While there are several verses that are strong arguments for the pre-tribulational rapture, Revelation 3:10 is one of the most persuasive. In it, every single phrase (and word!) points to God’s plan to remove his church from the earth before the seven-year tribulation.
I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 3:10).
“I will keep you”
The subject of the promise in this verse is Jesus, and the object is the “you,” in this case: his beleaguered and persecuted church. The content of the promise is that he will “keep” them. That word translated keep means to “reserve, preserve, guard.”
It is the word used by the wedding guests when they say they are surprised by the host because he has kept the good wine until last. It is the word Jesus uses in his prayer in John 17:11 (Father, keep them in your name”). When Paul appealed his arrest, the king “ordered him to be kept in custody” until he was sent to Cesar (Acts 25:21). It is also used of keeping your virgin daughter (1 Cor 7:37), keeping the commandment of God (1 Tim 6:14), keeping the faith (2 Tim 4:7), and of the fact that God reserves our inheritance for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). In all these cases the idea is that the object is kept close to the person doing the guarding, so that nothing bad can happen to it.
Moreover, this word is used of the guards by Jesus’ tomb (keeping watch over the body, Matt 27:36), and by Luke to describe Peter being kept in prison (Acts 12:5). But in these cases the keeping is over the grave, and in the jail. In Rev 3:10, the keeping isn’t over or in, but:
In English, prepositions are often interchangeable. My sermon last week was about Revelation 3, in Revelation 3, on Revelation 3, out of Revelation 3, over Revelation 3, and through Revelation 3. All of these phrases mean basically the same thing.
But Greek doesn’t work like that. In Greek, prepositions are spatially related. In Revelation 3:10, the preposition (ek/from) indicates removal of the object from one location to another. The idea is that God will keep us out from:
The use of the article before “hour of trial” serves to show that Jesus has a specific time period in mind. In Greek, the article functions to show identity (and lack of an article shows quality). An example: if I said “a cat came to my door,” you would want the rest of the story. But if I said “the cat came to my door,” you’d wonder what you missed, because by wording it that way I’m implying that you should know what cat I’m talking about.
By using the Jesus indicates that the period of trial in mind is not generic, but known to his readers. In other words, he doesn’t mean “I’ll deliver you from the concept of trials that generally are on earth since the fall” but rather “I’ll deliver you out of this specific period of trials that you are easily able to identify.” In the context, I think the period of trial he is referencing is what comes next in Revelation (Rev 6-18).
Here the word is idiomatic, much like the English word season. If you told me that you were in a rough season of life, I wouldn’t assume you meant a literal three months. The same is true here; Jesus means that there is a period of trial that is about to come upon the earth. In other words, it is not the normal trials that churches go through (and which are described in Rev 2-3), but he has in mind a distinct future period of time.
That distinct period of time will be known as a period of trial. This word can also mean testing or tempting. It is the word used by Jesus in the Lord’s prayer “lead us not into temptation.” It is what people who desire riches fall into (1 Tim 6:9), but also what the Lord knows how to deliver his people out of (2 Peter 2:9). Interestingly, it is the word Peter uses in 1 Peter 4:12: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing.”
That is coming
The word used here literally means “about to happen; at the point of happening.” In other words, Jesus is referencing a future period of trials. He is not talking about the trials the church is already going through, but rather a future period of trial about to be revealed to his readers.
Upon the whole earth
This future period of trial will fall upon the entire earth. While some want the world to mean “only the entire known earth” (as if that was a distinction that matters to Jesus), the point is still that this period of trial will be not be local, but will in fact be global. The phrase is expanded at the end of verse 10 to “those who dwell on the earth.” Clearly this is not some localized municipal or national event, but rather will affect all those who live on the planet.
This period of trials has an objective: to try people. This is the same word used earlier, hence the ESV (“hour of testing that is coming…to test”). The one sending the trial—God—has a goal, to expose the people that “dwell on the earth” as falling short of his standard. It’s the word used to describe how the Pharisees demanded Jesus perform a sign to prove that he was the Messiah (Mat 16:1), the same concept for which Jesus rebuked the crowds later (“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” 22:18).
In closer context, in Revelation 2:10 the devil was “testing” the church of Smyrna to provoke them to sin. The idea in Revelation 3:10 is that God is doing the testing to expose the lack of faith and the love of sin in the hearts of those that dwell upon the whole earth.
Who dwell upon the earth
The universality of this testing is repeated, and the repetition of it makes it even less likely that Jesus had in mind something local to Israel, Turkey, or Patmos. It refers to those who “dwell” (which means “to live/reside”) but it is interesting that Paul/Luke use the same word in Acts 17:24 to say that the Lord “does not dwell” in temples made by human hands.
When you take all of this together, Jesus is encouraging the beleaguered church by telling them that because they overcome the world and hold on to their faith until the end, he will rescue them from period of destruction about to fall on the earth, which he will describe next in the book of Revelation. This period of destruction is of course described elsewhere (e.g. Dan 9, Jer 30, Mat 24). But here in Revelation it is going to be described in detail, and so it is introduced with a reminder that God will rescue his elect across the face of the earth by removing them from the trial that is about to fall on it.
In other words, the removal of the overcomers will happen before the great tribulation.