An Escape But Not Escapism2/9/23 By Tim Buck
It’s become popular these days of accusing the teaching in a pretribulation rapture of being a doctrine of escapism! Worse yet some even infer it’s a teaching of escapism that demotivates believers away from good works.
I read about it all the time. Those who knock belief in the Rapture consider it a false doctrine satisfying the Christian’s longing to escape the world and all its problems. “Beam me up, Jesus! It’s a mess here, and I want out.”
Jürgen Moltmann, the renowned Reformed theologian, once critiqued the Left Behind series, and wrote, “The pious dream of a rapture contains a resignation that abandons this earth to destruction …. A God who only waits to rapture Christian crews … cannot be a God whom one can trust.”
I have to disagree based on the fact that Paul called the rapture our “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
I have always thought the notion of escapism is an odd indictment against the rapture because every view of the rapture (pre, mid, pre-wrath or post-trib) has an escape element.
We pre-tribulationalists believe the promise of the rapture is our blessed hope that keeps us from the wrath of God poured out in the seven-year tribulation (Titus 2:13; Rev. 3:10). But aren’t all believers looking forward to an even greater escape than this?
Every believer anticipates that God will destroy the current earth and establish a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). That’s the ultimate great escape that delivers us from the sinful nature, the demonic principalities, the fallen earth and the corrupt world. That is wonderful news and an escape about which we all agree!
ESCAPE FROM GOOD WORKS?
Does this final escape somehow hinder the believer from good works? Of course not. Rather, the imminent return of Jesus gives him a sense of urgency. Maybe he has several unbelieving friends with whom he wants to share the gospel so they can escape the horrors of hell with him. So it is with the Rapture. The Rapture is an escape from future hardship (praise God) but not from current responsibility. The rapture puts a degree of responsibility on our shoulders since we want as many people as possible to be raptured with us.
The escapism accusation misrepresents how pre-trib believers perceive the rapture. We’re not looking to escape the tribulation so much as we’re look to be with the Lord. That’s the biblical pre-trib view of the first century church who were told at least 8 times to be waiting for the Lord and looking for His return (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 2 Thess. 3:5; Hebrews 9:28; 2 Peter 3:12; Rev. 22:20).
If we were headed through the tribulation we should have been warned to be watching for Antichrist or the Beast or the False Prophet when God pours out His judgment on mankind (1 Thess. 5:2, 3). But instead, Paul told the beleaguered to be looking for Jesus our “blessed hope” who “delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9).
HOW THE THESSALONIANS UNDERSTOOD THE RAPTURE
For starters, the word rapture (rapturo) is biblical. It is the Latin translation of the Greek word harpazo found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which means “to be caught up.”
Paul was writing believers in Thessalonica to encourage their faith, that is, that they haven’t missed the completion of their salvation, the resurrection of their bodies.
I’m sure there was confusion at this time in the early church. Paul was addressing this issue 20 years after the death of Jesus. Christ hadn’t returned and Christians were dying. I’m sure the Thessalonians were wondering, “Did we miss something? How will God raise the bodies of those who were buried, or worse, burned or drowned?” The resurrection of the dead raised more questions than they had answers. It’s a question many believers have today, 2,000 years later.
Paul gently assured his brothers and sisters that Christ is still coming for both those who have passed and those who are alive! And when He comes, the dead will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16), then the living will be “caught up” (raptured) to meet the Lord in the air!
HOW WE UNDERSTAND THE RAPTURE
For those who believe in the Rapture of the church, our calling isn’t to escape, but to wait. We’re to wait for His coming as all His creation has been eagerly longing (Romans 8:19).
Is it wrong to long for His coming? Should we feel guilty for expressing our desire to hear the “trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)? I certainly don’t think so.
When Paul wrote Titus about our “blessed hope,” he said we’re “waiting” for His glorious appearance. The “waiting” Paul describes is similar to the “waiting” children express on Christmas morning when they violently shake their parents from sleep long before dawn, only to find out from their parents this wasn’t the appropriate time to open the gifts that awaited them under the tree.
“No,” they might say, “it’s only 5:30 a.m.! Go back to bed.”
At 6:00 a.m. they return, “Can we go downstairs now?”
“No, back to bed you go!”
Their commitment to rip open their Christmas gifts will likely continue until the parents recognize there’s no stopping them. So, at 6:45 a.m. down the steps they go! The children weren’t looking to escape; quite the opposite, they were anxious to receive what they had waited weeks to experience.
Christians who long for the Rapture aren’t pious Houdini’s frantically searching for their escape hatch. Instead, we’re Christians confidently waiting with eager expectation for the completion of our redemption, just as Paul, the apostles, and the rest of faithful believers have for centuries.
God’s promise to resurrect believers who have gone before us and transition those who are still alive is the greatest gift we have coming, so of course, we’re excited. We should be—it’s in our spiritual DNA. So let us wait eagerly together, let us not waste what time we have, and let us pray as the apostle John did at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).