Left Behind is a series of 16 best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins that are very popular. The novels show believers being transported out of harm’s way during the Christian dispensationalist “end times,” leaving behind the non-believers to deal with God’s wrath and tribulation. This is also called the pretribulation or premillennial eschatological viewpoint of the end of the world.
Some of this comes from the Book of Revelation 3:10-11 which records Jesus telling those in Philadelphia in Asia Minor: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
The premillennial believers argue this means that “the hour of trial” is the seven-year period of tribulation that will be delivered to the non-believers, while the believers would be protected from this trial. However, there is nothing in the Bible referencing special treatment for believers during times of tribulation. We all must “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Hamlet) and we are told to rejoice in our suffering, the Book of Romans 5:3.
The true protection that Jesus was preaching was the spiritual armor covering believers. They are not protected from the trials and tribulation, but true believers will be able to survive any trials, whether on earth or after death, because of their faith.
So, when is this “hour of trial” going to occur? Nobody knows, and the Bible does not provide a clear answer. But it really does not matter as long as we hold to our faith. Jesus’ promise of keeping those believers in Philadelphia from the future trial, in order to have any practical meaning, must be applied to their lives, about two thousand years ago. It seems logical that Jesus was giving them spiritual hope for the tribulation ahead during their lives and perhaps also during the end of time. In other words, it could apply to both the trials of life and after death.
Jesus knew that there would be tribulation for believers throughout history, but there might be a horrific time of tribulation at the end of mankind on earth. Of course, there are many interpretations of what could happen before the end of time, but one is the concept of Hades, where Jesus, himself, went for three days after He died. Hades could be thought of as an earthly collection destination for those who have died, awaiting a final “hour of trial.”
Jesus was concerned about the believers staying away from the Devil during their tenure on earth, whether living or dead, praying to His Father: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” John 17:15.
There are many interpretations to the judgments that are ahead, and typically Christians, especially those who believe in pretribulation, prefer to believe that they will be removed from tribulation and trials without having to suffer at all. The nonbelievers will be left behind to suffer. This is nonsense.
Suffering for our faith is something that we must embrace. Jesus and his followers suffered. Why are we any different? Paul wrote: “through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22. Jesus told believers that they would have to endure tribulation. John 16:33.
The dispensational interpretations originate from Daniel 9:24-27. I have included the sections below and then will analyze them, applying context of what was going on when Daniel was written.
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the holy.
“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler comes, there will be seven ‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.
“After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood; War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple, he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
Now, as typical of apocalyptic writing, it is complex and usually difficult to relate to actual events. Many times it is allegorical and should not be considered as predicting the future. The analysis of this provision is important, because it is the heart of Dispensationalism. In fact, Chapter 9 of Daniel is the only Biblical reference that might support the Left Behind interpretation of the second coming.
So let’s start with the historical perspective of Chapter 9. Daniel was praying to God about the 70 years of captivity of Israel in Babylon prophesied by Jeremiah. Daniel was praying a short time after Babylon’s fall to Persia in 539 BC. The 70-year period of Jeremiah would have started in 605BC and thus would have ended in 535 BC, just about four years after Daniel’s prayer in the above selection from Daniel, Chapter 9. It seems likely that Daniel was praying for the rebuilding of the Holy City and its Temple.
The decree mentioned was Cyrus’ Decree. In the first year after the fall of Babylon (538 BC), Cyrus, King of Persia who was friendly to the Jewish people, issued a decree to rebuild their temple. This would have started Daniel’s prophecy of seventy-weeks of restoration (7 + 62 + 1 = 70 weeks, interpreted as ‘seven’ days). The seven could mean days, weeks, months, or years, but the logical conclusion is that it meant weeks, which consist of seven days. But if Daniel were attempting to match Jeremiah’s 70-year period with his prophecy, then we should consider the term to be 70 years times 7 or 490 years. However, the numbers might even be symbolic since apocalyptic literature may not always be predicting the future as much as hoping to make the future better.
But if we examine this passage literally, it predicts after sixty-nine ‘sevens’ (69 weeks or 483 years) after the Decree of Cyrus in 538 BC. So that either in 536 BC or 75 BC, the Anointed One will come. The real fact is that Jesus was born about 3-5 AD. Attempting to use this scripture to predict the actual future was problematic, at best.
After sixty-two ‘sevens’ (either 536 BC in weeks or 104 BC in years), the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. Jesus certainly was not crucified before He was born. If you attempt to apply a strict construction of this chapter in Daniel to Jesus as the Anointed One, it will not make sense.
It makes more sense to apply the actual history of that period to the reading. The Anointed One may have been referring sarcastically to the ruler of Babylon. Authors sometimes disguised who they were really referencing in fear of retribution from the leaders. This actually makes sense because it says that that ruler of the people will come and destroy the town of Jerusalem and the sanctuary, which is exactly what the Babylonians did by taking the people of Jerusalem to Babylon as slaves and destroying their Temple. Then in 538 BC, the Anointed One of Babylon was cut off and had nothing. Persia took over, leaving Babylonia with no power and basically nothing as compared to their all-encompassing control before the fall. The end of Babylonia did come like a flood with its war with the Persians.
Of course, the Anointed One or ruler could also be Titus, the Roman Emperor, who destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 AD. This could be argued if you are looking for a prophecy of Daniel that was fulfilled. However, the dates do not match.
If Titus is the ruler, then the prophecy might be that Titus will make a covenant with the Jewish religious leaders to put an end to sacrificing animals and this ruler will set up an abomination on a wing of the Temple until his rule comes to an end.
The truth is that nobody knows what any of this meant, probably not even Daniel. It would be dangerous to set up an entire theology based on such a tenuous and complex passage in Daniel. Unfortunately, my interpretation is as good as anybody else’s.