The Left Behind series by Tim La Haye & Jerry Jenkins is a phenomenon that has just recently been noticed by some in the mainstream press. It is a 12 book series commencing with Left Behind (ISBN: 0842329129) and culminating with Glorious Appearing: The End of Days (ISBN: 0842332375). But the series has been about since the mid-1990s and has spread throughout the evangelical and biblically based church communities largely by word of mouth over the years, selling somewhere in the order of 60 million copies. Since Christian communities get very little press coverage (since they are not really ‘sexy’) no one in the mainstream press seems to have noticed this until now.
What is so interesting about this whole thing is the reactions of the mainstream press to it in recent times. For example, Nicholas Kristof railed against the scenario outlined in the final book of the series in his New York Times column – he condemned what he perceived as a move from viewing Jesus as a gentle figure to a “martial messiah presiding over a sea of blood”. Kristof’s view is echoed in mainstream newspapers around the planet. But the main thing this indicates is how few people have actually read the Bible.
Anyone who has read the book of Revelation (the last chapter in the Bible for the un-initiated) knows that this is exactly how the story ends. Jesus returns as the avenging Messiah & “the dead were judged … according to their works … And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20: 12-15) After this the good guys (& gals, not that they are mentioned) gets to go to the new heaven & the new earth (Rev 21:1) with the Lamb (a.k.a. Jesus). In the book of Revelation this all occurs after the ‘rapture’ (which is somewhat undefined in the actual text, so people have thought up all sorts of scenarios for it), and those left behind go through various trials and many are killed. So La Haye and Jenkins have put the story into a modern vernacular and really just made the last book of the Bible more accessible to many people in the modern world.
The world view expressed in these books has been around for a long time in evangelical and biblically based churches. You can find books outlining exactly this type of interpretation of the bible any time over the past 150 years. All that has happened here is the modern printing industry has made the stories accessible to more people. And the people who are reading these books are most likely already au fait with the concepts expressed in them. The American churches especially have been sympathetic to this view of the Messiah for generations. What is surprising is how this has been largely un-noticed until now. It is especially surprising given how influential these apocalyptic visions have been in the political life of the United States to date.
For all who are interested a web search on the phrases: pre-tribulation, post-tribulation or dispensationalist gives an interesting insight into the Christian factions around this whole area of apocalyptic interpretation.