With the new “Left Behind” movie premiering this fall, many people are writing about the film and its theological implications.
The film, and book series from which it is adapted, is built on a dispensational belief that Christians will be raptured—removed from earth bodily—while non-Christians on earth will be “left behind” to wallow in the results of their sinful reality.
While it makes for creative fiction in the vein of Steven King’s “The Stand,” it is not all that biblical.
In his article, “Why the Rapture isn’t Biblical … and Why it Matters,” Kurt Willems lays out several good points regarding how people have misinterpreted I Thessalonians 4:15-17.
In short, he emphasizes that Paul is not talking about bodies going into heaven, but rather physically resurrected bodies joining Christ on earth upon his return.
In addition to this text, I would note other popular “rapture passages,” such as Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-36, where Jesus talks of two people working in a field.
“One will be taken and the other left” is the language used, with Matthew stating this will occur at “the coming of the Son of Man.”
These statements have often been interpreted to mean that those taken were Christians and those remaining were non-Christians who missed the rapture. Yet, Jesus also references the Noah flood in these verses.
An interpretation that takes into account the flood narrative would mean that it was the wicked who were “taken away” and the righteous, like Noah and his family, are “left behind.”
Clearly, this image of being “taken” is applied to the wicked and lost, not the saved Christian. Steve Gregg’s article “Who’s Been Left Behind?” as seen in Christian Research Journal expands these points more fully.
Jewish eschatology of the Old Testament and intertestamental period did not look for the removal of the righteous from the earth.
The whole point of God creating earth and placing humanity as caregivers was so that we would remain in community with God on his created earth.
Sin damaged this relationship with both God and creation, but someday the ultimate eschatological hope is that all will be in perfect harmony together again.
Why would God place people on earth to be caregivers only to ultimately remove them from this reality?
Creation and restoration are the main themes of Jewish and Christian hope. For example:
− Psalm 115:16 says that God has given the earth to the children of humanity.
− Psalm 2:8 declares that the nations are the Messiah’s inheritance and the earth is his possession.
− The Messiah will one day fully rule over the earth but only after the wicked are removed in Proverbs 2:21-22 and Psalm 37:9-11.
− Paul states God promises that Abraham’s seed would inherit the world, not heaven in Romans 4:13.
− Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:5).
The idea that God will take away the righteous to a different reality and leave the wicked to wallow sinfully in his good creation is a foreign concept in the Jewish mind.
Jesus’ eschatology is the same as that of the Old Testament; the New Testament authors do not contradict the traditional Jewish worldview.
Revelation 5:10 states that Christ’s disciples will “reign on the earth.” 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8—as well as Revelation 21:4 and 22:3—state there will be a time of judgment.
But they reveal that it is the wicked who will be removed, not the righteous. The righteous will be left to enjoy what God created as he intended from the time of the Garden of Eden.
All of this matters because if we do not have an appropriate view of God’s greater narrative for his creation and eschatological conclusion, it is easy to get off track and create our own narratives as those who support a dispensational eschatology do.
This can result in negative attitudes toward creation, in which the Genesis 1:28 commission for humans to have dominion is interpreted to mean unbridled usage and exploitation rather than cultivation and protection.
But God calls us to be good stewards of his creation, not uninhibited consumers of it.
As many have asserted, the earth has intrinsic value and it is not to be easily escaped or destroyed.
Therefore, a redeemed and restored heaven and earth as seen in Revelation 21-22 is the vision God has for creation.
Greg Mamula is an ordained American Baptist minister and serves as the associate executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He blogs at Shaped By The Story, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @GregMamula.
Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister and Region Missionary to American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He is a husband, father of two, author and baseball fan. His latest book, “Table Life: Five Spiritual Habits of Discipleship” (Judson Press) is scheduled to be released fall 2020.