Jesus writes to the persecuted church in Philadelphia offering them a key of protection. He tells them that he has the “Key of David”, referring to Isaiah 22:22-23 and identifying himself as the one with authority over the church; the house of God. He can let people in and keep others out. David’s house was a strong fortress. A safe place to go to. People could be let in or locked out. Jesus encourages the church with this promise:
I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. (ESV) Rev 3:10
That sounds great but what should they expect? Will Jesus keep them from the hour of trial by taking them away from it or will he keep them safe in the hour of trial by protecting them through it?
Some think Jesus is promising a doorway out of the world. That at some time in the future Jesus will take all those who trust in him out of the world sparing them from the time of terrible suffering that will come on the earth.
An airborne Boeing 747 is headed to London when, without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats. Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun. Taken form the Left behind series
The popular “left behind books” imagine what it would be like if Christians were suddenly taken up to be with Jesus leaving behind those who don’t know him. Cars crashing as their drivers disappear heavenwards and imagine the irony of a pastor preaching when his congregation suddenly disappears, leaving him on his own!
The trouble is that the Greek of this verse is ambiguous as to whether Jesus will take the Philadelphian church away from danger or protect them through it so we must look elsewhere to decide. Jesus has previously prayed to his Father:
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from (τηρήσῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ) the evil one. John 17:15 (ESV)
Since the phrasing is so similar to Jesus words in his letter:
….I will keep you from (σε τηρήσω ἐκ) the hour of trial…. Rev 3:10 (ESV) Revelation 3:10
it seems that Jesus’ intension as stated is explicitly not to take them out of trouble but to keep them safe through it. No matter what happens to the Christians in Philadelphia, they would be kept safe from Satan’s ends though not necessary his means. Satan wants to take them away from God by any means possible; Threats, humiliation, mocking, torture but whatever he does will not succeed. Jesus will keep the church safe. God will be to them a secure fortress.
More than that God can use Satan’s worst to do his best. As Calvin puts it:
Whatever poison Satan produces, God turns into medicine for his elect Calvin
It’s as well to know that so that when things get touch we don’t think God’s gone back on his promise of protection, or that we have been “left behind”. Rather we can take heart that God will protect and strengthen us through any situation that we find ourselves in.
PS. Something else that occurs to me is that if this is a real letter to a real church and not simply a literary means of saying something about churches in general (and I think it is a real letter otherwise the real churches would be a bit miffed if they were unfairly represented in this widely distributed letter) then the encouragement of protection needs to mean something to them then and there. Does that means therefore that the hour of trial has in some sense started? My reading of Revelation is that it portrays things as ramping up and intensifying so even if the our of trial has not yet come, which I suspect it has not, then the first drops of that storm are already upon us for which the same principles are applicable.