Over the years, Pat Robertson and other fringe evangelicals and non-serious Christian scholars have become known for exegesis-ing any and all current news events into some sort of Biblical End Time prophesy. For some, COVID vaccines are the “Mark of the Beast.” For others, President Obama was the anti-Christ. (Trump got that distinction, too). The legalization of gay marriage in the U.S. was believed to be a signal that some hybrid Sodom and Gomorrah/rapture-induction event was imminent.
And so I assumed it was only a matter of time before Robertson and those of his ilk smushed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine together with some kind of Biblical prophesy. Like clockwork, on Monday, Robertson — the 91-year-old televangelist and 1988 presidential candidate — went on his Christian Broadcasting Network show “The 700 Club” to declare that Russian President Vladimir Putin was fulfilling a Biblical prophecy by launching an invasion of Ukraine last week.
Robertson did, for his part, acknowledge that Putin may be “out of his mind,” before suggesting the Russian leader couldn’t help but invade! He’s “being compelled by God” to wage the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II.
“He went into the Ukraine, but that wasn’t his goal. His goal was to move against Israel, ultimately,” Robertson said, before referencing verses from the book of Ezekiel in the Christian Bible that supposedly backed up his divine claims/apocalyptic myths.
He encouraged viewers to “watch what’s going to happen next” and “read your Bible.”
“God is getting ready to do something amazing,” Robertson said. “And that will be fulfilled.”
While Robertson’s bizarre screed brought the extremist prodigy to the mainstream this week (and sparked trending #EndTimes hashtags on Twitter), talk of Armageddon/End Times/rapture has been percolating in certain evangelical corners of the internet for the last two weeks, including in parts of my Facebook newsfeed.
The Jerusalem Post published a piece yesterday, headlined: Are there biblical implications to Russian invasion? The Christian Post had something similar over the weekend: Russia’s war on Ukraine: Are we living in the End Times? That article centered on comments from a California Pastor named Greg Laurie, who recently posted a video for his Harvest Christian Fellowship congregants dissecting the correlations between Russia’s war on Ukraine and Christian scripture. Crosswalk.com mused on the day of Putin’s war declaration: Is “Wars and Rumors of Wars” Part of the End Times?
The thinking behind the headlines is a bit chaotic and convoluted. But they have a déjà vu quality for me. End Times prophesies spilling out of the 9/11 terrorist attack and war in Iraq were a big topic of discussion in some of the evangelical circles I frequented growing up. The Left Behind book and film series did a lot of work in ’90s and early 2000s evangelical subcultures to fuel these themes. So here’s a brief explainer on the logic behind them, drawn from many, many years of Sunday school (and some brief Googling because who can blame me for blocking the majority of this out).
In his Monday commentary, the verses Robertson referenced are Ezekiel 38 and 39, in which the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel describes an End Times war waged by the nations “Gog” and “Magog” (some scholars think “Gog” and “Magog” could also be names of individual world leaders who join forces to attack God’s chosen people). It depends on who is doing the theological translating, but many believe these nations are a reference to what is either modern day Russia or Iran — or both. The scripture suggests that these nations will attack the people of Israel from the “north,” signifying either the beginning of the rapture or the beginning of the seven-year battle between the rapture and Jesus’ second coming — again, depends on who you ask.
Therefore, the logic leap: Putin’s attack on Ukraine is a stage-setter for the ultimate Armageddon, a tipping point for the fusion of two nations that will ultimately play a role in carrying out this Revelations-style attack on Israel.
But take this all with a grain of sand (bad Bible joke) — this theory is being popularized by a man who prophesied that Trump would win in 2020 and then an asteroid would smite the earth after the election.
And most serious evangelicals will tell you this brand of End Times finagling serves no purpose other than giving fringe groups and televangelists a platform to irresponsibly warmonger and capture the attention of the vulnerable, hoping clicks and views will translate into monetary donations. (They’ll also tell you that much of the End Times references in the New Testament were actually written in code in order to protect those behind the then-new Christian movement from Roman Empire persecution.)
It’s also obviously a jarring and reductive account of current events, especially in the face of mass suffering and death, as Ukraine reports more than 1,500 military and civilian casualties in the first five days of Putin’s offensive. Even as right-wing media and Republicans twist themselves into knots over whether to praise or condemn Putin, mainstream evangelical and other Christian groups are launching fundraisers and charities to support and provide relief to the people of Ukraine and Ukrainian American pastors trapped in the country.
The Best Of TPM Today
Here’s what you should read this evening:
Follow our live coverage of President Biden’s first State of the Union address tonight here: Biden To Deliver His First State Of The Union
It’s already backfiring: Abbott Sued For Ordering Investigations Of Parents With Transgender Children
In Jan. 6 Committee news: Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Trump Adviser Cleta Mitchell, OAN Anchor Christina Bobb
Catch up on our live coverage of Ukraine today here: Ukrainians Fight Back As Russia Bombs Civilian Areas | Talking Points Memo
And read these two pieces from Josh Kovensky: Russia Bombs Kyiv TV Tower After Declaring That Ukrainian ‘Information Attacks’ Are In Crosshairs | Talking Points Memo
In case you missed it this morning, an in-depth piece from Matt Shuham: How Greg Abbott’s Border Deployment Stunt Turned Into A Political Nightmare | Talking Points Memo
Yesterday’s Most Read Story
What I Got Wrong About The US And Russia — Josh Marshall