The reboot of a film version of Left Behind has turned out to be a commercial flop even though it has some big named-actors in it.
The Left Behind book series is a revival of other end-time novels that have been plaguing the Christian publishing world for nearly 90 years. The first end-time Christian novel that I was able to find was the 1937 publication of Forrest Loman Oilar’s Be Thou Prepared, for Jesus is Coming. Oilar includes the entire left behind scenario in one volume. It took the authors of the Left Behind series 16 volumes to tell their story.
Ernest Angley followed a similar script with his 1950 Raptured: A Novel. One of the most interesting post-rapture novels is Salem Kirban’s 666, first published in 1970. By 1976, it had gone through fourteen printings with over 500,000 copies sold. Like Oilar’s Be Thou Prepared, there are a number of striking similarities with Left Behind. The “rapture” takes place when the main characters are on an airplane; their wives were believers who were taken in the “rapture”; the “rapture” is explained away by those who are left behind; those who do not bow down and worship the beast are martyred by having their heads cut off by a guillotine.
Hal Lindsey’s 1970 novel-like The Late Great Planet Earth sold tens of millions of copies in the 1970s with its claim that the “rapture” would come prior to 1988 – 40 years after the founding of the new state of Israel in 1948. It didn’t, even though it was eagerly anticipated and pushed with a great deal of certainty.
So what’s so unbiblical about the premise of these end-time prophecy thrillers? There is not a single verse in the New Testament that says that Christian believers (the church) will be taken to heaven prior to a seven-year period that ushers in the Great Tribulation. Let me repeat – not a single verse. This doesn’t mean that prophecy writer don’t try to defend their view biblically. They do, but they still have not made a solid biblical case for their position.
Also, there is no mention in the New Testament of a rebuilt temple and an antichrist making a covenant with Israel and then breaking it. The three necessary requirements for a left behind scenario to take place are conspicuously absent in the New Testament.
In addition, the nearly 2000-year gap between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel 9:24-27 that is necessary for all of the above to take place is not mentioned in the passage. If the 70th week (seven years) is not separated for the other 69 weeks (483 years) with a gap now nearly 2000 years in length, then the entire left behind scenario is impossible to defend.
Antichrists were alive and well in the first century. John says so: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The “even now” refers to John’s day.
Notice also that there were “many antichrists.” It’s interesting to note that the book of Revelation never uses the phrase “seven years,” the duration of the supposed post-rapture tribulation period, or the word “antichrist.”
So what are the prophetic passages in the New Testament talking about that have been used for generations to predict the near end? It’s really quite simple. Jesus was describing events that were going to happen to the generation of His time. Wars and rumors of wars, famines (Acts 11:27-29), earthquakes (Matt. 27:54; 28:2; 16:26), persecutions (Acts 7), etc. are events that are common in every generation as they were in that generation.
Some will point to “plagues” mentioned in Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse and mention the outbreak of Ebola (Luke 21:11). We forget the great plagues that ravaged Europe centuries ago and the influenza pandemic of 1918.
Jesus made it clear that it was “this generation” (Matt. 24:34), the generation that stood before Him that would undergo a “great tribulation,” the generation that would not pass away until all the things Jesus said would happen took place. Each and every time “this generation” is used in the gospels it ALWAYS refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking (Matt. 11:16; 12:41–42; 23:36; Mark 8:12; Luke 7:31; 11:30–32, 50–51; 17:25). It never refers to a future generation or a race of people.
The tribulation was local. It could be escaped by fleeing Judea and taking refuge in the nearby mountains (Matt. 24:15-20).
Notice the use of the second person plural (“you”) throughout Matthew 24 (vv. 2, 4, 6, 9, 15, 33). If Jesus had a future generation in view, He would have said, “when they see these things.”
Sure enough, within a generation, the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem, sacked the city, destroyed the temple, and according to the eyewitness testimony of Flavius Josephus, killed more than a million Jews and took tens of thousands of Jews into captivity.
Was the gospel preached to the “whole world” (v. 14) before that generation passed away? According to the Bible, yes, in the same way the “whole world was taxed” (Luke 2:1 – the same Greek word is used for “world”: oikoumenē not kosmos). Take a look at these passages: Romans 1:8; 16:25-27; Colossians 1:6, 23; 1 Timothy 3:16.
There’s much more that I could say on these matters. For a more detailed, verse-by-verse exposition of Matthew 24, see my books Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, and my video series Basic Training for Understanding Bible Prophecy that had an impact on the star of the first Left Behind film.
I realize that the above view will be hard for many students of Bible prophecy to accept. I can assure you that it is not a new view. When Scripture is compared with Scripture, it makes the best sense.