Simplicity Series #12

The Hour of Trial or the Tribulation?

“Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial
which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” Rev 3:10
The Church of Philadelphia
The city of Philadelphia was the most recent of the seven mentioned in Revelation 2–3. It was built around 150 B.C. and was dedicated to Attalus the Second. Because of the love he had for his brother, Eumenes, it was named “Philadelphia,” the city of brotherly love.
Further, the city was dedicated to the goal of spreading Greek language and culture in Lydia and Phrygia and, therefore, had a missionary vision in its founding. It was situated on the imperial postal service road on which the armies of Caesar marched, and which was a highway for caravans and merchants (see Barclay, Revelation, pg. 163). The church located here would become a missionary church, lasting into the fourth century, A.D. This is the sense of the “open door” set before them by Jesus Christ (Rev 3:7).
Like all the churches, the church of Philadelphia was an actual local church in the time of the Apostle John. At the same time, these churches represent the prophetic path of the Church as a whole down through the Church Age. Philadelphia represents the final, evangelistic, mission-minded remnant in the Church Age.
What Command Have They Kept?
In the context, the word “kept” is used twice in reference to these believers. The Greek word means “to guard something precious, to keep it safe and secure.” First, in Rev 3:8, we read, “for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” Under persecution, they had been faithful to proclaim the Word—without compromise—and, thus, had not denied the reputation or name of Christ.
The second occurrence is in Rev 3:10, “because you have kept My command to persevere.” A better translation would read: “because you have kept the message of My perseverance.” This makes the two phrases about what they had “kept” agree, and puts the focus on the truth of the message about Jesus Christ—not about the tenacity of these believers. The principle is that to keep His Word and uphold His reputation (name), we must not compromise the message of the sufferings, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. Under persecution, the issue is not how bravely we face our trials (though faith will endure), but rather, how faithful we remain to the Gospel message.
Is This Deliverance a Reward or a Promise?
Two promises are given in light of faithfulness to His Word. The first (Rev 3:9) is that unbelieving Jews (in light of Rom 2:28–29, they are not true Jews) will ultimately come to faith and worship Christ at the feet of faithful Church-Age believers. This is simply the fulfillment of the Apostle Paul’s great desire that the Church finally provoke Israel to come to faith as Moses predicted (Rom 10:19; Rom 11:13–14; Deu 32:21).
The second promise, in Rev 3:10, is “I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” It is here that we run into a problem of punctuation. Remember that the original Greek manuscripts had no punctuation. In this case, where we place the periods changes the meaning of the promise. Is it a promise to those who have been faithful to keep His Word, or is it a comprehensive promise to the Church at large?
In the first case, we would read, “Indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you, because you have kept the message of My perseverance. I also will keep you from the hour of trial …” (Rev 3:9b–10a). With this reading, the “hour of trial” refers to the Tribulation, and the promise is a blanket promise to the Church as a whole.
A second reading could be, “Because you have kept the message of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world …” In this sense, deliverance from the “hour of trial” is a reward for faithfulness and, therefore, the “hour of trial” cannot be the Tribulation, since we know that all believers—ready or not—will be delivered before that time (1Th 5:8–11). The “hour of trial” in this case would be a time of world-wide testing just prior to the Rapture of the Church and the beginning of the Tribulation Period.
It is worth noting that the word “from” comes from ek (“out of”), not apo (“away from”). It is used exactly as Paul uses it in 2Ti 3:11 when he says, “And out of [ek] them all [persecutions] the Lord delivered me.” In other words, God was faithful to deliver Paul through—not away from—his persecutions.
If we take this simply as a promise to the Church of a Pre-Tribulational Rapture, then there is no real impetus to faithfulness to “keep” His Word. On the other hand, if we see here the promise of divine deliverance for being faithful to His Word, and refusing to deny Him or compromise the Gospel, then we are armed in advance for whatever perilous times may come.
Many scholars have debated this passage, and probably no definitive answer can be given. I am inclined toward the view that this is a promise to faithful believers, who remain true to the Gospel committed to their charge, that they will be sustained and delivered through a time of Pre-Tribulation, world-wide chaos and turmoil.
The Hour of Trial and the Test to Earth-Dwellers
The Lord declares here that the “hour of trial” is designed “to test those who dwell on the earth.” Since the Church is challenged to “hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev 3:11), it would appear that the “test” will be whether, in the closing “hour” of the Church Age, earth-dwellers will respond to or reject the Gospel message.
The phrase “those who dwell on the earth” is used over ten times in Revelation. It always refers to the unsaved, Christ-rejecting multitudes of this world. This “hour of trial” will most likely be the final opportunity for salvation to millions of people world-wide, using great international trial, and increased Gospel outreach, to test the souls of men.
What Should This Text Lead Us To?
One of the many principles of biblical interpretation is this: that every interpretation demands an application. As both Jesus and James tell us, to know the truth, but not to “do it,” is a sin (Mat 7:24–29; Jam 1:21–25; Jam 4:17).
This passage should challenge us first of all to “hold fast” to the Word of God—in faith, in conduct, and in proclamation. Our world is rushing toward eternal condemnation, and we alone have the hope of deliverance. We should be bold enough not to “deny His name,” no matter how much it outrages our generation. We must keep to the message of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the finished work of redemption and the only means of eternal salvation—by grace through faith.
I believe we would do well to prepare our souls for a coming time of world-wide upheaval like the world has never seen. This may involve a universal economic collapse, a world war, a severe famine or plague, or elements of all these together. Should this be what this passage is warning us of, we will know when the time comes that we are being given an “open door”—opened to us by Jesus Christ who rules history, as the greatest evangelistic time of the Church Age.
The hearts of men today are hardened and complacent in their many comforts and pursuits. They have no time for our warnings, God’s Word, or things of eternity. But in a moment of time, all these things can be suddenly ripped from their clinging hands. Their souls will be shaken and, for some, opened for the first time to hear the Good News about Jesus Christ.
Should this interpretation be correct, how will you respond to such an “hour of trial”? Will you panic, like mere men, or will you “hold fast what you have” (Rev 3:11), and go through the “open door [that] no one can shut” to effectively give a last-minute call of escape to unbelieving family, friends, neighbors and—through the Internet—to the world?
Consider this fact: The current world population is approximately 8 billion souls. This means that, of all those who have lived on the Earth since the time of Christ until today, over half of them are now alive. Whether this figure is accurate or not, I do not know. But this I do know: we have never had such a vast opportunity to reach so many with the soul-saving message of Jesus Christ! Therefore, we should prepare to stand in the “hour of trial,” and be a beacon of light to those wandering in the dark.
Finally, Paul seems to imply that the world will have had ample evidence prior to the Rapture to choose Christ and escape the Tribulation:
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,
and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the
love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion,
that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not
believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2Th 2:9–12
Because they refused and hardened their hearts, God will seal them in their unbelief, according to the formula presented in Rom 1:18–32. Having rejected the true Savior of the world, they will receive the antichrist, and their doom will be sealed. But the critical question remains: how many will yet come to faith in Christ in the closing moments of this present Church Age?


Series Navigation
<< The Foolishness and the Weakness of God <<--->> The True Disciple – Part One >>