The Left Behind series is a publishing phenomenon, with 16 books and $65 million in sales. Three movies have been based on the series; today's Left Behind makes the fourth. In it, Nicolas Cage plays a pilot who attempts to calm his surviving passengers high above the Atlantic after the believers have been raptured. Other well-known actors include Lea Thompson, Jordin Sparks, and Nicky Whelan.
The movie is based on the doctrine of the "rapture" (from the Latin rapturo, to take out). There are various versions of the rapture, but they have in common the belief that Christians will be removed from the world by God during the "end times."
Most who believe there will be rapture expect it to be followed by a seven-year Great Tribulation, which will lead to the Second Coming of Jesus, a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (the "millennium"), and then eternity. Some predict the rapture during the middle of the Great Tribulation, others at the end, but most are "pre-tribulational."
Is this doctrine biblical?
I became a Christian in a church where the pre-tribulational rapture was a theological given, as assumed as the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. My first study Bible was a Scofield Bible, which taught the rapture as fact. My first biblical commentary was by Hal Lindsay, who did more in the 1970s and 1980s to popularize the rapture than anyone else.
Imagine my surprise when I took a seminar in college on the Book of Revelation, and discovered that conservative biblical scholars have held at least seven different approaches to the end times. In addition to the rapture position (usually called "premillennial dispensational"), popular options today range from "preterist" (the Book of Revelation was fulfilled in the first century, with no predictive elements) to "historic premillenialists" (Jesus will return before the millennium, but there will be no rapture), to "amillennial" (Revelation is intentionally symbolic, with no literal rapture or millennium), to "postmillennial" (Jesus will return after the millennium).
Then I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I had only one professor who espoused the rapture doctrine. All the others accepted either the amillennial or historic premillennial positions.
Here's what matters: Jesus is coming back. No one knows when. We have only today to be ready. Whether he raptures the church before (or during, or after) a Great Tribulation, or returns to begin the millennium, or simply returns to end history and begin eternity, is not the practical question. You and I have no say in the matter. We are on the preparation committee, not the planning committee. Our job is to be ready when he comes, however he comes.
At the end of Revelation, John could pray: "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20). Can you?
Publication date: October 3, 2014
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