Review of Left Behind
is troubling that Hollywood often produces films that are blatantly
anti-Christian. Even more troubling is when Christians with good
intentions produce a film that tries to tell the truth, but is dangerously
off in its theology. LEFT BEHIND is the latest film that tackles
eschatology (the study of end times), and claims to be biblical.
Yet the film misinterprets and misapplies significant portions of
prophetic Scripture. Can this kind of misleading teaching in a film
potentially do more harm than a blatantly anti-Christian message?
on video in October 2000, LEFT BEHIND hit theater screens February
2, 2001. Based on the best selling book by Tim LaHaye and Jerry
Jenkins, LEFT BEHIND was produced by Peter and Paul LaLonde, the
same duo that produced the APOCOLYPSE, REVELATION, and TRIBULATION
trilogy with Jack Van Impe and John Hagee Ministries. For LEFT BEHIND,
the LaLonde brothers re-teamed with Cloud Ten Pictures, who released
TRIBULATION. But even with a budget of $14.7 million, the most money
ever put into a Christian film, LEFT BEHIND falls short of being
a first-class movie. Although the writing is an excellent adaptation
of the novel, and is close to the best we've seen for a Christian
film, there remain some weak moments that minimize the illusion
we point out some of the eschatological inaccuracies in LEFT BEHIND,
let us say that we applaud the effort. It is no secret that the
producers of this film are very excited about it and are, for the
most part, we believe, genuine in their desire to proclaim the truth.
They love the Lord, and are well meaning. Their films have improved
both technically and artistically with each new venture. LEFT BEHIND
is the first film that just begins to approach the look and feel
of a Hollywood film, and it does offer some good scenes and dialogue.
The acting is fairly good across the board, especially from Brad
Johnson, playing Rayford Steele. But as the strongest character
in the film, even he comes off as a Bible-thumping turnoff after
he's saved, and delivers the usual "there's something bigger
than all of this" kind of talk. Worst of all, of course, is
the film's misleading eschatology. We can therefore applaud the
effort while not applauding the result.
TIMING OF THE RAPTURE
BEHIND is clearly a story told from the pretribulational perspective.
In the film, the Rapture occurs before the signing of Antichrist's
seven year covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:26), before the
great tribulation (Matthew 24:21-22), and before the sign
in the sun, moon, and stars (Matthew 24:29 and Joel 2:30). But a
straight forward, face value reading of Matthew 24 reveals that
the Rapture will not occur until after all of these things,
and that the Rapture will be a cutting short of the
persecution of the saints and the Jews. The timing of the Rapture
as depicted in LEFT BEHIND is the key flaw to its entire eschatological
message. Placing the Rapture before the seven-year period
(the Seventieth Week of Daniel), sets up a foundation that knocks
everything else on the timeline out of place and out of order.
of time, there is no designation in the film as to how much time
must elapse between the Rapture and the beginning of the
seven-year period. This amount of time is thus purely a guess on
the part of the filmmakers. If the Rapture does occur before the
seven year period, who is to say that the seven year period must
then begin immediately afterwards? Or the next day? A week later?
A year? How about ten or twenty? Who's the authority here? Certainly
not the Bible. Order of events is the key issue.
in the prewrath position, we do not claim to know when, in time,
the Rapture will take place. No one knows that day or hour, "not
even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
(Matthew 24:36) But we do know the sequence of events as
given to us in Daniel 9:24-27 and 12:1-13, by Christ in Matthew
24, by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 & 5:1-10, and 2 Thessalonians
2, and supported by the Revelation to John. Again, a face value
reading of these passages shows that the Rapture occurs after
the beginning of the seven-year period, after Antichrist
sits himself on the throne, after the persecution begins,
and after the sign in the sun, moon, and stars.
LEFT BEHIND, a videotape is shown to the characters that was made
three years before the story takes place. In it, a pastor explains
the disappearances, saying that "those who placed their faith
in Christ have been taken to heaven." He then goes on to quote
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which states: "For the Lord Himself
will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice
of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the
dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and
remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet
the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord"
(emphasis added). Notice the very apparent events that are mentioned:
"the Lord will descend
with a shout", with the "voice
of the archangel", and the "trumpet of God", and
the "dead in Christ shall rise." This passage indicates
that the coming of our Lord will be a vividly audible and visual
experience, not a silent occurrence as depicted in LEFT BEHIND.
The film contradicts what it has shown us by quoting this passage.
learn in Matthew 24:29-31 that the gathering together described
in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 will occur immediately after a cataclysmic
sign in the sun, moon, and stars. "Immediately after
the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the
moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers of the heavens will be shaken" (emphasis added).
Where were these signs in the film? Not just those signs, but Jesus
tells us that we will see Him at His coming! Matthew 24:30,
which immediately follows the verse just quoted, says "
the Sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all
the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son
of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory"
(emphasis added). None of this is depicted in LEFT BEHIND. The film
reduces the Rapture to a silent, secret, confusing event, when in
fact the Scriptures clearly teach that the whole world will recognize
Christ at that time. Finally, in verse 31, the very next verse,
we learn that now is the time we will be gathered together:
"And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet
and they will gather together His elect from the four winds,
from one end of the sky to the other" (emphasis added). It
is difficult to argue the simple, plain, clear, audible, visual
nature of all these events, described in chronological order by
than concentrating on ordering of events, the film capitalizes on
the popular speculations of what will happen to the people "left
behind" at the Rapture. All of the classic events happen: cars
with missing drivers causing accidents, babies and young children
missing, airplanes going down, etc. The film then takes its audience
through the characters' struggles to explain these strange disappearances.
Solutions range from selective disappearance, to blood type, brainwaves,
DNA, aliens, alternate dimensions, Nostradomus prophecies, accumulated
radiation, and more. According to Scripture, none of this guessing
will happen. We will all know it is Christ. We just saw that in
the passage quoted above: "all the tribes of the earth
will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the
clouds of the sky with power and great glory" (verse
30, emphasis added). There are so many back-to-back signs given
in Scripture announcing the coming of Christ that it is difficult
to understand how anyone reading the Word of God plainly could miss
MISREPRESENTATION OF EZEKIEL 38
key event that is misrepresented is the surrounding of the nation
of Israel by a mighty army. In the first scenes of the film, Israel
is attacked by a huge wave of unidentified enemy fighters and tanks.
It seems a hopeless battle, as bombs drop mercilessly from the sky
upon the land. Then suddenly, without Israel firing even one missile,
the planes explode in midair until all of them self-destruct. Israel
is saved from certain doom by some unknown force. Later, Ezekiel
38 is given as the reason for Israel's protection in that case.
is true that Ezekiel 38 depicts the Lord's coming to the rescue
of Israel from a mighty army. But in the context of Ezekiel 38,
we can see that this is not just some random attack from an unknown
enemy that is suddenly destroyed in midair. It is talking about
the time when Gog (Ezekiel's name for Antichrist) surrounds the
nation of Israel, bringing all his allies with him to "capture
spoil and to seize plunder" (v 12). This occurs right after
the midpoint, when Israel is "living securely" (v 8),
and is the beginning of the great tribulation.
identity of these attackers is very specifically mentioned in verses
4-6: the Lord will "turn you about, and put hooks into your
jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen,
all of them splendidly attired, a great company with buckler and
shield, all of them wielding swords; Persia, Ethiopia, and Put with
them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer with all its troops;
Beth-togarmah from the remote parts of the north with all its troops
many peoples with you." Verses 8-16 depict Antichrist's
plan to invade and plunder the land at the midpoint; the beginning
of the great tribulation. But Antichrist's final fate is made clear
in the verses that follow, which point to the destruction of Antichrist
and his armies: " 'And it will come about on that day, when
Gog comes against the land of Israel,' declares the Lord God,
'that My fury will mount up in My anger. And in My zeal and in My
blazing wrath I declare that on that day there will surely be a
great earthquake in the land of Israel
And with pestilence
and with blood I shall enter into judgment with him; and I shall
rain on him (Antichrist), and on his troops, and on the many peoples
who are with him, a torrential rain, with hailstones, fire, and
brimstone. And I shall magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make
Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that
I am the Lord.'" (vs 18-19; 22-23, emphasis added). Again,
it is clear that it will be well understood that the Lord is the
rescuer here. None of the specific supernatural destruction
described in Ezekiel 38 is hinted at in the context of the scene
depicted in the film. According to Scripture, this description of
the deliverance of Israel occurs at the very end of the seven-year
period, not before it all begins.
during this scene, the film depicts the sky turning dark just before
the attacking mystery planes are destroyed. We wonder where that
sign in the sky came from? Surely it is not meant to be a variation
on the sign in the sun, moon, and stars of Matthew 24:29? And if
it's not, what sign is it supposed to represent? It seems to be
a random use of a sign that is not even mentioned in Scripture.
One is almost given the impression that the signs and events can
be mixed up and occur at random times; that you can put them wherever
you want them.
since the pretrib position espouses an imminent return of Christ,
and that no other prophecy need be fulfilled prior to His coming,
how can the writers of the film attribute the supposed fulfillment
of Ezekiel 38 to the attack at the beginning of the film? In the
film, this attack happens before the rapture, before the signing
of the covenant, before everything. Thus, they are inadvertently
teaching that Ezekiel 38 must be fulfilled before the rapture. Whoops!
ONE (?) WITNESS
the end of the opening scenes just discussed, a strange, prophet-like
"man" appears to Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron), and says
"War will continue until the end. Desolations have been decreed.
He will confirm a covenant with many for seven years." Then
he walks away, leaving Buck standing there bewildered.
seems this "man" is supposed to represent one of the two
witnesses of Revelation 11: "And I will grant authority to
my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and
sixty days, clothed in sackcloth" (v 3). Twelve hundred and
sixty days is equal to forty-two months, or three and a half years,
or half of the seven-year period (the Seventieth Week of Daniel).
The question then is, do the two witnesses appear in the first half
or the second half of the Week? The film depicts the arrival of
at least one of the witnesses before the Seventieth Week even begins.
Bible is very precise about numbers and timetables. It is difficult
to gauge from the film just exactly where the Seventieth Week begins.
Is it when the witness shows up in the first scenes? Is it when
the Rapture occurs? Is it when plans for the temple are presented
to an Israeli scientist?
any case, the Bible is clear as to the timing of the arrival of
the two witnesses. We have already seen in Revelation 11:3 that
they will prophecy for 1,260 days, or half of the seven-year period.
We also know from Revelation 11:7-12 that they will be killed by
Antichrist at the end of their ministry, and then raised back to
life after three days. Immediately after these events are described,
we are told the second woe is past, the third is coming soon, and
the seventh angel sounds his trumpet (vs. 14-15). By knowing that
they will die and be raised again just before the seventh trumpet
(which we know from the context preceding Revelation 11:15 occurs
at the end of the Seventieth Week), it is obvious without question
that their ministry is during the second half of the Seventieth
Week, if the book of Revelation is taken sequentially. Remember,
Christ's outline of end time events in Matthew 24 lines up perfectly
with the events described in Revelation chapters 6-8, so there is
no reason not to take Revelation 6-8 sequentially. According to
Revelation, then, the seventh trumpet occurs just after the Seventieth
Week is over, meaning the two witnesses were resurrected just before
that, meaning that that they must have been around immediately prior
to that, meaning that the time of their prophecy must have been
the second half of the Week.
are also told in Revelation 11 that the witnesses are here for two
purposes. One is to "prophecy" (v 3), the other is to
"smite the earth with every plague, as often as they desire"
(v 6). In their "prophecy", they will proclaim the approaching
condemnation, the Lord's wrath, against those who submit to Antichrist
as king. With their plagues, they will be part of the wrath of God
released upon the wicked. Since Antichrist's true identity will
not be revealed to the world until the midpoint (Daniel 9:27, 2
Thessalonians 2:3-4), there would be no reason for the witnesses
to be around in the first half of the Week.
again we see that the timing of the arrival of the witness(es) depicted
in the film is askew. The two witnesses will appear during the second
half of the Week, not the first half.
ALL THE END TIME EVENTS DEPICTED IN THE FILM WRONG?
filmmakers do get some biblical facts straight, to a point. They
correctly say that, according to Daniel 7, Antichrist will control
ten kingdoms, which will control the world. They correctly say,
according to 2 Thessalonians 2:4, that Antichrist will seat himself
in the rebuilt temple, claiming to be God. They correctly state
that Antichrist will, according to Daniel 9:27, confirm a covenant
with the many for seven years. And they correctly say that Jesus
Christ alone is the way to salvation, although even this is watered
down as maybe just meaning "God" is enough. When Ray confronts
Buck after they view the tape, he says "If you don't put your
faith in God you will be deceived". Later, when Buck finally
does pray, he merely asks God to forgive him and direct him, but
he never mentions Christ and His cleansing blood or and His redemptive
work on the cross. The gospel message and its true meaning is very
the accurate quotes, we have already seen that the timing and ordering
of the eschatological events strays from the biblical outline. The
film's writers determined the sequence of events. The order of events,
outlined by Christ in Matthew 24 and echoed in Revelation, are ignored.
It is these inaccuracies of the film's eschatology that makes it
so questionable. Hollywood films are obviously stories, most of
them fictional, and yes, they can degrade, deceive, and challenge
biblical thinking. But LEFT BEHIND, being touted as Truth, is in
the position to deceive many into thinking this is what the Word
of God says concerning end time events, that this is how it
will happen, and that all Christians believe it to be this way.
The film is a tragic error that will cost far more than its budget
in false teaching.
the eschatology of this film can best be summarized by a line from
within the film itself, spoken by Buck Williams, played by Kirk
Cameron: "The scriptures are so vague, they could mean anything."
wonders if the whole film was built around this perspective.