We must be very careful when we discuss the tribulation from which the Philadelphians will be spared. It grieves me that Revelation 3:10 is often taken out of context, slapped together with Luke 17:34-35 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (which speak of entirely different truths in their original contexts), and made into evidence for “the rapture.” This procedure constructs a major doctrine on the basis of an illegitimate reading of texts.

Instead, an essential rule for reading the Scriptures faithfully is that each verse must be read in its own context. In the setting of Christ’s words in Luke 17 and 21 the verses about “one taken and the other left” do not mean that God’s people will suddenly be raptured while unbelievers are left wondering, but instead stress that when Christ comes suddenly we won’t know who is part of His kingdom.

Chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians was originally intended to comfort people who had lost loved ones before Christ’s expected return. The apostle Paul offers this hope to them: they will all be together when Jesus comes. He uses the image of Christ gathering everyone in the clouds (the symbol throughout the Bible of God’s presence) to assure his mourning readers that in the future they will be together both with God and with those who had already died.

These verses in Revelation 3 about being spared the tribulation cannot be disassociated from the words to the people in Smyrna that they would suffer in the coming peril. Not all Christians will be spared the suffering.

Furthermore, some groups who read these verses out of their historical and literary context also spend much of their time debating various aspects of the rapture that they have created — even though Jesus specifically told His followers in several texts (such as Luke 17:23 and 21:8) that they should not chase after the people who claim to know about the time of the end. Since we do not know how the world will end, how Christ will come or when, how we will be taken from this world to be with Him, and so forth, we would do much better not to speculate about such things and instead to concentrate on these messages that Christ gave us for the meanwhile: repent, watch, tell others, do justice and mercy, walk humbly with God. Perhaps one aspect of weakness I have not stressed enough yet is the weakness of not knowing, of accepting that certain dimensions of God’s kingdom are beyond our knowing.