A commentary by David M. Virkler
Like other Middle Eastern countries, Iran is regularly in the news. It is a country with a surprising Biblical history, significant modern influence and possible end-time involvement. Until 1935, Iran was called by its Bible name—Persia. It is an ancient land that has been invaded and occupied by various foreign empires and dynasties including Medes, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks and Mongols as well as Iranians. The Islamic conquest of Persia (633–656) was a turning point in Iranian history. By the late 11th century, the majority of Persians had become Muslim, at least nominally. Shi’a (Shiite) Islam became the official religion in the early 16th century.
The modern name of Iran is derived from the Persian word “ariya” meaning “aryan”. Iranians are Aryan and not Arabic as many might assume. Iran has always had a close relationship with Germany. During World War II, it had close ties to Nazi Germany and Hitler, who believed in Aryan supremacy. Because it seemed that Persia could shed itself of British and Russian influences, the country’s name was changed to Iran to signal a new beginning. Since the revolution of 1979 that ousted the Shah, the country has officially been known as the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Iran in the Bible
Very few realize that there is an astounding biblical range of the area of Iran. The area of modern-day Iran is mentioned much in the Bible. Iran, or Persia, is mentioned in relation to the rule of the Medes and Persians.
The area of Iran was ruled in turn by the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, and the Greeks. These successive empires are seen in Daniel’s explanation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the image made of different materials (Dan. 2), and in Daniel’s vision of four beasts (Dan. 7). The Persian Empire of those years was a sprawling dominion from India to Greece and was the second of the four massive empires forecast by Daniel.
Several Persian kings are mentioned in the Bible, and they were used by God to uniquely affect Israel.
Cyrus, known as Cyrus the Great, who ruled from about 559-530 BC, is mentioned in II Chronicles, Ezra, Isaiah and Daniel. The Israelites had been taken captive by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar and were in exile in Babylon for 70 years. Cyrus captured Babylon in 538 BC and then, by God’s command, permitted the return of the people of the southern kingdom of Judah to Israel.
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom … ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.’” (Ezra 1:1, 2)
Darius (522-486 BC) is mentioned in Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. Darius confirmed Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 6) and ordered the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was under King Darius that Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6).
The story of Esther, the Jewish girl who became queen and saved her people from destruction, takes place during the rule of Xerxes I (486-464 BC), called Ahasuerus in the Bible. Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah, but she is best known by her Persian name. The events in the book of Esther took place at the palace in Susa, one of three capitols of the Persian Empire. It is the modern-day city of Shush in Iran near the Iraq border.
Artaxerxes I (464-424 BC) is mentioned in Ezra and also in Nehemiah. It was Artaxerxes who allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city’s wall. Further return of the Jews to Israel was complete under Artaxerxes. “So the elders of the Jews built…and finished it, according to the command of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” (Ezra 6:14)
The Wise Men who came to worship the Christ child are called “magi,” and Matthew says that they came “from the east,” which would mean east of Israel. Some think that the term Magi is related to a tribal identity and that they were Medes. If that is so, the Medes were some of the very first worshippers of Christ and perhaps actual converts.
In AD 614, in the final phase of the Roman-Persian Wars, the Persians came into Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. They would have destroyed the Church of the Nativity, which is said to have been built over the site of the manger, but for one thing. On the walls were frescoes—pictures painted on plaster—that showed the Wise Men worshipping the Christ child. When the Persians saw these painting on the walls, they recognized them as coming from their own culture, and they were so awed that they left the church intact. It is still operating today and is visited by thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.
Iran and Islam
A study of any Middle Eastern country would be incomplete without taking a look at Islam. To consider the conflicts in the Middle East in a strictly geo-political light is inadequate. In the conflicts, the Muslim theology of radical Islam is coming to light. The conflict is indeed a holy—or unholy—war.
It should be noted that not all Muslims are Arabic. A country may be a Muslim country but not an Arab one as is the case with Iran. There are a number of other Muslim countries that are not Arab including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia. Portions of southern Russia are also predominantly Muslim.
A Muslim is a follower of Islam, and Islam is basically in conflict with anything—especially any religion—that is not Islam. About 90% of Muslims hold to the perceived finer points of Islam and ignore or spiritualize the parts that suggest or even command forced conversion or violent advance. Behind much of the present disorder are the prophetic views of the Shiites, a sect of Islam, which will be outlined later. Sadly most of the peaceful Muslims fail to condemn the wrongs being done in the name of Islam.
The word Islam means “peace” or “subjection,” which would be submission to their god, Allah, as he is called. Allah can be traced to a single pagan god, the moon god Sin, who is found throughout pagan belief in the Middle East. He was married to the sun goddess, and their daughters were the stars. He was worshipped at Mecca as chief of the many gods. Sin’s title was Al Ilah, “the god,” which was shortened to Allah.
Mohammed, who was born in AD 570, is the founder of Islam. Early in life, he had epileptic fits. At age 40, he had the first of many visions, which he continued to have for 22 years until his death in AD 632. He called these “ecstatic seizures” and said that they were revelations by the angel Gabriel. These revelations were at first handed down by recitation and memorization and were later written down into a standardized version about AD 650. These revelations are known as the Quran (Koran).
Mohammed chose one pagan god among many and announced him to be the greatest—Allah. If there is any doubt about the connection between the moon god and Allah, the crescent moon is seen above every mosque and appears on the flags of several Muslim nations.
Incidentally, the name of Sin is found in the name Sinai (Sin Ai). Here the contrast between the God of the Bible and the pagan god of Islam is very clear. It was at Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula—the land and place dedicated to the moon god—that the Ten Commandments were given. The first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The God of the Bible forbade the worship of the moon, and Israel was forbidden to revere the sun or moon in many passages (Deuteronomy 4:19, 17:3; II Kings 21:3 & 5, 23:5; Jeremiah 8:2; 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5 and others). This proves that Israel did not borrow their concept of God from the pagan moon god worshippers.
Though Muslims would say otherwise, Jehovah, or Yahweh as he is sometimes called, is not the same as Allah. Mohammed tried to convince Christians and Jews that the gods were the same when he received his revelations, but they knew better. When multiple pagan god worshippers persisted in their polytheism and Christians and Jews refused to do so, Mohammed went on the rampage attacking and killing those who refused. It is still happening today.
In contrast to the Quran, the Bible was completely written by the end of the 1st century. Revelation 22 ends with the admonition that no one is to add to or subtract from this finished revelation. The Quran is really contradictions of the Bible and not further revelations added to it. Sadly, the Bible had not been translated into Arabic when Mohammed was alive. If it had, he might have read it, and perhaps we’d not be in this present conflict.
Islamic Government and International Relations
In Islam, there is no such thing as separation of church and state. If you examine the flags of Islamic nations, you will find that they mostly prove that they are religious states of Islam. (A more detailed explanation of these countries is found in our commentary Middle East Countries.)
On Iran’s flag, the inscription “God is great” appears 11 times on the top green band. In the middle white band is a stylized design saying “Allah” in the form of a tulip. The bottom band of red again has the words “God is great” written 11 more times. Iran’s flag tells us 23 times that Iran is Allah’s special country.
When Mohammed died, he left no designated successor. One group, who became the Shiites, felt that the successor (called an imam) should be of Mohammed’s family. Another group, who became the Sunnis, felt a successor (called a caliph) should be chosen by a democratic will of the majority. The two groups disagreed, and this led to one group killing the other group’s leader, Ali, who was Mohammed’s cousin/son-in-law. The killing spread, and the continuing slaughter among early Muslims is far too bloody and extensive to recount here.
Out of this great conflict came the two major divisions in Islam – Sunni and Shi’a (Shiite). Today, the majority of Muslims (90%) are Sunni. They believe that leadership must be earned and can be taken away by the people. Al-Qaeda is Sunni as was Saddam Hussein. Shiites, who are in the minority (10%), believe their leaders are sinless and that their authority comes from Allah. The death of Ali and persecution of early Shiites has caused them to highly esteem martyrdom. Most of the Shiite’s numbers are in Iraq and Iran. Hezbollah in Lebanon is also Shiite.
Iran is dominated almost entirely by Shiites under their religious leader the Ayatollah, known as the Supreme Leader, and their president. Though Iran’s president is the head of the government, the Supreme Leader is in charge of the country’s armed forces and is actually the highest ranking political and religious authority in Iran. The title Ayatollah means “sign of God.”
The first Ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini, became Iran’s leader in 1979. For centuries, Iran was ruled by a monarchy. The last king, or Shah as he was called, was Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who came to power following World War II. He ruled Iran with friendly relations with the non-Muslim West. He was a Muslim, but his recognition of the State of Israel along with his policies of modernization and secularization caused him to lose the support of Shiite leaders.
By January 1979, unrest and dissention led to a revolution. The Shah was forced to abdicate, and he and his family fled the country to live in exile. The Ayatollah Homeini took over and transformed the government into an Islamic republic. (A missionary told me there is no such thing. What passes for a republic turns out to be a combination of church-state domination by Islam.) The Ayatollah Homeini gained prominence during the infamous Iran hostage crisis (November 1979–January 1981), when American embassy workers were taken hostage after the U.S. allowed the Shah to come to America for medical treatment.
As Shiites, both the Ayatollah and President believe in the coming of the Islamic Messiah and are known as “Twelvers.” They believe that there were twelve imams, with Ali being the first, and that the twelfth imam went into hiding, known as physical occultation, or going to a secret place, about AD 872 when just a young boy. Shiites believe he went into “spiritual occultation” and that he will ultimately return and bring total peace to the world and will be seen by Jews and Christians as a messiah. Some thought that the Ayatollah Khomeini was this Twelfth Imam. He didn’t say he was, but he didn’t say he wasn’t.
Throughout history, counterfeits of the truth abound. Twelve imams is no doubt a numerical counterfeit of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve disciples.
According to Twelvers’ theology, when the Twelfth Imam, or Mahdi as he is called, reappears and rules, Jesus will be one of his assistants. This is in direct conflict with Revelation 19:16, which calls Christ “King of kings and Lord of lords.” It should be noted that Sunnis also believe in the Twelfth Imam, but they believe he is yet to be born or is alive but has not yet been revealed.
The Goal of World Chaos
In order for the Mahdi to return, the world must be thrown into a state of chaos and conflict. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad strived to create conditions of total world chaos to encourage the Imam Mahdi to emerge from occultation and take over the world in a perfect Islamic society. In his mind, he was doing Allah a favor. Iran and its Shiites are funding Hezbollah through Syria to destroy Israel and, for that matter, the western world and the non-Muslim world and to gain converts. The bloody engagements in the Lebanese conflict with Israel in 2006 were like appetizers for the Twelvers.
The wretched extent to which the Twelvers’ end-time scenario commitments go is seen in their view that two great Satans exist in the modern world. Both the current religious leader, Khameni, and political leader, President Hassan Rouhani, elected in 2013, believe that Israel is the Little Satan and the United States is the Great Satan, and both must be exterminated. Though not as forcefully outspoken as Ahmadinejad, Rouhani is quoted as calling Israel “a wound on the body of the Islamic world” and a “festering Zionist tumor” that should be removed.
This global takeover is to be facilitated by the development and use of nuclear weapons, Iran continues to move toward nuclear capability.
With the U.S. and Israel targeted for destruction, both countries need our concerted prayer for divine protection.
Total chaos will indeed reign on the earth someday, but it will not be through Islam’s contrived chaos. Christ is coming back one day to remove the completed Church from this earth. After Antichrist breaks a peace covenant during the last half of the seven-year period known as the Great Tribulation, there will be chaos. Then Christ will return in the sky with all the redeemed of heaven and put down a global revolt centering in an attack on Jerusalem. After that, the great Millennial reign of Christ for 1,000 years of peace will begin.
While there is no specific mention of the modern name Iran in Bible prophecy, it could fit in as part of the area of ancient Persia. Islam might also factor into end-time events.
In 2006, Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former Shah of Iran, gave a lengthy interview to Human Events in which he stated that the current Iranian government should be overthrown and a constitutional monarchy restored. Shortly after the interview, he began a long effort to sit again on the royal Iranian throne since he feels he is the rightful heir to the Pahlavi monarchy. Though he has not succeeded to date, he believes that he will return one day to rule as Shah of Iran.
Revelation 16:12 says, “Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared” (emphasis mine). When the Bible speaks of a compass direction, it is in relation to Israel, the center of the earth. The Euphrates, across which massive armies will eventually march, is mostly east of Israel, and Iran is to the east of that. Revelation calls these rulers “kings,” which is usually associated with a rule by a sovereign. We do not want to jump to conclusions, but perhaps Iran will one day be again ruled by a monarchy. If so, then Iran could be included in this group.
The expansion and extremist outrage of Islam focused in Iran may find a place in Bible prophecy, although it is not entirely clear how this fits in. Some believe that the northern invasion of Ezekiel 38 is a Muslim attack occurring at the Tribulation’s beginning and turned back by an Antichrist figure who poses as Israel’s messiah to defeat that awesome incursion. In contrast, Joel Rosenberg suggests that should the Imam Mahdi appear, he could seemingly do miraculous works to prove himself the Shiites’ long awaited world ruler. If not the Antichrist, the Mahdi might at least be an antichrist type.
I have wondered about the four horsemen of Revelation 6 possibly anticipating Islam. The first horse is white, which typically signifies peace, but “he who sat on it…went out conquering.” We are told that Islam is a religion of peace, but much of it is violent. The fourth horse is pale and called Death, and has power to carry out widespread killing, which is what the violent Shiites propose.
Iran’s wrenching pronouncements of death on Jewish Israel and Christian America could be a fulfillment of John 16:2 speaking of a time to come, “…that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” Muslims believe that “Allah wills it!”
The nuclear threat lurking in Iranian leadership could potentially fulfill the dreadful sore of Rev. 16:2, fire falling from Heaven (Rev. 13:13) and massive environmental pollution (Rev. 8:11; 11:16 and 16:4).
Clearly, not every present world situation neatly falls into specific Bible prophecies, and some things will likely remain unclear until subsequent events unfold. What we can see is that every agonizing technological, political or religious disaster is potentially capable of swift fulfillment in today’s world.
A Lesson in Spiritual Warfare
King Cyrus was described as a special servant of God in Isaiah 44:28. God sometimes uses the worst of men to accomplish His best purposes. In that case, it was the return of Jews to Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple. The flip side is that Iran and that part of the world is and has been influenced by very strong demonic powers.
In Daniel 10, the curtain is drawn aside on this demonic battle. An angelic being, probably Gabriel, who had already spoken to Daniel (Dan. 9:21), brings the prophet a message. He declares that he has been fighting with “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” for three weeks (vs. 13). But Michael, called the Archangel in Jude 9, overcomes this wicked creature, probably a fallen angel, and the good angel prevails.
In verse 20, we see the battle resumed and another battle anticipated. “I must return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I have gone forth, the prince of Greece will come.” He adds that his spiritual cohort in the supernatural battle, Michael, will come and help him in that supernatural battle. So, in the book of Daniel alone, we see two good angels and two very bad ones in awesome spiritual battle in the area of Iran.
The Bible is very clear that there is a spiritual warfare going on around us all the time. Is there any better explanation for the chaos that prevails in the Middle East? Daniel teaches us that there are resident demons, or territorial demons as some call them. This probably holds true over the entire earth, but there are certain places where these demons have held very long and powerful sway. Revelation says that demons are especially loosed in the Great Tribulation. Some of these are imprisoned in the Euphrates River area (Rev. 9:14) to prepare the way for the rulers of the East to surge across Asia and attack Israel.
I believe that there is evidence of demonic strongholds even in the U.S. Sometimes there is simply no visible explanation for situations other than that it may be a stronghold of demonic power. Paul wrote that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). There is a wrestling match going on, and some of the powers are in heavenly places. It is indeed spiritual warfare.
The good news is that the outcome of this spiritual wrestling does not depend on our skill or ability; it is not according to the flesh. Just as Michael fought for Daniel, we have ministering spirits in angels assigned to us, and we have the victory assured in the resurrection of Christ (Hebrews 1:14).
God promises a formal assurance of victory in the spiritual warfare. Christ “having disarmed principalities and powers…made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). Satan’s kingdom is ultimately smashed in its authority. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57). In Christ, we always have the victory.
Scripture verses are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.