Left Behind, pp. 29-30
The toughest chore for emergency personnel was to determine who had disappeared, who was killed and who was injured, and then to communicate that to the survivors.
LaHaye and Jenkins don’t tell us what these conversations are like. It is supposed to be comforting for the survivors to learn that their loved ones have simply vanished rather than being killed in an accident? What comfort does this provide?
“So you’re saying my wife and daughter weren’t in the car when it crashed?”
“No sir, they simply vanished without a trace before the crash.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, most of us haven’t thought about it much, but the narrator seems to think they’ve been whisked off to heaven.”
“Heaven? So they are dead?”
“No, they went to heaven without dying.”
“What’s the difference?”
That’s a question L&J don’t seem prepared to answer — even though this difference is the linchpin for their entire outlook. “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come,” the creed says, but premillennial dispensationalists like L&J are holding out for a loophole. They look for the resurrection of the living.
Orthodox Christianity does not deny the reality, or the inevitability, of death. It holds, rather, that death with be “swallowed up in victory.” Death is a true word, but it is not the last word.
From where we’re sitting, this hope can seem a tenuous thing. It can even seem glib, as in this exchange from Twelfth Night:
FESTE: Good madonna, why mournest thou?
OLIVIA: Good fool, for my brother’s death.
FESTE: I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
OLIVIA: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
FESTE: The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.
The apostle Paul makes a similar point to the Christians at Corinth:
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. …
Toward the end of his great essay on the resurrection, you can almost picture Paul leaning forward to whisper in your ear:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
This is a favorite passage of PMDs like LaHaye and Jenkins, but they read it rather differently. They do not include Paul, or any of his Corinthian correspondents, in the first-person inclusive “we” the apostle employs. Instead, they think the “we” in this passage refers exclusively to a lucky few early 21st-century Christians who will be “raptured.”
Paul, like Feste, offers hope and comfort against the reality of death. He is dealing with the Big Question: What happens when we die? Is this all there is?
His response — “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed” — is that death is not simply a final dirt nap. What happens when we die? We will be changed. Your labor is not in vain.
PMDs, however, read “we will not all sleep,” as “we will not all die.”
Paul is offering a promise he cannot prove. LaHaye and Jenkins are offering a promise they cannot keep. Gentlemen, take away the fools.