What Protection for God’s People?
JEHOVAH God can protect his people. That goes without question, in view of the many times he has done so in the past. But it may serve his purpose at times to allow them to die in faithfulness to him. Recognizing that fact, three Hebrew exiles, faced with the threat of death in a fiery furnace, said to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon: “If it is to be, our God whom we are serving is able to rescue us. Out of the burning fiery furnace and out of your hand, O king, he will rescue us. But if not, let it become known to you, O king, that your gods are not the ones we are serving, and the image of gold that you have set up we will not worship.”—Dan. 3:17, 18.
Why is it that Jehovah God protects some of his servants while permitting others to suffer and even to die? Will it be different when the “great tribulation” begins upon this ungodly system of things? Will each person having an approved standing before Jehovah be preserved, miraculously if necessary?
GOD’S DEALINGS ARE PURPOSEFUL
Whenever Jehovah God does something, it is purposeful. So it is not without good reason that Jehovah has permitted his servants to undergo bitter persecution and some even to suffer a violent death. That reason involves an issue of universal importance. Satan the Devil, in effect, claimed that none of God’s intelligent creatures served him out of love but that all were prompted by selfish considerations. He further maintained that when such selfish considerations were removed, they would quit being God’s loyal servants. With reference to Job, Satan said to God: “Skin in behalf of skin, and everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his soul. For a change, thrust out your hand, please, and touch as far as his bone and his flesh and see whether he will not curse you to your very face.”—Job 2:4, 5.
Time was needed to settle the issue that Satan had raised. And Jehovah God gave Satan time to try to prove his claim and also permitted him to bring pressure upon all intelligent creatures. Hence, in the course of history, there has been no kind of trial or suffering that some of God’s servants have not undergone. Often Jehovah has allowed the testing to go as far as death. Appreciating the rightness of God’s side of the issue, many have been willing to die for it. They have considered it a privilege to share in the vindication of God’s name and thereby prove the Devil’s claim to be false. The apostle Paul, who loyally served God as a disciple of Jesus Christ, said: “I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”—Acts 21:13.
At no time, however, has the adversary been permitted to wipe out all of God’s people. Attempts to annihilate God’s ancient people, Israel, were frustrated. When Pharaoh of Egypt tried to destroy the Israelites as a nation by having all the male babies killed, he failed. (Ex. 1:15-21) Similarly, when Haman in the time of the Medo-Persian Empire succeeded in getting a royal decree passed for the annihilation of all the Jews, divine intervention brought his scheme to nothingness.—Esther 6:1–9:22.
Besides preserving his people as a whole, Jehovah God has on occasion protected his servants as individuals. One example of this is the spectacular deliverance of the aforementioned three Hebrew exiles from a fiery furnace. (Dan. 3:24-27) The test of their integrity had gone far enough in their case to prove their devotion in the face of death. And their faithfulness provided a good opportunity for Jehovah God to demonstrate his saving power. That saving power had, in fact, been called into question, for King Nebuchadnezzar had said to the three men: “Who is that god that can rescue you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15) So by saving them, Jehovah made a great name for himself, forcing Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge: “There does not exist another god that is able to deliver like this one.”—Dan. 3:29.
Thus Jehovah’s dealings in the past reveal that he can protect his people collectively and individually. But should we expect deliverances for every last one of his servants in connection with the “great tribulation” to come upon the present wicked system?
WHAT THE “GREAT TRIBULATION” INVOLVES
In order to answer this question, we must know what the “great tribulation” includes. The apostle Paul, when writing to Christians at Thessalonica, referred to God’s executional judgment upon the ungodly as a tribulation. We read:
“This takes into account that it is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.”—2 Thess. 1:6-8.
Not just individuals and groups but also earth-wide organizations have brought tribulation upon God’s devoted people. The book of Revelation mentions the “wild beast” (symbolizing Satan’s visible political system of world rulership) and “Babylon the Great” (the world empire of false religion) as being among the vicious persecutors. Regarding the wicked acts of “Babylon the Great,” we are told: “The woman was drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” (Rev. 17:6) And of the tribulation caused by the “wild beast,” we read: “It opened its mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name and his residence, even those residing in heaven. And there was granted it to wage war with the holy ones and conquer them, and authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.”—Rev. 13:6, 7.
The first of these organizations to go down in destruction is “Babylon the Great.” It therefore logically follows that the “great tribulation” begins as soon as she comes under the attack that leads to her total annihilation.
HATERS OF GOD’S PEOPLE SURVIVE FOR A TIME
The instrumentalities for bringing this about are political systems and their rulers. (Rev. 17:16, 17) These have no more love for God’s people than they do for the false religious systems that they will destroy. Already before the destruction of “Babylon the Great” these political systems are building up a record of aggressive acts against Jehovah’s servants. Their taking action against “Babylon the Great” does not change their antireligious attitude. This is evident from the fact that the Bible depicts them as being aligned against the King Jesus Christ.—Rev. 19:11-16, 19.
Then, too, some who survive the destruction of “Babylon the Great” regret the material loss they suffer from her destruction, for they are shown lamenting her. (Rev. 18:9-23) These persons profited from “Babylon the Great” and approved her shedding of righteous blood. They have only hatred for God’s people and, not wanting to allow any religion at all to survive, will they not seek to vent their murderous anger against God’s devoted servants? Like Gog of the land of Magog they will resent the spiritual prosperity of Jehovah’s worshipers.—Ezek. 38:1-18.
We can be certain that the surviving business dealers with “Babylon the Great” and also the elements that directly brought about her destruction will not want to submit to Christ’s rulership. As humans they cannot directly fight against Jesus Christ and his angelic forces. But they can oppose Christ by attacking his disciples on earth. This is in harmony with the principles enunciated by Jesus: “To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” “To the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones, you did not do it to me.”—Matt. 25:40, 45.
In view of the past record of Satan and the ungodly systems under his control, can we imagine that the enemies of the King Jesus Christ will restrain themselves in coming against his loyal subjects on earth? Surely not! We can expect an all-out attack, one that could result in the death of some of God’s servants. The Bible book of Ezekiel does, in fact, foretell such an attack under the guidance of the symbolic “Gog,” Satan the Devil:
“You [Gog] will certainly come from your place, from the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great congregation, even a numerous military force. And you will be bound to come up against my people.”—Ezek. 38:15, 16.
Should some of God’s people die at the time of this attack, however, they would not experience lasting loss. They would die, not with any feeling of having lost divine favor, but with full confidence that God will restore them to life in his new order because of their faithfulness to him. That attack against God’s people, though, is not going to run to the utmost limit. It will be stopped by force. Jehovah’s word, through Ezekiel, continues:
“‘I will call forth against him throughout all my mountainous region a sword,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. ‘Against his own brother the sword of each one will come to be. And I will bring myself into judgment with him, with pestilence and with blood; and a flooding downpour and hailstones, fire and sulphur I shall rain down upon him and upon his bands and upon the many peoples that will be with him.’”—Ezek. 38:21, 22.
Since the natural elements will be employed against the attackers, vital public services will be disrupted. This will bring physical hardships on everyone, including God’s servants. Because of disease or other physical limitations, the strain of the situation may be too much for some to bear and hence some of God’s people may die. At the same time we know that Jehovah God can strengthen his people and shield them despite their limitations. But, as to the extent to which he may see fit to do so, we must wait and see. However, Jehovah does not directly smite his faithful worshipers.
Nevertheless, though the exact time period involved is unknown to us, the distressing circumstances will not be prolonged. This is illustrated by what befell ancient Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The tribulation experienced by the inhabitants of that besieged city was “cut short,” coming to its termination in less than six months.—Matt. 24:21, 22.
SURVIVAL THROUGH DIVINE PROTECTION
When the “great tribulation” destroys this ungodly system there will definitely be survivors. In fact, the Bible refers to a “great crowd” who “come out of” or survive this “great tribulation.” (Rev. 7:9, 14) Jehovah God will not allow the haters of his people to vent their rage to the point of exterminating them. By means of his Son and the angelic forces, he will come to the defense of his people, rescuing them from annihilation. They being his “loyal ones,” their death as a people would be too “precious,” too costly, in his eyes. (Ps. 116:15) They will also be shielded from the execution of divine judgment. Neither Jesus Christ nor his angelic forces will make a mistake. None of God’s servants will be swept away along with the wicked.
Former executions of God’s judgment verify this. Noah and his family survived the deluge that destroyed the ungodly. Lot and his daughters, by availing themselves of the opportunity to escape in harmony with divine direction, did not perish with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Furthermore, the psalmist, likely Moses, acknowledged Jehovah as his refuge and stronghold. Confident in God’s ability to protect his people as a body, he wrote:
“I will say to Jehovah: ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I will trust.’ For he himself will deliver you from the trap of the birdcatcher, from the pestilence causing adversities. With his pinions he will block approach to you, and under his wings you will take refuge. His trueness will be a large shield and bulwark. You will not be afraid of anything dreadful by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in the gloom, nor of the destruction that despoils at midday. A thousand will fall at your very side and ten thousand at your right hand; to you it will not come near. Only with your eyes will you look on and see the retribution itself of the wicked ones.”—Ps. 91:2-8.
Truly, then, we need not fear the coming of the “great tribulation.” We can have every confidence in divine protection. Even if some do die at the hands of the enemy, their death would serve for the vindication of God’s holy name. Is your love for God of such a quality that, faced with death, you would count it a privilege to prove your loyalty to him no matter what the cost? Such a firm stand would glorify Jehovah and it would prove false Satan’s claim that your service to God is based on selfish considerations.
One thing we definitely know: Jehovah God will never allow his loyal servants to be effaced from the earth. And not a single one of them will perish at the hands of Jesus Christ or his executional forces. “Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial, but to reserve unrighteous people for the day of judgment to be cut off.” (2 Pet. 2:9) He also knows how to reward in a manner that is beyond their fondest expectations those who prove their loyalty to him. May we be found among those on his side when the “great tribulation” breaks loose upon this wicked world under the control of Satan the Devil.