Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield, but to my own strength. Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved, but hope for the patience to win my freedom. Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure. – Rabindranath Tagore
I notice that the posters are back. The Keys of Revelation are once more available for public purchase. It’s a shame that the real depth of this book is lost in a lot of rapture nonsense promoted in the Left Behind series and in Bible Prophesy Seminars that promise to bring the most “exciting and indisputable prophecies of the Scripture” to an unsuspecting public.
The book of Matthew in the Christian Bible was written around the year 90AD less than a generation after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire. The hearers of this book knew firsthand the devastation and destruction of a terrible war. Many people had been taken away as captives to be enslaved or killed. For those that survived it must have felt very much like the last days. In Matthew 24 we read that two men will be plowing in a field and one will be taken and one will be left behind. Two women will be grinding at the mill and one will be taken and one will be left behind. The focus of this passage is not on the prediction of events that will transpire thousands of years in the future. It is that we are always to live in a state of readiness. We don’t know when Jesus might return so whatever trauma may come, we are told to be ready to love our neighbor, to care for the earth, and to live faithfully.
Matthew is ambiguous about whether it’s better to be the one taken away or the one left standing in place. Given the time in which he wrote you can easily read this passage to mean that it is far better to be left behind than to be carried away by the secret police or swept away by judgment. But this is the text used by the authors of the Left Behind as a clothesline upon which they hang all of their other prophecy.
The premise of Left Behind is the Rapture. The Rapture is supposed to be a time when all of the true believers of Jesus are transported up to heaven so that they are safe and sound and light years away when all manner of violence and terror consumes the earth for the next seven years. People who believe in the Rapture believe it’s foretold in the book of Revelation. But the truth is there is no Rapture described in the book of Revelation. In fact, the very idea of a Rapture is less than 200 years old.
The Origin of the Idea of the Rapture
The idea stared in 1830 at a healing service. A 15-year-old girl had a vision of Jesus coming back not just once, but twice. Pastor John Nelson Darby took this idea and worked in into a whole theology. Hal Lindsey liked Pastor Darby’s ideas and described it all in his book The Late Great Planet Earth. Most recently, authors LeHaye and Jenkins have exploited this theological anomaly in the Left Behind series.
Their books do not paint a pretty picture of the future. After the rapture all hell literally breaks loose. Chaos and destruction reign. It is a terrifying time to be alive. Eventually the earth itself is destroyed. But there is hope. If you are one of the few who are ready, you get to be spared all of that pain and misery. You get to escape the realities of disease and war and corruption and violence. You get the coveted get out of jail free card and get to sit in bliss and harmony while the sad sorry people who didn’t listen to you suffer for their sins. Not only that, you also get front row tickets to see the carnage below.
It is a story with very carefully defined characters that feeds our addiction to violence. There are good guys and there are bad guys. There is black and there is white. There is right and there is wrong. There are concrete answers to all of our questions and there is a way to ensure our own safety and protection. It’s a plot that seems custom made for America in the 21st century.
A Culture of Fear
The only problem is it’s a complete misappropriation of the message and imagery of the Book of Revelation in which Christ is the Lamb who shepherds and shelters and leads us to pasture while God wipes away our tears.
In a culture immersed in fear, in a society where people long for personal security in the midst of widespread suffering, in a world that promotes war over peace and violence over reconciliation, two authors have found incredible success. In one of the books, there are people who finally believe – but too late to do them any good. While they are being cast into hell they are wailing in vane “Jesus is Lord” to the deep satisfaction of many who were saved. Author Jenkins says, “One of the toughest things I deal with is that there are some evangelicals, with familiar faces, who seem to LIKE that part of it. You know, ‘We’re right, you’re wrong, that’s what the Bible says, someday you’re going to kneel and admit it.’ That, Jenkins reflects, should break our hearts.”
Indeed. How troubling that people who claim the name of Christian would embrace such a picture of suffering and that they would deliberately prey upon fear as a means of conversion. But also how sad that this theology can be packaged by loud voices with lots of money and assumed to be true. So many people fail to understand that these terrible ideas can be written in books and still be utterly untrue.
I think it’s fine to consider the theological content of the latest Hollywood Blockbuster or the loudest voice in the public arena, as long as we also take on the responsibility of bringing critical analysis to the message we’re being fed. Imagination combined with reconstructed and omitted Biblical passages can produce some great fiction and captivating entertainment – but that doesn’t make it true.
So what is the meaning behind the book? More next week…