We read in Revelation chapters four to twenty-one about “saints” being persecuted by Antichrist, the harlot, the dragon, and unbelievers. The important question is: who are these saints?
(“La Femme et la Dragon” by Martinus, 1086)
“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
Welcome to part 10 of my latest series on the rapture* In part 9 I showed plainly that John and his contemporaries were regarded as “Those who hold to the testimony of Jesus”, just as saints in the tribulation will be. I also discussed reasons why the word “church” is not found after chapter 3 of Revelation. You can find each part of the series in the search box, for example, Rapture 4, or by using key words such as “imminence”.
THOSE WHO OBEY GOD’S COMMANDMENTS.
Pre-tribulation doctrine implies or states that the tribulation saints found in Revelation are a Jewish remnant, partly because they “obey the commandments”. It’s Jews who have to worry about commandments, says this view, while we “Church-age” believers are saved by faith. Therefore, goes the logic, the saints of Revelation are not Church-age saints, and the Church is clearly not around at that time. However, while we are indeed saved by faith, other words penned by John pop that bubble of misinterpretation. Jesus, in John’s gospel account, told his disciples that if they really loved him they would keep his commandments (John 13:34; 14:15; 15:10). And when John wrote his epistles, he clearly saw the keeping of God’s commandments as paramount:
“We know we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him”, but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3 NIV).
If we keep His commands we are demonstrating that we really have faith and really love Him.
Pre-tribulationists claim that the “saints who hold to the testimony of Jesus” aren’t Church-age believers, because we “know” the Church will be raptured before the tribulation. This, again, is circular reasoning. Instead, says PT reasoning, these saints must be some other form of saint, perhaps specially anointed Messianic Jews, or Gentile believers saved after the rapture. However, the same Greek word translated “saints” is used throughout the New Testament, and it doesn’t change after Revelation chapter 3. Saints are saints. Not only that, but the tribulation saints are “faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). How can they not be Christians? Alright, they aren’t called “Christians” by John, but then, John did not use the term “Christians” anywhere else in Revelation, including Christ’s letters to the churches (and neither did Jesus or the angel) or in his epistles, or in his gospel. Neither did he use the word “believers” anywhere, except once in his gospel.
The word “saints” is, however, used many times throughout the New Testament for Church-age believers, for example:
“Paul…to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi…” (Philippians 1:1-2);
“On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints…(not the churches) ”… in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them” (Acts 26:10);
“As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda” (Acts 9:32). Notice Luke did not say that Peter “went to visit the church in Lydda”.
Antichrist will make war against “saints”, and not “churches”, because his design is not just to eradicate organized gatherings, but to wipe out believers completely:
“He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them… This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints” (Revelation 13: 7a and 10b).
THE BLOOD OF THE SAINTS
Famous “last days” prophecy teachers speak and write about the “Mother of Prostitutes” of Revelation chapter 17 as though this “Harlot” had been killing saints over the two millennia since Jesus was on earth. Notice that she had been killing “saints” and not “churches”. The Harlot in the form of the corrupt church and false religion has persecuted saints down through history, say the experts. Alright, if this is true, and it is, then the “saints” killed by the Harlot over the centuries are regular Church-age believers, are they not? So what makes them any different from the “saints” mentioned in other places in Revelation, such as those who are called to patiently endure, in 14:12?
If we take the quote at the top of this post from Revelation chapter fourteen in its component parts, we can see that God’s people of all ages are no different to those being persecuted during the tribulation. There is no reason not to assume that we also are, or should be, those who patiently endure, who are saints, who obey God’s commandments, and who remain faithful to Jesus. The tribulation saints are not another breed of saints who are left behind by a rapture, but are the body of believers who happen to be alive at that time.
THE SAINTS ARE NOT THE JEWISH REMNANT OR ISRAEL
If we assume the normal evangelical view of end-times prophecy in an analysis of Revelation chapter 12, we find an interesting separation. When the dragon-Satan-is hurled to the earth from heaven, and knows that his time is short, we see that he immediately pursues “the woman” described at the beginning of the chapter. This woman is usually identified in evangelical circles as the nation of Israel, or the remnant, and I would agree with that interpretation. Verse 14 tells us that the woman is somehow transported to a place in the desert (this may just be figurative language) and miraculously protected. Then, once the dragon sees that his plan to destroy the woman is thwarted, we’re told that he turns on “the rest of her offspring-those who obey Gods commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (verse 17). So the question needs to be asked: since the woman-considered to be the Jewish remnant- is being protected in a specific location, who are these other believers who the dragon turns on?
Consider the “great multitude” from every nation, tribe, people and language standing in front of God’s throne (7:9). They’re normally believed to be people saved during the tribulation as the result if the witness of the 144,000, but one of the elders present in front of the throne gives us a different answer:
“These are they who have come out of great tribulation…” (7:14).
“…out of great tribulation…” Does this perhaps mean that they somehow avoided great tribulation and were raptured, or does it mean that they were right in the middle of it, being assaulted by the dragon and all his human minions? Could they not be “those who hold to the testimony of Jesus”, who the dragon turned on after failing to destroy the remnant of Israel? Could they be those mentioned in chapter 6, killed “because of the testimony they had maintained”, matching those who “held to the testimony of Jesus” and were attacked by the dragon? They are given white robes to wear-probably very much like the white robes worn by those around the throne in chapter 7. In any case, it seems that the remnant of Israel and “those who hold to the testimony of Jesus” are two distinct groups of people.
Also relevant to our study is that the scene in heaven, whether the martyrs under God’s throne in chapter 6, or the multitude in front of it in chapter 7, is actually after the fifth and sixth seals respectively. This is not a period of time before the tribulation: it’s immediately before the seventh seal, which entails very severe trumpet judgments (chapter 8). Even if those around the throne in chapter seven are rapturees and not martyrs, there’s no indication that the rapture happens before the first five or six “seal” tribulation events.
*Thanks for reading excerpt 10 of my book, “All Left Behind: The Case Against the Pre-Tribulation Rapture”. It’s available on Amazon in paperback or electronic form. However, the whole thing, re-edited (and easier to read) will eventually appear here, completely free. My older blog posts on the subject are not so complete. Part 11 will appear soon.