A word often spoken about animals that have a knack of getting loose from a pen or some other form of restraint, or even of people that have a way of getting free of restraints or situations they face, is Houdini. Houdini is not just a word, but it is a name, the name of a great escape artist, Harry Houdini. Harry Houdini started his career in the late 1800’s and became very popular in the early 1900’s. Houdini is known as probably one of the best escape artists of all time, and perhaps possibly the best of the best. Houdini’s escapes were not just merely escaping out of straight-jackets, or any variety of locks and chains to which he was bound to. Houdini’s escapes were acts that threatened his life if he was not successful within a timely manner, and thus they were acts of escaping death or serious life-threatening injuries. These kinds of escapes are known as Escapology, the escape from restraints, other traps, or other perils.
Whenever the subject of the rapture is mentioned, some will discount it as a teaching of Escapism. Often those who call it escapism are people that don’t believe in the rapture, though they do believe in the Second Coming of Christ when He returns to establish His kingdom for a thousand years. Those who believe the rapture is a teaching of escapism view those who believe in it as people wanting to escape the realities of daily life and it’s many challenges for something better. Opponents of the rapture teaching believe Christians are to be hard at work to change their communities, and the world at large, through various ways and means for Christ, so that through such changes the church will overcome the enemies of Jesus and thereby usher in His return to establish His earthly kingdom here. In previous blogs I have established that the Bible clearly teaches a coming rapture event, a separate event from the Second Coming of Christ that takes place at the end of the Tribulation period, but is the context of these teachings based on escapism?
Before we tackle the question of whether or not the rapture teaching is a teaching of escapism, I want to take a brief look at another view of the rapture. Some people believe that the rapture is a future event to come, but instead of seeing it as an escape of some kind, they focus on the aspect of the rapture where followers of Christ will be reunited with Him for all eternity. They take the perspective that the sole or primary reason for the rapture is to be reunited with Christ, and in turn avoid or discount any idea of the rapture being an event of escape. While this way of thinking lends itself to a seeker-sensitive or emergent church way of thought, where the focus is more on Christ’s love with very little mentioned about accountability or a coming judgment, much less God pouring out any wrath upon unrepentant mankind. Is this Scripturally sound? It sounds good, but what does the Bible have to say about this?
To begin with, there is a clear difference between escape and escapism. Where escapism is basically the attempt to depart from reality to what we could call a virtual reality or fantasy, escape is when one departs something that is either restraining them or an impending peril of some sort. Escapism can be seen in people who flee reality or depression through drugs, alcohol, and relationships, just to name a few. No where in Scripture are we told to flee from reality and to embrace a virtual realm or fantasy of some sort. However, the Bible is filled with accounts of people and nations escaping peril and judgments facing them. The Bible tells of Noah escaping a judgment upon mankind through a world-wide flood by entering an ark God instructed him to build. Lot escaped a judgment that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah by fleeing with angels. Multiple times the Israelites escaped God’s judgment while they were in the wilderness for 40 years through obedience to His commands. The city of Nineveh escaped God’s judgment by repenting and turning away from their wicked and sinful ways. And in like manner, people escape the judgment and penalties for their sin by salvation through Christ, and in maintaining a heart attitude of repentance for sin they commit after salvation. These are just some of the examples we find in Scripture of people escaping God’s wrath and judgments through acts of repentance and obedience to Him. But, what about the rapture? Is that an event connected with an escape?
In Luke 21:36, we find a connection between the coming rapture and an escape of things to come. Jesus, Himself, tells us to “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.” – (boldness added, NKJV) To discount the teaching that God is providing a way of escape from His coming wrath and judgments upon the earth is to discount Jesus’ own words. Jesus doesn’t tell us how to stop His wrath and judgments from coming, but rather how to escape them. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, that there is coming a “day of the Lord” where His wrath will be poured out upon the world, and that there will be no escape for those who are not watching with a sober mind of His return for us. Paul further encourages us by making it clear we are not appointed to God’s wrath, and that we need to be comforted with that fact and that He will keep us from the judgments to come. Speaking to the Church of Philadelphia, Jesus tells us that those who keep His command to persevere, those who don’t let anyone take their crown, that they will be kept from the hour of testing that will come upon the whole world. Or, in other words, they will escape the hour of testing that will be coming to the earth in the last days.
When we think of the rapture, it’s not just an event that takes us to Jesus. It’s an event triggered as a way of escape from what is about to come to the earth. The Greek word for rapture, harpadzo, is by its very nature a word representing a forceful catching up of people from an impending danger or times of peril. I heard of a Greek man describing what it means in the following way. Harpadzo means to grab someone by their hair, and to violently pull them to safety out of the path of a high-speed tractor-trailer rig just before the person gets hit by it. With that understanding, it becomes increasingly clear that the rapture is intended to be a way of escape for followers of Jesus, the Bride of Christ. To say the teaching of a rapture is escapism is to deny the reality of what Scripture tells us is soon coming to the whole world. To say that the teaching of a rapture is not about an escape, or as I’ve called it on occasion the great evacuation, is to deny the very nature and purpose of the rapture, ignoring both the words of Jesus and other references in Scripture pointing to it. If the rapture isn’t about an escape from the judgments coming to the world, as some claim it’s not, then why would it be important it for it to happen prior to the Tribulation period? If it’s only about being with Jesus, then it would be hard to associate it with Biblically prophesied end-time events. And if that is the case, then why are we told in Revelation 22:17, in connection to end-time events, that “the Spirit and the bride say, Come!”? It’s a statement of desperation, not one of longing for the presence of another. And, in response to what the Spirit and the Bride shouts, why would Jesus in Revelation 22:20 encourage us by making it clear that “Surely I am coming quickly.” The rapture is an event of escape, and to say otherwise is to deny both the words of Jesus, as well as the whole Bible when it continually talks of escaping judgments and tribulations. When the Bible shares of those who escaped judgments and tribulations, there is no reference to people experiencing a love for God and a longing to be with Him. Instead, those who escaped such things did so by obedience to His commands. God doesn’t measure our love for Him based on our emotions, or even by our many works of service, but multiple times in 1 John we are told He measures our love for Him based on our obedience or disobedience to His commands.
The rapture is not a way to escape reality and to enter a virtual reality or fantasy of some sort. The rapture is not primarily for bringing us to Jesus for all eternity, though it certainly includes that. The rapture, in its very essence based upon Scripture, is a way of escape at the last possible minute from the coming judgments, testing, and tribulations coming to the world. If you believe in the rapture but don’t recognize it as an escape, then you must be okay with the possibility of being here during the Great Tribulation period. As for me, I want to heed the words of Jesus so I can escape what we’re told is coming “down the pipes” for all the world.
How about you? Are you looking for an escape, not from reality, but from what is coming to the earth and to a better reality in Heaven?