Is the Church going to flee to a place of safety from the coming Great Tribulation? Or will God just protect us wherever we are? What does the Bible say?
This world is about to be plunged into a holocaust more terrible than the eyes of man have ever seen! This horrible period, the time when Satan's wrath reaches its peak just before the end of this age, was described by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:21-22: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." God will be forced to supernaturally intervene on this earth to prevent man's total annihilation. This intervention will be brought about by Jesus Christ, who will return in glory and power to reestablish God's government on earth and set up the Kingdom of God. But what will happen to God's Church during the Great Tribulation? Notice Christ's promise to the Philadelphia church in Revelation 3:10: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." The Philadelphia church is to be protected from the Great Tribulation. But how? Are we going to go to some wilderness area where there is no food or shelter? Will we be whisked away on a fleet of surplus World War II planes? Are secret plans for this escape being made even now? Or will God Himself protect us in our homes or wherever we are when the Great Tribulation begins?
There are secret plans
The Church does not have any secret plans about a "place of safety." But God does! God has revealed enough in the Bible to make it clear that He will provide for His Church to go to a place of protection at the right time, to the right place and in the right way. Will God protect His people wherever they are during the Great Tribulation, as some claim? Of course God can, but will He? God could have miraculously protected Noah and his family for the more than one year they were in the ark, but He didn't choose to. Noah and his family had to go into the ark, their "place of safety." God could have supernaturally protected Lot and his family in Sodom, but instead God sent angels to lead him out of that wicked city, so Lot and his family could go to their "place of safety." It is not what God could do, but what He will do, that counts! Some Church members set dates about when they think the Church will flee. They count back three and a half years from the date they think Christ is going to return. But since no one knows when Christ is going to return (Matt. 25:13), such guesses are useless. A few have gotten "prepared" by collecting passports, silver coins and special food — they want to be sure they are ready when the time comes. One family apparently even moved to the nation of Jordan, thinking that the Church was going there in 1972. They wanted to be there to greet the Church on arrival! Some people get really excited about this subject of the Great Tribulation and the "place of safety."
No "place of safety"
Just what does the Bible say about all this? Does the Bible say, "The Church is going to flee to a place of safety"? No, it certainly does not! The statement is scripturally inaccurate on two counts: 1) The Bible nowhere says that the Church will "flee" in the end time and 2) the Bible nowhere uses the phrase "place of safety." Try to find it in a concordance if you think otherwise. Such faulty beliefs are commonly held by some in the Church because they misunderstand what the Scriptures really do say.
The Philadelphia church is to be protected from the Great Tribulation. But how? Are we going to go to some wilderness area... Or will God Himself protect us... wherever we are...?
In order to better understand this subject, we need to review four different but related events.
Early Church migrated
The first event occurred as a result of Christ's warning in Luke 21:20-21 (compare Matthew 24:15-22): "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in... the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto." This prophecy was fulfilled after events in Judea in the fall of A.D. 66. Jerusalem was surrounded and besieged by the Roman army under Cestius Gallus. After a few days, for no apparent reason, the siege was lifted and the Romans departed from the area. Sometime after this (the exact time is not known), before Gen. Vespasian and the Roman forces returned and besieged Jerusalem starting at the Passover in A.D. 69, the true Church did leave Jerusalem and Judea for protection. They did not "flee" in the literal sense. The Greek word in Luke 21:21 means "to escape or run away, to take flight" (not flying in the air). The only ancient reference to this "escape" is found in the writings of Eusebius, who lived from A.D. 260(?) to 340(?). Eusebius said the Church went to Pella sometime between A.D. 66 and 70. Pella is northeast of Jerusalem beyond the Jordan River, south of the Sea of Galilee. "But the members of the church in Jerusalem were instructed by a prophecy, revealed to the leaders, to abandon the city before the war and to take up residence in one of the cities of Perea which was named Pella. From Jerusalem the followers of Christ migrated to Pella" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III, 5). When did the Church move or "migrate" to Pella? It had to be late in the period A.D. 66 to 70. Had the Church moved early in the period they would have been killed or captured by Vespasian's army, which was active in northern Palestine. They would not have been harmed later, however, before the final siege of Jerusalem. Some believe the Church left after the "sound" was heard, in the Temple, of a great multitude saying, "Let us remove hence." This incident was reported by the Jewish historian Josephus, who said it occurred on a Pentecost (see Josephus, Wars, book VI, chapter 5, section 3 for the report on this and other unusual events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem). This move or migration of the Church was no emergency "flight" as described by Luke and Matthew, but it made protection possible for the Church during and after the fall of Jerusalem.
Those in Judea flee
The second event we need to understand involves this same prophecy. There will be an end-time fulfillment of this text, but it is an urgent, emergency escape. "Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt. 24:16-21). There are several points we should notice here. This refers to people of God in Judea. Those people of God's Church who happen to be in this geographical area when the abomination of desolation or surrounding of Jerusalem comes to pass must literally flee for their lives! They will not even be able to go back into their homes to retrieve clothing, food, Bibles or family. Those left inside the homes will have to flee in the same manner as soon as they become aware of these events. People in this circumstance will be in such danger that they must not call attention to the fact that they are fleeing, or they will be captured and unable to escape. They must flee, run away, escape (not fly in the sky by plane) to the mountains. Jerusalem is surrounded by hills or mountains; these mountains may not be the ultimate destination, but would have to be passed through to ultimate protection.
Church fled to the wilderness
The third prophecy we must understand concerns God's Church from about A.D. 325 to about 1585. Notice Revelation 12:6: "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days." This scripture describes the Church after Christ's ascension to God's throne (verse 5) and before the end-time "war in heaven" (verse 7). In this case the woman also "fled" ("fled" here comes from a word related to the word translated "flight" in Matthew 24:20). The period mentioned is 1,260 days, which in this place prophetically refers to 1,260 years according to the "day for a year" principle found in Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:5. The Church in this text flees into the "wilderness," a solitary, lonely, desert place. Here is what happened historically: The Church was severely persecuted during the reigns of both Emperor Diocletian and Emperor Galerius from A.D. 303 to 313, especially in the eastern provinces (see Revelation 2:10). In A.D. 325 Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea. Catholicism became the state religion. In order for God's Church to fully obey God and put into practice their beliefs, they had to "flee" from the centers of influence and into the less-populated areas. In the early period of this "exile" the true Christians were most numerous in what today is eastern Turkey. In later centuries they were found in scattered areas of Europe, especially in the mountains and small valleys, still away from major population centers. Around 1585, 1,260 years later, Catholic domination of the throne in England ended. This brought to a close the period when the Church had to carryon in the wilderness, or less populated, lonely areas of Europe and Asia Minor, instead of the greater population centers where Catholic and later even Protestant churches flourished. The fourth related event we need to understand concerns the very end time, just three and a half years before Christ's return.
The Church that flies to her place
After the war in heaven pitting Michael and his angels against the devil and his angels (Rev. 12:7), Satan is cast to the earth and starts anew, vigorous persecution against the Church (verse 13). After this we read: "And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place. where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent" (verse 14). Note that the woman (the Church) is given two wings of a great eagle, that she might "fly." Here the Greek word literally means "fly" (as a bird or plane does), not flee or escape by other means. She flies to "her place," which could imply ownership. Here she is nourished (fed physically and spiritually) for three and a half years ("time, and times, and half a time").
The place... will apparently be safe from Satan. But it will not yet be God's Kingdom. Those who go will not yet have "endured to the end." They will not yet have it made.
Verse 17 shows that there are certain others in the Church who do not make this flight. They face not just persecution from Satan but war with him, and there is no indication of divine protection for them.
Are there many places?
Some people claim that there will be many "places of safety." They say God will simply protect us wherever we happen to be during the Great Tribulation. But the scripture says the Church will go to "her place" (verse 14). The word place is singular, not plural, so it must be just one place. Where is that one place? It is said to be in "the wilderness." That indicates a solitary, sparsely populated area. This place of God's protection may quite possibly be in the area anciently occupied by Edom, Moab and Ammon, since that area will escape the final invasion of the king of the north (Dan. 11:41). Other prophecies show that this same area will later be taken over by people from the east (Ezek. 25). Several texts, including Isaiah 16:1-4, 33:13-17 and 42:11-12, indicate that Petra, located in this wilderness area, might be the place. The word Petra. which comes from a Greek word meaning "rock," is called Sela in Hebrew. The area is very rocky and is generally entered through a narrow pathway with precipitous rock walls on each side. The area has been inhabited at various times over past millennia and is noted for the many manmade caves cut out of its reddish rock. If this is the place where God takes His people in the end time, it will be found to be very inhospitable. There is no water, food, facilities or conveniences here for soft people used to 20th-century conveniences and stores. The temperatures in this desert area are extreme in both summer and winter, and even from night to day. If Petra is the place, it would certainly not be the Kingdom of God on earth (the Kingdom of God will come three and a half years later). Petra would not be paradise. It would probably be the greatest trial ever for many of God's people.
Truly a "place of safety"?
Wherever the place, will it be a place of safety? It will apparently be safe from Satan. But it will not yet be God's Kingdom. Those who go will not yet have "endured to the end." They will not yet have it made. They will still be able to sin and fall away. To some the "place of safety" could prove to be a place of danger and the place where they finally lose out on salvation. In this place it will be necessary to live together in peace and harmony 24 hours a day for 1,260 days. Some in God's Church can't get along in peace with other members of the Church for any length of time now. Some husbands and wives can't get along in peace with their converted spouses for one day, let alone 1,260 days! Obviously some are going to have to change and overcome a lot to survive such a "trial." How will the Church go to "her place" ? Even though the scripture seems to indicate air transportation, that is not the only possible explanation. A similar statement is found in Exodus 19:4: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself." The ancient Israelites never heard of modern air transportation. They walked out of Egypt! Just who will go to this place, away "from the face of the serpent [Satan]"?
Who will be taken?
"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3:10). The Philadelphia church is kept from this sore trial that is going to come on all the world. This verse does not refer to any period of temptation the whole world went through during the time the original, small church at Philadelphia existed. It can only refer to the Great Tribulation, but different words are used.
People "accounted worthy" to escape... will be giving of themselves, not trying to get... Those... trying... to save their own lives may find that such safety will not be provided...
This trial takes place for an "hour." Is this an indefinite time, or does it refer to the same "hour" the 10 kings receive power with the beast (Rev. 17:12) ? (Compare Revelation 13:5.) Such a time of trouble can only refer to the Great Tribulation. Luke's gospel gives further information about who will escape "all these things": "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:36). Who are these people "accounted worthy" to escape? Those worthy will be watching. In plain language, they will be observing world, national and local events, especially as they relate to prophecy, so that they will not be caught unawares by the snare that will trap the rest of the world. Those worthy will be praying always — each day — not neglecting this essential part of Christian life. Their prayers of intercession, prayers for help, prayers for forgiveness and prayers for God's Kingdom to come will be continually going up to God. These people will become worthy through Christ's sacrifice and forgiveness of sin, and not as a result of their own "worthiness." Matthew adds other points that we should notice (Matt. 24:42-51). Those who are ready will be doing God's Work, giving "meat in due season." They will, in other words, be doing their part in preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness. They will be giving of themselves, not trying to get from others. Such people who are giving their lives in God's service will save their lives: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it" (Luke 9:24). Those who are trying desperately to save their own lives by going to a "place of safety" may find that such safety will not be provided for them. Many Church members have expressed concern about their children and unconverted relatives. Will they be protected during this time? Other scriptures and biblical principles should make the answer clear. Those obedient minor children (notice the example of the children under 20 years of age — Numbers 14:29) would undoubtedly be protected with their converted, worthy parents. Unconverted spouses who are supportive of God's Church may become converted at a late date (see I Corinthians 7:16). Unconverted and antagonistic spouses would obviously not receive protection and mercy from God at such a time. When God shows the Church's leadership what to do, some members undoubtedly will decide that it is too early, too late, the wrong place or the wrong way to go, and so will not go. Others will probably find that leaving family, homes, jobs, friends and personal possessions and comforts is more than they can bear, and they, too, will remain behind. Certainly there will be much personal sadness and sorrow over those loved ones left behind. They will have to go through the greatest time of trouble in all history, the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. Going through this time will not be the picnic or holiday some seem to think it will be!
Concentrate on giving
Wherever it is, whenever it is, the place of God's protection is one where the Church will be nourished physically and spiritually for three and a half years. It has been aptly called the "place of final training." That term implies a lot of previous training. We need to be acquiring that training now. Why are so many people so excited about this so-called place of safety? In too many cases, people are looking only for an escape from the coming holocaust. They are looking for a way to save their own skins! They are trying to save their lives, but in the process they may lose them, just as Christ said. We are supposed to give our lives, not try to save them. It is through the process of giving our lives that our lives may be saved. The main lesson we all need to learn is to do the job God has given us — preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness, and getting close to God spiritually and staying there. Forget about trying to save yourself and concentrate on helping others. Do your part and God will protect and provide for you during the soon-coming Great Tribulation.
Will You Be Protected? By Jack R Elliott
When this world is plunged into the greatest time of trouble in history — into what Matthew 24:21 calls "great tribulation" — will there be any way of escape? Probably everyone in God's Church has heard something about a "place of safety." Many have formed convictions about what this "place of safety" will be like and how they will get there. Is there really a place of safety? If so, how does one prepare for it? Should we be doing anything now? God pictures, in Revelation 12:14, a woman living in perilous times, persecuted by the devil. This woman is "given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent." This woman symbolizes the Church of God, that group of people who are individually begotten and led by the Holy Spirit — who are living in obedience to God (Rom. 8:9, Acts 5:32). God says of His Church, "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3:10). In Luke 21:36, Christ said to His disciples, "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." God's Word clearly shows that there is a place prepared for God's Church — a place where the Church will be nourished and protected from the face of the serpent during the cataclysmic events preceding Christ's Second Coming. But just because the Church as a whole will be protected does not necessarily mean that we as individuals will be. Each of us is responsible for ourself, to make sure that we are keeping the "word of God's patience." Now what is the woman protected from? Revelation 12:13 shows that the woman — God's Church — will be protected from Satan's wrath, after Satan is cast down to the earth (verse 9). Satan's persecution of the Church is in the time of "great tribulation," which will be, according to Matthew 24:21, "such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." For the Church to escape, it will be given the two wings to fly "into the wilderness." A wilderness, in Bible terms, is what we would call a desolate place, often mountainous. God has chosen not to reveal, directly in Scripture, the place. If we don't know where we are going, we certainly do not know when to go there. But we will know when the time comes. Christ showed that, just as we know by the leafing of the trees that summer is nigh, we will know that the end is near when we see occurring the events He listed in Matthew 24 (Matt. 24:32-33). When God brought ancient Israel out of Egypt, He led them out (Ex. 13:18, 21), going before them in a pillar of fire. God described this to Israel as "how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself' (Ex. 19:4). The promised end-time flight to a place of protection is also to be on eagle's wings — the Church is to be "given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness" (Rev. 12:14). This phrase is similar, but not identical, to that in the verse above. It does not, for example, say that God will go before the Church in a literal pillar of fire this time, but it does say that the Church will go in connection with some kind of divine intervention to "the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished." Can our flight from Satan be compared to Israel's flight from Egypt? Satan rules this world (II Cor. 4:4) as he did ancient Egypt. We, as Christians, must come out of this evil world so we can worship God in truth. When world crises worsen and Satan is stirred up against us, he will use those who are committing the very sins we avoid and preach against to try to destroy us. Let's compare the attitude God required of Israel in their flight with what He requires of us today. After God had administered all but the last of the plagues on Egypt He told the Israelites, through Moses, that their firstborn would be spared only if they prepared and kept the Passover in a certain way. How was their attitude? Excellent! They obeyed God, "and did as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they" (Ex. 12:28). That is the kind of attitude we should have today. Do we? Are we keeping all of God's laws and following the leadership of God's modern-day apostle? Unlike the Egyptians, the Israelites did not lose any of their firstborn sons, and found that it was easy to "spoil" the Egyptians of their jewelry. The Egyptians urged the Israelites to pack and get out quickly. The Israelites' attitude? Still excellent. Again, they did just as God told them to do (verse 35). Nothing in the Scriptures tells us that when we depart for the place of protection we can take all our belongings; in fact, Jesus tells those who are specifically in Judea to flee into the mountains when they see the abomination of desolation stand in the holy place, and not to come down from the housetops or return from the fields to take anything (Matt. 24:15-18). What would our attitude be if we were told to leave behind our homes, families, friends — everything? Would we go quickly and enthusiastically, or would we have unfinished business or obligations that we would just have to "sacrifice" ourselves for, and stay behind? Suppose we heard that Mr. Armstrong and other Church leaders, together with a multitude of Church members who were standing up for the truth, were being deported — thrust out of the land. What would our attitude be? Would we stand up, too? Would we pack our bags and join them? Or would we hold back, preferring not to get involved? When Israel finally left Egypt they were thrust out. Being ready involves not only watching and praying, but also being fully committed to right action when the word comes. As Christ said in Luke 21:36, we must not only pray that we will be taken to a place of refuge, we must watch, pray, keep close to God and truly be worthy of escape. Are we, then, ready for the place where God's Church will be protected? If not, we will not be going there — unless we realize the gravity of the times and are willing to make some major changes in our lives. When God led the children of Israel out of Egypt, He led them into a place where Pharaoh thought they were trapped. Pharaoh changed his mind about letting Israel go and pursued after them. When Pharaoh and his army came into sight behind them, did the Israelites remember all God's miracles and trust God to protect them? What was their attitude at this juncture? They lost confidence and were "sore afraid" (Ex. 14:10)! They cried out to God and turned on Moses, saying, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (verse 11). How will we feel if that wonderful place of protection we have imagined — comfortably prepared especially for us — turns out to be a desolate wilderness? Will we know, in faith, that God is with us even though we don't see a pillar of cloud or fire? Or will we say: "Why did you bring us out here? This is an unwatered place with no green thing growing! It is dry and hot in the summer and cold in the winter, with rocks the size of baseballs to walk on. Shall we live in holes in the rocks with no furniture or running water, and with nothing to eat?" Doesn't that sound just like the ancient Israelites? Hardly any of the ancient Israelites made it into the promised land because of their attitude. All through their travels they murmured and rebelled. Are we going to let that happen to us, or will we get our attitudes right before God? It takes more than just getting them right at the last moment — we need to live in a right attitude over a period of time to form a right habit. It is what we habitually do that characterizes us and allows us to be accounted worthy. Wherever and whatever that place will be, we can be sure that it will be a place of testing — a final exam, so to speak — where the begotten children of God will be polished and shaped into the kind of people God will account worthy to be born into His Family. Those who get there won't be murmurers or complainers. They will be thankful to dwell even in holes of rocks if that is what God prepares. They will sing the praises of the most high God, who led them there and protected them from the horrors that Jacob's natural descendants will have to endure. When Satan casts "out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood" (Rev. 12:15), will we despair or trust God? Will we get together with our close friends, ponder the situation and decide what to do next? Then, after destroying one another's faith with doubtful words, will we give up, saying: "I knew this was all for nothing — coming out into this forsaken wilderness. Why have you brought us out here to die?" Do we think we are ready? Will we trust God to save us? If not, we must start right now — drawing close to God, watching, praying, studying and learning to say " Yes, Lord" rather than murmuring about Church decisions and policies. "He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him, his water will be sure. Your eyes will see the king in his beauty" (Isa. 33:15-17, Revised Standard Version). It is to be hoped that all of us will be wherever the place is that God has prepared for His Church. By the grace of God we can make it!