Word Study #172 — Escape vs. Enlistment

It seems as though every announcement of yet another “world crisis” – of which there has never been a scarcity – invariably gives birth, among the very vocal advocates of a particularly aggressive “evangelical” orientation, to an increasingly urgent campaign which represents “accepting Christ” – which is NOT a New Testament concept – see #133 – as the exclusive route of “escape”, not only from the immediately perceived threat, but from some “eternal” manifestation thereof.

Never having noticed such a theme in the New Testament, I decided to undertake a deliberate search, only part of which could involve actual “word study” (the word “escape” does appear, but in very different contexts), and the rest requiring a careful perusal of the Gospels to discover Jesus’ own methods of “recruiting” or enlisting followers.

“Escape” was traditionally used to translate seven different Greek words, but was used only twice by Jesus himself. Once, Lk.21:36, using ekpheugo, he is encouraging single-minded faithfulness on the part of his disciples, in order to “stand before the Son of Man” after either the destruction of Jerusalem or perhaps his final coming. The distinctions between those events are clear only to people who are trying to “prove” their own pet theories. The other, using pheugo, without prefix, which is Jesus’ only recorded threat of “the judgment of hell”, occurs in his stern critique of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who were actively opposing his ministry (Mt.23:33). It is never used of the ignorant.

It is quite enlightening, however, to examine the other uses of the various words.
By far the majority are related to the common word, pheugo, and its prefixed variants. According to L/S, the primary use of pheugo is “to flee or take flight, to take refuge, to purpose or endeavor to get away”. In fact, 26 of its 29 occurrences are traditionally translated “flee”. Of these, 18 (Mt.2:13, 8:33, 10:23, 24:16, 26:56; Mk.5:14, 13:14, 14:50, 14:52, 16:8; Lk.8:34, 21:21; Jn.10:5,12,13; Ac.7:29, 27:30; Rv.12:6) refer simply to running away for one’s own physical safety, as does one of the “escape” translations (Heb.11:34).
John the Baptist spoke of “fleeing from the coming wrath” (Mt.3:7, Lk.3:7), but Jesus did not!
Of greater significance are Paul’s admonitions regarding what his readers should “flee from”: I Cor.6:18 – perversions, I Cor.10:14 – idolatry, I Tim.6:11 – “these things” (he has been talking about the pursuit of wealth), and II Tim.2:22 – “youthful passions”.
James (4:7) assures us that even the devil will “flee” from those who resist him.
Peter, in his second letter, uses the prefixed form, apopheugo, (L/S – “to avoid, flee from, escape) in similar advice regarding “the corrupt passions of the world” (1:4), “depraved human passions (2:18), and “the world’s contamination” (2:20).
Diapheugo (L/S – “to escape, get away, survive”) appears only once, regarding prisoners escaping during the shipwreck (Ac.27:2).
Ekpheugo (L/S – “to flee or escape, to be legally acquitted, to escape death, to omit”) refers to Paul’s escape from Damascus (II Cor.11:33), as well as warnings to the faithful not to neglect or be careless about their commitment to following instructions (I Thes.5:3, Heb.2:3), and to exercise caution in judging others (Rom.2:3). In the Revelation, “fleeing away” concerns, not people at all, but “every island” (16:20) and even “heaven/the sky” itself (20:11)!
Diasozo (L/S – “to preserve through danger, to come safely through, to recover from an illness, to preserve, maintain, or keep”) describes safety in a shipwreck (Ac.28:1,4; 27:43,44) or flood (I Pet.3:20), healing (Mt.14:6, Lk.7:3), and the safe transport of a prisoner (Ac.23:24).
Out of a couple hundred uses of exerchomai (literally, “to come out”) traditional translators chose “escape” only in Jn.10:39, of Jesus avoiding arrest.
There are only two uses of a noun form, ekbasis (L/S – “a way out, termination, completion, accomplishment”). I Cor.10:15 promises divine provision in times of stress (traditionally “a way of escape”), although extra-Biblical uses of the word tend more toward successful endurance than avoidance. In Heb.13:7, the same word was traditionally rendered “the end”, where “result” would have been more accurate.

Significantly, except for John the Baptist and the single instance of Jesus with the Pharisees noted above, the use of any of the “escape” words is almost entirely mundane and practical, and neither “spiritual” nor a matter of “destiny”.
And Jesus himself never offered any form of “escape”, either immediate or future, as an incentive for enlistment in his Kingdom. Quite the opposite! He repeatedly emphasized the high cost of faithfulness!

I was interested, and somewhat surprised, to discover that the gospels record very few instances of Jesus actually taking the initiative to invite someone to join his group. The synoptics describe the “calling” of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew (Levi) with a simple “Follow me!” and the offer to “teach you to fish for people” (with no further explanation – although that lack does not inhibit expansive elaboration by many self-styled “teachers”!)
Interestingly, Luke (5:10) records Peter’s profession of his purported “sinfulness” – which would have surely been pounced-on by modern “evangelists” – being summarily dismissed without comment by the Lord himself, and followed by an invitation to get involved in the work of the Kingdom!
John includes several general invitations: “Come and see!” to Andrew and his companion (1:39), later repeated by Philip to Nathanael (1:46), an offer of water to the thirsty (4:10, 7:37-39), life itself (5:21-29, 40), and true freedom (8:30-36).
There are many more instances recorded of Jesus teaching those who were already following to some degree, than overtly recruiting.
Even more interesting is Jesus’ response to people who, on their own initiative, volunteered to follow him. Mt.8:18-22, Lk.9:57-62, 10:17; Mt.16:21-28 and parallels, and 19:16-22 all focus, not on escape to safety from worldly or other-worldly perils, but on the expectation of homelessness, abuse, persecution, and the necessity of making loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom one’s absolute priority (Mt.22:1-7, Mk.9:43-48, Lk.9:23), even in the event of the loss of life itself, after the pattern of Jesus own personal expectation.
Jesus never offered anyone a “free one-way ticket to glory”, or a promise of “going to heaven when they die” (see #118 and #119). If you can find any such references, please contribute them.
Notice in the much-quoted interview with Nicodemus (Jn.3) that the discussion is about entering – or seeing – the Kingdom, not “heaven”! Those two are never equated.
To the young man who inquired about “eternal life” (see #28), the instruction was to use his wealth to look after the poor, and personally to follow Jesus. (Mk.10:17-22)
When a man who had been healed begged to follow him (Mk.5:18), he was gently told to go tell the folks at home what Jesus had done.

Jesus did offer on-the-job training (Mt.11:28), peace amid fierce opposition (Jn.14:27-31, 15:18 through most of chapter 16), and both the ability and the authority to represent him (Mt.10:1, Mk.3:14-15), as well as constant companionship (Jn.13-17) and eventual resurrection (Jn.6:40), but these were addressed to folks already committed to him and his Kingdom.

When the Kingdom is accurately described and demonstrated, no recruiting is necessary! Neither are made-up promises of escape or prosperity needed or appropriate.
Enlistment in the Kingdom of Jesus must be completely voluntary, with full understanding of the risks as well as the benefits.
Anything less does violence to the Kingdom, the King, and his committed disciples!

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