Jesus' Care for Believers in Adversity
Revelation 3:10: "…I also will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth." We have to focus on three key phrases. First, "I will keep you from." This is the interpretive crux of this whole passage. Does that mean Jesus will protect us in the midst of something, or that he will keep us outside of something? This phrase is based upon the Greek TEREO [threw] and the preposition EK [e)k].
We are now in the church age which is going to end with Jesus Christ coming in the clouds. We don't know when that will be. No other prophecy is necessary to be fulfilled before He returns for the church. This is why this is our blessed hope. It is why we are looking for the future return of Christ, we are not looking for the Antichrist, for the rise of the ten-nation confederacy in Europe, for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem; those things may or may not have some fulfilment prior to the Rapture. The next prophetic event is the Rapture. We are looking forward to His coming for us to take us to be with Him.
Following the Rapture, though not immediately following—most people believe there is some transition period, whether it is short or long we are not sure—a seven year period of tribulation will come upon the earth. This is known in the Old Testament as the time of Jacob's trouble, indicating that its emphasis is on Israel. In Daniel chapter nine we are told that this is the seventieth week in a period of time that God had designated for Israel. Their chronology stopped when they cut off the Messiah in AD 33 and we have been on hold. God stopped Israel's prophetic timetable and once a future event occurs, when the Antichrist is on the scene and he enters into a covenant or peace treaty with Israel, that will begin the Tribulation period. During that time we are in heaven being evaluated at the judgment seat of Christ. This will be followed by the marriage of the Lamb, and then Jesus Christ will return with us at the Second Coming. This ends the Tribulation period and then Jesus Christ establishes the Messianic kingdom on the earth. That is the basic panorama.
There are four different views of the timing of the Rapture of the church. The view that we hold is the view called the pre-Tribulation Rapture. That is the view that the Rapture of the church occurs before the seven-year Tribulation begins. Another view is that there is a partial Rapture, the view that "spiritual" Christians, those who are advancing, get raptured before the Tribulation and those who are carnal at the time of Christ's coming for the church have to go through the Tribulation period. Then there is the mid-Tribulation Rapture view, the view that all believers go through the first three and a half years and then at the mid-point of the Tribulation they are taken to be with the Lord in heaven. A variation of that view has come up in the last few years called the pre-wrath Rapture. Then there is the post-Tribulation view that all church age believers go through the Tribulation and all believers are taken to be with the Lord in the clouds at the end of the Tribulation.
As we look at verse 10 we read: "I also will keep you from the hour of trial." The question here is the meaning of "keep you from." It is the Greek verb TEREO. Often this word is translated to keep in the sense of being obedient. In this sentence it is used with a different sense, and that is of to protect, to reserve, or to deliver. The best translation, as we will see, is "I also will deliver you from the hour of testing." The context of 3:10 indicates preservation or protection since it is this time of testing, of tribulation. In order to understand TEREO we have to understand the force of that preposition that comes after it. We are delivered from something, we are preserved or protected from something. What exactly does that preposition imply? This is where there is a lot of debate because it can have one of two senses. The first sense is that we are taken out from something. For example, we may use the preposition EK to say that we are going out from the church. So you would be in the church and then you would be leaving the church, and it implies that there was a previous time when you were inside the church building. Then there is a second sense in which EK is used of someone who is outside of something and they never, ever are inside. They are outside and they are kept so that they are never inside. This is the sense in this passage. This is understood from not only context but comparison with other scriptures. The predominant meaning that we find for the preposition EK is to be in a position outside of its object with no thought of prior existence within the object or of emergence from it. This is very important for understanding this passage.
A quote from the Iliad: "Thereafter will we hold ourselves aloof from the fight, beyond the range of missiles." They never were in the range of missiles, they were always outside the range of the missiles. A quote from Proverbs 21:23: "The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from [EK/e)k] trouble." This doesn't mean that he is first in trouble and then he gets out of trouble. This is the Greek word DIATEREO [diathrew], a compound form. This is the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. He never enters into trouble so he is never within that sphere of trouble, he is always outside of it. Psalm 59:1, 2: "Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me. Deliver me from those who work evil; from the bloodthirsty save me." Three times in these two verses the psalmist uses a verb that is synonymous to keeping from, plus that preposition EK. There is no indication that he has ever been under the control of his enemies but he doesn't want to be captured or controlled by those enemies. In each of these instances there is a structure that indicates that the person is never in the control of the enemy, he has never been captured or been dominated by the enemy, but he doesn't want to come into that sphere where he is controlled by those enemies.
There are also some important illustrations in the New Testament. Acts 15:28, 29: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from [DIATEREO] these, you will do well." It is not saying that they are in these things but they are to stay outside of them. John 12:27: "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour." The Lord is anticipating His passion; He is not there yet. We see that He is kept from the hour, He hasn't entered it yet, He hasn't gone through it yet, He is outside of it, and He is praying that He does not enter into it. John 17:15: "I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to keep them from the evil one." In the first phrase, "to take them out of the world" He uses the verb AIRO [a)irw] which means to take up, lift up, or to raise, and He is praying in the negative that these disciples would not be taken out of or removed from the world. In this phrase where AIRO is in combination with EK there is an example of being inside the circle and not being taken out of the circle. It is the combination phrase that is important here. Then, "keep them from the evil one"—TEREO EK, and this is the idea that He is praying that believers would not enter into the sphere of control from Satan. He is not saying that they are in the sphere of Satan and need to be protected while they are there, He is saying that God should protect them from entering into that sphere completely.
Again, it is a comfort to realize that the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for our protection in times of testing and trials as we go through this life. That is the same thing He has said is happening with the Philadelphian believers, that they are going through testing right now but in a broader picture there is a greater, more intense period of suffering coming, and even though He has provided for them in this testing and persecution they will be kept out of, will never go into, that future time of great testing and persecution. Charles Ryrie says regarding the time frame here: "It is impossible to conceive of being in a location where something is happening and being exempt from of the happening." In other words, if you are exempt from the time of the happening you are not going to go through that again.
The next clause that we look at relates to this. "I will keep you from the hour of trial." He is not saying He is going to keep them from the testing, He says he is going to keep them from the hour of trial. It is the time period of the trial that we are kept out of, not testing per se. All believers are going to go through testings and tribulations in this life but here we are talking about a particular period of intense testing and tribulation known as the great Tribulation. So this is not a passage that is talking about the Rapture per se but it relates because it tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to keep us from going into that period of time, that period of testing, which is further defined as "that which will come upon the whole world to test those who dwell upon the earth." This phrase "those who dwell upon the earth" becomes a technical term in the book of Revelation for unbelievers during the time of the Tribulation. The word translated "will come upon" is actually a present participle of a Greek verb MELLO [mellw] which means about to come. It could happen at any moment. So one of the doctrines that under girds our understanding of this passage is the doctrine of the imminency of Christ's return, that Christ could come at any moment, that there is nothing that has to happen between now and when Jesus returns for the church. We have to always be ready.