|BY STEVE WOHLBERG||AR Prophecy Issue|
The following is an excerpt from The Left Behind Deception. Copyright © 2001 by Steve Wohlberg and used with his permission.
n official Left Behind website on the Internet declares: ?In one chaotic moment, millions of people around the world suddenly disappear leaving their clothes, wedding rings, eye glasses and shoes in crumpled piles. Mass confusion hits while vehicles suddenly unmanned veer out of control, fires erupt and hysteria breaks out as the living stare in disbelief and fear at the empty places where their loved ones were just seconds before. This is the rapture that God has planned as the first sign to begin the unraveling of the end of time.?
Newspaper headlines are predicted to read: ?Millions Mysteriously Vanish!? ?All Children Have Disappeared!? ?Massive Traffic Snarls Due to Missing Drivers!? ?Planes Crash, Trains Wreck As Pilots and Engineers Disappear!? It has been reported that some at American Airlines are worried about this, so they want at least one non-Christian pilot aboard each flight ? just in case!
The Bible certainly does teach the exciting truth that Jesus Christ will return for His people. Jesus Himself said, ?I will come again, and receive you to myself? (John 14:3). I fully believe these words, and long to be ready for that great day.
Without a doubt, the most quoted passage in the Bible now being used to support the idea of a Rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Countless Christians know it by heart, and it is cited in LEFT BEHIND: The Movie. Paul wrote that believers in Jesus Christ will someday be ?caught up?in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air? (1 Thessalonians 4:17). How wonderful! This will be no imaginary, ?Beam me up, Scotty,? event as in the television series Star Trek. On the contrary, it will be very real, and no space suits or oxygen masks will be needed. While I do believe in the return of Jesus, and that believers will someday be ?caught up,? there are still some major issues of interpretation I want to examine. The first concerns the timing of our being ?caught up,? and the second has to do with the nature of the event itself.
Let me explain. According to Left Behind, the return of Jesus Christ actually takes place in two distinct phases. First, Jesus returns silently and secretly, unnoticed by the world. At that moment Christians will be ?caught up,? or raptured, which is interpreted as the sudden vanishing of millions of people all over the globe. The rest of mankind, having been left behind, are then ushered into a ?seven-year period called the Tribulation? (The Tribulation Force, inside cover, second book in the Left Behind series). During the Tribulation, the Antichrist rises to enforce his deadly mark. At the end of the seven years, Jesus returns visibly before the eyes of all, an event referred to as Christ?s Second Coming
There are three primary pillars that stand out in this teaching, and it is safe to say that the entire Left Behind house rests firmly on top of each of them.
Pillar 1 ? The Rapture, when the Church is ?caught up? (1 Thessalonians 4:17), does not take place at the visible Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but seven years before it.
Pillar 2 ? Those who miss the Rapture will have a second chance during the seven years of Tribulation to be saved.
Pillar 3 ? The true Church of today will escape the Tribulation and will not have to face the Antichrist and the Mark.
Before we go any further, allow me to list three logical alternatives, thus clarifying the issues.
Alternative 1 ? The Rapture, when the Church is ?caught up? (1 Thessalonians 4:17), does take place at the visible Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of world.
Alternative 2 ? Those who are not ready for the catching up of true believers at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will have no second chance to be saved.
Alternative 3 ? The Church of today will go through Earth?s final period of Tribulation and therefore must overcome the Antichrist and the Mark in order to be ready for Christ?s Second Coming.
Can you see how serious these issues are? Which view is right ? The three pillars of Left Behind, or these three logical alternatives? What does the Bible really say?
Let?s start with Pillar 1 ? The Rapture does not take place at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. As I have already mentioned, the most widely quoted passage about the Rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. There Paul wrote, ?We which are alive and remain shall be caught up.? Although the word ?rapture? doesn?t appear anywhere in the Bible, the idea comes from those two words ?caught up.? A simple comparison of verse 17 with verse 15, which says, ?We which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord,? makes it very clear that believers will be ?caught up? at ?the coming of the Lord.? Here is the key issue ? At which coming of the Lord? Will believers be caught up at a silent and invisible coming of the Lord, before the Tribulation, as taught in Left Behind or will believers be caught up at the highly visible ?Glorious Appearing? of Jesus Christ at the end of the world? Before we read the entire context, it is important to realize that Paul uses a very specific Greek word for ?coming? in verse 15. The word is ?parousia,? which you can find in any concordance. You may find this a little hard to believe, but a whole lot rides on that one word. If you are a high-tech person, click ?Save,? and store that word in your mental computer, for we will come back to it.
Have you ever driven down a highway without realizing how fast you were going, and then, when you finally looked down at your speedometer, you said to yourself, ?I?m going too fast and must slow down!?? This is what we need to do when it comes to our study of 1 Thessalonians 4. We must slow down and take a full look. As we do, we will discover truth that is not only clear, but also shocking. In fact, the implications are nothing short of cataclysmic. Right in between verses 15 and 17, Paul wrote, ?For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump [or trumpet] of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first? (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Left Behind describes this event as silent and secret, yet doesn?t it seem rather loud and visible? There is a shout, a voice, and a trumpet. Have you ever heard of a silent trumpet? Some people have even called 1 Thessalonians 4:16 the noisiest verse in the Bible!
Now let?s put verses 16 and 17 together: ?The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.? Honestly, do you see anything in these words about vanishing Christians prior to the Tribulation? Does ?caught up? necessarily mean ?disappear without a trace?? At the end of His earthly life, Jesus Christ was also ?taken up,? (Acts 1:9), but this doesn?t mean He disappeared, leaving His clothes on earth. Instead, in full view of His wondering disciples, ?while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight? (Acts 1:9). Just as Christ?s ascension was highly visible, even so do Paul?s words about a shout, a voice, a trumpet, a resurrection, and believers being ?caught up? into the clouds seem quite visible. That is, if we take them literally.
Let?s return to 1 Thessalonians and take a look at the entire context: ?For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction will come upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape.? (4:16?5:3, emphasis added).
Paul said this tremendous ?day of the Lord? will finally arrive like ?a thief in the night.? The producers of Left Behind interpret this to mean that Jesus will come like a silent thief to steal believers out of this world before the seven years of Tribulation ? then driverless cars will crash, pilotless planes will collide, and babies will be found missing from their cribs. After this the Antichrist will rise, the Mark of the Beast will come, and people will yet have a second chance to be saved. The popular Christian film, A Thief in the Night, which is similar to LEFT BEHIND: The Movie, also presents this perspective. Yet is this really what Paul is saying?
Again, let?s slow down and take a closer look at our Biblical speedometers. Paul wrote, ?You yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape? (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3). Do you see what Paul is really saying? Jesus? coming as a ?thief in the night? does not mean He will come quietly and invisibly to steal believers out of this world, as is taught in Left Behind. Rather, it means He will come unexpectedly, bringing ?sudden destruction? upon the unsaved. Thus it is not a secret coming, but only a sudden one. And what about the unprepared being given a second chance to be saved? Paul clearly answered this question when he wrote, ?They shall not escape? (verse 3).
Therefore, upon the closest examination, the most widely quoted passage in the Bible used to support the Left Behind idea of a silent return of Jesus Christ, of vanishing Christians, and of people being given a second chance during a subsequent period of Tribulation, doesn?t really say this at all! Paul said Jesus will literally come down from heaven with a noisy shout, a loud voice, and with the blast of a trumpet. This awesome and tremendous ?day of the Lord? will come unexpectedly upon all the lost like a thief in the night, resulting in their ?sudden destruction.? The apostle Peter also wrote about this same return of Jesus Christ as a thief: ?But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up? (2 Peter 3:10, emphasis added). According to Peter, the return of Jesus as a thief is definitely not a silent and secret event before any seven-year period of Tribulation. Rather, this day arrives suddenly, with ?a great noise,? and is clearly associated with the end of the world! A major crack is starting to form in Pillar 1.
Now let?s go back to that mysterious Greek word, ?parousia.? There is absolutely no doubt that Paul used this word to describe the coming of Jesus at which believers will be ?caught up? (1 Thessalonians 4:15?17). This same Greek word is also used in a sizzling apocalyptic message given by Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 24, so we need to take a look at it. On a certain momentous day, ?And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, his disciples came unto him privately, saying, ?Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world??? (Matthew 24:3, emphasis added). The Greek word there in verse 3 for ?coming? is ?parousia.? The disciples associated this ?coming,? or ?parousia,? with ?the end of the world,? and they were anxious to know more about it.
The immediate response of Jesus was: ?Take heed that no man deceive you? (Matthew 24:4). The forcefulness of this thought should hit us like a hurricane! Why? Because it clearly implies that when it comes to this exact topic of the ?coming? or ?parousia? of Jesus Christ and the end of the world, there is going to be a great deal of deception whirling around. And what is even more dramatic is that Jesus raised His ?Don?t Be Deceived? warning flag four times in this single sermon (Matthew 24: 4, 5, 11, 24). One gets the idea that last-day delusions would someday sweep over planet Earth like a massive tidal wave. The only way to avoid being swept away in this swirling sea of falsehood is to pay close attention to the words of Jesus Christ.
Our Lord continued, ?For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect? (Matthew 24:24). Here Jesus said Satan?s delusions will eventually become so subtle and powerful that only ?the elect? will come through unscathed. But who are ?the elect?? Based on the context, they must be a group of people who know Jesus Christ and the Bible so well that the devil can?t mislead them. Verse 31 also tells us that ?the elect? are people who are ready for the return of Jesus Christ.
Immediately after warning about tricky false prophets and deception, Jesus Christ said, ?Wherefore if they say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be? (Matthew 24:26, 27, emphasis added). Here Jesus draws a razor-sharp contrast between false views of His return and the truth. When it comes to false views, don?t miss that little word ?secret.? Jesus plainly warned that people will mistakenly ?say? His coming will be in ?secret.? In fact, based on the context, we discover that this will be one of those powerful delusions which only God?s faithful elect will avoid. So how should we respond when people say Jesus? coming will be in secret? Christ?s answer is stunning. Jesus said, ?Believe it not?! Why? Because ?as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.?
Far from being a secret event, the return of Jesus Christ will be like the brilliant flashing of millions of lightning bolts blazing across the sky. Can you guess what awesome Greek word Matthew used for ?coming? in verse 27? It is ?parousia,? and this mega-important word is the exact same word Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 4:15?17 in his description of that coming of Jesus at which believers will be raptured or ?caught up?! In many Hollywood action films, certain files are labeled ?Top Secret,? yet when it comes to Bible truth about the ?coming,? or ?parousia? of Jesus Christ, this return will be anything but secret. The crack in Pillar 1 is getting bigger.
Paul plainly said that the Rapture would take place at the ?coming? or ?parousia? of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15?17). Jesus Himself said His ?coming? or ?parousia? will be like the brilliant flashing of electrically-charged bolts of lightning hurtling across the sky. The disciples associated this very same awesome ?coming? or ?parousia? with ?the end of the world,? and they asked Jesus what the major ?sign? of this ?coming? would be (Matthew 24:3). After warning about ?secret? coming ideas and deception, Jesus finally answered this exact question by lifting the curtain of history and fully unveiling what His high-powered and super-cataclysmic ?coming? or ?parousia? will really be like: ?And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other? (Matthew 24:30, 31).
This high-impact description of Christ?s return contains an even Bigger Bang than the highly-speculative evolutionary Big Bang theory. The ?coming? or ?parousia? of Jesus Christ, at which believers will be ?caught up,? will be unmistakably visible to ?all the tribes of the earth.? The amazed masses of mankind will literally ?see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.? Certainly no one will miss it, and no one will wake up the next day wondering where all the Christians went. On that great day, all the unsaved will ?mourn.? Why? Not because their loved ones have vanished into thin air, but because Jesus Christ has suddenly come, and now their life of sinning and partying is over. And once again, this will be a very noisy and loud event that will include the echoing of ?a great sound of a trumpet? throughout the sky. When that booming blast is heard, billions of shining angels will descend and circle the globe to ?gather together his elect from the four winds.? Thus, true believers will be ?caught up? into the air. Now don?t miss it. These are the very same elements Paul wrote about in 1 Thessalonians 4:17!
In both Matthew 24:30, 31, and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, we read about clouds, noise, a trumpet, a gathering together, and believers being transported up into the air. Any concordance will show you that both passages refer to the ?coming? or ?parousia? of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 24:27, 30, 31, this ?coming? or ?parousia? unmistakably applies to Christ?s ?Glorious Appearing.? As we are to be ?caught up together,? let?s put these shocking pieces together. The conclusion is inescapable, unalterable, and irrefutable. True believers will be ?caught up? or ?raptured? at the loud, climactic, highly-visible, and ultra-glorious Second Coming of Jesus Christ!
This book is like a race car whose engine is just beginning to rev up. We have a lot more to cover, so let?s keep going. In Matthew 24, after describing His ?Glorious Appearing,? Jesus continued: ?But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as you think not, the Son of man cometh? (Matthew 24:36?44, emphasis added).
Here Jesus Christ paralleled His return with the sudden descent of billions of tons of water upon the lost in Noah?s day. Those ancient people thought Noah was a crazy old man, until ?the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be? (Matthew 24:39, emphasis added). Can you guess what Greek word is used here again for ?coming?? Don?t take my word for it, but look it up yourself in your own concordance. It is ?parousia,? which, as we have already proven, clearly applies to the visible ?Glorious Appearing? of Jesus Christ. Now notice, immediately after the word ?parousia? is used in verse 39, Jesus continued: ?THEN shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left (emphasis added).? This is probably the second most quoted passage in the Bible now being used to support the Left Behind idea of a silent Rapture prior to the Tribulation. Supposedly, when this verse is fulfilled, those who are ?taken? will vanish without a trace, leaving only their clothes, shoes, false teeth and wedding rings, while those who are ?left? will have to endure the Tribulation, facing the Antichrist and the Mark. But is this really what Jesus Christ is saying?
The correct answer to this question will not come by depending on the interpretations of others. Actually, it is never safe to lean wholly on any man. Christians should never be taught to rely completely on Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, or any other popular teacher, including Steve Wohlberg. We should all open our own Bibles, pick up our own concordances, and find out for ourselves what is truth. If you are willing to do this, then this is what you will most definitely find ? believers will be ?taken? (verse 40) at the ?coming? or ?parousia? (verse 39) which the Bible clearly applies to the loud, highly-visible, and ultra-glorious Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the world (Matthew 24:3, 27, 30, 31, 39)!
Jesus basically said, ?It will be just like Noah?s day? (verses 37?39). Now think about it. Did Noah and his family vanish before the flood? No, they walked visibly into the ark. And what about those who were left behind after the door of the ark was shut? Did they have a second chance? No again. How were they left? They were left dead; they did not escape. After saying, ?the flood came, and took them all away,? Jesus made His power-packed point, ?so shall also the coming [?parousia?] of the Son of man be? (verse 39). And then, without a break, Christ said, ?Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left? (verse 40). Upon careful analysis, these words leave no room for the continuing lives of Left Behind?s Rayford Steele and Buck Williams during the Tribulation after the Rapture. Why not? Because those who are ?taken? are taken up at the ?coming? or ?parousia,? which applies to the final Second Coming of Jesus Christ!
Immediately after saying, ?One shall be taken and the other left,? the King of the Universe then compared His Second Coming to the sudden arrival of a midnight thief, just like Paul did in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3. Jesus said: ?But know this, if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as you think not, the Son of man cometh? (Matthew 24:43, 44). To ?watch? doesn?t mean spending endless hours in front of the television set, nor does it mean watching popular movies about the end times that may take detours away from the straight truth. Rather, it means to watch out for deception!
Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 fit together just as perfectly as Adam and Eve before they sinned. Both describe a noisy, loud, highly visible, trumpet-blasting and ultra-glorious return of Jesus Christ in the clouds. Both describe believers being caught up and transported into the air. Both declare this day will come with thief-like suddenness upon all sleeping sinners. In Noah?s day, when billions of tons of water came crashing down, there were no second chances for those outside the ark. Paul said the lost ?shall not escape.? And both Paul and Matthew use the exact same Greek word to describe this great, tremendous, and awesomely powerful ?day of the Lord.? Simply look in your concordance. That word is ?parousia,? which clearly refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. True believers are urged to watch, be ready, and to avoid all subtle, satanic deceptions.
What about the Rapture taking place ?in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye?? This is probably the third most quoted passage in the Bible now being used to support the idea of vanishing Christians prior to the Tribulation. We have previously slowed down to look at our Biblical speedometers, yet this time we must come to a screeching halt. Paul wrote, ?Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed? (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, emphasis added). Is Paul saying that believers will mysteriously vanish from the earth prior to the Tribulation, while their loved ones blink? Not at all! He is saying that the dead will be raised and our bodies will be changed ?in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.? But when will this ?moment? take place? Paul?s answer is clear. It will occur ?at the last trump,? when ?the trumpet shall sound,? that is, at the end of the world. This is that very same ?great sound of a trumpet? Jesus said would be heard at His Second Coming (Matthew 24:31)! Pillar 1 is cracking and crumbling.
As we have previously noted, Pillar 2 supporting the Left Behind house is the theory that those who miss the Rapture will have a second chance to be saved during the Tribulation. If you think about it, this idea can be dangerous. Some might rationalize, ?If the Rapture really takes place, then I?ll know for sure God is real. It may be tough, but I can still join the Tribulation Force during the seven years. Even if that Antichrist guy tries to kill me, I will still resist the Mark!? While the fostering of this foolish attitude is not the intent of Left Behind, people can easily adopt this ?let?s wait and see? position, putting off their decision to follow Jesus Christ. But Paul wrote that all who are not fully on the Lord?s side when believers are ?caught up?shall not escape? (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 5:3), and there were no second chances in Noah?s day. After the door of the ark closed, all desperate attempts to get inside were useless. Therefore Pillar 2 is becoming like a man diagnosed with cancer ? it has very serious problems.
If Pillars 1 and 2 supporting the Left Behind house are wrong, and if the logical alternative about the Church being ?caught up? at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is right, then this means that the Church of today is destined to go through the Tribulation, rather than disappearing before it arrives. Yet Christians often resist this conclusion with the argument, ?God wouldn?t allow us to go through the Tribulation because He loves us too much!? But think about it. Does He love us any more than He would love the Tribulation Force after the Rapture? Obviously not. Then why would He allow them to go through such a period? Could it be that the doctrine of escaping tribulation is really only catering to our middle-class American tendencies? We like comfort and hate to go through trials, and we can hardly bear it when our TV-dinner lifestyle is threatened. Yet historically, God?s people have gone through intense suffering. All of the disciples of Jesus, except for John, were cruelly murdered. Thousands of the early Christians were literally torn to shreds by wild dogs and lions inside the Coliseum. Millions of others were horribly tortured by the Inquisition and burned to ashes during the Dark Ages. Believers in Russia and China have suffered terribly under Communism, and yet American Christians say, ?God wouldn?t allow us go through the Tribulation?!
When it comes to this topic of ?tribulation,? once again, concordances can come in handy. If you look up the word, ?tribulation,? in a Strong?s or Young?s Concordance, you may be shocked to discover that almost every reference describes the suffering of believers. Jesus told His followers, ?In the world ye shall have tribulation? (John 16:33). Paul told his early Christian converts, ??we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God? (Acts 14:22). Paul wrote to the Church at Thessalonica, ??we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure? (2 Thessalonians 1:4). On the lonely isle of Patmos, John was our ?brother and companion in tribulation? (Revelation 1:9). Jesus told His Church in Smyrna, ?I know thy works, and tribulation? (Revelation 2:9). In the light of these Scriptures, the idea of Christians escaping tribulation seems like fantasy and illusion.
Some Christians might respond by saying, ?Yes, but those verses are talking about ?tribulation,? not ?the Tribulation.? ? But think about it. If the majority of the Bible?s ?tribulation texts? refer to what believers go through, why would God?s Word suddenly shift gears by teaching that ?the Tribulation? is something believers will not go through? Even in Left Behind, there are Christians who do go through ?the Tribulation? (the Tribulation Force), therefore the thought of Christians going through this period is really not so strange.
Many Christians also argue, ?If the Church is going through the Tribulation, then why isn?t the Church mentioned after Revelation 4?? Let?s take a closer look. In Revelation 4:1, John was told to ?come up hither.? People conclude this represents the Rapture and they think the Church isn?t mentioned anymore. First of all, John did not actually go to heaven in Revelation 4:1, he was simply taken up in a vision, while his toes were still on Patmos. Secondly, the Church is on earth after Revelation 4. How do we know this? Because the Bible says the Antichrist will make ?war with the saints? (13:7), then we read about ?the faith of the saints? (13:10), and then, during the Mark of the Beast crisis, Revelation refers to ?the saints? who keep ?the faith of Jesus? (14:12). Some might respond by saying, ?Yes, but those are the Tribulation saints after the Rapture, not the Church.? But consider this. Paul wrote his New Testament letters to the ?churches of the saints? (1 Corinthians 14:33). What does this tell us? It tells us that wherever there are saints, there is the Church! Even if the saints mentioned in Revelation 13 and 14 are only the Tribulation saints after the Rapture, wouldn?t they, as sincere believers in Jesus Christ, still be the Church?
Left Behind teaches that the Church will not be here for Armageddon. Is this true? The word ?Armageddon? occurs in Revelation 16:16, which is the great chapter about the falling of the seven last plagues. Right before verse 16, during the time of the seven last plagues, Jesus Christ thunders, ?Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon? (Revelation 16:15, 16). Did you catch that? Who is Jesus talking to? To the Church! At the time of verse 15, while the seven plagues are falling, which is definitely during the Tribulation, and right before the battle of Armageddon, Jesus Christ has not yet come as a thief! Therefore He must come like a thief at Armageddon, after the Tribulation, and this must be the time when He comes to gather His Church.
Like a good Commanding Officer, Paul urged the soldiers of the cross, ?Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand? (Ephesians 6:13). How can we stand in ?the evil day? if we have previously disappeared? Jesus Christ also said, ?But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved? (Matthew 24:13). So how long must we endure? To the end. Yet Christ will be with us, that?s why He promised, ?I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world? (Matthew 28:20). We can trust Him in this.
If everything in this book is true, then what about ?the seven years?? The concept of a seven-year period of Tribulation is actually the underlying foundation of the entire Left Behind scenario. Remember, the theory is that first the Rapture takes place, and then comes the seven years of Tribulation. Book Two of the Left Behind novels declares, ?The disappearances have ushered in the seven-year period of Tribulation? (The Tribulation Force, inside cover). Book Three reveals, ?...the seven-year Tribulation is nearing the end of its first quarter...? (Nicolae, inside cover). Book Six tells us, ?It?s the midpoint of the seven-year Tribulation? (The Indwelling, inside cover). Book Eight begins with ?...the dawn of the second half of the seven-year Tribulation...? (The Mark, inside cover). Thus this New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling series of Christian books, now being endorsed by well-respected Church leaders nationwide, is built completely around this seven-year framework.
The Great Granddaddy Bible Text for the entire seven-year Tribulation theory is Daniel 9:27. This passage is the very first verse quoted in LEFT BEHIND: The Movie. Here is what it says: ?And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week, and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice?to cease.? A day in prophecy represents a year (Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:6), thus this famous period of ?one week? actually represents seven years. Millions are now applying this to a future seven-year period of Tribulation. ?He? is interpreted to be the Antichrist who will make a covenant with the Jews during the Tribulation. Book 6 of the Left Behind novels is called Assassins. The subtitle reads, ?Assignment: Jerusalem, Target: Antichrist.? Its focus is ?the half-way point of the Global Community?s seven-year protection agreement with Israel? (p. 302).
According to Left Behind, immediately after the Rapture, the Antichrist will make this ?seven-year protection agreement with Israel.? Yet I wonder how he could accomplish this so quickly right after the Rapture, for wouldn?t he need some time to rise to power? An intrinsic part of this story is the theory that, during the Tribulation, the Jewish temple will be rebuilt and animal sacrifices will be resumed (more on this later). Supposedly, half-way into the Tribulation, the Antichrist will break his ?protection agreement? with the Jews and stop the sacrifices, thereby causing them ?to cease.? This is how millions of Christians today are now interpreting Daniel 9:27.
What many don?t realize is that there is another reasonable interpretation that is quite different. Not only does this alternate view have a great deal of Biblical support, but it has also been taught in the past by many credible Bible scholars who have written respected commentaries which are now in the libraries of pastors across America. One example is the world-famous Matthew Henry?s Bible Commentary. Shockingly, this commentary doesn?t apply Daniel 9:27 to the Antichrist at all, nor does it apply the ?one week? to a seven-year period of Tribulation after the Rapture. Rather, it applies it to Jesus Christ, who, after three and one-half years of loving ministry, died ?in the midst of the week,? which ultimately caused all animal sacrifices to cease!
Here?s the quotation from Matthew Henry?s famous commentary: ?By offering himself a sacrifice once and for all he [Jesus] shall put an end to all Levitical sacrifices? (Matthew Henry?s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. IV ? Isaiah to Malachi, Complete Edition. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1712, Notes on Daniel 9:27, p. 1095). Another excellent Bible commentary written by the well known British Methodist, Adam Clarke, says, ?This confirmation of the covenant must take in the ministry of John the Baptist with that of our Lord, comprehending the term of seven years, during the whole of which he might well be said to confirm or ratify the new covenant with mankind? (The Holy Bible with a commentary and critical notes by Adam Clarke, Vol. IV ? Isaiah to Malachi. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, Notes on Daniel 9:27, p. 602). Here?s one more from the much-respected Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary: ?He shall confirm the covenant ? Christ. The confirmation of the covenant is assigned to Him? (Rev. Robert Jamieson, Rev. A. R. Fausset. and Rev. David Brown, A Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Complete Edition. Hartford, CT: S.S. Scranton Co., Notes on Daniel 9:27, p. 641). All of these commentaries are now available electronically on the World Wide Web, so you can easily check these references yourself.
Which view is right ? the one put forth in Left Behind, or the one described in those old dusty commentaries? Does Daniel 9:27 apply to a future seven year period of Tribulation, or was it fulfilled by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago? The only way to find out is by taking a careful look at Daniel 9:27 itself. God?s Word says, ?And he shall confirm the covenant with many.? Now take a look at this. Jesus Christ Himself said, ?For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many? (Matthew 26:28, New King James version). Behold a perfect fit! Both use the words ?covenant? and ?many.? Popular teaching says the Antichrist will make a covenant or ?protection agreement? with the Jews and then break it after three and one-half years, yet the Bible actually says, ?He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.? Thus ?He? is to confirm the covenant for the full seven years, not break it! And it is not simply ?a covenant,? as is commonly understood. No! It is ?the covenant? which applies to the New Covenant. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the one by whom ?the covenant,?was confirmed? (Galatians 3:17; see also Romans 15:8). In ?the midst of the week,? after three and one-half years, Jesus gave His life for us, ?causing the sacrifice to cease.? He was the final sacrifice. No more sacrifices are to be offered. Period. (Hebrews 10:12).
In my other book, Exploding the Israel Deception, Chapter 5 is called ?The 70th Week of Daniel Delusion? (see the back of this book for details). There I give many more solid reasons why Daniel 9:27 doesn?t apply to the Antichrist at all, but to Jesus Christ alone. The fact is, the entire Left Behind idea of a seven-year period of Tribulation after the Rapture is a grand illusion, a massive mega-myth. It may even go down in history as the Greatest Evangelical Misinterpretation of All Time! The whole concept is like a gigantic bubble. Once Daniel 9:27 is correctly understood, and the sharply-pointed pin of truth is inserted, ?Pop! goes the seven years!?
I want to conclude this chapter by talking about Pillar 3 which now supports the Left Behind house ? The Church of today will escape the Tribulation and will not have to face the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast. This is the Big One, and it is right here that emotions fly and reason vanishes just as quickly as those disappearing people in LEFT BEHIND: The Movie. Why? The answer is simple. If Pillar 3 is false, and if the Church will not be ?caught up? until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, then this obviously means that the Church must first pass through Earth?s final period of Tribulation, and will have to face the Antichrist and the Mark. Many Christians fear such a conclusion, and this is why, many times, underneath the attempt to maintain the doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation Secret Rapture, there often lurks a secret fear of having to face the Mark of the Beast.
This reminds me of the tragic deaths of 118 crewmen inside the giant Russian nuclear submarine, Kursk. On Saturday, August 12, 2000, way out in the icy waters of the Barents Sea, east-northeast of Moscow, something went terribly wrong. An explosion took place, which was followed by another. The ?catastrophe developed at lightning speed,? (Newsweek, Nov. 6, 2000. p. 43) and the doomed sub quickly sank to the bottom of the ocean. Newsweek ran a story on this called, ?A Cry From the Deep.? Twenty-three Russians survived the initial blasts and flooding. A letter was later found by deep-sea divers inside a pocket of one of the corpses. The note said, ?There are 23 people here....None of us can get to the surface? (Newsweek, Nov. 6, 2000. p. 43). Because help didn?t come quickly enough, they all died. As I have thought about this, I can imagine the feeling of fear in the hearts of those Russian sailors deep down below the calm surface of the water.
Fear also lurks below the doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. Deep down underneath the surface of many arguments, lies a hidden fear of having to face the Mark of the Beast. This fear may be unconscious, yet often it is there, though it need not be. True Christians can learn a lesson from popular bumper stickers which say, ?Fear No Evil.? We don?t need to be afraid. We can trust in Jesus Christ, for hasn?t He promised, ?Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world?? (Matthew 28:20). If the fictitious Tribulation Force in the Left Behind novels can overcome the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast, then so can we! Yet Christians do fear the Mark, and this fear often prevents them from even reasonably examining the clear Scriptural evidence in favor of a Post-Tribulation gathering of the Church to Christ. And thus, sadly, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture idea has become The Great Evangelical Escape Clause for the Avoidance of the Mark of the Beast! And for those who must have it that way, no amount of Biblical evidence will convince them. Like a triple-bolted door in downtown New York, they are simply closed to the facts.
The result? Truth is left behind.