There are different types of saints in the Bible. There are Old Testament saints, New Testament saints, Tribulation saints, and Millennial saints. These are individuals who are saved in different dispensations. All saints are saved by faith as the epistle to the Hebrews Chapter 11 so clearly shows. From Abel, all the way down through history, men have turned in repentance to God, believed His promise, and been justified by faith before God. God has administered His grace differently in various dispensations.
Under the Old Testament regime men looked forward to Calvary’s cross, seen only in the shadows cast by animal sacrifices. Since Christ died and rose again, we look back to a completed work of redemption. Whether saints look forward or backward, all are redeemed through one sacrifice of the Lamb of God and nobody is saved by keeping the law or any other good work they may perform.
Old Testament saints could not go to heaven after death. The sacrifices they offered only covered their sin until the blood of Christ removed their sins for ever. When Old Testament saints died they went to paradise, called “Abraham’s bosom”. In sheol (Hebrew) they waited for Christ to come and take paradise into heaven.
When Christ rose from the dead, He was “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). When He arose, the graves of the Old Testament saints were opened and they “came out of the graves after His resurrection” (Matthew 27:53). When Jesus “ascended up on high” and “led captivity captive” (Ephesians 4:8-9), He took the Old Testament saints into heaven. Paradise was relocated to heaven! (2 Corinthians 12:1-5).
Since Christ ascended to the throne of heaven, the souls of Christians who die, depart to be with Christ and are clothed with a spiritual body (2 Corinthians 5:1-4) until our physical bodies are raised from the grave in resurrection power at the rapture of the Church:
The dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Only “the dead in Christ” will rise at the Rapture. To be “in Christ” one must be in the Body of Christ and this is only possible in this Church age. Paul told the Christians:
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many (1 Corinthians 12:13-14).
To the Colossian Church Paul wrote:
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church (Colossians 1:24).
And again to the Ephesian Church:
And hath put all things under his (Christ’s) feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23).
Paul began his epistles to churches as “the saints in Christ Jesus” a title used exclusively of saints in the Church age.
New Testament saints cease to be Jews and Gentiles in God’s sight. The Body of Christ is a unique company; Christ is the Head.
For as many of you as have been baptized (by the Spirit) into Christ have put on Christ. There is NEITHER Jew NOR Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are ALL ONE in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27-28).
In Old Testament times, when a Gentile left his national gods to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he became a Jew; ie. a Jewish proselyte (Acts 2:10). Proselytes were called “strangers in Israel”. There were 153,600 “strangers in Israel” in Solomon’s day (2 Chronicles 2:17).
Saints who are “in Christ” are therefore uniquely those who are saved in this Church age and are in the Body of Christ, which is His Church. Therefore when we read of the Rapture, that “the dead in Christ shall rise first”, the Bible is distinguishing between Church- age saints and saints from other ages. Old Testament saints and tribulation saints are not “in Christ”. When Christ returns, martyrs, slain by Antichrist, are raised.
I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20:4).
Millennial saints are not “in Christ” and they are raised 1,000 years after Christ returns to earth.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5).
Christendom is not the Church
In Revelation Chapters 2 and 3 there are messages to seven local churches in cities of Asia. The Church of Jesus Christ has only saved members but local churches have some saved and some unsaved. Local chuches are better called Christendom. The parables in Matthew 13 make it clear there will always be tares among the wheat.
Throughout Christendom there are sincere souls who genuinely are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus. These may not have a perfect understanding of Biblical doctrine but they know Christ and have experienced the new birth. The seven churches of Asia are representative of seven stages of Christendom from the beginning of the Church Age to the Rapture when all the saved will be caught up to be with Christ. The unsaved within Christendom will be left behind to enter the great Tribulation.
The chart on page 21 shows the seven stages of Christendom from Pentecost to the Rapture. Within each stage of Church history there has been a remnant that are called “overcomers”. Overcomers are truely saved within each stage of Christendom. All Jews are part of God’s chosen people but not all Jews are saved. Christendom was pure at its beginnings, but has apostatized and will go into the Tribulation as “Mystery Babylon the Great” (Revelation Chs.17 & 18) after the true Church is removed at the Rapture.
The Church was a Mystery
Jesus spoke very little about the Church because He came in the Old Testament era of Law. He told his disciples:
Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 10:5-7).
But this changed after Jesus rose from the dead when He gave the great commission to the same disciples:
He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature(Mark 16:15).
Before Pentecost, Israel was God’s witness on earth. After Pentecost, the Church was God’s witness on earth. The Holy Spirit could not come until Christ returned to heaven and was glorified (John 7:39). Only then did He and the Father send the Holy Spirit to baptise believers into the Body of Christ (John 14:16-17).
The mystery of the Church was revealed to Paul and was previously hidden from men and angels. Paul wrote:
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest… made known to all nations for the obedience of faith (Romans 16:25-26).
In Ephesians Chapter 3 Paul defines the “mystery church”
…the mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel (Ephesians 3:4-6).
Until revealed to Paul, the truth of the Church as the Body of Christ with a unique identity as “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11), was unknown and did not exist. Even the angels had no knowledge of the Church (Ephesians 3:10).
The Truth of the Rapture of the Church is Also a Mystery
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
In Romans chapter 11 Paul indicates the Church will be complete before Israel turns back to the Lord
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved … (Romans 11:25-26).
The expression, “the fulness of the Gentiles” indicates that the mystery (hidden) Church which is predominently Gentile, will have a finite number and when that number is reached the Father will send the Son to snatch away His Bride before Israel’s 70th “week” begins. The Church age will finish and Israel will again be God’s witness on earth.
Christendom is not the Church of Jesus Christ. At the Rapture, only those “in Christ”, the born-again believers, are caught up; the rest of Christendom will go into the Tribulation.