As I write this for the September/October 2014 issue of Discern magazine, Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, is being brought to the big screen again. This time it will feature Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage and a bigger budget. New and old fans will follow an intense fictional plot framed by the theory that Jesus will snatch believers and innocent children away to heaven just before the world plunges into its darkest hour.
This film’s storyline is based on the rapture theory.
But I don’t want to write about the movie—I want to give you a rapture fact challenge.
Most of the following statements are based on the book used for the movie (published in 1996) and other books from the LaHaye-Jenkins series. The third statement is about the first prominent teacher of the rapture theory. The last two statements, mentioned in Left Behind, are directly about the Bible.
So test your knowledge of the facts on this topic by answering “true” or “false” to each of the following statements.
- The Left Behind books and movies present Bible prophecy accurately.
- When the rapture is complete, all believers will be in heaven and all unbelievers will be in hell.
- John Nelson Darby, a preacher in the 1830s, began the widespread teaching of the rapture theory because people no longer believed that they would go to heaven.
- All believers have a responsibility to convince all other people to “accept the Lord.”
- Jesus and the early apostles believed in and taught the rapture theory.
- Christian churches through all ages have believed and taught the rapture theory.
- Russia will attack Israel and be defeated by supernatural events years before Jesus returns, according to Ezekiel 38.
- The Tribulation will last seven years.
- Every child up to approximately 12 years of age will automatically be included in those who rise to meet Christ. (This includes not only newborns, but also unborn children at all stages of development within their mothers.)
- All that is necessary to be “saved” is to say a brief prayer acknowledging you are a sinner (such as being selfish) and accepting Jesus’ death for your sins.
The answer for each of the 10 preceding statements is false. That might shock those who assumed that the Left Behind series represents the Bible accurately.
The answer to No. 2 may also be a shock to countless members of today’s Christianity who believe that the fictional series supports the doctrine of going to heaven forever. The Left Behind theology has Jesus taking some people to heaven, but only for a few years, after which they all come back to the earth.
That is what was taught by John Nelson Darby. Even though he is not mentioned in the Left Behind books or movies, his ministry is a basis for the modern rapture theory. Some people argue that Darby did not originate the theory, but no one can argue with the fact that he was a prominent teacher of it or that his work influenced C.I. Scofield to publish the theory in his seminal Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 (“John Nelson Darby: Father of Dispensationalism,” ChristianityToday.com).
So widespread and so forceful was the rapture teaching and the Scofield reinforcement that the theory has become deeply embedded in segments of Christianity.
It might seem logical to assume that Darby believed in going to heaven, but Darby was actually motivated to teach the rapture theory out of concern that Christianity no longer believed that the Kingdom of God would be on earth (ibid.)! Darby understood that the Bible teaches Christ will return to the earth to set up God’s Kingdom. Probably few Left Behind fans realize that the writers of the series teach this too!
Consider No. 4. The responsibility to preach to others is at the heart of today’s Christianity and runs through the fictionalized rapture series by LaHaye, Jenkins and other writers. Yet the Bible shows that in this age of deception (Revelation 12:9) only God can enable a person to understand the truth. No argument, regardless of how passionate or brilliant it might be, is capable of causing someone to believe the truth unless God has called the person. Jesus said this in John 6:44.
Now you can see why statements 5 and 6 are false. The Bible and the New Testament Church of God didn’t teach the rapture theory—or any kind of “split” second coming. Jesus and His disciples spoke of His second coming and clearly taught that the resurrection of the righteous would occur at His second coming—not before (Matthew 24:29-31).
Left Behind theology
It’s important to compare what the rapture theory teaches with what the Bible actually says.
The implication of the words “left behind” is that those who do not “believe in Jesus” or “accept Jesus’ sacrifice for sin” will be left behind when Jesus snatches away to heaven those who believed. Their scenario has the righteous dead being resurrected years before Christ’s second coming.
Left Behind theology actually leaves behind the truth! The rapture theory essentially splits Jesus’ return into two parts:
- A near return when He comes into the clouds around the earth.
- The second coming, when He comes back to earth with those raptured saints.
This is not taught in the Bible. The theory snatches a few words out of context to manufacture a doctrine that does not fit with the rest of the Bible’s teachings.
See “Rapture: Will There Be a Secret Rapture?” for the truth of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4 on the second coming. This article also explains Matthew 24:40-41, which has also been wrongly used in support of the rapture theory.
A war in which Russia and its allies attack Israel, with supernatural intervention saving Israel years before Christ returns, is a theme threaded throughout the Left Behind fictional series. Yet if you read “Russia in the Bible,” you will find that Ezekiel 38 plainly interprets itself. Its setting is after Jesus has returned and is reigning over the earth.
The concept that children under 12, as well as unborn children or children literally in the process of being born are snatched up to heaven is simply a far-fetched idea! It might make for good movie footage, but nothing in the Bible hints at such a strange concept. God plans salvation for all, but not by skipping the process of conversion.
Salvation is ...
The Left Behind theology equates qualifying for the rapture with being “saved.” Recognizing that you are a sinner and that Jesus died for your sins is necessary. But you also have to learn what you need to believe, before you can say you believe it! There is much more to sin than the fictional stories imply. See our article “What Is Sin?” for more on this.
Learning this is the beginning of the process of conversion. There is much more to salvation than the Left Behind theology implies! See also “What Is Salvation?” to discover what you perhaps have never seen in the Bible.
The biblical truth is that there is no rapture. The Left Behind fiction brings the Bible into its stories in a piecemeal manner. Those who study the Bible carefully and really believe it—who understand what Jesus preached, why He died and why He is returning—do not accept the rapture. We want you to have the big picture! You can find it outlined in our booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.
The truth is in your Bible—not in fictional books or movies! Download this booklet and read the biblical passages that reveal the truth—so that you will not leave it behind!
For additional study, we recommend the articles in the section “End Times.”