The Left Behind series (1995 – 2007) novelizes the end of the world according to the authors’ interpretation of Bible prophecy. The story begins with the secret removal of the church from the world by Jesus. This event is called the “rapture.” The main characters are among those who are left behind to suffer a Tribulation period. They become Christians and band together to thwart Antichrist and await the return of Jesus.
There are 16 books in the series. Several of them are bestsellers and total sales for the series exceed 65 million dollars. Such a ready and receptive market reveals that there is widespread fascination about the future. The authors satisfy this curiosity by expounding Bible prophecy in the form of Christian fiction. In this way they impart their end-times theology and methods of interpretation to their readers. Many accept their theology as valid and methods as reliable.
Readers of the Left Behind series are “caught up” with its rapture scenario and the way it handles Bible prophecy. They are misled by its claim to be based on what the Bible teaches about the end times. Unfortunately, the theology contained within this series is as fictional as its story line. The authors cleverly smuggle their questionable approach to Bible prophecy into these books. Rather than resolve to not be left behind, we should instead resolve to leave the rapture behind.
The rapture is the product of a flawed system of interpretation. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus will come a second time. This system divides His second coming into two comings and devises a complex scheme of events that must occur around His comings. It quotes several prophecies from the Old Testament to support this scheme. In order to do this, it must take these prophecies out of context, ignoring their historical setting and original meaning.
This system is flawed because it is based on a false standard of interpretation. The system claims to interpret Bible prophecy “literally” by seeking physical, word-for-word fulfillment. But taking the Bible “literally” simply means taking it “by the letter,” or the way it was written. It means we read the Bible how it is meant to be read rather than hack-and-slash our way through it. Therefore, a literal interpretation can include symbolism, figurative language, and spiritual fulfillment of prophecy.
This system also misquotes prophecies from the New Testament. It takes predictions of Jesus’ one second coming and makes them refer instead to the rapture. Some favorites are: John 14:1-3, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed”; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, “We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
The rapture captures our imagination and is very marketable, but is not what the Bible teaches about the end times. It is time to adopt a sensible rather than sensational approach to handling Bible prophecy. It is time to leave the rapture behind.
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