Point and Counterpoint: Is it “Through” or “Out”?

imagesThe definitive and primary statement regarding saints of God and tribulation, or even more specifically the Tribulation (or hour of testing), is that God will protect them. Of this we are sure!

The secondary question usually concerns how—Will God rescue them “out” of that intense time of trouble prior to its beginning via a rapture, or will he carry them “through” it, still to be rescued, however, from his wrath by Christ’s coming at the end of just such a time?

This really is the core issue of Revelation 3:10, where Jesus says, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world…” By “keep you from,” does Jesus mean “keep you out” or “keep you through”?

While I shared my own position Sunday in my message, I think it would be beneficial for InkLink readers to see some evidence for both positions, weighing for yourself the points and counterpoints and then making a decision. This is obviously not all the material on this question; nor is it exhaustive about the broader issue. It’s simply some varied, scholarly opinions that should help you form your own opinion.

Point: Those Favoring “Through”

Some commentators have affirmed that the way in which Christ will protect believers from the coming tribulation of 3:10 is by physically “rapturing” them from earth into heaven. This is primarily argued on the basis that this view best accords with the most logical and literal force of τηρέω ἐκ (“keep from”). However, Gundry has shown the improbability of this understanding by demonstrating parallels between Rev. 3:10 and John 17:15, which is the only other NT occurrence of τηρέω with ἐκ: there Christ prays, “I ask not that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from (τηρήσῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ) the evil one.” Thus Jesus denies a physical removal from tribulation and affirms a spiritual protection from the devil (τηρέω [“to keep”] with ἀπό [“from”] in Prov. 7:5 and Jas. 1:27 has the same idea of protection from evil for those living in the midst of evil).[1]

In addition, the portrait in 7:14 is clearly that of believers enduring through tribulation and coming out of it successfully, which points further to the same picture in 3:10. They are not preserved from trial by removal from it, but their faith is preserved through trial because they have been sealed by God (see on 7:1ff. and 7:9ff.). Accordingly, the following interpretative rendering is best here: “I will keep you safe from the spiritual harm of the coming tribulation period.”[2]

The great interpretive challenge is whether Christ is promising to remove the believers physically out of the world before the time of testing (favored by those who expect a “pre-tribulation rapture” for Christians). The more obvious meaning is that he promises to protect (“keep”) these believers from the experience of his wrath (a post-tribulationist viewpoint). In John 17:15 Jesus had prayed, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them.” This uses the same Greek verb as is in 3:10 and is likewise used to support a post-tribulationist perspective. Nowhere has he promised his people protection from the devil’s anger. A great illustration was God’s protection of the Israelites from the devastation of the plagues on the Egyptians without removing them out of Egypt.[3]

I will keep you from the hour of trial: this is a promise that the believers in Philadelphia will not be defeated by the suffering that will soon come upon all people in the world. This hour of trial is the time of distress and suffering which, in apocalyptic theology, will precede the end of the age, before the Messianic coming. The promise here is not that they alone, of all the world’s population, will be exempt from these sufferings; rather the promise is that God will keep them firm during this period of hardship and calamity (see the similar thought in John 17:15). So it may be better to translate “I will keep you safe (protect you) in the time of distress that is coming on the world.” NJB translates “I will keep you safe in the time of trial,” and Beckwith comments: “The Philadelphians … are promised that they shall be carried in safety through the great trial, they shall not fall.”[4]

Counterpoint: Those Favoring “Out”

This is an explicit promise that the Philadelphia church will not endure the hour of trial which is unfolded, beginning in Revelation 6. Christ was saying that the Philadelphia church would not enter the future time of trouble; He could not have stated it more explicitly. If Christ had meant to say that they would be preserved through a time of trouble, or would be taken out from within the Tribulation, a different verb and a different preposition would have been required…

…Though scholars have attempted to avoid this conclusion in order to affirm posttribulationism, the combination of the verb “keep” (tērein) with the preposition “from” (ek) is in sharp contrast to the meaning of keeping the church “through” (dia), a preposition which is not used here. The expression “the hour of trial” (a time period) makes it clear that they would be kept out of that period. It is difficult to see how Christ could have made this promise to this local church if it were God’s intention for the entire church to go through the Tribulation that will come on the entire world. Even though the church at Philadelphia would go to glory via death long before the time of trouble would come, if the church here is taken to be typical of the body of Christ standing true to the faith, the promise seems to go beyond the Philadelphia church to all those who are believers in Christ (cf. Walvoord, Revelation, pp. 86–8).[5]

The Scriptures picture a time of unparalleled natural upheaval, of war and rumors of wars, and of political and economic instability and disaster. How exactly could the church expect to be in the world under those kinds of conditions, and how could any significant understanding of being kept “from the hour of trial” be meaningful? Add to this other matters mentioned in the introduction, such as the strange omission of the word “church” from the text of the Apocalypse following chap. 3. Apparently there is substantial evidence to suggest the possibility that the church is removed prior to the tribulation and that consequently the promise made to the church at Philadelphia in behalf of the Lord’s church everywhere is that when God’s judgment is unleashed on this earth in unprecedented form, the reward of the church, in part, will be that it is spared from enduring that experience.[6]

Rev. 3:10 is surely a reference to the time of Tribulation that John described in Revelation 6–19, “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” This is not speaking about some local trial, because it involves “them that dwell on the earth” (see Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:2, 8). The immediate reference would be to the official Roman persecutions that would come, but the ultimate reference is to the Tribulation that will encompass the earth before Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom. In many Bible scholars’ understanding, Revelation 3:10 is a promise that the church will not go through the Tribulation, but will be taken to heaven before it begins (see 1 Thes. 4:13–5:11). The admonition, “Behold, I come quickly,” would strengthen this view.[7]

Christ’s description—an event still future that for a short time severely tests the whole world—must refer to the time of tribulation, the 7 year period before Christ’s earthly kingdom is consummated, featuring the unleashing of divine wrath in judgments expressed as seals, trumpets, and bowls. This period is described in detail throughout chaps. 6–19. The latter half is called “the Great Tribulation” (7:14; Matt. 24:21) and is identified as to time in 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5. The verb “to keep” is followed by a preposition whose normal meaning is “from” or “out of”—this phrase, “keep … from” supports the pretribulational rapture of the church (see notes on John 14:1–3; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52 1 Thess. 4:13–17). This period is the same as Daniel’s 70th week (see notes on Dan. 9:24–27) and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (See note on Jer. 30:7).[8]

[1] Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 290–291). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

[2] Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 292). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

[3] Easley, K. H. (1998). Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 58). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Bratcher, R. G., & Hatton, H. (1993). A handbook on the Revelation to John (p. 75). New York: United Bible Societies.

[5] Walvoord, J. F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 939–940). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Patterson, P. (2012). Revelation. (E. R. Clendenen, Ed.) (Vol. 39, p. 133). Nashville, TN: B&H.

[7] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 579). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[8] MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1997). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.

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