Kept from the Hour of Testing

Rev 3 10 d

Q. What does Revelation 3:10 mean and is it talking to the church in Philadelphia or to end-time Christians?

A. First, the immediate context is Rev 3:7-13, the message to Philadelphia. John was writing to a church in his days, not one over two thousand years in the future. So of course he was talking to the church in Philadelphia, although the message also applies to end-time Christians.

Second, the text:
Rev 3:10 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.
Most scholars agree that the “hour of testing” coming upon the whole world refers to the Great Tribulation. But what exactly does “keep you from the hour” mean?

Those who believe in a pretrib rapture argue that since Jesus will keep the church from the hour of testing, not just the testing itself, He must snatch them away before tribulation begins, to avoid the time period altogether. Others note that the context is perseverance (v 10) and “hold fast” (v 11). Therefore the Lord’s keeping should mean protection as the church goes through the testing, because if they had been raptured away, then endurance would not be necessary.

Which is correct? There are precedents of both modes of protection in Scripture:
• Escape prior to judgment e.g. the angels whisking Lot’s family away before He rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19).
• Protection through the hour of testing e.g.
o Noah’s family in the ark during the Flood (Gen 7),
o The Israelites during the plagues (Ex 8:22-23; 9:4-7, 25-26; 10:23; 11:5-7; 12:12-13)
o Those with the seal of God on their foreheads (Rev 7:3, 9:4).
While we note that the latter is more prevalent and indicative of God’s pattern, the frequency of occurrence by itself is not definitive.

What about the historical and grammatical context? Although I subscribe to futurism (the view that most prophecies regarding the end times are still future) and not preterism (the view that some or all of the prophecies concerning the last days have already been fulfilled in the first century), I do believe the meaning to the original recipients holds significance to twenty-first century readers. How the Lord kept first century church of Philadelphia should inform us how He would keep the end times Philadelphian church, because His promise was first to the former and only secondarily to the latter. Was the first century church physically removed from the hour of testing, perhaps hidden in the wilderness? There is no historical evidence to that effect.

Grammatically, both “you have kept” and “I also will keep” translate the same Greek verb tereo, which means to attend to carefully, take care of:
• to guard,
• metaphorically to keep one in the state he is,
• to observe,
• to reserve to undergo something.

The Lord will keep the church the same way the church has kept the word of His perseverance. How did the church keep His word, by escaping or by persevering? By enduring through the trial, not by hiding.

Secondly, pretrib commentators argue that “keep from the hour of testing” really means “keep out of the hour of testing”, because the word “from” translates the Greek preposition ek which really means “out of”. I disagree because while “out of” is a legitimate translation, it is only one amongst several possibilities. ek appears a total of 921 times, which the KJV translates using the following:
of 366X
• from 181X
• out of 162X
• by 55X
• on 34X
• with 25X
• misc. 98X

Which is the proper translation really depends on the context or syntax. If ek is used as a preposition referring to a place, “out of” is a proper translation. However, if ek is used to qualify time, then “from” is the proper translation. In Rev 3:10 ek qualifies time, so “from” is the better translation, which is what almost all translations have done, despite pretrib commentators’ assertion otherwise.

I therefore conclude that Rev 3:10 means the Lord will guard and keep the church from and through the hour of testing, NOT take it out of the hour. Hope this helps.

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Allegorical Interpretation

allegorical 1

Q. The Lord Jesus uses an allegorical approach to interpret the meaning of His parables in Matthew 13. In the early days of the church, use of such an approach to interpret biblical texts was overwhelming, but nowadays we adopt the historical-grammatical hermeneutical principle as far as possible. How should a balance be struck between the two? Or should it be that if a historical-grammatical interpretation is not evident (such as the number of the beast is 666), then allegorical interpretation would be used to look for an answer? How can we measure whether the interpreted result is correct or not? How far can we stretch this method?

A. The allegorical method is a method of interpretation which assumes that the Bible has a hidden, mystical meaning beyond the literal, which is not obvious from the surface meaning the words conveyed.

The word “allegorically” appears in the NASB only in Ga 4:24:

Ga 4:24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. (NASB)

It translates the Greek word “allegoreo“, which means “to speak in a figure”, i.e. figuratively or symbolically.
In Ga 4, Hagar = bond woman = covenant from Mt. Sinai
Sarah = free woman = New covenant
This meaning is not obvious until explained by Paul, under inspiration by the Holy Spirit, and goes beyond our ordinary figures of speech.

Some suggested that since Jesus Himself used an allegorical approach to interpret His parables, this method is justified. I do not think so. First, when the disciples did not understand a parable, Jesus Himself explained it to them – the parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-9) in Mt 13:18-23; the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Mt 13:24-30) in Mt 13:36-43. Although the explanation of other parables are not recorded in the gospels, Jesus did not leave them in the dark as to what He meant:
Mk 4:34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

Secondly, Jesus always used day-to-day illustrations e.g. sowing, seeds, soils, leaven, fishing, lamp etc. Unlike current allegorical interpretations, He did not use fancy ideas which the disciples could not relate to.

I believe therefore the historical-grammatical method should be used throughout, and that the allegorical method is not valid except in cases specifically identified in the Bible as symbolic. After all, if the meaning derived from analyzing the writing in its context, understanding the historical and cultural background and taking the grammar into account, cannot be accepted, language no longer has any meaning! If the plain meaning makes sense, seek no other sense! Otherwise what else can you trust? Some wild ideas concocted by the interpreter based on loose associations?

Having said that, I am fully aware of interpreting any passage according to its genre, and the use of figures of speech in literal interpretation. Much of apocalyptic literature, for example, was composed during times of persecution, and therefore written in symbolic language to protect the author and the reader. But that does not warrant spiritualizing everything to say whatever the interpreter wants it to say.

The measure of any interpreted result must be how well does it fit with all available evidence, including the context, background, biblical worldview, consistency with known biblical teaching and reality. All interpretation, historical-grammatical or allegorical, must pass through the same criteria for evaluation. Otherwise how can we compare which is more valid? The question then is not how far we can stretch the allegorical method, but how carefully we have done our observation and interpretation using all the tools available. If we have not done our homework, we are under a stricter judgment as we will be leading others astray.

Jas 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

This is my biased view. Don’t dig yourself into a dead-end (鑽牛角尖). Hope it will encourage others to be careful exegetes instead of pursuing human speculations.