Now when the dragon [Satan, Verse 9] saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child [Verses 1-2, referring to spiritual Israel, the spiritual mother of Christ and all Christians, Galatians 4:28]. 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 [3-1/2 years], from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water [symbolic of an army] out of his mouth 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, to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 12:13-17, NKJV)
For decades the Worldwide Church of God [WCG] held the belief that the above-quoted scripture referred to itself as the “woman” who flies or flees to the wilderness, from the persecution that Satan the devil will perpetrate upon God’s people during the 3-1/2-year period of the “Great Tribulation” [often called “Satan’s wrath,” from Verse 12]. And for many years some church members – even leaders – believed that the “wilderness” that the church was going to be brought into was Petra – a desert area in the Middle East country of Jordan.
So strong was this belief that, when the Filipino brethren of the WCG observed the Feast of Tabernacles in Baguio City in 1968, I was involved as the master of ceremonies in a festival show which the WCG young people put on during the feast. The show was titled “Picnic in Petra,” a fanciful “picnic” which the brethren from all over the world held supposedly in Petra while celebrating the festival there. My future wife, the former Pacifica A. David, took care of teaching the dance numbers, while I took care of coaching the vocal numbers.
In those days we did not realize the logistical challenges that living in Petra would pose. The WCG magazine for its members, The Good News, published an article titled “We Fled Petra,” which detailed the many challenges that the brethren would have to contend with if indeed that was their “place of safety.” [See: https://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “The Good News,” 1960-1969, scroll down to the issue of October-November 1966, pages 5-6, 23-24.]
Despite these, the brethren went on sheer faith that Petra was their “place of safety” during the Tribulation. After WCG founder and pastor-general Herbert W. Armstrong [HWA] died in January 1986, the church floundered, and became split up into dozens of splinter groups. Among these was the Philadelphia Church of God [PCG] led by Gerald Flurry. These brethren believed that in 1992 or thereabouts they would be “whisked” into the safety of Petra as religious persecution of true Christians by the “beast” in cahoots with the “false prophet” would befall them (Revelation 13:1-18). [See: https://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets,” and scroll down to the booklets titled, “Who Is the Beast?” and “The Mark of the Beast.”]
The 1990s passed, and nothing of the sort expected by the PCG took place. Naturally many members felt let down and became disillusioned and left the church. A similar thing had happened earlier, in 1972, when many brethren thought they would be taken to a place of safety [Petra], before events as supposedly taught in HWA’s booklet “1975 in Prophecy.” [Many had misconstrued this, although HWA explained that he wasn’t setting the date or year, but that scientists and other savants were predicting that dire things would take place in 1975 amidst all the science-made wonders in technology, health care, etc.]
Nevertheless the sunny promise of a “place of safety” implied by Revelation 12:14 encouraged Church of God members – whatever their shade of persuasion may be – to push on with the “Work” of the church. Thus dozens of splinter groups from the original WCG have put up their own publications, radio and TV programs and websites. [See: exitsupportnetwork.com>offshoots-of-worldwide-church-of-god.]
The original WCG had considered its founder and pastor-general (HWA) as a “voice crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3) – preparing the way for the return of Jesus Christ. As such, Mr. Armstrong was looked by some as the end-time “Elijah,” as John the Baptist was at Christ’s “first” coming (Matthew 11:7-13).
At some point certain WCG leaders thought that HWA would be a team with his son Garner Ted [GTA] to broadcast the end-time message or gospel as the prophesied “two witnesses” |(Revelation 11:1-10). Both Armstrongs have died, and no “two witnesses” have surfaced, although there must be a host of “volunteers” for the honor – or horror!
That being said, however, Christ’s revelation about such “two witnesses” stands to be fulfilled surely in God’s own time and way. We cannot simply dismiss the controversy regarding their identity as so much ado over nothing.
In the ultimate analysis God has the sole prerogative to appoint His “two witnesses,” whose message will surely be heard worldwide [no big problem, with satellite TV and internet broadcasting these days]. Meanwhile, the “beast” power and his “side-kick” the “false prophet” will persecute the remainder of the Church of God that fail to escape into the safety of the “wilderness,” and will eventually kill the “two witnesses who will, however, be resurrected to immortal life together with the elect saints at Christ’s return.
Ways to look at “wilderness”
In Revelation 12:14 “wilderness” is rendered from the Greek eremos, which means “lonesome waste,” “desert” [Strong’s Concordance]. Thus it has been easy to associate “wilderness” with a desert place such as Petra in Jordan.
The same Greek word is translated as “wilderness” in Matthew 3:1, 31; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:80; 3:2; and John 1:23, where John the Baptist is said to have been preaching his message calling people to repentance. Likewise, John 3:14 and 6:31, 44 speak about the wilderness where Moses and the children of Israel sojourned – a desolate place, where they survived only through God’s miraculous provisions. The Hebrew word rendered as “wilderness” throughout the Old Testament is midbar. This seems to be the parallel to the wilderness of Revelation 12. In bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt to Himself [in the wilderness], God described Himself as having borne them on “eagles’ wings” (Exodus 19:4) – in a similar manner that God will give the New Testament church “two wings of a great eagle” so that she might fly into the wilderness, where she will be protected and nourished, just as the Israelites were all through their wilderness sojourn (Exodus 15:22-17:7).
The essential safety and well-being of God’s people both in the Old Testament and New Testament settings will be through God’s divine, miraculous provision. Without this, there simply is no way for the people to survive in a desert environment!
In the same way, whether God’s people are whisked away to some wilderness, or remain wherever they may be during these end-times, God can supernaturally protect and provide for His faithful children. Any place can be a “place of safety” where God spreads His protective arms [or “wings”] over His people. Psalm 91 promises that when we are close to God in prayer, Bible study and meditating on His word [dwelling “in the secret place of the Most High,” Verse 1], we will have such security and protection in the face of all manner of harm or evil, wherever we may find ourselves. To such a one God promises with certainty: “He shall call, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation” (Verses15-16).
The apostle Paul admonishes us: “…It is high time to awake out of [spiritual] sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we [first] believed” (Romans 13:11). The apostle Peter, quoting Psalm 34: 12-16, wrote:
He who would love life
And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
And his lips from deceit,
Let him turn away from evil and do good;
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil. (1 Peter 3:10-12)
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.