The “hour of trial” will come upon the whole habitable earth, but overcoming saints will not experience this final judicial act – Revelation 3:10.
Jesus promised to “keep” the faithful church of Philadelphia “from the hour of trial” that was coming upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” A comparison with similar passages demonstrates this “hour of trial” refers to the time of final judgment when those whose names “are not written in the Lamb’s book of life” experience the “second death,” the “lake of fire that burns with brimstone.”
Because of their perseverance in sufferings and persecution, the “overcoming” saints of Philadelphia will find themselves exempt from the condemnations of that day:
- (Revelation 3:10), “Because you have kept my word of perseverance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole habitable earth, to try those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast what you have.”
The Greek rendered “trial” is peirasmos, which means “trial” or “test,” not “tribulation” or “wrath.” The related verb is used in the same sentence, and, likewise, means to “try, put to the test” (peirazō). The same verb is used when Jesus commends the “angel” at Ephesus for “trying” false apostles – (Revelation 2:2).
Whether “hour” refers to a literal 60-minute period or is figurative, it suggests a short span of time. Elsewhere in Revelation, the “hour” refers to a final time of judgment:
- The “hour” of the unexpected arrival of Jesus to judge those who are unprepared – (Revelation 3:3, “I will come like a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you”).
- (Revelation 9:14-15) – Four angels were “prepared for the hour and day and month and year,” to kill a third of mankind.
- The same “hour” in which God resurrected the “two witnesses,” a great earthquake destroyed a tenth of “Babylon” in anticipation of the final judgment – (Revelation 11:11-19).
- The “hour” of the final judgment of God on the wicked – (Revelation 14:7, “the hour of his judgment has come”).
- Likewise, in Revelation 14:15, an angel declared – “the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
- (Revelation 17:12) – Ten kings allied with the beast “received authority as kings for one hour,” indicating a short and final moment.
- (Revelation 18:10) – The judgment of “great Babylon” arrived “in one hour.”
- (Revelation 18:17-19) – Babylon was laid waste “in one hour.”
Thus, the “hour of trial” from which the saints at Philadelphia are exempt is the “hour” of final judgment and punishment.
Jesus promised both rewards and escape from punishments to Christians who “overcome.” They will “eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God”, receive the “crown of life” and the “hidden manna,” inherit “authority over the nations,” be arrayed “in white garments,” become “pillars” in God’s Temple, receive his “new name,” and “take their seats” with him on his Throne. Additionally, “overcoming” saints will not “be injured by the second death” or have their name “blotted out of the book of life.”
This understanding of the “hour of trial” is in line with the inexorable movement of John’s visions towards the final judgment at the “Great White Throne of judgment,” as well as the receipt of life by the faithful in “New Jerusalem.” After the final battle of the book:
- “All the dead, the great and the small, stand before the Throne; and books were opened, and another book was opened, the book of life; and the dead were judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works.” Death, Hades and “anyone not found written in the book of life was cast into the Lake of Fire, the Second Death” – (Revelation 20:11-15).
The church at Smyrna was not criticized by Jesus, but instead, praised for its faithfulness in severe tribulation. But instead of exemption from further “tribulation,” even more tribulation was promised to this ever-faithful congregation. So, why was the church at Philadelphia promised exemption from the “hour of trial” for its faithfulness, while Smyrna was promised more suffering? The only plausible answer is that, in Revelation,” the “hour of trial” and “tribulation” are NOT synonymous.
The many promises to “overcoming” saints in the letters to the “seven churches of Asia” are applicable to all faithful believers between the enthronement of Jesus and his future return. Every persevering Christian who “follows the Lamb wherever he goes” will find his or her name “written in the Lamb’s book of life,” and thus be exempt from the coming “hour of trial” that will “try” all the “inhabitants of the earth.”