Question: Bob, How will we know when the Tribulation starts, since it says that the antichrist will confirm a covenant. He could be in the background and just nod his head, because he really isn't exposed till he proclaims himself god in the temple mid trib? Also would it be safe to assume that a Christian going through the trib would not be tested past his ability as 1st Cor 10:13 states? One more question, where do the 144 thousand come into play? Thanks Bob
Response: You make some good points. Both the issue of sealing of the 144,000 and of the signs of the coming Tribulation are covered in detail in Part 2B of the Coming Tribulation series (see the links; for the actual ministry of the 144,000, see in CT 3A, "The Two Witnesses", for their martyrdom, see in CT 4, "The Martyrdom of the 144,000").
As to the beast's covenant, yes, that will certainly be one sign that the Tribulation is underway. There are others. For one thing, there is currently no temple in Jerusalem, a place that figures in the events of that time. You are also correct that the beast will begin his career, in some fashion, before the Tribulation starts, but it is the removal of the Holy Spirit's restraint that allows him to commence his career in earnest (2Thes.2; see the link: in CT 2B, "The Restraining Ministry of the Holy Spirit"). It will be possible for discerning and alert Christians to identify him early by, among other things, the "number" six hundred and sixty six (an acrostic reckoning of his name - Rev.13). Please see the following links as appropriate:
On the covenant, "Antichrist's Alliance with Israel" (in CT 3B)
On the mark and number of the beast, "The Mark of the Beast" (in CT 4), and "The Number of the Beast" (in CT 4)
The short answer on the 144,000 (see the links in the first paragraph for details) is that they are all Jewish believers called upon to fulfill a special ministry of evangelizing the world (analogous to the 12 [Mk.6:7] and the 72 [Lk.10] sent out by Jesus, but this time on a world-wide basis) - this is part and parcel of the reestablishment of Israel's leadership in the Church and also of the principle of grace and warning before judgment. Their ministry occurs in the first half of the Tribulation (in the midst of the Great Apostasy) and they are the first martyrs of the beast's attack on the Church (the Great Persecution).
It is true that we shall never be tested beyond what we are able to endure - it is also true that it takes faith to understand and believe that what we are enduring is in fact bearable and will come to an end in the nick of time. So while God has ever been faithful on this score, history (and the Bible) are full of examples of believers who fail to measure up on the issue of trusting God to the point of deliverance (compare the Exodus generation, a generation and an experience that are paradigmatic of what will happen in the Tribulation). The Great Apostasy prophesied to take place during the first half of the Tribulation (cf. 2Thes.2:3) will be a time of wholesale abandonment of the faith - many will fail to wait for God's deliverance (which will in fact come in His own good time, as it always does - not in our sense of timing).
Hope this is a start on an answer to these questions. The Coming Tribulation series is currently complete through part 5: Armageddon and the Second Advent and part 6: Last Things: The Second Advent and New Jerusalem. You might also find the following links helpful:
Things to Come II: Genesis Rapture, Daniel's Weeks, Seven Kings, Signs of the Apocalypse, Tribulational Suffering, Seven Seals, the Bride of Christ, and Mystery Babylon.
Things to Come: The Half Hour, the 144,00, the Book of Life, Rewards, the Beast's Kingdom, the Great Apostasy, and the so-called 'Partial Rapture'.
Preparing for Tribulation.
2nd Peter 3:5: Doubting the Tribulation
The Beast: Some Questions about Antichrist.
Antichrist's 'desire of women' in Daniel 11:37 et al.
The reign of antichrist: 7 years or 3 and 1/2 years?
Aliens, antichrist, and eschatology.
What exactly is the "red heifer prophecy", and how does it relate to the events of the end times?
Eschatology Issues II: Angelic bodies, heaven and hell, Satan and the Nephilim, etc.
Eschatology Issues: The Fig Tree, Ezekiel 38, Joel 3, and the Trumpets.
The Seven Churches, the Judgment Seat of Christ, and other issues in Eschatology.
Yours in Christ,