A bumper sticker on many cars when I was a child read, “In case of the Rapture, this car will be unmanned!” Today a popular teaching about the last days of earth include emphasis on the Rapture and a Thousand Year Reign by Christ and His faithful on earth. These teachings usually include a mysterious disappearances of righteous people (living or dead) from earth, followed by a period of great tribulation, that will usher in 1000 years of peace under Christ’s reign.
From 1995 to 2007 Tyndale House published series of sixteen books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins that promote this end time doctrine. In 2001 Kirk Cameron stared in a movie based on the first book, “Left Behind” and this week Nicholas Cage will star in a new movie with the same title based on the same book. The book is a work of fiction, yet the authors and producers of the book and movie present the material as if it is fact that will take place. One executive producer explained that while we teach our children and neighbors about Adam and Eve, the birth of Christ, and other Bible stories, this movie is a way we can tell our neighbors about the rapture.
Is the doctrine of a rapture Biblical?
The doctrine (teaching) that supports the story line in Left Behind is basic pre-millennialism. Pre-millennialism asserts that the end of time includes:
- Rapture of faithful
- Great tribulation
- Another return of Christ and the raptured for a thousand year reign on earth
Cyrus Scofield popularized the doctrine of pre-millennialism in American by notes in the KJV Reference Bible he authored in the early 20th century. One danger of this doctrine is that it communicates, no it implies that Jesus failed to establish His kingdom when He came the first time, and had to postpone the Kingdom as He went back to heaven to formulate a different plan. Now He will return to establish His Kingdom reign. Yet the Bible speaks differently. Jeremiah 22:24-30 God promises that none of David’s descendants will reign in Judah through the heritage of Jechoniah (Coniah). Jesus is a descendent of David through Jechoniah (Coniah). Jesus cannot reign in Jerusalem according to this prophecy. Additionally, a limit of a thousand years to Christ reign is foreign to Scripture.
Revelation 20:4-7 teaches the thousand-year reign as figurative. 1,000 is a number to represent completeness. It is a reference to the age we now live in where Jesus is the Head of the Body the church, His Kingdom (Colossians 1:3). Those who reign with Him in Revelation 20 are reigning in heaven and not on earth. They are martyred Saints (from persecution) and not all Christians. There is no connection to Christ’s Second Coming. The sense in which we as Christians reign with Christ is as kings and priest; as a royal priesthood now (1 Peter 2:9).
We need to remember that the term rapture is not a Bible term. The word is Latin based and means “to take” or “to seize.” The popular idea is that Jesus will remove the faithful from the earth before the years of persecution begin on earth. There are verses that speak about a time when some will be taken. One place is Matthew 24:40-41. In this passage some will be taken and some will be left. As we consider the context of this chapter we discover these verses are about the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place in A.D. 70 and not the end of time.
We learn from Jesus Himself what happens at our resurrection in John 5:28-29 that all the dead will be raised at the same time, both good and evil. When Paul speaks of the resurrection in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 he is comforting his immediate readers about the loss of loved ones and the end of time. He says we will rise to meet the Lord in the air and will always be with Him. There is no mention of the wicked being left behind. There is no mention of a tribulation. There is no mention of third return to reign with Christ on earth for a millennia. When the events described in the Bible take place, the “end will come” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28), not the beginning.
These are just some things to consider as you hear more and more about the return of Christ. Later, I will write about some positive things that can come from this popular series of books and movie, even if the basic storyline is not an accurate portrayal of end time events.
p.s. I owe much of this article to thoughts from a review of the first Left Behind movie by Gary Dodd in Gospel Advocate March 2001.