Why “Left Behind” Should Be Left Behind

To the surprise of many, rapture-based theology has only been around for the past couple hundred years and predominantly in America.

Unfortunately, however, while “Left Behind” may prove itself to be a mediocre box office success, it represents a severe misinterpretation of what the Bible actually says about the topic. To put it bluntly, and perhaps to the chagrin of some readers, the idea of a “rapture” is simply not biblically based (and that’s where I’ve lost a third of you!) It represents, instead, a theology based on escapism and in the process does damage to what the Bible really does say about “the last days.”

 

On October 3, theaters across the country will be lowering their screens for the much talked about reboot of “Left Behind,” a film installment based upon the popular book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins and a remake of the previous film by the same name. It’s been the “year of the Christian movie” with films like “God’s Not Dead,” “Heaven is For Real,” and “Son of God.” (I would include “Noah” but that was apparently condemned as heresy by the masses.) So, a reboot of “Left Behind” — especially one with a bigger budget and a bigger name (Nicolas Cage) — is not really unexpected, though it most certainly will draw the same sort of crowds as the other three movies and will find itself well within the likes of the church crowd.

Unfortunately, however, while “Left Behind” may prove itself to be a mediocre box office success, it represents a severe misinterpretation of what the Bible actually says about the topic. To put it bluntly, and perhaps to the chagrin of some readers, the idea of a “rapture” is simply not biblically based (and that’s where I’ve lost a third of you!) It represents, instead, a theology based on escapism and in the process does damage to what the Bible really does say about “the last days.”

Of course, it’s beyond the scope of this article to give a fleshed out analysis of the various portraits of “the last days” which exist in contemporary Christianity. More to the topic of this post, though, the whole idea of disappearing for seven years to a heavenly abode while the rest of the world endures some timetable of Revelation’s cataclysmic prophecies of cosmic destruction, a one world order, an antichrist, a mark of the beast (watch out iPhone 6!), etc. is just not what Revelation is about.

To the surprise of many, rapture-based theology has only been around for the past couple hundred years and predominantly in America. Indeed, the world’s leading biblical scholar, N.T. Wright, refers to it as an “American obsession” and notes that few Christians in the U.K. hold any sort of belief in it. I would say the same for biblical scholars (in fact, I can’t think of a single trained biblical scholar of Revelation* that endorses rapture based theology minus a couple at Dallas Seminary.)

The origins of rapture theology lie in 1830 Scotland where a fifteen year old girl name Margaret MacDonald claimed to see a vision of a “two-stage return of Jesus.” Enter John Nelson Darby, a British evangelist and the founder of the Plymouth Brethren. Darby took MacDonald’s vision and created an entire system based off of it in which Jesus returns not once (as Christians have always believed) but twice! Darby and others who were sympathetic to his views went back to the Bible to search for clues, signs, and verses which would justify thinking of worldly history in terms of “dispensations” which included a seven-year tribulation and a preceding evacuation of the church from it.

Through various “mission trips” to the U.S. in the late 19th century, the notion of a “rapture” found itself appealing to American Christians who were going through the atrocities of the Civil War which, by all measure, must have looked like Armageddon: nation rising up against nation, brother against brother, son against father, etc. With more than half a million dead, who wouldn’t find a “let’s get out of here” theology attractive?

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