As repulsed as we were to see images of 21 Christians, kneeling before their captors just prior to being beheaded, you should understand that God was not surprised. He saw this coming. Those martyred men are mentioned in Revelation, a preview of final world events in the Bible. Among the visions God gave John about what we can expect, He included this:
“… And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4b)
Don’t misunderstand: I am not saying that the final events are happening now, just that when they do, these 21 men will be included among those mentioned in that verse. They were not missionaries, pastors or workers in orphanages. They were apparently regular guys, just trying to make a living. But they did one extraordinary thing: they affirmed their faith in Jesus. If ISIS followed their recent pattern, they gave the men a chance to convert and be saved. They must have refused. They were “beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the Word of God.”
My point is not that they were the first (or last) to lose their heads (or lives) for their belief in Jesus, but that God knew that those who hated His Son and His Word would do this. I mourn the deaths of those men and pray for their families and loved ones. But I take comfort in knowing God is not surprised. He is in control. His Kingdom is coming!
The part of Revelation from which this verse is quoted is admittedly confusing. There are wide differences in how it has been interpreted over the ages. If you are interested in hearing more about that, I’ve included an audio clip below of how I’ve handled it in a sermon.