An Ancient King, Prophecy, and Modern Geopolitics

By Mark A. Kellner
Posted November 05, 2019

Pick up a daily newspaper and you expect to read about current world leaders—not one who died 470 years before Jesus’ birth.

But readers of The Washington Post woke up November 1 to read about the current U.S. administration’s alleged “obsession with an ancient Persian emperor,” namely Cyrus II of Persia, also known as Cyrus the Great. As reporter Ishaan Tharoor put it, “On [October 29], Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commemorated a moment more than 2,500 years ago. ‘Today in 539 bc, Cyrus the Great entered Babylon and freed the Jewish people from captivity,’ Pompeo tweeted. ‘His respect for human rights and religious freedom inspired America’s founding fathers. The U.S. stands with the Iranian people, who are blocked by the regime from celebrating his legacy.’”

The article then goes on to link the current administration’s interest in Cyrus with various political tactics, but the interesting thing for those who follow Bible prophecy isn’t contemporary politics as much as it is the recurring mentions of the biblically significant Cyrus by various political figures over the years.

A Presidential Favorite?

According to the U.S. Institute for Peace, Thomas Jefferson may have been the first U.S. President to look to Cyrus for inspiration. In this case, it’s not in terms of Israel as much as the religious tolerance espoused on the famous “Cyrus Cylinder,” a cuneiform stele inscribed with a “proclamation of linguistic, racial and religious equality—a revolutionary concept in the ancient world.”

“Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and other founding fathers read many ancient historical works in Greek and Latin. ‘In the 18th century, that model of religious tolerance based on a state with diverse cultures, but no single dominant religion, became a model for the founding fathers,’ said Julian Raby, the director of the Freer and Sackler galleries hosting the exhibition,” an article about a 2013 showing of the stele noted.

The article added, “The Cyrus model of governance may have influenced Jefferson’s writing of the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson owned two copies of the Cyropaedia, a partly fictional biography of Cyrus written by Xenophon, a student of Socrates in the fourth century B.C. Jefferson instructed his grandson to read the book after mastering Greek.”

As the First World War neared its close, British foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour issued a 1917 letter saying, “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Known as the “Balfour Declaration,” this document led to thirty years of British occupation in the region before an independent Jewish state was declared on May 14, 1948.

Christianity Today noted, “Prime Minister Lloyd George and … Balfour, the British statesmen who devised this formula, and [U.S.] President Woodrow Wilson, who endorsed it fully, understood that they were fulfilling the mandate that religious Jews associated with Cyrus.”

An Unknown Leader Fulfills Prophecy?

But it would be left not to Lloyd George, Balfour, or Wilson to endorse the new state, but to a politician thrust into prominence at the passing of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And it was Harry Truman’s Baptist background that led to his supporting the infant state of Israel.

“On Truman’s desk the day he had entered office was a pile of memos from the State Department, the War Department, and other advisers counseling him that the Balfour pledge should be abandoned—and that if the Jews persisted in their suicidal intention to declare statehood, they should be left to face the consequences,” historian Paul Charles Merkley wrote.

Truman wouldn’t be deterred: “On May 14, 1948—again defying the uniform advice of his State and War Departments—he issued a de facto recognition of the State of Israel within hours of its declaration of independence. Truman’s decision came from a profound conviction that Israel belonged in the world as surely as the United States of America belonged in the world. Moreover, in this matter he had reason to believe that popular opinion would sustain him, and so it did.”

Israel’s most recent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is no fan of Iran’s current leadership, but happily harkens back to Cyrus, the ancient Persian ruler from the province of Fars: “I want to tell you that the Jewish people have a long memory, so we remember the proclamation of the great king, Cyrus the Great, the Persian king 2,500 years ago. He proclaimed that the Jewish exiles in Babylon could come back and rebuild our Temple in Jerusalem.”

Noting the recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel—an item of contention for decades, despite numerous affirmations by presidents of both parties—Netanyahu linked Cyrus to the current U.S. leader.

“We remember 70 years ago, President Harry S. Truman was the first leader to recognize the Jewish state. And we remember how a few weeks ago, President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr. President, this will be remembered by our people through the ages,” he said.

More to the Story

 What’s the importance of Cyrus for students of Bible prophecy? For one thing, his life and career illustrate that God’s Word can be trusted. The book of Daniel records how Cyrus and his army, as prophesied, would capture ancient Babylon. Cyrus was named in Isaiah 45, 150 years before Cyrus was born! You can read about the overthrow in Daniel chapter 5. 

Pastor Doug Batchelor’s message “Dream of the Ages” puts Cyrus into biblical perspective. Far beyond politics, the lesson of Cyrus’s life and accomplishments speaks to us today and can even provide insights into what is soon to take place!

You can also learn more about the incredible fulfillments of Bible prophecy in Amazing Facts’ new documentary Kingdoms in Time.

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