On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, a friend called and said, “Gordon, turn on the television, a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center!” I was shocked and said, “Are you kidding me?” With urgency in her voice she said, “No!” I rushed down stairs and watched in horror as they replayed the video of the second plane hitting the Twin Towers and then saw the eventual collapse of both buildings.
As a nation, our hearts and prayers go out to the family and friends of those who perished in this horrific attack. We are also grateful to the men and women of the Port Authority, police, fire and emergency medical services, as well as the many volunteers, who risked their lives to evacuate and rescue the people trapped in the doomed and collapsed buildings. Words can not express our appreciation for the leadership shown by the mayor, governor, and president.
Six days later, on Monday afternoon, September 17, 2001, I crossed the upper level of the George Washington Bridge into New York City on my way to teach my classes at New York School of the Bible. It was a beautifully clear day and I took my usual look down the Hudson River in order to view the magnificent Manhattan skyline. But this time it was different, the Twin Towers were gone! It was an eerie experience.
King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, stated that God had “put eternity in the hearts” of human beings but they could not “find out the work of God from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). In other words, our God given desire is to ask why something happens and to seek the purpose or meaning of an event. Yet God has kept back the meaning or stated purpose of some things, seemingly so we will trust Him in our daily walk and learn to enjoy life because it is a gift from Him (Eccl. 3:13).1
We will never fully know, this side of eternity, why an event like this tragic attack happened. Yet the Bible gives us clues to help us contemplate this event and use it to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of life.
The Ultimate Cause
The ultimate cause of this tragedy, like any violent and wicked action, is sin. Sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed a Holy God (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12). Since that point, the creation has been groaning as it waits for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:18-23).
As a result of the Fall, every human being, except the Lord Jesus (God manifest in the flesh), has been born a sinner (Ps. 51:5; Eph. 2:3; Jer. 17:9; cf. Heb. 4:15; 7:26; II Cor. 5:21). There are all kinds of sinners in this world, moral and immoral, as well as pious and evil, but we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23)!
One religious leader blamed this tragedy on civil libertarians, feminists, homosexuals, abortionists, the ACLU and liberal judges. If he thought this was God’s judgment then he was too selective in his list of sinners. He forgot to mention the adulterers, liars, murderers, the covetous idol worshippers that bow down to the altar of the Almighty Dollar, those who hate, as well as those who neglect the poor, and other such sinners (I Tim. 1:9,10; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5; Rev. 21:8). While it is true, America is a nation of sinners (James 2:10), one must be careful not to presume the mind of God and say that this was His judgment. What we can say for sure is that some sinful people performed diabolical acts of wickedness against fellow human beings that led to destructive consequences for both righteous and unrighteous people. While God hates sin, He somehow allowed this evil to happen. But we must understand clearly that He was not the Author of this horrific act. His nature is to do only good but His nature also determines that He brings good out of evil (Ps. 5:4; Gen. 18:25; 50:20; Rom. 8:28).
One of the reasons Mr. bin Laden tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993 was because it was a fitting symbol of American (and Western) materialism and greed. In attacking what the terrorists said was a symbol of greed, they also sought to destroy the lives of people who were working or visiting these apparent monuments to all that the terrorists say was evil. The terrorists apparently see murder as less evil than greed. The Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy who was ministering in Ephesus, the commercial center of Asia Minor, reminds us that the “love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim. 6:10). But the believer should never conclude, as the terrorists apparently do, that all those people working in the World Trade Center were greedy, covetous, lovers of money and materialistic. My assumption is that they were simply normal people from America and 63 other countries who were doing their jobs on what they thought was a normal day of the week. There certainly is a “spirit of materialism” in America and the World Trade Center may symbolize that spirit.
This time the terrorists attacked the chief financial and military centers of the United States. I am reminded of the proud King Uzziah and the people of Judah who emulated their king. Both were proud of their material possessions (II Chron. 26:6-8; Isa. 2:7a) and military might (II Chron. 26:9-15; Isa. 2:7b). Yet because of his heart being lifted up, Uzziah was struck with leprosy (II Chron. 26:16-19) and Judah was humbled by an earthquake (Isa. 2:19,21).2 The principle that Solomon gave is borne out in Uzziah’s experience: “Pride goes before destruction and the haughty spirit before the fall” (Prov. 16:18). We must at least wonder if this recent attack is God’s way of humbling us, as individuals and as a nation, in order to bring believers back to Himself and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ and to present the unsaved with their need of salvation.
This tragedy might serve as a wake-up call to both America and to the world from a God who loves the world (John 3:16). America is far from a righteous nation, yet the Holy Spirit is doing His job of convicting men and women, boys and girls, of their sin (singular) of unbelief (John 16:8,9). Each individual must realize that he or she is a sinner and cannot save him or herself from the penalty of sin. The Lord Jesus, God manifest in human flesh, demonstrated the love of God for sinners by dying on the Cross of Calvary to pay for all our sins. Three days later He rose again from the dead to prove that all our sins had been paid for and He has conquered death. When people trust (believe) in the Lord Jesus Christ, God forgives their sins, gives them His righteousness and these believers can know for certain that they have a home in Heaven (John 3:16; 6:47; Acts 4:12; 13:38,39; 16:31; Rom. 5:8; II Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; I John 5:13). The gift of eternal life has been and is freely given by God to all who put their trust in His Son and not any merits or works of their own (Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8,9; Tit. 3:5).
Unfortunately the hijackers/terrorists were tragically misinformed by their religious indoctrination which says that if they were martyred for the Islamic cause they would go to Paradise. One political cartoonist captured this delusion by drawing five hijackers dressed in Islamic cleric garb holding knives and looking around at the flames of Hell. Before them was Satan sitting behind a booth marked “Hell Information”. One of the terrorists ponders, “I’m confused, this doesn’t look like Paradise…”3 More than likely, none of these Moslems trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Because they rejected Him, they will spend eternity separated from God, and each other, in Hell. Unfortunately, the Biblical description of Hell is far worst than that which is depicted in the cartoon (Matt. 25:41; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:19-31; Jude 13; Rev. 20:10-15).
The Prophetic Implications
I believe that the Rapture of the Church will take place before the Seventieth Week of Daniel (the seven-year period of the Tribulation). The Rapture is a signless event. As I understand it, nothing has to be fulfilled before the Rapture of the Church and in my opinion, nothing has been fulfilled yet. The events we see in the world today could possibly be the “stage setting” for the final conflict. On the other hand, they may not be.
Two radio talk show hosts were interviewing an Israeli intelligence officer. He correctly diagnosed the conflict as a religious one. This conflict is between an extreme form of Islam, on the one hand, and the Jewish State of Israel and the “Christian” Western World on the other. Let’s be honest, in the Western World, Biblical Christianity, sad to say, has taken a back seat to materialism, sports, and the worship of the Almighty Dollar, Yen, and the Euro!
Mr. bin Laden confirmed the conflict was a religious one when he called for a Jihad (holy war) against “the new Christian-Jewish crusade led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the Cross.”4
Yet my mind was drawn to two passages of Scripture, Ezekiel 38 and Daniel 11. These two passages from the Word of God inform us that one day there will be an attack on Israel by a Middle Eastern confederation, possibly an Islamic one.
Ezekiel 38 predicts an attack on the Land of Israel from Gog, Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer and Togarmah (38:2, 3, 6). Contrary to most popular prophecy teachers, this is not a confederation of communist countries led by the Soviet Union or even Russia today. All these places are in the area of modern-day Turkey!5 At present, Turkey has treaties and is at peace with Israel. It is a secular Islamic republic, but it would not take much for it to adopt extremist religious and political leanings and quickly and violently turn on Israel. Ezekiel also predicts that Persia (modern day Iran), Ethiopia and Libya would join this coalition (38:5). The common denominator of all these states now is that they are Islamic, not Arab states.
Daniel 11:40-45 predicts that the “king of the north” (Syria and Iraq) and the “king of the south” (Egypt) would come against Jerusalem. These are all Arab, as well as Islamic, states. This campaign against Jerusalem, described in Ezekiel 38 and Daniel 11, should be seen as a religious war, not a political one.
I do not think we have heard the last from these evil people and their diabolical deeds. When and if a coalition of states wages a campaign against terrorism, they must do it with the utmost care. As this campaign could easily backfire and result in the Islamic world turning on the West and possibly leading to a war like that described by the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel. One example of a potentially dangerous comment was when President Bush said that going after Mr. bin Laden was a “crusade”. That word is a very volatile word in the Moslem world because they remember the barbarism of the “Christian” church during the Crusades of the 11th to the 13th centuries. A point not lost on Mr. bin Laden when he called President Bush “the big crusader!”
Observations on “spirits”
On Friday, Sept. 14, 2001, a National Prayer Service was held in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. One of the opening prayers was to the “God of Abraham, Mohammed and Jesus Christ.” That invocation is emphatically not Biblical theology. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Who is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is different than the Allah of Mohammed! Christians must beware of this revived “ecumenical spirit” that these tragic events have fostered. The Lord Jesus made it clear at the Last Supper that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6; cf. I Tim. 2:5,6). The apostle Paul also warns of being “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” in spiritual matters (II Cor. 6:14-18).
Another “spirit” to be aware of is the “patriotic spirit”, also called the “spirit of America”, and our self-reliance. While I am thankful to be an American and grateful to the Lord for this nation and the freedoms that we still have, we must realize we are not a perfect and righteous nation. As Christians, our first allegiance is to our heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20). I am also thankful for the initial measure of unity shown by the Congress and the outpouring of love and support by and for the people of New York. However, remember the account when some people approached Jesus and told Him about Pilate mingling some Galileans' blood with their sacrifices and the tower of Siloam falling on 18 people and killing them? What was Jesus’ response? He said, “Unless you repent (change your mind) you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5)! It is a strong and sober warning.
As we watch the news, it is easy to identify the boast of our self-reliance. “ We will get through this”, “ we will rebuild”, “ we will not be intimidated”, yet only lip service is given to God when we sing “God bless America” or put up a sign with such words. Perhaps we bow our heads for a moment of silence, yet no mention is made of the Lord Jesus. In the two hour “Prayer for America” rally at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, September 23, Jesus was mentioned only five times!
An interesting parallel can be seen in the instructions of Moses to the Children of Israel just before they cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Moses commands them to keep the commandments and to love the Lord with all their hearts. When God blesses them, they are not to say, “My power and the might of my hands have gained me this wealth”. Because if they forget the Lord and follow after other gods, they shall perish (Deut. 8:11-20; 11:8-17; cf. Lev. 26:18-39). The prophet Zechariah put it this way, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit.’ Says the LORD of Hosts” (4:6). What we do should be done in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to bring glory to the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:16).
Perhaps the Lord would use these events to bring about genuine revival in America. During the days that the prophet Joel ministered, Judah was hit with a severe locust plague, famine, drought and fires. Revival began with one man, Joel, when he cried out to the Lord (1:19). He called on the spiritual leadership of the nation to fast and call a sacred assembly to petition the Lord (1:13, 14). He admonished them to return to the Lord and not rituals (2:12, 13). It appears that God heard their prayers and restored the Land (2:21-27). The foundation of Joel’s preaching was the Mosaic Law and the prayer of Solomon (Deut. 28, 30; Lev. 26; II Chron. 6:12-42; 7:13, 14).
Our Personal Response
What should be our response to this tragedy? There are several observations I have made in the course of these events.
First, believers in the Lord Jesus must realize every breath we take is a gift from God (Acts 17:25). We never know when it will be our last. As I watched a TV interview with several NY City firefighters, one of them recalled the words of the chief chaplain of New York’s bravest, Mychal Judge, who died in the collapse. He said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what you are going to do tomorrow.” This caught the essence of James 4:13-17. In this passage, James describes the arrogant merchants who plan their buying and selling activities and anticipate a profit, yet they do not realize that life is like a vapor! James admonishes them to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” It is a humbling thought to realize Someone else holds our future!
The second observation is that the “sword” is given to the state to fight evil (Rom. 13:1-4). We should pray for the Lord to give wisdom to our leaders for the heavy decisions that have to be made (I Tim. 2:1, 2).
Third, as individual believers, we are not to repay evil for evil (Rom. 12:17). It is a shame that people would take matters into their own hands and try to run down Moslems on the street or even shoot them just because they are Moslems or Arab. More than likely most Arabs and/or Moslems living in this country do not agree with the thoughts or actions of extremists of the same nationality or religion. If someone attacks these Arabs and/or Moslems in the name of vengeance, it is not vengeance, but rather, unprovoked violence! While the Apostle Paul, quoting Deut. 32:35, states that “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord”. The individual believer should “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19, 21).
The fourth observation is that believers are to love their neighbors (Rom. 13:8-10). If the Lord put a Moslem family in your neighborhood it is for a purpose. If your colleague at work is a Moslem or you have a non-Christian person in class, it is for a purpose. If we show love for one another and love for our neighbor, then by life and lips we can win that family, friend, colleague, or classmate to Jesus Christ (John 17:21).
The final observation is the most important for someone who does not know the Lord Jesus Christ as his or her own Savior. Nobody knows when life will end. I’m sure most of those people going to work in the World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, or boarding four ill-fated flights on the morning of September 11 did not think it would be their last day on earth. Each of them, within a split second, was ushered into eternity. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2). A person’s eternal destiny is determined in this life. Will you trust the One Who loves you, the Lord Jesus Christ, and Who died for your sins and rose from the dead and be guaranteed a place in Heaven, or will you continue to reject Him and spend an eternity separated from Him in Hell? It is the most important decision anyone will ever make. Where will you spend eternity?
A Final Thought
King Hezekiah was sitting in his palace in Jerusalem receiving reports of the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC. One of his messengers brought a letter from Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, threatening him with the total destruction of Jerusalem (Isa. 37:8-13). Hezekiah received the letter and spread it before the Lord in the Temple. He prayed, basically, “Lord, this is Your problem, what are You going to do about it?” (Isa. 37:14-20). The Lord sent the prophet Isaiah with the promise that God would take care of the problem (Isa. 37:21-35). Hezekiah rested in the promise of “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in YAHWEH, the LORD, is everlasting strength” (Isa. 26:3, 4). The LORD was faithful to His promise and the Angel of the LORD destroyed the Assyrian army that had encircled Jerusalem (Isa. 37:36).
On Sunday, September 16, I was at a small gathering of believers in southern New Jersey to remember the Lord Jesus in the Breaking of Bread. At the end of the service, one brother gave out a hymn written by Edward H. Bickersteth (1825-1906) based on Isaiah 26. The words of “Peace, Perfect Peace” were such a comfort and encouragement in this time of turmoil.
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
In Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.
Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its power.
It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.
1 J. S. Wright, The Interpretation of Ecclesiastes. Pp. 133-150 in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation. Edited by W. Kaiser, Jr. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
2 Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, records that these two events occurred at the same time. Antiquities of the Jews 9:222-227; Loeb Classical Library 6:117-121.
3 Cartoon by Sean Delonas, The New York Post, September 16, 2001, page 50.
4New York Post, September 25, 2001, page 5.
5 E. Yamauchi, Foes from the Northern Frontier (1982). Grand Rapids: Baker Books.