Identifying the Church in Revelation
We have seen how Daniel received a series of visions, each building upon the previous, and yet he could not understand what it all meant, for he was given only a portion of the overall picture. He was told that the words he had received were to be concealed and sealed up until the end-time. We are now in that end-time and have the benefit of New Testament Scripture, including John’s visions in the book of Revelation. The little book that was sealed up in Daniel Chapter 12 until the time of the end is now open in the hands of the angel in Revelation Chapter 10. The events of the last three and one-half years of the age regarding the calling and destiny of the Church are revealed for our understanding.
However, many teach that the Church is not in view in Revelation Chapters 5 through 19 because the word church is nowhere to be found. Conclusions are drawn that the Church must have been raptured before the events described in these chapters take place. But is that what the Bible really teaches?
Are the Saints in Revelation Chapters 5 through 19 the Church?
It is not necessary that the actual word church be found in Revelation Chapters 5 through 19 to keep from identifying the people groups described as the Church. There are descriptions in these chapters of groups who follow the Lamb wherever He goes, who are dressed in white robes standing before the throne, who stand before their Lord, and who follow the commandments of God and believe in Jesus Christ. People are the Church based on their relationship to Jesus Christ, regardless of whether they are called the saints, the elect, the multitudes, or whatever --- regardless of rapture timing.
Chapters 5 through 19 of the book of Revelation clearly identify the Church on earth in the midst of the events described and could not be any clearer short of using the actual word church. I fear that this is one of those times in which we are seeking support of our established doctrines rather than the simple truth of Scripture. We don’t want to see the Church in these chapters because it wouldn’t fit in with our beliefs. The book of Revelation is written to the Church, for the Church, and about the Church, and the content of Chapters 5 through 19 is the very heart of the prophetic destiny of the Church on earth at the end of the age. We may not like it, but that doesn’t change it. We must adapt doctrine to Scripture, not vice versa.
The companion teaching along this line is that the twenty-four elders described in Revelation 4:4 are the Church raptured before the tribulation begins. Notice, however, that these twenty-four elders continue to exist as a separate group of twenty-four individuals, even when the various factions of the Church assemble themselves in heaven up to and including Chapter 19. If these twenty-four elders represent the Church, they certainly do not represent the bulk of the Church. They are twenty-four individuals, not a multitude that no one could count. We must not designate a specific group as the Church where it is not clearly identified, while at the same time ignoring it where it is clearly identified.
Relationship with Jesus Identifies Us as the Church
The Church is plainly described in Revelation Chapters 5 through 19, but not by the word church. The following various groups are identified as portions of the Church because of their clear relationship to Jesus Christ.
• Under the altar at the fifth seal in Chapter 6, we see the souls of those who have been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had maintained. This identifies them as a portion of the Church. The word of God is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the testimony of Jesus Christ that gets people in trouble, just as Jesus said it would.
• At the sixth seal in Chapter 7, we find a great multitude, so vast that no one could count them, appearing in heaven having come out of the great tribulation. They are identified as having washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb. These are obviously a portion of the Church.
• The two witnesses of Chapter 11, who prophesy standing before the Lord of the earth and are described as lying dead in the streets of the great city where also their Lord was crucified and are then taken up to heaven, are obviously part of the Church.
• The saints of Chapter 14, whom the beast wars against and who are encouraged to keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus, are obviously part of the Church.
• Those harvested at the end of Chapter 14, who are heard in heaven singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb having emerged victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, are obviously part of the Church.
All of these groups are found in Chapters 5 through 19, and they all fit descriptions of portions of the Church based on their relationship to Jesus Christ. The bride is revealed in Chapter 19, having made herself ready at last. She didn’t just jump there from Chapter 5. She has been implicitly involved in the purification and refining processes mentioned in Chapters 5 through 19. The white linen she is clothed in is described as the righteous acts of the saints. She is, at least in part, made up of those saints who have just emerged victorious from the great tribulation.
The Church is found everywhere in the book of Revelation. She achieves bride status as she is purified by the crucible of events during the last three and one-half years of the age. Jesus is coming back for a bride without spot or wrinkle, and one of the purposes of the great tribulation is clearly portrayed as helping to establish that purity. Logically then, our only hope of escape from these times is to be found without spot or wrinkle before these times begin.
To the Churches, for the Churches
John to the seven churches . . . (Revelation 1:4).
I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches (Revelation 22:16).
These things are written to the Churches and for the Churches. It is to the Churches that the book of Revelation was written. It is for the Churches that the book of Revelation was written. It is about the Churches that the book of Revelation was written. God will demonstrate His wisdom through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This description of the destiny and calling of the Church is what Chapters 5 through 19 of the book of Revelation are all about.
God will be glorified by His Church --- on earth --- through the events at the end of this age, and we must come into agreement with His plan as clearly defined by these Scriptures. The heart of the walk of the Church is contained in these chapters, and to remove the Church from them is to pull the vision for the Church out of Scripture and discard it. It is in Chapters 5 through 19 that we find described the process for the victory of the saints over Satan. It is in Chapters 5 through 19 that we find the witness of the Church in its finest hour and the completion of the great commission to take the gospel to the entire world. Yes, we find great tribulation there. But in that great tribulation we see the purification process that results in the emergence of the bride, having made herself ready. I hope you grasp how crucial this portion of the book of Revelation is to the call and destiny of the Church at the end of the age. I fear that only Satan’s best interests are served by removing the Church from what is described in these chapters. I believe it would be good to prayerfully consider our Lord’s words of warning given in Revelation 22:18-19 regarding taking away from or adding anything to these Scriptures.
A Deception must be Called a Deception
These are hard words. I am sometimes tempted to edit them out or soften them because I know some will be offended by them. But I believe they are appropriate. My motive is to wake up saints who might otherwise be led unprepared into a situation at the end of this age which could cause them to stumble and fall away. The salvation of a soul is worth more than the risk of offending someone by violating their doctrinal beliefs.
Any terminology that calls a real deception less than a deception is in itself a deception. Paul used the term deception regarding false teaching on the timing of the day of the Lord, and Jesus turned to Peter and identified Satan as the voice urging Him not to go to the cross. Satan is the deceiver, and it is Satan who is behind any false teaching regarding the role of the Church at the end of the age. Hence I choose to call any teaching, which does not identify the Church in Revelation Chapters 5 through 19, a deception from the enemy designed to deceive the saints and keep them from fulfilling their glorious destiny at the end of the age --- that is to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus and to see Satan crushed underfoot. Any teaching which detracts from what Scripture says regarding this process can only be in the best interests of the enemy of our souls.
However, I want to re-emphasize that this is not intended in any way to be an attack on the saints who teach, and who have taught, the pre-tribulation doctrine. It is an attack on the doctrine itself which does not agree with the common-sense teaching of Scripture. Many great men of God have believed in and taught this pre-tribulation doctrine and continue to teach it. We only see what we have been given to see. Believing in or teaching a pre-tribulation rapture will not bar anyone from entering the eternal city. We will be barred from the eternal city, however, if we fail to endure because we believed a false teaching and fell to the temptation to receive the mark of the beast. Therefore, let us be aware of the potential danger in the pre-tribulation teaching which could impact our very salvation. We are counseled to be wise as serpents while gentle as doves.
The pre-tribulation teaching does have an element of truth in it, because we will see that the Bible teaches that holiness and maturity does keep some of the Church from the hour of testing. However, the commonly taught rapture of all believers before tribulation starts is just not accurate. Furthermore, Scripture teaches that the rapture is not at the beginning of the final seven years of the age. We must understand that God is going to use great tribulation to transform His saints into the likeness of Jesus. Some will not have to be purified in that crucible, but Scripture indicates that most of the Church who are alive at the end of the age will require this purification. It is a great multitude that no one could count who emerge victoriously from the great tribulation in Revelation 7:14.
"Father, would You have mercy on all of us who attempt to teach these things, and would You lead us in Your ways, granting us wisdom and revelation to help the saints rather than hinder them. Father, would You bring to nothing all the attempts of the enemy to deceive the Church in these areas, and would You give wisdom and revelation to the Church to see these matters as You see them? In Jesus’ name, we ask this, for Your glory, and for the sake of the saints who will be alive at the end of the age."