This is the preface to ‘Left Behind — Answered Verse by Verse,’ written by David A. Reed.
Shortly after putting faith in Jesus Christ, I began attending evangelical Christian churches — Baptist and Congregationalist — and that is where I first heard an exposition of the ‘left behind’ teaching.
Of course, the blockbuster novel by that title had not yet been written, because it was early in 1982 that I got down on my knees in the privacy of our kitchen, confessed myself a sinner, and told God in prayer that I accepted his son Jesus as my Savior and wanted to follow Christ as my Lord. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins didn’t publish Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days until 1995, but the end times beliefs expounded in that book were already commonly accepted in evangelical churches. Everyone I knew seemed to believe there would be a seven-year tribulation period climaxing the last days of this wicked world.
Little did I know then that this was a new teaching that had swept through the Church only decades before!
For years I never seriously took issue with this teaching, because it was held dearly, almost as an article of faith, by my fellow evangelicals. But it was always somewhat of a mystery to me, since I hadn’t encountered it in my personal Bible reading. Perhaps it was one of the deeper things that takes a lot of study to grasp, I told myself. Or, perhaps my own thinking had been colored by thirteen years as a Jehovah’s Witness, during which time I had been indoctrinated with The Watchtower magazine’s eschatological views. In any case, I blamed my inability to grasp the seven-year tribulation on my own failure to study in depth the teaching and the biblical arguments behind it.
As a Jehovah’s Witness I had been taught to believe that Jesus was the first angel God created, who was assigned to take on human flesh, to preach a message to mankind, to undergo a sacrificial death, and then to resume his role as the most prominent angel. We were taught that he returned invisibly in 1914, and that he would lead God’s armies in the battle of Armageddon in 1975 — a date that later had to be abandoned and explained away after the prediction proved false. (See my books Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse and Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses Subject by Subject.) Having experienced intimately and first-hand the failure of such a false prophecy, I tended to be skeptical of prophetic speculation, even after I left the JWs and found sound Christian fellowship. Rejoicing in my Savior, I was content to trust in God for the outworking of the Bible’s end times prophecies. It wasn’t necessary for me to understand, only to trust and obey, since it was God who would bring these world-shaking events to pass as foretold in his inspired Word.
In the course of writing several more books on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was forced to research more deeply into their roots in the Adventist movement. Prior to starting his own religion, Watch Tower founder Charles Taze Russell fellowshipped during the late 1860s and early 1870s with an Adventist sect that had Christ returning invisibly in 1874. Adventism, in turn, sprang from the die-hard followers of William Miller, a Baptist layman who had captured the imagination of believers in many churches with his predictions that Christ would return in March of 1843, later revised to March of 1844, and finally to the autumn of that year. A similar legacy of failed prophecy lay at the roots of Mormonism, I discovered when I teamed up with ex-Mormon John Farkas to research and write Mormons Answered Verse by Verse and other books on the history and errors of the Latter-day Saints.
Could the popular ‘left behind’ teachings be equally erroneous, I wondered? Certainly they were nothing like Mormonism with its polygamy and its plurality of gods; nor did they carry with them the heresy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who lower Christ from Creator to mere creature. Unlike these cultic movements hovering on the fringes of Christianity, the Left Behind books elevate the authority of Scripture and proclaim salvation through faith in Christ alone. Their greatest popularity is found within Bible-believing churches. Yet, the same could be said for the following of William Miller, himself a Baptist. His followers hailed from mainline Christian churches. But their trust in Miller’s interpretations of the Bible’s end times prophecies led to what historians have dubbed the “Great Disappointment.”
Eventually, my research led me farther back, beyond these nineteenth century American religious movements, to the roots of modern Protestant thinking in the Reformation and the isolated back-to-the-Bible movements that preceded it. Here were believers who treasured their relationship with Christ more than life itself. Untold numbers were tortured to death, holding fast to their Lord. Many were burned at the stake. The truths in Scripture were more than mere Sunday morning entertainment for these humble yet courageous students of the Word. What did they say about a rapture that would leave unbelievers behind with a second chance to accept Christ during a seven-year tribulation? They never heard of such a thing. The great Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin both wrote extensively on the topic of the Antichrist, but the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3) they described bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Nicolae Carpathia character of the Left Behind novels.
The Reformation saints who staked their very lives on the motto “Scripture Alone” saw in that precious Word of God neither a seven-year tribulation, nor a Carpathia-like world ruler presiding over it. What did they see? A very clear fulfillment of prophecy that fits the history of their times as well as today’s headlines. The verse-by-verse discussion in this book will seek to be informed by the understanding of the Reformers.
Ultimately there were four factors weighing heavily on my heart that forced me to research and develop this manuscript:
First, a large portion of the population today assumes that Left Behind accurately presents what the Bible itself says. It does not.
Second, many Christians have come to believe that Left Behind represents the traditional beliefs of Protestant churches. It does not.
Third, those who accept the teachings of Left Behind find themselves looking for future events that would fit the fictional pattern. They believe that God’s prophetic clock stopped, and won’t start again until the Rapture. As a result, they miss the fulfillment of Bible prophecy in recent history and in today’s headlines. This hinders their ability to follow Jesus’ command to “be always on the watch.” (Luke 21:36)
Finally, millions who read Left Behind are sitting on the fence of unbelief — both secular readers and half-hearted church attenders. Like the novel’s nominally Christian commercial pilot Rayford Steele and assistant pastor Bruce Barnes, they go through the motions at church, but they don’t truly trust in Christ or obey Him. Authors LaHaye and Jenkins show characters like this receiving a seven-year long “second chance” after Christ raptures believers. In the Gospels, however, Jesus warned over and over again that we should watch for his return to avoid severe punishment at that time. Do Jesus’ parables — the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats, the ten talents, the wise and foolish virgins — offer a second chance for those surprised by the Master’s return? If not, then Left Behind contradicts the clear teaching of Christ. Readers who are thus misled into postponing their decision for Christ could face an eternity without Him.
Our God is indeed the God of the second chance. Christ came to redeem sinners. Life usually affords each of us a second chance — in fact, many opportunities — to put our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and to obey him as our Lord. While still a teenager I rejected belief in God, and proclaimed myself an atheist for a number of years, but He had mercy on me and did not take that as my final decision. My grandmother was ninety-six years old when she finally read the Gospels and embraced Christ; I can only imagine how many chances she passed up before that. However, Scripture tells us that God’s forbearance does not go on forever. Does the Bible teach that unbelievers will be ‘left behind’ for a seven-year-long second chance when Christ comes to take his faithful followers to heaven? That is the question this book will examine verse by verse.
© Copyright 2008 by David A. Reed. Posted by permission of the author.