Three Categories of Saints
The word saints, is used throughout the Bible to refer to people that have accepted the rule of God in their lives, and is a common word for believers of all ages. There are three groups of saints, divided by when they lived. The first group are the Old Testament saints or godly ones who believe in God and who lived before the Day of Pentecost (Psalm 85:8).
The second are the Church age saints, also today called “born-again” believers and consists only of those saved people who live between the Day of Pentecost of Acts 2 and the Rapture of the Church from the earth (1 Corinthians 1:2). Saints who died before the Day of Pentecost and people who become saved after the Rapture of the Church are never part of the Church. Thus, the Church consists of a distinctive group of saints who live during one particular period of history—namely, those saints who are baptized with the Spirit and are “born again”. This causes some folks confusion and they tend to incorrectly apply the term “Church” to those saints who lived and died before the era of the Church (Acts 2 – The Rapture), or after the Church era (Post Rapture).
The third category are the Great Tribulation saints (Revelation 13:7) who accept Christ during the seven year span of the Great Tribulation. Even though the word “saints” is used several times during the Great Tribulation, it does not refer to those who were believers in Christ before the Great Tribulation began. Within the Great Tribulation saints, there is the group that are killed before the 3.5 year mid-point and those that die after the mid-point. The saints during the 7 year Great Tribulation include the 144,000 saved Jewish evangelists and the myriad of others converted mostly through their efforts (Revelation 7:3-17). They will also be resurrected after the Great Tribulation and during that Seventy-five-day Interval that comes between the end of the Great Tribulation and the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom.
This distinction is brought out in Revelation chapter twenty:
4And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years (ASV, 1901).
In verse 4, John describes who are to co-reign with the Lord Jesus in the Messianic Kingdom, and in this passage, they are the Church age saints and the Great Tribulation saints.
The first group are those who have died during the Church age, and who in verse 4a are those to whom “judgment was given”. This is a direct reference to the Judgment Seat of Christ that they endured. This refers to the Church saints who were raptured at some time preceding the Great Tribulation. The Rapture will include only the Church saints and it will occur before the Great Tribulation. They are referred to as “kings and priests” in John’s introductory verse of Revelation 1:6 (KJV). The judgment that these saints have already had the apostle John is referring to is the Judgment Seat of the Messiah, also known as known as the Bema Seat judgment (I Corinthians 3:13; Romans 14:10). This judgement is an evaluation of how well, or how poorly, each believer exercised their spiritual gifts while still alive in their natural bodies. In fact, it is the outcome of this judgment that will determine the position of each Church saint in the Kingdom.
The second group are the saints who accept Christ as their savior during the Great Tribulation. The first group in verse 4b are those who “had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus”are the believers who will be martyred during the first half of the Great Tribulation, and are mentioned at the time of the fifth seal opening (Revelation 6:9–11). The rest of the Great Tribulation saints are covered in verse 4c, and are those who “had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand”. Since the image of the beast, and the marking of worshippers of him with a mark on their forehead or arm are things initiated only at the middle of the Great Tribulation, this group of saints will be those martyred during the second half of the Great Tribulation. Both the Church saints and the Great Tribulation saints then will co- reign with the King for one thousand years. The Messianic Kingdom will cover the entire earth. But the land give to the Sons of Jacob will be what was promised to Abraham.
What happens to the Old Testament Saints?
After the second coming, we know Old Testament saints will be resurrected. This is stated by three Old Testament passages:
Your dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for your dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth the dead (ASV, 1901
2And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (ASV, 1901).
14I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction? repentance shall be hid from mine eyes (ASV, 1901).
With this resurrection, the unfulfilled covenantal promises will finally be fulfilled to them. One of these is the promise to become a “kingdom of priests”:
5Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: 6and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (ASV, 1901).
In the Messianic Kingdom the nation of Israel will be ruled by the Old Testament saints in the implied role of kings:
1And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of Jehovah thy God, to observe to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that Jehovah thy God will set thee on high above all the nations of the earth (ASV, 1901).
Finally, there is one particular passage where the Lord Jesus is speaking to the Jews before the Church was founded. In parable form, Jesus tells them that they can expect to become “kings” and “priests” and “rulers” in the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Luke 19:11-27). This passage tells us how Jesus Christ will determine who rules over how many cities in His Kingdom. Though it is a parable, it is widely viewed as referring to the way we will be selected as rulers, or kings.
The Organization of the Messianic Kingdom
Are all three groups of saints are going to be kings and priests in the Messianic Kingdom? The answer is yes, but in differing roles, and in different geographical places. Jesus, as the absolute ruler on earth, will govern the Messianic Kingdom. His throne will be in Jerusalem. The government will be split into two branches, a Jewish branch and a Gentile branch. It is quite clear from both Testaments that Jesus will sit upon David’s Throne in Jerusalem ruling the Jews and Gentiles. The Lord Jesus will be both King of Israel and the king of the world. Under His absolute authority He will rule with a “rod of iron.” The “rod of iron” that will characterize the rule of the government in the Kingdom will be implemented through various spheres and positions of authority.
The ruling hierarchy of the Gentile branch of government will be from Messiah, to the Church and the Great Tribulation saints, to the kings of the Gentile nations. The ruling hierarchy of the Jewish branch of government will be from the Messiah to David, to the Twelve Apostles, to the princes, to the judges and counselors, over all Israel.
David described this arrangement in Psalm 72:
1Give the king thy judgments, O God, And thy righteousness unto the king’s son. 2He will judge thy people with righteousness, And thy poor with justice. 3The mountains shall bring peace to the people, And the hills, in righteousness. 4He will judge the poor of the people, He will save the children of the needy, And will break in pieces the oppressor. 5They shall fear thee while the sun endureth, And so long as the moon, throughout all generations. 6He will come down like rain upon the mown grass, As showers that water the earth. 7In his days shall the righteous flourish, And abundance of peace, till the moon be no more. 8He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, And from the River unto the ends of the earth. 9They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; And his enemies shall lick the dust. 10The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall render tribute: The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. 11Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; All nations shall serve him. 12For he will deliver the needy when he crieth, And the poor, that hath no helper. 13He will have pity on the poor and needy, And the souls of the needy he will save. 14He will redeem their soul from oppression and violence; And precious will their blood be in his sight: 15And they shall live; and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: And men shall pray for him continually; They shall bless him all the day long. 16There shall be abundance of grain in the earth upon the top of the mountains; The fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: And they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. 17His name shall endure for ever; His name shall be continued as long as the sun: And men shall be blessed in him; All nations shall call him happy. 18Blessed be Jehovah God, the God of Israel, Who only doeth wondrous things: 19And blessed be his glorious name for ever; And let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and Amen. 20The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended (ASV, 1901).
As we can see, in Psalm 72, the different Gentile nations will have “kings” over them. These kings will have their natural bodies, while the saints who will be over them will have their spiritual, resurrected, and glorified bodies. The individual kings will be the supreme rulers over their own nations, but they themselves will be under the authority of the Church and Great Tribulation saints who will be essentially kings over the lesser kings.
In conclusion, saints in all three of the categories of the Old Testament, the Church, and the Great Tribulation will all in some manner be “priests” and “kings” in the Messianic Kingdom.
One Point of Confusion
One point of the confusion is the misapplication of the term “church” by Covenant Theology, which has called Israel of the Old Testament the “church of the Old Testament”. This is simply not true. In contrast with the Covenant Theology view of the nature of the Church, Dispensational Theology asserts that the Church consists only of those saved people, both Gentile and Jew, who lived between the Day of Pentecost of Acts 2 and the Rapture of the Church from the earth. Saints who died before the Day of Pentecost and people who become saved after the Rapture of the Church are never part of the Church. Thus, the Church consists of a distinctive group of saints who live during one particular period of history—namely, those saints who are baptized with the Spirit.
It is essential to note that the Dispensational Theology view of the nature of the Church also leads logically to several conclusions. Israel and the Church are not the same because there is something distinctive about the relationship of the Holy Spirit to saints between the Day of Pentecost and the Rapture of the Church. There are distinctions between groups of saints throughout history, (Old Testament saints, Church saints, Great Tribulation saints). The fact that saints will be on earth during the Great Tribulation period does not require the Church to be on earth during the Great Tribulation, and there will be more than one resurrection of dead saints at different times of history, not just one general resurrection of saints.
Daniel E. Woodhead