Absent Church?

After Jesus finished dictating his letters to the seven “Assemblies of Asia,” John saw an “open door in Heaven,” and he heard the voice from his first vision summon him to “come up here.” He then found himself standing before the “Throne sitting in Heaven.” Does this image symbolize the physical removal of the Church from the Earth before the visions of chapters 5 through 22, the so-called ‘Rapture’?

The term “assembly” or ekklésia does not appear again after Chapter 3 until the concluding section of Revelation. This is the Greek term translated often as “church.” Several popular interpretations argue that the omission of this word and the image of John rising to Heaven point to the physical removal of the Church of Jesus Christ from the planet at this point in the sequence of events - (Revelation 4:1-3).

Clouds over church - Photo by Jacob Mejicanos on Unsplash
[Photo by Jacob Mejicanos on Unsplash]

Since the Book applies the noun “
assembly” in the singular number to individual congregations rather than collectively to all believers, it is more relevant to ask the question thusly, ‘Are the churches, plural, absent in the remainder of Revelation?’

Furthermore, when Revelation does refer to groups of believers, it uses several plural terms in addition to “assemblies,” including “saints” and “witnesses.”

The absence of the term ‘church’ in chapters 4 through 21 does not prove that the “assemblies of Asia” have been removed from the Earth, or any later church or churches. This proposed interpretation constitutes an ‘argument from silence’ (argumentum silento). It is an assumption based on what the passage does NOT say, and one that ignores the other terms applied to the people of God in the Book.

Moreover, this common interpretation overlooks the literary links between the seven letters to the “Assemblies of Asia” and the other visions of Revelation. In its entirety, the Book is addressed to the “servants of God” identified as the “Seven Assemblies of Asia,” and John describes himself as a “fellow participant” with those congregations in the “Tribulation, Kingdom, and Endurance in Jesus” – (Revelation 1:1-9).

Rather than escaping persecution, the churches of Asia are exhorted to endure whatever comes, including martyrdom. By doing so, they will “overcome” and inherit the promises given to the one who “overcomes,” and not to the one who avoids tribulation and persecution - (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26-28, 3:5, 3:21).

For example, the “Innumerable Multitude” in Chapter 7 is composed of men from every nation who have been redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb,” just as were the "overcoming" saints in the “Assemblies of Asia.”

Rather than escaping persecution, John saw this “multitude” of faithful saints exiting the “Great Tribulation” and then “standing before the Lamb,” celebrating their victory - (Revelation 1:5-6, 5:6-12, 7:9-17, 20:4-6).

ENDURANCE


In the Seven Letters, the congregations of Asia are called to “overcome” by persevering through trials and tribulations, a challenge epitomized by the faithful endurance of the followers of the “Lamb” elsewhere in the Book. Enduring faithfully is the definition of the “perseverance of the saints,” those who have the “Testimony of Jesus” - (Revelation 1:1, 1:18, 2:8-13, 3:21, 5:5, 12:11, 13:7-10, 14:12-13).

Following the expulsion of Satan from the heavenly courtroom, a voice declared that the “brethren overcame” him by the “blood of the Lamb, by their word of testimony, and because they loved not their life unto death.” The last clause indicates the willingness of these saints to suffer martyrdom. Already, “Antipas, my Faithful Witness” has been killed for his “testimony” in Pergamos - (Revelation 2:13).

Enraged at his ouster, the Devil “departed to make war with the Rest of her Seed,” against those “who have the Testimony of Jesus.” This group represented faithful saints who had been purchased by the blood of Jesus. Surely, they were members of the church against which the “gates of Hell would not prevail”!

Instead of escaping, those who have the “Testimony Jesus” remain on the Earth where they endure persecution by the “Dragon” and his human agents. They are treated by the Book as a group. It does not consist of lone and church-less individuals undergoing Satan’s assaults entirely on their own. Collectively, they symbolize the Assembly of Jesus carrying out its role as the “Witness of Jesus.”

In Chapter 13, the “Beast from the Sea” was authorized to wage “war against the Saints and to overcome them,” and here, the term “overcome” means kill. This group of martyrs is identified as those who “keep the Faith of Jesus” - (Revelation 12:9-17, 13:1-10, 14:12).

In Chapter 17, John saw “Babylon drunk with the blood of the Saints and the Witnesses of Jesus.” Previously, the “Saints” were identified as those who keep “the Faith of Jesus” and have his “Testimony.” Likewise, the victims of the “Beast” were called “Saints.” Here, they are identified as the “Witnesses of Jesus” - (Revelation 17:1-6).

The Book is addressed to the seven first-century congregations of Asia, and they do not disappear from the scene beginning in Chapter 4. Throughout Revelation, the group identified as “saints” consists of men from every nation who have been redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb,” including the seven “Assemblies of Asia.”

Rather than escaping martyrdom, overcoming “saints” persevere through persecution, and thereby, they qualify to reign with Jesus in the same way that he did, by laying down their lives for the Gospel – “Just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne” – (Revelation 3:21).

MISSING THE POINT


Reading the later doctrine of the ‘Rapture’ into the fourth chapter of the Book of Revelation deviates from its theology and historical perspective. Nowhere does it state that John himself represented the entire church or that his transport to heaven in a vision signified a permanent change in his or the church's location and condition.

Nor was his “ascent” to the “Throne in Heaven” the only change in John’s location in the Book. In Chapter 17, He was whisked by an angel to the “Wilderness” where he saw “Babylon” portrayed as the “Great Harlot.” Since she was full of the “abominations of the earth,” he was no longer “in Heaven” at that point.

Likewise, in Chapter 21, John was transported by the same angel to a “high mountain” where he saw “New Jerusalem descending to the Earth.” This indicates rather strongly that he was on the Earth, at least, momentarily – (Revelation 17:1-3, 21:1-9).

Mountain Dusk 2 by Daniel Gregoire on Unsplash
[Photo by Daniel Gregoire on Unsplash]

The picture in Chapter 4 is straightforward and needs to be taken at face value without embellishing it or importing later doctrinal developments into the vision. John was summoned to “
come up here” where he saw a vision of the “Throne,” the “Sealed Scroll,” and the “slain Lamb,” things and events that prove pivotal to understanding his visions in subsequent chapters.

The idea of removing the Church from the Earth so its members may avoid persecution and tribulation is not mentioned either in its fourth chapter or the rest of Revelation. The Book is about persevering through difficult times, not avoiding them. Throughout the events portrayed in its visions, faithful saints are found on the Earth where they bear “witness” of and for Jesus even at the cost of their lives.

The suggestion that John’s ascent symbolizes the ‘Rapture,’ the removal of the church from the Earth, is contrary to the Book’s tenor and teachings, and it requires us to force ideas into the passage that are found nowhere else in the Book of Revelation.



RELATED POSTS:
  • Redemption, not Abandonment - (Central to the doctrine of salvation is the promise of REDEMPTION. God will not abandon what He first created)
  • Tribulation vs Wrath - (The terms tribulation and wrath are NOT synonymous in Paul’s letters or the Book of Revelation)
  • Who and When? - (The Book of Revelation is addressed to seven first-century churches in the Roman province of Asia, and it deals with their real-life situations and trials)


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