Most Christians assume they automatically qualify to escape the Great Tribulation by a "pretrib rapture." But if that’s so, then who are the believers that the Antichrist beheads? Find out why God’s end times escape plan will require something few Christians have: sacrifice and faith. Learn how to fix that, be ready for the end times and escape it with God’s help.
This article came about because a reader asked me to explain the mysterious beheading of saints in the Great Tribulation:
I was just reading Rev. 20:4 where John describes faithful followers of Christ who were beheaded in part for not worshiping the beast or taking his mark. Here's my question: If the faithful have been led to a safe place by the end-times Elijah, then who are all those that get beheaded for being faithful in the face of the Antichrist's onslaught?
Who is Left Behind For the Antichrist to Behead?
Revelation 20:4 — And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
It is unmistakable that this passage is talking about tribulation saints because it says they were beheaded instead of worshiping the beast (Antichrist) and taking the mark of the beast. How is this possible?
I doubt a single Christian seriously believes that God will leave believers without a way to escape from the Antichrist. Whether they believe in a pretrib rapture to heaven or the "place prepared in the wilderness" on earth (Rev 12:6), or something else, they are sure believers won't have to die in the Great Tribulation.
Therefore, this passage in Revelation about saints being beheaded in the Great Tribulation (Rev 20:4) raises a hard question:
Who are the saints who the Antichrist beheads? Or is this beheading verse misinterpreted as it does not explicitly state that the Antichrist uses beheading...?
This implication that believers are on earth for the Great Tribulation to be caught and killed by the Antichrist is consistent with what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse about believers in the end time:
Matthew 24:9-10 - Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another..
Notice how many times Jesus says "you," making sure that his disciples know they will take part in the slaughter of the Great Tribulation, the time when all nations hate believers who the Antichrist has demonized. In fact, the way it sounds, believers are the main target of the Antichrist. This would make perfect sense, as why does the Antichrist need to kill those who do not follow Jesus and are ready accept him as their god (2Th 2:4)?
What About the Pretrib "Left Behind" Explanation?
Jesus' statement above is problematic for the pretrib rapture position. This position states that all believers are automatically airlifted out before the Great Tribulation hits. That does not mean they do not try to solve this problem. The answer they give is that Jesus was "speaking to the Jews" and "the Great Tribulation only applies to the Jews."
You have probably heard this explanation popularized in the Left Behind book and movie series. It argues that the believers who the Antichrist kills are actually non-believers, especially Jewish ones, who convert after witnessing believers go up in the rapture. In other words, for pretribbers, when Jesus says "you," he is referring to the Jewish nationality of those he was speaking to, the Jewish people, not pretrib believers.
Yet, if Jesus was talking about former non-believers, then why didn't he say something like "then after you are taken out, the Jews/unbelievers left who later convert will be hated and killed"? Instead, Jesus unmistakably addressed his own followers at the time, who were believers. He did not say "you Jews;" simply "you" meaning believers regardless of race (Gal 3:28).
The only time Jesus singles out the Jews for a curse is when he speaks of the disaster that would befall that "wicked unbelieving generation." This referred to the temple destruction and exile of Jews from Judah that happened exactly 40 years later before that generation "passed" (Mt 23:36=24:34).
Although the Jews alone were the target of that local first century tribulation, as Jesus said, he never singled them out for the end time Great Tribulation. That's good because, if he had, it would contradict Revelation, which describes the Great Tribulation as global and encompassing "all peoples, tongues, nations and races" (Rev 13:7) not just "Jews and unbelievers" as the pretrib rapture view depicts. That's a big problem for the "The Tribulation is only for the Jews" view.
The Obvious Source For Tribulation Believers
The best answer to who the Antichrist kills (by beheading or otherwise) is that there must be a sizable contingent of today's believers "left behind" who simply do not take part in God's escape plan. This is exactly what would happen if God's escape plan were not automatic but required a lot more than what most Christians are used to sacrificing (an hour away from home on Sunday).
"Depart From Me, I Never Knew you!" - Jesus
Jesus predicted that he will tell many sincere believers to basically "get lost" instead of welcoming them into the Kingdom. So...who are they and what did they miss or do wrong? In this study, get those answers and the one requirement for salvation Jesus taught (that Christianity misses) so that you can make sure you don't hear these dreaded words yourself!
Unfortunately, that's what end time Bible prophecy describes. Instead of an automatic, effortless escape like popular Christian pretrib rapture eschatology depicts, the Revelation describes a voluntary move over great distances to a safe place prepared to feed the saints for the entire 3½ year tribulation (Rev 12:14):
Revelation 12:13-17 — 12 When the dragon saw that he had been thrown to earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given two wings of a great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent’s presence to her place in the wilderness, where she was fed for a time, times, and half a time. 15 From his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river flowing after the woman, to sweep her away in a torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth. 17 So the dragon was furious with the woman and left to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus.
First note that the Woman represents believers or those who "have the testimony of Jesus." (If you doubt that, see my article explaining this). Note also that there is no mention of "heaven" in God's escape plan for the saints; only earth. The plan entails helping God's saints to travel to a place prepared on "earth." Satan's tribulation forces try to attack that place, but the "earth" helps the woman by swallowing up his forces, reminiscent of how Korah was dealt with when he rebelled against Moses (Nu 16:23).
In summary, the escape plan of God for the saints revealed in the Bible is to move to a place on earth, not to heaven.
Q. Who will evangelize the lost after they leave?
A. God has a plan for that. The 144,000 will have supernatural protection to go out and witness to the world during the Great Tribulation before that, starting when Wormwood happens. Revelation 7 shows them being sealed right as Wormwood's passage begins.
The Challenges With God's Plan
So why would some choose to stay behind and not take part in God's plan? Unlike with a hypothetical automatic pretrib rapture, there are several challenges with God's plan as follows:
- Not Hearing? — One challenge of God's plan is that it requires getting the word out to believers across the globe. If people do no hear about this opportunity, they cannot take part in it. Yet, it seems like God has that covered between the promised Elijah prophet (Mal 4:5-6), the 144,000 protected witnesses (Rev 7, 14) and the three angels' messages (Rev 14:6–12). Note, too, that the call for God's people to leave Babylon is also sent from heaven (Rev 18:4=Jer 50:8=Jer 51:45). With the Internet, the rumor of God's escape plan starting two years before it's time to go (Jer 51:46) will no doubt go viral and reach every corner of the globe.
- No Money? — Another challenge is the cost of transcontinental travel for a family. If God is gathering his saints to be protected in one place, he had better be able to help them quite a bit with the undertaking. Thankfully, God has that covered, too. The "eagle's wings" given to the woman are symbolic of the same kind of divine providence that enabled Israel to escape slavery in Egypt, walk across the Red Sea, get water from the rock and eat manna from heaven (Ex 19:4 = Rev 12:14). What will this "eagle's wings" help look like? People have asked me for years and I think I finally have a good answer: Just as the Israeli government has a funded "aliyah" program to help regather lost Jews scattered in other countries to immigrate to Israel, I think God will have Christian leaders set up a similar migration assistance program for getting to the prepared place. (Below I will explain why this program will be abuse-free because nobody in their "right" mind (lacking faith) would want to go where the "aliyah" program will send you.)
- Sacrifice — The first real cause for people to turn down God's plan would be the great sacrifice it entails. Moving to God's prepared place requires you to leave your home, country, family, friends and nearly all your possessions. This is the same great sacrifice God asked Abraham to make, in more ways than one. After Abraham left his father and country, God even asked him to give up his only son. Similarly, when God sends the command for us to leave, many of our believing and unbelieving friends and family will decide not to go, including adult grown children. Just like Abraham, we'll have to give them up for God. For some people nothing is more important than family, and this is a huge ask. The question for them at that time will be whether family is more important than God to them.
Why I Think Most Christians Will Willingly Stay Behind
Besides the difficult sacrifice God's escape plan demands, I think there is a bigger reason why so many believers will be left behind to face the Antichrist. This is hinted at in the following verse:
Luke 18:8 - I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Jesus would not ask about faith unless a lack of it was going to be an issue. (Just as he would not tell us not to judge unless it was not something we all have a natural tendency to do.)
While all Christians believe in God and Jesus, not all of them have learned how to rely on God and "walk through the fire" in faith; like, for example Daniel's three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did. If you take modern, materialistic, distracted, rich (relative to all ancient peoples) Christians and put them in the same situation, would even 10 out of 100 have the faith to choose the furnace over bowing to the idol statue? I have serious concerns about that.
Making matters worse, faithless Christians have always had their religious leaders to reassure them of what they want to hear (2Tim 4:3). The popularity of the pretrib rapture fantasy is the chief modern example of this old unhealthy dynamic. When Elijah comes telling people God says to move, most church pastors will counter with, "You're safe in Jesus wherever you are until the rapture comes. No need to move overseas like that crazy lunatic Elijah-guy is saying!"
Our "Fiery Furnace:" Nuclear Fallout
What I find fascinating is how similar the situation that Daniel's three friends faced is to the scenario of the end times that all saints will face because of the Great Tribulation of the Antichrist.
Many before me have compared the enforced idolatry under Nebuchadnezzar (who made a giant statue of himself) to the enforced idolatry of the Antichrist (using the image of the Beast, also a statue of himself, the Beast/Antichrist) (Rev 13:15). Yet the end time parallel to Daniel 3's story does not stop at the idol statue (Dan 3:5=Rev 13:15). It also includes an equivalent to the fiery furnace that God's three faithful servants were confronted with (Dan 3:6).
Ironically enough, the place that the Bible describes in Daniel 11 as the only country that is safe from the Antichrist and where the saints are protected (per Revelation 12:14) is slated to be nuked by Israel during the upcoming coalition attack on Israel by her Arab and Muslim neighbors. (See my book for all the verses showing this or start with my article on the M.E. nuclear war.)
But even before the Great Tribulation, we will be called to Israel, which is next door to the nuclear fallout from the coming destruction of Damascus, Syria (Isaiah 17:1). There may even be nuclear fallout in Israel, itself based on the severe casualties suffered in the north of Israel (Ephraim) bordering Syria according to the description of Isaiah (Isaiah 17:3,6).
In other words, when the end time prophet comes and announces to the world that Wormwood and the Antichrist are coming soon, the place he directs the faithful to go first will be near a radioactive land—or even have radioactive land itself! Just like Israel had to walk by faith through the bottom of the Red Sea with walls of water on each side, we will be called to go to a place that seems unsafe and makes no sense to our natural instincts. It will take faith to obey.
Sadly, I expect that most believers in the end times will not have the faith to both A) pick up and leave their homeland (like Abraham did) and B) go to an apparently inhospitable place (like Daniel's three friends did). At the time they will be told to abandon their homes, things will probably look just like they do today; business as usual. The tribulation will not have started yet. Wormwood will not have passed by or even become visible. So many will ask, "why leave?"
In fact, it will probably seem foolish to the natural mind and take a "leap of faith" to undertake God's plan to get out of range from the Antichrist and avoid beheading.
This is why I said above that if there is an aliyah program for believers to get to safety, it won't be abused. Only the faithful will go and further, these faithful must also be able to let go of their life, country, family, friends and "stuff" for God. That's a lot to ask a rich, comfortable Laodicean Christian (Rev 3:14-22).
Update: A Reader Asks "What About Institutionalized People?"
I had this emailed question:
What about the millions of people in medical facilities, hospitals, jails, and orphanages and institutions around the world, let alone the helpless who cannot possibly help themselves who reside in institutions where they are taken care of? — Geraldine
What comes to mind as I read this question is the story of when Peter was "institutionalized" (Acts 12). He had been put in jail by Herod and was to be executed. The church was praying and God sent an angel to break him out. Dramatically, he then shows up at the doorstep of the group praying for him!
This is not just because Peter was an apostle on a mission that had not been completed yet. Christians have seen unlikely deliverance like this throughout history. Christians have been healed throughout history of unhealable conditions and released from hospitals and mental institutions. Orphans have been adopted against all odds.
My point is this: If God is going to command the righteous to flee (Rev 18:4) and some of those faithful respond because they want to obey need deliverance, then God will surely intervene. Given the death sentence for being left stuck where you are and the great faith to leave your country, God will be respond.
Really, if you think about it, God must help everyone to obey this command on some level whether it is financially, medically, legally, emotionally or what have you. It's a big ask for all that he must help us with, which he can no matter the circumstance. As Gabriel told Zechariah when he scoffed at his prophecy about him having a child at his advanced age, "For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
The mystery of why end time prophecies predict believers being hated, beheaded and killed by the Antichrist is only a problem for those believing the pretrib rapture doctrine. God's actual end time terrestrial escape plan revealed in Revelation won't be so automatic and easy leading to many Christians to reject it and miss out on God's protection.
Knowing this, how do we make sure we avoid being one of those making the wrong choice and being beheaded by the Antichrist? By focusing on developing the faith and ability to sacrifice today, we will be ready when that day comes in the future.
Jesus gave good advice on how to do that in Luke 21:36: "pray always that you may have the strength to escape all these things and stand before the son of man." What strength? Escaping to safety with God's is not a matter of physical strength, so we can rule that out. The strength required is mental faith in God and strength to leave things behind (Lk 18:8). If you fear you lack either of those attributes needed for the end time escape, then start praying every day about it. God will hear and answer that prayer.
To get good at faith and sacrifice, you also need to practice it in progressively bigger ways. He that is not faithful in little is not faithful in much (Lk 16:10). If you can't start making sacrifices today for yourself and others now, then how can you do it for God later? All the heroes of the Bible had to exercise faith and sacrifice along with being righteous. You can get there too with focus, prayer and practice.
For where the place indicated in the Bible that God will protect and call the faithful to, read Petra in Bible Prophecy.
Note: After reading this if you feel like you can use some help in recognizing the coming true prophet of God, given all the false prophets we've all seen and also the False Prophet coming, check out this article where I teach on identifying Elijah.
Update: "Should We Buy Real Estate In Jordan?"
A reader emailed me some questions that I answered and told me the responses were very helpful and comforting. So I am including the exchange here.
Makes me wonder if we should buy real estate in Jordan? just wondering. looking ahead.
No need to buy! The land will be purposely cleared out of the Jordanians by the Isaiah 17 nuclear war. It's not the Jordanian's land anyway but Israel's land by birthright (from the Wadi el-Arish in the Sinai Peninsula to the Euphrates in Iraq - Gen 15:18). The saints will have squatting rights there for 3½ years until Israel is given their land back in the Millennium when the Messiah regathers them.
That is awesome to know that we will have squatting rights...I'm not sure on the timeline what year that might begin to be available...(e.g. from what year to what year (prior to Israel getting it back). I get that there is a 3½ year window, but do you know the timeline possibilities? (years it could occur)?
Like the article says, after that area gets nuked by Israel in the Psalm 83/Isaiah 17 war, we will be told to go Israel/Judea first (Joel 2:32). Then, by the time the Abomination of Desolation happens, we are to flee to Jordan (Mt 24:16).
On the timeline, the earliest that would be is 2024-2026 with WWIII/Wormwood coming around Summer, 2026—again, at the earliest, assuming 2024-2030 is the Sabbath year cycle that turns out to be the 70th week/final seven years. We would be in Judea from around 2024-2027 and then in Jordan from 2027-2030
(Bear in mind that the 70th Week seven-year covenant of the Ten Rulers and Antichrist gets "cut short" (Mt 24:22) to 6.5 years because Jesus returns in the fall six months before the Sabbath year cycle and 70th Week covenant would end in the spring.)
Receive Tim's Prophecy Updates By Email
Join 30,000 subscribers receiving Tim's new articles and updates by email. Understanding Bible prophecy better will dispel your end time fear and bless you (Rev 1:3).
Tim is the author of this site (since 1999) and the book Know the Future that explains Revelation literally at last--including the key event of Wormwood (Rev 6-8). To read more from Tim and not miss a single new article, sign up for his free newsletter above.