Pat Robertson, host of "The 700 Club" and a long-time Christian evangelist and leader, suggests there is reason to doubt the longtime end times belief that the Antichrist will come out of Rome.
He interviewed Joel Richardson, New York Times bestselling author of "Mideast Beast" and Islamic Antichrist, on his Christian Broadcasting Network program, and wondered how so many preachers "got so far off course."
Richardson had been on the program before as a guest of Gordon Robertson, and this time appeared with Pat Robertson, who agreed there are serious flaws in theories most American evangelicals have been taught about the end times.
Robertson observed, "The Scofield Reference Bible has got so many mistakes in it, it's just appalling, but it has dominated the thinking of evangelicals for years. One of the things is that the Antichrist has to come out of Rome, and that the 38th chapter of Ezekiel they've made so that it's Moscow, and so forth, and you [Richardson] debunk most of that."
Richardson's work, as the titles suggest, leads to the conclusion that the Antichrist may very well come out of the Islamic world of the Middle East.
In response to Robertson's challenge to identify what the "great flaw is in evangelical thinking on this matter," Richardson said, "The misinterpretation of a few key passages."
He cited Daniel 2 and Daniel 9:26 as being at the heart of what Richardson sees as the widespread fallacy the Antichrist will be a "suave European."
"When you look at those in proper context," contended Richardson, "they don't point to Europe but rather the Middle East."
Robertson outlined a widely accepted view by evangelicals positing "the Prince of Rosh," a figure referenced in the Book of Ezekiel who is supposed to lead an attack on Israel, will come from Russia. This, asserts Richardson, is mistaken because "you begin with this false premise that the Antichrist would be European."
"So then you come to this passage that speaks of this invasion of Israel, that they are clearly Middle Eastern nations. And so what they've all done is say they must all be a different invader, this must be a different group of people, rather than the Antichrist," Richardson said.
However, claims Richardson, "Ezekiel is telling the same story all the other prophets are telling."
The confusion of many scriptural teachers, explains Richardson, derives from what he believes is an incorrect method of identifying nations and peoples in the Bible. He disagrees with trying to trace the genetic lineage of peoples throughout history and instead prefers what he calls the "more responsible evangelical hermeneutic [which] would be the historical/grammatical perspective, which is how did Ezekiel and his audience understand these names?"
He clarifies: "If you open up any Bible atlas, evangelical Bible atlas, it's going to point to Asia Minor and modern-day Turkey" when it comes to identifying the key places mentioned in Scripture about the end times.
"The Bible's very specific that he [the Antichrist] would come from that region."
Richardson said, as he sees it, too many Christians are "good students of our teachers but not always good students of the Scriptures unfortunately."
The special role of Muslims during the end times, Richardson argues, is something that is often ignored in contemporary Christianity.
"We need to understand that the Scriptures are thoroughly Israel-centric. And so the primary barometer for the Antichrist spirit are those nations that are possessed with that Satanic, demonic hatred of the Jewish people, the lust to possess the land of God, so that anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and as well if you just open the Quran, it's thoroughly anti-Christic."
Richardson believes the Quran is ultimately irreconcilable with belief in Jesus Christ.
"It [the Quran] actually says if you believe Jesus is the Son of God, you're the greatest blasphemer imaginable. It is the one sin that is completely unforgivable. If you say that Jesus is the divine Son of God, he died on the cross, the Quran names the most essential, foundational doctrines of the Christian faith, and calls it the worst, most gross form of blasphemy."
Therefore, says Richardson, "It doesn't take great discernment to look at this and say, this is that which the prophets were speaking of."
Richardson says Islamic eschatology teaches Jesus is prophesied to return along with the Islamic Messiah figure, the "Mahdi," but in a subordinate position. Robertson calls such a belief "about as anti-Christ as you can get!"
And Richardson believes this almost exact inversion of Christianity lends important support to his theory.
"It's what I call an anti-parallel. They've basically taken the biblical story of the last days and flipped it on its head, it's a mirror image, and they've made all the bad guys the good guys. ... As Christians, we need to look at this and say, 'Satan has set Muslims up.'"
Richardson argued modern Shiite Iran is being driven by apocalyptic beliefs about the end of the world even as it negotiates a nuclear deal with the United States. And both Richardson and Robertson found the Sunni Islamic belief about an "army with black flags" advancing on Jerusalem during the end times as a powerful idea that could be driving the growth of the Islamic State.
Richardson observes, "These followers of ISIS, these kids being recruited, they are being swept up, they believe that they are part of the unfolding of Islamic prophecy. They believe they're in the last days. And they're going for broke."
Richardson says he first became involved in researching these ideas because "my heart ... [has wanted] for so many years to reach Muslims."
Richardson's knowledge of Islamic eschatological theories was an outgrowth of his own Christian evangelical efforts. And he believes outreach to Muslims is one of the most important tasks for contemporary Christians.
"We, the church, if there is one application of this material, we need to give ourselves to the Islamic world, to lay down our lives to complete the Great Commission, and to snatch as many as we can from the fire, because they make some of the most passionate, fiery followers of Jesus. I've gotten to see some of that, and be part of it, and it's one of the most exciting things that the Lord's doing in the Earth right now."
Robertson concurred, noting his own program is seeing a great deal of online traffic from the Middle East, which he credited with Muslims "horrified at what they're seeing from ISIS."
While not making any predictions about when, precisely, he believes the end times will begin, Richardson argues: "It's closer now than ever before. The point is you can look at the nations, you can look at the landscape, and it's coming into focus. And this needs to drive us into urgency. ... Islam is not the answer and we need to be about the business of completing the Great Commission."
Pat Robertson called Richardson's work "fascinating" and told viewers, "[He] goes to great length to rebut some of the people who have put out theories that are contrary, and I think its detail, it's the kind of thing you want to study."
For his part, Richardson told WND: "I consider it a great blessing to be friends with a ministry that has done so much to advance the gospel. Pat Robertson and the larger CBN family of ministries has truly made a profound impact globally for Christ. It was a genuine honor to be able to meet Pat, and especially to know that my work has impacted him."