In the past, terms like "The Second Coming", "The End of the World", and "Armageddon" were used to describe the overall message of The Revelation, the last book of the Bible. But, in recent years, "Left Behind" is the term many Bible expositors believe captures the most immediately significant event in connection with endtime prophecy.

They paint a picture of a world in which tens of millions of professing Christians suddenly disappear. The entire planet is left in shock, as it wakes up to find friends, neighbours, and relatives gone, and themselves "left behind”.

If this is really how it will happen, then being "left behind" does encapsulate the significance of what follows, to the rest of the world, that is, to those who are left. The story could start with instructions on what the rest of the earth's population should do to make up for having missed out on the much vaunted "secret rapture" that passed them by.

And that is pretty much what the Left Behind series does.

There is one small problem: It is not going to happen that way.

What the Bible does teach is that the ones who will be caught most off-guard and who will be most confused when things start happening will be professing Christians themselves. Having for decades been fed on a line about how they will be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, these same people will find themselves totally unprepared for the realities of the Great Tribulation.

Listen to this description of the confusion that Jesus spoke of when the various endtime events begin (and in particular, when the Great Tribulation begins) to take place: "Listen! I have told you this ahead of time. If people should tell you, 'Look, he is out in the desert!' don't go there. Or if they say, 'Look, he is hiding here!' don't believe it. For the Son of Man will come like the lightning which flashes across the whole sky from the East to the West." (Matthew 24:25-27)

The picture given in this passage is not one of raptured saints celebrating in heaven, but rather it is one of disillusioned believers, who thought their Saviour would have arrived and taken them away before the trouble began.  The warning that Jesus gives is that there will be no such thing as a "secret" vanishing.

To be more specific, Jesus says, "Immediately after the Tribulation of those days... the Son of Man will appear in the sky; and all the peoples of earth will weep as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The great trumpet will sound, and he will send out his angels to the four corners of the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from one end of the world to the other." (Matthew 24:29-31)

When I was in my early 20s, I asked a wise old pastor to tell me whether Christians were going to go through the Great Tribulation or whether they were going to escape it through the "rapture". He said, "I'm going to ask you one question, and when you answer that question, you'll answer your own question as well. Here it is: How many trumpets are there after the last trumpet?

I was such a novice at the time that his question only confused me. “There are no more trumpets after the last one, of course," I said. But what did that have to do with the rapture?

I turned to I Corinthians 15:51-52, which is a universally accepted description of the rapture. It says, "Listen to this secret truth: We shall not all die, but when the LAST TRUMPET sounds, we shall all be changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of any eye. For when the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed in a twinkling of an eye.”

This verse clearly says that the rapture will take place at the sound of the "last trumpet". But what does that mean? It was some time later that I learned that the "Great Tribulation" is punctuated in The Revelation by blasts from seven different trumpets. This, too, is universally accepted to be true: Both sides agree that the seven trumpets mark seven aspects of the Great Tribulation.

In other words, both sides agree that the I Corinthians 15:51-52 passage refers to the Rapture, and both sides agree that the Seven Trumpets of the Revelation (chapters 8-11) refer to the Great Tribulation. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins themselves would agree. Yet, when we read I Corinthians 15:51-52, it clearly places the rapture at the sounding of the "last trumpet”, or at the end of The Great Tribulation.

Nevertheless, the most widely accepted teaching about the end time today is that the rapture will not happen at the last trumpet, but rather that it will happen even before the FIRST trumpet of the Great Tribulation has sounded. Why is this?

The answer is quite simple: Popularity. People in today's pampered Western world do not want to even think about the possibility that they may have to suffer and die for their faith. So any teaching (and any teacher) who tells them that they can escape it all by saying a little prayer, is going to be pretty popular. It is doubtful that any book which teaches otherwise would ever make it to the New York Times bestseller list.

The secret rapture teaching is the great escape from sacrifice, persecution, suffering, obedience, and discipline. According to many, if not most, of the secret rapture supporters, all you have to do is say the magic word ("Lord, Lord!") and in return you will get unbridled wealth, health, and popularity.

As stated above, it is good that the Left Behind series is getting people thinking about the return of Jesus. But until people face up to the fact that they are going to have to make some rather difficult changes to their lifestyle, they are going to end up just as lost when they have finished reading the series as they were when they started.
Mind you, if those of us who think we have to go through the Great Tribulation are wrong, and if there should actually be a secret rapture before all the trouble begins, we will have lost nothing. We will have been prepared for a trial that God never asked us to endure.

But what about the reverse? What about the possibility that the people believing the Great Escape theory are misguided? If they are wrong, there will be hell to pay for it. Literally as well as figuratively!

Isn't it worth some serious consideration?