There are two levels where this question is answered, the corporate and individual level.
The church has been persecuted for about 2,000 years by many antichrists (plural). This is a historical fact that is undeniable with the myriads of accounts of believers dying for their faith all around the world up to this very day. Jesus, Paul, and others warned the church that they would be persecuted, even martyred for their faith. This in fact has happened and will continue to do so for believers who take up our Lord’s cross.
However, some people get offended if you dare suggest that the church will face persecution for their faith when the Antichrist arrives. “That’s blasphemy!” exclaims pretrib teachers such as Billy Crone, Jan Markell, and others. Ironically, they are the very ones committing blasphemy because they believe that blood-bought believers during the seven-year period will be experiencing God’s wrath. Their aberrant theology directly contradicts God’s promise that believers will not experience God’s wrath: “For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:9). And if you examine their theology closer they actually believe Christians during the “tribulation period,” who they think are not part of the church, are second-class citizens in the kingdom because they “missed the rapture” and therefore can experience God’s wrath. Umm…who is being blasphemous?
Getting back to my main point, the difference between the church being persecuted in the past centuries and in the future during the last generation of the church under the Antichrist is intensity and scope. Jesus speaks that it will be an unprecedented time for God’s elect (and no he is not speaking of “Jews” but both Gentile and Jewish believers who make up the church). So corporately the church has always experienced death by the sword and other means of martyrdom, while the last generation of the church will experience the same means of death but it will be more intense and larger in scope.
If someone wants to be offended by such a notion that God would actually test the faith of his people just before he returns, well, they don’t know their Bible very well, nor the God of the Bible.
Pretrib teachers also do not realize they are jeopardizing the souls of their flock by deluding them into thinking they will never have to face the Antichrist’s mark:
“A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb. And the smoke from their torture will go up forever and ever, and those who worship the beast and his image will have no rest day or night, along with anyone who receives the mark of his name.’ This requires the steadfast endurance of the saints—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to their faith in Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: ‘Blessed are the dead, those who die in the Lord from this moment on!’” (Rev 14:9–13)
On the individual level, there really is not much difference. Individual Christians have had to choose allegiance between Caesar and the Lord Jesus before. The future eschatological Caesar (Antichrist) will demand their allegiance, but this time with a systematic mark-system. If individuals choose to take the mark of the Antichrist they will live under his so-called security and safety, only for a brief period of time; but this person will suffer the judgment of God in the eternal flames of hell (see above, Rev 14:9-14). However, if this person chooses allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, they will die a miserable death under the Antichrist; but they will receive eternal life with God because of their faith.
The fact that many pretrib teachers find this teaching offensive just goes to show how disconnected they are from biblical reality, and how shackled they are to their traditions of men.
All the prewrath position is really trying to say is that just before Jesus returns for his church, it will be tested for its faith. The fact that many pretribs get all bent out of shape over this tells me that their faith may be skin-deep. They act as if the Antichrist will be able to separate them from the love of Christ!
“For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God….What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:18–19, 31–39).