But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. —Luke 21:36 ESV
This verse is often cited by pretribulationists as evidence that the rapture occurs before the great tribulation. But an examination of the context will show that the “escaping” refers to the day of the Lord’s wrath, not the great tribulation.
Pretribulationists assume that “all these things” in Luke 21:36 denotes the great tribulation in verses 20-24. However, the immediate context shows that “all these things” refers to God’s judgment when the Son of Man comes back, not the tribulation before the Son of Man’s Return. The following reasons argue for this point.
First, the immediate context to “all these things” is: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26)
The cosmic disturbances are harbingers of God’s wrath, which is why it says, “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” What is foreboding that is impending for the world? That which we want to escape: God’s wrath.
Second, Luke 21:27 reads, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Why is this reference to the Son of Man significant? Because it is at that time after “praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)
The escaping is related to the standing before the Son Man. When Christ comes back, either you will stand before the Son of Man counted worthy through his redeeming grace, or you will flee away from the Son of Man to experience his wrath. This is why we are told to “stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place.”
Third, observe which day that Jesus refers to in the previous verse 34:
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34)
There is only one day in this context which “that day” can refer to, and that is the day that the Son of Man comes in with power and great glory (v. 27).
Fourth, verses 20-24 refer to an oppressed minority who live among the nations: “They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations.” In contrast, verse 36 is speaking of the context of divine retributive judgment upon the nations found in verse 35: “For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:35)
Fifth, what is the nature of this “escape”? Is he referring way back to verse 21 about fleeing to the mountains? Not at all. The immediate context gives us the nature of escaping:
“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads [confidence in Christ], because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)
“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man [confidence in Christ].” (Luke 21:36)
Sixth, Matthew and Luke’s account contains a parallel section that refers to Christ’s second coming (Luke 21:25-28; Matthew 24:27-31). And the parallel teaching of Luke’s “spiritual watchfulness” is found in Matthew 24:42—25-13. It is noted that in Matthew’s account this spiritual watchfulness points to Christ’s glorious coming (vv. 29-31), not to the great tribulation.
In conclusion, with these contextual considerations, we can be confident that the antecedent to “all these things” which we are called to escape is found in verse 26: “with foreboding of what is coming on the world [i.e., God’s wrath].”
Now the question is, are you spiritually staying awake and praying to escape these things? Are you testing your election in Christ and thereby not being self-deceived, lest you be exposed on that day to be a fake Christian? It will be too late then.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” -Luke 21:34
“So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” -1 Thess 5:6-9