by Michelle Fletcher
The new Left Behind movie (2014) depicts the Rapture, which is often assumed to be clearly explained in the Bible, especially the book of Revelation. It’s more complicated than that, says author Michelle Fletcher.
It’s a day like any other, and then—bam!—everything changes. Millions of people disappear in an instant and all that’s left are piles of clothes, iPods and wallets. Panic and terror break out. This is the scene that viewers are faced with in the new Left Behind movie, directed by Vic Armstrong, and it’s Nicolas Cage’s job to find out what’s happened. But the viewers already know the answer: it’s the Rapture, of course! The Biblical prophecies have come true.
Or have they?
The Rapture is now commonly understood to refer to a time when believers will be snatched up to heaven by Jesus to escape the time of tribulation about to engulf the earth during the reign of the Antichrist. This chain of events has become so integral to some Christian eschatologies (end-time theories) that it’s often assumed they’re clearly explained in the Bible, especially the book of Revelation. But in fact it’s all slightly more complicated than that.
The idea of a “pre-tribulation” Rapture, where believers disappear and everyone else is left on earth to suffer, is actually a rather new one. This type of Rapture was first made popular by the work of John Nelson Darby in the late 1800s. It then spread with the release of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909), and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins sent it viral through their best-selling Left Behind book series. However, prior to this, “rapture” had referred to the second coming of Christ in general, rather than the supernatural escape from troubles as portrayed by Left Behind.
So how did this version of the Rapture come about?
The mention of an event where believers are “taken up” into the sky in the Bible primarily comes from Paul’s First letter to the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is dealing with the fears of believers whose loved ones have died and who are afraid of what will happen when Christ returns. After telling them that the dead shall rise, Paul offers them this:
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. - 1 Thessalonians 4:17
Sky yes, but no tribulation, no Antichrist.
Other passages from the Bible are seen as supporting this idea, for example, Matthew 24:40–1 and Luke 17:34–35, which speak of one person being taken and another left behind. However, these passages discuss the second coming of Christ (the Parousia), not an escape from the world. The “blink of an eye” idea is taken from is 1 Corinthians 15:51–52. But none of this is from Revelation. And none of it lays out a clear Rapture, tribulation, Antichrist plan…
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