Leaving Left Behind Behind
by Aaron Binion
2014 will go down in history as the year of unscriptural Bible films. A new Left Behind movie releases on October 3 with Nicholas Cage replacing my favorite growing pain, Kirk Cameron, in the leading role. So much for testing everything and holding on to the good (1 Thessalonian 5:21). The movie attempts to fill in the blanks of Bible prophesy with all of the information missing from scripture but found, as rapture teachers like to say, in the “white of the page.” Apparently, the Left Behind people simply don’t know Revelation 22:18-19. As the film’s leading actor, Cage plays the part of a commercial airline pilot during the Rapture when millions of people vanish. The world is left in a state of madness with those left behind wondering where all the Christians have gone. The production company, Stoney Lake Entertainment, is spending an estimated $16 million in hopes of attracting a “wider audience” than the original Left Behind series, which was marketed for Christians.
As Bible believers, we’d like to think that these Bible based movies are better than the rest of the stuff made in Hollywood – but are they? Paul said, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie. That they might all be damned who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:21). The verse before states that they perish because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved (vs. 20). The context states the delusion is concerning the coming of our Lord and our being gathered together with Him (vs.1). People love delusions, not the truth. As a result, God allows them to be confused. If the verse were not true then Left Behind would be left behind and a movie edition of Fox’s Book of Martyrs would take its place.
All truly saved Christians believe in the imminent return of Jesus Christ. When will He return? Jesus himself said he didn’t know (Mark 13:32). Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped Hollywood or other Christians from trying to figure it out. The Left Behind model of Bible prophesy severely undermines Jesus’s words. Left Behind supporters say certain events are necessary for his second coming: the rebirth of national Israel, the rebuilding of the temple, one world currency, and the rise of the Anti-Christ. Left Behind teaches that Christians will vanish leaving behind their clothes, dentures, and airplane seats, while unsaved people will have no idea where they went. If Left Behind theology wasn’t antithetical to truth, it’d be comical. Supporters of this view think “the Anti-Christ” is a beastly man who will put a bar code in your wrist or imprint his mark “666” into your smart phone. The people who are left after the rapture go through seven years of tribulation in which the Anti-Christ rules the world bringing war on Jews, the battle of Armageddon occurs, and then Jesus comes back.
Revelation is perhaps the hardest book in the Bible. Complicating matters, most people are ignorant of history and lack the hermeneutical skills necessary to interpret such a detailed book. Sorting through the entire book would require books, not a blog. For that reason, I’d highly recommend several sources to aid in your personal study. Revelation by Elder Timothy Binion, End Time Delusions by Steve Wohlberg, Reading through Revelation by Dr. Joseph Trafton, and The Apocalyptic Code by Hank Hannegraph. As a disclaimer, I’m a pan-millialist. When Jesus hits the eastern sky it’ll be like Elmer Fudd said,“That’s all folks” and things will pan out in the end.
Eschatology (the doctrine of the end times) isn’t a doctrine that should be used as a question of fellowship. People can have different views and still be considered sound. However, I’m dead set against the Left Behind movies for three main reasons:
1. Christians need to get their views on eschatology from the Bible, not Hollywood.
2. Sinners will have no second chance of salvation after Jesus returns.
3. The church avoiding tribulation is intellectually dishonest.
Doctrine of Man vs. The Bible.
Where does the idea of Left Behind come from? Left Behind gets its title from Luke 17:34-35 and Matthew 24:40-41. In these passages, Jesus doesn’t say the one taken is a believer and the one left is a non-believer. He didn’t even say the things he was discussing would happen at the end of time. Instead he said (speaking to his disciples), “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). Either Jesus got it wrong, or the historical interpretation of these verses is correct – he was talking about the destruction of the temple in 70AD. Christ did say to take heed that no man deceive you (vs.4). Neither of these passages or any other Biblical text teaches a pre-tribulation rapture. If these verses did apply to the end of the world as some people teach, Jesus clearly taught against the idea of getting saved after His second coming. He said it’ll be like the days of Noah. When the rain came down, sinful humanity was destroyed with no second chance (vs.38-39). The idea of a rapture must be inferred from a false theological package called dispensationalism.
Dispensationalism teaches that God’s plan is all about national Israel and the rapture ends God’s plan with the church so He can address national Israel. The idea of these verses referring to a silent rapture started in 1830. A self-proclaimed prophetess, Margret Macdonald, had a vision, C.I. Scoffield wrote a commentary, Clarance Larkin made a book of illustrative charts, but the guy who gets the credit as the father of dispensationalism is John Nelson Darby. No one before Darby or Macdonald taught or believed in a silent rapture. (The word “rapture” isn’t even found in the Bible.) The idea is that Jesus comes invisibly to remove his church, then comes a seven year tribulation and the Anti-Christ. Jesus plainly taught, “I will come again and receive you to myself” (John 14:3). Two angels said, “This same Jesus who was taken up will so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus is coming back visibly just like He ascended. No invisible return is found in the Bible. First Thessalonians 4:16-17 is the main text Darby used to support his invention. Paul said, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout (not a whisper) with the voice of an archangel with the trumpet of God.” This is the noisiest verse in the Bible! Things will be so loud that the dead in Christ (a bodily resurrection) will rise first, and then we who remain shall be caught up. The Lord comes down and we are caught up together with those who have been raised to meet the Lord in the air. Why do the Left Behind authors think Christ will change directions once Christians meet Him in the air? Why do people use words like rapture when they don’t understand what the words mean? Rapture supporters will say that Paul said Jesus will come silently like a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5:1). The context of the verse teaches He is coming unexpectedly but not silently because the very next verse says that when they say peace and safety then sudden destruction comes on them like a pregnant woman’s labor pains, which are unexpected but certainly not silent.
A Second Chance?
Notice that Paul ends the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage with, “Comfort each other with these words.” This verse is to be used to comfort believers, not to scare sinners. The return of Christ must be faithfully preached, but to coax sinners into confessing salvation while avoiding God’s holy law, the sin issue which separates man from a holy God, or the need for repentance and faith is not faithful Biblical exposition and is a misapplication of the doctrine. God’s holiness and the wages of sin should produce a holy fear of God, not a fictitious movie with incorrect Biblical interpretation. Keep in mind that Left Behind is one of the best-selling fiction books with a record of 65 million copies sold. First Thessalonians 5 makes it clear that it’s over for them that are not saved. There is nothing in these verses about time going on after Jesus’s return or seven years of tribulation. This eisegesis (something added to the text) is a delusion producing an idea of a second chance. Trying to support his interpretation, Darby used 1 Corinthians 15:22. But Paul wasn’t talking about a silent event and there was no one disappearing. This Kodak moment happens at the last trumpet.
No Tribulation for the Church?
Darby’s idea of the church escaping tribulation is a slap in the face of history’s martyrs and an insult to the words of Christ. Using 1 Thessalonians 5:9, rapture supporters will say the church misses out on the tribulation because we are not destined for God’s wrath. The Left Behind supporters teach that the words “wrath” and “tribulation” are used interchangeably. However, believers will not suffer God’s wrath (thymos) but will suffer tribulation (thilipsis). Jesus told his disciples that in this world we can expect tribulation (John 16:33). When a student of scripture starts to iron out Revelation and begins to study Baptist history, if there hasn’t been tribulation then what was the Trail of Blood about? All of the disciples except one died for their faith. Paulicians, Waldences, Ana-Baptists – read their stories and, again, if that wasn’t tribulation then what was it? Using Strong’s Concordance, every Biblical reference to tribulation explains what believers must go through (Acts 14:22, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Revelation 1:9, Revelation 2:9).
Left Behind supporters will ask, “Why isn’t the church mentioned after Revelation 4?” The Left Behind camp teaches that everything after Revelation chapter 3 is irrelevant to the church, but they ignore the fact that John was given the book of Revelation for the church (Revelation 22:16). Have they not read Revelation 13 and 14? The beast makes war with the saints (13:7), the faith of the saints (13:10), during the mark of the beast there are the saints who keep the faith of Jesus (14:12). Left Behind believers will say these are the saints who have gotten saved after Jesus comes back but that there isn’t a church. A church is a called out assembly of believers. If these saints don’t constitute a church, then they really haven’t kept the faith (Matthew 16:18). Armageddon was a good movie for fans of Aerosmith but Revelation 16:15 is the only place where it is mentioned. It isn’t even a real place. If some geographer ever finds it then please disregard this blog. Jesus was talking to HIS Church which they say won’t exist.
A 7 year Tribulation?
For the Left Behind series to be true, the seven year period of tribulation must be true. The best scriptural reference they have is Daniel 9:24-27, and it doesn’t apply to the Anti-Christ. In the book of Daniel, the Jews are in Babylonian captivity because of their sins. God promises them a return to Jerusalem, a rebuilt temple, and their Messiah. A correct interpretation of scripture can’t add anything into a text; therefore, these verses do not teach anything about the Anti-Christ making a peace treaty with Jews during a seven year tribulation, the Anti-Christ breaking his covenant and turning against Israel, or a Jewish temple being built inside of Jerusalem. To interpret this scripture correctly one must understand what is actually in the text. Gabriel announces a message consisting of 490 years. This is a command to rebuild Jerusalem after captivity. “After 69 weeks shall Messiah be cut off.” This is talking about Christ’s crucifixion. “After the Lord’s death the people shall come and destroy the city and the sanctuary.” Most scholars say this applies to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. One week is left. The one week refers to seven years. Rapture people say this is the seven years of tribulation. They teach that somehow God stops a prophetic clock and this last seven year period of time refers to the tribulation. Theologians debate, Jesus either comes before the seven years (pre-trib), in the middle of the seven years (mid-trib), or after the seven years (post-trib). A better question would be is there a trib? Every time scripture gives a period of time it is always a consecutive time period. Thus, the seven years don’t apply to a tribulation period before the end of time. Historically, Bible interpreters have not applied this seven year period to the tribulation. Scholars debate the seventy week as either being Christ crucified and resurrected. While others teach that Christ focused on Israel for 3 ½ years (Matt 10:26), then his disciples preached to Jews for 3 ½ years (Acts 1-6), but at the end of the seven years or seventieth week the Jewish leaders final rejected the gospel via stoning Steven (Acts 7) and the gospel went to the Gentiles.
The Christ not the Anti-Christ!
The person that the Left Behind fans say is the Anti-Christ has been historically interpreted as the Christ. If an interpretation causes confusion between the Anti-Christ and the true Christ, then it is time to rethink the interpretation. Jesus put an end to the sacrifices in the temple because He himself became the ultimate sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews makes this point crystal clear. Notice, the verse says he will confirm a covenant. The word “covenant” is always applied to the Messiah. The Anti-Christ doesn’t make a covenant with anyone. If the Anti-Christ made a covenant with someone could anyone actually put any stock into what he says? When Jesus said in Matthew 26:28 “This is my blood for the new covenant”, He was quoting this odd verse out of Daniel. The Jews didn’t understand this verse; they didn’t recognize Jesus fulfilling Daniel 9:26 so they rejected the Messiah and the gospel went to the Gentiles. When Daniel 9:26 is correctly interpreted, the rapture idea gets left behind. Verse 27 says, “He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” If you have a chain reference in your Bible it will list Romans 15:8, Galatians 3:17, and Hebrews 10:4-22. All of these verses apply to the completed work of Christ on the cross. The Left Behind people are taking a prophesy accomplished by Christ on the cross and glorifying the Anti-Christ. It’s talking about the fulfilling of the Old Covenant and establishing the New Covenant, not some tribulation lasting seven years. Remember, scripture interprets scripture. In Matthew 24:15-16 Jesus references Daniel 9:26-27, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet stand in the holy place then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains.” Context? Jesus’s disciples were talking about the temple. They didn’t understand that the temple would be destroyed long before the end of the world. The context of Daniel 9:27 was Daniel praying asking God about the end of Jerusalem. The Jews continued to make animal sacrifices, rejected the Lamb of God, the abomination appeared in the temple, and as a result God brought the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
In this blog we’ve looked at the fact that there is no rapture, next time we will address the fact that there is no Anti-Christ – at least no guy like the one in the sequel, Nicholae Carpathia.