What do the "Left Behind" folks teach?
Dispensationalists hold to the doctrine that the present church age is the age of the Gentiles. As a system, Dispensationalism is rooted in the writings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882) and the Brethren Movement. Up until that time in the 19th Century, no one of any significance and repute in Church history taught this system - nothing in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, nothing in the Councils or Creeds and nothing in the teachings of the Reformers. In other words, the "Left Behind" system of theology is new. Most of it can be disputed with simple exegetical exercise.
They teach that the church is God's 2nd choice for salvation because the Jews rejected Him and thus He turned to the Gentiles. They believe the church is the great parenthesis between epochs of time (dispensations) while the fullness of Gentiles are gathered into salvation. When the last Gentile is saved then Jesus will return suddenly and take His church out of the world at what is referred to as the Great Rapture. They say this will be a sudden inexplicable event as millions of people disappear from earth and are taken to heaven. All of the unsaved are "left behind." They say this will usher in a period of the Great Tribulation when many Jews will be converted to Christ, but will have to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Anti-Christ, a personal demonic individual who will govern the earth promising peace and hope. This individual will have the ability to work great signs and wonders and will deceive many. At the end of this seven year period of Great Tribulation they say Jesus will come back (again), not for His church but with His Church to judge the living and the dead at the Second Coming.
I used to teach this doctrine many, many years ago and, although I have all the respect in the world for my brothers and sisters who believe in this system of theology, I have long since concluded upon further study of the Word that this position cannot be justified from the scriptures. I do believe the rapture will occur and hopefully soon. But that "snatching away" (the meaning of the word rapture) will be public and will usher in the end of the world. There will be no second chance for the Jews or anyone else for that matter. And here is some more news - it is nowhere stated in the Word of God that Christians will ever be exempt from tribulation, even the Great Tribulation. Jesus promised His people two things - we will be eternally happy and constantly in trouble. Tribulation is part of the Christian experience. Any doctrinal system that promises otherwise is laced with wishful thinking but cannot be supported with scripture. The "Left behind" theology makes for good fictional novel but if you really want the truth then study carefully the teaching of the great thinkers of church history.
Having said all of this I do raise the specter of this theological question - are we to view as prophetic or as signs of the time anything from the events in the Middle East? I believe there is.
Next Blog: The "sign post" of the Middle East - snapshot prophecy.