Should Christians get caught up in ‘rapture’?
Left Behind, the movie, is compelling evidence that people are fascinated with “rapture,” the belief that believers will be taken from the earth in “last days.” The 16-book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins sold over 65 million copies. Smelling a sacred cash cow, HBO is also running a post-rapture series called The Leftovers. And last days books have sold well since Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth argued for Christ’s return before 1988. (Apparently, Hal was wrong.)
First, the movie:
The film stars Nicholas Cage as Rayford Steele, who is piloting a commercial airliner when—SPOILER ALERT—passengers simply vanish from the plane as well as millions of others from around the globe. His daughter, played by Cassi Thomson, is left to search for her lost mother and brother.
Secular critics are giving the film a two out of 100 at rottentomato.com. And Christian reviewers aren’t enraptured either. Nell Minow, the “Movie Mom,” at beliefnet.com writes, “Left Behind is being marketed as Christian entertainment, but it does not qualify in either category.”
Emma Koonse at ChristianPost.com writes, “Film leaves audiences behind with poor dialog, abysmal cinematography and flat performances.”
And Christianity Today’s Jackson Cuidon complains, “Most Christians within the world of the movie—whether the street-preacher lady at the airport or Rayford Steele’s wife—are portrayed as insistent, crazy, delusional, or at the very least just really annoying.”
Ouch! Critics can be so critical!
Second the rapture itself:
The concept is based on the apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
According to that description, it doesn’t seem to be an event where you’re enjoying coffee with a friend and suddenly, unexpectedly, he vanishes right before your eyes—leaving only his pumpkin spice latte and titanium knee behind. (According to the book series, replacement parts are not rapture-able.)
On the contrary, the being “caught up” (the Greek word is harpazo) seems to be a noisy, raucous affair with Jesus Christ Himself coming down from heaven, the voice of the archangel, trumpet blasts, people rising out of graves, and living believers being caught up into the clouds to meet the Lord. Nothing surreptitious about this “rapture”!
Compared to the 2,000-year history of Christ’s Church, the modern day concept of rapture is, well, modern. Generally, two sides are caught up in the debate. The ancient view includes Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans and Reformed groups who believe this harpazo is one event that happens in the final resurrection and judgment.
What is known as the “pre-tribulation” view was developed in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren, and then popularized with the commentary of the Scofield Reference Bible. This group believes Christ will “rapture” believers before a time of intense “tribulation” (The Revelation’s dreadful seals, trumpets and bowls of judgment poured out on the earth) and after that, Christ Himself will return for the final resurrection and judgment.
Third, my two-cents worth:
1. Jesus will return: This is made clear in Matthew 24:3-25:46; Luke 21:7-36; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 5:1-6; 1 Peter 3:1-18 and the entire book of Revelation. I have no doubts.
2. However, I think we do the cause of Christ a great disservice by trying to create dogmatic charts and time-lines to explain and simplify the incomprehensible images of Daniel and The Revelation. (Pin-point predictions have been preached since Hilary of Poitiers announced the world would end in the year of 365. It didn’t.)
And making movies that are more B-grade sci-fi thrillers than enlightening entertainment cheapen the profound truth of God’s mysterious workings in this world.
3. I tend to subscribe to John Wesley’s teaching on the events of the last days:
I said nothing less or more . . . concerning the end of the world. . . . I have no opinion at all on it: I can determine nothing at all about it. . . . I have only one thing to do, to save my soul, and those that hear me.
“Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Revelation 22:21).
Jim is an author, speaker and pan-millennial believing “Everything will pan out in the end.”
Copyright © 2014 James N. Watkins. First published in The Presidential Prayer Team’s Viewpoint, October 2014.