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Turkey in Bible Prophecy: A Prophecy update from the Lampstand Magazine

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One hundred years ago the empire of the Ottoman Turk was dismantled. Today, occupying a much-reduced territory, is the Republic of Turkey. The region is rich in history and has been described as the “cradle of civilisation”. It was in this region that Noah emerged from the ark on the mountains of Ararat. Abraham lived there, in the city of Haran. The headwaters of the River Euphrates, referred to in the book of Genesis, have their origins in the eastern region of Turkey. However, the historical significance of the region of modern Turkey in latter day prophecy begins in the times of the Roman Empire.

In this article, we will be covering a period of 1600 years, which, of necessity, will only allow us to consider the material in broad detail. Hopefully, however, this will provide a suitable foundation for examining Turkey’s latter-day role.

In a most remarkable way, the history of this region has been visually recorded in the book of Revelation. Asia Minor, located in the south-western region of modern Turkey, was a Roman province. When the seven ecclesias received the Apocalypse, their interest would be particularly stimulated because they were living in the period of the fourth empire of Nebuchadnezzar’s image – the legs of iron (Dan 2:33). They were living during the time of “the fourth beast, dreadful and terrible” of Daniel 7:7. When, therefore, all the characteristics of the various Apocalyptic beasts were considered, our first century brethren would have little difficulty recognizing them as the power of Rome. The brethren would be familiar with dragon of Revelation 12; it was a fitting symbol of Rome. In the Roman cavalry, the draconarius, or standard bearer, carried a standard displaying the draco (meaning dragon or serpent). The brethren would recognise the seven hills upon which Rome was built, and this would provide further confirmation of the dragon’s identity, with its seven heads (Rev 12:3; 17:9).

The symbology of the dragon is rooted in the Old Testament. Egypt is consistently portrayed as a dragon (Ezek 29:3, see also Isa 51:9; 27:1). A comparison of the two powers illustrates why Rome was described in the same manner as Egypt. Both had their pantheon of pagan gods; both persecuted God’s people. The dragon was distinctly representative of the Eastern Empire. This is evident when we consider the vision of Revelation 12. We read of the dragon, with its seven heads and ten horns, standing “before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born” (v4). In a most graphic manner the brethren of the seven ecclesias were witnessing the future development of the Jezebel influence in the ecclesia. The unfaithful woman would give birth to a man-child, who would be challenged by the dragon. The victory over the dragon would bring about the ascension of the man-child who would rise to power in both political and ecclesiastical spheres of influence. This graphic imagery finds its counterpart in the historical events surrounding Constantine the Great (AD 306-337).

In the third century, Rome had extended its boundaries from Europe into North Africa and eastward into sections of Asia. In order to administer the empire more efficiently, the Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) divided it into two regions; Diocletian supervised the eastern half of the empire out of the city of Nicomedia and appointed Maximian (AD 286-305) to rule over the western empire from Italy. This was the beginning of the Eastern Roman Empire. Following a series of civil wars, the leadership of Rome settled into the hands of two men. Constantine ruled the western empire, whilst Licinius, Constatine’s brother in-law, ruled the eastern empire. Initially there was cooperation between the two emperors and, in AD 313, they signed The Edict of Milan, a proclamation establishing religious toleration for Christians. Later, Licinius reversed his support for Christianity. By so doing, he heightened the tensions already existing between himself and Constantine. The two emperors finally met at the battle of Adrianople at Chrysopolis in AD 324, where Licinius was defeated. Constantine became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.

Coin of Justinian – Byzantine Emperor (527-565)

The Western Empire, following Constantine’s victory over Licinius, would continue for a little over one hundred and fifty years, finally being eclipsed in the year AD 476. Out of the west developed the ecclesiastical centre of the Empire, in the form of the Holy Roman Empire. On the other hand, the Eastern Empire was to continue for another one thousand years, until AD 1453.

The City of Byzantium

The Western Empire was experiencing increasing pressure from the barbarian tribes to its north. Constantine moved quickly to address this concern. Gibbon states: “the increasing aggression of Barbarian forces and perhaps Constantine’s own ambition of founding a city which might perpetuate the glory of his own name, caused his sights to choose Byzantium on the Bosphorus, renaming it Constantinople”. The city was strategically placed for responding to hostile advances, but, with the adoption of Christianity as the state religion, it also afforded Constantine the opportunity to revitalize the empire with, as Gibbon records, “a new capital, a new policy, a new religion”.

Byzantium was chosen because Constantine considered Rome to be no longer a practical location for the capital of the Empire. Nicomedia was not considered because that had been Diocletian’s capital. Byzantium was well suited to the needs of Constantine. It was strategically located on the European side of the Strait of Bosphorus. It could control any movement to and from the Black Sea. It was not too far from Asia Minor, which housed a vital part of Rome’s wealth and manpower. The new city became the Emperor’s focus. The New Rome would be four times the size of the original Byzantium, with a population of 500,000. Like the old Rome, it was built on seven hills. The city provided an excellent harbour and was situated with easy access to the Danube River region and the Euphrates frontier. Though initially the name of a city, Byzantium was to become the name of the Eastern Roman Empire – the Byzantine Empire.

Following the death of Constantine, the Roman Empire was divided into a western and an eastern region. This became known as the Latin West and the Greek East. The Greek East could be subdivided into the Hellenic East (those who were truly Greek) and the Hellenised East (those that had come under Greek influence). Thus, a threefold division developed in the Empire.

The Challenge of Islam

The division of the Empire and the events leading up to the demise of both the western and eastern parts is detailed in Revelation chapters 8 and 9. The opening of the seventh seal introduces us to the seven trumpets. These are divided into two groups: the first four trumpets, in chapter 8, concern a third part of the earth, the sea, the rivers and the heavenly bodies. The emphasis upon a one third in the first four trumpets are in complete harmony with the events that overtook the Latin West of the Roman Empire, until its final overthrow in AD 476. The last three trumpets were to be more dreadful: we read, “Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound” (Rev 8:13). In the fifth and sixth trumpet, we are presented with a shift in geography. The fifth trumpet is concerned with what is called “the bottomless pit”, and the sixth trumpet describes events which begin to take place in the region of the Euphrates River.

The Revised Version translation renders the phrase “bottomless pit”, in this instance, as “the pit of the abyss”. Rotherham translates it as “the shaft of the abyss”. In other words, the focus of the fifth trumpet is not the abyss itself, rather the pit or shaft leading to the abyss. Locusts are seen emerging from the pit (Rev 9:3). In Scripture, locusts relate to the east. For example, an east wind brought locusts upon Egypt (Exod 10:13); the Midianites, Amalekites, and “the children of the east” that destroyed the land in the days of Gideon are likened to “grasshoppers (RV – locusts) for multitude” ( Jud 7:12). The Euphrates also lies in the east, leading us to the conclusion that the two woes refer to the Eastern portion of the Roman Empire.

The links with the east help us to make the historical connection with the Arabians, who emerged as a powerful, destroying force out of “the shaft of the abyss” – Arabia. The stirrings of the Arab people began when the prophet Muhammad was born around AD 570. His political influence was not felt until after his death in AD 632, when the Arabian tribes affirmed their authority by military action. The 7th century witnessed an overwhelming assault on the Byzantine Empire by the Muslim armies; they swarmed like locusts, causing territorial loss for the Empire, which changed the face of the east. The whole of Arabia, the Sasanian Empire, the Syrian and Egyptian provinces of Byzantine were conquered. Twice in twenty five years Constantinople was attacked, unsuccessfully. This was the message of the fifth trumpet. The Hellenised East was eroding.

The River Euphrates

The sounding of the sixth trumpet (Rev 9:13-21) looks further into the future of the Eastern Empire and focuses attention around the River Euphrates. The river provides a fitting symbol for the powers that exist on the territory it flows through. In the Old Testament, the Assyrians are equated with the Euphrates (Isa 7:20; 8:7), but by the time John received the Apocalypse the Assyrian power had disappeared and another power is described as occupying that region. Several details help to identify the period concerned. The impact of the second woe was to be felt by “the third part of men” (v15). The armies involved were innumerable (verse 16); they would be ferocious to look at, with heads of lions and tails of serpents (v17, 19). Out of their mouths spewed “fire and smoke and brimstone” (v17).

Islam had established itself as a force to be reckoned with. By the eleventh century, the Byzantine Empire was under pressure from the Islamic world. The Seljuks dominated the political scene under the leadership of a man called Tughril Beg (AD 1016- 1063). His empire controlled an area stretching from the mountain range near the Afghan-Pakistan border to eastern Turkey, which had been conquered from Byzantine. By the early thirteenth century, the Seljuk power was in a decline, mainly due to a heavy price, resulting from the Crusades and Mongolian invasions. When the Seljuk empire eventually dissolved, there were several small Turkish principalities left, known as Anatolian Beyliks. One of these Beyliks was the Ottoman dynasty, led by the tribal leader, Osman. His territory was located in the northwest region of Anatolia, adjacent to the Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans further expanded after the death of Osman, and his son was successful in capturing the northwestern city of Bursa, which became the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. With this victory, the Byzantines lost control over northwestern Turkey. Further expansion took the Ottomans into eastern Turkey, Central Europe, north into the Caucasus region and parts of Africa.

Suleiman the Magnificent (AD 1520-66)

The crown jewel of the Ottoman victories came by the hand of Mehmed the Conqueror in AD 1453, when Constantinople was overthrown. This brought to an end the Eastern Roman Empire. The reference in the Apocalypse to “fire and smoke and brimstone” is appropriate in view of the weaponry used by the Ottomans. Gunpowder was newly introduced into the armies of the Ottomans and effectively used with the development of the “bronze bombards”. These were enormous canons, which discharged ammunition weighing 400 kg, one meter in diameter.

Following the overthrow of Constantinople, the city was renamed Istanbul. Thus, the final one third of the Empire was brought to an end.

The Sick Man of Europe

Activity in the region of the River Euphrates began when the sixth trumpet was blown. However, God, who rules in the Kingdom of Men, had determined that the Euphrates power would continue for a limited time. This is evident from a consideration of the sixth vial in Revelation 16. Once again, the Euphrates is at the centre of historical events, only this time the power occupying that region was about to dry up (v12). The historical events which led to the demise of the Euphrates power are reflected in the political circumstances of the Ottoman Turks.

The activity which unleashed the Ottoman Turk in that region lasted upwards of 450 years, during which time it expanded its influence. At the zenith of its power, under Suleiman the Magnificent (AD 1520-66), the Ottoman Empire had spread its influence as far as the Balkans, Hungary and Vienna in the west and parts of Arabia in the east, as well as the coastal strips of North Africa. But the Ottoman influence didn’t last and as it began to lose momentum, it entered a slow decline. Some time around mid-eighteen hundred, Tsar Nicholas of Russia is reputed to have said in reference to the Ottoman Empire: “We have on our hands a sick man, a very sick man…”, hence the phrase, “the sick man of Europe” was coined. The Crimean war, between Turkey and Russia, in AD 1853, severely weakened the Turks. Several countries declared their independence towards the close of the nineteenth century, such as Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and others.

The final straw came when Turkey entered the First World War. On July 30, 1914, the Tsar of Russia mobilized the Russian army in response to Germany’s own preparations for war. Turkey responded by mobilizing its army in support of Germany. Adding to the Ottoman weakness was the rise of Arab nationalism. Britain exploited this and liaised with the Arab leadership. It was during this period that the British and the French secretly devised what became known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret deal to divide the Ottoman Empire’s Middle Eastern territories into their own zones of influence after the war. In pursuit of this, the British commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Allenby, advanced swiftly through the region of Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. An armistice was declared on October 31, 1918, bringing an end to the Ottoman Empire. The “sick man of Europe” was subsequently dismantled. The Euphrates had dried up.

Two thousand years of history has not only vindicated the veracity of God’s Word, but demonstrated the intense angelic involvement needed to bring about the conditions in preparation for Turkey’s role in the latter days.

 

Turkey in Bible Prophecy – Part 2

Now  we will examine the rise of modern Turkey and its relationship to Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the drying up of the Ottoman Empire, but the prophet Daniel anticipated these events in his 11th chapter, 2500 years ago. We read, “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind…” (v40). The “him” referred to is the “king” of verse 36 and describes the Roman power, which occupied the territories of the King of the North and the King of the South. Later, when Eastern Rome was overthrown, the Ottoman Turk assumed the role of the “king” by taking over Constantinople. Britain occupied Egypt during the Great War, and finally broke the resistance of the Turks in September 1918. Thus, Britain, as the King of the South, pushed against the Ottoman “king”.

But Daniel adds another detail. He speaks of “the king of the north” pushing against “him”. This informs us that the power occupying the territory of the King of the North would also attack the ruling power of Constantinople. This event has not yet taken place, but is reserved for the future Russian “king of the north”.

The Republic of Turkey

Attaturk – Father of Modern Turkey

The end of the First World War marked a significant change for Turkey, one which would place the country in an important position for the end time. One of the treatises imposed upon the Ottoman regime of Sultan Mehemed VI was the Treaty of Sevres. The treaty was designed to break up the Ottoman Empire and impose concessions on its territories in favour of the Allied powers. The Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk (father of the Turks), rejected the treaty and organized resistance against the allies. The Turkish War of Independence was successfully fought, with the result that the allied armies were expelled and the old Sultanate was abolished. Another Treaty was signed by the allies, formally recognizing the newly established “Republic of Turkey”. Turkey was now on the road to reform and modernization. It should be remembered that life under the Ottoman rule was dictated by Islamic law, controlled by the Sultan who occupied the position of Caliph. Ataturk set about to introduce a series of radical reforms which would change the face of Turkey, one of which was to “westernise” the new republic. Subsequently, the capital was relocated to Ankara and Islam was removed and replaced by a secular and democratic system of government.

During the Second World War, Turkey took a neutral stance. However, it turned to Britain, who, under a new treaty, agreed to defend Turkey if it came under threat from German aggression. Interestingly, the Soviet Union made a series of demands for military bases in the Turkish Straits (the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles). The United States quickly intervened by guaranteeing the security of Turkey by providing large scale support, both militarily and economically. Turkey’s association with the West was developing.

Turkey and NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in 1949 with the purpose of providing collective security against the Soviet Union. In 1952 NATO expanded its 12-nation membership by accepting Turkey and Greece. Geographically, Turkey, at the time, did not appear to qualify as a NATO member, being 2000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and isolated from the original NATO members. The decision to accept Turkey as a member was based upon the vulnerability of Turkey to Soviet expansion, as well as NATO members’ interests in the Middle East region. Today NATO has a membership of 29 countries, but Turkey’s location and military clout makes it an important member. The Turkish army is the second largest in NATO after the USA. Also, it is estimated that 24 Turkish military bases are used by NATO. The Incirlik airbase allows the US Air Force to conduct airstrikes on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Recently, relationships between NATO members and Turkey, especially the United States and Germany, have deteriorated. The USA is supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), fighting the Islamic State. Turkey, however, views the SDF as enemies because of their afiliation with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization within Turkey. Germany angered Turkey when it gave asylum to soldiers accused of being involved in the failed coup. Overall, Turkey’s President Erdogan is unhappy with NATO, due to its lack of support during the attempted coup, and whilst Turkey’s relationship with Russia has been rocky over the years, Erdogan shows strong signs of drawing closer to Turkey’s historic enemy. One indication of this is the missile defense radar system installed by NATO in Turkey for the protection of Europe. Earlier this year, Turkey decided to discard the system and replace it with Russian radar and anti-missile batteries.

Other evidence of strains with Turkey’s western allies comes from the European Union’s decision to suspend accession talks for membership in the EU. The talks stopped after President Erdogan’s constitutional victory, which gave him increased powers.

Turkey and Russia

The history between Turkey and Russia has been mainly hostile. One reason for the hostility has been the Ottoman control over the Black Sea. Although Russia is the dominant power on the Eurasian continent, it is seriously disadvantaged, being virtually landlocked. Many of its ports are ice-locked for most of the year, restricting Russia’s naval movement. The shore line of the Black Sea is shared by six countries, including Russia, and easy access to the Mediterranean is across the Black Sea, through the Turkish Straits.

It is critical for Russia to ensure that access into the Mediterranean is maintained, and since annexing the Crimea, Russia has increased its military presence in the Black Sea. The prophet Daniel is clear, that when the King of the North moves to “overflow and pass over” into the land of Israel, it will be accomplished with military might, both on land and “with many ships” (Daniel 11:41). Russia’s success, therefore, depends upon the Turkish waterways. Following the First World War, the Turkish Straits were controlled by an International Commission, but in 1936 Turkey resumed control over them, under the Montreux Convention, on the basis that Turkey would retain the right to restrict naval traffic to non-Black Sea nations. The Russian General, Valeriy Gerasimov, noted, “Several years ago, the capability of the (Black Sea) fleet was sharply contrasted, in particular, with the Turkish navy, when it was said that Turkey is virtually the master of the Black Sea. Now everything is different”. He claims that the Black Sea fleet is now stronger than Turkey’s navy, and is capable of easily striking the Bosporus straits. As far back as 2014, the Jerusalem Post reported that “With the annexation of Crimea, Turkey faces a stronger and bolder Russian naval power in the Black Sea”.

Russian Warship sailing through the Bosphorus

Turkish-Russian relations deteriorated in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian plane, during an airspace dispute near the Turkish-Syrian border.

Russia imposed economic sanctions on Turkey, which were later lifted, after President Erdogan expressed regret over the incident. Since then, there appears to have been a normalisation between the two countries. Turkey and Russia have engaged in several projects which place Turkey in a vulnerable position. In May, the Associated Free Press (AFP) reported that the Russian gas firm, Gazprom, had begun a gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey, which would eventually serve the European Union. In June, Turkey issued a power generation license to Russia for a 49-year period in southern Turkey. Russia’s investment will be in the range of 20 billion dollars. Putin, however, is not fooled. In March of this year, the Jerusalem Post reported this comment regarding Putin’s view of Erdogan: “Russia and Turkey are talking – but there is much distrust. Putin thinks Turkey has an exaggerated sense of its own power”.

Turkey, President Erdogan and the Middle East

Over the past sixteen years, the face of Turkey has been transformed. In 2001, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was formed. It is a party rooted in conservative Islam. The party swept to victory in 2002, and, in 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister. His power was further consolidated in 2014 when he became President. An attempted coup was foiled in 2016 and a Constitutional referendum was successfully held earlier this year, giving Erdogan increased power. Since then, President Erdogan has demonstrated his intention to exercise his new powers.

Two conflicting ideologies appear to be driving Turkish politics. One is called ‘Kemalism’, which was the founding ideology of the Republic of Turkey. Kemalism aims to protect Turkey’s secular, nationalist identity. The other is ‘Neo-Ottomanism’, which promotes the reviving of Ottoman culture and traditions. Neo-Ottomanism leans strongly towards transforming the existing parliamentary system into a presidential system. The Constitutional Referendum provided the means for this becoming a reality.

The political face of the Middle East over the past six years has changed, due to events created by the Arab Spring, and Turkey has taken full advantage of this. Its foreign policy shows signs that the AKP’s Neo-Ottomanism leanings are very much alive. In 2016, Mr. Erdogan criticised the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, which created the present borders of Turkey, claiming that the Treaty left the country too small. Turkey remained aloof from the conflict when the Islamic State (ISIS) burst onto the political scene in 2014, taking advantage of the instability in Syria and Iraq. Both Turkey and ISIS dislike Assad, the Syrian President; therefore, weakening the opposition towards Assad, by becoming involved in the conflict, was not in Turkey’s best interest. This now has changed, following an incident in 2015, when a suicide bomber killed more than 30 people in the Turkish town of Suruc. But there seems more to Turkey’s involvement than simply retaliation. ISIS is losing ground in northern Syria and Iraq and Turkey is concerned that the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), viewed by Turkey as an extension of the PKK, may seek to fill the vacuum created by the exit of ISIS. Turkey is not prepared to allow this. In 2016, Turkish television showed maps of Turkey’s geography bigger than its present land mass. Included in Turkey’s imaginary southern border is Syria’s city of Aleppo and Iraq’s city of Mosul.

Another development in the Middle East is the crisis in Qatar, where some of the Gulf States and Egypt have cut ties with Qatar and made several demands. Turkey has troops stationed in Qatar and the Arab States have demanded that they too must be removed. At the time of writing, these demands have also been rejected by President Erdogan. Once again, Erdogan is demonstrating a determination to press forward with his own agenda, regardless of the odds. Even more surprising in the present conflict in Syria, is the fact that Russia and Iran (Turkey’s allies) are supporting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, whereas, Turkey is involved with the US-led coalition, supporting the rebel groups (some of which are Turkey’s enemies) in opposition to the Assad regime.

Israel is never far from the centre of Middle East controversy, and in Turkey’s case, this is certainly true. Israel has maintained some form of diplomatic relations with Turkey since it recognized the Jewish State in 1949. However, it has not always been smooth sailing. Turkey condemned Israel in the Six-Day War, and since that time, has criticized Israel for its Middle East policy. Diplomatic ties were suspended in 2010 following the Gaza Flotilla incident, when Israeli Defence Forces intercepted six ships, which were attempting to break a naval blockade. Nine Turkish citizens were killed.

What to expect

In April, the BBC news commented on the new powers attributed to Erdogan, following the Turkish referendum: “From humble beginnings Recep Tayyip Erdogan has grown into a political giant, reshaping Turkey more than any leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered father of the modern republic.” Ataturk revolutionized his country and it appears that President Erdogan is bent upon further revolution. As we write, CNN has reported that Erdogan intends to eliminate evolution from the school curriculum. The move is viewed as an attempt to move the country away from the secular path introduced by Ataturk and restore Turkey to what has been described as a “dogmatic religious system”.

What can we make of it all? Over the past 100 years, Turkey has shared a love-hate relationship with both eastern and western nations. Which direction Turkey chooses in the future will determine what triggers its involvement recorded in the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel. The present alignment of the nations needs to change in anticipation of the fulfilment of the prophets. For this to happen, NATO must disappear as presently organized and Turkey, along with the European nations, must become realigned. We are witnessing this taking place. The two strongest military powers in NATO are already isolating themselves – the United States and Turkey. Britain, in separating from the European Union, is preparing itself for its latter-day role of Tarshish. Nations need not agree when cooperating against a common enemy. Lord Palmerston, the 19th century British Prime Minister, once noted, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests”.

When the political scene is viewed through the eyes of Bible prophecy, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ can return at any time. As watchman, we ponder the events of Gentile darkness, with the confidence that “the morning cometh”. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”.

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