Answer: With the increasing tensions in the Middle East in recent years, and particularly the statements by Shiite Muslim extremists regarding the Twelfth Imam, many people have begun to ask how this relates to Bible prophecies. To answer, we must first find out who the Twelfth Imam is and what he is expected to do for Islam. Second, we must examine the statements by Shiite Muslims in relation to those hopes, and, third, we need to look to the Bible to shed light on the whole issue.
Within the Shiite branch of Islam, there have been twelve imams, or spiritual leaders appointed by Allah. These began with Imam Ali, cousin to Muhammad, who claimed the prophetic succession after Muhammad’s death. Around A.D. 868, the Twelfth Imam, Abu al-Qasim Muhammad (or Muhammad al Mahdi), was born to the Eleventh Imam. Because his father was under intense persecution, the Mahdi was sent into hiding for his protection. About the age of 6, he briefly came out of hiding when his father was killed, but then went back into hiding. It is said that he has been hiding in caves ever since and will supernaturally return just before the day of judgment to eradicate all tyranny and oppression, bringing harmony and peace to the earth. He is the savior of the world in Shiite theology. According to one writer, the Mahdi will combine the dignity of Moses, the grace of Jesus, and the patience of Job in one perfect person.
The predictions about the Twelfth Imam have a striking similarity to Bible prophecies of the end times. According to Islamic prophecy, the Mahdi’s return will be preceded by a number of events during three years of horrendous world chaos, and he will rule over the Arabs and the world for seven years. His appearance will be accompanied by two resurrections, one of the wicked and one of the righteous. According to Shiite teachings, the Mahdi’s leadership will be accepted by Jesus, and the two great branches of Abraham’s family will be reunited forever.
How do the statements of Shiite Muslims, such as the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, tie into this? Ahmadinejad is a deeply committed Shiite and claims that he is to personally prepare the world for the coming Mahdi. In order for the world to be saved, it must be in a state of chaos and subjugation, and Ahmadinejad feels he was directed by Allah to pave the way for that. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly made statements about destroying the enemies of Islam. The Iranian President and his cabinet have supposedly signed a contract with al Mahdi in which they pledge themselves to his work. When asked directly by ABC reporter Ann Curry in September 2009 about his apocalyptic statements, Ahmadinejad said, “Imam…will come with logic, with culture, with science. He will come so that there is no more war. No more enmity, hatred. No more conflict. He will call on everyone to enter a brotherly love. Of course, he will return with Jesus Christ. The two will come back together. And working together, they would fill this world with love.”
What does all this have to do with the Antichrist? According to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, there will be a “man of sin” revealed in the last days who will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God. In Daniel 7 we read of Daniel’s vision of four beasts which represent kingdoms which play major roles in God’s prophetic plan. The fourth beast is described (v. 7-8) as being dreadful, terrible, exceedingly strong, and different from those which came before it. It is also described as having a “little horn” which uproots other horns. This little horn is often identified as the Antichrist. In verse 25 he is described as speaking “great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time” (3 ½ years). In Daniel 8, the vision of the ram and the goat identifies a king who will arise in the last days (v. 23-25), destroy many people, and stand up against Christ, but this king will be broken. In Daniel 9:27 it is prophesied that the “prince that shall come” would make a 7-year covenant with many people and then bring in much desolation. Who will this Antichrist be? No one knows for certain, but many theories have been given, including the possibility that he will be an Arab.
Regardless of the various theories, there are a few parallels between the Bible and Shiite theology that we should note. First, the Bible says that the Antichrist’s kingdom will rule the world for seven years, and Islam claims that the Twelfth Imam will rule the world for seven years. Second, Muslims anticipate three years of chaos before the revealing of the Twelfth Imam, and the Bible speaks of 3 ½ years of Tribulation before the Antichrist reveals himself by desecrating the Jewish temple. Third, the Antichrist is described as a deceiver who claims to bring peace, but who actually brings widespread war; the anticipation of the Twelfth Imam is that he will bring peace through massive war with the rest of the world.
Will the Antichrist be a Muslim? Only God knows. Are there connections between Islamic eschatology and Christian eschatology? There certainly seem to be direct correlations, though they are like reading the descriptions of a great battle, first from the perspective of the loser, trying to save face, and then from the perspective of the victor. Until we see the fulfillment of these things, we need to heed the words of 1 John 4:1-4, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
Recommended Resource: Understanding End Times Prophecy by Paul Benware.