The word ‘church’ is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia. While the English word ‘church’ originally meant the house of a lord, the Greek word meant a political assembly or town meeting--in fact, in the New Testament it is translated ‘assembly’ when it doesn’t refer to the people of God. In the New Testament ekklesia is used to refer to gatherings of Christians, though it is understood that all Christians together constituted the Church. It is the word ekklesia that does not appear between Revelation 3:22 and Revelation 22:16.
The use of the word, by the Jews, pre-dates Christianity by more than two centuries. As the Jews migrated to the Hellenistic world, they began to translate their scripture into Greek. The Hebrew word for assembly, qahal, was translated ekklesia. It is used sixty-four times in the Old Testament. Even the assemblies of Moses and Nehemiah are called ekklesia. When the New Testament was written, it was written in Greek, using the terminology already developed by Jewish scholars to express their ideas in the Greek language. A first century Christian, reading the scriptures in Greek would not have been surprised to see God’s Word refer to His people as the ekklesia. It would have spoken to the continuity between the Old and New Testaments.
This continuity flatly contradicts another claim made by many pre-tribulationists: that the Church is not mentioned in the Old Testament. In the first century Christians would have understood that they were the ekklesia of God, just as the people in the wilderness or the worshippers in Jerusalem. The only difference being that they were a part of the covenant written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-33) and not on tablets of stone.
But if the word ekklesia isn’t used for nineteen of Revelation’s twenty-two chapters, does that mean the Church isn’t spoken of? Not at all! God’s people are discussed throughout the book. We’ve even seen some of these references in our discussion already:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, 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!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”Between chapters three and twenty-two we read of the elders whose blood has been washed in the blood (5:8-9), the martyrs (6:9-11), the multitude mentioned above, we learn of the Beast who wars against the saints (13:7). There are so many references to the Church, in fact, that I am not going to attempt to list them, but if you were to do no more than a word search of ‘saints’ in the Book of Revelation, you’ll find it alone occurs thirteen times.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “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.
Pre-tribulationists argue that the word saint, in this context, refers not to the Church, but to the Jews, who have seen their covenant renewed now that the Church has been raptured away. But the scripture I did choose to quote makes it very clear that this is not the case: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before 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.” Out of the Tribulation will come a Church made up, not just of Jews, but of every nation.
The myth of the missing Church hinges on the word ekklesia. It’s an important word, but it is not the only word the Bible uses to describe God’s people. Like so many other aspects of pre-tribulationist position, accepting this ‘proof’ of the teaching depends on accepting the teaching itself first.
This is the final of my planned blog posts on this subject, but I realize it is a rich field with many more questions to consider and maybe in the future I will do just that, but for now I hope these posts have helped clarify this debate for you. If you’ve any questions, please ask.