Our journey through Revelation has just begun and there are so many questions to ask of the text already! Some we have dealt with on Sunday mornings, but there are many other verses we could spend extended time on. We want to highlight one of those here.
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.Revelation 3:10
What is the “hour of trial on the whole world”? Why are they being tested? Has this already happened or is it to come? Let’s just say there is no consensus among scholars on the meaning of this passage. However, it shouldn’t stop us from pondering and thinking about the possibilities.
This church in Philadelphia has a lot that is praiseworthy. In particular, they have not let opposition and difficult times cause them to give up in their faith in Jesus. They have endured patiently just as Jesus did during his fiery trial and they are commended for it. But a difficult “hour” is coming. Whenever time is mentioned in Revelation, it is often addressed in a generalized way, rather than an exact literal duration.
Those who hold a futurist position believe this points to a pre-tribulation time. Because Jesus promises to spare this church from what is going to happen to the world, it must mean the church will be raptured from the earth prior to the last days of the earth. Dr. John MacArthur is one notable teacher holding this position. He writes, “Because the believers in Philadelphia had successfully passed so many tests, Jesus promised to spare them from the ultimate test. The sweeping nature of the promise extends far beyond the Philadelphia congregation to encompass all faithful churches throughout history.”
The idealist sees these words as a more universal promise that could apply to any major world conflict that might threaten the church. Jesus promises we will experience hardship and difficulty, but we will always be kept secure in his hand. The church will always endure.
The preterists position has a much more specific interpretation. “The whole world is a term used to describe the Roman Empire in Luke 2:1 and elsewhere. That it is to test those who dwell on the earth may suggest that there is a crisis that will shake the whole empire and put the Jews, in particular, into spectacular peril. In AD 68, the death of Nero, and the civil wars that followed, greatly threatened the stability of the Roman Empire, until Vespasian was made emperor in AD 70. During this same period the Jews were embroiled in a fight for the survival of their nation…a fight which they lost” (Steve Gregg in Revelation, pg 111).
Even if you hold a futurist position, believers are not promised escape from all problems and hardships in our lives. They are to be expected. The encouragement in this text comes from the fact that Jesus sustains and rewards those who don’t give up in the hardship. Our struggles on this earth are temporary and momentary in light of eternity in the presence of God. The promise is “I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name” (Rev 3:12). A new tattoo anyone?
What insights do you have on this passage? How does it speak to you? Share your comments and questions below.