millions of readers been left behind in a whirlwind
of apocalyptic fantasy and revisionist theology?
Another Look at
The cover of the May 24, 2004 issue of Newsweek
pictured Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, co-authors of the
bestselling Left Behind novels, standing behind this headline: “The
New Prophets of Revelation: Why Their Biblical Left Behind Novels
Have Sold 62 Million Copies – And Counting.” Since September 11,
2001, many Americans have wondered if the apocalypse is near. Mel
Gibson's hard-hitting The Passion of the Christ
film focused on our Lord’s first coming. Will He come again? In the
New Testament, the answer is superbly clear. Jesus Christ Himself
said, "I will come again" (John 14:3).
But how will He come? Left Behind teaches a two-phase return. First,
Jesus will supposedly come silently, invisibly, unknown to the
world. At that mysterious moment millions of believers will vanish –
being raptured to heaven – while the majority will have no clue
which way they went. All who are ‘left behind’ will have to endure a
nightmarish 7-year period of apocalyptic terror called ‘the
Tribulation.’ Times will be tough, yet they will have seven years to
get right with God. At the end of this Tribulation, ‘phase two’ will
then supposedly kick in – the visible return of Jesus (the Second
Coming) to rescue all who have accepted Him during the Tribulation,
no matter the cost.
Thus Left Behind’s basic view is: Rapture first, then seven years of
Tribulation, then the visible Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Inherent within this teaching is the ‘second chance’ idea. While
Left Behind is clearly fiction, its basic sequence isn’t, and this
scenario is now believed by millions of searching readers and
prophecy-minded Christians around the globe. Those who challenge
this view are sometimes labeled ‘liberals’ who simply don’t believe
what the Bible plainly says.
But is this really what the Bible plainly says? Personally, I have
studied this intriguing topic for many years and my conclusions
differ from that of Tim LaHaye (and other ‘pre-trib’ teachers).
Briefly, here’s why. There are three major verses used to support
the Jesus-will-come-invisibly Rapture doctrine: 1 Thessalonians
4:16, 17 (which says believers will be “caught up”), 1 Corinthians
15:52 (where something happens “in a moment, in the twinkling of an
eye”), and Matthew 24:40 (when “one shall be taken, and the other
left”). Rapturists apply these verses to a silent, invisible return
of Christ before a seven-year Tribulation. Is this interpretation
careful analysis of the context of each passage proves otherwise. 1
Thessalonians 4:16 and 17 reveals that true believers will be
“caught up” when Jesus Christ literally comes down from heaven with
a “shout,” “voice,” and “trumpet” blast. Does this sound silent to
you? Throughout Christian history (until the 1800s), most
interpreters didn’t think so. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an
eye, at the last trumpet,” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:52. Yet
the rest of the verse says, “For the trumpet will sound, and the
dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this
corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on
immortality.” Sounds pretty loud again, don’t you think? Notice also
that Christians are not pictured as disappearing, leaving their
clothes on earth. Rather their physical bodies are changed in a
moment or twinkling of an eye from being sin-affected into a
long-awaited state of immortal health. The last text in Matthew
24:40, where “one is taken and the other left,” follows right after
Jesus Christ’s strong warning about those who teach a “secret”
coming (verse 26) and His cataclysmic description of His return in
“power and great glory,” with “a great sound of a trumpet,” when
“all the tribes of the earth” will literally behold His descent (see
verses 30, 31).
The context of each passage above reveals no two-phase return, but
only one phase, which is loud and visible at the end of the world.
In other words, there’s no ‘secret’ Rapture, only the Second Coming
of Jesus Christ. This would imply no subsequent seven years either
and no “second chance” for those who miss the event. The very same
issue featuring LaHaye and Jenkins on the cover also
contained a feature article showing a “Glossary” of terms labeled,
“Decoding the Evangelical Lingo.” Below “Rapture” and “Tribulation”
was the word, “Pretribulationism,” which was then correctly defined
as a doctrine “…popularized by 19th century British
evangelist John Darby, [who taught] that Jesus would Rapture the
faithful before the Tribulation” (Newsweek,
May 24, 2004, p. 47).
The truth is, Left Behind’s entire Rapture-Tribulation scenario can
be traced – not to Scripture – but to Darby, just like
reported. Bottom line: Jesus Christ will not return twice, we won’t
disappear, and nobody will be ‘left behind’ wondering ‘which way did
all the Christians go?’ Such ideas may make great novels, but
actually reflect poor scholarship. With the present popularity of
the ‘pre-trib’ view, you may find this hard to believe. But there
are more people out there than you imagine who agree with my
position. Do some homework (in history and through research on the
World Wide Web) and you will discover that the majority of
Christians throughout history have looked forward to only one
visible Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the
great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
Jesus Christ said,
As the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west,
so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:27,
May God help us all to be ready for the great day!
is Speaker/Director of White Horse Media Radio and TV Ministry, has
authored ten books, and hosts the national radio show, World News
and the Bible. For a fuller treatment of these Rapture-Tribulation
issues, see his eye-opening book, End Time Delusions:
The Rapture, the Antichrist, Israel, and the End of the World
(Destiny Image, 2004).