“Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” – Revelation 3:10 (NKJV)
Bible prophecy teachers often declare that Revelation 3:10 is the most decisive proof-text in the Word of God where the timing of the rapture is concerned. Because Jesus has promised to “keep” His faithful from the “hour of temptation” – which such teachers contend is Daniel’s 70th Week, most often referred to as the 'Tribulation Period' – He must have had a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church in view at the time. There is no other reasonable way to interpret this promise, or so it is alleged.
In the following article, I would like to take a look a detailed look at this passage and do two things: 1) demonstrate that it cannot reference a pre-tribulation rapture, and 2) suggest an alternative interpretation that, I believe, better fits the context and better harmonizes with other portions of scripture as well as with the nuances of the underlying Greek.
Revelation chapters 2 and 3 record seven exhortations that our Lord dictated to the Apostle John during the latter’s exile on the island of Patmos, during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. The audience? Seven Christian congregations located in various cities throughout Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The remarks found in Revelation 3:10 were specifically addressed to Christians residing in the city of Philadelphia, and are excerpted from a longer discourse, the entirety of which I will quote here in order to establish the proper context in which the verse in question must be understood:
7 “And to the angel [or messenger] of the church in Philadelphia write,The Key of David
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:
8 “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.
9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.
10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
13 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:It’s interesting to note that Jesus introduces Himself differently to each of the seven churches, and always in terms that highlight some aspect of His person and authority with regard to the message He has for each church. In His letter to the church at Philadelphia, He is “holy” and “true.” He has the “key of David”. What He opens, no one can shut; and what He shuts, no one can open. What did He mean by these things?
The phrase “key of David” is found one other place in scripture, Isaiah 22:22, where it is referenced in the course of a judgment that God decreed against a man named Shebna, who was the treasurer or governor of the palace in the days of King Hezekiah. Shebna was evidently a prideful, ambitious man, as was evidenced, at least in part, to the fact that he had hewn out a kingly tomb for himself (see Isaiah 22:15-16). Seeing his pride, God pronounced judgment against him, promising that he would be thrown away “like a ball” into a foreign land, where he would die, and that another would take his place:
19 So I will drive you out of your office,The reference here is clear: in Revelation 3:7, Jesus is conferring upon Himself the role of Eliakim, who became governor of the king’s house and a man of great authority, likely second only to the king. Indeed, the key of David is said to rest “on his shoulder,” referencing the weight of responsibility for the kingdom. This phrase also appears in Isaiah 9:6, where it is a prophetic reference to Christ – “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder…”
And from your position he will pull you down.
20 ‘ Then it shall be in that day,
That I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah;
21 I will clothe him with your robe
And strengthen him with your belt;
I will commit your responsibility into his hand.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
And to the house of Judah.
22 The key of the house of David
I will lay on his shoulder;
So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
And he shall shut, and no one shall open.
23 I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place,
And he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house.
In II Samuel 7, God promised David that his house, kingdom and throne would be “established forever;” and while David had many physical descendants who sat on the throne after him, this promise ultimately finds its fulfillment in the Messiah. Jesus is literally the “son of David” through both His adoptive father, Joseph (see the genealogy listed in Matthew 1) and His mother, Mary (see Luke 3). In fact, it’s interesting to note that, on His mother’s side, Jesus is descended from David’s son Nathan, rather than from Solomon. Solomon’s line eventually produced Jeconiah, who was cursed by God to the effect that none of his descendants would rule in Judah:
“Thus says the LORD: 'Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.'"This is interesting when you consider that Eliakim obtained his office when Shebna was deposed, just as Solomon’s line lost its right to the throne through the curse on Jeconiah, even though Solomon had directly succeeded David. In this way, Eliakim seems to parallel Jesus on two fronts. The “key of David” is thus authority over the kingdom of David, conferred directly upon Jesus by God the Father, and passed down to Him through the lineages of His parents as well. In this way, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises made to both David and Abraham, as He is the descendant and heir of both. The land and the kingdom inheritance are His by both divine and natural right, and will be conferred upon Him at His second coming:
“13I was watching in the night visions,Matthew 25:31:
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.”II Timothy 4:1:
“I charge [you] therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom…”And so we see that Jesus addresses Himself to the Philadelphian believers as the one having authority over David’s kingdom, with power to open it to whomever He will, or to shut it against whomever He will. This power is reflected in the various judgments that Jesus will dispense when He comes and His kingdom is established, as we are told in the gospels and the epistles. To some, He will open the kingdom, but others will be shut out, just as the wicked of Noah’s generation were shut out of the ark when judgment fell. Note the following references:
15 “And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. 16 So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.” (Note here that God Himself shut the door of the ark, locking Noah in and the wicked out. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, had the power of the open door long before His physical incarnation).Matthew 8:11-12:
11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”Matthew 25:10-12:
10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…An Open Door
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels…
46 “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
8 “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.As the one who has the key of David (the authority of the kingdom), Jesus tells the Philadelphia believers that the kingdom is open to them. Unlike most of the other churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, Jesus has nothing negative to say about these believers. He does not rebuke them or counsel them to repent. From this, we can infer that the Philadelphia Christians were good and faithful servants in the eyes of their Lord. They are wise virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Had the judgment taken place then, they would have inherited the kingdom.
Those who are of the “synagogue of Satan” (whom Jesus also mentions to the church at Smyrna, Revelation 2:9) are unbelieving Jews who were persecuting the church. Note that Jesus differentiates the “church” from the “synagogue” here. The term “synagogue” is distinctly Jewish, and provides us with the identity of those to whom Jesus is referring. These are the physical descendants of Abraham who have been cut off from the covenants of promise because they rejected the Messiah. They are counted as children of Satan, just as those to whom Jesus referred in John 8:37-44. They are liars, just as he is a liar:
44 “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”Jesus informs the Philadelphia believers that He will vindicate them before this “synagogue of Satan,” causing them – the unbelieving Jews – to understand that He has loved them. This does not necessarily mean that these Jews will be condemned in the judgment; it merely indicates that they will ultimately come to know that those whom they are persecuting are the Messiah’s true disciples. When Jesus comes again, there will be many god-fearing Jews who will believe on Him, and they, too, will be saved:
9 “It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.Romans 11:19-27:
10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. 11 In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.”
19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? 25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:They will know that Jesus has loved the true believers because those individuals, who are counted as “wheat,” will be separated from false believers or “tares,” and will be glorified with the Lord:
“ The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
27 For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!As to the reference to these Jews coming to “worship” the Philadelphia Christians, this is not a reference to worship in the sense that God is worshipped (the scriptures clearly condemn the worship of men). The Greek word translated “worship” in this passage is proskyneō, which, although it usually refers to the worship of God, can also simply mean to reverence or express respect, and these renderings seem more fitting here given that true worship is reserved for God alone, and also given that believers will be given authority under Christ and become co-rulers with Him. Certainly, this would entitle them to some degree of respect, as they will be acting in Christ’s legal stead in the kingdom:
26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—II Timothy 2:12:
27 ‘ He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’
12 “If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”Revelation 20:4:
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.Kept from the Hour
10 “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”On the surface, and if read in isolation, this verse certainly could be interpreted as the promise of a pretribulation rapture to Heaven; however, when we take the context and other scriptures into account, that interpretation becomes untenable.
First, we have already seen that Jesus introduced Himself to the church at Philadelphia in terms that underscore His authority in the kingdom of David and as the heir to David’s throne. This is necessarily the Millennial Kingdom, not Heaven. David never ruled in Heaven, nor was his throne ever located there. His throne was in Jerusalem. God the Father rules in Heaven. And although Jesus shares in the Father’s power, the scriptures tell us that His throne is distinct from the Father’s:
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”Revelation 3:21:
"To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."Second, Jesus did not conclude His admonition to the church at Philadelphia with verse 10. He went on to what we find in verse 11, which says:
“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”Here we see Jesus instructing the Philadelphian Christians to continue doing as they have been doing, so that they will not lose their reward; indeed, so that no one else will get what they might have received. This admonition is consistent with what we read elsewhere in the New Testament, including in the Lord's own teachings:
24 “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ 25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) 26 ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.II John 1:8:
"Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully."Seeing this admonition, the question we should automatically ask is: when are the saints rewarded? How long did the Philadelphia Christians have to “hold fast” before receiving their reward? According to Revelation 11:18, it is after the 7th trumpet sounds and the kingdom is announced:
“The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”In Revelation 16:15-16, Jesus says that He is “coming like a thief” immediately before the battle of Armageddon:
15 “'Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.'This reference to coming like a thief hearkens back to Matthew 24, in which Jesus warned His disciples to keep watch for Him, lest they abuse their trust and He catch them unprepared at His coming. Note that He says that faithful, watching servants will be rewarded at that time, while wicked servants will be punished:
16 And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon."
Matthew 24:42-44, 45-51:
42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect… 45 “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. 47 Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. 48 But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, 51 and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”Other passages also reference the Lord’s coming “like a thief”:
I Thessalonians 5:1-8a:
1 "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But let us who are of the day be sober…” (note how the language here is so similar to that of Matthew 24 as cited above)II Peter 3:10a:
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night…”In Revelation 3:3, Jesus warns the church at Sardis in similar language to what we see in the above passages:
"Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”Also, notice Revelation 22:12:
"And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work."Scripture is clear that the time of rewards is at the coming of the kingdom, when Jesus will come suddenly, as a thief in the night to those who are not actively looking for Him. Note also that Jesus does not say that He will come to take us to our rewards, but that He will bring our rewards with Him, a picture that is entirely consistent with His kingdom teachings in the gospels:
"For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works."Luke 19:12-13, 15:
12 “Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’... 15 “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading."In admonishing the Philadelphia believers to hold fast so that no one would take their crown, the Lord must have meant for them to hold on until the coming of the kingdom, until His coming like a thief (His appearing in glory after the Great Tribulation), as no other time of reward is promised anywhere in scripture. Consequently, He cannot have been promising a pretribulation rapture to Heaven in verse 10; for, when the saints are raptured, their works will be complete, and they will no longer have a need to “hold fast”. A pretribulation interpretation of verse 10 leads to a contradiction with verse 11, as well as with the setting that Jesus established as the heir to David’s very earthly throne, and also with other passages that tell us when Jesus is coming and when rewards will be given.
So then, if Jesus wasn’t talking about a pretribulation rapture in Revelation 3:10, what was He talking about?”
The Hour of Trial
The promise of Revelation 3:10 is to be kept “from the hour of trial” or “temptation”. The Greek word translated “trial” or “temptation,” depending on which Bible version you use, is peirasmos, the primary meaning of which (according to Strong’s) is “an experiment, attempt, trial, proving”. “Temptation” can mean an enticement to sin; however, as the above definition shows, the primary meaning of the Greek has to do with testing someone.
Note how peirasmos is used in the following passages:
“And do not lead us into temptation [peirasmos], But deliver us from the evil one...”Matthew 26:41:
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation [peirasmos]. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.Galatians 4:14:
“And my trial [peirasmos] which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.”Hebrews 3:8:
“Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial [peirasmos] in the wilderness...”James 1:12:
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation [peirasmos]; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”II Peter 2:9:
“then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations [peirasmos] and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment...” (Here, Peter is speaking of Lot’s deliverance from the judgment that fell on Sodom)You can see from these quotations that the usual meaning of peirasmos has to do with testing or proving by means of some kind of circumstance. In Revelation 3:10, the Lord says that an hour of such testing is going to come upon the entire world; and I while I would agree with those who teach that this time has to do with the reign of Antichrist, I believe that there is more to it than that. I believe that there is a particular emphasis here on the “strong delusion” that the Apostle Paul said God would send upon those who do not love the truth:
II Thessalonians 2:11-12:
“And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”In light of this, note how Paul admonishes the Thessalonian believers:
II Thessalonians 2:15:
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”Here we have Paul admonishing the Thessalonian believers in terms very similar to how Jesus admonished those in the city of Philadelphia. He has just told them that God is going to send a deception that will result in the condemnation of those who do not love the truth, and then admonishes them to hold on to the truth.
I also believe that this is what Jesus meant when He taught His disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:13. Note that He told them to pray that the Father would not lead them into temptation. This cannot be a reference to sin because we know that God does not tempt men to sin (James 1:13). For this reason, Jesus must have meant something else in Matthew 6, and testing or proving is the only meaning left that can fit with the definition of peirasmos.
This interpretation also fits with the Lord’s words in Luke 21:36:
“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”The Greek word translated “escape” here is ekpheugo, which means: “to flee out of, flee away, to seek safety in flight, to escape.” This word is in the active voice, meaning that the subject of the verb is doing the action. In other words, Jesus is saying that those who are counted worthy to flee will do so on their own. Notice also that He tells us to “watch and pray,” and for the same reason that He warned His disciples to take this action in the Garden of Gethsemane: “lest you enter into temptation”.
It’s interesting that Jesus tells us to watch and pray that we should be counted worthy to escape, especially when the grammar necessitates that those who are counted worthy will be escaping on their own power. For this to be consistent, it means that those who are not counted worthy to escape will be hindered somehow. They will be unable to flee, or, as I think is implied in this passage, they will be either unwilling to flee or else will not be warned to flee because they will have fallen prey to deception: the strong delusion that God will send on the world, or they will not be obeying Christ’s command to watch and pray. This makes sense in light of Jesus’ constant warnings in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 that we not be deceived, and that we be attentive to His commandments.
Indeed, consider the warnings Jesus gave immediately before He mentioned this business of being found worthy to escape:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.”Notice how the language employed here – “For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth” – is so similar to that found in Revelation 3:10: “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” I do not believe that this similarity is a coincidence. I believe that Jesus was deliberately tying these two passages together and that He means for us to see the resemblance and make the connection. The church at Philadelphia might not have had a copy of Luke’s gospel, but they had certainly received the oral teachings of the apostles in regard to these things. Also, we must keep in mind here that Revelation was not just written to them, but to us as well. Unlike the early Christians, we have a complete Bible, and can examine these things in a detail that would not have been possible for them.
Furthermore, notice how the promise of Revelation 3:10 is conditional. The Philadelphians were promised deliverance, “Because you have kept My command to persevere,” and were then instructed to hold fast so that no one would take their crown, which necessarily implies that they could yet lose their reward in spite of their good standing at the time that Jesus said these things to them. This language dovetails with what we find in the various accounts of the Olivet Discourse, and throughout the New Testament:
“By your patience possess your souls.”Mark 13:13:
“And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”Mark 13:37:
“And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”Matthew 24:13:
“But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”Hebrews 10:36:
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”Galatians 6:9:
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”James 1:12:
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”I Timothy 4:16:
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”Given everything we have seen thus far in this study, it is my opinion that Revelation 3:10 speaks of a promise that Christ’s faithful followers will be counted worthy to flee during a time when others will be deceived to their own destruction. This is the only way that I see to interpret Revelation 3:10 and 11 without contradiction, and to reconcile them with what we read elsewhere in the scriptures concerning the end times and the promise of rewards for those who are faithful.
Note one last time what the Apostle Peter said:
II Peter 2:9:
“then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment...”The coming time of trial will do both of these things, on a global scale. This, I believe, is the deliverance that Jesus is promising in Revelation 3:10: deliverance from the time of great deception and the subsequent condemnation that will fall upon those who are ensnared by it, not a pretribulation rapture.
The word translated “kept” and “keep” in Revelation 3:10 is tēreō, which can have the following meanings in biblical usage (according to Strong’s): “to attend to carefully,” “take care of,” “to guard,” “to keep one in the state in which he is,” “to observe,” and “to reserve: to undergo something.” Based on this, when Jesus tells the believers that they have “kept” His word, it would seem that He is using tēreō in the sense of “to attend to carefully.” That is, they have been careful to keep His commandments. The other potential renderings (with the possible exception of “to observe”) don’t seem to fit the sense of keeping commandments. For instance, one does not really ‘guard’ a commandment; one guards a person or a thing. As for His promise to “keep” them, the implication is that He is promising to be attentive to them, guard them, or take care of them in return for their faithfulness in obeying His Word. “Observe” and “reserve” don’t seem to fit the context very well at all.
Thus it would seem that Jesus is promising the Philadelphia Christians deliverance in accordance with how they have attended to His word. Because they have paid careful attention to His commandments, He will pay careful attention to them, or guard them, or care for them, ‘from’ or ‘out of’ the coming time of testing.
We should also note that the word translated “from” as in “keep you from” in Revelation 3:10 is the Greek preposition ek, which can mean: “out of,” “from,” “by,” or “away from”. This combination of tēreō ek is found only one other time in the New Testament, where it is also translated “keep from”:
"I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.”This passage is important to our study of Revelation 3:10, not only because it is the only other usage of tēreō ek, but also because it affords an opportunity to examine the pretribulationist interpretation of Revelation 3:10 in more practical terms. How so? Because John 17:15 expresses two separate ideas: being taken out of the world, and being guarded within it. Both concepts are expressed side-by-side, quoted from the mouth of the same person, Jesus, and recorded by the same author, the apostle John.
Note that when John tells us that Jesus asked the Father to “keep” His disciples from “the evil one” while not removing them from the world, He chose to express the concept with the combination tēreō ek. But when he recorded Jesus speaking of removal from the world, he used another Greek construction: airō ek, airō meaning: “to raise up, elevate, lift up,” “to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up,” “to carry off, carry away with one.” Airō is found 102 times in the Textus Receptus, the Greek text from which the KJV, NKJV and Young’s Literal Translation are derived, and is translated as: “take up,” “take away,” “take,” “lift up,” and “bear” in nearly every instance.
Thus, given that we see how John recorded Jesus’ words in John 17:15, how he contrasted the concepts of ‘taking out of’ with ‘protection from within’, and expressed them differently in the Greek language, why should tēreō ek be interpreted as a promise that believers will be taken out of the world in Revelation 3:10, especially since tēreō doesn’t even mean ‘to take’? If Jesus had meant to tell the Philadelphian believers that He would take them out of the world, why would John not have recorded this as airō ek, just as he did in John 17:15?
That said, some may argue that being taken out of the world is implied in Revelation 3:10 because Jesus said that the time of testing would come upon the whole world. How else can one be “kept from” a time that will come upon the whole world unless one is taken from the world?
In reply, I would emphasize that, had Jesus meant that He would take the Philadelphia believers out of the world, He probably would have said so directly, just as He mentioned removal from the world in John 17:15. Yet, He did not. Instead, He promised protection from a particular time that would come upon the world. There are three important things to note about this:
First, the scriptures occasionally apply terms such as “time” and “hour” in ways that demonstrate a very narrow focus, indicating a time that has a special significance for a particular individual or group apart from the general time period involved. Our own modern language and culture furnish examples of this concept in colloquialisms such as “Your time is coming!”, “An idea whose time has come,” and “You’re out of time”. For an everyday example of this principle in action, consider that, while 12:00 pm comes for everyone, if I have a dentist appointment at that time, then the hour has a significance for me that does not apply to others; in that limited sense it’s my time, and no one else’s.
The following are some examples of this figurative usage in the scriptures:
“And He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.’”Luke 1:57:
“Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son.”John 7:8:
“You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.”Luke 22:53:
“When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”Secondly, and in accordance with the first point, there are times when the scriptures use terms that sound all-inclusive but cannot be, given contextual considerations, what we know from other passages, or simple common sense. The following are two examples:
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed."The phrase “all the world” cannot mean the entire inhabited earth here, as Rome did not rule over the entire earth. This decree necessarily referenced the entire Roman world, all who lived under Rome’s rule.
“So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."This passage says that Satan deceives the entire world, but we know that believers are not deceived by him, as they endure to the end and are rescued by Christ at His glorious appearing. For this reason, the reference to the “whole world” here cannot mean every single person on the face of the earth.
Third, in my study of Christ’s message to Philadelphia, I was intrigued by the fact that it references both the “world” and the “earth” in the same sentence. “World” comes from the Greek word oikoumenē, and often refers to the whole planet or the realm of mankind, whereas “earth” comes from gē, which, while it can also refer to the planet, is also specifically used in scripture with regard to “land” or “soil,” just as we sometimes refer to the dry land today as “earth”. So while these words can convey the same meaning, they can be used differently as well, in both English and Greek; and I think that the fact that the apostle John records Jesus using two different words here should cause us to stop and ponder for a bit. Why would he have done this?
In the end, I concluded that the emphasis is not on any distinctions that may exist between these two words, but rather how both together demonstrate a distinction in time and scope.
In Revelation 3:10, Jesus is referring to the events of Daniel’s 70th week, and specifically to the Great Tribulation (the latter portion of the Week). And while this may seem obvious enough to us today, it may not have been so obvious to Christians living at the time, as they were facing a severe persecution under the Roman emperor Domitian. Jesus wished for them to understand the context of the deliverance He was promising: it was not to be a deliverance from Roman persecution, but from a time of testing that will come upon the whole world and impact everyone, not just Christians. The time of testing they were enduring under Rome was not the particular time of testing to which Jesus referred.
As we know from what the apostle John recorded in the rest of the book of Revelation, fearful judgments and great signs will fall upon the entire globe during the 70th Week. Both the land and the sea will be impacted during these events – hence Jesus’ reference to “the whole world.” But these will not be general judgments, nor will they be designed to destroy the planet, as some who find themselves living in that time will undoubtedly fear; no, they will have a very specific purpose and will produce a very specific result: namely, they will divide humanity along the lines of those who belong to Christ and those who do not, those who are willing to repent and those who are not – hence, “to test those who dwell on the earth.” With humanity thus divided, Christ will gather a dual harvest as He arrives to set up His kingdom. The wicked, those who will follow the Beast and take his mark, will be gathered for destruction, whereas the righteous who have endured to the end will be gathered for salvation and will inherit the kingdom.
Thus these references to the “world” and the “earth” are, I believe, designed to clearly outline the time of testing to which Jesus referred: not a time of testing for Christians alone, but the prophesied great time of testing in which the entire globe will be impacted for the purpose of sifting humanity as a whole. The “hour” refers not to a general time period, but to a specific time that will fall upon a specific group for a specific purpose. The general time period will arrive for everyone, but the “hour of testing” will not be for Christ’s faithful; they will be permitted to flee from among those being tested, and will be preserved by Christ Himself, just as Lot was permitted to flee from Sodom prior to its destruction. The “hour” of judgment came upon Sodom, but not upon Lot, who was preserved outside of it.
He who has an ear, let him hear
In this study, I believe I have successfully demonstrated that the context and the grammar of Revelation 3:10 do not support the promise of a pretribulation rapture to Heaven, particularly in light of other passages of scripture that address the second coming and the Millennial reign. At the very least, I think I’ve demonstrated that it’s nowhere near as decisive a proof-text for pretribulationism as so many Bible teachers maintain. Indeed, the evidence is to the contrary: Jesus did not promise take His faithful out of the world, but, rather, to attend to them while the time of testing falls upon others.
This is perfectly consistent with the general pattern that we see repeated throughout scripture where God’s deliverance is concerned, and I would argue that it works to His glory even more than it would if He were to simply snatch people out of harm’s way. Think about the children of Israel in Goshen, and how they were protected while devastating plagues fell on the rest of the land of Egypt. And then, when they finally left Egypt, God could easily have picked them up and dropped them in Canaan, but, instead, He chose to take them through the Red Sea with Pharaoh in pursuit; and to this day we still celebrate the amazing deliverance He provided on that occasion. For another example, consider how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were delivered from the midst of the fiery furnace, to the degree that their clothes did not even smell of smoke, and how Nebuchadnezzar was awed and gave glory to God. Certainly, God would have been glorified if He had chosen to keep them from the furnace entirely, but He performed an even greater miracle in the eyes of those who were watching by protecting them in the midst of the furnace.
The time is coming when the whole world will be plunged into a fiery furnace of sorts, and Jesus Himself indicated that many who name His Name today will
Yet, the Word also tells us that many will endure to the end in spite of the trials they will face. They will be watching and praying and attending to their Lord’s words. They will not be deceived to their own destruction and judged with the wicked on the Day of the Lord. For these who will overcome “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” He who holds the Key of David makes the following promises:
“12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And [I will write on him] My new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”May God grant us a fresh outpouring of the spirit of Philadelphia, of faithful perseverance, in this our Laodicean culture of complacency and self-righteousness!
- Note: I'm indebted to Pastor Tim Warner of Oasis Christian Church for his study of Jeconiah in the line of Christ, to Blue Letter Bible.org for their study aids, and Bible Gateway.com for most scripture quotations.