[by Dean Smith] Years ago, I stumbled upon a verse in the New Testament that puzzled me. Found in the book of Revelation, it was strange, because based on my experience at that time it made no sense.
Eventually I forgot about the passage. But recent events brought it back to my memory and I started looking for it. It took a while to find it. At one point, I wondered if I had just imagined seeing it, but eventually I tracked the verse down.
The Book of Revelation speaks of a vision by the Apostle John about the apocalyptic events that would occur before the Second Coming of Jesus.
At the end of Revelation, John sees a special reward being given to two groups of people who had undergone extreme persecution. They would be raised from the dead before the thousand-year reign of Christ and live with Christ during this period.
The rest would be raised from the dead at the end of the thousand years.
So who were these two groups?
Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:4-5 NASV)
The first involved those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and word of God and the second were those who had not worshiped and received the mark of the beast.
When I first read this verse, I found it odd, because beheadings were just not an issue at that time.
Of course today, we are inundated with stories of Muslim extremists in the Middle East (Islamic State in particular) beheading people.
Beheading of James Foley, a Christian?
One of those was American journalist James Foley. The Islamic State (IS) stunned the world when it released a video on August 19, 2014 showing Foley’s beheading.
Foley may actually be one of those referred to in Revelation 20:4. A Christian, he had been taken captive while in Syria in 2012. His public slaughter was done to show the brutality of the IS and to intimidate the people in Syria and Iraq, where the group is trying to set up a Caliphate state.
This was the second time, terrorists had kidnapped Foley. He had previously been taken captive in Libya in 2011 and released. Christian Today wrote about an interview James gave to his alumni magazine, where he spoke of prayer and faith leading to his first release. He said:
“It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.
“If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.”
Two weeks after Foley’s beheading video, IS released a second video (September 2, 2014) of the beheading of freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. Sotloff was Jewish, but apparently kept his heritage hidden from his captors.
Though these two incidents have received all the publicity, there have been other reports of beheadings by IS and other Muslim extremist groups. There have also been many stories about the extreme persecution of Christians in the Middle East by the IS. Some are even warning of genocide.
The British media says a British woman, 42-year-old Sally Jones, mother of two, had joined the IS in Syria after meeting a Muslim online and journeying to Syria in late 2013 to marry him. The man was also formerly from England where he was part of a notorious hacking group. He fled to Syria to avoid prosecution.
According to reports in the Sunday Times, Jones, who now goes by the name of Sakinah Hussain, recently tweeted of her desire to behead Christians.
She reportedly said:
“You Christians all need beheading with a nice blunt knife and stuck on the railing at raqqa… Come here I’ll do it for you!”
She has since denied writing this.
Though we can’t be certain Revelation 20:4 speaks about beheadings by Muslim extremists, if it does, it may be another indicator we are entering the end times.
- Murdered journalist James Foley: ‘Prayer gave me inner freedom’: Christian Today
- British ‘jihadist’ mum threatens to behead Christians: reports: Yahoo News
- Revealed: Benefits mother-of-two from Kent once in all-girl rock band who is now jihadi in Syria – and wants to ‘behead Christians with a blunt knife’: Daily Mail
- Iraq crisis: End ‘very near’ for Christianity after Isis takeover, says Bishop: The Independent
- Jihadists beheadings sow fear, prompt Muslim revulsion: Yahoo news