Revelation 3:10 contains a promise to the church at Philadelphia, and not only to that specific church, but it is a promise that has a sweeping nature extending to all faithful churches throughout history. Jesus says directly, “because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”
What is this promise that Jesus is making to the Church? This passage has been considered a key promise of Jesus used to support the view that the Church going to be spared from the very specific seven-year Tribulation that is yet coming upon the earth through a rapturing of the Church (1 Thess 4:13-17, John 14:1-4, 1 Cor 15:51-54). There are mainly three views concerning the coming rapture of the Church. Some believe that this rapture will come at the end of the Tribulation (post-tribulation view), or in the middle of the Tribulation (mid-tribulation view), or prior to the Tribulation (pre-tribulation view). When we understand this promise of Jesus in Revelation 3:10, it appears that the Pre-Tribulation view is the view which is most strongly supported. Let’s look at the details of this Revelation 3:10 promise more closely.
I will keep you from…
The first thing we must note is that Jesus promises to keep believers from something. The Greek construction is important to note: “κἀγώ σε τηρήσω ἐκ τῆς ὥρας τοῦ πειρασμοῦ, which is literally translated “I also, you, will keep out of the hour of the trial.” The key phrase that we need to look at more intently is the phrase “τηρήσω ἐκ, keep out of.” What does this phrase mean? Does it mean to sustain through or literally keep out of or keep from? There has been much debate about the meaning of this phrase. The post-tribulation view argues that the Church is going to go through the Tribulation judgments and that God is going to preserve the church in the midst of His wrath. However, the word ἐκ clearly carries the idea of “out of, or from.” It would have been easy for Jesus to use the Greek word ἐν (“in or through”) like other passages in the New Testament which describe a process of preserving something through or in with a view to continuing in (Acts 12:5, 1 Peter 1:4, Jude 21, these passages use the same word tereo but with en). However, Jesus clearly emphasizes the fact that the Church is not going to be preserved through, but rather kept from this hour of testing which is in the future.
The argument is strengthened further when we look at the only other passage where the same construction is used. The phrase “kept from” is also used in the High Priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17:15. In that passage, Jesus prays for His people, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” The same Greek phrase is used, “τηρήσῃς …ἐκ.” It is clear that Jesus is not praying that His children be preserved within Satan’s power but rather kept from it. Believers have clearly been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:13). Jesus understands that the whole world is under the sway of the wicked one (1 Jn 5:19) and He is praying that believers be kept from Satan all together. Since John wrote both of the passages under consideration, and both are quotes from Jesus Himself, it makes sense to interpret them similarly, enforcing the idea that Revelation 3:10 means to literally “keep from” rather than to preserve through. The promise of Jesus is to keep the Church from this horrible trial that is still coming in the future.
The hour of trial that is coming on the whole world
There are several things to note about this phrase. The fact that Jesus calls this future period as an “hour” of trial implies that this time of testing is for a definite, limited time. Jesus is not speaking of a general time of tribulation that all believers are guaranteed to go through (Jn 16:33). Jesus speaks authoritatively of a definite time of testing. Furthermore, this hour of testing is still yet to come upon the “whole world.” The scope of this testing is not limited to Jerusalem, or Israel in general. Rather this definite time of testing will be a testing over the whole world. The Greek word for world used by Jesus is οἰκουμένης, which is a word typically used to describe the inhabited earth (Lk 4:5, Rom 10:18, Rev 16:14) not the cosmos. The whole world has yet to see the tribulation that God is going to bring.
To try those who dwell on the earth
Now this is a most significant phrase. The purpose of this trial, that is coming upon the whole earth, is to “try those who dwell on the earth.” This phrase happens to be a phrase that is used eleven times in the book of Revelation (3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10 [twice], 13:8, 12, 14 [twice], 17:2, 8). When this group of people are examined, it is clear that these “earth dwellers” are against God and His people. In chapter 6:10, these earth dwellers are identified as those who are persecuting and killing believers who come to faith during the Tribulation. In chapter 11:10, they are those who rejoice and send gifts to one another when the two witnesses of God are killed in Jerusalem during the middle of the Tribulation. In chapter 13:8, 12, these “earth dwellers” worship the Antichrist. Clearly, as Mark Hitchcock states, these are “unsaved people who during the Tribulation, stubbornly and steadfastly continue in their rejection of God. They are those on earth who are totally given up to evil and the hatred of God and His people. The entire horizon of their lives is earthbound” (Mark Hitchcock, 101 Answers to Questions about the Book of Revelation, page 93). This hour of trial which is yet to come has no purpose for the Church, but rather is a testing for unbelievers and an hour of trouble for Jacob or Israel (Jer 30:7). It makes sense to believe that God will spare His Church from the wrath of God to come (1 Thess 1:10).
After looking at the details, the picture becomes much clearer. The promise that Jesus makes is for the Church, particularly that He is going to keep them from, not keep them through, a specific trial that is yet to come upon the whole earth, for the purpose of trying unbelievers. While the world has seen many kinds of trials, it is clear that the trial which is spoken of in Revelation has not yet come and is yet in the future. All of these details definitely give much support for the pre-tribulation rapture position rather than a post or mid-tribulation rapture view.