Are the Recent Beheadings a Sign that the End is Near?

isisThe world is watching the Middle East. The rise of ISIS from relative obscurity to front and center has captured nearly every headline.  Few extremists have gripped the world with terror like this group. Their brutality seems to know no bounds. From the torture of innocent victims to the beheadings of unarmed people to the burning alive of prisoners, ISIS has become synonymous with evil.

Most recently, ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya.  Many Christians might pause to recall a passage from the book of Revelation: Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. (Rev. 20:4)

The slaughter of Christians in Syria, the mass murder of these Coptic Christians, and the apparent prediction of beheadings in the Bible has caused some Christians to wonder: is this the beginning of the End?

Let me begin my response by saying that I have no idea if the “End of Time” is near. I am not a date-setter, and have no insight into when the “End” will be. I do not even have a desire to know when this will be.  Jesus called me to be faithful.  He didn’t call me to try to figure out when He would return.  Therefore, I have no special authority or interest in this matter.  However, I have some opinions about these events and God, and am writing to share those thoughts.

Christians should remember that beheadings are not new.  Early in the Gospels we learn that John the Baptist was beheaded (Matt 14:10).  Then, the Apostle James was beheaded by Herod (Acts 12:2).  Tradition holds that Paul was beheaded by Nero in or around 68 AD.  From there the list begins to grow.  During the first three centuries Rome sponsored a number of persecutions against Christians – some of them very widespread.  Death by beheading was one of the methods by which the Roman empire murdered Christians.

If one begins, however, to look beyond beheading as a way of executing Christians, the list of Christian martyrs begins to grow exponentially.  Emperor Nero was exceptionally cruel.  He fed Christians to wild animals and had them burned alive. It is possible that during his day the book of Revelation was written. Therefore, the mentioning of Christian martyrs in Rev. 20 was especially meaningful to the early Christians.

Within a few centuries after Nero the persecution of Christians waned for a bit. But it never ended. As a matter of fact, Nero’s persecution of Christians would be paled in comparison to the waves of persecutions to come.  The Voice of the Martyrs has estimated that during Hitler’s reign in Germany nearly 1 million Christians were executed.  Between 1917 and 1950, they estimate that some 15 million Christians were murdered in Russia, while China killed another 700,000 in the late 20th century.  Today, the most anti-Christian country in the world is North Korea, where an estimated 70,000 Christians are currently being held in labor camps.

Many modern-day Christians in the West see the persecution of Christians as a thing of the past. We live in a world that celebrates tolerance, and though that tolerance may be slipping away, we still enjoy unprecedented freedom.  We have forgotten that the majority of Christians around the world know nothing of the liberty that we take for granted.  We have insulated ourselves from reality. We have assumed that this could never happen to us.

It is because of our ignorance that we assume the world is coming to an end when we hear that a group of Christians in another part of the world is being martyred.  This has been taking place since the birth of Christianity.  It is currently taking place all over the world.  It is not an unusual event.  Rather, it is exactly what Jesus predicted when He said, “a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  Those who claim that this is a clear sign of the end of time show how unfamiliar they are with both Church history and the Scriptures.

Before you leave this web page, please take a moment to pray for your brothers and sisters who are in chains at this very moment. Pray that they will be strengthened in their hour of trial.  Pray that their suffering will not be in vain, but that God would be glorified in it.  Pray that if you are called to suffer like them that you will do so with the grace of God.

Peace,

dane

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.

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