Is Left Behind Movie’s Rapture Biblical?

Is Left Behind Movie’s Rapture Biblical?

Is the rapture biblical?

If the vote were taken in the pews of evangelical churches this Sunday, I’m guessing the majority vote would be a resounding “yes.”

So to be honest right up front, I’m in the minority, which for many, brands me a heretic. But before you gather wood to burn me at the stake of your judgment, may I explain?

There is a single text in all of scripture that seems to depict the popularized idea of a rapture.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

— 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NRSV)

At face value, this sounds like the Left Behind book series, which has now been made into a major motion picture: rapture movie. Jesus returns on the clouds, the dead in Christ rise and float into the air to meet him, then the still-alive believers are snatched up (raptured) to meet him in the air, and we all leave this old world behind.

At this point, the narrative usually jumps over to 2 Peter 3:7-10 that says the earth has been “reserved for fire” and “the elements are dissolved with fire.” In other words, as we float away, the earth and all who are left on it will be burned to a crisp. And we go somewhere else called Heaven and live happily ever after. And the majority said, “Amen!”

But what if … ?

In Paul’s day, the Roman army established rituals of war. When a victory had been secured, the enemy conquered, and the spoils of war captured, the general would orchestrate a triumphal entry to his city of origin – a homecoming parade of sorts. Runners raced ahead of the approaching army and announced the return of the conquering king. The dignitaries of the city would go out to meet the king and march ahead of him on his re-entry into the city. Trumpets would herald the coming. This grand parade became a re-coronation of the victorious king. In the Roman understanding, he was blessed by the gods.

Paul borrows this well known image of the return of the conquering king to write about the return of Jesus to earth. The question that prompts 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is, “What happens to our deceased brothers and sisters who have died before the return of Christ?” Paul views them as the dignitaries who are raised first and go out to meet King Jesus and usher him back to the earth. Christ descends from heaven because that is where we saw him go when he ascended to the right hand of the throne of God following his resurrection. Then the rest of us join the parade and we are all together again (the dead and the living who are in Christ)—here on earth, which now becomes one with heaven.

The idea of this text is not escaping the earth but celebrating the final victory of Christ as King of all creation, and heaven and earth made one with no veil separating them anymore. God is reclaiming his creation.

  • The Lord’s Prayer gets answered; the kingdom comes, and God’s will is done on earth even as it is done in heaven.
  • Revelation 21:1-6 happens ; the New Jerusalem comes down, God makes his home among mortals, and everything is made new.
  • Romans 8:18-25 happens; the earth, which currently groans for redemption, is set free from its bondage to decay and shares in the same glory as our resurrected bodies.
  • Philippians 1:6 happens; God finishes what God started in the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Philippians 2:9-11 happens; Jesus is exalted, every knee bows and every tongue confesses him as Lord – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
  • Second Peter 3:7-10 happens; fire, the cleansing/revealing power of God, fully reveals evil for what it is and purges the earth of its presence.
  • First Thessalonians 4:13-18 happens; Christ returns victoriously, the dead are raised, and all the people of God are together again.

We “non-rapture” folk may be in the minority, but I really like our understanding of God’s future. In the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:18, I am “encouraged by these words.”

Comments

  1. Dan,
    A couple of days ago I blogged about the two”one will be taken, the other left” passages. I said I would blog about the 1 Thessalonians passage soon. But since you’ve done such a good job on it, I put the link to this article on my web site. I hope that’s okay with you.
    Thanks for your life and ministry.
    Your bro,
    Phil

  2. Lamar Smith says

    The word “meet” in I Thess 4:17 appears in two more places in the NT: Matt 25:6 (When the virgins go out to meet the Groom) and in Acts 28:15 when a group of believers meet Paul to escort him into Rome. The Acts passage illustrates the primary meaning of this word to be “escort”. Thanks for a great blog!

  3. Hey Dr. Boone,

    You are in the minority, but that doesn’t mean you’re incorrect. The church was unified on the second coming of Christ until the 1830s when this idea was born. It’s terrible theology, if for no other reasons than it’s new.

    Fr. Peter-Michael Preble, a Romanian Orthodox priest says it this way, “The theory is also based on shaky Scriptural basis. Of all of the teaching of the Christian Church that have evolved over the 2,000 years history of the Church, this theory was not spoken of until a 15-year-old Scottish girl brought it up. Modern arguments for the Tribulation can be called into question through an evenhanded examination of the passages commonly used when arguing in favor of it. Even among Protestant denominations who believe in a totally literal reading of Scripture rapture is not universally accepted.”

    I say we stick with the tried and true, “and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.”

    In Christ,

    Joel

  4. David Verzyl says

    I’m with Dan. Enjoy the movie just don’t believe it. Same with Godzilla. Not biblical but I enjoyed the movie.

  5. Loved this. Raised as a ” rapture child” who is now denominationally challenged but theologically more sound I lean towards the blog…

  6. JoNell Shelby says

    Thank you for this great post. It’s very important. So many of us have grown up with rapture folk theology not realizing it’s a relatively new reading of scripture (maybe 150 yrs.). In proper context, the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are encouraging words indeed!

  7. Bill Payne says

    There were theological communities in the NT. Paul did not make up his stuff. However, he did become all things to all people as he actively translated the Jewish gospels to the Hellenistic world. What were the Jewish roots to the rapture text? The Jewish marriage was. Jesus will return to the Father’s house and prepare a place (bridal chamber) his bride. When all is ready and the Father commands, he will return for his bride. Afterward, he will take the bride back to the Father’s house. “Where I am, there you may be also.” A wedding celebration will ensue. Jn 14 clearly points to this. Additionally, parables also use wedding imagery to describe the coming of the groom. They warn us to watch and be ready because the groom comes at an hour when we think not! When the celebration begins, those who were not ready will be locked out. Rapture is not an isolated Pauline problem that needs to be explained away so we can distance ourselves from dispensationalists. Rather, when properly understood, it weaves itself into the gospels. In the end, it does not matter what you believe as long as you are watching and waiting for the blessed hope. I sense that some who glibly dismiss the rapture are not preparing for the second coming. Maranatha.

    • Bill Payne says

      Why are so many people insulted by the idea of a rapture? It is almost as if they think it is unfair. Many call it “escapism.” They say that Christians must suffer or God is not just. 1st, God agreed that he would not judge the righteous with the unrighteous when he talked with Abraham. 2nd, he told righteous Noah to build an ark so that he and his family would escape the great judgment. 3rd. Lk 21:36 says, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” 4th, the Lord’s prayer could refer to the time of expected trial. As such, it could mean, deliver us from the hour of temptation and rescue us from the evil one. Revelation 3:10 also states “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” 5th, Rev 14 portrays the harvest of the righteous and the judgment of the wicked. Afterward, the wicked suffer on earth and the righteous are viewed with the Lamb in heaven (Rev 15). Even if rapture theology is completely incorrect, one cannot say that it has no biblical support.

  8. Where does Matthew 24:39-41 fit into this?

  9. OK – so, are you in agreement with this?

    We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again; that we who are alive at His coming shall not precede them that are asleep in Christ Jesus; but that, if we are abiding in Him, we shall be caught up with the risen saints to meet the Lord in the air, so that we shall ever be with the Lord.

  10. Greg Crofford says

    Excellent material, Dr Boone — I’ve shared it to my FaceBook page.

  11. The Rapture:
    The Church, including the dead in Christ and those who are alive in Christ, meets with Christ in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians3:4; 2 Peter 1:3-7; Titus 2:11-13). “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The Rapture of the church takes place between Revelation chapters 3 and 4. Christ raptures His Church up into heaven before the Tribulation to remove the Christians from the coming judgement on the earth ( 1 Thessalonians 5:9).

  12. DeRonda Wages says

    Very interesting. In this scenario, what happens to those on earth who are not believers?

  13. I very much enjoyed the blog. Thanks for posting. I myself am a post-trib believer in which in His glorious coming, the righteous dead shall rise and then the Church will join the victorious Conquerer in the air as He returns to execute righteous judgment on the unrighteous.

    50+ times, the New Testament states that we will face “tribulation, but 20+ times, it states that we will escape His “wrath” (orgase) (aka settled judgment, aka white throne judgment). I’m ok being in the “minority” Dr Boone, as long as I’m on the right side of the throne!

  14. Jesse Middendorf says

    Outstanding brief review of the relevant scriptures. Very helpful! And as N.T. Wright says, this is the surprising hope we have in Christ.

  15. Dr. Boone and/or others,
    On the surface, 2 Peter and Revelation 21 seem to indicate that this earth will be destroyed with fire and a new one will be built. However, you seemed to indicate that you don’t think that will be the case. I am wondering if you could elaborate on what you said about 2 Peter or how you feel about those 2 passages.
    Thanks!
    Craig

  16. lige jeter says

    Dan,
    I cannot speak for or against the movie “Left Behind,” I have not seen it. These are my thoughts on the subject:
    Paul tells us of the first resurrection in 1Thessalonians chapter 4. Those dead rise first then those alive will follow. All those from Adam to the time of Christ’s return, (God’s faithful) are with Him to celebrate “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb” during the tribulation period upon earth
    The second resurrection is mentioned in Revelation 20: 5 – 7 “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection (referring to what follows in scripture not that portion preceding, illustrated by a thousand year reign with Christ). Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison.”
    The second resurrection, I believe is when all who died without Christ from Adam until the end of the thousand-year will join Satan. Revelation gives evidence that no life, (including those martyred who did not receive the mark of the beast and those who did during and following the tribulation period), is spared. Revelation 6, 8, 9: & 16 allude to this. I believe those martyred during the tribulations will be raised and join Christ separating the goats from the sheep.

  17. Peter Migner says

    Dan,
    You are in line with traditional Wesleyan eschatology with your post. Thanks for writing an interesting and concise holiness perspective. With more writing like this perhaps we can influence to preach holiness and restore hope to North America verse gloom & doom and don’t get left behind.

  18. I can’t help but wonder…
    – How a person in the crowd perceived Noah as he finished the ark
    – How an Egyptian felt as he watched Hebrews pain lamb’s blood on their door post
    – What a person living on the wall of Jericho thought when the Hebrews finished their last circuit of the city
    – What the disciples felt as they saw Jesus’s body pulled down from the cross…

    I believe they may have had two interpretations on what would happen next: 1) the even-handed rational perspective and 2) the supernatural one. In all of these cases, God fulfilled his word in a way that was much more than those who knew what to expect.
    1. Worldwide devastation
    2. The destructions of Egypt’s future as a nation
    3. The crumbling of Jericho’s walls
    4. Jesus walking from the tomb
    My mind wants to reason itself into a simple, non-sensational, interpretation of what this rapture business is all about. In that, your blog gives me comfort. But…what if I rise tomorrow and see the world resemble that depicted in Left behind. What would I say? What would I do?

    In my life, God has never done the rational, sane, and even-handed thing. He *always* astonishes me. My gut tells me He will do the same shortly –

  19. Dan,
    You are right! We, non-rapture people, are in the minority. As an evangelist, I encounter teaching and references to “the rapture” in many of the churches where I am privileged to minister. I wonder how many in “our denomination” realize, the “rapture teaching” is not a part of our statement of faith. Thanks for your clear treatment of this important topic.

    Lane

  20. / Spotted this little item on the exciting net. Enjoy. /

    The Pretrib Rapture Jackpot!

    by Bruce Rockwell

    Attention, writers. You can make millions by promoting the pretrib rapture!
    As you know, pretrib began in Scotland in 1830. Early developers including Edward Irving and John Darby admitted it was then a totally new view that had never been part of any theology or organized church.
    They also admitted that it had suddenly sprung from only OT and NT “types” and “symbols” and not from any clear Bible statement! (Part of their “cut and paste” included stretching forward “gather” (Matt. 24:31) on their “charts” and turning it into a pretrib coming!)
    As late as 1957, pretrib expert John Walvoord admitted in “The Rapture Question” (p. 148) that “pretribulationism” is NOT “an explicit teaching of Scripture”!
    Since the early 1900s pretrib has been sold by novelists like Sydney Watson (in 1913) and by Salem Kirban whose “Left Behind”-type novel “666” came out in 1970 – the same year Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” started breaking sales records.
    The very first pretrib rapture novel titled “Left Behind” came from the joint pens of Peter and Patti Lalonde in mid-1995 before Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins somehow came up with the very same title: “Left Behind”!
    The pretrib rapture view, which admittedly is only an “inference” and not “explicit,” rests basically on verses in John 14, I Thess. 4, and I Cor. 15, none of which have either a “taken/left” separation or exciting, nail-biting scenarios that can “sell” pretrib.
    You have to go to Revelation’s action-packed chapters instead. When you do, you discover they can be tied to end time details found basically in the Olivet Discourse.
    As you know, pretribs believe in two stages; Stage 1 is the pretrib rapture which supposedly occurs several years before Stage 2 which is the posttrib second coming to earth.
    Since the three “rapture” chapters listed above don’t have any clear rapture-type separation between the “righteous” and the “wicked,” your best launching pad if you want to be a bestselling author is “the one shall be taken, and the other left” phrase in Matt. 24:40, 41 and Luke 17:34-36.
    Trouble is, Dr. Walvoord and many other pretrib leaders declare that the “one taken” refers to the “wicked” taken in judgment while the “righteous” are left! But since average pew-sitters don’t seem to know this, you can easily convince them that the “one taken” is a sort of code for an any-moment pretrib rapture!
    And the pew-sitters don’t know that Walvoord etc. also teach that the same phrase is part of “non-imminent” Stage 2 which is posttrib (and not pretrib) and is on “Jewish” (and not “Church”) ground!
    In order to preserve Stage 1 (the long-stretched-forward pretrib rapture), pretrib merchandisers in recent decades have been stretching forward various aspects found in Stage 2 and quietly applying them to Stage 1. Aspects include “the day of the Lord,” “God’s wrath,” “the taken/left phrase,” “the unknown day and hour,” and Christ’s coming “as a thief” (which in the Bible is always tied to Armageddon and other posttrib events).
    (For more on the above, Google “The Correct Answer to Who’s Taken” etc. on Joe Ortiz’s blog of Apr. 12, 2010. Sure, there’s disagreement on who’s “taken” first, but pretrib pew-sitters forget or don’t know that THE TAKEN/LEFT PHRASE IS FOUND IN ONLY A POSTTRIB SETTING IN THE BIBLE!!)
    Yes, I’ve told you how you can turn yourself into a bestselling, wealthy author.
    But unfortunately you have some competition because LaHaye and Jenkins have long been aware of the above facts. And for years they’ve been milking their 19th century cash cow (which hasn’t dried up yet) to shatter all-time sales records and make millions of pretrib dollars that are destined to be left behind!
    For more on LaHaye etc. Google “Left Behind or Led Astray?,” “The ‘Left Behind’ Rupture,” “Prof. Craig Leaves Tim LaHaye Behind,” “LaHaye’s Temperament,” “Jerry Jenkins Apologizes for Being Seen Gambling in Casinos,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Pretrib Rapture Pride,” “Walvoord Melts Ice,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart,” “Pretrib Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “Roots of Warlike Christian Zionism,” “Evangelicals Use Occult Deception,” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy,” “Letter from Mrs. Billy Graham,” “Pretrib Rapture: A Staged Event,” “Pretrib Rapture Stealth,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived” (by D.M.), and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty.” (Most of these are by the author of “The Rapture Plot,” the most accurate and documented book on pretrib rapture history, obtainable by calling 800.643.4645.) BTW, for a unique Obama-inspired article, Google “The Background Obama Can’t Cover Up.”
    In closing let me say that Jeremiah 17:11 warns that “he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.”
    And you can bet on this!

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