“téreó ἐκ” Revelation 3:10: Post or Pre-tribulational Understanding?

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The nature of this document is designed to show how the phrase “τηρήσω ἐκ”  (kept from) is used in Revelation 3:10 as it pertains to the great tribulation (7:14; Matt. 24:21, 29). I intend to show the usage of this syntactical phrase via a comparison and contrast by those who hold to two opposing theological positions on the subject. The positions that will be discussed are the Post Tribulational position and the Pre-tribulational position. This post will deal with these views in a threefold manner.

The first portion of this treatise will lay out what postribulationists say with regards to “τηρήσω ἐκ. The second will explain how pre-tribulationist interpret “τηρήσω ἐκ in light of the tribulation, and lastly, I will set forth what position I feel is the best and why. The content listed here is for propounding these particular views without adding anything new to the discussion necessarily. Instead, what I hope to do is paint both positions in an accurate light, and make a decision as to which view represents the Biblical data.

Preliminary Items: Definition of Terms

In dealing with a topic of this magnitude in somewhat of a brief synopsis, a student of the Bible would be remised if they did not define terms. The undertaken of this paper is for understanding and coming to a conclusion of what τηρήσω ἐκ means in the context of two eschatological systems – that of post and pre –tribulationalism. There are two words juxtaposed in this text. The first is τηρήσω.

i. τηρήσω is from the Greek word τηρέω. In the context of the passage being examined it is a future active indicative verb, 1st person singular. It means I will keep, or guard. Advance definitions render this word as causing a state, condition, or activity to continue. It also denotes preserving or reserving someone from someone or something (Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, p. 1002).

ii. ἐκ is a preposition and the second word in the phrase. This word has a broad range of meaning in a given context. Meaning is also based on the syntactical category which the context may help determine what is meant. Daniel Wallace has notated six syntactical categories for this preposition: 1) Source: out of, from 2) Separation: away from, from 3) Temporal: from, from [this point]…on 4) Cause: because of 5) Partitive (i.e. substituting for a partitive genitive): of 6) Means: by, from (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 371 – 372, 742).

My argumentation falls along the lines of this being a genitive of separation. The church will not go through the tribulation by being be kept “out” or “away from” the hour of testing that is to come upon the whole world.

Thus, the importance of these terms cannot be understated. Even this cursory treatment does not do justice, but hopefully the readers of this post will find it helpful.

Posttribulationism and Revelation 3:10

I. What Post Tribulationists teach concerning the rapture

Although this undertaking is not for the purpose of defining detailed facets of all the respective views, there is still a need to briefly explain what each position espouses on a wider platform before nailing down specifics. Though there may be slight variations, the general thrust of post tribulationists is the teaching that believers of the current dispensation will go through the tribulation, not be taken out of the world before this, as pre-tribulationists teach. This breaks down into two points.

A. The church is to be raptured after the Great Tribulation found in Revelation 7:14

B. This will be immediately preceded by the Second Coming of Christ (Douglas Moo, Three Views on the Rapture: Pre, Mid, or Post Tribulation, p. 171). One adherent of this position has noted that all terms i.e. “second coming” “return” “advent” and “parousia” are in reference to a post tribulational return of Christ (Robert H. Gundry, Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism, p. 10 – 11).

II. Arguments for the Post Tribulation Position from Revelation 3:10

A. The Church is represented by the seven churches. Therefore, the Church will go through the tribulation.

The recipients of this letter are the seven churches in Asia Minor. Post Tribulationists view the whole church as representative due to seven being the number of completion throughout the book. “Though the churches are local their being seven in number makes these churches representative of churches everywhere” (Robert H. Gundry, Commentary on Revelation, p. 3 – 4).

Some may argue that the promise to be “kept from the hour of testing” is only applicable to the church that it was spoken to i.e. the church at Philadelphia. If all the exegete had was the immediate context this would seem plausible, but the overall context evinces a more precise interpretation and that is the point that the Revelation is not just for one church, but for at least the seven churches in Asia (1:4, 11), and for all churches via the usage of the term “seven” and the completeness that it represents. Furthermore, the refrain “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” after each address to that individual body (2 – 3), serves the reader’s understanding that instructionally, what is said to one church, can in some ways be applied to all churches.

Robert Mounce notes, “That each of these seven letters is intended for the moral and spiritual progress of all seven churches, follows from [this] repeated exhortation (Robert Mounce, The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, p. 44). The significance becomes obvious. The post tribulationists would argue that “τηρήσω ἐκ” or “kept from” applies to the church as a whole – those whom the Lord has purchased.

B. The Church will be kept though within the tribulation

As noted, the post tribulational view of the rapture would argue for the church going through the tribulation. In essence post tribulationists take “τηρήσω ἐκ” to mean will be kept though they are still in or though they are in the tribulation. It has in view more of preservation than a removal (Robert H. Gundry, Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism p. 56-57). Some of the best arguments presented for this position are as follows:

1. Revelation 7:14 states, concerning a large group of saved individuals, that “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This denotes that there will be a large host of saints that will come out of tribulation. They come out of this time of great distress having gone through it (Gundry, p. 57).

2. With regards to ἐκ, the same preposition is used in 2 Peter 2:9 when it states that the Lord knows ἐκ πειρασμοῦ ῥύεσθαι how to rescue the godly “from temptation,” or protect from trials. There, the sense would seem to propound the idea that lies behind a post tribulational understanding of the rapture (Gundry, p.55). The text seems to connote protection while being in the trial as opposed to being protected by removal before the trial.

3. In John 17:15 there is a similar phrase to that of Revelation 3:10. This passage is widely known as the “High Priestly Prayer” of Christ. Here, Christ prays not for His disciples to be taken out of the world “οὐκ ἐρωτῶ ἵνα ἄρῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου,” but “ἵνα τηρήσῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ.” “that they should be kept from the evil one.” This may have the implications that wickedness, at one point in time had power over the disciples. Therefore, the preposition ἐκ may have the force of preservation while the evil one comes against the believer (Gundry, P. 56).

4. Similarities in Jeremiah 30:7 are to be considered by the interpreter of Scripture. This passage speaks of the time of Jacob’s trouble/distress, stating that “he” will be “saved from it.” Adherents of this view so as to say that since Israel had gone through the Babylonian exile and beforehand was promised that they would be saved from it draw this parallel. The argument presented is that since Israel did not need a rapture to be saved from the perilous time, but was saved through it, so can a parallel be made to Revelation 3:10 as to the church going through its perilous time without needing a rapture to be saved from it (Gundry, 60).

There are other arguments to be made for this position, but these few characterize some of the strongest. In conclusion, the post tribulationists deem that the correspondence to the seven churches in Asia is in some way applicable to all churches. This is known to the exegete by the refrain “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” and by the completeness that the number seven signifies. This is important because whether admonished or rebuked the church is able to gather instruction on what pleases or displeases Christ and what will incur judgment or protection in the hour of testing. Post tribulationists believe that the church will go through the tribulation, which precedes the rapture of the church.

Pre-tribulationalism and Revelation 3:10

II. What Pre-tribulationists teach concerning the rapture

A. The church will be kept from the tribulation

Those that hold the pre-trib position affirm, along with the post tribulationists that the letter to the seven churches is applicable to the church as a whole. For a further discussion from a pre-trib perspective see John F. Walvoord, The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentaries: Revelation, p. 29-30, 51-95). This is where the similarities end, however. Concerning Revelation 3:10, pre-tribulationists stand opposite as to the positioning of the rapture.

In essence, the true church will not be preserved while being in the great tribulation of Revelation 7:14. They will not be present when it takes place due to removal prior to the event. The pre-tribulationist would see the tribulation as a time of God’s wrath from which the church is exempt. This is the heart of the post trib/pre-trib debate. The arguments for the pre-trib position are as follows:

1. There are at least two cases where “ἐκ” has the idea of rescue from in the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 1:10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:10). In these passages there are statements regarding being rescued from death and wrath. The idea is that we will not have to go through them in order to be delivered from them. If this is true, then it would show that ἐκ carries more than an idea of emergence from within (the post trib position) (Richard Mayhue, Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer, p. 94-95).

2. Revelation 7:14, the phrase οἱ ἐρχόμενοι ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως or “the ones coming out from the tribulation shows that “ἐκ,” is used with a verb of motion which lends credence to the persevering through tribulation. On the contrary, no such verb is found in Revelation 3:10. Therefore, it could mean removal from even being in the period of tribulation as opposed to preservation through it (Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 285).

3. In John 17:15, Jesus is praying for His disciples who were already in the midst, or in the presence of evil or the evil one. There is a subtle contrast, however. From the standpoint of Revelation 3:10, the evil had not come, namely, the judgments that were to be poured out on the world were future. The church was not in the midst of evil or the evil one. Therefore, it could be possible for τηρήσω ἐκ to have the meaning to be kept from in the since that those to whom it is addressed will not have to enter into it (Thomas. 284 -285).

4. The idea of a removal is found in John 12:27, also. Christ prays to his Father, stating to Him “What shall I say, save Me from this hour?” When Jesus prays this prayer, He is alluding to death, or the pain of death that is soon to befall Him. Certainly the preposition in this passage does not carry the force of being preserved through the crucifixion. The prayer, if Christ had asked the Father for this, would have been a prayer of “complete exemption” from this time that was upon Him (Thomas, 287-288).

5. An illustration is given in 2 Peter 2:7, 9 when Lot was rescued “from” a trial. This text harkens back to Genesis 19, to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is a clear picture with the preposition “from” showing how a person was exempted from the trial or the temptation by not having entered into it (James E. Rosscup, Revelation: Unpublished Syllabus, p. 196). The preposition lends itself, more credibly to being understood as a genetive of separation just as the one found in Revelation 3:10. Some may argue that illustrations from other pasasges prove a post trib position, namely being in a trial and preserved while in it e.g. Daniel in the lions den, Noah in the flood, Israel and the Exodus. Post trib proponents may argue that since they were in the trial and God preserved them, so can God keep the church in the tribulation and preserve them.

The objection can be raised, however, that rescue was promised to those particular individuals in those particular ways. Thus, they have little to no bearing on the church’ resecue other than to show us that God has a history of delivering His people. It does not tell us how the church will be delivered, but Revelation 3:10 does just that. As it has been shown, the promise to be “kept from” in 3:10 is extended to the church. This particular rescue is by removal prior the trial which is to come upon the whole world.

As in the case for a post tribulational understanding of τηρήσω ἐκ, there are many more arguments that can be made for the pre-tribulational position. Space will not permit to develop other passages that may attribute to this understanding of the phrase that has been undertaken, but these give insight into a case that can be made for this specific view and provide the opportunity for further study.

Conclusion

III. A Case for Pre-tribulationism from Revelation 3:10

A. Other prepositions could make a stronger case for post tribulationism

There are stronger prepositions that would make a case for the post tribulational position. If John had used them, then it would have made clear that what was meant in Revelation 3:10 was that the church would be going through the tribulation time period.

1. Semantically, ἐκ is closer to ἀπό (Richard Mayhue, Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer, p. 95). The argument against the pre-trib position states that if what John meant was they would be “kept from” then there were decisive and more definitive prepositions he could have used. One such preposition is ἀπό, which also means “from.” It could be argued that if John meant protection “within” i.e. within the tribulation period but being protected by God then he would have used a different preposition, also. A word i.e. διά “through, would leave no doubt that the church would be going through the tribulation. Also, ἐν, and εἰς along with τηρέω would have led to the clear-cut conclusion that the church would be in the tribulation. Nevertheless, ἀπό is closer to ἐκ than διά, ἐν, or εἰς and carries the definition of “from” in the same manner that ἐκ does.

B. Key Cross-reference does not hold up

1. The only other passage akin to Revelation 3:10 is John 17:15. If it could be proved from that passage that τηρήσω ἐκ means to keep “from within,” then there would be a case for post tribulationism. The structure is similar, but the following arguments will show why this is not the best of parallels.

a. At the time Christ prayed for His disciples they were already in the midst of evil. This is unlike Revelation 3:10 because the plagues that would accompany tribulation had not come yet. They were still future (J.B. Smith, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation: A Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 88).

b. In John 17:15 immunity is petitioned by Christ for His disciples with regards to “the evil one” who is a person. This is different from Revelation 3:10 because exemption is asked for not from a person, but from a period of time. Thus, there is inconsistency in the post tribulationist’s position when attempting to equate this passage in this way as sort of cross-reference affirming the churches presence within the tribulation (Smith, 89). Therefore, what the post tribulationists have is a failure at best from the John 17:15 in hoping to prove that the churches alluded to in Revelation 3:10 have a presence within the tribulation.

C. If the exegete grants “immunity from within” the tribulation then contradictions will arise in the following way:

1. There appears to be a contradiction with the idea of “protection within the tribulation.” Clearly, there are those who will become believers during the tribulation who will suffer the same temporal fate as unbelievers (6:9-11; 7:9-14; 13:7). Thus, many believers will not be kept safe (James E. Rosscup, Revelation: Unpublished Syllabus, p.196). In this sense, to be kept safe or protected within the tribulation does not really mean to be kept safe because many who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation will suffer the temporal fate of unbelievers.

It can be seen that the pre-trib position holds up semantically, exegetically, and more consistently than the post trib position at this point.

The only position that fits the data revealed by what Revelation 3:10 states is the pre-tribulational position. To be kept from the hour of testing is by prior removal i.e. by the rapture. This is deduced from the understanding that the use of the designation “seven” with reference to the churches, have intentionality and references the Church universal. What is said to one church can reference all churches in some sense. Thus, the promise to be kept from is a promise for the true church who is found faithful to Christ. If this is the case, with regards to the hour of testing to come upon the whole world, the Church will be kept away from it not perserved in it.  Furthermore, the only passage akin to Revelation 3:10 is John 17:15 and the differences between the two passages leads one to believe that a removal from tribulation is tenable due to the direct reference to the eschaton mentioned in Revelation 3:10, yet  found absent in John 17:15.

For these reasons, “kept from” should be understood in the pretribulational sense.

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