The Left Behind series

From 1995-2007 Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins published sixteen novels collectively titled Left Behind. They sold over forty million copies. They depict a time between the Rapture (a sudden taking up into heaven of dedicated Jesus followers) and the final battle on earth between the forces of God and the anti-Christ. The authors believe that these events are predicted in the Book of Revelation (often called the Apocalypse). Is this what the Bible says?

The Book of Revelation

Most scholars agree that Revelation was written by a Christian called John during exile on the island of Patmos between 90-100 A. D. We know of about twenty works written in a similar style from 200 BC – 200AD. None of these were accepted by the Church in the Christian Bible; being full of mysterious symbols and hidden meanings they were notoriously open to multiple understandings.

Chapters 1-3 of Revelation are open letters to seven church communities in Asia Minor enduring heavy persecution during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96). The letters exhort them to repent and remain faithful till Christ’s final victory.

The author uses a huge number of references to the Hebrew Bible (278 in just 404 verses) to explain the suffering of the churches. The risen Jesus (not Satan) is the dominant character; John uses 33 titles such as lamb, Alpha and Omega (‘first and last’) in predicting his ultimate victory. As he says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (21.5) The famous beasts in the work (encoded as 666) are without doubt the Emperor and his cult which was enforced with utter brutality throughout the empire.

The scenario offered in the Left Behind novels has its origin in an interpretation of history put forward by John Darby (1800-82) one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren. This is built upon by the idea of the rapture derived from a mistranslation of a phrase of one of the letters of Paul (1 Thess4.16-17).

What the seer John is depicting is the triumph of Jesus over the Roman Empire, not an imaginative totally subjective understanding of our contemporary world.

Father Neil Vaney

Next steps

This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 3, ‘Jesus Christ’ referencing page 7. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 3’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.