The next question that needs resolving is what happens to the Church during the reign of the Antichrist (or the Great Tribulation)? This question was partially answered in Part 1, where I’ve shown that the Church will not be removed from the earth until the end of the Great Tribulation.
The Scriptures tell us, in various verses, about fierce persecution of the saints during the reign of the Beast (the Antichrist). In the book of Revelation, we see that the Beast will make war with the saints and overcome them:
7And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
The Book of Daniel also tells us about the events of the 3.5 year period (called the “time and times and the dividing of time”) and what will happen to the saints during this time:
21I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them;
By context of the Chapter 7, the “horn” is the Antichrist.
25And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
Chapter 20 tells us about Christ’s witnesses who were killed during the reign of the Beast:
4And 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 worshipped 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.
Revelation 15:2 continues:
And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the Beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
The presence of the saints (who make-up the Church) during the reign of the Beast is clearly shown in the above verses. The above verses also tell us the Beast will overcome the saints and kill them (see also Rev. 13:15). The victory of the saints mentioned in Rev. 15:2 is in their faithfulness to the Lord until the end of their life—until they are killed.
Chapter 6 also tells us about the events of the Great Tribulation. It mentions the “souls of them that were slain for the word of God” and who are asking God to avenge their blood:
10And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
11And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
They are told to wait until all the other saints are killed, and only then, by implication, will God avenge their blood with His judgments.
From Rev. 13:15, we see that anyone who will not worship the image of the Beast will be killed:
“ And he had power to give life unto the image of the Beast, that the image of the Beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the Beast should be killed.”
Many pre-tribulationists hold a view that the saints killed by the Beast and his regime are those who missed the Rapture because they were not ready.
However, the Bible speaks of these saints in a special way like they were heroes, those who defeated (spiritually) the Beast and his demonic system. If a person is not ready for the Rapture, it is quite unlikely that he will be ready to die for Christ in this time of terror and darkness. Although it is possible that a very few isolated cases of “lukewarm” Christians will suddenly become martyrs, it is highly doubtful that it will occur on a massive scale as it is presented today. The Bible tells us in Rev. 13:10 that saints must have “patience” and faith to overcome the Beast. These qualities aren’t acquired overnight. It is something that a Christian acquires in his day-to-day spiritual life over a period of time. This is why Jesus warned many times that we must “watch” or “keep awake” or be ready in reference to His Second Coming.
Without considering other verses in the Bible and just looking at the above mentioned verses, one can conclude that the saints will be present during the Great Tribulation and that all saints will be killed during the Great Tribulation.
So, if all the saints are killed during the reign of the Beast (or the Antichrist), where are those “living” saints who are caught together with the resurrected to the meet the Lord in the clouds?
“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air…”
If all the saints are killed, there would be no “alive” person to be “caught up” with the resurrected to meet the Lord. Nevertheless, verse 17 implies that there will be living saints at the time of the First Resurrection (resurrection of the dead saints) and Christ’s Second Coming. If there are saints still alive at the time of Christ Second Coming, where would they be during the Great Tribulation when everyone who is not worshiping “the Beast” is killed (Rev. 6:11 and 13:15)?
Is it possible that saints who are not killed during the reign of “the Beast” will be in some way protected?
Chapter 12 gives us some clues about the whereabouts of the saints that are still alive during reign of the Beast. For many years of our study, the meaning of this chapter was uncertain to us, becoming the most difficult chapter for us to understand. For starters, this chapter does not give explicit information about specific events but rather uses allegory and imagery to describe them. Secondly, seemingly obvious interpretations of the symbols apparently disagreed with more clear verses in the Bible.
The context and location of this chapter indicates that it is talking about the events of the Great Tribulation. It figuratively talks about a certain “woman” and a dragon. The scripture tells us that the dragon is Satan, and that Satan’s coming to the earth will mean “woe” to the inhabitants of the earth.
“Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”
Satan’s presence on earth and his “wrath” will be manifested through real people under his influence and through the Beast whom Satan will give his power, his seat and his authority:
2And the Beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
It is also clear from this chapter is that the “dragon” will start to persecute the “woman,” but she will manage to escape from him to a certain place in the “Wilderness.” There she will remain, safe from the dragon, for a period of “a thousand two hundred and threescore days” which is 1260 days and is nearly equal to 3.5 years. Recall that the reign of the Beast will last for 3.5 years also.
Since the Second Coming of Christ will occur at the end of the Beast’s 3.5 year rule and knowing that the events are taking place during the Great Tribulation, then it is logical to conclude that the “woman” will remain safely in the “Wilderness” until the end of the Beast’s rule—the end of the Great Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ.
But who is this woman? Since this whole chapter uses an allegory to describe future events, it can be concluded that this woman symbolizes something or someone and is not a real woman. In order to understand who this woman symbolizes, we must look in Scripture to see if anyone or anything is symbolized by a woman. The Scriptures speak of primarily these three woman-symbols:
Of these three, the last woman-symbol, Babylon, cannot be applied to the woman described in chapter 12, because in the context of this chapter, the “woman” is a positive character, someone who is on God's side and is persecuted by the Satan (Rev. 12:13). This leaves us with two remaining choices: the Church and Israel.
Many today believe that the woman from chapter 12 represents Israel. This is largely based on the similarity between chapter 12 symbols and those which Joseph saw in his dream (Gen 37:9). Other arguments upholding this view include the chapter’s references to the child “who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.” Similar words were once said of Christ, who will rule the earth with rod of iron (Psalm 2:9). Thus, many have concluded that since the woman bore this child, and the child is Christ, then the woman must represent Israel. However, there are number of arguments against this view, and I am going to present why this woman cannot symbolize Israel.
The first argument which reveals to us the identity of this woman-symbol lies in the last verse of this chapter:
17And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
From this verse we see that woman’s seed are those “who have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” In other words, the woman’s seed are Christians, because only Christians have the testimony of Jesus Christ. This means that the woman who “bore” them is the Church. Some may argue that the “the seed” represents Christian Jews to support the idea that this woman symbolizes Israel. The Scriptures tell us in Galatians 3:27 that now there is no distinction between Jew or Gentile, but we are “all one in Christ Jesus.” When a Jew becomes a Christian, he is now part of the Church and of Christ’s Body and is indistinguishable and inseparable from other Christians.
The second argument against the view that this woman symbolizes Israel is that it does not support other verses in the Bible describing what actually happens to Israel during the Great Tribulation. We don’t see that Israel will be protected during the reign of the Beast (see Part 3).
But who is then the woman's child from Revelation 12, if the woman is not Israel? For years this was the most difficult part for us to understand. This difficulty was partly due to some similarities between the child symbol and Christ. And many today think that the child mentioned in the 12th chapter represents Jesus Christ and the woman, is therefore, the nation of Israel. But I think that we should be very careful about relying on symbolism interpretation as an initial step in determining the meanings of the described events and characters. We should rather rely on what is explicitly known to us and clearly shown from other verses in the Scripture to determine the meaning of the events. Only then can we interpret the symbols in the light of the determined context.
How can we then understand the meaning of the child from chapter 12 in the context of the protected church in the “wilderness?” Let us look closely at what the Scriptures tell us about this child.
Verse 5 tells us that the child was born from the woman. If the woman symbolizes a church, then the child is someone who belongs to the church (of woman's seed) and yet is somehow separate, as I have already mentioned in this Part. In verse 17 we see that the “remnant” of the woman's seed, which the Devil will make war on, are Christians. This is clearly seen because the verse tells us that they “have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” In fact, we see three distinct “positive characters” in the 12th chapter: “the woman,” “the child,” and “the remnant of the woman's seed.” The 12th chapter places these characters in different geographic locations at the same point of time. We see that the woman is in the wilderness and outside of the dragon's sphere of influence. At the time of the woman's presence in the wilderness, we see the child is “caught up unto God” and is also outside of the dragon's reach. We also see that “the remnant of the woman's seed” is within the reach of the dragon. Also, it is important to note that the woman is the one who “bore” both the child and the remnant of her seed. Since we know that the “remnant of her seed” are Christians, as I have shown above, it is logical to conclude that the woman is the Church or at least the “main body” of the Church. The child is, like the “remnant of the woman's seed” a particular Christian or a group of Christians who will escape from the dragon and “will be caught up to God and to His throne” and “will rule all nations with rod of iron.” Let us closely examine each of these two characteristics given to this child-symbol to determine who he might represent.
The Scriptures tell us of only a few characters who “were caught up unto God.” We know that our Lord ascended to Heaven some 2,000 years ago and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father. The Scriptures tell us that Enoch and Elijah were taken alive too and did not die like any other human. Many believe that they were taken directly to heaven and to God without dying. John 3:13 clearly states that:
“And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”
This means that no one got to Heaven before the Christ's ascent to Heaven. Because they lived in the past, these two individuals cannot be represented by the child-symbol and since chapter 12 is talking about future events. This leaves us with only two individuals who were taken alive to Heaven (other than out Lord), and these are the two witnesses from chapter 11 of the book of Revelation. The 11th chapter tells us that they prophesied for almost the entire duration of the Great Tribulation (Rev. 11:3). In verse 12 of chapter 11, the Scriptures tell us that they “ascended to heaven in the cloud” and “their enemies beheld them.”
Can the child then symbolize Christ? Can we compare the dragon's readiness to devour “the child as soon as it was born” (verse 4) to Herod's attempt to kill the newborn Messiah? At first glance, it may look obvious, but when looking through the earlier established context and knowing that the woman represents Church and not Israel, the answer is ‘no.’ In addition, the context of the chapter implies that all the events described are future events, including the war in Heaven (verse 7). This leaves us with the only remaining choice for the meaning of the “child” as being the two witnesses from chapter 11.
Scripture distinguishes them greatly from the other Christians living through the events of the Great Tribulation. They will have special (and supernatural) powers from God during the time of their ministry (verses 3-6). After the end of their ministry, they will be killed by the Beast but will be resurrected after three and a half days and ascend to Heaven, away from their enemies. There is a similarity between the two witnesses’ ascension to Heaven from their enemies (including the Beast) and the child’s ascension to Heaven away from the dragon (Satan who manifested himself through the Beast and other individuals).
The second characteristic of the child is that he “was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.” There are several places in the Bible which I could find which use a similar expression to the one above. Two of them prophesy about Christ—in that Christ “will rule all nations with a rod of iron.” They are:
“Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
“And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”
But not all of the verses in the Bible indicate that Christ alone will be the One who will “rule over nations with rod of iron.” In Revelation 2:26-27, it says that anyone who “overcomes” and keeps Christ's works will rule over the nations with a rod of iron:
“And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.”
Although this promise relates, primarily, to the 1,000 year kingdom, when Christ and His Church will reign over nations, I believe it may also be applied to the two witnesses during the Tribulation period.
Going back to the 11th chapter, we see that the two witnesses will have the power to “shut heavens” and “to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.” We also see from the 10th verse that these two prophets “tormented them that dwelt on the earth.” Because of this, we can draw a comparison between this and the “rule over all nations with rod of iron.”
Finally, going back the description of the woman in the 12th chapter in verse 1:
“a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”
Many will point out the similarities between the description of the woman and what Joseph, son of Jacob, saw in his dream (Gen. 37:9). There is some resemblance to the meaning given in Genesis about Joseph’s dream, where Jacob, Rachael, Joseph and the 11 other patriarchs were symbolized by sun, moon and 12 stars. One may say the crown of 12 stars symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel. It may be just as valid to say that the crown of 12 stars represents the twelve Apostles whose names will be written on the 12 foundations of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14), particularly if the woman represents the Church.
Thus, it can be concluded that during the time of Great Tribulation God will give the church an opportunity to escape persecution by the Beast and from God's judgment upon the earth. Verse 12 is telling us that the woman, which symbolizes the Church, will be given “two wings of a great eagle that she might fly into the wilderness.” Perhaps, the two wings represent modern aircraft. But what is certain is that God will help the “woman” escape from the raging “dragon.”
From verse 17, we know that other Christians who are not with the main body of Church will be persecuted ( Rev. 12:17) and killed (Rev. 13:15, Rev. 6:9-11). Many commentators on the book of Revelation believe, as it was mentioned earlier, that these persecuted Christians will be the ones who missed the Rapture because of their weak (or lost) faith and will thus have to be killed during the Great Tribulation in order to be saved and have part in the Church. However, we think that many of these Christians will be the ones who will deliberately stay behind to be a witness for Christ during this very difficult time. The reason for our belief is based on the Scriptures that present these Christians as victors over the Beast and his system (Rev. 15:2), being faithful until the end. The Scriptures also tell us in Rev. 6:9-11 and they will all be killed, and when that happens, God will bring His judgments upon the earth.
One may then ask the question, “If God will prepare a special hiding place for the Church during the reign of the Antichrist, why are there no other verses in the Scriptures to support this idea?” This is the right question to ask, because we can't normally rely on a single passage to support any particular major Biblical interpretation. Normally, you'd always have at least two passages from different parts of the Scriptures which would complement each other. More importantly, these verses should not contradict other verses in the Scriptures and should always be looked at through the general context of these verses (one can't just rip verses out of context).
So why would such an important event be so subtly mentioned in the Scriptures, and is mentioned in a chapter full of symbols? If God wanted to protect the Church during this horrible period, why is there so little information about it in the Bible? Although this event mentioned in chapter 12 can be further backed up by a few other passages in the Scriptures and, more importantly, by the biblical evidence that Israel will not be protected during this period (which I will show in Israel & the Great Tribulation), it is, nevertheless, a rather concealed idea, requiring deep analytical study. It is not as explicitly or unequivocally presented to us as, say, the resurrection of the dead.
Other events from this period are more or less upfront, but as for the protection of the Church during the reign of the Beast, even the idea itself that the Church can get protection is rather hidden—ambiguously presented in the book of Revelation. One possible reason is that God wanted us to retain keenness and sensitivity to His Word all the time, so that when there is a call from God to move to the protected place, we will be able to hear and understand it and make that move. For many this move will be a step of faith, especially for those who knew nothing of this escape opportunity. Remember, we are not talking here about certain so-called prophets or other people making false claims that God spoke through them and told the Christians to escape. History, ever since the early days of the Church, is full of such false claims. To begin with, Scriptures provide us with a number of indicators so that we can recognize the proper time as well as any false claims made. It is extremely unlikely that this call is made before the Beast receives demonic power. This call has to be made at the start of the Great Tribulation, the beginning of which is marked by at least two very specific and coinciding events, which I will discuss later in Tribulation Timeline. Also, it is very possible that this call to escape will be carried out through His Two Witnesses (from the book of Revelation), who are a trustworthy source of information (their ministry is backed-up by Scriptures).
The Church will be given opportunity to escape the persecutions of the Antichrist and God's judgments upon the earth during the time of the Great Tribulation. There will be some place called the “wilderness” where the Church will safely reside during the time of the Great Tribulation (Rev. 12:6, 14). Some Christians will not escape into this safe place and will face persecution and death.
The Bible does not tell us when this will happen or where they escape to and how. But it does give us clues or signs from which we can recognize that the time is upon us. This is the main reason why, I think, we were given the Book of Revelation. We believe that more information will be given (perhaps by the two Witnesses) at the beginning of the Great Tribulation when they appear in Jerusalem during the first part of the Antichrist’s rule. The beginning of Antichrist's rule and the appearance of the two Witnesses in Jerusalem will happen at the same time (both were given 42 months), and this is the biggest clue that we could find from the Scriptures as to the start time of the Great Tribulation.
ISRAEL & THE GREAT TRIBULATION