Updated 03/03/16 A shortened version published in the July-August 1998 Global Church News. A version of this article was also published in the February 2000 issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God, as well as later updated at COGwriter.com.
By B. Thiel
Are some of God's people actually going to flee right before the tribulation? According to Jesus the answer is yes. He said, "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" (Mat 24:20-21, NKJ throughout).
Let me make this perfectly clear, there are two groups of God's people mentioned in Revelation 12--one which goes to a place of safety and one which does not. It states:
But the woman was given 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, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring , who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (vv. 14-17).
Note that just keeping the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus Christ is not enough to insure that one will go "into the wilderness", be "nourished", and protected "from the presence of the serpent". For the dragon will make war with those who do not go, known by some (KJV) as the "remnant".
Jesus Himself warned,
But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:34-36).
Whether you believe that the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3 are prophetic church eras or conditions that exist within the Church throughout history (or both), it seems clear that some will be protected and others will not. Regarding the letter to the angel of the Church of Philadelphia, Rev 3:10-11 states,
Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
The Philadelphians are the only ones that God promises to keep from the hour of trial that comes upon the whole world. Regarding the letter to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans shows they walk a different path: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (v.19).
What are the differences between those groups? To the Philadelphians, Jesus said,
I know your works. See I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have have a little strength, kept My word, and have not denied My name (v. 8).
The message starts out the same for the Laodiceans, "I know your works... but it certainly does not end the same--
...that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked--I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see (vv.15-18).
Interestingly, to those in Sardis it was written,
I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief and you will not know what hour I come upon you (vv. 1-3).
This suggests that those of Sardis will not be protected "from the presence of the serpent" either (they are in the same "boat" so to speak as the Laodiceans).
The Philadelphians are promised to be kept from the hour of trial because they kept God's "command to persevere" or as the AV says "kept the word of my patience" (v. 10). If the Philadelphia era of the Church existed while Herbert W. Armstrong was alive, could this possibly mean that the remaining Philadelphians are the ones who still believe, teach, and practice what Jude referred to as "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3)? (Click here for the article What is a True Philadelphian?) Would this not include the 18 truths that HWA restored to the Church of God without adding extrabiblical requirements (here is my draft article on the 18 Restored Truths)? Would not this Church also have the same priority of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world?
John Owgyn has some interesting ideas on this subject as he wrote (prior to March 1995),
In Revelation 3, we read of two final phases of the history of the Church of God. The Church of Philadelphia was to be characterized by a zeal to do the Work. God promised to set before them an 'open door' as well as to protect them from the future Great Tribulation. However, there is a final seventh stage of the Church described, as the Church at Laodicea. This church was to be described by spiritual lukewarmness and lethargy. It is described as a worldly church, and certainly one which fit in with the spirit of these permissive, modern times...Some of God's people have been overwhelmed by the cares and problems of this life or by personal problems and have dropped by the wayside. Others have been deceived by false prophets and have gone into apostasy. Still others have become so lethargic and softened by comfort that they have lost their vision and merely wish to maintain local churches, no longer caring about doing the Work...Will you be one whom God uses to finish his end-time Work? Do you have that true Philadephian spirit that reaches out to the whole world in genuine love and concern to share God's message of Truth and hope? Do you consider it important that the House of Israel be warned of the impending time of Jacob's trouble?
Lethargy, prophetic and doctrinal, exist in the Laodicean groups.
Greek Terms May Also Describe the Groups
Looking at the meanings of the names of the different churches may help reveal some characteristics of each. According to Strong's concordance, the Greek term translated as Philadelphia means "fraternal affection," "brotherly love," "love of the brethren," "fond of the brethren."
Also according to Strong's, Laodicea is a combination of two words, laos which it defines as "people" and dike, which is defined by Strong's as "right", "judgment", "punish", and "vengeance."
Smith's Bible Dictionary defines Laodicea to mean "justice of the people".
Might the term Laodicean convey that he predominant characteristic of this Church is that people rule, the people judge, or, in fact that the people are judgmental? I personally feel that the term Laodicea conveys a difference in governance and that most Laodiceans have rejected the restored truth about governance. (Interestingly, neither Strong's nor Smith's know what "Sardis" means, other than it is the name of a city, the meaning of the word "Sardis" is lost--does not that sound similar to Rev 3:1, "...you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead"?)
What Happens to Those Not in a Place of Protection?
We have seen that God will not keep those in the Laodicea era of His Church from entering the tribulation. So what, specifically, will happen to those who are not in a place of protection? Some of the answers may lie in the book of Lamentations, which details that time:
The tongue of the infant clings To the roof of its mouth for thirst; The young children ask for bread, But no one breaks it for them...Those slain by the sword are better off Than those who die by hunger; For these pine away, Stricken for lack of the fruit of the field. The hands of the compassionate women Have cooked their own children; They became food for them In the destruction of the daughter of my people...Our pursuers were swifter Than the eagles of the heavens. They pursued us on the mountains And lay in wait for us in the wilderness (Lamentations 4:4-19).
This book, written by the prophet Jeremiah, foretells what will happen to the modern-day descendants of Israel, and indications are that it may include "spiritual" and not just physical Israel (i.e., Lam 1:4,2:20,4:7,5:21-22). Even if you believe that these prophecies were fulfilled around the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, remember Jesus said,
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 (Matthew 24:21).
Thus, we can look at the most horrifying events that have happened in the past and yet realize that the coming Tribulation will be worse.
Since a portion of God's people have fallen in the past (I Cor 10:1-11), many things were recorded "for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stand take heed lest he fall" (I Cor 10:11b-12). Mat 24:22 states, "And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved" yet, though the situation appears bleak--almost hopeless--notice the conclusion of the verse, "but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened". Similarly in Jer 30:7 it says, "Alas! For that day is great, So that none is like it; And it is the time of Jacob's trouble, But he shall be saved out of it".
Yes, God will deliver some of His Spirit-begotten children from the the physical terror of the Tribulation. He'll deliver the remaining Philadelphians. For Jesus says, "But not a hair of your head shall be lost" (Luke 21:18).
Are most of God's people going to go to a place of protection or most going to go through the Tribulation? The Bible seems to give us clues. The three places where the NKJ Bible uses the expression "time and times and half a time" are Rev 12:14, Dan 7:25, and Dan 12:7. They seem to be referring to the same time period. Dan 12:7b states "a time, times, and half a time, and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished". This suggests that nearly all of the "holy people" are affected.
In Daniel 7:24-25 it states,
The ten horns are ten kings Who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; He shall be different from the first ones, And shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, Shall persecute the saints of the Most High, And shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand For a time and times and half a time.
Note that the saints will be persecuted before they are "given into his hand"; perhaps that means all of God's people will be persecuted before the period "time and times and half a time" begins. The expressions "completely shattered" and "the saints shall be given into his hand" seem to suggest that most of the saints will be in the tribulation. Most of the "remnant" (the rest of Philadelphia's offspring) will apparently die! We know this cannot mean all Christians because the book of Revelation says the Philadelphians will be kept from the hour of trial (3:10)--protected "from the presence of the serpent" (cf. 12:14). God will in some way separate Christians living in when these terrible calamities finally come to be. Some will be protected from the Tribulation--many, however, will not be! (3:16).
Why would God allow much of the Church to go through tribulation?
Daniel 12:9-10 states,
And he said, 'Go your way Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed til the time of the end. Many shall be purified and made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.'
Who is counseled to by gold that has been refined? Who is warned that they will be rebuked and chastened? The Laodiceans (Rev 3:18,19).
Even when Babylon the great is clearly evident on the world scene, it seems that God's people still need to be warned,
And I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues' (18:4).
Some, sadly, probably will "receive of her plagues" (or that warning would probably have not been necessary).
Laodiceans Do Not Properly Understand Prophecy
One thing that I have noticed is that the Laodiceans, as well as those of the Sardis Church, misunderstand end time prophecy.
As far as prophetic misunderstandings in various claimed COG groups that I have personally denounced, here is an abbreviated list:
Some will come up with their preferred rational as why not to agree with the position of the Continuing Church of God (CCOG) on these matters. Yet, on most of those points, the old WCG taught what I believe that the Bible teaches on them (on the few that it did not, one is consistent with a November 1979 HWA writing and on the others, a former adviser to HWA told me that HWA would have agreed with me on those as well, as one he had not investigated and some others were not issues when he was alive).
It should be noted that leaders in the Living Church of God and/or the United Church of God confirmed to me personally that I was biblically correct on all the above points, despite the fact that their respective churches hold to several of the errors pointed out above. Those who rely too much on a compromised ministry (Ezekiel 34:7-10) to teach them prophecy that is not truly in accordance with scripture need to realize that according to Jesus' words in Revelation 2 & 3 and Luke 21, only relatively few Christians will be protected from the hour of trial that will come upon the whole world.
There are also more prophetic differences that other COG groups have from the Bible. The reality is that without the right emphasis on the final phase of the work, holding the Bible in sufficiently high regard, and ignoring one anointed like Elisha, the COG groups that ignore prophetic warnings are doing so to their peril.
While some discount prophecy, notice what Jesus admonished His faithful to do:
35 For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:35-36)
Are we not a lot closer to the end now than when Jesus stated that? Should you not be watching world events as properly explained in the light of Bible prophecy?
The various Laodiceans will not properly understand end time prophecy, and that will contribute to them NOT fleeing when they should (cf. Matthew 24:15-21; Revelation 12:14-17).
Watch, Pray, and Do the Work
Jesus said, "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming...Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing" (Matthew 24:42,46). He also said, "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is" (Mark 13:33).
Also, look at what we are warned in the book of Ezekiel (the book must be warning people who at least have read the Bible),
Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness, says the LORD God...they would deliver neither sons nor daughters; only they would be delivered, and the land would be desolate (Ezekiel 14:13-14,16b).
Thus depending on others will not save you. That is why Paul says in Philippians, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (2:12).
All indications are that we are living during the Laodicean era of God's Church. That means that of all the truly converted Christians most are Laodecian (which is why only a part of the Philadelphia era would be around today). And the Laodiceans are not only confined to groups other than the Continuing Church of God. That means that you could be one. I could be one. Any of us could be Laodicean. And if so, we need to make some big changes. Otherwise, God will resort to drastic measures--putting us through the worst trial in human history.
So what are we now to do, individually, to be delivered and to avoid the consequences of the Great Tribulation? We are to pray that we will be accounted worthy (Matthew 24:20); to ask God to help us repent now so we won't need to be severely chasten during the Tribulation later. We need to pray that our flight will not be on the Sabbath or in the winter (Luke 21:36). We need to watch. Watch world events (Mat 24:20, Mark 13:33) and our own lives (Luke 21:36). And take heed that no one deceives us! (Mat 24:4)--in today's "attend the COG of your choice" environment being at least partially deceived is easier than before (here is an article titled Unity: Which Church of God for You?).
The Philadelphians have God's "command to persevere" (Rev 3:10) and are told to hold fast to what you have, that no man may take your crown (v.11). Perhaps this is a warning not to be swayed by doctrinal changes contrary to our core, fundamental beliefs, which are instituted by men, irrespective of their position or education. We are told to be so doing when Jesus returns (Mat 24:46). We need to have works of which God approves (Rev 3:8). We must be hot--not lukewarm (v.15).
Herbert W. Armstrong thought those in the Body of Christ who were part of doing the work were going to be protected. He wrote the following,
"Those in the true Body of Christ shall be protected until this tribulation will be over (Rev. 3:10-11)--applying to those faithful in God's Work now going to the world. Rev 12:14; Isa 26:20. But YOU must make your own decision -- and to neglect doing so is to have made the wrong decision! God isn't kidding! This is for real!...The decision in now yours!" (Armstrong, Herbert W. The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy. 1975; p:60).
And of course he was right--the decision is yours. We all need to heed God's warning to the Laodiceans--"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev 3:22).
Information about the place of safety can be found in the article There is a Place of Safety for the Philadelphians. Why it May Be Petra .
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