Left Behind

The Bible Time project is often compared to the Left Behind Series. Are they similar? No. Bible Time actually calls out real-world headlines. It has been doing so for more than a quarter century. This article explores why Left Behind is what has happened to people who follow that series.

Is Bible Time anything like Left Behind?

The Left Behind series is a fictionalization of what was historically known as Darbyism. This general strategy of end-times interpretation takes the order of the stories as written in the pages of the Bible and considers them to be the order of the story as it will fulfill in modern headlines.

This is called a discursive order of fulfillment.

To see the problem with discursive order consider the following problem. Say you were going to write about someone’s senior year in High School. You are going to cover every Football game, Basketball game, the school play, both tryouts and performances, as well as keeping your audience focused on school work. Oh, and don’t forget that you must also mention the Prom and graduation ceremonies.

Most writers charged with this challenge would never consider writing about all of these events in the same order that they will happen during the senior year. Of course the Prom and Graduation would still probably happen at the end of the story, most of the other items would be covered in some other way. The seven Basketball games and the seven Football games would probably be covered as a group, not as they will happen.

Prophetic literature is not written in order because it has as much material to cover as this High School illustration and keeping the reader’s interest does not happen with an in-order account. For a concrete example, consider Revelation’s 6th trumpet. This trumpet is said to be the trumpet that unleashes the first 4 trumpets. This is not in the order written, so it is not discursive, but in a different order.

So what order?

The old testament is written as a pattern, or example, for us. Paul is quite clear that it is to be used as a pattern. It’s chronological components are a pattern too, a pattern for the end of the age. Like someone writing about a senior year in High School, the Bible contains the specific chronology of this "last day" just like a yearbook might contain the calendar of the year’s events.

Having the chronology frees the writer trying to elaborate on the period from having to be precise about the chronology. This is how the prophetic passages of the Bible are organized, this is how the story actually works.

Will we get headlines like Left Behind?

Say you come to me and suggest some headline as a fulfillment of Bible Prophecy. How am I, or anyone one else, to know if you are right?

The last time we saw this in a large way was during World War II. It was Hitler who looked like the anti-Christ and the events happening around the world looked a lot like it was the end of the world. Of course these suggestions were wrong. Hitler died, the war ended. Anyone who answered a suggestion that Hitler was the anti-Christ with, "no" got it right. Why would any other answer this time around be any different?

The problem is the general strategy that we, the church of Jesus, should follow to decide if we are seeing prophetic headlines. Who speaks with any authority to suggest that any specific headline matches the Bible’s story? No one does. It is not possible to claim any headline using this strategy.

But, you say, the Left Behind book contains details we can see. Indeed it does. When Turner gave 1,000,000,000,000 dollars in stock to the United Nations in order to promote abortion around the world he did something mentioned in Left Behind. The United Nations now has a stake in AOL Time Warner and so they do not speak as as an independent press. But, does this fulfill any specific prophecy? Who says? Did Left Behind have that detail written in because the authors saw Turner’s actions in the headlines or because this fulfills some specific prophecy?

Accept for a moment that this may indeed pattern after some Bible story, and I don’t know that it does, who’s to say that 50 years from now that a future CNN gets given 100% to a replacement for the UN? We cannot know that this is the best fulfillment because we cannot know what other headlines may trump this story in the future. No one ever will and so no one will ever know with certainty that this is what fulfills a specific prophetic prediction.

Yes, but the local prophets say...

There are various circles within the Christian Church who rely on modern prophets to "guide" this process. Many who claim this specific anointing are saying that current headlines are fulfilling these events.

I was recently passed a link to a website that included an index to various prophetic stories in this general theme. One, written about 1996, included a list of valid prophetic passages that said Jesus would return before the year 2000. Did not happen. He was wrong. But lest you write it off so quickly, many included verifiable miraculous events that only the Holy Spirit could have been behind. Were they false? False angles of light? Leading people to salvation in Jesus? Did an angle of Satan lead someone to Salvation in order to deceive others? I don’t think so.

These are all very hard questions, questions that most of the Church stays well clear of because there is a long trail of problems in this area, problems that suggest we always answer "no, headlines are not following prophecy" because this is the only possible safe answer.

Left Behind suggests that we will be able to watch headlines and see it unfold, but Left Behind cannot overcome the problem of proving that any specific headline actually does fulfill anything. Maybe it is just World War II again, and we have another century...

The Israel Key

Some people try and narrow the field by including headlines in Israel as the focus for our attention. There is some validity to that. The salvation of Jews precedes the resurrection of the dead, a clear end-times event, so actions there are important. But, there are valid objections here too.

To illustrate lets consider two problems. First, the prophetic literature suggests a military attack on a "peaceful and unsuspecting" end-times Israel. This is usually described as an Arab attack on the Jews of modern Israel.

Problem: Anyone who’s ever spent 20 minutes in any public shopping mall in Israel notices the young customers carrying machine guns. Why? Because unlike the United States where this is never seen, all Israeli young people serve in the military and are armed all the time even if off duty at the mall. Israelis know that they are always a target of Arabs. It would take a generation or two more before they could possibly be "peaceful and unsuspecting." Considering Iran and Iraq as being religiously opposed to modern Israel and you can see that Israel will be suspecting forever. Missile proliferation will only make this worse, not better.

No military invasion of modern Israel can fulfill this prediction in our lifetimes. If invasion happened tomorrow, no one in their right minds could say that Israel is "unsuspecting."

The other problem problem is with identifying who, exactly, the Bible is talking about when it mentions Israel. All Christians are adopted members of Abraham’s family. The New Testament is riddled with references to this idea. Christians are spread around the world, so where is Israel?

So, how does it work?

  • The Bible contains its own internal, day-accurate chronology. That chronology is the order of events surrounding this period in history. It is not discursive as used in the Left Behind series.

  • Figuring out when various prophetic events fulfill is an interpretive question. We use scripture to interpret scripture. We use scripture to find the fulfilling dates. If our interpretation is correct, then we find fulfilling headlines at the same date. The headline fulfillments are secondary to the interpretive process.

  • We do not start with the headlines. This is subjective and always will be. The Bible calls this a private interpretation.

Left Behind makes great fiction. Get a copy, give to your friends, lead them to Jesus as the Holy Spirit leads you. Just don’t explain that it is an accurate portrayal of the last-day.