SYNOPSIS – Revelation nowhere describes the physical removal of the Church from the earth to escape the tribulation – Overcoming saints remain faithful in tribulations – Revelation 3:10.
Some proponents of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture cite Revelation 3:10 as a promise to the Church of escape by a rapture from the “Great Tribulation.” This interpretation ignores the context of the passage and the language used, especially when it assumes the “hour of trial” is synonymous with “tribulation.”
Moreover, this reading renders the promise to a first-century church void, and it cannot explain why Smyrna was promised more tribulation because of its faithfulness but the church of Philadelphia was not; both congregations were faithful, and neither had need of any correction.
(Revelation 3:10), “Because you have kept my word of perseverance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole habitable earth, to try those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast what you have.”
For better or worse, the doctrine of the rapture makes four unsustainable assumptions:
- The seven churches represent consecutive periods of church history.
- Philadelphia represents the period just prior to the Tribulation.
- The term “trial” is synonymous with “tribulation.”
- The Church is “kept from the hour of trial” by its removal from the earth.
According to this position, the seven messages to the churches are prophetic descriptions of consecutive eras of church history, with the first six covering the period from the first century to the start of the “Great Tribulation.” However, the book of Revelation never even suggests such a thing – This interpretation is an artificial construct imposed on the text, one that ignores the historical setting of the book.
In its entirety, Revelation is addressed to seven Christian congregations in key cities of the Roman province of Asia. All seven are known from other literary sources. The original recipients were admonished to read and hear all the words written in the prophecy, which indicates the entire book was relevant to their real-life situations – (Revelation 1:3-4, 1:11).
Throughout the book, members of the seven congregations (and other followers of the Lamb) endure tribulation. The Greek noun for “tribulation” or thlipsis occurs five times in the book of Revelation. The term means, “affliction, oppression, trouble, distress, tribulation” – The original sense was pressure, a pressing together and compression – (Revelation 1:9, 2:9, 2:10, 2:22, 7:14).
John described himself positively as a “fellow participant in THE tribulation and the kingdom and the endurance in Jesus.” Tribulation was not something from which he hoped to escape but a reality he acknowledged, and one with which he identified himself as a Christian participant – (Revelation 1:9).
Jesus declared his knowledge of the “tribulation and poverty” suffered by the Church at Smyrna. The message to Smyrna included no criticism or correction. Christ was pleased with the faithfulness of this congregation, yet he warned of a coming “tribulation of ten days” that it was about to experience. There was no promise of escape from tribulation and persecution. This was to “try” the church. If overcoming believers remained “faithful unto death,” they would receive the “crown of life” in the New Creation. Persecution and violent death were no impediments to receiving everlasting rewards (Revelation 2:10).
“Tribulation” is used negatively only as a warning to Christians who engaged in idolatry in Thyatira. Jesus was poised to “cast those who commit adultery with the woman Jezebel into great tribulation.” The warning was for wayward Christians, not the unsaved, and “tribulation” was intended to correct them and bring about their repentance.
Finally, John saw an innumerable multitude of men and women from coming out of the “Great Tribulation,” having been redeemed by the Lamb. They had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” not by escaping the Tribulation but, instead, by persevering through it – (Revelation 7:14).
In each case in Revelation, “tribulation” is applied to the church, not to the outside world. The church overcomes by enduring persecution, a major theme of the book, and one incompatible with the idea of escape. Martyrdom is the “perseverance and the faith of the saints.” Christians “overcome” Satan, not by escape, but “by the blood of the Lamb, by reason the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives even unto death” – (Revelation 12:11, 13:7-10, 14:12).
The Greek noun used for “trial” in the “hour of trial” is peirasmos, which means “trial” or “test,” NOT “tribulation” or “wrath.” The related verb is used in the same sentence and, likewise, means to “try, put to the test” (peirazō). This is the same verb used previously to “try” or “examine” false apostles – (Revelation 2:2, 3:10).
The reference to the “hour of trial” suggests something other than the “Great Tribulation.” Elsewhere, the short period of an “hour” refers to:
- The “hour” of the unexpected arrival of Jesus to judge those unprepared (Revelation 3:3, “I will come like a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you”).
- (Revelation 9:14-15) – Four angels were “prepared for the hour and day and month and year” to kill a third of mankind.
- The same “hour” in which God resurrected the two witnesses a great earthquake destroyed a tenth of “Babylon” in anticipation of the final judgment (Revelation 11:11-19).
- The “hour” refers to the final judgment of God on the wicked (Revelation 14:7, “the hour of his judgment has come”).
- Likewise, in Revelation 14:15, an angel declared that “the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
- (Revelation 17:12) – Ten kings allied with the Beast “receive authority as kings for one hour,” indicating a short time.
- (Revelation 18:10) – The judgment of “great Babylon” arrives “in one hour.”
- (Revelation 18:17-19) – Babylon is laid waste “in one hour.”
In most cases, the “hour” refers to a time of final judgment. The “hour of trial” from which Philadelphia is to be kept is the final judgment, not the tribulation.
Jesus promises both rewards and the avoidance of judgment to Christians who “overcome.” The overcomer will “eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God”, receive the “crown of life,” receive the “hidden manna” and a new name, inherit “authority over the nations,” be arrayed “in white garments,” be confessed by Jesus before his Father, become a pillar in God’s Temple, receive a new name, and he will “take his seat” with Christ in his throne. The overcomer will not “be injured by the second death” and not have his name “blotted out of the book of life” – (Revelation 2:7-11, 2:26, 3:5, 3:21).
This understanding of the “hour of trial” is in line with the inexorable movement of the visions of John toward the final judgment at the Great White Throne of judgment, as well as the receipt of life by the faithful in the New Jerusalem.
After the final battle of the book, all “the dead, the great and the small, stand before the Throne; and books were opened, and another book was opened, the book of life; and the dead were judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works.” Death, Hades, and “anyone not found written in the book of life” was cast into the Lake of Fire, the “Second Death” – (Revelation 20:11-15).
The churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia are the only two that are not criticized or corrected by Jesus. Both are praised for faithfulness under pressure and both endured slander from the Jews of the “synagogue of Satan.”But instead of escape, more tribulation and martyrdom are promised. Why this incongruity? Why is the church at Philadelphia promised an escape from tribulation for its faithfulness, while Smyrna is promised more tribulation for the same level of faithfulness?
The promise to “keep you from the hour of trial” was given to the first-century church of Philadelphia. Any interpretation that cannot apply that promise to the Christians at Philadelphia renders it irrelevant.
If this was a promise of escape for the Philadelphians from the tribulation, it remains unfulfilled. Further, because of death and the passage of time, none of the members of that church will ever see any future tribulation. The same is true of all the other ancient churches of Asia, as well as all past generations of believers and non-believers alike. No one who dies before the Great Tribulation, Christian or pagan, will ever experience it.
The doctrine of the Rapture renders Revelation 3:10 into an empty promise. If the promise was only for the Christians of the “last generation” prior to the “Great Tribulation,” then it was never relevant to the church of Philadelphia and turns the promise into literary fiction, if not into a hollow promise.
Finally, the book of Revelation nowhere mentions or describes the physical removal of the Church from the earth to heaven via a “rapture” or anything else, an issue never addressed in the book. We ought to be careful before importing the idea of the rapture into it.