With the increasing tensions in the Middle East in recent years, the statements by Shiite Muslim extremists regarding the Twelfth Imam are causing many people to ask how Muslim prophecy relates to Bible prophecy. Specifically, many ask if an Islamic / Muslim antichrist is a probability. 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 prophetic succession after Muhammad’s death. Around AD 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. About the age of 6, when his father was killed, he briefly came out of hiding but then disappeared again. It is said that the Mahdi 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, Imam 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, Jesus will accept the Mahdi’s leadership, and the two great branches of Abraham’s family will be reunited forever.
The former President of Iran, Mahmoud 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, the powerful “man of sin” in the end times? According to Revelation 6:2 and Daniel 9:27, the Antichrist will pose as a man of peace, ready to set the world right. It is easy to see how the Antichrist, promising a false peace, could be welcomed by a world hungry for a ceasefire and security. Some may see him as the Mahdi, and others may see him as the Messiah. In fact, Jesus warned that the Antichrist would mimic the true Messiah and be accepted by those who rejected Christ (John 5:43).
There are a few other parallels between the Bible and Shiite theology that we should note. First, the Bible says that the tribulation will last for seven years, and Islam claims that the Twelfth Imam will rule the world for the same amount of time. Second, Muslims anticipate three years of chaos before the revealing of the Twelfth Imam, and the Bible speaks of three and a half years of tribulation before the Antichrist reveals his true nature by desecrating the Jewish temple. Third, the Bible describes the Antichrist as a deceiver who claims to bring peace but who actually brings widespread war; the expectation 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. Of course, prophecies of the Twelfth Imam should not be considered equal to biblical prophecies. Only the Bible is the inspired Word of God; it’s possible to interpret some elements of Islamic eschatology in a way that agrees with Daniel and Revelation, but that does not lend any credence to the rest of Shiite theology.
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.”