The conflict in Syria has been a potentially very significant event for students of Bible prophecy for several reasons. Why is the Syrian civil war significant? Here are four reasons.
1. The territory of Syria is part of the original territory of the “king of the north” or Greek Seleucid kingdom spoken of in Daniel 11. The Seleucid empire was much larger than Syria, however the area of Syria was the most significant in respect to the kingdom of Judah at the time, as it was directly to the north. The capital of the Seleucid empire was Antioch, which is today located close to the Syrian border in modern day Turkey.
It was the “king of the north” Antiochus IV (175–163), who erected a statue to Zeus in the Temple at Jerusalem. His persecution of the Jews and desecration of the Temple resulted in the Maccabean uprising commencing in 165BC. The Maccabean resistance resulted in the Jews taking control over Judea from the Seleucids and the creation of an independent Judea.
In the time of the end, there is a "king of the north” and it would seem fitting for the latter-day “king of the north” to have control over the significant areas or territory of the ancient kingdom.
2. Syria was part of Pan-Arabism, a nationalist notion of cultural and political unity among Arab countries. Hostility to Israel was a common ground they shared. Pan-Arabism loomed large around the time of the 1967 and 1973 wars. Yet the prophecy of Ezekiel 38:13 presents us with a divided Arab world. The Syrian civil war has brought these divisions to the forefront and solidified them.
3. From the moment of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, Syria was a significant threat to Israel’s very existence. This was especially true at the time of the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur war of 1973. At that time, Syria was much more heavily armed than Israel was. Today Syria’s power is all but vanished and is fighting for very survival. The nation of Syria encompasses the region of the Euphrates along with Iraq. These nations, who attempted to lead the Arab world and rise to great power, have seen their power dry up, just like the Ottoman Empire before them.
4. With the direct intervention of Russia and their presence in Syria, as well as the downing of the Russian jet by the Turks, Turkey has suddenly become a much more significant part of the picture. Not only was the territory of Turkey part of the ancient Seleucid “king of the north” empire, it’s capital Istanbul or Constantinople, was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire. Turkey is also one of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and therefore we can expect it to lose power - to be “dried up”.
The Syrian civil war and disintegration has brought Russia back into the Middle-East as a major player. This is a major step forward for Russia to assume the role of the “king of the north” in the fullest sense in the latter days. Turkey’s incidents with Russia have been serious and Russia continues to provoke Turkey and to escalate the situation. Russia is hitting Turkey where it hurts, bombing the Turkmen rebel group in Syria, continuing to violate Turkish airspace and supporting the Kurds with whom Turkey is fighting. Just today Ynet news reported that Russia claims that, "Turkish troops in Syria for operation against Kurds”. We can expect the Turkish / Russian confrontation to continue - both parties have opposed interests and goals in the region - and of course as a fulfilling Bible prophecy. It is quite likely that Russia will attempt to destabilize Turkey completely and gain control of Constantinople and the Bosphorus.
Today the Middle East is very divided and the days of “Pan-Arabism” are a thing of the past. A north / south split in the Arab world has developed. To the north there is the Russian influenced Syria, Iranian Shite axis. To the south there is Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States with their sphere of “Sunni" influence. On January 5th, it was reported on the Ha’aretz Israeli news website that “Saudi Arabia Defies West by Cutting Ties With Iran”. The article opens by stating, “The new rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia is liable to delay, if not completely undermine, diplomatic efforts to end the wars in Syria and Yemen.” Just this week the Saudis and the Arab League have listed Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Hezbollah is fighting along side Assad in Syria, but they were originally dedicated to waging war against Israel and are identified as the largest threat to Israel. Yet now Saudi Arabia says it will punish anyone linked to Hezbollah. The left wing Israeli news website Ha’aretz, said that the "Hezbollah Issue Is Splitting the Arabs”, and "Paradoxically, the definition of Hezbollah as a terror group has turned into a dividing line between Arab countries, which must now decide whether to embrace Saudi hegemony.” Arab countries must now decide whether to support the Saudi led side or the Iranian/Russian axis. This is creating a split exactly as expected by students of Bible Prophecy and as outlined in Ezekiel 38, with Russia and Persia or Iran on one side and Sheba and Dedan - or Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states on the other.
Ezekiel 38 depicts an invader from the “uttermost parts of the north” (v15 ASV), this is Rosh (v2 ASV) an ancient name for Russia. He comes down on the mountains of Israel, that have always been waste, the prophet says but have been “gathered out of the nations”. This is the time we live in - the latter days - when Israel has been regathered. Not part of this invasion are Sheba and Dedan and the Merchants of Tarshish. While not invading they are apparently not stopping the invasion from taking place. Verse 13:
"Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?”
This is a companion prophecy to Daniel 11, which also speaks of the “time of the end”. Daniel 11:40,41 says:
" And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon.”
A better reading of the Hebrew text here could be: “At the time of the end shall the king of the south contend with the king of the north.” The verb here “push” or “content” is in the Hitpael form, this is a reflexive verb and it only appears this way in scripture in this verse. The verb is used elsewhere in a different form, for example the ox in Leviticus, which was “wont to push”. Here in Daniel 11, the picture is more like two animals engaged in a struggle pushing back and forth with their horns. This is a characteristic of the time of the end. There would be a “king of the north” power and a “king of the south” power, contending with each other, until the “king of the north” comes against the “king of the south” like a whirlwind.
So the pull back of Russia is only temporary. Russia will overflow and pass over many countries and enter the glorious land of Israel. But she will come to her end and none will help. As we consider the events in Syria, we see things steadliy moving in that predetermined direction, that heralds the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth.