What Does a Local Judgment in Jerusalem Have To Do With the Seven Churches in Asia Minor?
“If the book of Revelation happened in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem, why did John tell the Philadelphians in Revelation 3:10, who were 600 miles away from Jerusalem, that they would be spared from it? If it happened in Jerusalem and this was a local event, why would it be necessary for John to tell these Philadelphians that they would be saved from it?”
Robert Thomas says it this way:
“What does a localized judgment hundreds of miles away have to do with the seven churches in Asia? John used two long chapters in addressing those churches regarding the implications of the coming of Christ for them. For instance, the promise to shield the Philadelphian church from judgment (3:10-11) is meaningless if that judgment occurs far beyond the borders of that city.”
This is a very fair question that honestly made me pause and think for a minute. It’s a question concerning Revelation 3:10:
Because you have kept my command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
I’m usually better at providing answers to questions when I’m allowed time to study, ponder, and form those answers. So now, I would like to answer this great question.
Here’s the Argument
I believe that most of Revelation has happened already. I believe that it, and many other prophetic scriptures that talk about the “coming of the Lord” and a coming judgment, are talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that happened in the year AD 70.
Furthermore, I believe that the “hour of testing” here in Revelation 3:10 is referring to the time leading up to when the Romans surrounded Jerusalem and destroyed their city and temple, killing millions.
Most people disagree with this view; most believe that the “hour of testing” here in Revelation 3:10 – and really the entire book of Revelation - is going to happen in our future some time. David Guzik says:
Most Bible scholars see this hour of trial as a prophetic reference to the Messianic woes, the Great Tribulation, which precede Jesus’ earthly kingdom. Jesus promised to keep these Christians from that hour of trial.
This “Great Tribulation”, they say, will happen in the future right after the Christians get raptured off the earth, thus, “keeping” the Church from this terrible time that will be the end of the world.
Those who believe this ask the question stated above – “If you say that this happened in AD 70 in Jerusalem, then wouldn’t it be pointless for John to tell the Philadelphians that they would be spared from the Romans’ wrath since they were all the way in Asia Minor, many miles away from Jerusalem? Therefore, this scripture must be talking about something in the future.”
Another Way This Promise of Protection Could Be Pointless
The first thing I would like to do is make an observation:
If promising protection to the Philadelphians from the “hour of testing” is “meaningless” since they were 600 miles away, then it would also be meaningless to promise them protection if the “hour of testing” wouldn’t happen for another 2000 years.
This was my first observation about this question. But then I realized that to a Futurist, it still makes perfect since for John to tell the Philadelphians this, even if this “hour of testing” would not happen for another 2000 years.
It makes sense to them because they believe that these Philadelphians will be resurrected right before the “hour of testing”, and then they’ll be “kept” from it by being raptured – suddenly transported to the sky to be taken off the earth.
But What Does “Being Kept From the Hour of Testing” Even Mean?
Although some might tell us that it is clearly a reference to the rapture of the church in the future, there’s plenty of other logical ways we can interpret this statement.
It’s just not clear that a removal of the Christians from the Earth prior to a tribulation is what this phrase means. It doesn’t have to mean that.
So how were the Philadelphians actually “kept” from this time of trouble?
I just want to give you a quick, alternative view. Look at John 17:15:
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
The same Greek word for “keep from” here in this scripture, ek tereo, is the same one used in Revelation 3:10.
What’s interesting is that Jesus says that he doesn’t want his disciples to be taken out of the world just before he prays that he wants them to be kept from the evil one…
So it makes since that Jesus’ idea of being kept from evil or testing is not to be taken off the Earth.
What’s clear from this scripture is that Jesus wanted his disciples to be spared as much as possible from the trials that they would suffer. His prayer was that they would continue the mission of spreading the Gospel here on Earth with strength to endure hardships.
He did not want them to be taken off the Earth.
So in my eyes, we can’t say with good confidence that Jesus’ plan for the Philadelphians was to rapture them off the Earth in order to “keep them from the hour of testing.”
I just think that “keeping them from the hour of testing” simply means that Jesus would spare them from being killed by the Romans.
“But again, how could they be killed by the Romans in Jerusalem if they’re 600 miles away? That’s a ridiculous interpretation!”
I didn’t say that they were in danger of being killed by the Romans in Jerusalem.
Location, Location, Location
Notice that Revelation 3:10 does not say that He would keep them from the hour of testing that would come on Jerusalem when the Romans surround it and burn it to the ground.
It says the hour of testing would come upon the “whole world”, and test those who live on the “earth”.
The Greek word for “world” here is oikoumene, and it just means “the known inhabited world”. Many scholars believe that the best way to translate this word in our New Testaments is to recognize it as the Roman Empire of their day.
To learn more about this word, check this video out.
It’s the same word used in Luke 2:1:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
Some translations say that Augustus took a tax of the whole world, but common sense should tell us that that’s not a good translation. You can’t take taxes from everybody in the world. The above verse is a good translation, because it says “Roman world”.
The Greek word for “earth” here in Revelation 3:10 is ge, which just means “land or region”. Translating it as “earth” makes it sound like a global event, but further study shows that to John and the Philadelphians, it just means their land.
So to paraphrase, John is saying in Revelation 3:10:
“I’m going to keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the entire Roman Empire, to test those living in the land.”
Real different, right?
Global or Local Event?
“So are you saying that this “hour of testing” happened locally to them in their day, or is it a future, global event?”
Local, most definitely.
But how local are we talking?
This Is Where the Confusion Comes
Many times, Futurists and Preterists make the mistake of confining everything to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. They think that all of the prophetic places in scripture about trials and tribulation coming would just be experienced within the city limits of Jerusalem in the year AD 70.
Futurists think we’re saying that all of it – Matthew 24, Revelation, the signs, the tribulation – happened with one particular event that started when Rome surrounded Jerusalem and destroyed it.
Preterists can make it sound like that’s what they’re saying.
But the “hour of testing”, or what some people call the “Great Tribulation”, wasn’t a one-day event that happened in one city. It was actually a few years that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem and their temple, ending the age.
What Did This “Hour of Testing” Consist Of?
Jesus prophesied it in Matthew 24 – there’s going to be earthquakes, famines, wars, and strange signs before their generation passed. Some of these birth pangs were felt in Acts 11:27-28:
In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the reign of Claudius.
Notice the words “Roman world”, there. It’s oikoumene again.
After Jesus died, things for the Jewish people and the Christians gradually went down hill. Times got harder and harder, as Roman oppression threatened to wipe these groups off the face of the Earth.
If you know anything about history, you know that this is the time of the great Jewish-Roman War and the revolts. Many Jewish people rose up against the Romans and fought back. This resulted in tons of killings of all kinds of Jewish and Christian people. Crucifixion was wide spread.
During the last few years leading up to the Romans destroying their city, there was definitely a crisis shaking the whole Roman Empire. In AD 68, the emperor Nero died, and there were tons of civil wars within the empire that the Jews were also caught up in, since Rome ruled them.
The Jews fought for their Nation within this terrible time (AD 66-AD 70), but eventually lost when their city was surrounded and burned in AD 70.
The Hour of Testing Was Experienced By Jews and Christians Throughout the Roman Empire, Not Just in the City of Jerusalem
By now, you’re starting to see that the tribulation did not just happen within the city of Jerusalem. It was more of a regional thing – Jews and Christians throughout the entire Roman Empire were persecuted because there was a war going on.
Now, I do think that the destruction of Jerusalem is of the utmost importance. This was the epicenter and the climax of the hour of testing, because this was the home base of the people that Rome was trying to destroy. The Bible speaks very clearly about the destruction of this city in AD 70.
But the Jews and Christians were already scattered throughout the Roman Empire. In Rome’s eyes, many of these people, no matter where they were, were more than likely considered part of the revolt and treated harshly.
Since Revelation 3:10 very clearly says that the hour of testing would fall on the entire Roman world, it’s safe to say that Jews and Christians everywhere throughout the land could suffer.
Unless there was a promise from God to keep them from it.
Where Exactly Was This Philadelphian Church?
All of the seven churches of Revelation were basically between the city of Rome and Jerusalem. What many people don’t know is that these seven churches were also along a main road, really a postal route, between Rome and Israel.
This being the main road, some of the Romans would more than likely march through these cities in order to get to Jerusalem. Since there were many Jewish settlements and some Christians here, they would definitely be impacted.
The book of Revelation serves as a warning to these churches of the coming hour of testing. Some churches needed to get their act together, or this judgment, brought on by the Romans, would overtake them. But Philadelphia was a good church; Revelation 3:10 is a promise to spare them.
Keeping An Open Mind For Another Possible Viewpoint
Many people approach the book of Revelation with an “already-made-up” mind that all of it is still in our future. This mindset could make it hard to see the view represented in this article.
Having an open mind about prophetic, endtime scriptures in the Bible is the first step to understanding them.
As you guys can see, Revelation 3:10 could have easily happened in the first century, and there’s no reason to automatically throw it in our future. It’s up to you to do more research, and decide what makes more sense.