“Can you imagine, Rafe … Jesus coming back to get us before we die?
Tim LaHaye has died, at the age of 90, in 2016.
That was not what was supposed to happen. He wasn’t supposed to ever die. He wasn’t supposed to still be here on Earth at the age of 90. And there was never supposed to be a 2016.
If you read LaHaye’s The Beginning of the End when it was first published in 1972, then you would have known that we were living in the last days. You would have known — known — that we were the final generation of Christians awaiting the imminent Rapture of the saints in fulfillment of biblical prophecies we were witnessing all around us. Tim LaHaye was 46 years old and the end of all things was near. Like Hal Lindsey, LaHaye assured his readers that the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 had set the prophecy clock ticking, inexorably, and that the Rapture would come within a generation of that date — 40 years or so, maybe 50, 60 at the very most.
But there was no possible way that we would one day be sitting here, in 2016, reading that Tim LaHaye himself has died — long-un-raptured and now never-to-be-raptured — 68 years after the rebirth of Israel and 44 years after the publication of his first imminent-end “Bible prophecy” book. If anything at all in that book were true, this was simply unthinkable.
Yet here we are, watching tributes to LaHaye pouring in from a younger generation of “Bible prophecy scholars” who are carrying on his message of an imminent Rapture, just as he previously carried on the message he had learned from long-dead, never-raptured folks like Scofield and Darby and Miller. There will always be another generation of Bible prophecy preachers to carry on the message that there will never be another generation. And each successive generation will enjoy a long and lucrative career insisting that such a long career, long life, long future, and long legacy, is prophesied not to be.
And thus the death of any long-lived End-Times “prophet” is always an inherently awkward thing. Each, in turn, is disproved by their own longevity, just as each, in turn, is exposed by their own well-planned retirement and well-structured estate. (If Chicken Little really believed the sky was falling, why did she max out her Roth-IRA contributions every year?)
Except that it is the end of the world, for Tim LaHaye, just as it will be for all of us, eventually. The end of this world is, for all of us, inevitable, and imminent, and unavoidable, and nigh. Valar morghulis. The end will come “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” It will come as it did in the days of Noah, one will be taken and one will be left behind. “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
The Bible verses referenced there all show why the death of a Rapture preacher is doubly awkward. Because for Rapture preachers like Tim LaHaye, those passages have nothing to do with death, or with the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. For LaHaye, et. al., those passages are all reinterpreted as the reassurance that Christians will escape death — that death will not apply in our case. Those verses, in their view, are not about death at all, but about the Rapture — about “Jesus coming back to get us before we die.”
To die before the Rapture, then is to be consigned to the ash-heap along with all the other generations of Christians who weren’t special enough for Jesus to come back and get them. It means not making the cut as one of the special snowflake generation of Last Days Christians — the only generation who will live to see “Bible prophecy” fulfilled, and thus the only generation for whom most of the Bible has any real meaning or application. It means joining the dispensation of the dead. And it means doing so after a lifetime spent insisting that this would somehow never happen in your own special case.
It turns out Tim LaHaye wasn’t part of a special generation. And he wasn’t right about 2016. This world has outlasted him, just as it will outlast us all. And what we do here matters. Redeem the time you have here and make the most of it, don’t just waste it awaiting a Rapture that will never come.
One has been taken, and we have been — for now — left behind. Keep awake.