If so, who will and who will not be at that place; where is it; and how can one get there?
In the previous Q&A, we discussed God’s promise of protection for some Church members at a special place on earth during the times of the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. In this Q&A, we will address additional pertinent questions on this subject, including how God’s people might get to the place of safety; who will be those who will be protected; and who will belong to those who won’t be protected at the place of safety.
How Will God’s People Get to the Place of Safety?
We read in Jeremiah 4:6 that God’s people are to “Take refuge! Do not delay! For I will bring disaster from the north, And great destruction.”
Isaiah 26:20–21 states: “Come, My people, enter your chambers, And shut your doors behind you; Hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, Until the indignation is past. For behold, the LORD comes out of His place To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; The earth will also disclose her blood, And will no more cover her slain.”
These passages seem to imply some active conduct on the part of those who are to receive God’s protection. They are to “take” refuge; and they are to “hide” themselves without delay.
As we saw in the previous Q&A, Revelation 12:14-16 pictures the flight of a particular group of people. Christ compares the time preceding His coming with the time of Noah (Matthew 24:37–39), and as God protected Noah and his family in the ark—here on earth—so He will protect His people on this earth in the way that HE has chosen. God delivered Lot by leading him out of Sodom and providing a place of refuge for him at a particular location. Early Christians escaped from Jerusalem and fled to the city of Pella, just before the Romans invaded and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (compare Eusebius in his Church History; and Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, Book VI, chapter 3, section 3). In all of these cases, active conduct was required—Noah had to go into the ark; Lot had to leave Sodom; and the early Christians had to walk to Pella.
On the other hand, some Scriptures might imply God’s supernatural intervention, as well as transfer of human beings from one place to another location here on earth. In Luke 17:37, Christ is addressing the general time of His return (verses 24, 30), stating that at that time, “‘…two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left. And they answered and said to Him, ‘Where, Lord?’ So He said to them, ‘Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together’” (verses 36-37).
The word “body” is translated from the Greek word soma, which refers many times to the “body of Christ”—the Church of God (compare Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22-23).
Although Christ is describing events leading up to His return, the fact that some will be taken, and some may be left behind, could be a reference to the short time span of 3 ½ years JUST PRIOR to His Second Coming, when His Church will stay in a place of safety here on earth, to be PROTECTED from the terrible things to come. God’s protection is many times associated with eagles, or eagle’s wings. God will give His Church, often pictured as a “woman” or “virgin,” “two wings of a GREAT EAGLE, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time [3 1/2 years], from the presence of the serpent [Satan the devil]” (Revelation 12:14).
In similar ways, God protected ancient Israel when they left Egypt. Please note Exodus 19:4: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on EAGLES’ WINGS and brought you to Myself.” We know that God compares Himself and His loyal angels with eagles. Certain angels are described as having characteristics of eagles (Ezekiel 1:10; 10:14; Revelation 4:7). When God told Israel that He brought them out of Egypt on eagles’ wings and “bore them and carried them” (Isaiah 63:9), He signified His supernatural involvement and protection (compare Deuteronomy 32:10-12; see also Psalm 91:4 and Psalm 17:8).
It is therefore possible that Christ was addressing, in Luke 17:37, a SUPERNATURAL PROTECTION of God’s Church, through ANGELIC involvement, here ON THIS EARTH, just PRIOR to His Second Coming. Those who qualify for such a protection will be “taken” away from dangerous surroundings, while others, who are not considered worthy, will be left behind. We are NOT told HOW, exactly, God will bring those whom He considers worthy to the place of safety. Ancient Israel left Egypt BY FOOT. Similarly, we read that Christ asks us to pray that our FLIGHT would not happen in winter or on the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20). This seems to indicate that SOME will go to the place of safety “by foot” or by means of physical transportation. But even then, supernatural protection during this “flight” will be guaranteed, in the same way as God protected ancient Israel on their exodus out of Egypt.
At other times, God protected human beings by SUPERNATURALLY TRANSPORTING them–or “taking them”–to another place on this earth. Acts 8:38-40 describes a supernatural transport of Philipp to another place here on earth. We also read that Enoch and Elijah were supernaturally transported to another place on earth.
In speaking of Enoch, the Bible records that he “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24), and “he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). Because of this and because of the rebellious society in which Enoch lived, God “took” him away, so that he “should not see death” (Hebrews 11:5, Authorized Version). God “translated” or transported him to another place on earth, in order to spare him from the second death. John 8:51 confirms that if we keep God’s Word, we shall “never see death” — the second death, that is, as it is appointed to men once to die the first death (Hebrews 9:27). In addition, God might have transported him to another place on earth to protect him from physical death at that time. We do know for certain, based on the biblical teaching and evidence, that Enoch did die at a relatively young age for his day and that he did not ascend to heaven! Paul also said in Hebrews 11:5 that Enoch was “not found.” This does not mean that he lived on forever. Moses died, and God buried him at a secret place, and he was not found, and “no one knows his grave to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:6).
Regarding Elijah, we read, in 2 Kings 2:1, 11, that Elijah was taken up “into heaven by a whirlwind.” We also read that the disciples understood that Elijah did not go to the third heaven, as they were concerned that “the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley” (verse 16). In fact, God transported Elijah to another place here on this earth, where Elijah continued to live until his death. He wrote a letter and had it delivered to King Jehoram, AFTER he “went to (the first) heaven,” as Jehoram became king right at the time of Elijah’s disappearance (2 Kings 1:17; 3:1). 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 gives us the contents of the letter, referring to the evil deeds of King Jehoram that he had committed after Elijah had been taken away and transported through the air to another place here on earth. Elijah was transferred, supernaturally, to another place here on earth.
Another description of a supernatural transport from one place to another location on this earth could perhaps be found in Ezekiel 3:10-16.
So, it appears that in the end time, some might, in some way, “physically” flee towards a place of safety, while others may be taken or transported supernaturally. In any event, they all will have angelic protection. Luke 17:37 seems to imply that eagles or angels will be gathered together to protect Christ’s body (soma in Greek)–the Church. We might also consider this possibility: As Satan will assemble the kings and nations of this earth at a place called “Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16), from where they will march to Jerusalem to fight Christ there (Zechariah 14:1-4; Joel 3:2), could it be that God’s Church will assemble at or supernaturally brought to a certain place to move from there, with supernatural angelic protection, to the place of safety? Satan’s conduct would then just be a diabolical counterfeit to God’s plan regarding His Church.
But, this does not mean that Christ will return before the Great Tribulation and take His Church to a place of safety here on earth, where He will dwell with His Church during the time of the Great Tribulation. This teaching is without any biblical support; in fact, Christ warns against such teaching, when He says in Matthew 24:26-27: “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out… For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” His return will be clear and obvious and visible for all alive. Revelation 1:7 says: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, AND EVERY EYE WILL SEE HIM.”
Jesus said in Matthew 24:19-22:
“But woe to those who are pregnant and to those with nursing babies IN THOSE DAYS. And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For THEN there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until THIS TIME, no, nor ever shall be. And unless THOSE DAYS were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake THOSE DAYS will be shortened…”
Even though some commentaries state that Jesus’ sayings were restricted to the time of 69 A.D. and 70 A.D., when true Christians fled to the city of Pella before the Romans invaded and destroyed Jerusalem, it is clear from the context that those events, even though constituting a forerunner, did not describe the final fulfillment of the prophesied events. There was no “Great Tribulation” at the time of 70 A.D.–worse than it ever had been or will be–nor did those events precede “the end of the age”–this present civilization–and “the coming of Christ” (compare verses 29-30).
It is true that Christ specifically addressed first “THOSE who are in Judea,” telling them to “flee to the mountains” (verse 16). But then, His statement is all-encompassing, stating in verse 20: “And pray that YOUR flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.”
Travelling in winter can be very uncomfortable and dangerous. It would most certainly not be easy “in those days” to have to flee “in winter.” Remember, Christ said in Matthew 24:19: “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those with nursing babies in THOSE days.”
In addition, Christ asked us to pray that our flight may not be on the Sabbath. At the time of the end, the Satan-induced governments of this world and followers of “orthodox Christianity” will have begun a thorough persecution of all those who keep the Sabbath. We read that Satan will influence the governments of this world to persecute those who will be fleeing to a place of safety here on earth (compare Revelation 12:14-16). Those who keep the Sabbath and have probably already been under surveillance by the governments, will be in danger of additional persecution, and the governments might step in to prevent their flight. If that were to happen on the Sabbath, one can easily see how difficult, even mentally and spiritually, the conditions would be for the continuation of the flight.
We read that Christ’s true disciples will be hated by all nations in those days (Matthew 24:9). This would include hatred by professing Christians, because true Christians won’t accept the pagan concepts and worship which have become part of orthodox Christianity. This would also include hatred by Jews, because true Christians won’t accept Jewish traditions and fairy tales, and they will confess Jesus Christ as the ONLY Savior of the world, which concept the Jews (as well as the Arabs and other non-Christian religions) universally reject. True disciples will become the target of worldwide persecution from every corner, and fleeing on the Sabbath would contribute to additional hostilities.
Where Is the Place of Safety?
The Bible might give some indication as to how God’s people who are worthy of protection will reach the place of safety, but it is useless to prepare for it in a physical way or contemplate where it might be and how to get there, as God will “work out the specifics.” First of all, the Bible does not clearly reveal where the place of safety will be. We are only told that it is in the wilderness and that it is a secret place where some will be hidden, which might indicate a somewhat isolated location which will not be surrounded by many people. And even though it may be possible that the place of safety will be somewhere in the Middle East, we cannot be sure about this.
Most importantly, we should not try to prepare physically for our “flight,” by saving money for the purpose of buying plane tickets to an airport close to the [assumed] particular place; or preparing some survival kit. All of this would be manifesting a totally wrong priority. We are to prepare spiritually to be counted worthy to be protected at the place of safety, because if we are not counted worthy or if God should decide for other reasons that we are not to be at the place of safety, then all our efforts for our physical preparation would be futile anyhow.
Who Will Not Be Protected?
The fifth seal in the book of Revelation describes the Great Tribulation (Revelation 6:9-11). It refers to a future martyrdom of the saints. It undoubtedly includes many (but not necessarily all) who are converted members, but who have allowed themselves to slip, become lukewarm and embrace the spirit of compromise, pride and self-sufficiency. We also saw in a previous Q&A that the 144,000 and the great multitude will suffer during the beginning years of the Great Tribulation, without receiving protection at the place of safety, but God will save or deliver them from the seven last plagues during the Day of the Lord.
We read in Revelation 12:17 that some will not be protected at the place of safety even though they “keep” God’s commandments and “have” the testimony or the words or teachings of Christ. They will profess Christ and claim to be His true most dedicated followers, but they will not really be willing to live God’s Word from the heart and with uncompromising and unwavering determination and conviction.
The Elberfelder Bible comments that the word for “keep” can either convey the meaning of “to preserve” or “to do.” It does not have to mean both. God told the Israelites through Moses to “keep” and “do” the commandments (compare Deuteronomy 4:6. Authorized Version). The Elberfelder Bible translates: “to preserve and do them.” Generally speaking, the scribes and Pharisees “preserved” or “kept” the Law of God, but they most certainly did not “do” it (compare Matthew 23:1-3).
The Greek word for “keep” is tereo, and it includes the meaning of “watch over, preserve, keep, watch” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). The passage in Revelation 12:17 could then be understood to say that they persevered or “watched” or “watched over” the commandments, but they were not really doing them. They called themselves Christians, but were not really conquered and led by God’s Holy Spirit.
In addition, it is obvious that even some very dedicated and zealous Christians will not be protected at the place of safety. God has decreed that some will have an important responsibility to fulfill during the Great Tribulation. This is self-evident for the two witnesses. We are told in Scripture that during that future time of Jerusalem’s occupation, “two witnesses” will prophesy for 1260 days or 3 1/2 years (compare Revelation 11:3). This will apparently happen at the same time when certain Church members will be at a “place of safety” here on earth to be protected from the beast and the false prophet (compare Revelation 12:14). The time frame for the testimony of the two witnesses of 1260 days or 3 ½ years corresponds with “a time and times and half a time” or 3 1/2 years in Revelation 12:14, describing how long Church members will be at the place of safety (Please remember that one year has 360 days according to the Hebrew calendar, and that the term “time” means “year”, compare Daniel 4:16).
God will give the two witnesses great powers during the time of their preaching (verses 5-6), but at the end, He will allow them to be killed and to be dead for 3 ½ days (verses 7-9). Following that event, God will resurrect them to eternal life (verses 11-12), together with all the other saints who have died in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The two witnesses will not be at the place of safety. It is not inconceivable that other converted members who would “normally” be worthy of protection at the place of safety, will assist and work with the two witnesses. These true Christians will not be at the place of safety either–and some, if not many of them, might likewise have to endure martyrdom–not necessarily because of any character flaws, but because they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake and God’s glory (compare Revelation 6:9-11; John 21:17-19; Acts 5:40-41; 1 Peter 4:12-19).
Even though the Bible speaks only of the two witnesses, many times, God’s prophets did not act alone, but they were accompanied and supported by other disciples or followers. This is true for Moses and Aaron (we might think of Joshua, as well as the elders of Israel or the Levites etc.); John the Baptist; and even Jesus Christ, as well as, of course, the original apostles. In the case of Elijah and Elisha, we find a few references to their disciples or “apprentices” in 2 Kings 2:5; 4:38; 6:1; and 9:1.
Who Will Be Protected?
King Solomon indicates in Proverbs 14:26 that young children and teenagers of those Church members who are counted worthy will be protected in the coming times of trial: “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence, and his children shall have a place of refuge” (Authorized Version). As the Ryrie Study Bible points out correctly, “his children” refers “the children of the one who fears the Lord.” The New International Version translates: “He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.”
Since children or teenagers would not be converted and would not have received the Holy Spirit, they would not be “worthy” per se, but God promises their protection because of the “worthiness” of their parents or parent. It is also not inconceivable that well-meaning adults could be protected, who are not yet converted, but who understand and accept God’s calling and promises, as God looks at the heart and does not judge as man judges. During the time of the Exodus, not only Israelites were departing from Egyptian slavery, but also a mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4).
One might ask, why would God consider “unconverted” people worthy of protection at the place of safety, while He would not protect certain converted, but lukewarm members. The answer is that God looks at the heart, and He expects more from converted members than from those who may not yet be converted. It is interesting to see how enthusiastic and zealous, as well as teachable, prospective members can be, who are being introduced to the Truth, while at the same time, certain converted members in God’s Church who have been in the Church for many years, might have lost their original zeal and their first love and their humility, having allowed themselves to slip and to become proud, ending up as being neither hot nor cold.
In conclusion, God will provide for some a place of safety on this earth for the purpose of physical protection during the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. Even though we are asked to watch always and pray that we are to be counted worthy to escape the terrible times which are ahead of us and to be protected at that special place of refuge and shelter, it is up to God as to who will be at that place. In many cases, God will not count some worthy enough to be allowed to be there; in other cases, God may have important duties and responsibilities assigned to them which would prevent them from being at the place of safety. However, it is critical to realize that our ultimate goal is to become worthy to be accepted by Christ when He returns, not only to be protected from physical harm at the place of safety. Rather than concentrating on the thought that we have to be among those for whom God will provide a physical and temporary place of safety, we ought to concentrate on qualifying to be able to enter the eternal Kingdom of God at Christ’s Coming (Matthew 25:34).
Lead Writer: Norbert Link