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Oct3FriLeft Behind, the new movie opening in theatres this month, promises an apocalyptic action thriller. But can we really know the future? October 3, 2014 by Giselle Randall and Kristin Ostensen
Rayford “Ray” Steele (Nicolas Cage) is piloting a jet from New York City to London, England, when the unthinkable happens. In the blink of an eye, half the passengers on his plane disappear. And it's not just his plane—people are vanishing all over the world. With the remaining passengers depending on him, Ray must find a way to land the plane without any help from the ground. His plane damaged and running out of fuel, Ray is desperate for answers. Where did his passengers go, and why was he left behind?
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- Faith & Friends
Left Behind is an apocalyptic action thriller coming to theatres this month. It's based on the bestselling Left Behind series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, which has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide.
Left Behind is part of a trend of faith-based films this year, following other box-office successes such as Son of God, Noah and Heaven Is for Real. The story is based on an interpretation of the Bible, which holds that, before the apocalyptic end of days, there will be a “rapture” when faithful believers are taken up to heaven. The film is set on the day of the rapture, focusing on the chaos and destruction that ensues when millions of people suddenly vanish.
Thousands of feet above the Atlantic Ocean, Ray tries to guide his plane to safety with the help of Cameron “Buck” Williams (Chad Michael Murray), a television journalist who becomes his co-pilot. They are joined by Hattie Durham (Nicky Whelan), a flight attendant who is having an affair with Ray and must put aside her personal feelings to focus on saving the lives of the passengers on board.
Meanwhile, back on the ground, Ray's daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson), is caught in a world gone mad. Alone in the chaos, she struggles to find her mother and younger brother, who may have disappeared like the others. As Chloe considers the Christian faith of her mother, Irene (Lea Thompson), her own questions arise: Could God be behind these shocking events? What will happen to those who remain on earth?
A Crystal Ball?
It isn't the first time the Left Behind series has been adapted: a film starring Kirk Cameron was released in 2000 for Christian viewers. This time, the producers want to reach a broader audience.
Left Behind is based on a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible—one full of strange symbols and often frightening images such as a red dragon with seven heads and 10 horns. It was written by John, one of Jesus' disciples, who became a pastor and key leader in the early church. In 92 AD, the Roman emperor Domitian had 42,000 Christians killed for refusing to worship him. John was arrested and exiled to the island of Patmos, where he received a series of visions. Even John didn't fully understand the visions, so it's no surprise that scholars are divided about this book.
Two common interpretations of the so-called “end times” are pre-millennialism and a-millennialism. In Revelation 20:1-10, John describes a time when Jesus will return and reign for “a thousand years”—in Latin, a millennium. Pre-millennialists, those who hold a literal interpretation of this passage, believe Christ will return secretly and Christians will be raptured—taken to heaven—before a period of terrible suffering for those left behind. After this time of tribulation, Christ will return to reign in Jerusalem for one thousand years and destroying Satan forever.
This approach—the one behind Left Behind—treats the Book of Revelation as a kind of crystal ball that reveals future events. It's a view held by many evangelical Christians, and one that to gains attention whenever the world grows chaotic. But is this interpretation the only way to understand the book?
Symbols, Not Statistics
John calls his work a letter, a prophecy and an apocalypse. When we hear the word apocalypse, we often think of cataclysmic events, the end of the world. But the word actually means "unveilling." It is the word we translate as "revelation."
So Revelation is a work of prophecy but it is also a letter, written to the churches in Asia Minor, which were facing severe persecution and whose members were discouraged and afraid. John is a prophet, but first he is a pastor, writing to address the specific issues of his congregations and to encourage them to remain faithful and keep following Jesus.
With this purpose in mind, the a-millennial approach sees Revelation as pointing primarily to events in the past, not the future. It interprets the numbers in Revelation as symbols, not statistics. There is no literal millennium: the one-thousand-year period is a symbol of completion, of Jesus' Second Coming, when history will end and the new creation will begin.
This approach pulls back the curtain on the future, but more importantly, on the unseen realities of the present. And the message underlying this interpretation is “God wins!”
For Christians living in a hostile world, this unveiling of Jesus was a message of victory, comfort and hope—a call to persevere and overcome. And it is the same message for us today.
Left Behind is billed as bringing biblical prophecy to life, but the Bible isn't clear about whether there will be a rapture or not. What is clear is that our security doesn't come from knowing the future—it comes from knowing that the future belongs to God. As Ray's jetliner hurtles across the ocean, it is something that he and the passengers under his care will need to cling to.
(Photos: Courtesy of Stoney Lake Entertainment)