic about this Mahdi is that he is going to rule from Jerusalem and people are going to be coming to him from all over the world to pay homage and literally worship him,” Youssef said, elaborating on a claim he made in his book that the Mahdi is “indistinguishable” from the Antichrist in Christian teaching. “With all of the chaotic experiences that we are seeing — from beheading that is so brutal and so savage, the crucifying of babies and so forth — in their mind, this is their way of speeding up the return of the Mahdi.”
Because Islam contains non-canonical texts with eschatological teachings, many Muslims disagree over the precise order of end times events and who exactly is involved. Yet Islam has its own version of the Antichrist, known as the Dajjal, and many Muslims believe that Jesus will return and defeat this end-times villain.
Muhammad Ramadan Almoutem, the imam at The Muslim Community Center of Louisville, fled Syria three years ago before the protests turned violent. A self-described moderate Sunni Muslim, Almoutem denounced ISIS as a “twisted” representation of Islam, but he expressed belief in some of the traditional Islamic beliefs about the last hour, including the major signs of the Mahdi, the Dajjal, and the return of Jesus.
“The most important thing that Muslims believe about the last hour is that Jesus will come back to this world as a Muslim, not as a Christian, and he will spread justice,” Almoutem said in an interview with Towers.
J. Scott Bridger, director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at Southern Seminary, said that Muslims, despite their own disagreements, share a universal belief in the return of Jesus to restore order and judge Christians for worshiping him.
“The traditional Muslim interpretation of the Quran is that Jesus was not crucified and did not die,” Bridger said, “and that Jesus will eventually return and will die when he returns.”
The biblical second coming of Jesus, Bridger said, is a “doorway” for Christians to enter into conversation with Muslims and connect this eschatological hope to the grand narrative of Scripture, establishing the gospel as the only context in which his return makes sense. Click here to read the rest of this article http://www.sbts.edu/resources/towers/is-this-the-end-the-quest-for-a-global-islam-and-the-hope-of-christian-eschatology/