Left Behind . . . Forever?

Marvin Moore

     An airline pilot relaxes in the cockpit as his Boeing 747 flies over the Atlantic toward London's Heathrow airport. But at the moment his mind isn't on flying. It's on his gorgeous senior flight attendant, for whom he feels a powerful physical attraction.
leftbehind.jpg (7249 bytes)     Suddenly he has to see her. Now.
     Leaving his first officer in charge of the plane, he exits the cockpit. But what he finds is the last thing he'd expected. She grabs him, claws at his arms, presses her face into his chest. She's weeping, terrified. "People are missing! Just gone!"
     The pilot is incredulous, but a few moments of checking persuade him that it's true. People are screaming, leaping from their seats, trying to find their missing friends and loved ones.
     He knows what's happened: The rapture.
     And he's been left behind!

     What you just read is a summary of the opening scene in a Christian novel that has now been turned into a film. Both the book and the film are called Left Behind.™ And both have been making waves in conservative Christian circles in recent months. 1
     The pilot knows what happened because his Christian wife had been telling him about the rapture, urging him to get right with God. Now he's terrified-especially when he goes home and finds his wife and son missing too!
     The pilot calls his wife's church, only to find that the pastor and most of the members have also disappeared. However; a distraught church member who realizes he too has been left behind lends the pilot a videotape that the pastor recorded prior to his "departure."
     The pilot plugs the tape into his VCR and watches as the pastor explains what has happened. Then the pastor says, "It doesn't make any difference, at this point, why you're still on earth.... The point now is, you have another chance. Don't miss it." 2

The rapture theory
     This story is based on the theory that the Christian church will be "raptured" (taken out of the world) to heaven seven years prior to the second coming of Christ. This theory became very popular in conservative Christian circles during the last half of the twentieth century.
     While we at Signs of the Times
Signs of the Times
respect people of all persuasions, we disagree with the rapture theory. The consistent message of the Bible is that Jesus will return for His people once, not twice. Speaking of His second coming, Jesus said:

The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 3

     These two verses describe Jesus coming in the clouds "with power and great glory." His appearance at that time will be visible to the entire world, including the wicked, because "all the nations" will see Him and the wicked "will mourn." His coming will also be audible: He will come with a loud trumpet call. This is the time when God's people all over the world will be gathered together to live with Jesus. There is no way this can be anything other than the Second Coming.
     The rapture is not supposed to be visible or audible. Nevertheless, a passage in 1 Thessalonians that is said to apply to the rapture is similar in several important respects to the description above that Jesus gave of His second coming:

According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, 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. And so we will be forever with the Lord. 4

     For an event that's not supposed to be audible or visible, what 1 Thessalonians describes is very noisy: "a loud command," "the voice of the archangel," and "the trumpet call of God."
     From beginning to end in Left Behind™ there's not a word about any loud command of God, voice of the archangel, or trumpet call of God. And there's not a word about clouds in the sky. The people who are raptured simply disappear. Jesus said the wicked will be in despair at or during His coming, which means they will be aware of it as it happens. But in Left Behind,™ people are totally unaware of His coming till it's all over.

A second chance?
     However; the most disturbing suggestion in Left Behind™ is the idea that there will be a second chance at salvation. There isn't a word anywhere in the Bible about anyone getting a second chance.
     This point is perhaps best illustrated by several of Jesus' parables about the end of the world. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the farmhands ask the farmer if he wants them to pull up the weeds. The farmer tells them to let the wheat and the weeds grow together till the harvest, lest in pulling up the weeds they pull up the wheat also.
     Jesus explained that "the harvest is the end of the world," 5 when the angels "will weed out of his kingdom... all who do evil." 6 There's not a word about a second chance for those who missed the first one.
     In another parable, fishermen collect the good fish in a basket and throw away the bad ones. Jesus compared this to the end of the world when "the angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous." 7 There's not a word about a second chance for those who missed the first one.
     And the parable of the sheep and the goats indicates that Jesus will "separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." 8 There's not a word about a second chance for those who missed the first one.
     We consider the theory of a second chance to be extremely dangerous because it suggests that if people miss the rapture, they'll still have a chance at salvation between then and the Second Coming. This theory tempts people to live as they please until the second chance comes around.
     But if there is no second chance, then those who've put off getting right with God will discover that they've waited too long and they'll be among those who Jesus said "will mourn" at His second coming.
     We'd hate to see this happen to any of the readers of Signs of the Times! That's why we urge you to think carefully about the theology that underlies the book and the film Left Behind. ™

1While the hook Left Behind was published several years ago, interest in it has surged as a result of the recent release of the film and the publicity associated with it.
2Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind™ (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995), 214.
3Mattbew 24:30,31. 41 Thessalonians 4:15-17. 5Matthew 13:39, KJV. 6Verse 40, NIV.
7Matthew 13:47-50. 8Matthew 25:32.

Marvin Moore is editor of Signs of the TimesMarvin Moore is editor of Signs of the Times.

http://www.signstimes.com/ March 2001 Signs of the Times p. 8, 9.