Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 2 – Judgment of the Nations
by Gerald R. Thompson
Rev. 7:9-17 (summary) – A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, stood before the throne of God clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Rev. 13:7-10 (summary) – Also it [the Beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. … Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
Rev. 15:2-3a – And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.
Rev. 20:4 – Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
According to the humanist belief system, when a person dies that is the end (there is no immortal soul). So upon your death, you are gone, lost. But that is not God’s perspective. To Him, when you die, you are transitioned, either to eternal life, or to eternal death. When a believer dies they are not lost, they are redeemed.
The Tribulation will certainly be a time of great transition – what the Bible likens to a harvest. That is, a massive number of human deaths where the fate of immortal souls is forever determined. It will be a time of great harvest for God when in all likelihood many millions of people turn to Christ. We don’t know how many people will become believers at that time, or how many will be martyred, but the Bible simply says the martyrs alone will be a great multitude that no one can count. Rev. 7:9.
I was taught as a youngster that the Rapture would occur before the Tribulation so the Church would not have to go through it. A supposedly big clue in support of this position was that the Church is nowhere mentioned in Revelation after the letters to the churches (chapters 2-3) and prior to the marriage supper of the Lamb in Chapter 19, when the Bride of Christ (the Church) is presented. In other words, the Church is supposedly never mentioned in the chapters dealing with various judgments on the earth. But this is simply not true.
The word church is nowhere mentioned in those chapters, to be sure, but there are plenty of instances of the word saints. And who are the saints, if not the Church, the Bride of Christ? If you have read other commentaries on biblical prophecy you have probably come across the theory that the Tribulation saints are saved individuals, but they are different from, or separate from, the Church. I caution you not to accept as truth what is in reality mere conjecture. Let’s see where the textual evidence leads us, first.
The Bible uses the word saints and sometimes holy ones to refer to individual Christians. We’re not talking about heroes of the faith who have been canonized as saints because they have performed three miracles. The Bible never talks about saints that way. We are talking about ordinary Christians. Every single Christian.
Early Christians were often called saints, such as in Acts 9:13, 32, 41. When Saul persecuted the Church, he referred to them as saints. Acts 26:10. The book of Romans was written to the saints in Rome. Rom. 1:7. Similarly for the books of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. But perhaps 1Cor. 1:2 says it best, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” In other words, saints = Christians = Church.
On the other hand, the Bible never uses the word church to refer to an institution, or an organization. Church simply refers to the body of individual Christians or a local group of them. Thus, 1 Cor. 14:33 – “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints …” So when Revelation speaks of the saints, this is the Church.
For those of you who may lean toward the Dispensational view that God’s program of salvation for Jews always was, and always will be, separate from God’s program for the Church, note the curious statement in Rev. 15:3. Here we are told the Tribulation Saints will be singing the song of the Lamb and the song of Moses. Wait – what? The song of Moses is distinctly a feature of the O.T. and is part of the legacy of Israel, not the Church. So why are the saints – either O.T. or N.T. saints – singing songs from both testaments (i.e., dispensations)? Because in God’s mind, there has only ever been one program for salvation – faith is counted as righteousness. Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:22.
And what we see happening to the saints – the Church – in Revelation isn’t pretty. Rather than sitting in a heavenly observation deck somewhere, behind safety glass in an air conditioned room, the saints are on the ground suffering plenty. This is summed up in Rev. 13:7-10, where it is said the Antichrist will make war against the saints. There are a couple of things worth noting from this text. First, it refers to the endurance and faith of the saints, which necessitates they actually suffer the effects of war in order for them to endure.
Second, the Tribulation saints are numbered among those whose name has been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb. This phrase, before the foundation of the world, should call to mind Eph. 1:4 – “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him,” a verse universally associated with the Church, the body of Christ. In other words, the people who the Antichrist will wage war against will be the Church.
We have the first mention of martyrs for Christ in Rev. 6:9-11. That Tribulation saints are in view is strongly suggested by verse 11: “Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” The parallels with other texts relating to the Tribulation saints cannot be ignored. For example, each of these saints has a white robe, the same as the saints mention in Rev. 7:9, 13, the latter specifically referred to as coming out of the Tribulation. Rev. 7:14.
Another parallel is the implication that the martyrs in Rev. 6 were all killed in the same manner, and thus not likely to be martyrs from prior centuries who would have died many different kinds of deaths. This tracks with Rev. 20:4, referring to martyrs who had all been beheaded and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands, necessitating that the martyrs of Rev. 20 were also Tribulation saints. Rev. 20:4 does not use the words church or saints, yet the context is clearly a description of Christians who will be alive when the beast kingdom rules the world.
Ah, but someone will say, “the Tribulation saints are merely those people who became Christians after the Rapture.” Well, the Bible only says when these people died, not when they became Christians. It is entirely consistent with the text and context of Revelation to understand the martyred saints coming out of the Tribulation as including those who became Christians prior to the Tribulation. The real question is whether there will even be a Rapture before the end of the Tribulation. Since this is a significant topic, I will devote a full chapter to discuss it shortly.
Another curious idea with a wide circulation (supposedly based on 2Th. 2:7) is that the Holy Spirit will be “taken out of the way” prior to the coming of the Antichrist. According to proponents of this view, people cannot be saved during the Tribulation in the same sense they can now. In other words, the entire ministry of the Holy Spirit will be changed and God will be unable to save people by His Spirit. Thus (supposedly), the martyrs coming out of the Tribulation may be saints, but they are not part of the Church, the body of Christ because a person needs to be indwelt by the Spirit to be part of the Church.
Nothing in the text of 2Th. 2:7 even remotely suggests this reading, and it is a prime example of eisegesis – reading something into the scripture that isn’t there. But as this idea is widely taught today, I will also devote an entire section to dealing with the Ministry of the Holy Spirit later on.
For me, it is enough to know that Rev. 20:4 describes the Tribulation saints as those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God.” If that description was given for anyone living in the 11th century or the 16th century, that would be enough to label them a Christian. So the Tribulation saints must be Christians, too. Say it out loud: C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n-s. Who else could they possibly be? Saved believers who are saints in Christ but are not part of His body the Church? There ain’t no such thing.
* Ver. 8.0. Copyright © 2013-2020 Gerald R. Thompson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version.