www.ChristDeaf.org
The Biblical basis for
"Left Behind"
by Ron Friedrich
People often ask me what I think about the "Left Behind" books and videos.  Those stories  are very interesting, and have caused many people to think again about the fact the Jesus will come again and that all of us will face Judgment Day.

But there is a problem with the concept of "Left Behind."   The problem is the very popular teaching, called "The Rapture."  This how it goes...

Before the final, visible return of Christ, He will return secretly, and take all believers to heaven, leaving only unbelievers on earth, who will suffer under the reign of the Antichrist.

What is the Biblical basis for this teaching?  

The Key Scriptures used to teach the doctrine of the Rapture are
    Matthew 24:40-42
    Luke 17:34-36
    1 Thess. 4:16-17

Matthew 24:

40  "Then two will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.
41  "Two will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
42  "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.

Luke 17:

34  "I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left.
35  "Two will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left.
36  "Two will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left."

1 Thessalonians 4:

16  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven... and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
18  Therefore comfort one another with these words.

[The word "rapture" is taken from the Latin translation of the verb "caught-up" in 1 Thess. 4:17.]

That settles it, doesn't it?  When you put those Bible verses together like this, you have a convincing case for the doctrine of the Rapture as taught by the authors of "Left Behind."    Even I considered it plausible, until a friend asked me...

"Who are the ones 'taken'?  Believers or Unbelievers?

And who are the ones 'left'?  Believers or Unbelievers?"

I answered, "It is obvious...
the people taken are believers,

and people left are unbelievers."

My friend smiled and asked,
"What does the context say?"
CONTEXT means: Look at the Bible verses that come before and after the text, to better understand what the text means.  Let's do that for the "Rapture" texts:

Matthew 24
37  "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
38  "For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,
39  "and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
40  "Then two will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.
41  "Two will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
42  "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.
43  "But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.
44  "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Clearly in this context,

the people "taken" are not taken to heaven, but are taken away to death and destruction -- to hell.

And the people "left" are those who are saved, left to enjoy eternal life.

The parallel text in Luke in context supports this interpretation:

Luke 17
26  "And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man:
27  "They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
28  "Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built;
29  "but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.
30  "Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
31  "In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.
32  "Remember Lot's wife.
33  "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.
34  "I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left.
35  "Two will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left.
36  "Two will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left."

The teachers of the Rapture, by taking their favorite verses out of context, try to make the text say exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught.

And what about the context of the 1 Thessalonians passage?

1 Thess 4
15  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
16  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
17  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
18  Therefore comfort one another with these words.
5:1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.
2  For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.
3  For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.
4  But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.
5  You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.

I have heard Rapture teachers cite 1 Thess. 4:18 in defense of their doctrine:  "Therefore comfort one another with these words." Rapture teachers claim that there would be no "comfort" in Paul's teaching on the Rapture if Christians could not escape the Great Tribulation under the Antichrist.

Again, context!  To what "comfort" is Paul referring?  He states it clearly in verse 15.  The Thessalonian Christians misunderstood the doctrine of the resurrection.  They were afraid that their friends who died would miss the return of Christ.  Paul assures them that  "the dead in Christ will rise first," and then believers who are still alive on earth will join them in meeting Christ.  That's where the "comfort" applies, not on the matter of the Tribulation.

So, in short, the answer to the question,

"Who are the ones taken?"   Unbelievers.

"Who are the ones left?"    Believers.



 
The first rules of understanding and correctly interpreting the Bible are:
 
(a) Direct, clear passages of Scripture interpret unclear, symbolic passages.


(b) Every text of Scripture must first be interpreted by its immediate context.

 
 

The technical term that theologians use for the study of End Times is eschatology.

Scripture texts which may apply to the study of "End Times" are:

     Clear, direct statements about End-Time events
          Matthew 24
          Matt. 25:31-46
          Mark 13
          Mark 14:61,62
          Luke 17:20-37
          Luke 21:5-36
          John 5:28-29
          1 Cor. 15 [answering questions on the resurrection]
          1 Thess. 4:13 - 5:10  [answering the concern of Christians who
                fear that those who died will miss out on the return of Christ.]
          2 Thess. 2:1-12  [answering the erroneous assumption that Christ may
                come at any time very soon.  Paul alerts the readers that before
                they see Christ, they must first see the Antichrist, or the
                "Man of Lawlessness."]
          2 Peter 3:1-13

          1 John 2:18-22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 7

     Symbolic, apocalyptic texts
          Ezekiel
          Daniel 7-12
               (Much of Ezekiel and Daniel apply to Old Testament world history.)
          Revelation 4-22
               (Many people interpret the seven short letters of Rev. 2-3 as
                prophetic
allegory of periods of church history, even though
                the text itself does not imply that interpretation.)

     Parables of Jesus dealing with the End Times
          The wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30)
          The fishing net (Matt. 13:47-49)
          Laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16)
          The wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14)
          Ten Bridesmaids (Matt. 25:1-13)
          Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)
          Sheep & Goats (Judgment Day)  (Matt. 25:31-46)

 

The popular view of End Times, as presented in the "Left Behind" books and videos, is called "dispensational premillennialism."  This view is not the historic position of the Christian church, but is of recent origin, from the mid 1800s, when wild things were happening in religious movements in American and Europe.

Here we had folks like Joseph Smith claiming to have met an angel who showed him the location of gold tablets which had the story of ancient American history inscribed in a language which only he could read and decode.  This was the birth of the Mormon Church.

And there were folks like William Miller, who convinced over 50,000 followers that he had accurately calculated the date for Christ's return:  March 21, 1844 ...Oops! Slight miscalculation. It should have been October 22, 1844 ...Oops! again.  Right?  No, said disciple Ellen G. White, who claimed that she had a vision from God which revealed that Miller got his date right; he just misunderstood what the date signified.  Thus we have the formation of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

However, none of these folks gets the credit for the idea of "dispensationalism."  Rather, dispensationalism comes to us from England, by John Nelson Darby, one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren in the mid 1800s in England.

The word "dispensation" means a special period of time, in which God works in a unique way, different than the way He works in other periods of history.  The dispensational timetable which is the basis of the "Left Behind" books and movies is as follows:



Dispensationalism teaches that...

1.  Christ came in the period of the New Testament.  He suffered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

2.  We are now in the "dispensation" (time) called the "Church Age."

3.  At some unpredictable time Christ will come a second time - not (yet) with fanfare and global recognition, but secretly, and He will snatch away the bodies of Christians, both living and dead, leaving empty clothes, pajamas, dentures, coffins, etc., and leaving non-Christians behind trying to figure out what happened.  Those who are left behind will still have a second chance to repent and be saved.  This event is called "the Rapture." 

4.  Seven years of the Great Tribulation will follow, with the rise of a one-world government under the rule of the Antichrist, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, and persecution for Christians (those who converted after the Rapture).

5.  The Tribulation will end with the Battle of Armageddon, and...

6. ...the third return of Christ, with a second resurrection, for those who converted to Christ and died during the Great Tribulation, and also Old Testament saints.  This is when the "Sheep-and-the-Goats" Judgment Day occurs (Matt. 25:31-46).  But unbelievers who are still alive on earth will have third chance to repent and be saved. 

7.  Now comes "The Millennium," the 1000 year reign of Christ (Rev. 20) - either visibly, or invisibly through righteous Christian people.  This will be a geopolitical theocracy.

8.  After that 1000 years, Christ will leave (again), this time taking His flock with Him (again... with a third resurrection?).  Again, those who are still left behind will have one more chance to repent and be saved.

9.  Now begins a second short and intense time of tribulation leading up to...

10. ...the fourth coming of Christ, the fourth resurrection (which finally includes unbelievers), the final judgment and destruction of the physical universe as we know it.

11. Finally, God creates a New Heaven and a New Earth for all eternity.

When you read the Bible's texts that desribe the return of Christ, the end of the world, and the final judgement, you will not find any text (read in its own context) supporting this doctrine that Christ returns several times. All these texts describe the same event, with each text supplying information about that event.  Dispensationalists mistakenly assume that these several texts describe several different events that happen at different times, and so they arrange the texts in a sequence rather than seeing them as concurrent.  Dispensationalists dispute among themselves the arrangement of that sequence:  Will the Rapture happen before the Great Tribulation (pre-trib), during the Great Tribulation (mid-trib), or after (post-trib)?  But Dispensationalists all agree on that Christ will reign on earth for 1000 years, based on one very symbolic text of Scripture:  Revelation 20.

As we have already seen in the verses used to defend the Rapture doctrine, Dispensationalism violates those two very basic principles of Biblical interpretation:
(a) Direct, clear passages of Scripture interpret unclear, symbolic passages.
(b) Every text of Scripture must first be interpreted by its immediate context.
 



What does the Bible really teach?

If you read the Bible, and let each text of Scripture rest in its own context, the very clear picture of End Times is that Jesus will come again just once.  All the world will see Jesus and recognize Him as King and Judge.  And the world as we know it will be totally destroyed, and God will replace it with a new and perfect world for His people to live, in full fellowship with Him forever.  This Biblical view of End Times is called amillennialism.

So how do Lutheran amillennialists interpret the "1000 year reign" of Christ described in the symbolic text of Revelation 20?    The Reign of Christ is happening right now in the hearts of His People.  When Christ told Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world,"  (John 18:36) He didn't even imply the word, "yet."
 

The Bible clearly teaches that Christ will come again, period!  He will not come again, and again, and again, as Dispensationalists teach.

The Bible clearly teaches that when Christ comes again, the whole world will see Him in glory, majesty, and power, and all will understand the significance of His coming.

The Bible clearly teaches that when Christ comes again, all who have ever lived will face their judgment.  When we read the Dispensationalists favorite Rapture texts in context, we see that each text clearly teaches that there will be no second chance, third chance, etc., as Dispensationalist hope.  (Remember the parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids - Matthew 25).  Like the people who refused to repent at Noah's preaching, so also in the End Times, those who wish they had converted will not have a second chance (see Genesis 7:13-24, Matthew 24:37-39; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5). 



Keeping the Question in Perspective

The very important Christian doctrines of Grace, Faith, and Salvation conflict with Dispensationalists' unbiblical teaching of the "second chance."  But on most other points of eschatology, Christians can disagree, as secondary issues.

This is not to imply that doctrines of eschatology don't matter.  Our Lord included these great truths in Scripture, so we shouldn't be reluctant to deal with them.  However, Scripture says that our Lord did not teach on the End Times so we can plot out the events before they happen.  No, Jesus taught about the End Times so that when they do happen, those witnessing them will recognized them for what they are.

Luke 21:
25  "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;
26  "men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.
27  "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28  "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."
29  Then He spoke to them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.
30  "When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.
31  "So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near."
 
 

For an excellent summary of various views of eschatology, read The End Times: A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism, prepared by the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR).  While this study was published in 1989, its source is timeless.  And now it is available online (in PDF format).  This study reviews popular speculative "time tables" of End Time events which have become the basis of the Left Behind books and videos, and evaluates millennialism in Scripture's own context.