Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A New Thought on the Word "Church" in Revelation

While challenging a pre-tribber the other day I had an epiphany. I think it’s another piece that helps solve the question that many have had concerning why the word “church” is not used in Revelation chapter four through chapter twenty-one when John wrote of the time period of the Great Tribulation.

I suggest that the reason John used the word “church,” or “churches,” frequently throughout Revelation 1-3 and then abruptly stopped using the word is quite obvious. It’s like so many of the other puzzles I’ve encountered in the book that has been staring me back in the face for years, yet I walked past it one hundred and one times only to be smacked in the back of the head one day by the simplicity of the answer.

The word “church,” or “churches,” is used seventeen times in the NASB through chapter three (18 times in the original Greek), and then in chapter four the usage of the word halts. Pre-tribbers will inform us that it’s because the words said to John, “Come up here,” in Rev. 4:1 are symbolic of the pre-trib rapture, thus the need to use the word “church” from this point on is no longer valid because the Church is gone. They say that the earthly Church no longer exists, and that the term “saints” in Revelation describes what they call the Tribulation saints. This is, of course, very weak, but a topic for another post at another time.

Could it be that the reason that the word “church” is so frequently used but then shifts to the point that it’s never used is because the text, itself, shifts? Does it sound crazy for me to say that John did not stop using the word "church" in chapter four, because in reality he never even used the word in the first three chapters? And if this is the case, why should he use the word in chapters four through twenty-one? I know, I just said a moment ago that the word “church” is used eighteen times up to chapter four, but there’s a hitch.

Notice that in the first three chapters it is Jesus giving John the words to write, and that John wrote exactly what Jesus said.

"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write..." etc.

But from chapter four on the text shifts and it is no longer Jesus giving John the exact words to write. The words are straight from John’s pen as he attempts to describe what he’s seeing, and he is no longer writing the words from Jesus’ mouth. Why should John have to use the word “church” to describe the Church? It’s arbitrary to claim he must. They’re his thoughts and he can write in any style he wishes as long as it coincides with the vision he is seeing.

Some would say that John starts his letter by addressing the Church. But is this really the case?

“To the seven churches in the province of Asia:” Rev. 4:4

John is not addressing the Church, as in the universal Church, but is addressing “the seven churches” in Asia. John is addressing seven groups that are segments of the universal Church, and he is simply addressing them in the same manor that Jesus told him to:

“Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:11)

When John began choosing his own words in chapter four, as in the word “saints,” his message was not limited to the seven churches, or seven segments of the Church—he was writing to the universal Church! So why would the term “saints” somehow, all of a sudden, not mean the universal Church? The word “saints” is used 48 times in the NASB before the book of Revelation. Every time, except maybe three where it refers to angels or Old Testament saints, the word refers to the Church, so why ascribe some new, pre-trib dispensational meaning to a word that we already all know the meaning to?

And guess what? As soon as John’s vision of the end is over, the text shifts again. And it should be no surprise that as soon as the text shifts so that John is no longer writing of the events with words of his own choosing, but is writing the words that are straight from the lips of Jesus, the word “churches” reappears and is used to conclude the book of Revelation!

“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches.” (Rev. 22:16)

I bet the true believers within the seven churches listened when they were told that the words were for them. Maybe pre-tribbers should listen, also.


Anonymous said...

Great thoughts!

I have always felt that the reason the word 'church' no longer appears is because the church is not present in the throne room when John arrives. Thus the word would not make any sense. The vision that John is experiencing moves from earth and the churches and transitions to the throne room of heaven. Thus no need to mention or discuss the church since they are still on earth.

Thanks for having this blog site. I would like very much to get the word out to Christians and to the churches that we won't really be 'in the mezzanine watching' when the 70th week of Daniel begins, as so many teach today.

Al H.

Gone Fishin' said...

>in the mezzanine watching<

Ha! I've never heard it put that way.

Recovering said...

I have always wondered about this too and I think you are probably right. I never dichotomized the difference between him quoting Jesus and him writing from his heart and experience.

Robert Hawes said...

Consider Galatians 3:19-29, part of which says: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."

In this passage, Paul describes how everything has come together in Christ, who died "once for all". This may be why believers are referred to as the "elect" and "saints" in prophetical passages, and why the church is not specifically mentioned beyond Revelation 3. The "end of the age" will bring both the OT and NT saints together, thus dispensing with the distinction.

As an added thought here, consider that we are told about "four and twenty elders," which many people think represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of Christ; but, again, there is no distinction in the actual scripture. They are presented together as one group, representative, I believe of one body of God's people.

Also, the pretribbers need to realize that the absence of any mention of the church beyond Revelation 3 is more of a problem for them than it is for pre-wrathers and post-tribbers. After all, there are plenty of scenes in Revelation that take place in why is the church not mentioned there either?

Now, be that as it may, although we do not see any references to the "church" beyond Revelation 3, we do see a reference to the "bride," which we know is Christ's church. This reference comes in Revelation 19, right before Heaven opens and Christ returns to destroy the Antichrist. We are told that the bride has made herself ready and that the time of the marriage has come, but this is clearly at the end of the 70th week!

Rob said...

What an exciting blog. I'm so glad to find people that feel the same way I do.

I'm not sure if this helps at all, but the one thing that strikes me about Revelations is that many people read it as though it was a story line from start to finish. The more I have read it, the more and more I see that John wrote a very broad look at something, and then continued to refine the discussion. This was actually done all over the place in the bible, from Genesis on. Noah and the flood was fore-told, and each further reading became more and more detailed on a small portion of the fore-telling. Sodom and Gomorrah were for-told as well with the same type of refining detail. I see the same thing in Revelations.

The reason I bring this up is I wonder how much of the issue of the "Church" stopping after Chapter 4 has to do with a combination of what is mentioned, that one is Jesus's words, while the other is John's, and also the fact that John is starting to fill in the details of the broad view that the first 4 chapters provide.

In other words, if each "church" in chp. 1-4 represents a "week" of the tribulation, then John seems to be coming back and describing that "church week" in more detail. Could he have used the word "Church" to describe things, sure he could have, but he could also describe what he saw for that "Church Week" without it.

PWTribune said...

Rob said>many people read it as though it was a story line from start to finish. The more I have read it, the more and more I see that John wrote a very broad look at something, and then continued to refine the discussion.<<<

That's a great point. It continually blows my mind when I see people teaching that Revelation is presented chronologically. And thanks for dropping in and posting your thoughts!


Illinois Preacher said...

You all are forgetting one thing, when the Jewish groom comes for the Bride they go to the Father's house to consummate the wedding for a "week". I truly expect to be at the marriage supper of the Lamb for a "week" or 7 years. If you are a "Post Tribber" you would have to celebrate the Marriage Supper Of the Lamb on the way to "meet the Lord in the air" and immediately return. I don't believe that is the way Jesus will celebrate his Wedding. Besides the Tribulation is about finishing the 70th week of Daniel, which involves God setting things right with Israel which is HIS wife. Study your Old Testament and you will find that Jehovah has "Put Away" Israel and is waiting to be reconciled. The tribulation has nothing to do with the church. It is strictly a period of "Time Out" between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel for Christ to take a bride for himself.

Anonymous said...

God never wastes His Words. Not even an iota or a tittle shall pass till all be fulfilled. Consider this (as you said it might just also smack you head on and you awake to the truth-hopefully, otherwise you belong to John 8:47) - the 7 churches are actually and in hindsight the history of the church, and after the church is gone (1 thes 4:16, John 14:1-6, etc.), there is no need to mention it coz what John sees are on earth - not the church which is in heaven (from Heaven john can see the events on earth), and there are really more to discuss - that's why notice that in those bibles you cited, there is no word that says "study" - only "do your best" or "be diligent" (professors at any decent universities wont even entertain such nonsense as "do your best", cause they cant pass you until study. Besides, why do you use the bibles of the witches / those involved in the accult - Westcott and Hort - didn't you know that they are die hard spiritists - an act that is punishable in the OT with death. Don't use Satan's Catholic inspired bible - use God's only true word - the King James Bible - AV 1611. I came exactly from you are now - and I can tell you - no amount of human effort can lead you to truth - unless what you have is the truth - and it has been confirmed by the Roman Catholic church that you are using their Bibles - Bibles written by spiritist or those involved in the occult. No wonder, you couldn't get it. It's a poisoned bible you're using.

1 Thes 2:13 - this is for you. KJV version. Mayeb you can see why you cant get it yet. I challenge you to examine the evidences of the KJV versus your satanic bibles.

May God open your eyes.