Suddenly the interstate highway system is thrown into disarray as thousands of unmanned vehicles careen across lanes of traffic and off the road. Planes and other aircraft plummet to earth for lack of a pilot. The water is running, lights are on, and doors unlocked in empty homes. All this is the result of the rapture, the apocalyptic event in which all believers in Jesus Christ are swept up to heaven in an instant, leaving otherwise pagan society to deal with the terrifying aftermath. “I wish,” in the words of obscure Christian musician Larry Norman, “we’d all been ready.” Such is the premise of the latest debacle in Christian filmmaking, Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage.
In the interest of full disclosure I have not seen the film. Thus I cannot speak to the quality of the cinematography or the acting. What I can speak to is the quality of the theology, the basic premise of both the Left Behind books and the more recent film.
It is in my humble opinion not very good.
A few weeks ago I read another blog that essentially made the same point. I shared it on Facebook. But that article did not go in depth in terms of the biblical evidence, or lack thereof, with regard to the rapture. It was more concerned with the historical basis, or lack thereof, with regard to the rapture. And it came across as a little snooty. Thus I feel obligated to explain myself further, in more detail, and hopefully with a little humility.
Most discussions of the rapture begin with Matthew 24:40-41: “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” Seems pretty clear, right? Well it is clear in the sense that someone is indeed left behind. The question is who. Prior to these two verses Jesus illustrates his point with the story of Noah. Verse 39 says, “They were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away.” Fact check: It was the corrupt and depraved, not the godly and righteous, who were unaware and ultimately swept away. I suppose you could just check your facts against the movie Noah…just kidding, don’t waste your money on that either.
“Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark” (Gen. 7:23). Righteous, faithful, God-fearing Noah was left behind. Apparently Jesus’ teaching is that if anyone is going to be left behind untouched as it were, at “the coming of the Son of Man” it would be those who believe in him. That however seems a bit anticlimactic in consideration of the heavenly utopia we anticipate. You mean we are going to be stuck here?
Enter Revelation 21 and its description of the new heaven and new earth. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). According to the New Testament God’s people, regardless of ethnicity, are those who place their faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin and eternal life (see also John 3:16, John 14:6, and Rom. 10:9 among others). What makes heaven…well…heaven is not its geographical or physical location but rather the unprecedented proximity and access to God that his people will be able to enjoy. Add to this the fact that in Revelation Jesus proclaims upon his return, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). That is to say he will make all things as they were originally intended at the beginning of creation when the first man Adam enjoyed unlimited access to God as well.
Still there remains the issue of I Thessalonians 4:17 which in describing the second coming of Christ says, “Then we who are alive…will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the LORD in the air, and so we will always be with the LORD.” This passage is one of two things. It is either correct where Revelation 21 and Matthew 24 are wrong. Or it is the description of believers meeting Christ as he descends from heaven (I Thess. 4:16) and joining him for both the rest of the way down and the establishment of his kingdom on earth, that is “the making all things new.” I believe the latter to be the case.
That is the short version of why I do not feel the need to see the Left Behind movie in order to know I would not like it. But I have run out of room to expound further since I have a self-imposed thousand word limit and I still need you to read one more thing:
I could be wrong.
I don’t think I am, but…I could be. And I do think there are reasons that being right matters, but like I said…I’m out of words. And I still have to tell you I would never be happier to be wrong than if I were suddenly displaced from behind the wheel of my automobile and found floating somewhere in the atmosphere with Jesus. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins could have the last laugh and I would be alright with that. The rapture is what I grew up with after all. It is what I hoped for in the midst of many a high school math class. And I was taken aback, offended really, when I realized many Christians agree it is a farce. Many of those who mentored me in my faith as a kid are (in some cases were) waiting on and hoping for the rapture. Someday we will find out who was right…and when that day comes we will no longer care.