John records in his Revelation of Jesus Christ the things that he had seen, the things that were then, and the things that would take place after those things (Revelation 1:19). As he writes about the events in the latter part of the period called the tribulation, John describes two kinds of people, those who follow the beast and those who are faithful to Jesus Christ. It is in this context that John writes, “Here is the patience of the saints” (Revelation 14:12, KJV).
The tribulation period is revealed using a number of different terms in Scripture: Jacob’s distress (Jeremiah 30:7), the seventieth seven (Daniel 9:24–27), the tribulation (Matthew 24:15–22), and the Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:2–10; 2 Thessalonians 2:2–5). As John narrates this cataclysmic time, he describes a series of angels and their messages. One proclaims an eternal gospel for all who live on the earth (Revelation 14:6–7), another declares the fall of Babylon the Great (Revelation 14:8), and a third angel announces that anyone who worships the beast and takes his mark will encounter God’s wrath eternally (Revelation 14:8–11). Immediately after this pronouncement of judgment, John observes that “here is the patience of the saints.” He identifies the saints as “the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
Throughout Scripture, justification before God—righteousness—is always and only by faith in Him (e.g., Habakkuk 2:4; Genesis 15:6; John 6:47; Hebrews 11:6; etc.). In each era or administration, God has engaged people in a different way, but He has always commanded them to believe in Him. Recall that God walked with Adam in the garden, and God spoke directly to Abraham. God spoke to many people in many different ways but most recently has spoken through His Son (Hebrews 1:1–2). Abraham believed in the Person he knew as Yahweh (Genesis 15:6) and who later came to earth as a man named Jesus (Luke 1:31–35; Philippians 2:6–8). In the latter days of the tribulation, people will still be commanded to believe in Jesus, and those called saints (or holy ones) will obey by having faith or belief in Jesus (Revelation 14:12b). John notes that here is the patience or perseverance of the saints, referencing the saints’ steadfastness in refraining from worshiping the beast (the Antichrist) and taking his mark (the mark apparently being the definitive sign of Antichrist worship).
We do not believe the “saints” with the patience or perseverance in the tribulation are the church. Earlier in the book of Revelation, John describes the activities of the churches, and it is notable that they are part of the “things which are” (Revelation 1:19, KJV), and they are described and exhorted specifically in chapters 2—3. In Revelation 4:1, John opens by saying, “After these things,” and the church is not mentioned again until we see them returning with Christ in Revelation 19:14. This is consistent with the idea that the event often referred to as the rapture will take place before the beginning of the Day of the Lord (see John 14:2–3; 1 Corinthians 15:50–52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–17; 2 Thessalonians 2:2–3).
With the church era complete before Revelation 4:1, and the Day of the Lord described after that, it is evident that the saints commended for their patience in Revelation 14:12 are saved during the tribulation. During that period of time, people who believe in Jesus will have a very difficult time. The world will be governed by the Antichrist, who will demand worship and severely persecute anyone who believes in Jesus (Revelation 13). Perhaps because of the extreme difficulty, there is a special blessing promised to those who believe in Jesus during that time, and they will receive rest from their labors when they die (Revelation 14:13). It seems that this is what John refers to as the patience, steadfastness, or perseverance of the saints (Revelation 14:12). The faith of these tribulation-era believers in Jesus Christ will cost them dearly while they are on the earth, and their end will most likely be martyrdom.