The Dispensational System of Eschatology invented by JN Darby and propagated in the Scofield Bible teaches that the seven churches in Revelation represent seven periods of Church history and there is merit in this interpretation, and these seven churches also have a broader application to the Body of the Messiah historically and prophetically. This particular system of Eschatology also teaches a distinct separation between Israel and the Church which scripture does not endorse and that this separation between Israel and Church will happen when the Church is raptured. At the rapture, Dispensational Eschatology teaches that Christ will come for Hs saints to secretly snatch them away to heaven and after seven years He will return to earth with His saints.
This “system” of Eschatology did not exist before the latter half of the 19th Century, neither did the idea of a secret pretribulation rapture of the Church before the Seven-Year Tribulation period exist either. JN Darby was Premillennial in his eschatology teaching a literal Millennium, and the Bible endorses Premillennialism. However, the Dispensational System of Eschatology also teaches that after Revelation Chapter four verse 1 that the Church is not mentioned and that when John is caught up to heaven that this also refers to the rapture of the Church, which is an inference and not in the actual text. This aspect of this System of Eschatology related to a secret pretribulation rapture took root in American evangelical circles in the middle to the latter half of the 19th Century due to Darby’s teaching. The idea of the Church being raptured before a seven year period of tribulation took hold of multitudes of ministers and believers in the wider Body of the Messiah living in comfort and at ease in the western churches, and not subject to any kind of severe persecution.
The idea of a pretribulation rapture before the real unpleasantness kicks in for the Church was made more prominent and extremely popular in light of the Left Behind franchise of books, movies and DVD’s where the whole idea took flight into the imaginations of multitudes of believers who saw in this an escape from suffering and persecution. In the Left Behind scenario after the Church has been raptured before the Tribulation, you have some left behind who get saved in the tribulation and are called “the tribulation saints”, and these go through the tribulation and are persecuted terribly by the Antichrist. Witness Lee from the recovery assemblies taught that there was a partial rapture but scripture does not endorse this teaching.
We know that in Revelation Chapter 4 verse 1 that John saw an open door in heaven and he heard a voice speaking to him like a trumpet saying “come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1). No doubt John was caught up, whether physically or in the Spirit into the unseen spiritual realm as the apostle Paul who was also caught up, we are not specifically told. Because the “trumpet” is mentioned the dispensational system of interpretation makes the assumption by its adherents that John being caught up refers to the rapture of the Church. When we see the rapture and resurrection mentioned in the New Testament we do see a trumpet mentioned (Matthew 24:31) (1 Thessalonians 4:16) (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). We will now look at this ‘assertion’ that the Church, also called the Body of the Messiah, is not mentioned after Revelation Chapter 4:1. Let’s now look at this…
A widespread teaching within evangelical circles today is that when the time of a seven year period of Tribulation starts that Israel becomes centre stage in world affairs and that the Church plays a less prominent role in the tribulation or has been taken out of it altogether, an idea fostered by the dispensational system of Eschatology, however, the Bible does not make a radical Separation between Israel and the Church as asserted by Dispensational eschatology. What we need to establish from scripture first is who are “the saints” mentioned in both Testaments and are they two separate communities of believers or one body of believers? What does the Bible teach?
1. There is only One Body of the Messiah
Acts 15: 13-18
“When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear My name, says the Lord, who does these things’ that have been known for ages.”
In Acts chapter 15 James and the other apostles at Jerusalem saw from the prophet Amos Chapter 9:11-12 that God’s intention was to spiritually graft Gentile believers into Israel metaphorically represented by the Olive Tree. The first century Body of the Messiah was Jewish at its roots and in the way it interpreted the Word of God which was for them the Old Testament scriptures. God had no intention of creating a body of believers called the Church that was separate from Israel. Gentiles who believed were grafted into Israel and became partakers of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant made with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah, which happened at Pentecost by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31). Abraham is the father of all who believe both Jew and Gentile (Romans 4:9-25).
2. One New Man in the Messiah
Paul writes in Ephesians that the Gentiles before they are saved are separate from the Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in the Messiah Gentiles who believe in Him are no longer far away from God and His covenants made with Israel but have been brought near to God through the blood of the Messiah and made one new man in Him with the partition between Jew and gentile demolished.
Believing Gentiles are no longer foreigners and aliens to the covenants of promise, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with the Messiah Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together rising to become a holy temple in the Lord where God lives in them by His Spirit. There is only one bride of the Messiah! (Revelation 19:7-8).
3. Grafted spiritually Into Israel
The apostles never saw the Body of the Messiah as a separate group from Israel. In fact Paul defines a true Jew when he writes; “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29). This applies to all believers in both Testaments.
In Romans chapter 11:11-24 Paul also writes about Israel being the Olive Tree figuratively representing Israel. He speaks about two kinds of branches. Those that are already part of the Olive Tree being individual Jews who have believed in the Messiah. These are cultivated Olive branches. The Wild Olives branches are those gentiles who have also believed in Israel’s Messiah and have been grafted into the Olive Tree among the cultivated Olive branches. The natural branches that have been broken off and separated from the Olive Tree are individual Jews who have not believed in the Messiah.
The Olive Tree and its branches suck up the divine sap from the root being the Messiah, the True Vine. This is figuratively a picture of the Body of the Messiah being Jewish at its roots. There is only one Body of the Messiah. The first century Church never stopped being Jewish. The requirements for Gentiles are set out in Acts 15:19-20, 28-29. See also (Leviticus 17:10-12).
4. All Israel will be saved
Abraham was the spiritual father of all believers both Jew and Gentile in every age in both Testaments (Hebrews 11:39-40). Having said this in no way negates God’s end-time prophetic purposes for Israel as a nation. God has a remnant chosen by grace in Israel and these will be reserved through the Time of Great Tribulation and come to faith in the Messiah when He returns (Zechariah 12:10-14) In that day every Jew still living on earth will be saved (Romans 11:1-10, 25-27). When the Messiah reigns from Jerusalem in the Messianic Millennial kingdom on earth there will be His Body, the faithful assembly of believers co-reigning with Him on earth (Revelation 2: 26-27) (Revelation 5:10).
5. The Woman and the Red Dragon
Revelation Chapter 12
In Revelation Chapter 12 we see a pregnant woman (Israel) relentlessly pursued by a red dragon (Satan) who wants to destroy her and the child she carries (the Messiah) and she escapes its murderous intent so the dragon in a rage goes off and makes war against the woman’s offspring (New Covenant believers being the Body of the Messiah). They are the spiritual offspring of Israel, being those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17). These are the same ones John sees coming out of Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:14). These are those in the Body of the Messiah seen coming out of this Great Tribulation in the present continuous sense.
It is clear that the faithful Church is still on earth during this time of Great Tribulation. John sees it happening between the sixth and the seventh seal. If you or I as a believer die tonight then we have come out of this present evil age and go to be with the Lord. We have been raptured. Those believers who die either from natural causes or through old age or through martyrdom have come out of Tribulation which is here with us today, and when it escalates in intensity and frequency to became Great tribulation, many more will come out of the time of the Big Trouble and that primarily through martyrdom at the hands of the Beast empire of the Antichrist empowered by Satan himself.
So you see in these two texts in Revelation 12:17 and in 7:14 that the faithful Church is still on earth in the time of Great Tribulation which lasts for three and a half years (1, 260 days, 42 months, a time, times and half a time). You can only prove a three and a half year tribulation period from scripture. During this time we are told in both Testaments that the saints (all believers) will be persecuted by the beast empire of the Antichrist during this time of Great Tribulation (Daniel 7:21, 25; 12:7) (Revelation 13:7).
The word “saints” is used in both Testaments of believers. The word “saint” is the standard word used in the New Testament for a New Covenant believer whether they are ethnically Jew or Gentile. The real Tribulation saints in the New Testament is the faithful Church being relentlessly pursued and persecuted by the beast system of the Antichrist during the last three and a half years of this present age.
6. The Mystery of God
Ephesians 3:2-11; Revelation 10:7
The Apostle Paul speaks about the Mystery of God that was hidden in ages past but revealed to him by the Lord. He writes;
“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of the Messiah, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in the Messiah Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power.
Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which He accomplished in the Messiah Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:2-11).
In a nutshell the mystery of God hidden for ages was that Gentiles would be spiritually grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel and made partakers of the same blessings Abraham received from God. God’s eternal plan has always been that the Messiah would have a bride made up of Jews and Gentiles, not a corporate body of believers separate from Israel, but a body of believers with their spiritual roots in Israel not apart from Israel!
We see this in the Exodus from Egypt where many Gentiles came out with the Israelites. These were not separate from the Israelite community but included in Israel. They had all been redeemed and protected by the blood of the Passover lamb when the angel of death passed through Egypt. God’s elect saints have always had their spiritual roots in Israel. Does not the Apostle Paul write; “…the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 9:4-5).
So then the mystery of God is the Church grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel, the wild Olive branches grafted into the Olive Tree. The spiritual root that supplies the spiritual nourishment of the sap to the Tree and its branches is the Messiah Jesus, the true vine, and the root of Jesse. It is the Messiah through the divine sap of the person of the Holy Spirit that causes both the Olive Tree and its branches to bear spiritual fruit for God. This is consistent with the New Testament. So it is clear the Mystery of God hidden for ages and now revealed in its fullest expression by revelation to the apostle Paul was seeing Gentiles being spiritually grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12-13,19).
7. The Mystery of God Accomplished
In the Millennial kingdom Israel as a nation will be fully and completely restored spiritually and nationally and in that day there will be one flock and one shepherd and together they will co-rule the nations that have survived the Time of Great Tribulation and the Second Coming of the Messiah our Lord Jesus (John 10:16) (Revelation 5:10) (Zechariah 14:16-21). Now where do we see where the Mystery of God, being the Body of the Messiah or the faithful Church, appears in the Bible? It appears in the Book of Revelation. Let’s look at this
“But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to His servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7).
The Mystery of God about to be accomplished by the seventh angel with the seventh trumpet refers to the Second Coming of the Messiah and the rapture and resurrection of the saints, the rescue of the beleaguered faithful Body of the Messiah is about to occur when the seventh and last trumpet is blown. The seventh Trumpet announces the arrival of the Messiah King Jesus. As we read in Revelation; “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
This happens right at the end of the time of Great Tribulation when the angels gather God’s elect from the four winds from the north, from the west, from the east and from the south. It is a Global rapture and resurrection (Mark 13: 26-27) It occurs as the Messiah our Lord Jesus descends to earth. The saints go up and the wrath comes down because “God has not destined us for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus the Messiah…who saves us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9).
8. Tribulation is not Wrath
Now we need to distinguish between tribulation and wrath. They are different words in the original Greek language of the New Testament. Tribulation is “thlipsis” used right through the New Testament and in Revelation as well and it means “trial, affliction, oppression, persecution and a sense of being pressed down by a heavy weight” It can also include the judgements of God seeking to bring about repentance. Judgement is sent by God to bring repentance and correction, but with wrath there is no reprieve.
There are two different words used for wrath in the New Testament. The first one is ”orge” used in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 describing “a judicial wrath meted out in a court of law.” The second word used is “thumos” describing “an anger that comes to the boil and overflows and then subsides.” It is used in connection with the bowls of God’s wrath. While we are destined for tribulation (thlipsis) in this world as believers we are not destined for wrath (orge/thumos).
For the most part of the Book of Revelation it is tribulation and only at the very end does it become God’s wrath. During the time of Great Tribulation we see God’s judgements in the earth designed to bring about repentance (Revelation 9:20-21). When we see wrath there is no reprieve such as we see in the flood and in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Mystery of God then is the faithful Body of the Messiah; the faithful Church spiritually grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel and still here on earth at the very end of the time of Great Tribulation but is rescued at the sound of the seventh and last trumpet.
9. The Rapture and Resurrection
Revelation 11:15; Matthew 24:29-31; 1 Corinthians 15:52
The seventh trumpet sounded announces the end of this age and that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15)
It is at the sound of the seventh and last trumpet that the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Church occurs. The rapture and the resurrection are the one and the same event that occurs immediately after the tribulation of those last days just prior to the return of the Messiah our Lord Jesus. Let’s look at this…
(Matthew 24:29-31) “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
There are several things to note. Firstly we are told that it is immediately after the tribulation of those days that the shaking of the constellations and the people of the earth terrified of the wrath being poured out occurs. This is described in detail in Revelation Chapter 6:12-17 and in other Old Testament passages of scripture. Secondly the Lord Jesus is seen by all. It is a public event not a secret coming (Matthew 24:27) (Revelation 1:7). When the New Testament speaks of the Lord Jesus “coming as a thief” the emphasis is not on a secret coming but on the unexpectedness of His coming taking the world by surprise. Thirdly we see the angels come accompanied by a loud trumpet call and they gather the elect to meet the Lord Jesus in the air as He descends in the clouds to earth (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
The word “elect” used here in Matthew 24:31 is the standard word for believers in both Testaments, it cannot be restricted only to Jews in the Great Tribulation as taught in dispensational eschatology. Mark tells us that the elect saints are gathered “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13:27). Here we see those gathered from the four winds (the saints who have already died) and those from the ends of the earth (Those believers who are still alive in their physical bodies on earth) All of them are gathered together at once and at the same time all receive their glorified immortal bodies. This mirrors 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The fact that the elect are gathered from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens clearly describes a global event and not restricted to Jews living in Israel. Paul also speaks about this when he writes…
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Notice that Paul mentions at the sound of the last trumpet, being the seventh trumpet, is when the rapture and resurrection occur. This mirrors Revelation 11:15 where the trumpet blast announces the Second Coming of the Messiah to set up His kingdom on earth at the very end of the Time of Great Tribulation. It is also interesting to note that in Matthew 24:31 that the angels come with the blast of a trumpet, the same trumpet mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:52 and in Revelation 11:15.
All of these together are describing the one and the same event at the end of the age and immediately after the tribulation of those days, being the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Body of the Messiah. So we can see from what has been presented that the Church does appear after Revelation chapter 4:1.
10. John is Caught Up to Heaven
John is caught up to heaven in Revelation 4:1 because the Lord Jesus wanted to encourage the faithful Church being severely persecuted. All of the apostles were now dead and John was very old and the Church needed more comfort and encouragement to stand its ground in the face of extreme adversity and satanic opposition and a fresh revelation to sustain them in their hour of tribulation. After writing His personal letters to the seven assemblies through His servant John, the Lord Jesus shows John that He, the Messiah, still has everything under control in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth and then proceeds to show John the things that must soon take place.
The Book of Revelation applies to three time frames. Firstly, it applies to the corporate Body of the Messiah in John’s time. Secondly, it applies to the corporate Body of the Messiah down through history. Thirdly, it applies to the corporate Body of the Messiah at the end of this present age.
After the Lord Jesus has shown John His absolute power, heavenly glory and splendour and universal sovereignty over all things, He then gets John to write down what he has seen in the present tense as well as what will take place in the future (Revelation 1: 19) He also mentions the Mystery connected to the seven stars, being the bishops or overseers of the seven assemblies, and the seven lampstands being the seven assemblies corporately not only existing in John’s time but prophetically applying to the Church corporately in every age and especially at the end of this present age as the Church goes into the time of Great Tribulation. Those seen coming out of Great Tribulation, are coming out of it because they have already been in it (Revelation 7:14-17).
So it is clear that the Church does appear after Revelation Chapter 4:1 and is mentioned right through Revelation up to the blast of the seventh trumpet. It has been suggested that we actually see the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Church taking place between the sixth and the seventh seal.
So the Mystery of God mentioned in Ephesians Chapter 3:2-11 is the faithful Church that sees Gentile New Covenant believers spiritually grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel and the Mystery about to be accomplished in Revelation Chapter 10 is the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Church and the return of the Messiah to earth to destroy all opposition and to inaugurate and establish His Messianic kingdom for a thousand years!
This then is the Mystery of God that is accomplished at the end of the time of Great Tribulation when that last trumpet sounds and when all of us who belong to the Body of the Messiah, having been justified, redeemed, cleansed, sanctified and our conscience purged by His atoning blood, will be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed!” Amen!