(The following is the preface to a new edition of Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction. The book is currently in production and will be available in print next month.)

I thought we were done with the Left Behind film franchise that started in 2000 with Kirk Cameron who played Buck Williams in three films, a television journalist investigating the sudden disappearances of millions of people. Like so many prophecy pundits about their predictions about the end times, I was wrong about the Left Behind film franchise being over. In 2014, Nicholas Cage was called on to play airline pilot Rayford Steele for a Left Behind remake. It was released in theaters on October 3, 2014. As expected, it was disparaged by critics to the extent that it has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This didn’t stop it from grossing more than $27 million worldwide against a $16 million production budget. There’s still profit in prophecy.

Even Christian film reviewers were critical of the 2014 Left Behind film. Paul Chambers from MovieChambers.com showed no mercy in his review of the film: “There are millions of Christians with average or above-average intelligence. I’d like to think that I’m one of them. So, what possessed the makers of Left Behind to produce such an ignorant piece of garbage that’s easily one of the worst films of 2014, if not all-time?”[1] Many Christian filmmakers believe the message is all that counts if people come to Christ. The thing is, many who became Christians began to study the topic of Bible prophecy and learned that the theology behind the prophetic claims of the Left Behind books and films do not line up with Scripture.

Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction PDF or eBook Download

Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction PDF or eBook Download

In Left Behind: Separating Fact From Fiction, Gary DeMar takes a critical look at the theology behind this popular fiction series and challenges readers to consider a different interpretation.

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As a result of the reboot of the film series with Left Behind: The Rise of Antichrist (2023), I thought it was a good time to reissue my book Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction. The first edition was published by Thomas Nelson in 2001 under the title End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration Of The Left Behind Theology. R.C. Sproul wrote the Foreword. It was a horrible title. I was told that some people at Thomas Nelson did not want to publish the book since it was and is into prophetic pot boiler money-makers from people like David Jeremiah. Once in a while the editors will throw in a book like Guesses, Goofs & Prophetic Failures: What to Think When the World Doesn’t End. There’s big money in end-time prophetic speculation. How was my little book going to compete with the Left Behind franchise? It actually sold well despite the non-descript title and minimal promotion. Unfortunately, the Left Behind franchise remains alive and well on planet earth as the Left Behind: The Rise of Antichrist film shows. There’s really nothing new in the premise for a film like this.

Similar prophecy films like the 1972 film A Thief in the Night had poor production value but were highly popular. This film appeared two years after the very popular book The Late Great Planet Earth. “Three Thief sequels were made (A Distant Thunder, Image of the Beast, and The Prodigal Planet) over the next decade.”[2] MIT professor of film and media Heather Hendershot writes, “Today, many teen evangelicals have not seen A Thief in the Night, but virtually every evangelical over thirty I’ve talked to is familiar with it, and most have seen it…. I have found that A Thief in the Night is the only evangelical film that viewers cite directly and repeatedly as provoking a conversion experience.”[3] These films were a far cry from Billy Graham evangelistic films. The executive producer of A Thief in the Night, Russell Doughten, Jr., worked on the 1958 film The Blob that starred Steve McQueen. Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins credit Doughten’s prophecy films as an influence for their Left Behind series of books and films.

The “thief in the night” phrase comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:2.[4] What event is Paul describing? It’s not the “rapture” or the Second Coming. He is describing the approaching judgment that Jesus described in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and elsewhere in the New Testament. Notice the audience references of who was caught off guard when this judgment came with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 using “we” (Paul and his fellow Christians) and “they” and “them,” that is, their Jewish persecutors (Acts 17:1-15).[5] Consider the parallels with Matthew 24:

• The exact time is not known (1 Thess. 5:1-2/Matt. 24:36).

• When they say peace and safety (5:3/2 Peter 3:3-4).

• Sudden destruction comes upon them as labor pains upon a pregnant woman (5:3/Matt. 24:8)

They will not escape (5:3/Matt. 24:16-20).

You are not in darkness so that this day should overtake you as a thief (Matt. 24:42-44; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15).

You are sons of light and sons of the day.

We are not of the night nor of darkness.

The following review of the 2014 Left Behind remake is from Christianity Today:

Left Behind is not a Christian Movie, whatever “Christian Movie” could even possibly mean. In fact, most Christians within the world of the movie—whether the street-preacher lady at the airport or Rayford Steele’s wife—are portrayed as insistent, crazy, delusional, or at the very least just really annoying. Steele’s wife’s conversion to Christianity is shown to have pushed her and her husband apart; we see that she’s decorated her house with crosses, throw-pillows that say “Pray” across the front, and encouraging posters…. They want churches to book whole theaters and take their congregations, want it to be a Youth Group event, want magazines like this one to publish Discussion Questions at the end of their reviews—want the system to churn away, all the while netting them cash, without ever having to have cared a shred about actual Christian belief.[6]

It’s not only that the film is poorly written and acted and the special effects are cheesy, but also because its theology is so bad. The author included the following in his scathing review.

I realize that I likely have different views about the Left Behind books than many readers—so let me say this. I don’t dislike the books because I believe the authors intended to exploit anything (they’re unlike the movie producers in that way), or because I dislike Christianity. Instead, it’s an emotional, knee-jerk defensiveness I feel when I read what I feel is a shallow interpretation of an endlessly deep faith.

Part of that faith deals with eschatology. Actually, a lot of that faith deals with eschatology. The Old and New Testaments are filled with eschatology.[7] The Left Behind books and films are more fiction than fact. Yes, they present an eschatological faith, but does it line up with Scripture? If you were to ask the typical Christian to offer a verse that clearly states that the church will be taken to heaven prior to, in the middle of, or after a seven-year period, you most likely would get a blank stare. Why? Because there is no verse, not even one, and yet the entire Left Behind thesis is fundamental to that belief.[8] The support for the Left Behind thesis is based on tenuous prophecy connections that if any one of them is questionable, the entire system falls apart.[9]

The reason Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction is being reprinted is because the Left Behind film franchise was renewed in 2023. Kevin Sorbo stars in “Left Behind: Rise of The Antichrist” with the tagline, “What Happens After the Rapture?” “I think it’s perfect for the time we are living in right now. You see the craziness of what governments are doing around the world right now. The fear, the pandemic, the anger, the hate, the cancel-culture and wokeness,” Sorbo stated in an interview. “If the rapture hasn’t already happened, it feels like it’s on the way.” How many times have we heard that the “rapture” is “on the way”? It was the tagline for most of the 20th century. It’s been more than 50 years since Hal Lindsey’s prophecy blockbuster The Late Great Planet Earth was published and intimated that the “rapture” would take place before 1988. A lot has happened since that false prediction has long been forgotten. I suspect that most people who will watch the new Left Behind film have no idea how inaccurate the prophetic speculators of a previous generation were.

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation

For decades Christians have been enticed with the belief that they would be taken to heaven before a coming tribulation period in an event called the ‘rapture.’ Since the national reestablishment of Israel in 1948, countless books and pamphlets have been written defending the doctrine assuring readers that it could happen at any moment.

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“We’re trying to fight back and gain the culture of America back because Hollywood is controlling the culture right now and it’s not good. The anger and divisiveness they put out there are on purpose, and we’ve got a battle on our hands,” Sorbo says. Why bother if the “rapture” is on its way? One of the reasons we are in this mess is partly due to a misunderstanding of particular prophetic texts that claim to teach that the “rapture of the church” is inevitably near (for 2000 years?). Why do battle when “the Antichrist” is inevitably going to take over the world that will lead to the death of billions of people? I’ll let Kirk Cameron, formerly known as the “Left Behind Guy,” explain that the job of the Church is “to push back darkness and stop corruption and disciple nations with the power that raised Him from the dead in a kingdom which wins; it doesn’t lose. Greater is He who is within us than he that is in the world.” As Jerry Bowyer in his interview with Cameron describes it, “In other words, go ahead and polish the brass. Swab the decks, scrape the hull, stoke the coal, grab the wheel and full-steam ahead. This ship is going forward, not down.”[10]

In an interview, Kirk Cameron listed some of his heroes of the faith by naming St. Patrick, John Knox, Martin Luther, the Puritans and the pilgrims:

They were being run out of the country by a woke mob and what did they do? They didn’t put their head between their knees and cry in their Chick-Fil-A soup and wait for the rapture while the culture deteriorated. They read their Bibles. And they got on a little boat, and they sailed across the world to start a new society that would later become the freest, strongest, most benevolent and generous nation the world has ever known.[11]

The promised false hope is that Christians will miraculously escape this soon coming “Great Tribulation” that the latest reiteration of the Left Behind film franchise depicts. Watch it, the tagline tells us, so you won’t have to experience the horrors of the Great Tribulation and possibly go to hell! But what if the entire Left Behind approach to Bible prophecy is more fiction than fact? That’s what this book is about.

[1]Paul Chambers, “Review of Left Behind” (October 2, 2014): https://www.cinafilm.com/movies/left-behind-2014/reviews/493646-there-are-millions-of-christians-with-average-or-above-average/

[2]Dean A. Anderson, “The Original ‘Left Behind,’” Christianity Today (March 7, 2012): https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/marchweb-only/originalleftbehind.html

[3]Heather Hendershot, Shaking the World for Jesus Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 187-188.

[4]See Nehemiah A. Nisbett, The Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem: An Attempt to Illustrate Various Important Passages in the Epistles and of the New Testament from Our Lord’s Prophecies of the Destruction of Jerusalem, and from Some Prophecies of the Old Testament to Which is Added an Appendix Containing Remarks upon Dr. MacKnight’s Commentary and Notes on the two Epistles to the Thessalonians (Canterbury, 1787).

[5]“And if it be here questioned how this destruction of the Jews should concern the Christians in Macedonia, and so be matter of such particular advertisement to the Thessalonians, I answer that the Jews being at this time dispersed into several parts much farther from Judea then Macedonia, did likewise wheresoever they were, oppose the Apostles preaching to the Gentiles, and not only so, but persecuted those that received the saith with all bitterness: and how peculiarly this was observable at Thessalonica,…. The Jews were the fountains of persecutions, saith Tertullian.” Henry Hammond, A Paraphrase and Annotations upon all the Books of the New Testament Briefly Explaining all the Difficult Places Thereof, 7th ed. (London: 1702), 602.

[6]Jackson Cuidon, “Left Behind: Not a ‘Christian Movie.’ Not Even Close,” Christianity Today (October 2, 2014). Emphasis in original.

[7]After analyzing, cataloging, and commenting on every prophetic verse in the Bible, J. Barton Payne concluded in his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy that 8,352 verses out of 31,124 total verses deal with prophecy of one type or another. That works out to twenty-seven percent of the Bible being predictive. J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy: The Complete Guide to Scriptural Predictions and Their Fulfillment (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).

[8]See Gary DeMar with Francis X. Gumerlock, The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2020).

[9]Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: The Obsession of the Modern Church (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, [1999] 1991).

[10]Jerry Bowyer, “Has Kirk Cameron Left Behind ‘Left Behind’?,” Forbes (October 31, 2017): http://bit.ly/3J0wZRT. Kirk’s comments might explain why he reportedly turned down a role in the 2014 “Left Behind” film remake. See PraiseCleveland.com (April 16, 2015): http://bit.ly/3wdT4om

[11]Jeannie Ortega Law, “Kirk Cameron not backing down after public libraries reject kids’ book: ‘The gates of Hell cannot prevail,’” Christian Post (December 8, 2022): https://www.christianpost.com/news/kirk-cameron-not-backing-down-after-libraries-reject-kids-book.html See my interview with Kirk Cameron: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N50nmpKHZgw