Absent Church in the Tribulation?

SYNOPSIS Revelation in its entirety is a message and exhortation for, to, and about the Church, the people of God – Revelation 4:1-3

Rapture - Photo by Stefan Gessert on Unsplash
In the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation a voice summoned John to “come up here” and, thereafter, he found himself “in the spirit” and before a “throne set in heaven.” Some interpretations believe that John’s transference to “heaven” symbolizes the physical removal of the church from the earth at some future point.

This interpretation assumes the omission of the term “church” from the visions of chapters 4-21 strengthens this understanding and, thus, it concludes that the church is not affected by the events portrayed in the subsequent visions of the book. But is the church absent from the remainder of Revelation? And if the “church” can be identified in any of the subsequent visions, the logic behind this position collapses.
  1. (Revelation 4:1-3) - “After these things, I saw and lo! a door set open in heaven; and the first voice which I heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying—Come up hither! and I will point out to thee the things which must needs come to pass. After these things, straightway, I came to be in Spirit and lo! a throne stood in heaven, and upon the throne was one sitting.”
There are several problems with this line of reasoning, including the following:
  • It is based on a logical fallacy - argumentum silento - An argument from silence. Since the term “church” is omitted, it is assumed to be absent.
  • It ignores the several other terms in the New Testament applied to the church, several of which occur in Revelation.
  • It ignores the literary links between the seven messages of chapters 2-3 and the rest of the visions in the book.
  • It does not take seriously the descriptions of followers of Jesus in chapters 4-20.
The Greek noun rendered “church” or ekklésia is omitted by the gospels of MarkLuke, and John, and the letters of 2 TimothyTitus1 Peter2 Peter1 John2 John, and Jude. Based on the preceding logic, we can assume that none of these documents are applicable to the church.

More relevant, this interpretation ignores the several other terms the New Testament applies to the church, including by several of the letters that omit “church.” For example, the “elect ones”, “peculiar people”, “heirs”, “believers”, “saints”, the “called ones,” and the “redeemed ones” - (2 Timothy 2:10, Titus 1:1, Titus 3:8, 1 Peter 1:2, 1:18, 2:4, 2 Peter 1:8, 1 John 3:23, Jude 3).

Likewise, numerous other terms and metaphors are applied to the church by the New Testament, including, “body of Christ,” “Temple of God,” “living stones,” “spiritual house,” “holy priesthood,” “elect race,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation,” “people of God,” and “pilgrims and sojourners” - (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 12:12, 12:27, 2 Corinthians 6:16, 1 Peter 2:5-10).
Different terms express different aspects of the people of God. No single term can do justice to the teaching of the Bible on the church – Whether on its identity, mission or destiny - Each term expresses a specific aspect.
For example, the Greek noun rendered “church” (ekkésia) means “assembly” or “congregation.” It is derived from Old Testament passages that refer to the “congregation of Israel” and the “congregation of Yahweh” - (Exodus 12:3-6, 12:47, 29:42, Leviticus 14:23).

Noteworthy is Paul’s description of the group of believers in his epistle to Titus, a people saved by God--:
  • Not from deeds done in righteousness, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” - (Titus 3:5-7).
The argument that a group of disciples of Jesus is not the church because the term is not used is a difference without a distinction. It ignores the great variety of terms employed by the Bible to portray the people redeemed by Jesus Christ.

In its entirety, Revelation is addressed to the “servants of God,” the seven “churches of Asia” that were “loosed from their sins by the blood of Jesus” - An act that constituted them a “kingdom of priests.”

The members of the seven “churches” are “fellow-participants” in the “tribulation, kingdom, and endurance in Jesus.” Rather than resist or escape from persecution and tribulation, the churches are exhorted to endure and bear witness through whatever trials may come their way. It is inn this way that they “overcome” and inherit the promises in the New Creation. At no point in the narrative is there any thought of the church escaping or being removed from the earth - (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26-28, 3:5, 3:21).

In chapter 7, the innumerable company of the redeemed is comprised of men and women from every nation who have been redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb,” just as the churches of Asia. Rather than escape, John sees this company of saints exiting the “Great Tribulation” - (Revelation 5:6-12, 7:9-17, 20:4-6).

The “seven churches” are summoned repeatedly to “overcome” by persevering in suffering and persecution. This calling is epitomized by the faithful endurance of the followers of the Lamb elsewhere in the. The refusal to render homage to the “Beast” and, instead, giving a faithful “testimony” is the definition of the “perseverance of the saints,” the latter a group identified as “those who have the testimony of Jesus” - (Revelation 13:7-10, 14:12-13).

The book of Revelation is the “prophecy” sent by Jesus for God’s “servants.” It is addressed to the “seven churches of Asia” by Jesus - The “faithful witness.” This last term refers above all to his sacrificial death. The churches are called to be faithful witnesses in the same manner as him - (Revelation 1:1, 1:18, 2:8-13, 3:21, 5:5, 12:11).

Following the expulsion of Satan from Heaven, a loud voice declared the “brethren” victorious - They overcame the “Dragon by the blood of the Lamb, by their word of testimony, and because they loved not their life even unto death.” Perseverance and martyrdom accounted for their victory. Surely these faithful saints were members of the “church” purchased by the blood of Jesus - (Revelation 12:9-11)!

Enraged by his expulsion, Satan “departed to make war with the rest of her seed.” This “seed” is identified as those, “who have the testimony of Jesus.” In other words, they are followers of the Lamb - (Revelation 12:17).

Next, the “Beast” is authorized to “make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” In this text, “overcome” to slay them. This is confirmed by the description in verse 10 - “If anyone is for captivity, to captivity he goes. If anyone is to be slain by the sword, by the sword he is slain.” This group of martyrs is identified as “saints” - (Revelation 13:1-10).

In Chapter 17, John saw “Babylon drunk with the blood of the saints and the witnesses of Jesus.” Previously, “saints” were identified as those who have “the faith” and the “testimony of Jesus.” Likewise, the victims of the “Beast” were called “saints.” In view is not a separate group distinct from the church but the same assembly of faithful witnesses - (Revelation 17:1-6).

The book’s epilogue reiterates key themes from the preceding chapters that tie together the entire vision. In the “prophecy,” singular, the angel showed “God’s servants the things that must soon come to pass.” The man or woman who “keeps the words of the prophecy of this scroll” is blessed. John reiterates that he is a “fellow-servant” of his brethren, the prophets - The ones who “keep the words of this scroll.” The angel was sent by Jesus “to bear witness of these things for the churches.”

The book of Revelation is a message for Christian congregations, not for national Israel, a future group of believers distinct from the church, or, for that matter, the world at large. The church does not fall out of the picture after Chapter 3. The people of God, the “saints” consists of men and women from every nation who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.


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