A somewhat strange “proof” that Pre-Tribulation Rapture supporters frequently bring up is that there is no mention of the Church after Rev. 4:1. They claim the word “church” is used 18 times in Revelation, but not between Rev. 4-19 (the 70th Week of Daniel).
Robert Gromacki of the Pre-Trib. Research Center explains their position this way:
“Where is the church during the seven-year Tribulation, as outlined in Revelation 4-19? If posttribulationism were correct, you would expect to see the church mentioned as being on earth during this time. However, that is not the picture one sees in Revelation 4-19. This writer demonstrates through investigating many of the details of Revelation 4-19 that the church is pictured in heaven with Christ, having been raptured before the Tribulation began.” – Robert Gromacki[i]
Mention of the Church after Rev. 4:1
I find it interesting that some will argue about what the Bible “doesn’t say” and ignore what it clearly teaches! In the Book of Revelation, the Greek word EKKLESIA which is translated “church” is only associated with the proper names of the Seven Churches; for example, the Church in Ephesus, the Church in Philadelphia, etc., or it refers to these same seven churches as a group. The universal Church isn’t mentioned at all by using that word: before Rev. 4 or after it. However, believers are mentioned and referred to as “bond-servants” and “saints” in Revelation, and these references are found throughout the book.
This argument by Pre-Tribulation Rapture enthusiasts is akin to reading a newspaper article about “The First Baptist Church” where the only mention of the word “church” is found in the first paragraph in regard to the name of the church: The First Baptist Church. In subsequent paragraphs, the newspaper reporter mentions “parishioners, members, and Baptists.” It would be terribly wrong to read this article and claim the Church disbanded after the first paragraph because the word “church” didn’t appear in it after that point. This ignores the obvious intention of the writer that the “parishioners, members, and Baptists” are the church! Yet this is exactly what this Pre-Tribulation Rapture argument does; it places emphasis on the specific names of seven churches and ignores all the references to the members of the Church.
The word “church” (EKKLESIA) is not commonly used in the New Testament to refer to the universal Church. For instance, it is not found in 1 Thess. 4:16-17, the most famous Rapture passage of all. Does this mean the Church is not raptured? Obviously, it does not. The word “church” is completely absent from the books of Mark, Luke, John, 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Jude. Are these books not to apply to the Church?
Finally, the word “church” is absent in the one location where we would most expect to find it: before the Throne in Heaven in Revelation 4-5. Not only is the word “Church” absent in these chapters, so are all mentions of “saints” or “bond-servants.” Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory has had to “invent” ways that the Church is present in that heavenly scene to justify its contention that the Rapture occurs in Rev. 4:1.
The Book of Revelation, however, liberally uses the term “bond-servant” to refer to the Church (and also to the Jewish remnant). The following graphic (Figure 1: “Use of ‘bond-servants’ in Revelation”) displays uses of “bond-servant”:
|Rev. 1:1||“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place”|
|Rev. 2:20||“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”|
|Rev. 7:3||“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”|
|Rev. 11:18||“And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name.”|
|Rev. 19:2||“His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.”|
|Rev. 19:5||“And a voice came from the throne, saying, ‘Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.’”|
|Rev. 22:3||“There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him.”|
Figure 1: Use of ‘bond-servants’ in Revelation
As can be clearly seen, the term “bond-servant” is regularly found throughout the Book. It is used of members of the Church in Thyatira (Rev. 2:20) and in terms of the martyrs who die at the hand of the Harlot (Rev. 19:2). Rev. 1:1 tells us Revelation was given to these bond-servants as well. In addition to these general uses of “bond-servant,” Revelation also makes reference to John and Moses being bond-servants (Rev. 1:1, Rev. 15:3). This implies that the bond-servants are perhaps the most faithful of Jesus’s servants.
Interestingly, no distinction is made between bond-servants depicted prior to Rev. 4 and those depicted after. If a Pre-Tribulation Rapture were to have occurred, wouldn’t it be logical to refer to those included in the Rapture by a different title than those who were not? But that is not the case.
A second title for believers is seen in the Book of Revelation; it refers to the word “saints” 12 times between Rev. 1 and Rev. 19 (the physical Second Coming). The references to “saints” do not discriminate on the location of the saints (heaven or earth) based on the position of the reference in Revelation either.
Are some of these “saints” and “bond-servants” those who come to faith in Jesus after the beginning of the 70th Week as we are told by Pre-Tribulation Rapture proponents? Yes, undoubtedly some are. However, a question that must be asked in relation to those coming to faith during this period is, “if these multitudes truly are ‘Tribulation’ saints as Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory claims, why do they do so only to face certain death at the hands of the Antichrist?” Isn’t more likely that only a trickle of new believers will come to faith, and that the vast majority of the “saints” in Revelation are those who believe prior to the rise of Antichrist?
Let’s look at two uses of the word “saints.” This first use of “saints” is always thought to include the Church raptured prior to the 70th Week by Pre-Tribulation Rapture exponents:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Rev. 19:7-8)
The second example is never thought to include the Church by these same exponents:
If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, . . . the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (Rev. 14:9, 11-12)
Although, this simple evaluation doesn’t disprove the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, it shows this extremely common “proof” in favor of it (probably the most common) is meaningless and silly.
Hopefully this exercise will equip you to answer this claim. I’d keep in mind these points:
- The word “Church” only appears in Revelation in regard to proper names or in reference to the Seven Churches, not to the universal church.
- Christians are referred to as “saints” and “bond-servants” and these terms appear throughout the book (before the 70th Week, during it, and after it).
- The single most likely spot to see mention of the “Church”, “saints”, or “bond-servants” if there will be a Pre-Trib Rapture is in Rev. 4-5 as Jesus prepares to open the Seven Sealed Scroll. Yet these words are conspicuously absent there. Ask them why the Church is not “always with the Lord” if the Rapture happens Pre-Trib.
[i] “Where is the Church in Rev. 4-19,” Pre-Trib. Research Center, last modified: unknown, accessed April 8, 2016, http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/where-is-church-in-revelation-4-19