By Rev. Charles Cooper
It is assumed by pretribulationists that the church is not present on earth during the events spoken of in the majority of the book of Revelation. This thinking is based primarily on the absence of the word “church” from Revelation 3:22 to Revelation 20:16. If the “church” is not mentioned, it is concluded, she must have been raptured prior to the events written about. Further, it is assumed that the invitation to the apostle John in Revelation 4:1 to “come up here” is a picture of the rapture of the church preceding the events of the 70th week.
It is important to examine these assumptions because they clearly attempt to place the rescue of the righteous (the rapture) before Daniel’s 70th week and not after. If that is so, it should be clearly taught in Scripture.
For several compelling reasons, it is a false conclusion to assume that the church will be raptured before the 70th week of Daniel (and for that reason is not mentioned between chapters 4 and 20):
1. The plain teaching of Scripture. Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:3-31), outlines the sequence of events in the last days relative to the church. Verses 3-14 parallel Revelation chapter 6 and depict those events from the beginning of the 70th week to the rapture. Then, in verses 15-28, He focuses on the middle time period of that future week (the final 7 years) and emphasizes two key events: (a) a time of great persecution, and (b) the “cut[ting] short” of “those days” of persecution for “the sake of the elect”. Finally, in verses 29-31, He highlights what it is that will “cut short” that persecution, the rescue of the elect (the rapture).
Paul echoes this same teaching in his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians 2:1-12: (a) the apostasy comes first, (b) the revealing of the man of lawlessness, (c) the “challenge” to all who will not bow down to him and worship him “as being God”, and (d) the coming of the Lord to “gather together” believers unto Himself.
In Revelation 6-8, we have the same sequence repeated: (a) the 70th week begins, (b) the pressure builds [seals 1-3], (c) the midpoint [seals 4-5] and apex of the persecution (against the “saints”) arrives, (d) the “cut[ting] short” of that persecution with the same cosmic announcement [seal 6] as Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:29-31 followed by the rapture of the saints (Revelation 7:9ff). There is absolutely no teaching either by hint or by direct instruction that the church will not be present during the 70th week of Daniel.
2. The recipients of the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:1 we read: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants,…” In Revelation 22:6, we read: “the Lord,… God… sent His angel to show to His bond-servants…” Eight times in the book of Revelation, we encounter the reference “bond-servant”. This special term is applicable in the New Testament to the apostle John, Paul, and Timothy. It is a word that has reference to all true believers as opposed to “tares”, “darnel”, or look-alikes. What does this mean? By writing the book of Revelation to the bond-servants, Jesus is clearly focusing not on the church in general, but faithful servants. They are to know what will transpire during that climactic era of history. Why? Perhaps to avoid unnecessary exposure to the evil empire of Antichrist. Perhaps to be able to assist struggling believers who did not prepare themselves when they should have. Perhaps to be able to effectively serve the Lord in some capacity with strength during those challenging days. Only God fully knows.
We are made to understand that the church in general will, for the most part, be a compromising body at the time of the end. When Jesus addresses the seven churches in Revelation, His primary appeal is a call to repentance. Each of those churches is in one or more compromising situations and needs to change their spiritual condition if they are to be overcomers. The clear desire of Christ is that the individuals in each of those churches be victorious rather than suffer the consequences. It’s the church in general that will not know what is happening when the end-time events unfold and in chapter 6:7-11 and chapters 12 and 13, we see that they pay a high price for their unpreparedness.
3. The use of “saint”(s) in the New Testament. The New Testament uses the term “saint” some 59 times. Virtually every reference clearly indicates it means a true believer in Christ. Link that with the conspicuous absence of any reference in the major eschatological works of the Bible that supposedly teach some sort of “revival” during the 70th week of Daniel. The fact is, the repeated reference of mankind in Revelation during this time is that they “did not repent” (cf. Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9,11). When the persecution begins at the midpoint, that experience won’t be the most conducive means of seeing people come to Christ in great numbers. Who then are these saints? Are they believers who come to Christ after the beginning of the 70th week? Yes and no. Certainly it must be acknowledged that there will be some who come to Christ once the 70th week begins. But are those potentially trickling numbers worthy of a worldwide vendetta by Antichrist? Hardly! No, there must be a significant enough body of “saints” still present when Antichrist reveals himself to warrant his widespread wrath. The great multitude in Revelation 7 speaks to that clear reality.
4. The misrepresentation of John being the church. It is said that the church is not present during the events of Revelation because in chapter 4:1, John is called to “come up here”. John is said to be a picture of the church, and therefore it (the church) is in heaven during the days of the 70th week of Daniel. But is that a valid inference? Nowhere in all of the New Testament is there warrant to apply the understanding that John represents the church in Rev. 4:1. The context clearly implies that “John” refers to… John, and no one else. He is simply given a heavenly perspective of what is going on behind the visible world and what will take place during the last days. Nothing else. To say otherwise is to grasp at straws to try to support a hollow argument.
5. The argument from silence. It is maintained that since the word “church” isn’t used again from 3:22 until 22:6, she is absent from the events unfolding during that time period. That’s an argument from silence. If we apply that same argument to the gospel of John, we have to conclude that the gospel of John isn’t for the church because the word church isn’t even mentioned in all of its chapters. Can that be true?
The overwhelming evidence is that the church is indeed present during the 70th week of Daniel regardless of whether the word is used or not. What one believes must be squarely built on what the Bible clearly says, not on what we might like it to say for whatever reason. What we believe about the last days will have tremendous implications for our lives should we enter those days. Let us be Bereans, searching to see if these things are so. (Acts 17:11)