If you haven’t heard about the Left Behind series, you soon will!

The Evangelical Christian view of events in the last days has been dramatised in a series called Left Behind, which is also the title of the first book published in the mid-nineties. The books that follow have names like Tribulation Force, Apollyon, The Mark and Desecration.

These books have sold over 20 million copies worldwide (mostly in North America), but the wave has now hit Australia, where Christian bookstores are selling out of current inventory and requiring pre-ordering of the latest volumes. One store in Sydney sold over 1200 copies of the first book, and claimed, “This series has been our biggest seller ever!” In fact, only the Bible has outsold the Left Behind series in Christian circles in the past five years! These novels are aimed at adult readers and are currently running ten volumes. Since then they have also created a series for children, Left Behind: The Kids with eighteen volumes, and there are also two blockbuster type movies—produced Hollywood style! This futuristic fiction has also found its way into feature articles in TIME magazine, and made it to top position in the New York Times best-seller list (sometimes debuting in the number 1 position). By the way, authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins have officially registered the phrase ‘Left Behind’!

The sequence of events recorded, begins with the Rapture of the Church and continues right through the seven years of tribulation thought to be coming on the earth, supposedly prior to Armageddon and the Return of Christ. The central figure in all this is a future Antichrist who comes on the world scene after Russia is supernaturally defeated on the mountains of Israel! The titles of the successive volumes show that the books are based primarily on a literal, futuristic view of Revelation. The basic premise is that those ‘Left Behind’ (because they were not ‘raptured’) must now face an awful time of tribulation, but still have a chance to accept Christ and prepare for his coming! Readers become attached to the various characters involved as they battle against Antichrist and his cronies.

The novels are written as action packed stories, with everything from suspense, romance, murder and intrigue to high tech gizmos and nuclear war! The first novel was well written and hard to put down! Interleaved with scriptural quotes and narrative, it appears very believable and authoritative, but sadly misrepresents the Truth!

The literary quality perhaps fades a little as the series progresses, as later volumes appear to be written in haste and are not as clearly thought out. After ten books the story is still only at the midway point of the seven years of tribulation!

The most frightening thing about the Left Behind series is that it is a mixture of truth and error. These ideas are not new; they have just been repackaged in a form that makes them very attractive in our modern society. The writers pick up where Hal Lindsey in Late Great Planet Earth left off. It is based on a very literal and futuristic interpretation of the Book of Revelation and other prophecies. There are references to other parts of Scripture and correct interpretations are sometimes presented (for example, the writers refer to Ezekiel 38 to prove that when Israel is in the land dwelling securely, there will be a complete destruction of the Russian invaders). There are also lots of exhortational points made about the need for preparedness for Christ’s return and our need to “watch” the signs of the times.

There really isn’t a lot of doctrine (as we would call it) discussed in Left Behind. We are not told about any Statement of Faith or beliefs necessary for salvation, other than accepting Jesus as your personal saviour (a belief in the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is mentioned). However, a supernatural, fallen-angel Devil is obviously a key tenet, since without him there could be no “Antichrist” as described in the series. It is also clear that there is a belief in an immortal soul, with heaven and hell as places of reward. There is no clear mention of resurrection and judgment, although in their view, when Jesus does return to destroy the Antichrist, he gathers believers (living and dead) to give them immortal bodies and reign with them from “Heavenly Jerusalem”—over the earth. The major doctrinal error is that the Book of Revelation is seen as almost entirely literal and definitely futuristic. Perhaps the best way to see the dangerous mix of truth and error is to look at a chart of prophetic events (see below) and think how avid readers of Left Behind will view the real return of Christ.

It is clear from this chart that the Christian World today is setting themselves up to reject Jesus when he returns, because they will think HE is the Antichrist their writers have been warning them about. How ironic that the community that should be rejoicing to see Christ’s return will be found fighting against him thus declaring for all to see that they are the real Antichrist! Is this not a case of history repeating itself? The Jews, God’s chosen people, custodians of His Word, rejected Jesus when he came the first time. Now, Christianity, the ‘spiritual Jews’, God’s chosen people and custodians of the Word (as they see it), will reject Jesus when he comes again. To add to the irony, the Gentiles who accepted Jesus at his first advent will fight against him now, while the Jews who killed him when he first came, will accept their Messiah at his second advent!

The false concepts of Left Behind are presented so powerfully, graphically and with a perceived authority, that many people totally believe Left Behind accurately reflects Scripture. It has been assumed that this view of Antichrist is right, and non-Christian writers use the beliefs of the authors of the Left Behind series as the ‘typical’ Christian teaching on the matter; as they would with other doctrines such as a belief in an immortal soul, the Trinity, the Devil etc. More dangerous than outright error—is error mixed with truth!

So my advice is: don’t get Left Behind — the book! Be on guard especially if our young people, or new converts read this book—it is very persuasive and deviously appealing! Study the Scriptures, know the signs of the times, be prepared and watch carefully so that you don’t get left behind when Christ returns and gathers the elect!

“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left… Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”

(Luke 17:34–36; Matt. 24:42)