The Great Escape Doctrine

by Brad Sherman

    In this article, I want to question the validity of the escape rapture teaching. I hope to show that it is not actually taught in scripture, show where it originated, and how it can cause irresponsibility.

    Though the transformation from mortals to immortals at Christ's coming can accurately be termed "the rapture," the Bible does not teach that the church is to leave the planet in a "first stage" of Christ's second coming. I see nothing in scripture that teaches this. Jesus did not teach that we would be removed from the earth. On the contrary, He taught that the wicked shall be removed from the earth in judgment and that His people would then rule and reign on this planet with Him. God said ... the heavens, are the Lord's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men. (Ps. 115:16).

    The doctrine of a removal of the Church in a "first stage" of Christ's second coming was never taught by any of the apostles, church fathers, or reformers. It only appeared around 1830 and it originated in the midst of other heresy and controversy. It originated with a woman named Margaret McDonald who claimed to have seen it in a prophetic vision. The doctrine was denounced at the time, but later became popular when Cyrus Ingersoll Scofield embraced the doctrine and included it in the footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible.  It is easy to see how "escapology" could paralyze the church concerning increase. Such a view can demoralize us and therefore prevent us from working and building for anything but mystical goals. It is hard to get excited about building something that is supposed to be torn down as soon as it is built. It has a tendency to produce the attitude; "why polish brass on a sinking ship", as one "Great Escape" rapture preacher put it.

    One Sunday morning after teaching on the biblical view of rapture, one misled mother came to me and said, "Gosh, if that is the case, maybe I should take my son out of public school [to put him in a Christian one]." This is a perfect example of the irresponsible thinking that is produced by an erroneous view of the future. This woman was focused on escaping any hard times and apparently expected it to happen soon enough that a responsible approach to the future, was abandoned.  But immediately after seeing that the Kingdom might be a while in coming she started to feel some responsibility.  Not all believers who hold to the escape rapture view reason this way. Many are very responsible and work hard for the Kingdom of God.

    Now let’s look at some scriptures that make the escape rapture view very difficult to believe.

As it was in the Days of Noah
     Jesus said His coming would be as it was in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37). When we read this passage, we see that it was the wicked who were removed from the earth, not Noah and his family. Noah and his righteous family stayed on the earth during the flood (though protected by in the ark) while the flood came, and took them (the wicked) all away (Matt. 24:39). Noah and his family stayed on the earth and inherited it.

    I suppose some interpret “the days of Noah” to mean the Christian being removed because they start with the "Great Escape" presupposition which blinds them from seeing it the other way around. Remember that Jesus also taught: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5), which is exactly what Noah did. Because he was a man of faith who believed and acted on the Word of God by preparing, he was preserved in the midst of the flood, the wicked were removed, and he had the whole earth to himself. Jesus also prayed for us to the Father saying; I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil (John 17:15).

The Parable of the Tares and the Wheat
    In the parable of the tares and the wheat (Matt 13: 24-30,36-43), Jesus told of the wheat being sown and the enemy sowing bad seed, tares, with the wheat. After the workers noticed the tares and reported it to the master, their instruction was not to uproot them yet, but to let the two grow together until the time of the harvest and then first gather the tares and bind them together in bundles and burn them.

    In Jesus' explanation of this parable to his disciples, he said the burning of the tares represented the end of this age when the angels of God would gather out of his kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity and then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Proverbs teaches the same thing; For the righteous shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it (Pr. 2:21-22); and The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth (Prov 10:30). Once again, we have a biblical teaching that the wicked are removed from the earth, no t the saints.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed
    In the parable of the mustard seed (Matt 13:31-32), Jesus compared the Kingdom to the mustard seed. The mustard plant starts out small, very small, it will grow and grow until it is the greatest of all the garden herbs. This does not present a picture of the Church abandoning a hopeless situation on earth and escaping to heaven. Here we see the Kingdom of God portrayed as growing until it is the largest people group. Isaiah also presents this picture of the increasing influence of the Church. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from hence forth [from the time Jesus was born] even for ever. Th e zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this (Is. 9:7). As in the case of the wicked servant in the parable of stewardship, it seems the problem in many cases may be a lack of zeal.

The Parable of the Dragnet
    In the parable of the dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50), Jesus told of fishermen who cast out a net and brought in a catch. They began to sort the fish and keep the good and throw out the bad. Then Jesus said, So shall it be at the end o f the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Again, by the fact that the angels "come forth" we see the judgment of the wicked (the severing of the wicked from among the just) taking place on the earth while the righteous are left. Isaiah also foretells this event; Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He shall exterminate its sinner s from it (Is. 13:9 NAS).

The Parable of the Leaven 
    The parable of the leaven (Matt.13:33) has already been discussed, but the subject is the Kingdom of God and Jesus describes how the kingdom is like leaven hidden from view yet spreading till the whole was leavened. The kingdom will spread without the notice of those who do not have eyes to see and ears to hear. This parable, like the parable of the mustard seed, clearly speaks of the Kingdom of God growing in the world unnoticed by many. But once the sinners are removed, the Kingdom will be evident.

Meeting the Lord in the Air 
    By now you are probably asking, "What about 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17?" This passage of scripture has been interpreted by many to mean that the Lord will remove the church. However, as we have seen, there are many scriptures that indicate this cannot be an accurate interpretation. Any time we read something with a preconceived idea, it is very easy to "read in" something that is not really there. Actually, this verse does not say that Jesus is coming to take us to heaven, just that we will meet in the air at His return. Read it carefully.

    “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:16-17).

    It only seems "polite" that we should go out to meet the Lord when He returns. If an important person was coming to visit us, shouldn't we go out to meet him by the street? If the person was very important, we might even greet h im at the airport, and in Jesus' case, it appears we will meet Him before He lands!

    This idea isn’t too farfetched in view of the other supernatural things that will be happening at the same time - things like the dead being raised and those who are living being changed from mortals to immortals (1 Cor. 15:51-53)! Supernatural bodily transportation by the Holy Spirit is not unheard of you know. The term "caught up" (harpadzo in Greek) in 1 Thes. 4:17 is the same as "caught away" in Acts 8:39. In this case, Philip had just baptized the Ethiopian eunuch and then ...the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: ... But Philip was found at Azotus:... (Acts 8:39-40). Philip was in Jerusalem when the angel of the Lord told him to go south on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:25-26). It was somewhere on this road where he preached the gospel to the Ethiopian and then was supernaturally transported to Azotus. It depends upon exactly where this event took place, but Philip was transported over a distance of 15-50 miles! Ten miles or ten thousand miles, it makes no difference to God!

    If I may speculate, it could be that at Christ's return, we will meet Him in the air and be transported to the Mount of Olives, which is where Christ ascended into the clouds (He left in the clouds and He will return in the clouds ) as the disciples watched (Acts 1:9-12). As the disciples watched two angels spoke to them saying, "...why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

    Jesus warned us not to believe anyone who would say that He had returned saying He is here or He is there. His coming will be such that everyone will be able to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He has returned, like the lightning that is seen from the east to the west (see Matt. 24:26-27). Therefore, it does not seem strange to me that something of a very supernatural sort such as this must happen at Christ's return so that it would be impossible to be deceived by others who claim to be Christ.

    If this is the case, that we are to go to Jerusalem at Christ's return, it will probably be for the conference of all conferences! The theme will be the Kingdom of God and the keynote speaker will be The King of Kings! He will appoint those who will be in authority to rule and reign with Him for a thousand years and we will see the answer to our prayer, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!"  All this could happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, with no passage of time as we know it. In other words, we would instantly be equipped to rule with Christ in His kingdom.

    There are many genuine God-fearing Christians who hold to the escape rapture view. Some of these, because of their obedience to the Holy Spirit, have been faithful to win souls and increase the Kingdom and work to "salt" society despite the "Great Escape" doctrine. Nevertheless, this teaching also causes many to disengage and give up on the culture and, by default, give it over to the ungodly.

    I pray this information will be prayerfully considered and will be used to motivate us to be more zealous in preparing the way for the coming kingdom of God.