A video released Sunday by Islamic State militants in Libya depicts 21 men in orange jumpsuits. All are Egyptian Christian hostages. They are laid face-down and beheaded. The terrorists who committed this heinous act of cowardly barbarism call themselves the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State. They are located less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy. One of them stated that the group now plans to “conquer Rome.”
According to American intelligence officials, ISIS is establishing military affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, and Egypt as well as Libya. Extremists are also pledging loyalty to the Islamic State in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen. Last week, the Obama administration acknowledged the group’s expanding threat when it requested new congressional authority to pursue them wherever they emerge, not just in Iraq and Syria. ISIS is advancing beyond al-Qaeda to become a global menace before our eyes. (Tweet this) According to The New York Times, three factors explain its meteoric rise.
One: it declared the formation of a caliphate in June 2014. As I have noted previously, we cannot overstate the significance of this declaration for some in the Muslim world. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is viewed by his followers as the “caliph,” the leader of the global Muslim movement and heir to the Prophet Muhammad.
Two: ISIS is using al-Qaeda’s franchise structure to expand, but without the group’s rigorous, multiyear application process. As a result, its franchises are growing faster, easier, and farther.
Three: as one analyst notes, many in the Muslim world view ISIS as the “winning group.” Their highly sophisticated social media and marketing strategies, coupled with expansive financial resources derived from territories they have conquered, position them on a global stage.
Now we are facing the specter of a fast-growing network which appeals to terrorists around the world. Amedy Coulibaly, one of the gunmen in the Paris attacks last month, declared allegiance to the group. “Home-grown terrorists,” long seen as the greatest internal threat in the West, may become a fact of life.
None of this surprises our Lord. The psalmist declared that “God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne” (Psalm 47:8). Note the present tense. No matter our circumstances, God is Lord over them. (Tweet this) As our government and military gear up for a global war with ISIS, Christians must pray for their protection and for a great spiritual awakening across the Muslim world. Paul was converted from terrorist to apostle; what would happen if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi came to Christ?
The beheading of Christians in Libya reminds us that we live on a fallen, Satan-controlled planet (2 Corinthians 4:4). But our Father calls us to follow him with courage, knowing that he will provide wherever his providence leads. As Oswald Chambers noted, “God does not give us overcoming life—he gives us life as we overcome.”
When the Christians beheaded by ISIS last Sunday were given the chance to recant their faith, they refused. What price will you pay for following Jesus today?