Absent Church?

Revelation is a message to the church, the people of God, and one concerned with its situation on the earth – Revelation 4:1-3. 

After Jesus finished dictating his letters to the “seven churches,” John saw an “open door in heaven” and heard the voice from his first vision summoning him to “come up here.” He then found himself standing before the “throne set in heaven.”

But does this image symbolize the physical removal of the church from the earth prior to the book’s remaining visions, the so-called “rapture”?

After chapter 3, the term “assembly” or ekklésia does not appear again until the epilogue of the book. So, does this omission combined with the image of John rising to heaven picture the removal of the church from the planet at this point in the narrative?

Since the book of Revelation applies the noun “assembly” in the singular number to individual congregations rather than collectively to all believers, it is more relevant to ask the question - ‘Are the churches absent in Revelation?’

And, for that matter, when the book refers to all or groups of believers, it uses several terms, including “saints” and “witnesses.”

  • (Revelation 4:1-3) - “After these things, I saw a door set open in heaven, and the first voice which I heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying: Come up here, and I will show you the things that must come to pass. After these things, immediately, I came to be in Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, and upon the throne was one sitting.”


As for the omission of the term, its absence in the narrative until chapter 22 does not prove the church has been removed from the earth. That suggestion amounts to an argument from silence (argumentum silento), one that ignores the other terms applied to the people of God.

Furthermore, the suggestion overlooks the literary links between the seven letters to the “assemblies of Asia” and the other visions.

In its entirety, Revelation is addressed to the “servants of God” identified as the “churches of Asia.” And John describes himself as a “fellow participant” with them in the “tribulation, kingdom, and endurance in Jesus.”

Rather than escape from persecution, the book exhorts the assemblies to endure whatever may come. In that way, they will “overcome” and inherit the promises recorded in the seven letters - (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26-28, 3:5, 3:21).

For example, the “innumerable multitude” is composed of men from every nation who are redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb,” just as are the "overcoming" saints from the “churches of Asia.”

Rather than escape tribulation, John sees this “multitude” exiting the “Great Tribulation” and “standing before the Lamb” and throne in “New Jerusalem” - (Revelation 1:5-6, 5:6-12, 7:9-17, 20:4-6).


In the seven letters, the assemblies are called to “overcome” through perseverance, a challenge epitomized by the faithful endurance of the followers of the “Lamb” elsewhere in the book.

The faithful “endurance” of believers in the face of persecution is the definition of the “perseverance of the saints,” those who have the “testimony of Jesus” - (Revelation 1:1, 1:18, 2:8-13, 3:21, 5:5, 12:11, 13:7-10, 14:12-13).

Following the expulsion of Satan from the heavenly courtroom, a voice declares that the “brethren overcame” him by the “blood of the Lamb, by their word of testimony, and because they loved not their life unto death.” Enraged, the Devil “departed to make war with the rest of her seed,” that is, those “who have the testimony of Jesus.” Surely these faithful saints are members of the “church” purchased by the blood of Jesus!

Next, the “Beast from the sea” is authorized to “war against the saints and to overcome them.” And here, “overcome” means kill. These martyrs are identified as those who “keep the faith of Jesus” - (Revelation 12:9-17, 13:1-10, 14:12).

Later, John sees “Babylon drunk with the blood of the saints and the witnesses of Jesus.” Previously, “saints” were identified as those who keep “the faith” and have the “testimony of Jesus.” Likewise, the victims of the “Beast” are called “saints,” and here, they are identified as the “witnesses of Jesus” - (Revelation 17:1-6).

The book is addressed to the first-century congregations in Asia, and they are not removed from the picture after chapter 3. Throughout Revelation, the group identified as “saints” consists of men from every nation who are redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb.”

Rather than escape “tribulation” and martyrdom, overcoming “saints” persevere, and thus find themselves “coming out of the great tribulation” to stand victoriously before Jesus. They qualify to reign with him in the same way that he did – “Just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne.”


Reading the later doctrine of the rapture of the church into the fourth chapter of Revelation deviates from the book’s point of view. Nowhere does it state that John represents the church as a whole, or that his apparent transport to heaven signifies a now permanent change in his location and condition.

Nor is his “ascent” to the “throne” the only change in his locale in the book. In chapter 17, John is whisked by an angel to the “wilderness” where he sees “Babylon” portrayed as the “Great Harlot.” Since she is full of the “abominations of the earth,” it is unlikely that he found her in heaven after his ascent to the throne room.

Likewise, in chapter 21, the Revelator is transported by the angel to a “high mountain” from which he observes “New Jerusalem descending to the earth” – (Revelation 17:1-3, 21:1-9).

The picture in chapter 4 is straightforward and needs to be taken at face value without any added embellishments. John is summoned to “come up here” where he sees a vision of the “throne,” the “sealed scroll,” and the “slain Lamb,” all things that prove pivotal as his visions unfold further in the book’s subsequent chapters.

The suggestion that John’s ascent to the “throne” symbolizes the rapture or removal of the church from the earth is contrary to the book's tenor, and it requires importing ideas and images into the passage found nowhere else in Revelation.


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