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.