In many Bible versions the word “remnant” is not found in Revelation 12:17. Is it correct to insist that the passage refers to a remnant?
In order to answer your question I have to deal with Hebrew and Greek terminology. Please stay with me as I examine the evidence. Based on the meaning of that terminology and its use in Revelation, I maintain that the concept of the remnant is found in Revelation 12:17.
1. Theological Comment: The Scripture consistently teaches that God has always had a remnant people. As the enemy of God has attempted to destroy God’s servants, the Lord has always preserved a group of faithful followers through whom He continues to fulfill His salvific design for humanity. This remnant has played a significant role in the cosmic conflict, and its very existence indicates that God is still directly involved in the conflict on behalf of His servants. At the time of the end the dragon and its allies have one common goal: the extermination of what is left of God’s people (Rev. 13:15). At that critical hour in the conflict, God is again preserving for Himself a faithful remnant that keep His commandments and have the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17).
2. Greek Terminology: In Revelation 12:17 the Greek adjective translated “remnant” is loipos. According to Greek dictionaries, it refers to what remains or is left after a particular action has taken place and can be translated as “the rest” (Rev. 9:20), “the remnant,” or “those who remain” (see Rev. 11:13). In some contexts it could also mean “others” (see Acts 2:37). Loipos belongs to a family of words directly related to the idea of the remnant. The verb leipō means “to leave behind/over; to lack” (Titus 1:5; 3:13) and is found in several variant compounds. For instance:kataleipō = “to leave behind,” “to leave a remainder” (see Rom. 11:4); hupoleipō = “to leave a remainder” (see verse 3), and perileipomai = “to leave behind” (see 1 Thess. 4:15, 17). The verb and the different verbal compounds could be used to express the idea of a remnant, to what remains or is left.
The Greek version of the Old Testament uses the verb leipō to translate the Hebrew verbs ša´ar(“to be left remaining”) and palat (“to escape”). The Greek verb and its variant compounds are sometimes used to refer to a surviving remnant (e.g., Isa. 10:19). This information indicates that the concept of a remnant is not foreign to the verbs. Concerning the noun loipos, used in Revelation 12:17, the Greek version used it to translate the Hebrew terms yeter (“remnant”) andšecēcerit (“remnant”). Again, it expresses the concept of a remnant. The evidence summarized above indicates that in the case of loipos we are dealing with a term that is closely associated with the idea of a remnant—what remains or is left behind.
3. Context: The use of remnant terminology in the book of Revelation clearly supports and reaffirms the conviction that the concept is present in Revelation 12:17. The word “remnant” (loipos) is used eight times in Revelation. It is used to refer to the rest of the trumpets (Rev. 8:13), to those who survive after a catastrophe (Rev. 9:20: the rest of the people not destroyed during the sixth trumpet; Rev. 11:13: the inhabitants of the city who were not killed; the survivors), the rest of the worshippers of the beast who were finally killed (Rev. 19:21), and the rest of the dead resurrected after the millennium (Rev. 20:5). The word is also used to designate God’s people. In the church of Sardis there is a remnant, but the church is exhorted to wake up because that remnant is about to die (Rev. 3:2). In the church of Thyatira a faithful remnant has rejected the teachings of Jezebel (Rev. 2:24).
This concern for a faithful remnant in Revelation, together with the use of the biblical terminology and the teaching that God has always preserved for Himself in the cosmic conflict a faithful remnant, supports the conclusion that the term loipos in Revelation 12:17 is referring to God’s remnant at the time when the conflict is to come to an end.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is former director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.