The Puritan Thomas Goodwin once wrote, “Let us. . . . take God for our portion, whatsoever else becomes of us, whatsoever befalls us; let what will come, what afflictions, what throbs, what miseries or crosses will come, heaven will make amends for all.” Thomas Goodwin, A Discourse of the Blessed State of Glory which the Saints Possess After Death in The Works of Thomas Goodwin, (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2021) 4:464.
Those words excite the soul to remain faithful to God because of the promise they represent: The Lord will lavishly compensate believers for their faithfulness.
When the Lord Jesus addressed the church in Philadelphia—a church that was powerful, obedient, loyal, and enduring—He delivered this same promise. Although the believers in that church were opposed by what Christ calls “the synagogue of Satan,” they remained faithful to God’s word. In response, the Lord Jesus essentially says to them, “I have a reward for your faithfulness. I have unbreakable promises that secure your good.” By doing so, He undoubtedly roused this church to persevere against their enemies.
As we saw last time, the first promise Christ gave the church of Philadelphia was that no one could shut them out of heaven because Christ has absolute power over its doors (Revelation 3:8). Furthermore, the Lord had provided an opportunity for this church to bring others through those doors by faith in Christ. Second, the Lord promised that they would prevail over their persecutors and some of their opponents would even be converted (Revelation 3:9).
After delivering those two promises, Christ continued in the same vein, giving the Philadelphian church assurance of future deliverance and glory.
Deliverance for the Whole Church
The third promise of this letter reads, “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). If this promise refers to an actual historical event, we don’t know what it was. It’s entirely possible that there was a wave of persecution or a natural disaster that occurred in the area, or some other catastrophe during which the Lord protected and preserved this church. But if this promise was for a specific hour of testing that faced the church at Philadelphia, we don’t know when it was or what happened.
However, the language Christ uses here is vast and sweeping, pointing to a fulfillment beyond just the believers in Philadelphia. Many believe that this is the Holy Spirit giving us a look down through redemptive history to a time of severe judgment, that the Lord’s words here refer to the Rapture.
In 1 Corinthians 15:51–53, Paul describes that future event when Christ will take His church from earth to heaven. “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” In the upper room, Christ told His disciples,
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. (John 14:1–4)
Both of those passages describe, not a judgment event, but Christ retrieving His people out of the world, catching them up into glory—the Rapture (or catching away) of the saints. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, Paul describes this event as an encouragement to those mourning the deaths of other believers:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
While it’s unmistakable in Scripture that the Rapture will occur, believers are divided over its timing in relation to other eschatological events—specifically, the time of Tribulation. In Matthew 24:21, Christ warns His disciples, “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” The tribulation is a seven-year period, marked by the reign of the Antichrist and a series of cataclysmic judgments poured out by God, including the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments (Revelation 6–16). It is the period of eschatological history that immediately precedes the Lord’s return to judge sinners with death and hell, and then establish His millennial kingdom on earth.
Regarding the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation, there are several long-standing ideas. Some believe in posttribulationism—that the church will endure the Tribulation and be raptured from the world immediately prior to the Lord’s return for the judgment of the world and to establish His earthly kingdom with the living believers. Others believe in midtribulationism—that the Lord will, in the middle of the Tribulation, rapture His church before the fullness of God’s wrath is poured out in the final three and a half years. There is also the prewrath view, which points to a rapture sometime after the midpoint of the Tribulation but prior to God’s final outpouring of wrath at the end of the Tribulation. The other view, for which Revelation 3:10 serves as a critical support, is known as pretribulationism.
In this view, Christ’s words in verse 10 are a promise that He will rescue His whole church “from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (the Tribulation). The pivotal phrase in the original Greek is tēreō ek (“keep from”). Pretribulationists see this as a promise that God will spare the church from His wrath, that He will keep them from it (see 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10). Proponents of the other views instead interpret this as a promise that God will preserve His church through the Tribulation—or at least portions of it.
There are some compelling reasons to understand Revelation 3:10 from the pretribulationist perspective. First of all, the only other time that Greek phrase tēreō ek appears in Scripture is in John 17:15. During His High Priestly Prayer, the Lord says, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” Christ did not pray for His people to merely endure within the grasp of Satan’s power, but for them to be kept out of it altogether. In both instances, John is the author quoting directly from Christ. There is no compelling reason to read them with two different meanings.
Then there are the implications of interpreting this as a promise of preservation rather than removal. To begin with, Scripture tells us that believers during the Tribulation will suffer and be killed for their faith (see Revelation 6:9–11; 7:9–14). In what sense, then, would the Lord be keeping His church from the time of testing if they are being slaughtered as well as subjected to the horrors of that period? If it is only a promise of protection from His own wrath—but not the wrath of Satan, hell’s demons, the Antichrist, and the unrepentant world system—that doesn’t seem like any comfort. Moreover, if the intent here is that He will simply preserve His church through the Tribulation, how do His words apply to the believers at Philadelphia, who died long before it occurred?
The most acceptable understanding of Revelation 3:10 is as a gracious promise from the Lord to His faithful church—that for their perseverance in obedience to Him, they will be spared the fury of His temporal judgment poured out on the earth during the Tribulation.
In that sense, His words in verse 11—“I am coming quickly”—are not meant as a warning of judgment, as they have been to other churches (2:5, 16, 25; 3:3). Instead, it is a hopeful look forward to the moment He will retrieve His own out of the world. And we should respond to that glorious hope by echoing John’s sentiment at the end of Revelation: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (22:20).
The Crown and the Pillar
In the meantime, Christ warns His people to “hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Revelation 3:11). “Hold fast to what you have” is a call to persevere. We’ve seen already that perseverance is the test of genuine faith and salvation (see Matthew 24:13; 1 John 2:19). But perseverance is not passive. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul explains how the Lord works through the faith of His people to hold them for eternity: “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard” (Colossians 1:22–23). We must hold fast to Christ, even as He holds us.
The phrase “so that no one will take your crown” is not a threat that someone could steal a believer’s salvation. Peter writes that our eternal inheritance is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away” (1 Peter 1:4). As Christ Himself said, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28–29). If this is a reference to the crown of life—the same one He promised to the church at Smyrna—there is nothing anyone could do to steal it. It could only be forfeited if the believer failed to persevere, proving that he was never truly saved in the first place (see 1 John 2:19).
On the other hand, it could be a warning to believers not to let others damage or diminish their eternal reward. As John urged his readers in his second epistle, “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 8). Perhaps this was a reminder to not let temporal concerns rob believers of the eternal reward for their faithfulness.
With eternal rewards in mind, Christ has some promises for those who overcome (see 1 John 5:4–5). He writes, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name” (Revelation 3:12).
What does it mean to be “a pillar in the temple of My God”? Pillars represent permanence and stability. To people whose homes and lives were frequently devastated by earthquakes, this was a promise of an unshakable, immovable place for them in the Lord’s eternal sanctuary—a place “he will not go out from it anymore.” They will perpetually live in the presence of the worship of God.
Yet there’s more. Christ also promises, “I will write on him the name of My God.” This is the equivalent of ownership and possession. For all eternity, we will bear the name of our Lord, which will mark us out as His precious children. Christ says He will also write on us “the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God.” We will not only be designated as belonging to God, but also marked as eternal citizens of the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 21). Forever, we will enjoy all the rights and privileges of citizenship in God’s eternal city.
Finally, Christ says He will write on us His “new name.” Philippians 2:9 tells us, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” Christ’s new name will reflect the perfection of our glorified relationship with Him, when “we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).
The Lord closes with the familiar reminder, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:13). In the case of His letter to Philadelphia, what we hear are the everlasting blessings and heavenly privileges the Lord will grant, not to those who have been perfect, but to those who have by His power been faithful.
(Adapted from Christ’s Call to Reform the Church.)