While the world may have been caught off guard by the latest headlines involving Russia here in early 2014, I have always subscribed to the viewpoint that everything we see, in order to really understand the world scene – and bible prophecy in particular – has to be framed by a much bigger screen. The larger the better. This is called “context” and we are going to look at a whole lot of that today.
The crisis gripping Ukraine did not emerge overnight. It was birthed from geography and history, and it is very helpful here to understand a bit of both. I never took a shine to world history until I got saved, and realized that the most important book of all was not only a history book but history written in advance – a book of “the big picture”. And while America may be a young country with a pretty short memory, the mindset of nations on the other side of the world, those with a far longer and more complex past is that history matters tremendously in how they conduct their todays and how they plan their tomorrows. Example: remember back in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, a sovereign nation, based on the fact that it was once part of Iraq? Yeah, it’s like that, only there are a lot more square miles at stake both in our topic this morning, and in the bible.
Let’s take a look at this place called, “Crimea”. For most of history, it was part of Russia but when the USSR collapsed it became part of Ukraine. Ukraine also has had only a short window of independence since 1991.The west would remember Crimea best as the site of the Yalta Conference in 1945.
This is where Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill got together and divided Europe into east and west following World War II. Stalin was the big winner there in getting Europe to hand him the eastern bloc nations, because Roosevelt was preoccupied with getting his leftist wonderchild the UN set up so this was minor to him – but not to the millions who would be trapped in a Communist hell for the NEXT 45 years. But Yalta mistrust gave way to the Cold War, Russia and the West began a nuclear stare down with the baby boomers in the middle, learning how to duck and cover and hide under our little school desks in case they dropped the big one on us. I was never quite sure how that was supposed to work.
What specifically precipitated the current crisis however is this: Last November, the president of Ukraine was expected to sign a landmark trade agreement with the EU, bringing them closer economic and political ties. But Russia is their number 1 trading partner, so they threatened trade sanctions with Ukraine, forcing them to walk away from the deal with the EU. But many Ukranians long for closer ties to the West and so they went to Kiev by the tens of thousands to protest the breakdown of the agreement.
So Russia basically said nyet to their western overtures, as they did back in 2008 when Ukraine wanted to join NATO – which prompted Putin to ask them if they really wanted nukes pointed at their heads. So Putin is saying hey, you can protest all you want, you can change your government all you want but you cannot change your geography so good luck with that. I learned yesterday that Moldova and Georgia are set to sign similar agreements with the EU in June, so what will Russia do about that? I call it, “Geography’s Revenge”.
Some background on Putin might be helpful here: His grandfather was one of Lenin’s cooks. I guess if you can survive that challenge you’re made of pretty sturdy Slavic stock. He then went on to work in some capacity for Stalin. Putin himself was a former KGB colonel. Boris Yeltsin made him head of security for Russia, then prime minister, then acting president, in fairly short order. Immediately he oversaw 2 Chechen wars, and his rise to power has coincided with the rearmament of Russia that continues today.
Putin has rebuilt the Russian army into a lean mean fighting machine: he oversees the world’s third largest defense budget at $70 billion; and these are largely special ops troops and trained guns for hire, some of whom showed up in Crimea in an undercover capacity. Who over 50 today would argue that the reason for this military readiness now is to reclaim territory lost in the Soviet empire’s demise? And Crimea would be the place to start for a few reasons we are going to look at this morning, not the least of which is because it is Russia’s warm water port, it’s where they have their naval base, and this is the location that gives Putin access to the Mediterranean.
Last Fall, Forbes declared Putin the most powerful man in the world. That alone should stun Americans out of their media induced stupor, because with that comes the inconvenient truth that we are no longer leading, or even respected on the world scene, and that any threats we may make now lack any teeth.
For instance, last week, our president announced sanctions on Russia; but not on the country as such, but on a handful of “individuals” in Russia. Now, to Americans that makes no sense; why would you sanction Bill Gates economically to get Obama to do what you want. But in Russia it makes centuries of sense: the background here has to do with an old accepted way of doing business in Russia: an elite group of extremely wealthy Russian cronies, called the “Oligarchy”, actually controls the country, and these men, these oligarchs, have become obscenely wealthy, largely based on their connections to Putin. In addition, Moscow has withdrawn over $100 billion from Western banks in preparation for possible sanctions, so they aren’t exactly trembling in their jackboots over our threats.
In reality, sanctions will only increase nationalism within Russia and feed off anti-Western sentiment; and secondly, push China and Russia closer together. So what if the US doesn’t like the Crimea vote? China wants nothing to do with all this Cold War 2.0 stuff and maybe we should call this next round of hostilities The Cold Shoulder.
And let’s think down the road a bit here: if Western investors now take their money out of Dodgei, it is very possible that Russia may choose to end their dependence on the dollar, which would have a very negative effect on our economy here at home. And considering the EU’s position here, if Russia decides to cut off Europe’s natural gas, the global economy would certainly take a significant hit, and sanctions could backfire completely. But as they say, it’s never too late to panic.
Now let me add another facet to this already complex situation (and I bet you did not see this one coming:): Russia’s got religion. The old school communism with atheism at it’s core has given way to a state run church that Putin is all too happy to help resurrect himself, and with state monies. Can you just imagine the outcry if the U.S. were to build a state church with money from Wisconsin Electric, or Pacific Gas and Electric, or any other such companies or utilities with in our borders? The outrage would be heard all the way to Khazakstan.
Here’s some helpful time travel: Back in 1917, the Russian Tzar and his family, of the Romanov dynasty –Czar Nicholas, his wife, and 5 children– were run off to Siberia where they were executed by the Bolsheviks at the start of the Russian Revolution and the beginning of Communism under Lenin. This atheistic ideology where the State is God, wanted nothing to do with any Czars spelled with a C, or Tsars spelled with a T. (There is a Hebrew word, ‘sar’ that appears in Daniel 10. That’s for extra credit today).
Interesting word, “Tzars”. This is not our president’s version of Czars:
It’s actually a derivation of the word “Caesar” (latin), or Kaiser (Greek), because the Tsars were considered the Emperors of the “eastern leg” of the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire broke down around 476AD, it split into 2 different religious ideologies: 1)Western Roman Catholicism which bows to the authority of the Pope, and 2) the Eastern Orthodox church who wanted nothing to do with the Pope but still resembles Catholicism in nearly every way. The Orthodox communion is the 2nd largest Christian denomination in the world, with some 300 million adherents. Putin will not even allow the Pope on Russian soil.
But note this: these titles: Caesar, Kaiser, Tzar – all have one thing in common, in that they represent the combining of secular government authority with religious church authority. Like the Caesars in John’s day or Napoleon’s Holy Roman Empire, The Tzars were thought to be the divinely appointed heads of the Eastern Orthodox church, and in his case, over an empire that stretched from Poland to the Pacific. Communism wanted no such leader to compete with the State. But believe it or not, almost a century later, the church has regained most of the influence it enjoyed under the Romanovs. And Putin? What did we say you get when you combine the office of a powerful political leader with a religious one?
You get a bona fide, Grade A, federally funded and approved CZAR – Caesar – Kaiser – Emperor.
Thanks largely to Putin, between 1991 and 2008, the share of Russians identifying themselves as Orthodox jumped from 31% to 72%. Only 18% of Russia’s population today do not identify with any religion.
Now Putin, who was himself baptized in secret as an infant, is starting to acquire a supernatural persona in Russia – and his name is said to mean, “the path”, or “the way”. He himself has overseen the reconstruction of over 23,000 churches that had been destroyed or abandoned under Communism. A new church was erected in 2003 as a monument to the Romanovs themselves, something unthinkable only a generation ago, and they are canonized saints and official martyrs. In addition, Putin publicly states that since most of Europe is rooted in Christianity, Russia is the new leader in supporting Christian values and morals; he is quickly gaining support from religious leaders in Europe. Keep in mind that this Christianity is state sponsored Eastern Orthodox; Protestants need not apply.
He also passed a law that returned all church property seized by the Communists to the church, making the Russian Orthodox church the largest landowner in all of Russia. He is quite conservative regarding abortion and gay rights, so how’s this for irony – America is likely more secular today than Russia. But think of it this way: in order for Russia to be part of the last days global religion, whatever form that will assume, their Communist religion of atheism would have to be rejected in favor of some sort of spirituality. It’s just another piece of the prophetic puzzle.
Some pertinent history: The first Russian city was founded in 860 AD. For the next 100 years, the area was overrun by Turkish and barbarian clans and tribes. When they themselves were finally conquered, around 965, it was at the hand of the “Kievan Rus” clan, thus was born the nation of Ukraine, City of Kiev, and Russia itself as a nation-state.
Also at that time, the Greek Orthodox (Byzantine) priest in Crimea baptized the very first Russian Emperor Vladimir, when he married a Byzantine princess. So think this through: Crimea and Ukraine are the very spots where Russia (Rus) was born both as a religious entity, and as a geopolitical entity. This is where it all began, and now Russia has begun to restore what they call Crimean holy places. So you can see how important this area is to Russia, as well as a very interesting people group called Cossacks, who are from Crimea and Ukraine. More about them shortly.
Another dip into the history pond would be helpful here before we tie this up with a biblical bow: 160 years ago this weekend (March 28,1854) the Crimean War began. This is where it gets very timely: At this time, the Ottoman Empire under the Turks was disintegrating, and the French and British feared the rise of a vast Russian empire to fill the void, one that would invade the Balkans, the Mediterranean, India, and the Middle East. Europe sent warships and troops into the Black Sea, ready for an all out war.
During this time, the Ottoman Turks ruled the Middle East, and the Russian Orthodox church had the oversight of the holy places in Jerusalem. Along comes Napoleon III, who really needed a popularity boost in France, and felt this was a good time to bring the Vatican in on this action in Jerusalem. The regathering of Israel was still 100 years in the future at this point. But this caused a flash point in Jerusalem, where monks and priests resorted to violent brawling in the Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem) over who should have the key to the front door: the papal Catholics or the Orthodox priests.
Forty died fighting in the church, and this caused the war to really escalate in Crimea itself, and in total, more than 800,000 died in this war. It is considered the first modern war, with telegraph and steam engine technology, journalists, railroads, and brutal weaponry, and its influence is largely lost in the mists of 2 world wars to follow, but here is why we care:
For over a decade now, Russia has been laboring to reconstruct a major Russian presence in Jerusalem which today is under not the Ottomans, but – Israeli political control. Is this new religious nationalism something that Russia may use to their own advantage in seeking to fight for a strong religious presence in Israel, looking to oversee holy sites once again? I read a news quote last week that stopped me in my tracks: “The next time Russia expands southward, it will be for religious reasons.”
Yes, the world considers Israel to be the number one threat to world peace. No, they are not at the center of Russia’s current actions. But, we need to have an eye on the potential for Israel to become the center of this story. Why do I say that?
What does the bible say? There is more than one significant segment of bible prophecy at work here: Daniel 2, and Ezekiel 36-39.
Through the Prophet Daniel we learn that four successive kingdoms would conquer one another leading up to the days of the Second Coming.
In Daniel Chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a large metallic image symbolizing the major earthly kingdoms to come is one of the most vivid prophecies in the Bible.
From Babylon’s head of gold, to the Medes and the Persians (Kurds and Iranians) chest of silver, to the Greeks belly of brass, and finally the iron kingdom of Rome, history has again proven the Bible to be true in every way in that each of these kingdoms did indeed conquer the previous one, with a revival of Rome reserved for the latter days -the two legs of East and West taking the form of 10 toes of iron and clay, coming together but not totally, a nuance you will pick up on when you read Daniel 2. Both are still around in the end times, but the bible says they have some trouble getting along with one another.
Then in Ezekiel 36-39, we have an amazing set of prophecies concerning the rebirth of the nation of Israel after having been in captivity among the nations for over 2000 years, followed by a latter days invasion by a coalition of nations lead by a great power directly to the North of Israel. This is referred to as the War of Gog and Magog. These prophecies have the full attention of bible scholars today because they clearly point to fulfillment following a miraculous regathering of Israel which took place 66 years ago in May.
Never in history has there been a world power to the North of Israel that could both instigate and field an army on the level of the one described in Ezekiel 38-39, until the modern era and the rise of superpower RUSSIA. Dwight is going to go into detail this morning on who all the players are, but here are a couple of interesting statistics to whet your appetite: considering the players in this still future invasion, the Muslim world is well represented; Russia’s own standing army is over 50% Muslim so factoring in their general contempt for Israel, let’s just say they’re motivated.
Ezekiel 38:4 says this: “I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords.”
So what about those Cossacks? With the current events in Crimea and Ukraine, they are finding their way into the news again, but probably not for the exact reason I am going to give you today.
Who are they? The Cossacks played a key role in Crimea’s reabsorption into Russia. Primarily, they are committed to assisting the motherland take or keep any land they choose. They are rabidly pro-Orthodox and will defend the church at any cost as well. Cossacks are from the Ukraine/Crimea area historically, a caste of warriors who have guarded the borders of the empire for centuries – “Eastern Cowboys” of sorts, but known for their brutality. No one really knows ethnically who they are, but they are still around, today a paramilitary force throughout Russia. Oh, and the main thing they are known for? They ride horses exclusively. A few years ago, Putin signed a law not only giving them the status of state militia, but they are paid by the government, and they answer to Putin who determines who their ranking officers are. No longer a rag-tag lot of sel-appointed vigilante types, today they are 600,000+ strong: a great company, splendidly clothed, armed with swords — and ready to go when Putin says so. I find that quite interesting in light of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
Exciting? Yes. Complex? Perhaps, but know this: Mr. Putin is a shrewd man in embracing the Orthodox church, rebuilding the trust of the citizens, and promoting himself a spiritual leader, so that whatever he does, the church will sanction it as they have him to thank for their new status. I cannot overstate the credibility this gives him at home. He’s crafty and he is a chessmaster (he’s Russian!): and while we don’t know his next move, I suggest that the West will never see this situation for what it is because the new spiritual dimension here will completely elude the secular West, and so the Russian invasion of Israel just might catch most everyone off guard, as suggested in Ezekiel 38:13.
I would encourage you to do your own homework on these things, and keep looking up as the hour is late.