There is a debate as to whether things are improving with respect to the incidence of war or not. In May 2014 Dan Smith, Professor of Peace and Conflict studies at the University of Manchester wrote a paper called “The conflict horizon.” He pointed out that since the end of the cold war the number of armed conflicts had declined. There were 50 in 1990 but 30 in 2010. There were 646 peace agreements between 1990 and 2007. However he added that “The growth of peace has slowed.” There were 37 armed conflicts in 2012 and 32 in 2012. He commented: “It’s too soon to talk about a new, negative trend but the old, positive one seems spent.”

He then began to refer to causes of war: inequality (“The 85 richest people in the world owned as much as the poorest 3.5 billion”), climate change etc., and concluded: “In short, the risk of violent conflict is elevated where there has recently been violent conflict, where there are deep and growing inequalities, where basic needs are not met (or where the prospects of continuing to meet them are weak), where authority is based on arbitrary power rather than the rule of law or where institutions to address conflicts fairly are weak or non-existent. Where all these factors apply, violent conflict is likely to be endemic—if not as civil war then predation by armed militias or oppressive governments or large-scale crime.”

People like Saddam Hussein and other Middle Eastern dictators have been removed but now we have Isis, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. Then there is the Russian threat to Ukraine. We are facing the worst global refugee crisis ever. The UN reports that in 2014 60 million people have been displaced, more than any time since the Second World War. One in every 122 people is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. The UNHCR estimates an average of 42,500 men, women and children became refugees every day in 2014 – a four-fold increase in just four years. 86% of these refugees are hosted by poor, developing countries. Other states are failing in their responsibility towards them.

The 2015 Global Peace Index listed the 10 most violent countries in the world: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, DR Congo, Pakistan and North Korea. Six of them are Muslim nations, two are nations where Muslims and Christians are in conflict, one is a nation with Christian tribal conflict and one is Communist.

Sir John Sawers who was chief of MI6 from 2009 to 2014 stated recently that the modern world was “much more dangerous” than it had ever been, even during the Cold War. He added: “The stability that we had during the Cold War, or the predominance of the West that we had in the decade or two after the Cold War – that is now changing,” he said. “It’s a much flatter world, a much more multi-polar world, and there are real dangers associated with that.”

The danger of nuclear war

Dr Seth Baum spoke at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014 and pointed out that whereas there were only two nuclear weapons during World War II, there are now 16,000. He said “If a nuclear war happens now, millions of people could die from the initial explosions, and potentially billions could die from the global nuclear famine that would follow … Nuclear deterrence works. The problem is, it does not always work. And when the consequences could be so severe, that’s a big problem … And then there is inadvertent nuclear war. This is when one side misinterprets a false alarm as a real attack and launches nuclear weapons in what it believes is a counterattack, but is in fact the first strike.”

An official statement from the Vienna Conference said: “Today, nine states are believed to possess nuclear weapons, but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error, remains real. Nuclear weapons, therefore, continue to bear an unacceptable risk to humanity and to all life on earth …. Nuclear weapons continue to pose an existential threat to all humankind. These risks are not abstract. They are real, more serious than previously known and can never be eliminated completely.

In its Report the conference stated: “As long as nuclear weapons exist, there remains the possibility of a nuclear weapon explosion. Even if the probability is considered low, given the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation, the risk is unacceptable. The risks of accidental, mistaken, unauthorized or intentional use of nuclear weapons are evident due to the vulnerability of nuclear command and control networks to human error and cyber-attacks, the maintaining of nuclear arsenals on high levels of alert, forward deployment and their modernization. These risks increase over time. The dangers of access to nuclear weapons and related materials by non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups, persists.”

In a final statement the conference said it was “aware that the risk of a nuclear weapon explosion is significantly greater than previously assumed and is indeed increasing with increased proliferation, the lowering of the technical threshold for nuclear weapon capability, the ongoing modernisation of nuclear weapon arsenals in nuclear weapon possessing states, and the role that is attributed to nuclear weapons in the nuclear doctrines of possessor states…”

In December 2014 ahead of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, over 120 senior military, political and diplomatic figures from around the world signed a letter saying: “Tensions between nuclear-armed states and alliances in the Euro-Atlantic area and in both South and East Asia remain ripe with the potential for military miscalculation and escalation. In a vestige of the Cold War, too many nuclear weapons in the world remain ready to launch on short notice, greatly increasing the chances of an accident. This fact gives leaders faced with an imminent potential threat an insufficient amount of time to communicate with each other and act with prudence.”

It is estimated 16,300 nuclear weapons, in nine countries, still exist in the world. Pakistan is one of these countries and it is a cause of deep concern that it has had three military coups since the late 1960s and four prime ministers toppled from power since the 1980s. It also has an extreme Islamist group which is determined to remove the government from power.

Another cause of concern is that there have also been examples of the danger of nuclear conflict being started by misunderstanding. In 1960 an American U2 spy plane accidentally strayed into Soviet air space and almost started a war. In 1962 Americans dropped depth charges to force a Soviet submarine to the surface off the Cuban coast and two of the three officers in charge of the submarine voted to respond with nuclear missiles. So one man Vasili Arkhipov prevented a nuclear war. In 1995 Russian radar picked up a scientific weather rocket off the northern coast of Norway and suspected it was a nuclear missile. President Yeltsin decided not to launch a nuclear retaliation.

Another aspect of the danger is that of attacks on satellites in space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty banned weapons of mass destruction from orbit round the earth. But the situation is now much more complex. Satellites are essential to military reconnaissance, communication and targeting. There is a danger that if a nation’s satellites were attacked or even struck by space debris this could lead to that nation assuming the worst and launching a pre-emptive attack. Some nations have tested anti-satellite weapons and others are thought to be capable of doing so.

The Russian threat

In November 2014 Mikhail Gorbachev, referring to the crisis in Ukraine, said “The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it’s already begun.” The President of Finland said that Europe is on the brink of “a new kind of cold war” and in February 2015 Carl Bildt, the former Swedish foreign minister, said a war between Russia and the west was now quite conceivable. David Cameron said Britain might need to accept a new cold war with Russia rather than do nothing about Russia’s actions.

General Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Special Operations Command warned recently that, despite the Cold War being over, Russia continues to be a threat to the US. “Russia is looking to challenge us wherever they can,” he said. He pointed to the recent nuclear energy deals made this year with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as showing Moscow is seeking to expand its influence, particularly in the Middle East. He added that President Putin is seeking to divide the 28 members of NATO. “The intent is to create a situation where NATO can’t continue to thrive,” he said.

It is a cause of concern that both Russia and the West have been doing some nuclear “sabre-rattling.” Vladimir Putin said in June 2015 that Russia was buying 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles. A NATO official commented: “The Russian leadership is rhetorically lowering the threshold when it comes to nuclear weapons and this is something which should not be done. It largely wasn’t done even during the cold war.” As a consequence NATO is preparing to re-evaluate its nuclear weapons strategy.

Lord Ashdown wrote an article in February 2015 saying the crisis with Russia is partly of our own making. He explained: “The West lost the greatest strategic opportunity of recent times when we reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, not with a long term plan to bring Russia in from the cold, but by treating Russia to a blast of Washington triumphalism and superiority. Putin has chosen to challenge, not just the sovereignty of Ukraine, but the very basis on which the peace of Europe has been founded these last fifty years. When the Second World War ended, Europe determined that it would end a thousand years of warfare driven by the assertion that large powers have the right to subjugate the freedoms (even the existence) of smaller nations, if they believed them to be within their spheres of influence. Instead Europe’s peace would in future be based on the principles of co-operation, peaceful co-existence and the right of all nations, large and small to determine their future based exclusively on the will of their people. By denying that right to Ukraine on the grounds that it is Russia’s sphere of influence, Putin asks us to abandon those principles. We cannot do so.”

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond accused Putin of “acting like some mid-20th century tyrant.” President Obama said at the G7 summit in June 2015 that Putin was deliberately ruining Russia’s economy in order to “recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”

The danger is that, after the conflict with Ukraine, Russia will act against other countries. Andrej Illarionov, who was Putin’s chief economic adviser, said that Putin will not stop trying to expand Russia until he has “conquered” Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland. He is trying to create “historical justice” with a return to the days of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and the Soviet Union under Stalin. Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defence minister, said: “We can see that Russia is going in the direction of restoring the influence it had at the time of the Soviet Union.”

Isis and Jihad

Isis, in its propaganda, has spoken of the organisation soon having enough money to buy a nuclear device. It acknowledges that such a weapon being made available does not seem feasible at present but they say with their billions of dollars in the bank “it’s infinitely more possible today than it was just one year ago.” Also UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, said in 2014 that Isis could become the world’s first “truly terrorist state” and she added “We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us.” Rao Inderjit Sing, India’s Defence Minister, commented: “With the rise of Isis in West Asia, one is afraid to an extent that perhaps they might get access to a nuclear arsenal from states like Pakistan. A senior United States official, commenting on an Isis attack on Kurdish forces in Iraq in August 2015, said “We have credible information that the agent used in the attack was mustard [gas].”

Australia’s Foreign Minister believes Isis is capable of building chemical weapons. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, said: “It is very evident that Isis are putting much time and effort into training its jihadis in the use of chlorine as a terror weapon and in particular in IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”

In November 2014 Isis and similar groups carried out 664 attacks, killing 5,042 people. In July 2015 a document, believed to be a genuine Isis paper, claims the group is planning attacks on India and also to create a united army with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. It says the organisation plans to create terror in the Middle East and South Asia in order to draw the US into an “apocalyptic” war.


Tensions are growing between China and the US over artificial islands in the middle of the South China Sea. They are called the Spratley Islands, a chain of seven semi-submerged reefs. One of them, Fiery Cross, once was only a metre above sea level. But now the Chinese have made it into about 500 acres (200 hectares) of reclaimed land with a 2 miles long airstrip and a large harbour. The US have detected artillery weapons. There is a dispute over maritime sovereignty over the islands between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. But China has taken them over. The Spratleys lie on a shipping route which is estimated to carry £3 trillion ($5 trillion) worth of trade per annum. They lie in a rich fishing area and near a major oil reserve. The surrounding sea is also very deep which is good for keeping Chinese submarines hidden.

However, what is happening in the Spratleys is symptomatic of a more serious trend. The US is perceived as retreating from its international role and China (like Russia and Iran) is seeking to fill the void left by the Americans.

China is seeking to dominate the world, as the US has in the past. Its economy has grown very quickly. Many of its neighbours seek US protection against China but are economically dependent on China. In particular, China is aiming at what it sees as rightful possession of almost the whole South China Sea, an area of 1.35 million square miles.

China is developing the largest submarine fleet in the world, including many with nuclear ballistic missiles. It is also building many aircraft carriers and battleships.

Like Russia, China is seeking to regain its place as a preeminent, top rank global power. It was robbed of this position by European imperialism followed by American dominance. It would seem that China’s actions in the Spratleys is aimed at curbing the freedom of the US navy.

China may well seek to achieve its aims as much as possible through diplomacy but some experts believe that confrontations are inevitable.

North Korea

North Korea is thought to have up to 20 nuclear missiles and the ability to increase that number in the coming years. There is a real danger of nuclear accidents in this small, extremist regime. There is also the possibility of political turmoil or chaotic regime change which would make ensuring the safety of the nuclear weapons difficult. Even more serious, some experts have commented that if the leadership becomes financially desperate it could be tempted to sell nuclear assets even to terrorists.

N Korea has massively built up conventional weapons in the demilitarised zone between N and S Korea and it certainly has the ability to fire nuclear weapons into S Korea.

The nuclear attacks on Japan

The anniversary of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki focus attention on the horrors of nuclear war. Some 140,000 were killed Hiroshima – about 70,000 on the first day. Others followed. Bill Travers, the Born Free star, was amongst the first to visit Hiroshima and he wrote: “The place disintegrated; there were no holes. Bricks became dust. Trees became blackened stubs. Bottles melted and assumed grotesque shapes. Pieces of metal curled and folded like silk. “There were no rags or pieces of paper; those and wooden beams and planks had disappeared as completely as the flowers and human beings who lived there.”

Christians were amongst the dead. Christianity had been banned in 1614 and all missionaries were expelled or killed. Many Christians were burnt to death or crucified. Then in 1868 religious freedom was established and 15,000 Christians emerged from the shadows. In 1914 a huge Gothic cathedral was consecrated in Nagasaki. It ceased to exist on the 9th August 1945 when the nuclear bomb exploded directly above it.

Kazumi Matsui, the Mayor of Hiroshima, recently called nuclear weapons “the absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity” and criticised nuclear powers for keeping them as deterrents. But there was also criticism of the plans by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reduce the restrictions on the Japanese military which have been in place since 1945. Survivors of the Nagasaki blast said the new policy “will lead to war.”


We live in a world where there is increasing tension between the great powers: China, Russia, the EU/NATO and the US. There is also great instability in the Middle East, largely caused by extreme Islamists such as Isis. But there is a great deal of terrorist action elsewhere, in Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then there is the continuing threat of nuclear weapons, including of nuclear accidents and the possibility in the long term of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons. We need to remember Jesus’ prophecies of wars and rumours of wars and to pray both for peace with justice and for those affected by war.

Mark Spencer, Tory MP for Sherwood, said that teachers could express their opinion that they didn’t agree with gay marriage but they are not allowed to teach that it is a sin because that would be “hate-speech.” He says that Christians disagree with gay marriage are “perfectly entitled to express their views” but says that it could constitute “hate speech” in some contexts. This is a disturbing development which indicates that persecution of Christians will eventually come to the West.

Tofik (not his real name) was taught to hate Christianity, beat Christians and attack churches. Then he was trained and became a prominent Imam in West Africa. However in 2002 he had a dream one night. “In the vision I saw Jesus very clearly telling me to follow him.” He started to attend church. But the local Muslim community set fire to his house, stole his cattle and beat him almost to death. Initially, he took legal action against those who had destroyed his house but then decided to forgive them. He now travels around preaching the Gospel. We must pray for more such conversions.

Matt 2:4-6 “When [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

Matthew, quoting Micah 5:2, is predicting that, as messiah, Jesus will restore the kingdom of David. He will rule over Israel. We don’t see that happening yet. That is the ‘high peak’ of the fulfilment of prophecy. But, as is common in climbing a mountain, a nearer peak obscured a valley between it and the high peak. In other words, Micah saw the two peaks: the first was the coming of messiah and the second his ruling over Israel. We now live in the ‘valley’ between the two. The Lord has redeemed us through the cross and resurrection but soon we shall reach the ‘high peak’ when Jesus returns.

It is interesting that the dangers secular scholars see as threatening the world or the survival of humanity are remarkably parallel to the dangers Jesus told us to take note of as reminders of his return. I regularly stress that these events are not to be regarded as signs of Jesus’ imminent return but as reminders that he is coming back.

Jesus spoke of earthquakes, war, famine, disease etc. He also mentioned “stars falling from the sky.” Dr Seth Baum, founder of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, a secular organisation, lists various “Catastrophic Threats to Humanity :

Environmental change: climate change, biodiversity loss, biogeochemical flows (interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles), stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, global fresh water use, land use change, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading.

Emerging technologies: artificial intelligence (robots and intelligent computers), biotechnology (genetic manipulation), geoengineering (climate engineering), and nanotechnology for atomically precise manufacturing.

Large-scale violence.

Pandemics: Pandemics can be of natural or artificial origin, or both.

Natural disasters: asteroid and comet impacts, supervolcano eruptions, solar storms, and gamma ray bursts from the sun. (He also mentions the very long-term issues of the gradual warming of the Sun, which will ultimately make Earth uninhabitable for humanity in a few billion years and the Milky Way collision with the Andromeda Galaxy)

Physics experiments: This includes high energy particle physics experiments such as at the CERN Large Hadron Collider going wrong.

Extraterrestrial encounter.

Let us examine some of these concerns:

Asteroid strikes

There is considerable interest in the danger of a devastating asteroid strike on Earth. The world’s first Asteroid Day was held on 30th June 2015, the anniversary of the “The Tunguska Event” when an asteroid destroyed thousands of square miles of forest in Siberia on 30th June 1908.

Some 150,000 asteroids have been registered but there are many more. Some are about a mile in diameter and, if they impacted Earth they could destroy civilisation. It is not just the impact damage but the ensuing serious weather changes and starvation. Asteroids only 450 feet across could cause severe regional damage.

In September 2014 an asteroid the size of a house came within 25,000 miles of Earth. In August 2027 an asteroid 0.6 miles across could approach within 19,000 miles.

Paul Cox, technical and research director of the Slooh Space Telescope in the Canary Islands, commented: “We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids – sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth. We need to find them before they find us!”

One of his colleagues, Dr Bob Berman said: “On a practical level, a previously unknown, undiscovered asteroid seems to hit our planet and cause damage or injury once a century or so, as we witnessed on 30 June 1908 and 15 February 2013 [The Chelyabinsk meteor which entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia].”

Global warming

Scientists have reported that the first half of 2015 was the hottest since records began. June was the fourth month of the year to break a temperature record. The average June temperature across the world was 61.48°F, 0.22°F higher than the record temperature last year. Earth has broken monthly heat records 25 times since the year 2000 but hasn’t broken a monthly cold record since 1916.

The reduction in Arctic ice is an indicator of global warming. From 2010 it reduced by 14% but in 2013 it increased by 41%. Those sceptical about global warming seize on this as proof global warming isn’t happening. But scientists respond that there are occasional cold years, but they don’t alter the fact that overall the temperature is rising. In fact, they point out that the temperature in 2013 would have been considered normal in the 1990s but since then, with global warming, has become below normal. The melting trend resumed in 2014.

The sun’s activity (processes which produce heat) vary over a cycle of 10-12 years and some scientists are predicting that solar activity will fall by 60% between 2030 and 2040 causing a “mini ice age.” However, as on previous occasions, this will be a temporary reduction and won’t affect the overall warming of the earth.

Pope Francis has produced an encyclical about the problem of global warming. He refers to the earth as a sister who “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irre¬sponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” He adds that “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system… Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” He expresses particular concern for the poor who will face the worst consequences of global warming. He warns that the results of global warming could cause wars. He writes: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.”

Johan Rockström is an internationally recognised expert on global sustainability who teaches natural resource management at Stockholm University. In January 2105 he wrote a paper in the Science journal about the damage humans have done to the environment in which he said that in order to keep the earth hospitable :

• We should keep carbon dioxide levels to less than 350ppm (parts per million) but the level reached 400ppm in March 2015.

• We should maintain 90% of biodiversity (variety of plants and animals) but it has dropped to 84% in parts of the world such as Africa.

• We should limit the addition of phosphorous, nitrogen, etc., to crops to 11 trillion grams of phosphorus and 62 trillion grams of nitrogen but we are adding some 22 trillion grams of phosphorus and 150 trillion grams of nitrogen.

• We should maintain 75% of the earth’s forests but the level is down to 62%.

• We should limit the emission of aerosols (which affect climate change and organisms) into the atmosphere to a technical level of 0.25 but it is up to 0.30 over S Asia.
Global warming is a major factor in various negative developments in the natural world:

• Large areas of the Atlantic Ocean, up to 100 miles long, are no longer able to sustain any animal life.

• We are producing the same amount of carbon dioxide as occurred in the Permian Era when ocean acidification led to a mass extinction not only of sea creatures but of some terrestrial life forms and forests. Prof Rachel Wood of Edinburgh University said: “The data is compelling and we really should be worried in terms of what is happening today.”

• Water shortage around the world is causing hardship, violence and political tension because 50% of the world’s water is transnational, i.e. flows across national boundaries. Thousands of rivers have disappeared. As the world population has tripled in the last century, water demand has increased sixfold. The UN’s recent annual World Water Development report predicts demand will increase by 55% by 2050 and if usage remains as now the world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030. This could lead to crop failure, ecosystem breakdown, an increase in disease and poverty, violent conflicts and industry breakdown.

• A report in the journal Nature Climate Change says that heatwaves that previously occurred once every three years are now happening every 200 days due to global warming.

• It is true that there has been a dramatic growth in plant cover around the world in the last decade, including through a major tree-planting campaign in China and natural growth in grasslands and non-tropical forests in former Soviet States, Africa and Australia because of heavy rainfall and abandoned farms. However the problem is that the extra carbon being stored by this additional vegetation is only 7% of the 60 billion tonnes of carbon which has been emitted into the atmosphere during the same period. The remainder will stay in the atmosphere.

The Pew Research Center published its “Global Threats Report” in July 2015 which revealed that the majority of people in Latin America and Africa (19 out of 40 nations surveyed) regard global warming as the worst threat facing the world. Many people in Asia also regarded it as a big threat. (By comparison, Europe and the Middle East regard ISIS as the top threat).

Nuclear accidents

The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists created a symbolic clock which represents a countdown to a global catastrophe. In January 2015 the clock was advanced to three minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1987 during the Cold War. The scientists concerned warn of the risk of global warming and nuclear accidents. Since 2009 all nuclear powers are expanding nuclear reactors and weapons programmes. The West hopes that the Iranians will not develop nuclear weapons but others, especially the Israelis, do not expect them to keep their word, which is hardly an irrational fear, despite all the precautions. North Korea has nuclear weapons, as does Pakistan. The Saudi Arabians are speaking of the possibility of obtaining nuclear weapons because of their fear of the Iranians. Many people are worried that terrorists will get hold of nuclear devices.


Bill McGuire, Professor emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London has recently written a book on how climate change triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. He says: “We ignore volcanic threats at our peril.” He described how the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 produced pumice which clogged shipping routes for years and created a thick covering some 300 miles away. It also produced a sulphurous fog over eastern N America and Europe which reduced summer temperatures by 2 degrees centigrade, incessant rain and very powerful storms. This led to harvest failure and famine, causing disease and death on a large scale. If such an event were to happen now the effects on our interconnected world markets could lead to a collapse of food production.

Much larger eruptions in the past have produced hundreds of times more sulphur and volcanic winters lasting for years with one third of the Earth covered in ice and snow. The Yellowstone supervolcano in America is thought to be overdue for a major eruption. It is possible it could produce so much sulphur dioxide that it could block the sun for 5-6 years causing worldwide famine and even an end to civilisation.

Global warming will affect ice-covered volcanoes, facilitating eruptions.


The Lord wants us to take notice of all these things as reminders that he is returning to bring a transformation of nature and of human nature. But he also wants us to pray about them and the people affected or likely to be affected by them.

It is interesting that the dangers secular scholars see as threatening the world or the survival of humanity are remarkably parallel to the dangers Jesus told us to take note of as reminders of his return. They include earthquakes, war, disease and events that could perhaps describe asteroid strikes on earth. The scholars add volcanos, climate change etc. I regularly stress that these events are not to be regarded as signs of Jesus’ imminent return but as reminders that he is coming back. In Jewish tradition they are known as birth pangs of the Messiah.

The 3rd-4th century Jewish scholar Rabbah is asked in the Talmud why he doesn’t want to meet the Messiah. The questioner says: “Shall we say, because of the birth pangs [preceding the advent] of the Messiah? … What must a man do to be spared the pangs of the Messiah? Let him engage in study and benevolence.”

Esther Jungreis, a prominent contemporary Jewish teacher, writes of turbulent global events, natural disasters, war etc., and comments that God is bringing the world closer to a process called “chevlei Mashiach” – “the labor pains of the arrival of Messiah.” She added: “All our [sages] agree…they do not want to be present for the chevlei Mashiach, the birth pangs, because the birth pangs are going to be very painful.”

Recently, the US gave visas to Sunni, Shia and Yazidi delegates to advocate for persecuted Muslims and Yazidis but refused a visa to the only Christian delegate Sister Diana, a leading Iraqi Christian. Yet she had been granted a visa in 2012.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, responded: “I hope that as it gets attention Secretary Kerry will reverse it. If he doesn’t, Congress has to investigate, and the person who made this decision ought to be fired.”

Eventually Sister Diana was given a visa.

In 2014 when the US Institute for Peace brought together the governors of Nigeria’s for a conference in the U.S., the State Department blocked the visa of the region’s only Christian governor, Jonah David Jang.

Yet, more Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East than ever and some people point out that the increase in persecution is not just because of ISIS but also as a result of the US-UK invasion of Iraq. This puts a solemn responsibility on the US (and the UK).

I am definitely not anti-Muslim but it is a cause of concern when Christians, whether in the US or the UK, seem to have to play second fiddle to Muslims. Persecuted Christians and Muslims should be treated equally, i.e. well.

I said recently that, although I have serious problems with Islamic belief, I will publish significant positive news about Muslims when it arises. It is part of loving our Muslim neighbour. I want nothing to do with hateful attitudes towards Muslims. The same is true with respect to homosexuals. Although I accept the Bible teaching on homosexual practice, I will publish significant positive news about homosexuals when it arises. It is part of loving our homosexual neighbour. I want nothing to do with hateful attitudes towards homosexuals. With that in mind, I want to share the following news item.

Jesse Bartholomew, a homosexual pastry chef, wrote on Facebook: “I cannot tell you how disgusted I am with my fellow gay and lesbian community that they would stoop so low to force someone to bake a cake for them who simply doesn’t agree with them. They don’t have to bake a cake for you. You are forcing someone. You are being a Nazi and forcing someone to bake a wedding cake for you when there are hundreds of other gay and lesbians that would gladly have your business. Shame on you.”

The “Arab Spring”

The so-called Arab Spring was a remarkable series of events including the following:

December 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire because the authorities had confiscated his produce. This was the culmination of many years of such maltreatment and it sparked protests in Tunisia and elsewhere, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Syria and Yemen.

January 2011 The Tunisian President fled to Saudi Arabia. A few days later protests in Egypt forced the Egyptian President to resign.

March 2011 Protests against President Assad began in Syria leading to a prolonged war with many atrocities.

October 2011 Lybian President Gaddafi was killed after a 9-month conflict.

February 2012 The President of Yemen resigned after protests.

June 2012 Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was elected President of Egypt.

July 2013 Millions of Egyptians demonstrated against Morsi forcing his resignation.

May 2014 Former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was elected President of Egypt

Many people saw all this as a positive revolution which would establish democracy in the Middle East. But it was not to be. Instead, there were many sinister developments. One early example happened in August 2013 when Muslims set fire to over 70 Christian churches in Egypt. Since then extreme Islamists have come to the fore, especially in Iraq, Syria and Lybia. The most prominent is, of course, the so-called Islamic State (Isis). The removal of dictators has opened the way to far more extreme leadership taking over. This had happened much earlier when the Shah of Persia (Iran) was overthrown in 1979 and replaced by hard-line Islamists. On June 29th 2014 Isis announced that it had re-established the Islamic Caliphate (global Islamic state) led by the Caliph Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. One Iraqi politician said that the Arab Spring had become an Islamic Spring.

International chaos in the Middle East

Isis seems to be aiming at weakening Arab states and their armies so that it will be able to gain more influence and make it easier to ‘liberate’ the Palestinians from Israeli control. Turkey, Iran and Israel are the only strong states in the Middle East.

Syria and Iraq

Syria and Iraq are, of course, deeply divided and largely ungovernable. They are well on the way to becoming failed states. Isis (which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is now in control of more than half of Syria and controls all the border crossings between Syria and Iraq. Their intermediate aim is a Middle East Islamic state which includes the territories of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Israel. Syria is crucially important for Isis because they see it as the heart of the Islamic State on the border of Palestine. They see it as the road to Jerusalem. Isis is known to have some chemical weapons but there is fear that they will gain more from Syrian sources. Israel is afraid that Hezbollah, the Islamist group based in Lebanon, also could get hold of Syrian chemical weapons and smuggle them into Lebanon. Some experts are afraid that people could be exposed to biological weapons such as anthrax, plague, and cholera which could cause pandemics that are very difficult to control.

Iraq is divided between a Shia Muslim majority and a more traditional Sunni minority. But Isis (which is Sunni extremist) also holds large areas of the country and at times the Iraqi army has shown it is not up to withstanding it.


Egypt initially accepted 300,000 Syrian refugees but since Morsi was deposed has turned against them. President Sisi is authoritarian and there have been unfair trials and an increasing number of executions. Morsi has been sentenced to death and the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed.

Militant Islamists have mounted attacks particularly in North Sinai. Hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed. One terrorist group called Sinai Province has links with Isis.

Egypt receives financial support from the Saudis and the Emirates. It is regarded as supporting Israel against Hamas in Gaza which is seen as a terrorist group.


Iran is an oppressive regime which restricts human rights. It is strongly opposed by the Saudis and the Gulf States. It co-operates with Hezbollah in Lebanon to support President Assad of Syria. The US is, of course, seeking to ensure that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons. President Obama stated in April 2015 that Iran will accept “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear programme in history. If Iran cheats, the world will know it. This deal is not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification.” However Israel is very suspicious of the agreement and believes Iran will not keep to it. Clearly the Saudis share this suspicion.


Jordan has received 600,000 Syrian refugees. This, together with the surrounding chaos in Iraq and Syria is creating a serious crisis in Jordan and fears that the conflict could spill over into its territory.


Kuwait is an oppressive regime which curtails freedom of speech. David Cohen, Deputy Director of the CIA, once described Kuwait as the “epicentre of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria” However Kuwait is regarded as an important ally by the West.


Lebanon has suffered by being caught up in battles between countries such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia and it fears that the Syrian conflict could spill over into its territory. Fears are also raised by the strong connections between Iran and Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon and is regarded by many as a terrorist group.

It is a country where citizenship is only available to members of one of 18 approved religious groups. Power is shared out between these groups and, especially in the context of a weak state, this leads to an acceptance of compromise.

Lebanon has one million Syrian refugees, the equivalent of one fifth of the Lebanese population. The presence of the pro-Assad Shia group Hezbollah in the country has caused violent reactions from the Sunni community


Since 2014 there has been civil war in Libya. Central government has collapsed and the numerous militias are out of control. The country is moving towards being a failed state. Libya is very dangerous and journalists tend not to go there. Isis has moved into territory which is not controlled by the state and set up training centres for extremists. It was from there that the recent massacre in Tunisia was mounted.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is dominated by Wahhabism, a very strict version of Sunni Islam. It is repressive and carries out severe punishments, including many beheadings. No political parties are allowed. The Saudis, assisted by Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have funded Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq. However Saudi Arabia has 25% of the world’s oil supplies so western governments want to maintain good relationships with the country despite its bad human rights record. Hence Saudi Arabia has recently hosted a conference on Human Rights run by the UN Human Rights Council. The country is also the British arms industry’s largest customer.

Although the Saudis have funded Islamic fundamentalists around the region, it has now rebounded on them as extremist groups are threatening the Saudi leadership. They are also very threatened by the extensive influence of Iran in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. They have made it clear that if the US is not successful in preventing Iran developing nuclear weapons they will acquire them too. It is thought that the Saudis funded 60% of the development of the Pakistan nuclear weapons on the basis that they would be allowed to obtain some of those weapons if necessary. Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal has said: “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too.”


Many Tunisians have joined Isis to fight in Syria and Iraq.


Anxieties in Turkey about growing Islamisation and the authoritarianism of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister led to riots and in 2015 Erdogan did not do too well in the election.

Turkey is very concerned to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state by both Syrian and Turkish Kurds. They are sending troops to fight against the Syrian Kurds. The Turkish Kurds live in SE Turkey.

Turkey has accepted 1.8 million Syrian refugees.


There has been an undeclared civil war in Yemen for some time. Iranian-backed rebels gained control of government institutions. The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is close, not least because about half the Saudi army is of Kuwaiti origin. The Saudis are afraid of the Iranian influence in Yemen and they are also afraid that Kuwait will become a failed state controlled by terrorists. So in 2015 a Sunni Muslim coalition of nine Arab countries plus Pakistan invaded Kuwait.


Much of the conflict in the Middle East is between the more traditional Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. They are at war with each other in Iraq, Syria and Kuwait. Isis is an extreme form of Sunni Islam.

Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are torn by war. They are becoming failed states. Egypt is facing serious division. Saudi Arabia is an oppressive, anti-Christian regime. Jordan and Lebanon feel threatened and Turkey intends to prevent the Kurds establishing a state by violence if necessary.

In March 2015 a joint Arab military force was set up to face the unstable situation in the Middle East. The 22 states involved in the Arab League are to combine forces.

Many refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Other refugees are crossing the Mediterranean to find safety in Europe – causing problems within the EU.

The effects on Christians

One thing that complicates the position of Christians in Muslim countries is military action by western nations which are seen as Christian nations. Consequently, Muslim countries persecute Christians. The Arab Spring and the growth of Isis has led to much greater oppression of Christians in the Middle East.

In Egypt, where there is a long-established Christian community, the removal of President Morsi in 2013 led to the worst persecution of Christians in 1400 years. It was against Coptic Christians and 65 churches, Christian bookshops, schools and convents were burned down, looted or destroyed. There has been some similar persecution since then.

In recent years in Syria over 450,000 Christians have fled and hundreds of thousands are in hiding. Christians and Christian leaders have been abducted, ransomed or executed.

Since the 2003 Gulf War over a million Christians have fled from Iraq. In 2014 when Isis captured Mosul and much of the traditional Christian area around Nineveh 200,000 Christians fled to Kurdistan.

The chaos in Libya has meant that persecution has increased, with Christians being afraid to meet together. The only religious gatherings allowed are Islamic. Isis has executed Christians.

Saudi Arabia officially bans churches and Christian meetings, even amongst ex-pats. Sometimes the authorities take oppressive action to enforce this ban against Christians meeting in homes. Bibles are prohibited. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the death penalty. Nevertheless for economic and political reasons the Saudis are treated as respected allies by western countries.

The Israeli perspective

I write as a friend of Israel but I am a genuine friend who, unlike some Zionist Christians, faces up to her failings as well as defending her when appropriate. She is not treating the Palestinians justly and currently she is becoming increasingly isolated in the world through the unwise leadership of her present government.

However, some of the criticism of Israel is unjust and there is some which is based on thinly veiled anti-Semitism. In fact, some Christians have decided that Israel is in the wrong and don’t wished to be confused by the facts. There is a growing movement to boycott Israeli goods but, as Israel points out, there is no such boycott of other countries deemed to be guilty of injustice – Saudi Arabia, for example. It is essential that we seek to look at the world through Israeli eyes, as well as through Palestinian eyes.

Israel is still affected by centuries of persecution and the trauma of the Holocaust. She also knows that a large number of people dispute her legitimacy and would like to see her destroyed. Against that background she looks at the chaos in the Middle East around her – the extreme Islamism, the wars, the advance of Isis (which is now speaking of taking over from Hamas and ‘liberating’ Palestine), the threat of Iran, which wants Israel destroyed, gaining nuclear weapons after all (which is perceived as possible by the Israelis and others) and the danger the Saudis would follow suit. Yes, Israel should provide justice for the Palestinians but she also needs to protect herself. After all, Isis is getting too close for comfort.

It is all very well for the Christian armchair critics in the West to be calling for justice for the Palestinians. But they must also take the fears of the Israelis seriously. Yes, of course, sometimes politicians over-emphasise threats for political reasons but the fact is that Israel is seriously threatened – and things will get worse.

We need to pray for the countries of the Middle East, for Israel and for Christians in that region facing grave difficulties, persecution and violent death. We should also recognise that the growing persecution of Christians and the increasing threats to Israel are in harmony with the New Testament’s teaching on the End Times.

A US group led by a church minister is fighting against religious freedom laws which protect religious people and organisations from being forced to accept homosexual marriage. If we think present protection in law for Christians who follow the Bible’s teaching on such matters will last long-term we should take careful note. It won’t. Pray against this trend. See