The Misplaced Hopes of Left Behind

left-behind-movie

I don’t believe in the rapture!

Well, I actually do believe in the rapture. But not in the particular version that we find espoused by many Christians, including the Left Behind series, which has now been launched as a new movie as of today. This version is known as a “pre-tribulational rapture” where God removes all Christians from earth, takes them to heaven, all the while a 7-year period of great tribulation takes place on earth. This is, then, followed by a millennial (1000-year) reign of Christ.

I don’t believe this version holds much water under the scrutiny of Scripture’s teaching.

For starters, the oft-used word, rapture, never actually appears in our English translations of Scripture. Our versions use the phrase “caught up” found in 1 Thess 4:17. The word, rapture, is derived from the Latin translation of the Bible (known as the Vulgate).

That is why I can officially say, “I believe in the rapture.” Again, I just don’t believe in the sensationally scary concepts out there in some books and movies.

In getting our heads around the concept of the rapture, the best place to start would be 1 Thess 4:13-18.

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 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 with the Lord forever.18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Oddly enough, in this little excerpt, Paul ends by stating: “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Unfortunately, for many, their “end-times” theology fails to offer even a hint of encouragement. Rather, scare tactics are brought forth. This is the exact opposite to Paul’s emphasis.

So back to vs17 and the little phrase “caught up.” This English phrase comes from an extremely long Greek word: harpagēsometha. I’ve got a point, so stay with me.

The root of this long Greek word is harpazo, which carries the idea of a known stealing. This contrasts with the Greek word klepto, which means to steal secretly.

Now, why the lesson in Greek here – that point I was talking about? Well, for many, the rapture is projected as a secret event. Once the church gets raptured away and taken out of the earth, the rest of humanity are left looking around and wondering what just happened (ala Left Behind). But, at least according to the way the Greek is communicated, this will actually be an event in which all people will be aware. Christ will return for his Bride and all will know what’s going on.

The second important phrase in vs17 is “to meet.” So on to another Greek lesson.

This phrase comes from the Greek eis apantēsin. Now, all Christians believe in this “meeting in the air” with our Lord. The question is: What do we believe about it?

The phrase eis apantēsin means this: to leave a place in order to go and meet one who is coming toward you. The idea comes from an ancient practice: nobles of a city would go out to meet an important dignitary coming to visit their city, all in order to escort them back to the city.

Do you see the ramifications here?

This oft-discussed passage tells us this: a) Christ will be coming for his people, b) we will go to meet our Lord in the air and then c) we will escort him to earth (the place he was coming towards already). For lack of a better way to say it, this event is a mega cosmic U-turn.

Then, in continuing the eschatological timeline, this meeting in the air and journey back would lead to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 17:7-9), with God’s people dwelling forever in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21-22).

A final point to note about the “rapture.” To underline the popular teaching about this event, people will also point out a passage in Matthew’s gospel. This is what we read:

37 As it was in the days of Noah,so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (24:37-43)

Now, if we read this passage carefully, we’ll see that it isn’t teaching that God’s people will be taken out of the earth.

How so?

To what does Jesus compare this event? The days of Noah.

How is it compared? 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.

Remember what happened in Noah’s day? Who was left and who was taken away? It was the righteous who were left on earth (Noah and his family) and it was the unrighteous who were taken out of the earth in judgment. Noah and his family were left to inherit a kind of new earth and new heaven. Thus, a prototype for the end of the age.

It’s never been God’s plan to remove his people from earth, but rather to see his kingdom rule on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10) – and it’s his people who constitute the active rule of God on earth. God’s heart is to see heaven invade earth, bringing his right-ness, peace and rule to all he has created. All the while dealing with all unrighteousness and sin.

And remember the well-known words of Jesus: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). It is the new Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, who comes to inherit a new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1-3).

God’s strategy is to restore and redeem the cosmos. And it even now groans awaiting such liberation (Rom 8:21). It will be the final “new creation,” one in which we already participate.

This is where we are headed – not evacuation, but embracing a new heaven and new earth. Not “up there,” but restoration of “down here.” And we can begin even now by living out hints of what is to come.

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11 thoughts on “The Misplaced Hopes of Left Behind

  1. I am glad I won’t be snached away…as My conservatory is paradise and peace on earth and I hope to welcome Him here if He so chooses..wash his feet …

  2. There is a doctrine of first said. That approach is used in many cases by theologians abut it seems in this case of the rapture it is left behind. In any case the end times will be a settling of Spirit and Man. Personally I have never thought the traditional trib perspectives.

    • John –

      Thank you for the comment. I’m not sure anything I said in my article would disagree with you on the statement, “the Bride is the Church.” We definitely need the Holy Spirit as we engage with Scripture.

  3. Hi Scott – thanks for your post. I also have become much more convinced of the eternal state being much more to do with a union of a sanctified heaven and earth.

    In connection with the “rapture” verses in 1Thess 4, you raised the point of the supporting verses in Mat 24: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”

    I have been toying with the idea that this is best understood in the prevailing context of Mat 24 – which to my mind, largely concerns the immanent judgement coming upon the Jewish people of Jesus’ generation, that will result in the destruction of the temple and the diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans.

    With this in mind, might it be that the Mat 24:40 – 41 verses about some being taken and others left are not (primarily) speaking about a yet future, end time global separation of the righteous and the wicked, but rather portray an immediate and graphic picture of ordinary Jewish people in the villages of Judea in AD 66 – 70 – some of whom would be “left” – i.e. able to escape the invading Roman armies by fleeing to the relative safety behind Jerusalem’s city walls, and then surviving the dreadful siege that followed; whilst others would be “taken” – i.e captured in their defenseless fields and villages, or eventually starved or killed whilst trying to escape the appalling famine that soon gripped them.

    Any thoughts on this?

    • Jonathan –

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, I lean that way as well. But whether one works from a more narrative-historical setting of Scripture (which I would champion) or a more abstract-future setting that Scripture is identifying, I think the being left and being taken away needs to be re-thought if one is taking a more “left behind” approach. It fails on not just a few exegetical issues (though it does). It fails on a larger paradigm of understanding the greater purposes of God.

  4. Pingback: The Misplaced Hopes of Left Behind (Blog Article Review) | Hold the Line

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