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Left Behind and the dark side of rapture theology

Shiao Chong

A new Left Behind movie starring Nicolas Cage opens this Friday. A reboot of the earlier films based on the best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, this version promises to be “bigger and better.” How can we explain the enduring appeal of this franchise, and rapture theology in general?

I don’t believe the popularity of rapture theology can be simply attributed to the claim that it is Scriptural truth. I strongly disagree with rapture theology, for reasons I’ve explained in detail here. I also don’t believe rapture theology is popular because it is simple or easy. In fact, the most common form is relatively complex, involving debates over pre-tribulation, post-tribulation and mid-tribulation raptures. Rapture theology also relies heavily on dispensationalism, with its complicated readings of Scripture.

Instead, I often wonder if rapture theology’s popularity is partly due to how it appeals to our desire for vengeance and vindication. Especially in its pre-tribulation form, the rapture is an ultimate “I told you so” moment. What greater way to feel justified and vindicated for your faithfulness than to be taken up to heaven by God, leaving behind the poor fools who have mocked you, denied your beliefs and maybe even persecuted you to face certain doom and destruction?

I often wonder if rapture theology’s popularity is partly due to how it appeals to our desire for vengeance and vindication.

The rapture brings the horrors of hellfire much closer to the present – as the rapture can be imminent – and plays out the damnation of the lost here in this life and on this earth. I think this increases the lust for vengeance.

The kind of gore and destruction imagined upon unbelievers in the Left Behind novels leaves me wondering if some Christians do not secretly delight in the unbelievers’ suffering. Take, for instance, this description of Jesus and raptured saints slaughtering an army in LaHaye and Jenkins’ Glorious Appearing:

Rayford watched through the binocs as men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skins.

Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.

When we couple this with the persecution complex that so many Christians have, I find it hard to think that a lust for vengeance is absent.

It is hard to reconcile these rapture theology sentiments with the Biblical Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Hence, instead of elevating our morality, is rapture theology pandering to and nourishing our sinful, vengeful desires? Could this, in the end, be why it is so popular?

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