The Ukraine War

Johannes Pflaum

The Great Disillusionment and the Reliability of Biblical Prophecy. What current developments can teach us about our personal lives, Bible prophecy, and the future.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a dream world that had formed around years of apparent prosperity and peace, collapsed for large parts of the Western world. Even some professing Christians were suddenly confronted with the harsh reality of a fallen humanity, which until that point had been hiding in the haze of the mainstream and feel-good background noise. There were already plenty of terrible, troubled spots on our planet before the Ukraine war, and still are. Yet despite the various terrorist attacks and tremors in recent years, many nearby events nonetheless seemed so far away. Even as Christ followers, we were in danger of being lost in the spiritual fog of a material and ideological “peace pipe.” By contrast, God’s Word always calls for sobriety, especially concerning the last stretch before Jesus’ return. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:10-14).

Paul is contrasting spiritual alertness with a sleepy dream state. He makes it clear how this plays out in practical life. He calls on followers of Jesus to understand the times. The day being close at hand should mean that we’re letting our lives be determined from that point. Without speculating on how it will play out, the events in Ukraine are also a wake-up call for those of us in the Western world, to reorient our lives toward Christ and His coming.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Iron Curtain with it, many Bible-faithful Christians saw it as the initiation of the final developments before Jesus’ return. Just prior to that, conflict in and around Israel had taken on a new dimension with the first Intifada. As a result of the first Iraq war, Israel’s airspace was under control for the moment. But then things went in a direction that Jesus’ followers hadn’t been expecting: for about three decades, everything seemed to progress smoothly and harmoniously. The prosperity and the wellness boom continued in spite of every “hiccup” and horror (the second Iraq war, 9/11, stock market turbulence). With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Europe enjoyed a freedom of belief that is likely unique in all of history. It lulled people into a dangerous spiritual sleepiness. And yet, everything seemed to go well somehow. There was tension in the Middle East and Israel and a series of terrible attacks and military conflicts, but everything calmed down again for the most part. After the end of World War II and the founding of the State of Israel, well-meaning end-time forecasts sometimes overshot the mark and the opposite actually came true. Jesus is coming back, certainly, but maybe a few hundred or even thousand years from now. Who can tell? In the end, everything seemed to be going well. The danger grew that true imminent expectation would give way to more of a theoretical, theological thought experiment. It was a bit like philosophizing about the distant Arctic from a cozy South Sea beach.

A charismatic church congress took place in Nuremberg, Germany in 1991. I can still vividly remember how Peter Wagner said at the time that a new wave of revival would wash over Europe in the wake of Germany’s reunification. I recall how his enthusiastic statement was greeted with euphoric applause. The external attitude toward life in recent decades has probably led to the growing spread of transformational theology among evangelicals. Instead of placing their hope in Jesus’ imminent return, many are now more concerned with changing society, culture, even world population—all under the banner of the “Kingdom of God.” A social gospel also began to spread, at the expense of the uncompromising message of heaven and hell. Three decades after that Nuremberg conference, there has been no revival originating in Germany. Instead, Germany has set the pace and pioneered the destruction of the last Judeo-Christian values that remained in Europe. Precisely the opposite of what was “prophesied” at Nuremberg came true. Using sober observation, it’s clear that apostasy from God and His truth (2 Thess 2:3)—which precedes the appearance of the Antichrist and Jesus’ return—has become tangible at all levels.

I will also never forget how the USSR’s collapse, which resulted in the democratization of much of eastern Europe, pushed a prophetic and eschatological perspective even further off the radar, even for Christians faithful to the Bible. Russia’s presumed major role in end-time events seemed to have ended with the empire’s collapse. As I mentioned before, there have been numerous cruel conflicts in this world over the years. But for those of us in the Western world, they seemed far away, just like Jesus’ return. At the same time, there was a decline in the spiritual “vision” needed to fully appreciate how neo-Marxist ideology was creeping into Western society. There were occasional mentions of a resulting degradation of ethics, but it wasn’t seen as anything serious. After all, there was still personal freedom and prosperity.

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the spring of 2020, it suddenly became clear how fragile our “safe” conditions truly are. Nevertheless, many were hoping and thinking that it would only be temporary, and then everything would return to the way it had been. For many, the abrupt dismantling of constitutional liberties, as well as increased surveillance, has been eclipsed by the systematic scaremongering and concerns about personal health. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022 also caught many by surprise. Although the process had begun as early as 2014, people simply didn’t want to see the reality. Politicians have been talking about a turning point ever since.

But from a biblical perspective, we’re not experiencing a turning point at all.  Instead, we’re simply living through the continuation of the history of humanity, far away from God. It includes the constant interplay of war and peace, relative calm and violence, hate and tolerance, from small to large. Continuing the thought from the introductory Bible verses, it’s like being disenchanted out of our dream state. Put another way, “Welcome to the reality of fallen humanity.” Are we aware of this as Bible-believing Christians, or are we happy to fall back into our drowsy reverie after a momentary flinch?

We should be grateful for all the years of apparent peace and freedom of belief in the Western world. As I said before, this is a unique epoch in history. But at the same time, the sad reality behind the smoke screen of external circumstances must not be forgotten. I present the legalized killing of the unborn in the womb as a representative example of this reality. Hundreds of thousands are killed in this way each year in the United States, and I could mention a whole range of other ethical issues here. So, our gratitude for this unique time of religious freedom and prosperity, must always be combined with a critical self-examination of our failure as Bible-believing Christians.

The developments of the past few years and the open eruption of the Ukraine war made it clear that interpretations of biblical prophecy pointing to Russia’s very probable eschatological significance (cf. Ezek 38—39)—which some had discarded—are still relevant. Biblical prophecy speaks of a prince and country from the extreme north in connection with Israel. Interestingly, the war in Ukraine has also created new tensions between Russia and Israel. This is one example of how quickly the stars can align, and biblical predictions no longer considered “up-to-date” appear to be completely current. Unfortunately, there was also some speculation about Russia’s role in prophecy that should be rejected. However, this needs to be clearly differentiated from the basic course of biblical prophecy and its meaning. As a result of the developments of the past few decades, there are parts of the evangelical movement that are increasingly divesting of an eschatology based on the history of salvation, succumbing to the same mistake that “eccentric end-time prophets” were often accused of: wanting to understand the Bible solely on the basis of current events.

From a perspective of Bible prophecy, it had been clear since the end of the Cold War that European disarmament would only be an interlude. Discord and strife (cf. Rom 3:15-17) are among the hallmarks of a humanity detached from God. Only the coming Lord will bring true peace (cf. Is 9:6). Only then—and not before—will God’s visible kingdom begin and swords be beaten into plowshares (Mic 4:3). Additionally, biblical prophecy says that the time preceding Jesus’ return will be shaken by increasing war, armed conflict, and terror (cf. Matt 24:7; Luke 21:11; Rev 6:2, 4, 8, etc.). The future phase of the Antichrist’s sham peace will also end in an unprecedented rearmament. The prophet Joel tells us that in the end, the nations will beat even their plowshares into swords (Joel 3:10). Today, we can see both how reliable the prophetic Word is and how certain circumstances can seemingly change overnight. The latest end-time developments are casting their shadow.

Another prophecy is also casting its shadow over recent developments and the situation in Ukraine. First Thessalonians 5:3 says, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

Many countries in western Europe were caught off guard when war broke out. In no time at all, after years of disarmament, a new armament spiral is emerging. It’s also very thought-provoking how apparent pacifists became armament advocates overnight. The same will happen before Jesus returns. We may be much closer to that time than we think.

This is why the situation around Ukraine is a wake-up call to the Church of Jesus. There’s a high probability that we’ll experience even more surprising and far-reaching events in the near future. We can be thankful for all of the external possessions that we still have. Even in the midst of painful cutbacks in our prosperity, we’re still doing undeservedly well in comparison with much of the world. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be dazzled or taken in by the developments around us. Everything points toward world events being on the home stretch toward Jesus’ return, as incidents are accelerating rapidly.

Waking up from sleep also means that our life is being shaped anew by Christ, and that we’re living in awareness of His imminent return. Our Lord is coming soon! It isn’t a matter of speculating or calculating times, but of a difference in our practical life (also spoken of by Paul in our passage from Romans). If the night was already advanced in his time and the day was near, how much nearer must it be now?

Midnight Call - 05/2023

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety