Iran’s nuclear program has been in the news for a long time, most recently because of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress. It is an open secret that Iran has been trying to develop nuclear weapons for more than a decade, with some help from North Korea and Russia. Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program have continued almost for the entire Obama presidency. At first, the goal of the negotiations was to end Iran’s nuclear program. However, Iran seems unwilling to end their nuclear program, since the Islamic rulers of Iran need nuclear weapons to realize their political ambitions of conquest. If Iran’s nuclear program was solely for generating electricity, the Iranians would have ended it many years ago or agreed to allow inspections in accordance with international law, since economic sanctions have done great damage to the Iranian economy. By the same token, it has become evident that President Obama will not even consider destroying Iran’s nuclear program with a crippling airstrike. Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have therefore been trying to get the Iranians to agree to something that will limit Iran’s nuclear program in some way.
The rulers of Iran, who are not Arabs, belong to a sect of Islam that is considered a heterodox fringe or cult by the majority Sunni sect of Islam, although probably the worst Islamist groups today are actually composed of radical Sunnis (ISIS, al-Qaida, and affiliated groups). The Iranian form of Islam has a strange apocalyptic eschatology revolving around the supposed coming of the “twelfth imam” and some sort of world conquest or world war. Some people think that Iran’s religious rulers might use nuclear weapons in order to bring about the events that they believe will be associated with the coming of the twelfth imam.
The Iranian regime hates the state of Israel, and has said again and again that they are committed to destroying Israel. Iran is an active supporter of the anti-Israel terrorist group Hezbollah, and in the past Iran has been a strong supporter of Hamas. It comes as no surprise, then, that Israel is working hard to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But I personally doubt that Israel would be the first target of a nuclear Iran. Iran knows that Israel has a powerful military and nuclear missiles, and Iran knows that Israel would use its nuclear weapons against Iran if necessary. Iran’s archrival in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia, and neither the Saudis nor their Gulf allies have nuclear weapons. The Saudis and their allies are therefore very concerned about a nuclear Iran.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the Iranian nuclear issue. For one thing, no one outside of Iran knows for sure exactly how developed Iran’s nuclear program is, and it is possible that Iran already has a nuclear bomb. The Iranians have a history of hiding as much of their activity as possible, and they would not be the first country to have developed nuclear weapons well before Western intelligence agencies discovered them. The increasingly polarized rivalry between Vladimir Putin and the West could also result in Russia taking a much larger role in supporting Iran and its Shiite allies (primarily Bashar Assad and Hezbollah). Perhaps Mr. Putin will provide more direct support to Iran’s nuclear program in order to gain a powerful ally against the United States and Europe.
But while we can speculate about what may or may not happen vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program, there is no need for Bible-believing Christians to be in suspense regarding the outcome of events in the Middle East. Ezekiel 38–39 describes prophetically a great invasion of the Middle East by Russia and its allies at the end of the present age (3½ years before the return of Jesus Christ to the earth). Curiously, it describes Israel as “the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants were gathered out of many peoples to the mountains of Israel” (Ezek 38:8). It further calls Israel “the land of unwalled villages . . . those who are at rest, who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates” (Ezek 38:11). In other words, Ezekiel 38 portrays Israel as so completely and totally at peace with its neighbors that it has actually disarmed and torn down all of its security walls and fences. Ezekiel 38:13 also seems to portray Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states as unarmed. (Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq are not mentioned, while Jordan is said in Daniel 11:41 to successfully resist end-time invasions.) Incredible as it may seem, the Bible portrays the peoples of the Middle East as living in complete peace and harmony, without violence, in a future day! That is not to say that the violence that now exists in the Middle East will not continue or worsen for a while, but it will not last. Further, Israel will not be destroyed by Iran (nor will, it appears the Gulf states); the nation of Israel will remain in its land and prosper until the final few years of world history, when the antichrist will invade the Middle East and will launch a fierce pogrom to attempt to exterminate the Jewish people.
Iran, for its part, is evidently not going away, either. Iran (Persia) is listed in Ezekiel 38:5 as an ally of Russia when Russia invades the Middle East at the end of history. The Bible does not say whether there will be some sort of previous military conflict between Iran and Israel, but it does indicate that Iran will continue to exist, and also that Iran will be brought firmly within the Russian orbit. (For a more detailed description of Ezekiel’s prophecies, see the analysis of Ezekiel 34–39 in volume 4 of my Interpretive Guide to the Bible.)
I am not saying that Christians, or American politicians, should not be concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, or that Christians should not pray for Israel’s protection. But the Bible gives us assurance that Israel will indeed survive the present conflict, and that peace will come to the Middle East.