Absent Church in the Tribulation?

Clouds Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
In its entirety, the book of Revelation is a message for, to, and about the Church, the people of God. 
In the fourth chapter of Revelation, a voice summoned John to “come up here,” thereafter, he found himself “in the spirit” standing before a “throne set in heaven.” Does this image symbolize the physical removal of the church from the earth at some point before the return of Jesus? Is the church, then, absent from the remaining visions of the book? - [Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash].
  • (Revelation 4:1-3) - “After these things, I saw a door set open in heaven; and the first voice which I heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up here, and I will show you the things that must come to pass. After these things, straightway, I came to be in Spirit and, behold, a throne stood in heaven, and upon the throne was one sitting.”
It is true that the word rendered “church” does not appear again after the close of chapter 3 until the epilogue of Revelation. But, by itself, does the omission of this term mean the church is no longer on the earth?

The argument is based on a logical fallacy - argumentum silento - An argument from silence. Since the term “church” is omitted, it is assumed to be absent. And it ignores the other terms and images applied to the people of God in Revelation. Additionally, it overlooks the literary links between the seven messages to the churches of Asia and the rest of the book.

In its entirety, the book of 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 called “fellow-participants” in the “tribulation, kingdom, and endurance in Jesus.” Rather than resist or escape from persecution, the churches are exhorted to endure and bear witness through whatever may come. In this way, they “overcome” and inherit the promises in the New Creation - (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26-28, 3:5, 3:21).

In chapter 7, the innumerable company was composed of men and women from every nation who were redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb,” just as "overcoming" saints from the churches of Asia. Rather than escape, John saw this group exiting the “Great Tribulation” - (Revelation 5:6-12, 7:9-17, 20:4-6).

The “seven churches” were summoned to “overcome” through perseverance. This challenge was epitomized by the faithful endurance of the followers of the “Lamb” elsewhere in the visions of Revelation. For example, the refusal to render homage to the “beast” by “overcoming” saints. Their faithful “testimony” in the face of persecution 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, 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” was authorized to “make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” In this text, “overcome” mean to slay them. 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 had “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 assembly of faithful witnesses from it - (Revelation 17:1-6).

The book’s epilogue reiterates key themes from the book 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 was addressed to the first-century Christian congregations of Asia and presents a message for Christians living in the present age. In it, the church does not fall out of the picture after Chapter 3. The people of God is composed of men and women from every nation who have been redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb.”

Finally, nowhere does Revelation state explicitly or implicitly that, in chapter 4, John represents the church and its removal from the earth. The passage is only the second of four instances in the book where John is said to find himself “in the Spirit” where he is transported to specific locations to receive new visions:
  • On Patmos where he then saw the “Son of Man” walking among seven golden lampstands.
  • Before the “Throne” where he saw the “sealed scroll” and the slain “Lamb.”
  • In the “wilderness” where he saw a vision of “Mystery Babylon, the Great Whore.”
  • On “a high mountain” where he saw “New Jerusalem” descending to the earth.
Each time, John’s transport “in the spirit” marked a major transition point where new visions began. These transitions form part of the literary structure of the book.


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