Apparently Nicolas Cage’s latest movie, “Left Behind” is horrid (see movie website and trailer here). Critics are absolutely panning it, and from a few reviews I’ve read it sounds like another of Cage’s duds (I like him, and he has done some really great movies, but he’s done some stinkers too). But even if the movie itself was any good, the premise is bad. In fact, horrific.
It is based on the second best selling book series of all time (after Harry Potter) by Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins, “Left Behind”. This 12 book series tells a variety of stories about the rapture, and what happens in the aftermath of all the world’s Christian believers disappearing “in the blinking of an eye”. Especially in conservative Christianity, this 150 year belief (yes, it’s not something the historic church has believed) that comes straight of dispensationalism, has taken hold and is even an article of faith for many (by writing this blog, I am guaranteeing that I will be getting a long list of loving comments… watch my Facebook feed for evidence of the wrath of the faithful).
The problem is that this concept is entirely unbiblical. Not only does the word “rapture” never appear anywhere in the Bible, the two verses that the concept is based on have been badly misunderstood on the basis of a very simple misinterpretation of a single Greek word. I also think that the whole concept of a rapture goes directly against the central message of the Gospel itself, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
I am not a lone voice in this. Some very significant Biblical scholars have carefully debunked the concept.
Let’s start with that Greek word. The word for *meet* (εἰς ἀπάντησιν) in 1 Thess. 4:17 (see also 1 Cor. 15:51-54 and Phil. 3:20-21) was a technical term that described the custom of sending a delegation outside the city to receive a dignitary who was on the way to town. The delegation would go out to meet the guests and then immediately return to the city with them – basically just escorting them into the city. Luke uses this term in this way in Acts 28:14b-15: “And so we came to Rome. The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet (εἰς ἀπάντησιν) us.” Therefore, what Paul is suggesting in 1 Thess. 4:17 is that the dead in Christ will be raised, caught up with Jesus in the air, and then come straight back down to earth with Jesus. That is in fact where Jesus is heading: to earth. This fits pastorally with what Paul’s trying to say in the rest of 1 Thessalonians, as he encourages persecuted believers to understand that they will be vindicated when Jesus returns.
The whole Bible points to the fact that this earth will be renewed and restored to fit God’s original creation plan. It’s an incorrect view of the end times that sees Christians being “rescued” from a “dying” planet that is then destroyed. In fact, the Bible says the opposite: God comes down, establishes a new Jerusalem, restoring this earth. This may be figurative language, but it’s the best we’ve got, and at no stage do we see this earth being done away with, or being left to rot. God’s game-plan has always been to bring heaven to this earth. Not to take us away from earth into heaven.
As N. T. Wright explains about Jesus’s teachings: “The gospel passages about “the Son of Man coming on the clouds” (Mark 13:26, 14:62, for example) are about Jesus’ vindication, his “coming” to heaven from earth. The parables about a returning king or master (for example, Luke 19:11-27) were originally about God returning to Jerusalem, not about Jesus returning to earth. This, Jesus seemed to believe, was an event within space-time history, not one that would end it forever…. The New Testament, building on ancient biblical prophecy, envisages that the creator God will remake heaven and earth entirely, affirming the goodness of the old Creation but overcoming its mortality and corruptibility (e.g., Romans 8:18-27; Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 65:17, 66:22). When that happens, Jesus will appear within the resulting new world (e.g., Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2).” (Read more here).
The rapture forms part of a completely minority view of the end times, linked strongly to dispensationalism.
It isn’t going to happen. So, sure, watch Nick Cage’s latest movie if you have to, but don’t think it’s anything more than what it is: a (bad) movie version of works of complete fiction.
By the way, a Jewish film critic went to watch the movie, and included this as part of his critique:
What do you have to do in order to be raptured? Says a pastor (who didn’t make the cut), “You have to believe.” Says another character, “It’s not about what we do, it’s about asking for forgiveness.” The structural anti-Judaism of Christian apocalyptic thinking is evident in these lines. Creed over deed, intention over action, grace over will, faith over good works.
At the same time, the most grievous sin that keeps appearing in “Left Behind” is being too busy at work, and not prioritizing family time enough. Personally, I still think that perpetuating planetary ecocide by doing nothing about climate change is worse. But that’s just me.
The movie sounds more and more as if it comes straight out of conservative evangelical playbook that sees Christians as a persecuted minority who should keep themselves inoculated from the evil world while they wait for their Saviour to come a’rescuin’ them. What a sad view of their religion. This movie doesn’t help them at all. In fact it perpetuates the most dangerous distortion of the Gospel message available today.
OK, let’s NOT go and watch this movie.