The Left Behind series of books has sold 36 million copies. Last year both #7 and #8 in the series debuted each as the #1 best-selling fiction book. In its first five years the Left Behind series generated a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue. Now the movie Left Behind is at the theater and Christians are strongly encouraged to go and support a Christian movie. As usual, the modern church world is better at marketing than at getting the message right. Here are 4 biblical concepts which are left out of the Left Behind message:
1. The Conditional Nature of Covenants
By rejecting their Messiah, Israel was cut off from their covenant with God (Rom 11:20). Tim LaHaye, the theologian behind Left Behind, believes that covenants are unconditional. If God will keep his promises, even when we break faith, then the believer's security is unconditional. However, many Arminians who would not accept the previous premise, have not thought through the teaching that Israel will always be the people of God, regardless of their response to Christ.
The teaching of Romans 11:26 is that all Israel will one day acknowledge Jesus as the Christ and be saved, not that they have always been God's people even while they rejected their Messiah. When that day of salvation comes they will be baptized by the Spirit into the one body of believers which is comprised of both Jew and Gentile (1 Cor 12:13). However, while they persist in their unbelief, they are not the people of God. God's people are his Church. God has one Church, Christ has one body, and the Holy Spirit baptizes believers into that one body.
However, the view has been made popular that God has two peoples: Israel and the Church. God's relationship with Israel is based upon his old covenant promises, while God's relationship with the Church is based upon the new covenant. We cannot understand future prophecy if we misunderstand present realities. There are not two plans of salvation. The old covenant is null and void. There is only one way of salvation and it is through faith in the work of Christ. Christ, in his atoning work, also broke down the barrier between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14-16). To revert back to the old covenant would dishonor the finished work of Christ.
However, the Left Behind series is based upon the premise that God has two peoples and two plans. Christ failed at his first coming to establish a Jewish kingdom, so the Church was inaugurated as a parenthesis in God's original plan. Thus, Christ is expected to return secretly at any moment and rapture out the Church. Then God will revert back to his original plan of establishing a Jewish kingdom on earth. After a seven-year period of Jewish tribulation, Christ is expected to return a third time to set up that kingdom. While the events portrayed in the Left Behind series happen during that seven-year period, this sequence of events cannot be established from Scripture. Their projection of future events is a logical necessity based upon their unproven assumptions.
2. The Great Tribulation is a past, not a future event (Matt 24:21).
The period of the Great Tribulation is the struggle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. When that light shines into the darkness, the darkness will attempt to overpower it but will fail (John 1:5). Therefore, the struggle ensues at the point in time when God's kingdom invades this world.
The Left Behind crowd believes the struggle will be in the near future because they believe the kingdom was postponed. But the kingdom was not postponed. Christ accomplished his mission (John 19:30). They misunderstood his mission. It was not to establish a Jewish kingdom, but a universal, spiritual kingdom.
The kingdom of God was near at the time of his birth and it was established at the time of his death, resurrection, and session. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the verification that his kingdom was established. Since the kingdom came in the first century, the struggle occurred in the first century. Specifically, the great tribulation was the siege of Jerusalem between A. D. 67-70. The historical record of Josephus describes the fulfillment of the prophetic warnings given by Jesus in Matthew 24.
Daniel foretold of 70 sevens, or a 490-year period of time, in which the temple would first be rebuilt, the Messiah would enter the temple, and then the temple be destroyed. The only way the Left Behind crowd can fit a future tribulation period into that well-defined window of time is to force a gap of seven years between the 69th and 70th week. That means that the gap is over four times longer than the original period outlined by Daniel. It also means that they have stretched Scripture to the point of breaking.
3. Christ was victorious on the cross.
Satan was defeated at the cross (Col 2:14-15) and the preaching of the cross binds Satan. Ultimately all things will be reconciled unto him and he will have dominion in everything (Col 1:18, 20). The universal atonement of the last Adam not only counteracts the sentence of death brought by the first Adam, but the victory of Christ is superabundant, restoring much more than was lost through Adam (Rom 5:20). While everyone will not be saved, the race, as a whole will be redeemed (Rom 11:32).
Therefore, our optimism is an expression of our faith. This kingdom will fill the whole earth (Dan 2:35, 44). In the 14th century, John Wycliffe, the "morning star of the Reformation," ended his Confession with the words, "I believe that in the end the truth will conquer."
There have always been those who either opposed Christ or set themselves up in place of Christ. Even in the first century John said "many antichrists have come" (1 John 2:18). No future antichrist, no political beast, nor even the man of sin, will ever control the world because God gave this world to Christ at the time of his resurrection (Psalm 2:7-8; Acts 13:33).
Carnal men have more faith in a future antichrist than they have in the victory of Christ. The Left Behind series feeds this misplaced faith by portraying the rise and universal reign of antichrist. It will never happen.
I object to the fear-mongering of this PG-13 movie. If people are not convicted over their sin, you cannot scare them into the kingdom. God has not given his children the spirit of fear (Rom 8:15) and I refuse to raise my children with an apocalyptic worldview. I want them to have faith for the future, not to live in fear of some international conspiracy which will result in a cataclysmic Armageddon.
The gospel of Jesus Christ will fill the world and displace the bondage of Satan. While Satan cannot change the decisive defeat he received at the cross, he has temporarily succeeded in stealing honor which is due Christ alone by getting the modern church to produce books and movies which overinflate the significance of antichrist. We have no king but Christ.
4. No one will be left behind when Christ returns.
The movie begins with the disappearance of Christians. All that is left behind is their clothes. Some family members express concern that they may be walking around naked. Then for the next half hour the rest of the world tries to figure out what has happened as life for them goes on. Although millions will suddenly disappear, the Christian influence upon this world amounts to the sum total of car wrecks Christians cause as they are raptured from the cars they are driving.
Jesus did teach that at his coming one would be taken and the other left (Matt 24:40-41; Luke 17:34-36). While the believers dead and alive will go out to meet the Lord as he returns (Matt 25:6), there will be no interval of seven years until Christ comes a third time to judge those left behind.
When Christ returns in the movie there is no trumpet sound. But according to 1 Cor 15:52 and 1 Thess 4:16-17 when Christ returns a trumpet blast will literally raise the dead. The Bible teaches that at his glorious return all the dead, both saved and unsaved will be raised and we will all stand before his judgment seat. This truth is revealed in John 5:28-29; Rom 14:10-12; 2 Cor 5:10, and Rev 20:13. Those found to be listed in the Book of Life will enter into heaven. Those not found in the Book of Life will then be cast out into the regions of hell. But rest assured, no one will be left behind.
Watching the movie Left Behind will never make you an authority on eschatology. The crowd which contributed to this phenomenal-fictional series of books has a consistent track record of being wrong on their predictions of future events. The only thing they have learned from their false prophecies is to repackage them as fictional literature. During this brief moment of success, they are quick to add that while the plot and characters of Left Behind may be fictional, it is based upon the foundation of biblical scholarship. The truth is that Left Behind is wholly fictional and without biblical foundation. It is based upon a view of the future which was unknown to the Church until it was first presented in 1830. While the Left Behind series reflects one more desperate attempt to sell dispensationalism, it is actually the Word of God which Left Behind left out.