Updated: Jun 5, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
In the first few chapters of Revelation, Jesus has messages to give to seven local churches in Asia Minor. In one of them to the church in Philadelphia, He says, “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth” (Rev. 3:10). However, these words are probably not directed towards a Rapture from a tribulation that is world-wide. Rather, it probably is a reference to the coming persecution of Christians by the Roman empire, from which God will protect them from.
Christianity was persecuted incessantly, and was constantly receiving “hours of trial” from those who hated it. The text does say that the sufferings to come would be upon “the whole world.” However, even knowing that, the Greek term for “the whole world” does not mean the literal “whole world.” For often it refers to the land controlled by Rome. See Acts 24:5 where Paul is said to have spread Christianity throughout the “whole world” (same Gk. term) – which we know is not literal, for he preached mainly in Greece and Asia Minor!
To assume that Christ did not want the local church in Philadelphia to suffer is rather anti-suffering and anti-biblical. The New Testament constantly speaks about Christians undergoing a testing of faith, such as James 1:2-3, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” The Christians in Philadelphia (the area east of Greece), have had their faith tested already and it was proved to be genuine, “you have kept my word…” (Rev. 3:10). It was not that Christ wanted them to avoid all suffering.
Now, the question needs to be asked, how does Christ keep this church from the hour of trial? Maybe they are kept in the sense that the Romans avoid their city. Or maybe they are hidden and protected as the Romans invade their city.
Another possibility is that it is by His grace, for we are “kept by the power of God” (1 Pet. 1:5) unto eternal life. Christians are given strength by God to resist evil and emerge victoriously from temptations to sin. Thus, their faith will be kept strong by His grace when the evils occur, unlike the seed that fell on rocky ground, who “endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Mt. 13:21).
Revelation 3:10 has multiple possible interpretations, and it is more probable that the passage has to do with the Roman Empire. For the Roman Empire was persecuting the Christians heavily according to history. The Emperor Nero even blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians, even though history has shown that they were most likely scapegoats. The local church in Asia Minor would be protected during the coming persecution, and this does not refer to a Rapture before the Tribulation.