U.S. Syrian attack sign of end times?
A quarter of respondents think a U.S. military strike in Syria could lead to Armageddon. One-fifth of those polled believe the world will end in their lifetime, LifeWay found. Results from the poll of 1,001 American adults surprised Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.
"We weren't talking about Armageddon during the air strikes on Bosnia," he said.
Previous U.S. military action, like the war in Afghanistan or air strikes during the 1990s war in Bosnia, didn't get the same reaction, he said. But because Syria shares a border with Israel and is specifically mentioned in the Bible, people relate it to the end times, LifeWay found.
Still, Stetzer said he could see why linking Bible prophecy to Syria is appealing to many Christians.
It's not that Christians want the world to end or want to see airstrikes, which will lead to suffering, Stetzer said. But they do want Jesus to return to set things right.
"For Christians, the end of the world doesn't mean despair," he said. "The end is really a new beginning."
Israel plays a major role in biblical prophecy, particularly in the Christian theology of premillennial dispensationalism. That theology inspired the best-selling "Late Great Planet Earth" in the 1970s, and the "Left Behind" book series. A big-budget remake of Left Behind is currently in the works.
Most premillennial dispensationalists believe Christians will instantly disappear from the earth and be taken up to heaven during an event called the rapture, which will be followed by seven years of war and catastrophe. After the battle of Armageddon, Jesus will return and set up His kingdom on earth.
LifeWay Research asked three questions about Syria and the end of the world as part of a telephone survey Sept. 6-10 of 1,001 Americans.
Of those polled, 32 percent agreed with the statement, "I believe the battles in Syria are all part of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation." Forty-nine percent disagreed.
Among those surveyed, 26 percent affirmed, "I believe that U.S. military intervention in Syria might lead to the Battle of Armageddon that's spoken about in the Book of Revelation."
Women (36 percent) are more likely than men (28 percent) to see a link between current events in Syria and the Bible.
Southerners (40 percent) and those with household incomes under $25,000 (41 percent) are more likely to relate Syria's woes to the Bible. Northeasterners (24 percent) and those with incomes over $75,000 (20 percent) are more skeptical.
The biggest difference came when people responded to the statement, "I believe the world will end in my lifetime."
Overall, 18 percent agreed while 70 percent disagreed. But 30 percent of those with under $25,000 in household income agreed. By contrast, 9 percent of those with household income over $75,000 agreed with that statement.
Religion and age also played in a role in how people responded to the poll.
Those who attend worship once or twice a month were more likely to see a tie between Syria's trouble and the book of Revelation (51 percent), as are evangelical, born-again, and fundamentalist Christians (58 percent). Fewer of those who rarely (25 percent) or never attend worship service (14 percent) agreed.
Older Americans were more likely to think U.S. airstrikes could lead to the battle of Armageddon, with 34 percent of those over 65 agreeing. Only 21 percent of those 18 to 29 agreed. But more younger Americans (24 percent) than older Americans (15 percent) think the world will end in their lifetime. About a third (32 percent) of evangelical, born-again, fundamentalist Christians believe the world will end in their lifetime.
Mark Hitchcock, pastor of Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Okla., said he believes the Bible does predict future events in the Middle East. But Hitchcock, a Bible prophecy teacher at Dallas Theological Seminary, doesn't think the trouble in Syria was predicted in the Bible.
Instead, Hitchcock believes people want answers in troubled times. Economic hard times, political unrest and violence overseas have many Americans fearful, he said, leading them to see unrest in the Middle East as a sign that God is acting in the world.
"They want to know that God is in charge," he said. "They want to know that someone has his hands on the wheel."
Hitchcock is the author of "The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days."
Bob Smietana is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).