Why I left behind “Left Behind”
Published 10:17 pm Friday, September 12, 2014
By Chris Surber
I used to be a card-carrying, Scofield Study Bible-using, J.N. Darby-quoting “premillennial dispensationalist.”
This is the view, popularized by the upcoming film and the associated “Left Behind” book series, that says Christians will be taken up in the rapture before the tribulation. This view makes for good fiction, but it just doesn’t emerge from a plain reading of the Bible.
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Without complicated charts and timelines, no one can even make sense of it. Without preachers asserting it dogmatically and a lot of well-intentioned but imprudent theological choreography, it would be hard to arrive at those conclusions from just reading the Bible.
In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of the time of His return. He says that after the tribulation all nations will see Him coming in the clouds. After. Not before.
The rapture is spoken of in I Thessalonians 4:17-18. “Then we who are alive, who are left, 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (ESV)
But if we take Jesus’ words seriously in Matthew 24:29 then it must occur after the tribulation. Jesus said, “Immediately after the tribulation, of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (ESV)
Strangely the Left Behind crowd uses I Thessalonians as a central passage to support their views, but Paul mentions nothing about escaping tribulation here. He is comforting believers that one day Jesus will return and we will see deceased loved ones again. Paul is comforting believers with Christ’s return, not with escaping tribulation.
That’s the context, and the text and its context set the boundaries on our theology.
Look closer at the context of Matthew 24:36-44. Jesus is not saying one will be taken away to be spared judgment — often interpreted as believers in the rapture. He’s saying that two men will be working and one will be taken away in judgment, like those who were judged in the Noahic flood.
Left Behind theology is also strangely missing in church history prior to 1830. Before Darby and Scofield nobody had ever heard of it.
Left Behind theology is appealing, because it reinforces our desire to leave behind our responsibility to be salt and light in a suffering world. I’ve left behind Left Behind theology. It leaves believers longing to leave, instead of seeking to serve. It twists Scripture. It ignores church history.
It has too much Hollywood in it for our entertainment and not enough hope for the Church to be the life of Jesus in a dark and dying world.
Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at www.chrissurber.com.