The Left Behind Reboot: Bible-Based or Pure Fiction?

By Richard Young | Posted February 06, 2023

The basic story of the Left Behind book series goes something like this: Millions of people suddenly and unexpectedly vanish. You might be a passenger in an Uber when, suddenly, your driver disappears. Or you’re flying commercial over the Pacific when the pilots vanish suddenly. 

Even stranger, this phenomenon occurs all over the world, with millions of bewildered people purportedly “left behind.” What happened? Was it a large-scale kidnapping by hungry aliens? Or was it, in fact, the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy uttered by none other than Jesus Christ?

This is the conundrum that airline pilot Rayford Steele—played by actor Kevin Sorbo, who also directed—faces in the latest adaptation, Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist, which opened on January 26, “and to Hollywood’s surprise, surpassed the $3 million mark at the box office.” (Nicolas Cage has played the role previously.) The story traces how Steele, an unbeliever, comes to grips with what has happened and starts to see that this incident and others are part of the last-day events before Armageddon.

Given the popularity of the original bestselling Left Behind books, which were written by Baptist preacher Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and sold a stunning 65 million copies, masses around the world have been exposed to the theology depicted in the series—and many of them believe the books and films contain an accurate interpretation of biblical end-time events.

The Secret Rapture

What people are seeing in this latest film is a fictional telling of “dispensational premillennialism.” 

What is that?

It is a fancy phrase for a theology that teaches that Jesus will come to Earth to establish a thousand-year kingdom. But before He does that, He will “rapture” His church—that is, He will snatch believers away from this world just before a terrible time of trouble, called the “Great Tribulation,” begins to unfold upon all the unconverted people who were left behind.

The doctrine behind this theory is actually relatively new in Christendom and is often attached to an Anglican preacher named John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), whose teachings were popularized in the United States through the annotated Scofield Reference Bible (1909). 

Today, millions of Christians worldwide believe that before Jesus returns, all of God’s faithful will be taken away in the manner described by Darby—“without any warning,” says one website, “Jesus Christ will return to rapture his saints and take them to heaven. Christians must live prepared lives, ready to meet their Savior at any moment.”

One Taken, One Left

Central to this doctrine is a contested understanding of the words of Jesus spoken to His inner circle. In reference to the Second Coming, He depicted the final events like this: “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24: 40, 41).

According to dispensational premillennialism, the one taken is quietly, secretly, and suddenly whisked away by Jesus to heaven. In contrast, the others are unfortunate souls who must face the persecutions of the antichrist, a mysterious religiopolitical leader who arrives after the so-called “secret rapture” occurs.

But is this what Jesus meant? 

Context is crucial. In the verses immediately preceding these words of Jesus, He talks about Noah’s day and the idea that, just as people did not know when the Flood would come, they also wouldn’t know when He would return: “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took   so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 28:39, emphasis added).

Took them away? That is—those who were killed in the Flood! In that context, Jesus then talks about one being taken and one being left. Thus, from what the Savior had just said about the Flood, we can know that the ones “taken” are those who perish at Christ’s coming—and the ones “left” are those who are left alive and then are swept up to heaven: “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, emphasis added).

Those who “remain,” that is, those “left behind,” are the ones who are saved.


The Real Rapture

Indeed, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the apostle Paul depicts the rapture again, and it’s nothing like dispensational premillennialism would have you believe. Instead, Paul says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”

A shout? The voice of the archangel? The dead in Christ—that is, the millions of dead in Jesus rising from their tombs? The trumpet of God? This event is far from being a “secret” event! 

Popularity is not a sign of something being true. And so, however well Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist might perform at the box office, it’s crucial not to let a fictional film help determine your theology. To learn more about what the Scripture says about the rapture, read Pastor Doug’s FREE online book—Anything But Secret. 

Richard Young
Richard Young is a writer for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

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