Because folks are still assembling.
The word church in the Bible is one of those words that causes you to immediately think “New Testament” local church every time you see it used in scripture. However, the word church does not always refer to a group of New Testament Christians organized together into a local church.
The word church is literally a “called out assembly.” Thus, Stephen called the traveling assembly of Jews following Moses in the wilderness after the Exodus “the church in the wilderness,” (Acts 7:38). That was anything but a group of born again Christians.
Likewise, when you see churches in the book of Revelation, you can’t immediately assume that these are born again Christians meeting in local churches. As you can see from the answer to Will the church go through the Tribulation? the body of Christ is gone during the tribulation.
These churches are made up of tribulation saints who are called out to assemble together. They are not made up of born again Christians. There are two things you read about the saints in these churches that let you know these are tribulation saints and not church age saints.
First, the first thing said to each of these churches is “I know thy works.” These saints are saved by faith and works in the tribulation and thus they are evaluated on their works. Notice in Rev 12:17, the saints “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Likewise in Rev 14:12, the saints “keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” This is the faith and works salvation spoken of by James in Jas 2:18-26.
Second, the saints in each of these churches have to overcome and when they do they are granted a promise. Look at the promises granted for overcoming. They have absolutely nothing to do with anything promised to a born again Christian.
· Ephesus2:7 – promise to eat of the tree of life. Tribulation saints need that promise for life and healing (Rev 22:2; Eze 47:12) but church age saints with glorified bodies and eternal life don’t. We have no need to eat of the tree of life.
· Smyrna2:11 – promise to not be hurt of the second death. Tribulation saints need that promise (Rev 20:6, 14; 21:8) because they are not judged until the white throne (Rev 20:11-15). But church age saints have already passed from death unto life (Jn 5:24) and will never face the second death. There is no need for us to overcome anything to get that promise.
· Pergamos 2:17 – promise to eat of the hidden manna. Tribulation saints need that promise to survive in the tribulation since they will not be able to buy and sell without the mark (Rev 13:16-17); God will feed them with manna (Mic 7:14-15; Lam 5:9, etc). We have no need of hidden manna.
· Thyatira 2:26-27 – promise to rule over the nations. Tribulation saints need that promise to encourage them during their bondage in the tribulation and to reinforce the promise that God already gave to the Jews in Is 60:10-12. We have already been promised a reign with Jesus (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 1:5-6) and that reign is conditioned upon suffering with him, not overcoming.
· Sardis3:5 – promise to not blot out his name from the book of life. Tribulation saints need that promise because they can have their names blotted out if they take the mark, for instance (Rev 14:9-11 [compare Ex 32:32]). Church age saints can never be blotted out of the book of life (Rom 8:38-39; Jn 6:37).
· Philadelphia 3:12 – promise to write upon him the name of God, the name of the city of God and a new name and to make him a pillar in the temple of God. These promises concern tribulation saints (Rev 14:1, for example). When folks are saved in the church age, they are immediately placed in the household of God that grows into a holy temple (Eph 2:19-22) and we don’t have to overcome anything for that to happen.
· Laodicea3:21 – promise to sit with Jesus in his throne. Again this is a promise to tribulation saints because church age saints are already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6) the moment they are saved.
When you study out each passage carefully, then you can see that these churches in Revelation are not evidence that the Church (the body of Christ) is still here during the tribulation. We are gone at the rapture and these churches are made up of tribulation saints who have to overcome and endure to the end in order to be saved (Matt 24:13). Anyway, as church age saints we have already overcome (1 Jn 4:4; 5:4). Amen!!
Hope this helps,
Pastor Bevans Welder