The people of God in the final conflict are called the “remnant” (Greek: loipôn) in Revelation 12:17. This end-time designation looks back on a long Old Testament tradition. The original meaning of “remnant” is a group of people who are “survivors of a disaster.” Due to flood, earthquake or conquest, a tribe or people could come in jeopardy of being totally destroyed (what we sometimes call genocide today). The survival of a remnant after any of these disasters brought hope that the tribe or people could be restored to greatness in the future (see Gen. 7:23). Within the Old Testament, a moral or spiritual meaning came to be attached to “remnant.” The remnant was a “believing minority” through whom God could ultimately save the human race from extinction in spite of the presence of sin and evil in the world.
As a result, “remnant” was used in three different theological ways in the OT. 1) Historical Remnant. Any group in the past that has experienced a mighty deliverance of God, such as the descendants of Noah and the Israel of the Exodus. Such a group is visible, nameable and countable. It is a surviving witness to God’s prior salvation, whether or not it remains faithful to God’s original purpose for the group (see 2 Chr. 30:6)
2) Faithful Remnant. This means those among a given historical remnant who remain faithful to the original message and mission of that historical movement. These are those God knows are faithful to Him (2 Tim. 2:19). They are, thus, less visible and countable to human eyes than the historical remnant (1 Kings 19:14-18).
3) Eschatological Remnant. The eschatological remnant is made up of all who will be found faithful during the apocalyptic woes of the end-time (Joel 2:31-32). There is reason to believe that this eschatological remnant will reach far beyond the borders of the historical or faithful remnants of the past (Isa. 66:19-20).
The book of Revelation contains all three type of remnant. The historical remnant in Revelation is the seed of the woman that appears at a particular point in history (Rev. 12:17). The church of Thyatira contains an example of a faithful remnant in the midst of apostasy (Rev. 2:24). And there will be a surprising, expansive end-time remnant that emerges just before the close of probation (Rev. 11:13). It is God’s purpose that the historical remnant faithfully prepare the way for the greater remnant to come.