Does the Book of Revelation Teach that the Church Will be ‘Raptured’?
As I mentioned in my previous article “Should Christians Still Believe in the Rapture?,” the rapture doctrine is popular and vigorously defended by its advocates. But is it biblical? Does the Bible teach that the church will be taken off the earth in something called “the rapture” prior to or any time within a seven-year period? There is no verse that anyone can point to that states unequivocally that the church will be taken to heaven in any way related to a seven-year period of time.
A popular argument for a pre-tribulation rapture is the claim that while the “church” is mentioned 19 times in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation, in chapters 4–18 “there is absolute silence.”1 Here’s how Ed Hindson and Mark Hitchcock defend this view in their book Can We Still Believe in the Rapture?:
The word “church” (Greek, ekklesia) is found 20 times in Revelation. It’s used 19 times in chapters 1-3, then the word does not appear until Revelation 22:16. After Revelation 3, the next time we meet the bride of Christ, she’s in heaven with Jesus, preparing to return with Him to earth (Revelation 19:7-8). The absence of the church on earth from Revelation 4 to Revelation 18 is consistent with the pretrib view of Revelation 3:10.
It’s more accurate to say that the words “churches” and “church” are found 19 times in chapters 1-3. What we’ll see when we examine chapters 1-3 of Revelation that the worldwide church is not mentioned. Only local churches that existed in Asia Minor when Revelation was revealed to John are mentioned.
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Similar to the way Hindson and Hitchcock places a gap in time between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel 9:24–27, they place the same type of gap between the first verse of Revelation 4 and the end of the 18th chapter. It’s in Revelation 4:1 that the Church supposedly will be “raptured” because there is no mention of “the church” in chapters 4–18.
Let’s test their claim. The first three chapters of Revelation deal with seven first-century historical churches, assemblies of believers in Asia Minor: the church in Ephesus (2:1), the church in Smyrna (2:8), the church in Pergamum (2:12), the church in Thyatira (2:18), the church in Sardis (3:1), the church in Philadelphia (3:7), and the church in Laodicea (3:14). There is no mention of “the church” as a universal body of believers around the world in Revelation 1–3. If Jesus meant the universal church at a time just before a so-called “rapture,” He could/would have used a phrase like “the whole church” (Rom. 16:23). Instead, Jesus refers to actual congregations in a limited geographical area in the first century.
We know this is true since there were other local churches in the Roman Empire: the church in Rome, the “church which is at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1), “all the churches of the Gentiles” (16:4), the church that met in the house of Aquila and Prisca (16:5), “all the churches” (16:16), Corinth (1:2; 2 Cor. 2:1), Galatia (1:2: “churches of Galatia”), Philippi, Colossae, and Jerusalem (Acts 5:11; 8:1).
If the number of times a word appears is important, and Revelation 4–19 is said to be about Israel, why does the word Israel only appear once after the supposed rapture of the Church, and not until Revelation 7:4? One would think that if the church is in view in the first three chapters because the words church and churches are used 19 times, then shouldn’t we expect to find the word Israel used more than once after chapter three if the entire seven-year period is about Israel? The word Israel does appear in 21:12 and the word churches appears in 22:16. Notice that it’s not the word “church” (singular) that’s found in Revelation 22:16 but “churches” (plural) (see 1:4, 11).
So then, it’s misleading to claim that the word “church” is used 19 times in chapters 1-3 and then claim that the church around the world in the future will be taken to heaven in something called a “rapture.” That’s not how the words “church” and ‘churches” are being used in Revelation. Hindson and Hitchcock are aware of this argument against their position but refuse to interact with it since it would decimate their rapture doctrine.
- Hitchcock, Could the Rapture Happen Today?, 73. [↩]