Jesus' words, addressed to the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-13, are relevant to the Church today. Notice verse 10:
"Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth."
Pretribulationists say this verse means the Church will be removed from the earth before the Great Tribulation, while other premillennialists believe it means the Church will go through this hour and be preserved through its entirety.
History's Undeniable Witness To Revelation 3:10
History itself provides a strong clue to the meaning of the text. A pastor friend of mine once preached,
"Those of you who have studied Revelation know that Revelation 3:10 is probably a reference to the Great Tribulation that is coming upon the whole world. But we also know from our study of Scripture that sometimes a verse has a double application. This verse does apply to the Great Tribulation. But the immediate application to those people in that time was that, in 95 A.D., one of the most severe persecutions of the Roman Empire was about to descend upon the Christians. And as this message was being written to the Philadelphian faithful, and with us in mind as well, they are aware, there is a sense of foreboding, there's a strong feeling that something is about to descend upon them, and they feel little and they feel small, they feel insignificant and they feel insecure."
John wrote Revelation about 90 A.D., and history shows that both the Jews and the Romans under Domitian began a great persecution against the Christians shortly after the book was written:
Because it had 'a little strength' to take advantage of the opportunity for witness, it had kept Christ's Word and not denied His name. The Philadelphian church's vigorous missionary activity won many Jews of the city, resulting in the violent opposition of the local Jewish populace. (Unger's Bible Handbook, p. 849).
"From 93 until his death in 96, Domitian's reign became literally a reign of terror. 'All this made him everywhere hated and feared,' wrote Suetonius. "Christians also were targets of Domitian's fury. Though he never instituted an organized or empire-wide campaign, several sources refer to persecutions of Christians during his reign. The emperor banished his cousin's wife because she was believed to be a Christian, and ordered other Christians killed. Some 200 years later Eusebius wrote: 'He was the second that raised a persecution against us." ("After Jesus: The Triumph of Christianity," The Reader's Digest Association, 1992, p. 99).
John wrote Revelation as Christians, especially in Asia Minor [which included Philadelphia], were refusing orders to worship the emperor. Christians who faced the harshness of Roman oppression would surely have taken comfort and courage from John's awesome vision. They would need such courage to defy the emperor, Christians were beginning to pay dearly for their faith" (Ibid., p. 109).
What is the significance here? History has established the meaning of Revelation 3:10, whether one considers these quotes or not.
Christians in Philadelphia, to whom Revelation 3:10 was addressed, WERE NOT REMOVED FROM THE IMMEDIATE SPHERE OF PERSECUTION; THEY PASSED THROUGH THE PERIOD OF TRIAL. The Zondervan Pictorial-Bible Dictionary clearly says of Philadelphia:
"A Christian witness, in spite of Moslan invasion and pressure, was maintained in Philadelphia through medieval and modern times" (s.v. PHILADELPHIA, E. M. Blaiklock, Litt.D, p. 648).
Yet segments within today's Church insist on denying the witness of this first fulfillment, thereby placing the Church in danger of manipulation by both spiritual and temporal forces.
A Violation of Reason
It appears that reason has taken flight within certain segments of the modern-day Church, a problem that seems dangerously consistent. In a recent letter concerning the battles against moral decay in our nation, Rev. Earle Fox of EMMAUS Ministries stated,
"Clear thinking is a gift of the Spirit. It is appalling that Christians are so inept at it, which seems to be just more evidence of the Church's separation from God['s mind], "The forces of Satan do not care a fig for reason or reasonable arguments. But there are many folks out there who do, and who will respond to a clear and reasonable presentation of the Gospel. 'Come, let us reason together.' God is the only truly reasonable being in the universe, and He is trying to teach us to be reasonable also. What is more reasonable than trusting and obeying God? Anything else is silly, let alone sinful."
I believe Fr. Fox's statement is applicable to God's prophetic word as well, such as Revelation 3:10. Keeping in mind THAT HISTORY WITNESSES TO THE FACT THAT THE PHILADELPHIANS WERE PRESERVED THROUGH, NOT REMOVED FROM, their hour of trial, I believe a return to sound reason is in order here:
It is reasonable that if the promise to the church of Philadelphia in 90 A.D. meant they would be preserved through, not removed from the midst of, the trials and persecution of their whole world, that same promise to the end-time Church must have the same meaning. The meaning of Scripture cannot be changed to suit one's belief system.
It is a violation of reason to believe that A PROMISE FULFILLED AS PRESERVATION IN THE MIDST OF PERSECUTION 1900 YEARS AGO CAN NOW BE INTERPRETED AS MEANING REMOVAL FROM THE EARTH TO ESCAPE "FROM THE HOUR OF TRIAL that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth."
It's a compromise of reason to propose such a thing. You can't call a cow a sheep. If it walks like a cow and moos like a cow and smells like a cow and swishes its tail at flies like a cow and gives milk like a cow, it's a cow. All the belief in the world will never make a cow a sheep; it's just not reasonable. And in the realm of Biblical prophecy, lack of reason is downright dangerous. If the meaning of Revelation 3:10 has been established by history itself, how can the modern Christian change its historical meaning to suit his own purposes or doctrine?