An Absent Church?

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

After Chapter 3, the term “assembly” or ekklésia does not appear again until the concluding section of the Book. Does that omission combined with the image of John rising to heaven picture the physical removal of the saints from the planet at this point in the narrative?

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

Since the 
Book of Revelation 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 - ‘Are the churches, plural, absent in the remainder of Revelation?’ For that matter, when the Book refers to all or groups of believers, it uses several different terms, including “saints” and “witnesses.”

  • (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, immediately, I came to be in Spirit and behold, a throne stood in heaven, and upon the throne was one sitting.”

As for the omission of the term “church” in chapters 4 through 21, its absence in the larger narrative does not prove that the church has been removed from the Earth. That suggestion amounts to an argument from silence (argumentum silento), one that ignores the other terms applied to the people of God in Revelation. Furthermore, that suggestion overlooks the literary links between the seven letters to the “assemblies of Asia” and the other visions.

In its entirety, the Book is addressed to the “servants of God” identified as the “Seven Assemblies of Asia.” Moreover, John describes himself as a “fellow participant” with these congregations in the “Tribulation, Kingdom, and Endurance in Jesus.”

Rather than escape from persecution, the Book exhorts the Asian churches to endure whatever comes, including martyrdom, and in this way, they will “overcome” and inherit the promises given in the Seven Letters to the one who “overcomes,” not to the one who escapes - (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26-28, 3:5, 3:21).

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

Rather than escape tribulation, John sees this “multitude” exiting the “Great Tribulation” and “standing before the Lamb” and Throne in “New Jerusalem” - (Revelation 1:5-6, 5:6-12, 7:9-17, 20:4-6).

ENDURE


In the Seven Letters, the Asian assemblies are called to “overcome” through perseverance, a challenge epitomized by the faithful endurance of the followers of the “Lamb” elsewhere in the Book. The faithful “endurance” of believers 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 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.”

Enraged, the Devil “departed to make war with the rest of her seed,” that is, against those “who have the testimony of Jesus.” Surely these faithful saints are members of the “church” purchased by his blood, the church against whom the “gates of Hell would not prevail”! Instead of escaping, these saints remain on the Earth where they endure persecution by the “Dragon” and his agents.

Next, the “Beast from the Sea” was authorized to “war against the saints and to overcome them,” and “overcome” means kill. These martyrs are identified as those who “kept the faith of Jesus” - (Revelation 12:9-17, 13:1-10, 14:12).

Later, John saw “Babylon drunk with the blood of the saints and the witnesses of Jesus.” Previously, “saints” were identified as those who keep “the faith” and have the “Testimony of Jesus.” Likewise, the victims of the “Beast” are called “saints,” and here, they are identified as the “Witnesses of Jesus.” How can believers function as “witnesses” if they are absent from the Earth? - (Revelation 17:1-6).

The Book in its entirety is addressed to the seven first-century congregations of Asia, and they do not disappear from the scene after Chapter 3. Throughout Revelation, the group identified as “saints” consists of men from every nation who have been redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb.”

Rather than escape “tribulation” and martyrdom, overcoming “saints” persevere in them and thereby find themselves “coming out of the Great Tribulation” and standing victoriously before Jesus and the “Throne.” They qualify to reign with him in the same way that he did – “Just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne.”

Mountains Dusk - Photo by v2osk on Unsplash
[Photo by v2osk on Unsplash]

MISSING THE POINT


Reading the later doctrine of the ‘Rapture’ of the church into the fourth chapter of Revelation deviates from the Book’s point of view. Nowhere does it state that John himself represents the entire church, or that his apparent transport to heaven signifies a now permanent change in his/its location and condition.

Nor is his “ascent” to the “throne” the only change in John’s location in the Book. In Chapter 17, John is whisked by an angel to the “Wilderness” where he sees “Babylon” portrayed as the “Great Harlot.” Since she is full of the “abominations of the earth,” it is unlikely that he found her in heaven after his ascent to the throne room at the beginning of Chapter 4.

Likewise, in Chapter 21, the Revelator is transported by the angel to a “high mountain” where he observes “New Jerusalem DESCENDING TO the Earth.” This indicates rather strongly that John remained on the Earth at that moment – (Revelation 17:1-3, 21:1-9).

The picture in Chapter 4 is straightforward and needs to be taken at face value without embellishing it. John was summoned to “come up here” where he saw a vision of the “Throne,” the “Sealed Scroll,” and the “slain Lamb,” all things that proved pivotal as his visions unfolded in the Book’s subsequent chapters.

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



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