The Philadelphian believers were little in ability but great in faith, for though they had been made to feel as though God would not let them through the gates of heaven, yet they had kept Jesus’s word (sanctifying themselves), and remained true to Jesus’s name.

Therefore, Jesus presented Himself to them, His little ones, as the One Who is Holy and Trustworthy/True.

And there was more!

Prostrate at Your Feet

After reassuring the believers in Philadelphia that Jesus had personally opened the Gates of Heaven for them, that no one—and certainly not those of the Synagogue of Satan—could shut this way to God, Jesus delivered startling news.

Behold, I will make them so that they will be present before you and they will prostrate themselves in homage before your feet, and they will know that I loved you.

Jesus, Revelation 3:9

The Last Judgment
 by John Martin (1854)

To our ears, this seems strange and discomfiting. Why would Jesus want these opposers and persecutors to pay homage to this Christian assembly? To throw themselves down as the vanquished might before a conquering king? To arrange themselves in this posture of worship? And how would this be in acknowledgement of Jesus’s love for His little ones?

To understand what Jesus was saying, we need to backtrack to the prayer John recorded Jesus praying shortly before the cross.

Beloved of God

“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 

“… I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.”

Jesus’s Prayer, John 17:22-23, 26 (NRSV)

Bosom of God

This was God’s intent, fulfilled in Christ, that every believer would be in Christ, and Christ would be in all believers. Jesus, Messiah, Who is the Lord God would have within Himself all those who have put their faith in Him, and also would Himself be within them.

The apostle Paul taught extensively on this foundational purpose, intent, and fulfillment of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

  • “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” Romans 12:5 (NRSV)
  • All believers died in Christ and are raised in Christ.
  • As believers, we are clothed in Christ as entirely new people.
  • Believers are, actually, hidden in Christ—”When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Colossians 3:4 (NRSV)
  • All believers are seated in Christ in the heavenly realms.
  • “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1 (NRSV)
Viktor Vasnetsov‘s The Last Judgment, 1904

Jesus confirms this understanding of all believers being within Him, for He asserts that all those who prevail will have a place with Him on His throne in the same manner that Jesus prevailed and sat down with God the Father on God’s throne.

Blessing With and In God

Those who were currently oppressing and opposing Jesus’s followers would one day acknowledge Jesus as Lord at the Final Judgment. And all those who are with and in Christ will also experience that moment, for all believers are seated upon the throne of Christ.

Therefore God exalted him even more highly
    and gave him the name
    that is above every other name,
so that at the name given to Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Apostle Paul, Philippians 2:9-11 (NRSV)

The little assembly in Philadelphia stood by Jesus’s name and remained true to Him, even though they had little ability. Therefore, when Jesus’s name is exalted above all other names, these little ones will experience that glorious moment with and in Him.

And so will you and I who have died in Christ, been risen with Christ, are clothed and hidden in Christ, and have within us the Spirit of Christ.

Protected from Tribulation

What Jesus said next has intrigued theologians for millennia.

Because you kept and heeded My word of patient endurance, I likewise will guard and keep you from the time of the trials about to come upon the whole earth, to test and prove the ones dwelling upon the earth.

Jesus, Revelation 3:10

What is the “time of the trials about to come”? Evidently,

  • This time will encompass the whole earth, and every person on the earth.*
  • These trials are designed to test and prove the people who live through them.
  • And the time of tribulation was about to come.

Rapture before the Tribulation

Some theologians interpret Jesus to mean a three-year period of world tribulation in which there will be largescale catastrophes—global famines, wars, droughts, earthquakes, pandemics, and government corruption towards the end of humankind’s history. Some will turn to the Lord in repentance, but many more will actively reject God and instead turn to an earthly world leader who will actually be in league with God’s adversary, Satan.

This time of testing will thereby reveal the hearts of all who go through it.

But for those who have already been proven faithful and true there will be a miraculous rescue which seems to be described in Paul’s first letter to the assemblies in Thessalonica.

We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever.

Apostle Paul, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (NRSV)
Diagram of the major tribulation views in Christian theology | By Lamorak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

τηρέω ἐκ | tēreō ek

The koine Greek verb τηρέω | tēreō means to watch over, guard, keep, preserve and is used seventy-one times throughout the Greek scriptures (it can also mean to watch, give heed to, observe). But what happens when the preposition ek | out of, from is added?

“I likewise will guard and keep [τηρέω] you from [ἐκ] the time of the trials.”

Jesus, Revelation 3:10

Not all scholars agree that the church will be physically removed by God before this tribulation commences. These theologians point to Jesus’s prayer in John’s Gospel for clarification.

I am not asking you to take them out of the world,

but I ask you to protect [τηρέω] them from [ἐκ] the evil one.

Jesus’s prayer, John 17:15 (NRSV)

Such commentators argue that Jesus intended His followers to remain in the world. But, as Jesus’s testimony of love and grace, the good news of the Gospel, God would provide Christians particular protection from God’s adversary.

*The Land

There is yet a third way to approach Jesus’s saying, and it has to do with understanding how to translate the koine Greek words οἰκουμένη | oikoumenē and γῆ | gē.

οἰκουμένη | oikoumenē most often refers to the inhabited earth, but also sometimes specified the civilized world, the countries occupied by the Greek empire, and later the Greco-Roman world.

γῆ | gē most often refers to the earth, the world, our planet. It can also mean land, or the ground, or even soil. But gē can also refer to a specific land, most often the Beautiful Land, the land of Israel.

time of the trials about to come upon the land [of the Jews], to test and prove the ones dwelling [in the Greco-Roman world].

Jesus, Revelation 3:10

Those who see Jesus’s promises already fulfilled to the assemblies in Revelation, turn to the more specific meanings of these Greek words. In this interpretation, the time of the trials happened during the turbulent upheaval following Emperor Nero’s death, 68-70 CE. The Jewish people were fighting mightily for their freedom and the reestablishment of Israel as a sovereign nation, a battle they lost in one of the bloodiest wars ever recorded.

But the church, though heavily persecuted, survived by God’s divine protection.

Notice the figure in red to the far left, holding a great key: “I hold the Key of David,” Jesus told the assembly of Philadelphia | Doom painting, St Mary’s Church, North Leigh, Oxfordshire, 15th century | By Motacilla – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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