(Rev. 3:10) Does this support a pre-tribulational rapture of the church?

CLAIM: Jesus said, “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). Students of eschatology debate how this passage relates to the rapture. Is this descriptive of the pre-tribulational rapture or not?

RESPONSE: Let’s consider this passage word by word:

“I will KEEP you…” (Greek tēreō)

The word tēreō in Greek can either mean protection through trial or removal from trial. Schötz defines tēreō as:

(a) guard, keep watch (e.g. Acts 16:23; Matt. 27:36); (b) keep (e.g. Jn. 2:10; 12:7; 2 Pet. 2:4); (c) keep blameless, uninjured (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Cor. 7:37; 1 Tim. 5:22); (d) protect (e.g. Jn. 17:15); (e) hold fast (e.g. Rev. 16:15; Eph. 4:3); (f) hold, follow, e.g. the law (Jas. 2:10), the → sabbath (Jn. 9:16), traditions (Mk. 7:9), the commands of Jesus (Jn. 14:15, 21; 15:10, etc.).[1]

Osborne writes, “It must be admitted that both readings are possible from the language, so context must show which is more likely.”[2] Let’s consider the context to determine its usage:

“I will keep you FROM…” (Greek ek)

The Greek preposition ek literally means “out of” or “from.” Consider several usages in the NT:

(Acts 15:28-29) For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.

Here the believers were told to stay away from these specific acts that were offensive to Jewish believers.

(Jn. 12:27) “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

This “hour” was still future to Jesus’ statement. At the last supper, Jesus could say, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk. 22:15). When he was later betrayed, Jesus said, “The hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” (Mt. 26:45).

Just as Judas’ betrayal was “at hand,” so too was Jesus’ suffering.

(Heb. 5:7) “He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death.”

(Jas. 5:20) “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:20).

The context suggests physical—not spiritual—death here (vv.15-16; cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-30).

(Jn. 17:15) “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”

This is the only use of tēreō ek found anywhere in biblical or extra-biblical Greek. Post-tribulationists argue that John could have used this expression for the rapture that he uses here (“take them out of the world”), but he doesn’t. However, they have missed the proper comparison here in John 17:15. Just as the disciples were not in the evil one, the Philadelphians will not be in the “hour of testing.” Elsewhere, John writes, “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps (tēreō) him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:18-19). Just as believers are spared from Satan’s grasp, so too the Philadelphians are spared from this “hour of trial.”

“The hour of testing…”

The hour of trial must refer to the great tribulation mentioned throughout the book of Revelation. Osborne writes, “The consensus view is that it refers to the final end-time trials that precede the eschaton.”[3] This is different than the 10-day persecution of Smyrna (Rev. 2:10), because it refers to the “whole world.” The expression “whole world” is used twice more to refer to all those people on Earth during the great tribulation (Rev. 12:9; 16:14). Moreover, the very next verse refers to the second coming (v.11). Thus the end of history is in view here. Johnson writes, “We can dismiss the view that the ‘hour of trial’ refers to some general or personal distress that will come upon the Philadelphian community and from which the church will be delivered.”[4]

We must note here that the sparing of the Philadelphians does not refer to protection from a person, but protection from a period of time. It doesn’t say that the believers will be protected from the persecution, but from the time itself. Jesus is keeping them from a time—not a person.

“That hour which is about to come upon THE WHOLE WORLD…”

As we have already noted above, this expression (“the whole world”) cannot be a localized event. Instead, the book of Revelation uses this expression to refer to the entire globe (Rev. 12:9; 16:14).

“To test those who dwell on the earth…”

This expression is always used of the people on earth throughout the book of Revelation. However, the rest of the book describes how believers are not spared from the wrath of God (Rev. 6:9-10; 7:9, 13-14; 13:15; 14:13; 16:6; 18:24; 20:4). Revelation 13:8 twice uses this expression to refer to unbelievers—not believers: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life…” (cf. 17:8).

Conclusion

While we reject the chronological reading of the seven churches expounded by most dispensationals, we do see this passage as indicative of the rapture. As with other epistles in the NT, we believe that they should be interpreted in their immediate context first. However, they still have universal application for all believers throughout history. Thus, if we persevere as Jesus describes here, we too will be spared from this period of history. As we have already argued (cf. Rev. 2:7), John pictures true believers as those who have faith in Christ until the end. Therefore, we see this as a passage that strongly suggests the protection of believers from this intense and painful period of history called the Tribulation. For more on this subject, see our earlier article “A Pretribulational Rapture.”



[1] H.-Schötz, G. Guard, Keep, Watch. In L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther & H. Bietenhard (Eds.), . Vol. 2: New international dictionary of New Testament theology (L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther & H. Bietenhard, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 133.

[2] Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002. 193.

[3] Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002. 193.

[4] Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (454). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.