The Left Behind Series
Fact or fiction? Does this series of books represent an accurate interpretation of Revelation?
The phenomenal “Left Behind” series of books based on Bible prophecy are co-authored by prophecy expert, Tim LaHaye, and novelist, Jerry Jenkins.
The “Left Behind” books (8 volumes thus far) are the best-selling adult fiction series of all time, with 20.4 million copies sold (through volume 7). The audio and children’s versions have sold an additional 9 million copies. (All statistics are taken from “What’s Ahead for ‘Left Behind’?” by Berta Delgado, The Dallas Morning News, October 28, 2000, p.3G.)
The seventh book in the series, The Indwelling, was the first Christian fiction book to debut as number one on the bestseller list for The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon.com.
The website, located at www.leftbehind.com, gets as many as 60,000 hits a day!
Over 2.5 million copies of the eighth installment, The Mark, were sold before its scheduled release date.
And Dallas, Texas is the top market in the country for the series.1
It is very satisfying to me to see so many people interested in what the Bible has to say about the end times. I think the sales also reflect a widespread yearning for the Lord to return and get this sin-sick world straightened out.
Few writers in the secular media seem to have any clue as to why the books are so popular. Douglas Winter of The Washington Post dismissed the books as “artifacts of a time machine set to retrieve pulp science fiction — and our morality — from the 50’s.” The New York Times reviewer, Dinitia Smith, characterized the series as “a Rambo-style potboiler.” But Ms. Smith concluded her review by offering several insightful explanations for the books’ success. One was “the readers’ identification with the recurring characters.” Another was “the popularity of the action-adventure genre in general.” The third probably hit the nail on the head: “the belief of large numbers of Americans in the Rapture and the eventual return of Christ.” (Dinitia Smith, The New York Times, “Evangelical novel sees unparalleled success,” www.spokane.net, June 10, 2000, p.2.)
I happen to know that Tim LaHaye is a man with an overwhelming passion to reach the masses with the message of the Lord’s soon return. I share that passion, and I am therefore delighted to witness the incredible success of his books.
LaHaye reported to Christianity Today that he came up with the idea for an end-times novel more than a decade ago. “We are using fiction to teach biblical truth,” he stated. His writing partner, Jerry Jenkins, who has written more than 130 books, is the one who brought the project to life. (Steve Rabey, “Apocalyptic Sales Out of This World,” Christianity Today, March 1, 1999, p.19.)
“What do you think of the ‘Left Behind’ series?” That has been the number one question at all the prophecy conferences I have conducted over the past three years. Each time I have answered, “I’m sorry, but I have not read any of the books in the series. However, I am very familiar with the prophetic writings of Dr. Tim LaHaye, and I consider his views to be biblically based. I would, therefore recommend the series.” That answer did not seem to satisfy anyone, so I finally decided to set aside some time to read the series. It has proved to be an interesting experience.
A Publishing Phenomenon
The remarkable series has set all kinds of publishing records for Christian books. To date, 20 million copies of the books have been printed. Amazingly, the fifth and sixth books in the series, Apollyon and Assassins, both made the top ten on The New York Times bestseller list. And the seventh book, The Indwelling, made its debut as number one on the bestseller list. What is so amazing about this accomplishment is that the New York Times list does not count books sold in Christian book stores! It tallies only the sales of secular stores.
A Perfect Match
The series is authored by two people — Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. They have truly proved to be a dynamic duo. Tim LaHaye supplies the prophetic concepts from the Bible, and Jerry Jenkins fashions them into a story line. It is a perfect match between an insightful prophecy teacher and a skilled novelist.
I have been acquainted with Tim LaHaye personally for several years and have come to know him as a dedicated man of God. But long before I met him, I was a great admirer of his prophetic writings. Through books like Revelation Illustrated and Made Plain (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1975), I had come to respect him as a biblically solid expositor of Bible prophecy.
I have never met Jerry Jenkins, but I became familiar with him when he served for several years as editor of Moody Monthly magazine. After having read eight volumes of the “Left Behind” series, I can say that he is an imaginative writer who knows how to tell a story and keep it interesting.
The Writing Style
However, I feel compelled to point out to those of you who are students of literature, that Jenkins is not a profound novelist. This point was impressed on me when I finished the seventh book in the series, The Indwelling, and realized that I was not emotionally involved with either the story or any of the characters in the story. By contrast, when I finished reading the one volume novel, Les Miserables, I was so powerfully impacted by the story and the characters that I wept off and on for two days afterward.
I found the story line of the “Left Behind” series becoming more and more implausible as the plot developed beyond the first book. The story line also began to take on the character of a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” action-adventure tale. This superficiality is probably the reason I have remained emotionally aloof to the story and its characters.
I have also found the writing style to be frustrating and therefore irritating in nature. That’s because it is based upon what I would call “chasing rabbits.” The author will develop a story about a character up to the point of climax, and then will suddenly drop the story and start developing another story line involving another character. That story line will also be brought to its focal point and then dropped for an abrupt transition to a third story line. At times, there are as many as five rabbits being chased at one time, with all the conclusions hanging in the air. Based on sales, this is obviously an appealing technique of writing to many people, but not to me.
On the other hand, there is one thing I have found very appealing about the writing, and I think it is one of the main reasons that the Lord has anointed this series for widespread distribution and impact. What I have in mind is the extensive quotation of Scripture that can be found in every volume of the series. The scripture quotations are seldom annotated, so the readers who are unfamiliar with the Bible will probably have no idea that they are reading Scripture — lots of it. But whether they realize it or not is unimportant because Scripture is supernatural in its power. Seeds for salvation are being planted by these books, and as we who are believers know, “the Word of God does not go forth and come back void” (Isaiah 55:11).
Scripture is incorporated in novel ways. For example, all the speeches given by the two witnesses in Jerusalem are composed of scripture passages patched together end to end. Scripture is the essence of all the Bible teachings that are transmitted world wide over the Internet by Tsion Ben-Judah, a Messianic Jew who becomes the spokesman for besieged believers during the Tribulation. And there is a lot of personal, one-on-one witnessing in the books between believers and unbelievers, much of which is steeped in scripture quotations.
The books also contain many powerful messages for marginal believers whom I usually refer to as “cultural Christians.” These are people who practice Christianity as part of their culture, but who have no personal relationship with Jesus and have never been born again. The books make it clear that these people, many of whom are good and well-meaning, will be left behind when the Rapture occurs. There are long dialogues between the characters as to what constitutes a true Christian, and I am confident that this material will open the eyes of many cultural Christians to the grim reality that they are not saved.
I am not a literary critic, and the fundamental purpose of this article is not to present a literary critique. Rather, my main purpose is to present an analysis of the prophetic concepts contained in this remarkable series. Are they biblically valid, and if so, what scriptures are they based on?1
The Return of the Lord in Stages
One of the fundamental prophetic concepts that the “Left Behind” series is based upon is the idea that the return of Jesus will occur in two stages: first, His appearing to take the Church out of the world (the Rapture), and then His return with His Church to reign over all the earth for a thousand years (the Second Coming). This concept of the Lord returning in stages is very biblical and can be proved rather easily.
The New Testament contains only two detailed descriptions of the Lord’s return. One is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; the other, in Revelation 19:11-16. When the two are compared, it becomes very evident that the only thing they have in common is that they both focus on Jesus. Otherwise, they are as different as night and day. Consider the differences:
|1 Thessalonians 4||Revelation 19|
|Jesus appears in the heavens.||Jesus returns to earth.|
|He appears for His Church.||He returns with His Church.|
|He appears as a Bridegroom.||He returns as a Warrior.|
|He appears to claim the righteous.||He returns to condemn the unrighteous.|
|He appears as a Deliverer.||He returns as King of kings.|
These two passages are obviously talking about two different events. The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 describes what has come to be known as the Rapture — the snatching of the Church out of the world. Revelation 19 describes an event that will take place later — the return of the Lord to the earth.
This method of reconciling these two passages solves a serious problem that emerges when you think of only one future coming of the Lord. That problem relates to the emphasis that the Scriptures give to imminence. What I am referring to is the constant warning of the Scriptures that the Lord may appear any moment and, therefore, we are always to be ready for His return. (See Matthew 24:36, 42, 44 and 25:13.)
If there is only one future coming of the Lord, then these warnings are a waste of time, and there is no imminence because there are many prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled before the Lord can return. I have in mind such things as a peace treaty that will bring true peace to Israel and enable the Jews to rebuild their Temple (Daniel 9:27). There must also be a seven year period of Tribulation during which the Antichrist will terrorize the world (Revelation 6-18).
These are just a few of the events that are clearly prophesied in Scripture as occurring before Jesus returns to earth. If there is only one future coming of the Lord, and it must take place after these events, then the Lord’s return is not imminent. We should not be living looking for Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures instruct us to do (Titus 2:13). Rather, we should be looking for the Antichrist.
The only way there can be imminence is for there to be two future comings of the Lord, one of which — the Rapture — can occur any moment. And the Rapture truly is imminent because there is not one prophecy that must be fulfilled for it to occur. It is an event that could happen any moment.
The Starting Point of the Tribulation
I was surprised to discover that the “Left Behind” series departs from the traditional teaching that the Tribulation begins with the signing of a peace treaty that will guarantee the peace of Israel. The book of Daniel clearly indicates that the final week of years in Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks of years begins when the Israeli peace treaty is signed. (Daniel 9:27).
The “Left Behind” series has the Rapture “ushering in” the Tribulation (Left Behind, p. 213). The Two Witnesses who are to preach for 1,260 days in Jerusalem appear at the Wailing Wall immediately after the Rapture (Left Behind, pp. 301-302). But the Antichrist’s peace treaty guaranteeing the safety of Israel is not produced by the United Nations until several weeks later (Left Behind, p. 414). So, in the “Left Behind” series, the time periods indicated in the book of Revelation are measured from the Rapture rather than from the signing of the Middle East peace treaty. This is a very unorthodox interpretation.
The Bible does not indicate anywhere that the Tribulation begins with the Rapture. I believe the Rapture could occur months or even years before the Tribulation begins, although it is likely to occur near the beginning because the Tribulation is the time of the pouring out of God’s wrath, and 1 Thessalonians 1:10 says that Jesus will “deliver” His Church “from the wrath to come.”
Tim LaHaye must have recognized this problem later, because in volume 3 (Nicolae, p. 327) He has one of the characters clarify the point by asserting that the Tribulation does not begin until the Israeli peace treaty is signed.
The Timing of the Rapture
We come now to one of the most controversial points in all of Bible prophecy — namely, the timing of the Rapture. Even those with a premillennial viewpoint, who tend to interpret prophecy literally, do not agree as to when the Rapture will occur. Most, like Tim LaHaye, place it at the beginning of the Tribulation. Others argue it will occur in the middle of the Tribulation. There is a new view that places it near the end of the Tribulation, right before the bowl judgments of Revelation 16. And there are a few who put it at the end of the Tribulation, combining the Rapture and the Second Coming into one event.
The reason for this diversity of opinion is that the Bible does not reveal the exact timing of the Rapture. Any argument for a particular timing must be based upon inference.
In agreement with Tim LaHaye, I believe the best inference of Scripture is that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation begins. The most important reason I believe this has to do with the issue of imminence that I mentioned earlier. Only the preTribulation concept of the Rapture allows for the imminence of the Lord’s appearing for His Church. As I pointed out earlier, when the Rapture is placed at any other time, the imminence of the Lord’s return is destroyed because other prophetic events must happen first.
For example, if the Rapture is going to occur in mid-Tribulation, then why should I live looking for the Lord’s appearing at any moment? I should be looking instead for an Israeli peace treaty, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the revelation of the Antichrist. Then and only then could the Lord appear.
Another argument in behalf of a preTribulation Rapture has to do with the promises of God to protect the Church from His wrath. The book of Revelation teaches that the Tribulation will be a time of the pouring out of God’s wrath, from beginning to end. The Word promises over and over that the Church will be delivered from God’s wrath. Consider 1 Thessalonians 1:10. That verse says believers are waiting “for His Son from heaven… who delivers us from the wrath to come.” In like manner, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says that “God has not destined us for wrath.”
Some argue that God could supernaturally protect the Church during the Tribulation. Yes, He could. In fact, He promised to do that for the 144,000 Jews who will be sealed as bond-servants at the beginning of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-8).
But God’s promise to the Church during the Tribulation is not one of protection, but one of deliverance. Jesus said that when the signs pointing to the Tribulation “begin to take place,” believers are to look up because their “redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). He also urged believers to pray that they might “escape all these things” (Luke 21:36).
There really is no purpose for the Church to be present during the Tribulation. It is a time of the pouring out of God’s wrath upon those who have rejected His grace, love and mercy. There are some who argue that the Church must be “purged” during the Tribulation to purify it. But to me, this idea is absurd. The blood of Jesus is sufficient to cleanse us of all our sins. That is an accomplished fact for those who have put their faith in Jesus (Ephesians 5:26-27). Furthermore, the concept of purging the Church during the Tribulation converts the whole period into a Protestant version of purgatory. It also violates the wedding imagery that the Bible uses to describe the relationship between Christ and His Church. Jesus is not going to beat up His Bride for seven years and then marry her!
The Rapture and Children
Will children be taken out in the Rapture? It is one of the most frequently asked questions. The “Left Behind” series answers this question with a resounding “Yes!” (Left Behind, pp, 37 and 211). I hope that answer is correct.
The Bible does not clearly answer the question. Nowhere does it state that children will be raptured.
Tim LaHaye presents his theological reasoning for his conviction in the words of a pastor who is raptured but who leaves behind a video tape for those who miss the Rapture (Left Behind, p. 211): “Up to a certain age, which is probably different for each individual, we believe God will not hold a child accountable for a decision that must be made with heart and mind, fully cognizant of the ramifications. You may also find that unborn children have disappeared from their mother’s wombs.”
I think a strong argument can be made that the minor children of believers will be taken in the Rapture. That argument would be based in part on the fact that God saved Noah and all his household when He destroyed the earth with water. Likewise, God saved Lot and his two daughters when He decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:4-9). Additionally, there is an interesting verse in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that may be applicable here: “The Christian wife bring holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not have a godly influence, but now they are set apart” (NLT). A principle stated in Proverbs 14:26 may also be applicable: “Those who fear the Lord are secure; He will be a place of refuge for their children” (NLT).
I certainly would agree that children who die before the age of accountability are saved. King David recognized this when his baby born of Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 12:23). And Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
But the Rapture is a promise to the Church, and minor children who have not accepted the Lord are not members of the Church.
The fact that the Rapture is a promise to the Church, and the Church alone, is often overlooked. Many people assume that all saved people who have ever lived will be resurrected at the time of the Rapture. That is not so. The Bible makes it clear that Old Testament saints will be resurrected at the end of the Tribulation (Daniel 12:1-2).
The resurrection of the righteous, which the Bible calls the “first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5), will occur in stages, and the stages will correspond with the three stages of a Jewish harvest: the first fruits, followed by the general harvest, and concluded with the gleanings.
Jesus was the “first fruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23). The general harvest will occur at the Rapture when the Church Age saints will be resurrected, and the living saints will be translated. The gleanings will occur at the end of the Tribulation at the Second Coming. Then, the Old Testament saints and the Tribulation martyrs will be resurrected (Daniel 12:2 and Revelation 20:4).
So, to summarize, the “Left Behind” series may be right in its assumption that all children will be raptured. Again, I hope it is, but the Bible is silent on the issue. If any children are raptured, they are more likely to be the children of believers.
Salvation after the Rapture
There is no doubt that there will be a great harvest of souls after the Rapture (Revelation 7:9-14). Some will be convicted by the Rapture itself. Others will be converted by the preaching of either the Two Witnesses in Jerusalem (Revelation 11) or the 144,000 Jewish disciples who will proclaim the Gospel (Revelation 7). Some will repent in response to the judgments of God (Isaiah 26:9). Others will respond to an angel of God who will preach the “eternal gospel” to all the world at the end of the Tribulation, right before the final pouring out of God’s wrath (Revelation 14:6).
The controversial issue is whether or not those who have heard the Gospel before the Rapture and have rejected it will be allowed to respond and be saved after the Rapture. The “Left Behind” series takes the position that such people will be able to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior after the Rapture (Left Behind, p.214).
Once again, I hope Tim LaHaye is right about this. But not all prophecy teachers would agree. The reason for the controversy is a passage in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 which seems to indicate that such people will continue to reject the Gospel after the Rapture. Here’s the passage. Read it for yourself and draw your own conclusion: “And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
This passage seems to teach that people who have rejected the truth before the Rapture will continue to do so. Because of this passage, I cannot say with absolute confidence that those who have rejected the Gospel before the Rapture will have the possibility of accepting it afterwards. I hope Tim LaHaye is right, but I would not want to give such people any false hope.
The Russian Invasion of Israel
Prophecy teachers are sharply divided over when the Russian invasion of Israel will occur that is prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Many place it in the middle of the Tribulation. A few have argued that it will be a part of the Battle of Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation.
Tim LaHaye places it shortly before the beginning of the Tribulation (Left Behind, pp. 10 and 394), and I would agree with him. Ezekiel 39 says that after the Russians have been supernaturally destroyed by God on the mountains of Israel, the Israelies will gather items from the battlefield which they will be able to use to fuel fires for the next seven years (verse 9). I believe this reference to “seven years” is a tip-off that the invasion will occur right before the seven year period of the Tribulation.
Ezekiel 38:4 says that God will “put hooks into the jaws” of the Russians and draw them down against Israel. Verse 12 says the hook will be the desire “to capture spoil and to seize plunder.”
Prophecy teachers have long argued that the prize that will lure the Russians will most likely be the mineral riches of the Dead Sea, or perhaps a major oil strike in Israel. LaHaye and Jenkins devise a very clever and imaginative alternative — the development by an Israeli scientist of a high-powered fertilizer that converts the desert into fertile farm land (Left Behind, p.8). This “miracle formula” quickly transforms Israel into one of the richest nations on earth.
This novel concept is not without biblical basis. There are several passages, like Isaiah 35:1, which prophesy that the wilderness and desert will blossom in the end times. But the context of these passages seems to place this phenomenon within the millennial reign of Jesus, when the curse will be partially lifted, and the earth will be refreshed.
I believe the prize the Russians will come after will be the Arab oil fields of the Middle East, and I believe the Russian invasion of Israel will play a far more important part in end time events than the “Left Behind” series portrays. Here’s what I think is the most likely scenario:
- The Palestinian Authority will try to take Jerusalem.
- The Israelis will destroy the Palestinian forces quickly.
- The Palestinians will call for the Arab nations to come to their rescue.
- The Arab nations surrounding Israel will launch an all-out missile attack on Haifa and Tel Aviv.
- The Israelis will resort to nuclear weapons, completely destroying the city of Damascus (Jeremiah 49 and Isaiah 17).
- The Arab world will then call for its natural ally, Russia, to come to its aid.
- The Russians will gleefully respond to this invitation by launching an invasion of Israel. Ostensibly, the Russians will come to destroy Israel, but their ultimate goal will be to take the Arab oil fields.
- The Russians will be supernaturally destroyed in Israel.
- The whole world will be thrown into a panic.
A dynamic, charismatic leader will suddenly arise in the European Community who will seem to have the perfect plan to bring peace to the Middle East.
In summary, I see the Russian invasion as ushering in both the rise of the Antichrist and the events leading up to a Middle East peace treaty that will mark the start of the Tribulation.
The Chronology of the Tribulation
Scholars who reject the premillennial interpretation of end time prophecy have always played games with the book of Revelation in order to get around the clear teaching in chapter 20 that Jesus is going to return and reign for a thousand years.
Some have spiritualized this passage into nothingness. Others have argued that the judgments in Revelation are circular rather than sequential. Their argument is that the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments are all descriptions of the same thing — namely, the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred about thirty years after the establishment of the Church. So, in Revelation 19, Jesus is seen as returning in 70 AD to pour out God’s wrath on the Jews, and chapter 20 is viewed as His subsequent reign over the Church.
There are certainly flashbacks and flash-forwards in the book of Revelation, but most of the action is clearly sequential in nature, and that is the biblical approach that is incorporated into the “Left Behind” series (Left Behind, p. 300).
The judgments are definitely not circular in nature. The seal judgments kill one-fourth of humanity (Revelation 6:8). The trumpet judgments result in the death of one-third of those remaining (Revelation 9:15). The bowl judgments do not result in massive deaths at all. Instead, they produce widespread intense suffering, and the fifth bowl (darkness) is focused upon the capital of the Antichrist.
To argue that Revelation 20 portrays Jesus’ reign over the Church, one would have to spiritualize the thousand years, since the Church has existed almost 2,000 years. The chapter refers six times to the reign of Jesus lasting a thousand years. What would God have to say to convince us that He means a thousand years?
Also, Revelation 20:2 says that Satan will be bound at the beginning of this time. Is Satan bound today? Peter says he prowls about like a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Furthermore, Revelation says Satan will be bound in a special way, so that he can no longer “deceive the nations” (Revelation 20:3). How can anyone believe that the nations of the world are no longer deceived today? The “Left Behind” series is right on target with its portrayal of Revelation events in sequential order.
The Nature of the Antichrist
The portrayal of the Antichrist in the “Left Behind” series is solidly biblical. He is pictured as arising out of Romania (Left Behind, p. 113), and this is in accordance with the Bible’s concept that he will come from an area that was included in the old Roman Empire and that he will be of Roman heritage (Daniel 9:26).
He is described as handsome and brilliant and initially self-effacing and humble (Left Behind, pp. 232-233 and 310-311). As he garners power, he begins to display flashes of egomania (Left Behind, pp. 456-457), and he begins to display supernatural powers such as mass hypnosis and mind reading (Left Behind, p. 458). He ultimately deteriorates into a totally self-possessed person who begins to believe that he is God (Soul Harvest, p. 86). All of this is in accordance with the descriptions contained in Daniel’s prophecies (Daniel 8:23-26 and 11:36-38).
The place where I believe the “Left Behind” series gets off base regarding the Antichrist is when the story line portrays him raising his right-hand man from the dead (Soul Harvest, p. 86). The Bible says that Jesus now has the keys to death (Revelation 1:18), and I do not believe He is ever going to share that power with anyone, particularly the Antichrist or the Devil. The Antichrist will have supernatural powers given to him by Satan (Daniel 8:24), but they will not include the power to raise people from the dead.
The authors probably insert this story to prepare the reader for their thesis that the Antichrist himself will later be assassinated (Assassins, pp. 410-411) and then be resurrected from the dead (The Indwelling, pp. 364-366). There is a biblical basis for this assumption, but I do not believe it is valid. The assumption is based on Revelation 13:1-3 where John says he saw “a beast coming up out of the sea” (the Antichrist rising from among the Gentile nations). He then adds that the beast had ten horns with crowns and seven heads, and that one of his heads “had been slain,” and “the fatal wound had been healed.”
This is obviously symbolic imagery, and I believe it refers to kingdoms rather than a person. In Revelation 12:3 Satan is portrayed as a dragon with seven crowned heads and ten horns. In Revelation 13:1 the Antichrist is pictured as a beast with seven heads and ten crowned horns. Satan’s heads are crowned because they represent the seven great world empires which he has controlled. The Antichrist’s ten horns are crowned because they represent the ten kingdoms he will initially control.
A clue to the identity of the seven heads is located in Revelation 17:9-11 where the imagery of seven mountains is used to refer to the great kingdoms of the world. We are told that at the time John was writing (about 95 AD), “five had fallen, one is, the other has not yet come” (Revelation 17:10). That would mean that the kingdoms past, in order, would be Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. The current kingdom (“one is”) was Rome. The one yet to come is the kingdom of the Antichrist which will be based initially on control of ten kingdoms, but will expand into a world wide empire which will be the eighth and last of the Gentile world kingdoms (Revelation 17:11).
So, I believe the “head” referred to in Revelation 13:3 which is slain and then resurrected is the Roman Empire, and not an individual. We are witnessing that resurrection today in the emergence of the European Community.
The Antichrist’s Headquarters
LaHaye and Jenkins portray the Antichrist moving the headquarters of the United Nations from New York to Babylon (Left Behind, p. 352) and changing the name of the organization to the Global Community (Apollyon, p. 259).
There is a strong biblical basis for believing that Babylon will be the capital of the Antichrist’s world empire. Revelation 17 pictures Babylon as the headquarters of the Antichrist, and Revelation 18 describes the destruction of the city by God and equates it with the destruction of the Antichrist’s world kingdom.
But there is a problem with these passages. Revelation 17 actually states that the capital will be “mystery Babylon” (verse 5), which I believe is a clear indication that the author is speaking symbolically. Later in the chapter, two clues are given as to the identity of the city: 1) It is described as the city of “seven mountains” (verse 9); and 2) It is described as “the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (verse 18). I believe these descriptions make it clear that “mystery Babylon” is Rome. John could not name Rome because he was a Roman prisoner, so he described the city symbolically and then gave us clues that could only point to Rome.
Furthermore, Isaiah 13:17-20 says that when Babylon is destroyed by the Medes, it will “never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation.” There are some, like Charles Dyer, who have tried to argue that Babylon is being rebuilt today.2 But the only rebuilding has been for tourist purposes, not for large scale habitation.
So, I believe the capital of the Antichrist’s empire, both politically and spiritually, will be the city of Rome.
The Identity of the Two Witnesses
Revelation 11 says there will be two miracle working witnesses of God who will preach in Jerusalem for 3 1/2 years. They will serve as the conscience of the world and will be hated by most people. The Antichrist will kill them at the midpoint of the Tribulation, and the world will rejoice.
The mystery regarding these witnesses has always been their identity. Who will they be? The book of Revelation does not tell us. LaHaye postulates that they will be Moses and Elijah (Left Behind, pp. 301-302), and there is good biblical evidence for this conclusion. These two were present at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). And the miracles performed by the two (described in Revelation 11:6) are those that characterized the ministries of Moses and Elijah.
Still, I believe the two most likely candidates are Enoch and Elijah. Both were men of righteousness who were raptured to Heaven. Neither experienced death. Both were prophets, and one was a Gentile (Enoch) and the other was a Jew (Elijah).
I think it is interesting that this was the unanimous opinion of the Church Fathers during the first three hundred years of the Church. All of them identified the two witnesses in their writings as Enoch and Elijah.3 One, by the name of Haymo who served as the bishop of Halberstadt (840-853), even quotes a version of Malachi 4:5 as stating that both Enoch and Elijah will appear before the day of the Lord.4 Our modern versions mention only Elijah.
So, we know for certain from the passage in Malachi that one of the two witnesses will be Elijah. The identity of the other is unknown. He could be either Moses or Enoch. I side with Enoch because he was a Gentile, and I believe the Lord is going to supply two witnesses instead of one because He is going to ordain one to speak to the Jews and the other to the Gentiles.
The Sealing of Believers
The most surprising thing I have thus far encountered in the “Left Behind” series is the idea that about two years into the Tribulation, those who have placed their faith in Jesus will receive a supernatural identifying mark on their foreheads that can only be seen by fellow believers (Soul Harvest, p. 172).
The authors indicate that they base this idea upon a statement in Revelation 7:3 which states that a special group of 144,000 people will be “sealed as the bond-servants of God on their fore-heads.” But the context of that verse makes it crystal clear that this sealing applies only to 144,000 Jews who will accept Jesus as their Messiah and who will be ordained by God to serve Him during the Tribulation. There is never any indication in this passage of this mark being applied to anyone else.
Perhaps LaHaye draws his inference that all believers will be sealed from Revelation 9 which describes a plague of demonic locusts which will be let loose to torment unbelievers. In Revelation 9:4 it states that the locusts are told they cannot harm those who “have the seal of God on their foreheads.” I have always assumed this was a reference back to the 144,000 Jews, but it could, of course, refer to all believers, and I hope that is the meaning.
There are many other prophetic issues raised by the “Left Behind” series that could be discussed, but limitations of space prevent me from doing so. Suffice it to say, in summary, that the “Left Behind” series is biblically based and therefore is well worth reading. Its greatest asset is that it is full of Scripture.
I believe that many people will come to faith in Jesus by reading these books. I believe too that many cultural Christians and carnal Christians will be convicted to examine their lives and get serious about their relationship with Jesus. I also believe that many who are left behind after the Rapture will discover the truth of what happened by reading these books.
To conclude, I praise God for the “Left Behind” series.
1) Although I have read all 8 volumes thus far released in the “Left Behind” series, most of my citations are from volume one, Left Behind, because most of the prophetic concepts are established in it.
2) Charles Dyer with Angela Elwell Hunt, The Rise of Babylon (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991).
3) LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Volume 1 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Press, 1950), pp. 257, 278.
4) Ibid., pp. 554-555.