When the Church Age Ends
The Lord’s testimony
during the Great Tribulation
will be individual
rather than corporate,
but there will still be
believers on the earth
One of the strongest arguments made by those who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture of all the saints is that, after the Lord deals with the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, the church is not mentioned again in Revelation until 22:16. Their view is that, when John is told, “Come up here!” in 4:1, that is a type of the rapture, and thus the church is not mentioned again because all the saints are now with the Lord in heaven, prior to the start of the Great Tribulation.
And it is true that the church is not mentioned in this section. However, that is not because all of the saints are gone, but because after this point God will no longer recognize the church as a system on the earth. Many believers will be left on the earth after the initial, pre-tribulation rapture (which will only be for the mature believers), but their testimony will be individual, rather than the corporate testimony we mainly bear today.
To explain, the age we live in is the “church age” because God’s testimony on the earth today is borne mainly in the local churches, as signified by the seven churches being the seven golden lampstands in Revelation 1:11-12. During the Great Tribulation, however, it will not be the churches that are the lampstands, but the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:3-12. So the church age clearly ends before the start of the Great Tribulation.
But, can we therefore say there will be no believers left on the earth at that time? Absolutely not. Simply consider the case of the Nation of Israel. At some point in the first century, no later than the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, God ceased to recognize the temple system of worship, and Israel itself as a nation before Him. Ever since then He has set that nation aside as He works to bring the Gentiles to salvation in Christ. (See Romans 11.)
But, does this mean there are no longer any Jews on the earth today? Obviously not. They are still here, even though the system they were once a part of no longer exists. (Though, in the future God will restore Israel as a nation before Him.)
In the same way, after the church age comes to a close, there will still be believers on the earth. At that time, however, the system of which they were once a part will no longer be recognized by God.
I was reminded of this as I was doing my Bible reading this morning and came to Revelation 13:9:
If anyone has an ear, let him hear!
What struck me is that this is almost the exact same phrase as the Lord speaks seven times to the churches earlier in Revelation. However, it is only the first part:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
— Revelation 2:7, etc.
Why is the latter part is cut off? Because the church age is over, so it is no longer spoken “to the churches.” Now it is for the individual believers, as confirmed by the next verse in Revelation 13, which tells us,
He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
— Revelation 13:10
That is, this word is “for the saints,” the believers in Christ.
And it should also be noted that even though the churches are not mentioned in this section of Revelation, it does speak of those who have “the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17) and “the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12), which can only refer to believers in Christ. However, at that time their testimony will, like that of the two witnesses, be an individual matter, not the corporate testimony of the churches that we have in this age.
In fact, in the entire New Testament there is no basis for the assumption (and that it all it is) that all the believers in Christ will be taken in a pre-tribulation rapture. Rather, the consistent testimony of the Scripture is that this rapture will only be for the overcoming saints, who by their faithfulness to the Lord have been “ripened” so that they are ready to be harvested as His “firstfruits” (Rev. 14:1-5; cf. 3:10).
For further reading on this topic I recommend the short book, Rapture, by D.M. Panton,
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— 1 September 2022 —