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Left Behind? LaHaye, Jenkins, the Rapture and the New Testament


This is one of the more interesting reviews I’ve read on the theology surrounding the Left Behind books. It was written by Iain D. Campbell and can be found at Nollie’s blog: Doctrine Unites! 

A few excerpts,

Perhaps you are asking why we should spend so much time thinking about a work of fiction? It is not because I am endorsing all kinds of fiction, or even commenting on the literary value of this particular series. I think it is important to grapple with the Left Behind series because it is attempting, very persuasively, to produce an end-time scenario which accords with the details of biblical prophecy. In other words, although the precise characters and locations are fictional, the major world events – beginning with the Rapture, and including the role of Israel, the rise of AntiChrist, the wars and the earthquakes – are all understood by the authors to be predicted in the Bible. And amid the confusion and uncertainty that even evangelical scholars have about the Bible’s eschatology, a series like this can readily convince.

The theology of the series is interwoven skillfully into the narrative. The tape that was produced by the senior pastor of Bruce Barnes’ church, as well as the imagined Internet broadcasts of Tsion Ben-Judah give an opening to the authors to present their understanding of what the Bible teaches about the end of the world.

The eschatology begins with the rapture of the saints, with Christ coming for his own. There is a sudden, mysterious and secret coming of Jesus to take away all true believers. Some churchmen are left, because one can pastor a church and not be a true believer. It is interesting to note how wide the rapture is, according to the Left Behind series. All children under about 12 years of age are raptured, including unborn babies. Interestingly, in the series, the Pope is raptured; so countless thousands suddenly disappear as, in the thoughts of Rayford Steele, “Jesus had come for his people” (I:48).

The whole concept of a rapture is built largely around 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:52, which both speak of the resurrection of dead believers and the immediate ascension into Heaven of living believers at the same moment. La Haye and Jenkins interpret this to mean that “when the Christians who have already died and those that are still living receive their immortal bodies, the Rapture of the church will have taken place” (I:210). But they go further and say: “You may wonder why this has happened. Some believe this is the judgement of God on an ungodly world. Actually, that is to come later. Strange as this may sound to you, this is God’s final effort to get the attention of every person who has ignored or rejected him. He is allowing now a vast period of trial and tribulation to come to you who remain” (I:212). In other words, the Rapture, while immediately impacting on the believers, is also an attempt on the part of God to get the attention of unbelievers, so that they will be converted.

Of course, the world will look on and explain the events in some other way. In Book I, Nicolae Carpathia is quoted as saying, in response to the Rapture view, that he does not accept the theory “because I know many, many more people who should be gone if the righteous were taken to Heaven. If there is a God, I respectfully submit that this is not the capricious way in which he would operate” (I:255). So, in spite of God’s judgements being in the earth, the rulers of the world still refuse to submit to Him.

But those who do submit have to face the events that follow the Rapture. The Left Behind series suggests the following eschatological sequence:

  • The Rapture
  • Seven-year Period of Tribulation
  • Glorious Appearing of Christ
  • Millennium

Most of the narrative of the Left Behind Series is set in the envisaged Tribulation period, which is further divided into an initial period of 21 months (corresponding to the 7 Sealed-Scroll Judgements of Revelation 6:1-8:5. According to the Book of Revelation, these include the white horse, representing the rise of Antichrist, the red-horse of war, the black horse of famine and economic inflation, the pale horse of death, bringing in a plague which will result in the death of a quarter of the world’s population, the gathering together and sealing of 144,000 Jewish believers, an earthquake (6:12 – sixth seal) which will represent the wrath of the Lamb against the enemies of believers, and the seventh seal will introduce the second period of tribulation.

This second period is represented in Revelation 8:6 – 10:11 as a series of 7 trumpets bringing 7 trumpet-judgements against the world, the first of which brings showers of hail, fire and blood which destroys one third of the earth’s vegetation, the second turns the sea into blood, the third makes the waters bitter, the fourth darkens the sun, moon and stars, the fifth darkens the atmosphere with smoke, out of which come locusts to destroy the earth and to torment men for five months (9:5), the sixth brings a mysterious army of horsemen into view (9:17) and the seventh (Revelation 10) brings this period to a close.

We are now half way through the tribulation period, one aspect of which has been the sealing of the believers on their foreheads, which is referred to in Revelation 7:3. It first appears in Book 4 of the series, in an exchange between Cameron and Tsion Ben-Judah, who can see each other’s marks in their foreheads, but cannot see their own: “Yes”, Buck said, “Hey! This is like one of those puzzles that looks like a bunch of sticks until you sort of reverse it in your mind and see the background as the foreground and vice versa. That’s a cross on your forehead.”

Tsion seemed to stare desperately at Buck. Suddenly he said, “Yes, Cameron! We have the seal, visible to only other believers” (IV:193).

The first half of the tribulation period is said to end with the seventh trumpet. The second half of 42 months is said to be the Great Tribulation, and corresponds to the 7-Vials of Revelation 15-16, a period characterised by death and judgement. The two witnesses of Revelation 11 will continue preaching in Jerusalem for 1,260 days (11:3), when they will be killed, and their dead bodies will lie in the streets (11:8) for three and a half days, after which they will be resurrected. During the Great Tribulation the Antichrist and the Beast will continue to rule the enemies of the Lamb, an important point of which will be the assassination of the Antichrist by a blow to his head, from which he will recover (13:3ff) and be resurrected in a manner similar to the resurrection of Christ, and then be indwelt by Satan as he governs his wicked kingdom, eventually sealing his own with the mark of the beast, the number 666 (13:18). Without the mark, no-one can buy or sell; it is the pledge of complete loyalty to antichrist, and of control by him. It reflects the fact that Christ’s are sealed in their foreheads. It marks out the storyline of the latest book, Book VIII, The Mark. Book VIII suggests that you can only have one mark, either that of Christ or that of the Beast and Antichrist.

I want to say two things about this theology:

Its Basis

This eschatology is based upon a linear view of the Book of Revelation, that is, a view that regards all the judgements recounted in Revelation as following each other in strict chronological and consequential order. In addition, it is based upon a view that sees the events of the Book of Revelation as entirely future (hence it is often known as the futurist view of Revelation), with the rapture taking place before Chapter 4, and the tribulation events taking place before the Millennium, the thousand-year period of Chapter 20. In other words, the rapture is pre-millennial and pre-tribulation. This sets the theology of the Left Behind series in the context of Dispensational thought. Dispensationalism is a view of the Bible – and consequently of history – which sees the historical outworking of redemption as taking place in isolated units of time along the world’s historical timeline.

One major influence in popularising Dispensationalism in America and determining its course for the twentieth century was the appearance of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. It divided biblical history into the dispensations of innocency, conscience, human government, promise, Mosaic, Grace and Kingdom. With minor variations, this became the classical dispensational view. A revision of the Scofield Bible in the 1960s led to a revision of the movement as a whole; one of the most noted revisionists was Charles Ryrie, whose Dispensationalism Today was published in 1965. In it, Ryrie wished to counteract some misrepresentations of dispensationalism, arguing that although they recognised different epochs in salvation history, nonetheless the differences between dispensationalists and nondispensationalists are to be seen in three areas: “

(1) we believe in the clear distinction between Israel and the Church;

(2) we affirm that normal or plain interpretation of the Bible should be applied consistently to all its parts; and

(3) we avow that the unifying principle of the Bible is the glory of God and that this is worked out in several ways – the program of redemption, the program for Israel, the punishment of the wicked, the plan for the angels, and the glory of God revealed through nature” (DT, 211-2).

For Ryrie, this meant that the dispensations “are not stages in the revelation of the covenant of grace, but are distinguishingly different administrations of God in directing the affairs of the world” (DT, 16).

Dispensationalism has now entered a new stage with the rise of what has been called by its proponents progressive dispensationalism, which has modified much of the older view and downgraded much of the distinctions between the historic dispensations, seeing them not as isolated but as successive units of salvation history. One element of this is the attempt to clear dispensationalism of the charge of antinomianism (if the Mosaic era has nothing to do with the church era, how can the Mosaic law be of relevance to us today?). Progressive dispensationalists want to say that Mosaic covenant law has been replaced with new covenant law, although the basic problem of dichotomy still remains. It is still the case, however, that basic to dispensational thought is that this is the church age; that there was no church in the Old Testament.

Basic to progressive dispensationalism is the belief that most of Revelation is future, including the millennium of Revelation 20. During that 1000-year period, it is argued, Christ will reign on earth. The tribulation precedes the millennium, and the millennium represents the fullest manifestation of the Kingdom of God, and earthly, spiritual, national and political reign of Christ on earth in a renewed Paradise, without sin, death or demons, what progressive dispensationalists call “the goal of redemption” (PD, p283).

Please Continue Here

Iain D. Campbell makes one particular point (later within the review) which I’d like your opinion on:

The unity of the Bible is safeguarded by a covenantal rather than by a dispensational approach to redemptive history.

Although Paul uses the word “dispensation” in several places to refer to the manner and the time of God’s working, he never uses the concept as a structural form; in other words, the Bible is not structured around isolated, or even successive dispensations. To be sure, there is clear progress in the march of history; the Old Testament looks forward, and the New Testament looks back; we look forward to something better than the best of what we experience here. But what unifies the whole of history, and what structures the whole of the Bible is not that God works at different eras and epochs, but that throughout them his work is the same, and his work is determined by the covenant of his grace. There is a covenantal unity in the Bible, which derives from the unity of God’s single purpose in history.

O.Palmer Robertson, in his The Christ of the Covenants, puts it like this: “Dispensationalism partitions the purposes of God, making one purpose relate to the physical, earthly realm, and another purpose relate to the heavenly, spiritual realm. The whole of the Christian faith cries out against such a distinction” (COTC, 214). Further, he goes on to argue that “the covenants are explicit scriptural indicators of divine initiatives that structure redemptive history. The dispensations instead represent arbitrary impositions on the biblical order” (COTC 227).

Do you agree?

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21 comments on “Left Behind? LaHaye, Jenkins, the Rapture and the New Testament

  1. The oler I get the more I do not have the energy to argue about eshcatology. My eschatology is generally along these lines. Jesus is coming back and only God knows when. And that date is set in stone. Be prepared. :)

    • Brother i know what you mean, ahaha….

    • And I suspect that when Jesus DOES return, ALL those who have the whole thing all mapped out to the finest detail are going to get the surprise of their lives. One can only hope that they are not basing their faith on the presumed accuracy of their eschatology.

    • George, i’ve thought the same thing, aha… Chances are we’re all going to be in for a number of surprises. :-)

    • “Chances are we’re all going to be in for a number of surprises.”

      I agree with that. =)

  2. PJ, I agree with Iain D. Campbell that redemptive history (and much of eschatology) is covenantal in nature. For example, I believe that the book of Revelation deals with the one generation transition period between the Old Covenant age and the New Covenant age, i.e. the brief overlapping of the ages spoken of in Hebrews 8:13.

    In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

    I believe that’s why the same cosmic phenomena that appeared at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-19) when the Old Covenant law was given to Moses (flashes of lightning, thunder, voices, an earthquake) also appears in Revelation multiple times (Revelation 4:5, 8:5, and 11:19). In the context of Revelation 19, these signs took place when “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant was seen within His temple.”

    It’s also one of the reasons why I believe that the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in that same first century generation, and why there is no ground for looking for a dual fulfillment in the future. The Olivet Discourse, I believe, also dealt with this covenant transition period. The fulfillment of those prophecies would accomplish redemption (Luke 21:28), the establishment of God’s kingdom (Luke 21:31), and the passing of the old heavens and earth – which I believe to be covenantal language (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). These things would only need to happen once.

    • PJ, I agree with Iain D. Campbell that redemptive history (and much of eschatology) is covenantal in nature.

      Yes, i do too.

      Understanding this principle, apposed to trying to view everything through dispensations, has probably been the biggest change in my view of eschatology. For over 25 years i would have said i was a dispensationalist, but the questions which arose and which i could NEVER answer through dispensation theology, led to my finally being forced to abandon it. I can’t stress enough how wonderful it was when so many things finally fell into place once i began to read God’s word without that “albatross” around my neck! Aha!

    • Adam, Thanks for sharing that. I think that many of us have been so indoctrinated from childhood with fanciful futurist interpretations of Revelation that we have totally missed out on an understanding more in tune with what the early church fathers understood and taught. I remember a number of books from my younger years over 50 years ago (Harry Ironside etc) that predicted all sorts of things shortly to come to pass based on futurist views of Revelation and precisely none of them that I remember ever happened, nor even appear likely to happen in the next hundred years. Then of course, we had Hal Lindsey and “Late Great Planet Earth” and all the rest. Through that experience, I really lost faith in the whole millenialist earthly kingdom fantasy that is so exalted by the sort of books in question here. The term “rapture” is not even found in the Bible and the concept was totally unknown to the early church or even to the church of Martin Luther’s day. And now it has somehow become a centerpiece for Christian teaching and evangelism for many modern Christians. How much more solid the church would be if Christians would just hold fast to the historic teachings of the church rather than continually searching the scriptures for “new” “insights” which soon get made into contentious doctrines bringing division and confusion. I saw many get tired of that circus and drop out of the church completely. How sad. But I am thankful that my trust in Christ has not been shaken, but only strengthened as I have trashed all that excess baggage that carries so much weight but hangs by a mere thread in terms of scriptural support. The great beauty of all of this is that once one mows down the weeds, one can freshly see the tall trees of solid and timeless scriptural teaching that bring the kind of enduring faith to the heart that deliver one from the corruption of the flesh that engulfs this world in which we are only pilgrims on our way to an eternal and heavenly Kingdom, forever to live in the presence of our Lord.

    • Great comment George!

    • George, you’re welcome. That indoctrination was true of my childhood as well. You mentioned that the doctrine of the rapture “has somehow become a centerpiece for Christian teaching and evangelism for many modern Christians,” despite it being around for less than 200 years. I can relate to that also. In high school I left newspaper-like tracts depicting the rapture and its aftermath sitting around, so that my peers would pick them up out of curiosity and hopefully get “scared into the kingdom,” if that’s what it took. I told people confidently that Jesus would rapture His church out before the end of 1999. It was certainly misguided zeal on my part.

      I’m with you on the millennial earthly kingdom being a fantasy. Six or seven years ago I never thought I would say that. We’re only pilgrims indeed.

  3. PJ.
    So… you just went from viewing everything through dispensations (which is not what any serious futurist premill would do anyway, meaning, you had a warped view to begin with) to viewing everything through covenantalism.

    Conclusion: switched one presupposition for another. Clearly not the best way of viewing Scripture.

    • Hi Elaine…

      What i actually did was allow God to dismantle any and all preconceived ideas and lay a proper foundation in order to “rebuild” my theology (especially my eschatology beliefs), so to speak, by using fresh eyes and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It was not an easy or quick journey for it can be painful to face the truth that some things we have been taught (by fine, faithful men of God) were not always based on the bible. I expect to be on this trip until i leave this world Elaine: forever learning.

      God bless, and may you desire truth so deeply that you too will find yourself willing to take that journey. :-)

    • PJ, may I ask you, how was that God dismantled your views, especifically? What I mean is, what and how did your “fresh” approach helped you to change your views? I mean, in a practical way, what were the resources that helped you?

    • Elaine, thanks for asking…

      To put it simply, through the years i had a number of questions concerning the eschatology beliefs i had been taught (primarily dispensationalism) which could not be answered. And it wasn’t for any lack of asking. This disturbed me. Around seven/eight years ago i began studying a number of documents written by very early Church leaders and realized that the beliefs of the early Church differed in many ways, with what i had always been taught. Mainly concerning eschatology. This led to the reading of Church history in America. I was surprised to read that dispensational theology was relatively “new”.

      What all this ultimately led to was going before God in prayer, and asking to be taught the truth as a child, knowing nothing. Once i did this, the answers to many of the questions i had wrestled with for years became clear. Once i put aside all preconceived ideas, it was as though i was reading God’s word was with fresh/new eyes. I began to see Jesus throughout God’s word…not only within the pages of the new testament but throughout the entire bible!

      Thats putting it simply Elaine. :-)

    • Yes, dispensational theology, as a system, is relatively new, as is covenant theology. What timming has to do with one embracing either system, I don’t know. One could argue that Calvinism should be rejected upon that same principle.

      As far as “dispensations” go, even covenant theology teaches some form of dispensation. I am sure you agree that God does not relate to man today as He did, let’s say, in the garden? Granted, some dispensationalists see hard lines dividing various dispensations, but they (dispensations) are not even the sine qua non for dispensational theology.

      The early church was definitely premillennial.

      Here’s a short but helpful article on it:

      http://scripturethoughts.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/premillennialism-found-wherever-christianity-is-first-introduced/

      Lastly, no serious futurist premillennianist would consider LaHaye and his fiction novels as base for any form of serious theology. Thus, it should not be used as base to study, reject, embrace or teach premillennial teaching at all.

      I thank you for the interaction,
      Grace and peace to you!

    • Elaine, i associate myself with no one particular form of theology…

      I’m simply, a Christian.

      See: Simply Christian

  4. In all of this stuff, truly the devil is in the details. For it is when people try to define doctrine down to a gnat’s hair that the devil goes into party mode. Americans love to fight over things that really don’t matter, and American Christians are no exception. It is tearing our country apart politically and the church apart doctrinally. Logic and speculation lead people to strange places and once they make up their mind, they won’t give an inch. Over and over the scripture condemns the divisive spirit. But Americans … and specifically American Christians are deaf to that teaching in both the spiritual and political realm. Its a battle they will not win … and neither will their oppenents. The only one who will win is the devil. If only more people would ask themselves the question “Am I truly serving God by not giving an inch on my convictions … or am I serving the devil?”

  5. Jesus is coming back. There will be a test, although no dates will be required.

  6. I notice no one brought up a couple of Biblical realities in commenting about the various theories of the end of time? One when understood properly leads into an understanding of the other.

    One, the priesthood. Such a fundamental reality we seem to gloss over its purpose so that two, we don’t place much stock in the following words or the mighty reality one can comprehend about them:

    The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:9-13 ESV)

    Think historically about the work of priests in general and that unique work of the high priest done once a year now abolished by the better ministry brought about in Christ’s office of High Priest? Year after year he would offer a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the nation of Israel. When Jesus came He did away with that yearly practice and brought into view a new priesthood of which male and female are equals in power and authority before God in the power of His Name!

    Consider that the return of the LORD was in plain view in King David’s time and in fact we see a glimpse of this new priesthood with King David appointing some of his sons as priests!

    Consider these words in that song he directed sung by the priests:

    Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!” Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. (1 Chronicles 16:31-33 ESV)

    How did King David comprehend that, I ask?

    “FOR HE COMES TO JUDGE THE EARTH”?

    Huh?

    Put that together with Peter’s revelation about this new found priesthood of the believers hastening the Lord’s return and I’d say we have the answer to when the LORD will return?

    Remember this following baby teaching?

    It’s fundamental to be sure and any good musician will tell you all the good music is only as good as the fundamentals or foundation for it:

    As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV)

    What are you waiting for? I’d get busy and start praying and proving you too are a royal priest after the order of Melchezidek The Lord Jesus Christ the very head and high priest of this order!

    • Excellent comment Michael, and…

      It’s fundamental to be sure and any good musician will tell you all the good music is only as good as the fundamentals or foundation for it

      that sentence alone is a sermon in itself!

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