Whether or Not Some Will Be “Left Behind” Someday, Live in Light of Christ’s Soon Return
When I was a teenager I did a fair amount of reading. I enjoyed fantasy and science fiction and when it came to novels rarely did I go beyond these two genres. Series such as Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, and the like were ones I devoured. One of the few series (maybe the only one) that I read in its entirety was Left Behind: The Kids. Written for ages 10-14, this series of 40 books (based on the adult series with the same name) follows the adventures of four teenagers—Judd, Vicki, Lionel, and Ryan—who are “left behind” following the rapture as they seek to live for God during the seven-year tribulation period as the end draws near.
Left behind? Rapture? Seven-year tribulation period? These terms may be new to you, or perhaps you’ve heard them before in church but aren’t quite sure what they mean. All of them refer to a specific interpretation of the end times as spoken about in the book of Revelation. As told in the novel, here is a good description of what is meant by the term “rapture”:
As usual, Pastor Vernon Billings got off on his kick about what he called the Rapture. “Someday,” he said, “Jesus will return to take his followers to heaven. Those who have received him will disappear in the time it takes to blink your eye. We will disappear right in front of disbelieving people. Won’t that be a great day for us and a horrifying one for them?” (8-9)
The idea is that one day Christ will return for His bride, the Church, and secretly snatch them from the earth to be with Him in Heaven during a seven-year period of unprecedented tribulation that will occur on the earth as God pours out His wrath. This book (along with the rest in the series) portrays what life might be like for those “left behind,” a term referring to folks who thought they were Christians and who realize once the rapture happens that they were fakers all along.
As far as fiction goes, this book and the rest in the series are well-written. They are engaging and the authors do a good job of developing the four main characters and weaving their lives together as they fight for survival in earth’s last days. The issue I have is whether the whole notion of a secret rapture is biblical. And then, of course, there’s the speculatory nature of how such a rapture might occur. To begin with, I am not convinced that a secret rapture is mentioned anywhere in Scripture, not even in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. I encourage you to look up those verses and try to imagine how Paul could have been more clear that this was a public and loud event that all or most would see. After all, he describes that the event will include “a cry of command,” “the voice of the archangel,” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.” I’m not sure how he could have been clearer. My main point here is not a detailed refutation of the pre-tribulation rapture scheme, but to get you, my reader, to honestly consider the underlying assumptions that are inherent in the view.
Furthermore, I find it interesting how the rapture is portrayed on a global scale. A few quotes from the book describe it well:
A nurse vanished as a woman was about to give birth, and the baby disappeared before it was born. A groom disappeared as he was putting his bride’s ring on her finger. Pallbearers at a funeral disappeared while carrying a casket, which fell and popped open, revealing that the corpse had vanished too (89).
Over the backs of the seats ahead of him he saw blankets, pillows, and full sets of clothes. Glasses, jewelry, even a man’s wig lay on his seat (84).
every single little child on the plane had disappeared (88)
mass disappearances that occurred in every country at approximately midnight, Eastern Standard Time (97)
I give Jenkins and LaHaye credit for imaginatively coming up with—in a compelling way—how the world might be affected one day by a rapture (at 12:00am EST, no less), but I’m not sure that this sort of fanciful thinking is particularly helpful for the Church. It’s no surprise to me, at least, that hardly anyone outside of North America holds to this view of the end times.
Regardless of whether there will be someday a rapture akin to what is described in this novel, all readers can take from this book the importance of being ready for when God will wrap up all of history. Whether His church is secretly taken away to be with Him in Heaven for seven years or instead meets Him in the air to welcome His return to wage war on the earth and also rule with Him, we should all be reminded to live in light of His soon return.
Update: For a concise summary of biblical reasons for why Christians won’t be raptured before the tribulation, go here.