The timing of the Rapture and the importance of Revelation 3:10

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by Mark Hitchcock

There are four main views of the timing of the Rapture of the Church: pretribulation, midtribulation, pre-wrath and post-tribulation. All of the views agree that God’s wrath will be poured out sometime during the Tribulation and that the Church is exempt from that wrath:

…and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.—1 Thessalonians 1:10

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…—1 Thessalonians 5:9

Therefore, the two key questions for all these views are:

  1. When does God’s wrath begin?
  2. What means will God use to spare the church from it?

Each view answers these questions differently.

Pretribulationists believe that wrath of God begins at the beginning of the Tribulation and that God will deliver His people from it by removing them at the Rapture.

Midtribulationists hold that the wrath begins at the midpoint of the seven-year Tribulation and that believers will be raptured to heaven at that point.

Pre-wrath Rapture proponents maintain that the wrath of God begins three-fourths of the way through the Tribulation (5½ years) and that the Church will be raptured at that point.

Posttribulationists believe God’s wrath will be limited to the very end of the Tribulation and that God will keep or protect the Church through that time, and then rapture the Church at the end of the Tribulation in conjunction with the Second Coming. Posttribulationists believe that the Church will be raptured to meet Jesus as He returns at His Second Coming and then will make a dramatic U-turn and come right back down with Him to the earth. Some have called this the “yo-yo” version of the Rapture.

In weighing these views to determine which is most consistent with Scripture, Revelation 3:10 is a key verse. In this passage, Jesus makes a promise of deliverance from the future Tribulation period to the first-century church at Philadelphia:

“‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly.’”—Revelation 3:10-11

Notice that Jesus tells the believers He will keep them “from” the hour of testing. The Greek preposition used here (ek) carries the idea of “out of, or from.” This is inconsistent with the post-trib idea of Christ protecting believers on earth “through” the Tribulation.

There are four important things to note about this promise.

“From” vs. “Through”

First, the Lord promises to keep believers “from” the time of testing. The words “keep from” are the English translation of the Greek words tereo ek. Pre-tribbers argue that this supports the notion of evacuation from the earth before the Tribulation. Post-tribbers believe this passage teaches protection of the Church on earth during the Tribulation. Tereo is the Greek word for “keep, preserve, protect,” and the Greek preposition ek means “out of, out from within.”

Those who oppose the pre-trib view argue that the word ek here means “through;” thus, the Lord will keep believers “through” the time of Tribulation not “out of” it. But if the Lord had meant that believers would be kept “through” the Tribulation, He would have used the Greek preposition dia, which carries this clear meaning. Furthermore, the only other use of tereo ek in the New Testament is in John 17:15, which says, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (italics added).

The usage of this identical phrase in John 17:15 supports the meaning of ek in Revelation 3:10 as “to keep from completely” or “out from within.” God doesn’t keep His people through Satan, the evil one. He keeps us from Him.

Also, if Revelation 3:10 is a promise of protection for believers through the Tribulation, then how does one explain Revelation 7:9-14, which describes millions of believers being martyred during the Tribulation? It’s much more consistent to understand Revelation 3:10 as a “keeping from” the wrath of God during the Tribulation.

Protection from Testing

A second important point is frequently overlooked in the discussion of this verse. In Revelation 3:10, the Lord promises to keep his people not just from, or out of, the testing but from the very “time” or hour of testing. The exemption of believers is not just from the trials of the Tribulation but from the very Tribulation itself. This means the Church will be exempt from the hour or very time when this testing occurs—that is, from the entire Tribulation period. This strongly supports the pre-trib notion of evacuation out of the Tribulation, not the post-trib idea of protection through it.

Third, the time of testing that believers will miss is worldwide. It will “come upon the whole world.” What is this time of worldwide testing? In the context of the book of Revelation, the only time period it could refer to is the entire Tribulation that is graphically described in Revelation 618.

Fourth, after promising to deliver His people from the time of worldwide testing, Jesus gives the means of this protection from the hour of testing in Revelation 3:11. He tells us how this deliverance will be accomplished—“I am coming quickly.”

Promise of Deliverance

Putting these four points together, it is clear to me that the Lord will protect His people from the time of worldwide testing by His coming for them at the Rapture.

In his book Come Quickly, Lord Jesus, well-known theologian Charles Ryrie gives an excellent illustration of the truth conveyed in this passage of Revelation.

As a teacher I frequently give exams. Let’s suppose that I announce an exam will occur on such and such a day at the regular class time. Then suppose I say, ‘I want to make a promise to students whose grade average for the semester so far is A. The promise is: I will keep you from the exam.’

Now I could keep my promise to those A students this way: I would tell them to come to the exam, pass out the exam to everyone, and give the A students a sheet containing the answers. They would take the exam and yet in reality be kept from the exam. They would live through the time but not suffer the trial. This is posttribulationism: protection while enduring.

But if I said to the class, ‘I am giving an exam next week. I want to make a promise to all the A students. I will keep you from the hour of the exam.’ They would understand clearly that to be kept for the hour of the test exempts them from being present during that hour. This is pretribulationism, and this is the meaning of the promise of Revelation 3:10. And the promise came from the risen Savior who Himself is the deliverer of the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Some argue, however, that this promise, even if it is a promise of deliverance, was just for the Philadelphians and cannot be legitimately claimed by believers today. However, it’s important to remember that while each of the seven letters is addressed to a different church, the concluding formula in each letter refers to “the churches” (plural).

The personal message to each church is both a challenge and a comfort to all believers, including us.

That means Revelation 3:10 is a promise we can claim every day as we wait for the Rapture.