For some, Revelation 3:10 is something of a silver bullet when it comes to proving that the rapture (the taking up of the Church to heaven) will occur before the 7 years of tribulation prophesied to come upon the earth. It reads,
“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”
The whole argument rests on the words “keep you from the hour…about to come upon the whole world.” If it can be shown that of necessity the only way the Church can be rightly said to be “[kept] from the hour” is by being removed from it, then the argument is irrefutable.
There are several reasons why this is not an irrefutable argument and other compelling reasons to believe that it is not referring to the pre-trib rapture.
The wording is not as rigid as you think
Several times I have heard proponents make a point about the Greek preposition ἐκ (translated “from”). After all, John didn’t say kept through the hour of trial or kept in the trial. Thus we must take this as kept “out of” the tribulation. Some go even further by saying that the preposition ἐκ always takes this spatial meaning.
But this argument is demonstrably false. There are indeed examples of the preposition ἐκ being used in a sense other than spatially. Consider John 17:15, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
Here we see almost the same wording. We are said to be “[kept] from the evil one.” John, who also wrote Revelation, uses the same word for “keep” here as in Rev. 3:10. Yet, here we are not kept from the devil in proximity, but from his influence and dominion (see Col. 1:13). Thus, if it is possible that we can be kept from the “prince of the power of the air”- a title of his absolute dominion over the very atmosphere and inner workings of this earth (Eph. 2:2)- while still remaining on the earth, why can we not be kept from the hour of trial while remaining on the earth?
Whatever we understand being kept from the evil one, it cannot mean taken out of earth, for in the very same breath Jesus explicitly denied that possibility. We are not taken out of the earth, but kept from the evil one.
It puzzles me then that advocates of this position can affirm this verse by teaching that we must endure persecution in order to finish the work of the evangelism while simultaneously holding that when things get the darkest and the world needs the Church the most, God will reverse Jesus’ request and pull us out of the world. If Jesus’ plan for us is to remain in the world but not of the world, why should that suddenly change when things get extra difficult?
Hebrews 5:7 is another relevant passage to counter the wrong assertion about ἐκ. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications… to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”
Again, we have the preposition ἐκ used, but here it does not refer to spatial removal. In Hebrews 5:7, we are told Jesus prayed “in the days of His flesh” (a reference to His earthly life) to be delivered from death, and God answered His prayer. But this should not be thought to imply that Jesus never experienced death at all; for we know the opposite to be true. The plain meaning is that Jesus was saved from death’s permanent power. Therefore, the presence of the preposition ἐκ should not be thought to necessarily imply the lack of entrance.
That being said, being kept from something is different from being saved from a situation after entering it. I actually don’t believe we will enter the hour of testing at all. Allow me to explain.
The “hour of trial” is designed for a special class of people
Look at the end of Rev 3:10. The hour will come “to try those who dwell on the earth.” In this verse we see expressed intent. Who is the hour of trial intended for? “Those who dwell on the earth.” While this phrase may initially seem to bolster the opposing argument, the opposite is true.
As you trace the phrase “those who dwell on the earth,” throughout Revelation, you find that it is always used to refer to unbelievers, often in distinction to “saints” (which includes the 144,000) who still occupy the earth (Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8- it is obscured in the ESV but it is the same phrase in Greek). You find that the description “those who dwell on the earth” acts like a title. Revelation 17:8 defines for us “those who dwell on the earth” as those “whose names have not been written in the book of life.”
It is impossible for the pre-trib position to strictly take “those who dwell on the earth” as those left on earth. For even pre-trib supporters believe there will be saints who come out of the tribulation by death (Rev. 7:13-17) as well as the 144,000 (Rev. 7:1-8). Therefore, it is erroneous and inconsistent to imply that the Church cannot remain on earth due to the wording itself.
Nor is this description insignificant. The fact that John describes unbelievers as “those who dwell on the earth” is not to imply that none of God’s people are left, but to show that the overwhelming majority of people living in these days are unsaved! John uses a similar expression to describe the believer’s antagonism to “the world” (Jn. 15:18-19, 16:33, 17:16; 1 Jn. 2:15-16, 3:1, 5:4, etc.). Believers are truly outnumbered, so much so that John can say, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 Jn. 3:13). It would be like someone saying, “Everyone hates us!” Perhaps, not everyone hates the persons described, but the meaning is understood.
So we see, “the hour” is specifically designated to test unbelievers, and if God intended the trial to affect unbelievers, it should not be thought incredible that the Church can still occupy the earth and not experience the horrors of the trial. In this way, the Church is “[kept] from the hour,” because it is not intended for them, and they do not experience its trouble.
The best example of this is Israel’s exodus from Egypt (see Ex. 7:3-5, 12:12 and Dt. 4:32-35). If we ask, “who were the testing, trials and judgments of Egypt intended for?” we must answer, “Egypt!” And if we ask, “Does that imply that the Israelites were not in Egypt at this time?” we must further answer “No, for the Scripture states they were in the midst of Egypt when all these things happened.”
Similarly, we may ask “Who is ‘the hour of trial’ in Revelation 3:10 intended for?” and “Does that imply the Church will not be present on earth at that time?” The answer to the last question, I think you will see, is “No, we can make no such assumption.”
We might further ask “Is ‘the hour’ intended for the 144,000 or the other saints who are clearly still on the earth?” The natural conclusion seems to be no. Nevertheless, to leave us without any doubt I proceed to the next point.
The passage proceeds to talk about being sealed by God’s name and saved from judgment
Context is king! Sadly, when many pre-trib supporters quote this passage they often miss what follows. In Revelation 3:11-13 we learn more about what it is to be “[kept] from the hour.” In particular, we are told God will “make [the one who conquers] a pillar in the temple of my God” and- get this- “I will write on him the name of my God.” This is so important, and many people miss it!
What does it mean to have written on us the name of God? If we read Revelation all the way through, we find that others are marked with the name of God in Revelation 14:1 and 22:4. This marking is set over against the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-14:1) and it clearly defines sides. But this marking does more than identify; it protects from plagues (see Rev. 7:3, 9:4). Elsewhere we are told that the plague affects only “those who had the mark of the beast” (Rev. 16:2).
For these reasons, Revelation 3:10 does not support the pre-trib view. In fact, it offers compelling reasons to believe otherwise. While this passage is supposed to be one of the strongest verses to support the pre-trib view, it does not say all that its proponents would like it to say. Personally, this verse kept me from abandoning the pre-trib position longer than any other verse. It seemed so convincing! But it is not as simple as people would make it.