I, like a million other people, really enjoyed the Left Behind series growing up. Maybe it was my love for sci-fi and fantasy or maybe it was the allure of the possibility that Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins were right in all of their predictions of how the book of Revelation would play out. Whatever the case was, I was intrigued by the story of the end of the world.
Because that’s what Revelation is all about, right? The end of the world? In many of the pictures I had seen that illustrated Revelation, it always seemed like the world was blowing up. And so I gathered that the point of Revelation was to let this planet go to Hell in a handbasket. Why would we need it? Especially if Christians just get raptured right into Heaven as Left Behind imagined.
This is the kind of theology most Christians live their lives with. Why take care of the environment? It’s all gonna die anyways. Why worry about what the future holds? God has a time set to wipe it all out. Why worry about other people’s well-being? Getting them saved is the most important thing. All will eventually be fine if they just go to Heaven.
When we live this way, we deny Jesus’ teaching that Heaven is here and now. Like professional procrastinators, we push Heaven off until the final moment and we ignore the idea that Heaven might hold any importance for today.
But Plan A is for God to completely invade the earth with His image, not blow it up! Blowing up the earth is the antithesis of God’s plan! And contrary to popular belief, Revelation is actually all about the fulfillment of Plan A, not its antithesis!
We don’t have anywhere near the amount of time we need to address all of the wrong thinking people have in processing the book of Revelation, but we at least need to hone in on the fact that Revelation is about every last “already-but-not-yet” theme coming into fullness. It is about the full installment of Heaven on the earth where King Jesus will come join us. The New Jerusalem, the place of God’s people, will literally descend out of Heaven and find its place on our planet (Rev 21:2) with a new Eden (Rev 22:2). The Tree of Life we once left in God’s old sacred space will be found again in this new sacred space.
Yes, as odd as it sounds to some, Heaven will one day be located on the ground that we are now standing. Yet most people’s end-time theology has Christians flying away to Heaven via a so-called, “rapture.” At first glance, there are one or two passages that maybe make us think of such an idea, but upon further inspection that just doesn’t seem to be the case. The most common passage used to support this idea is from 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
In trying to understand this passage, let’s make sure we contextualize it with the end-times that Revelation gives us. When we do that, we realize that Paul isn’t telling us that we’ll simply fly off into the skies forever when Jesus returns, because the whole point of Jesus returning is to bring Heaven to the earth. In this letter to the Thessalonians, Paul envisions Jesus descending from Heaven to earth for His glorious return to our planet to usher in His Kingdom and His reign. And as He’s descending to earth, all the Christians who died before us join Him in the skies as He’s on His way down. And after they have all joined Him, then all the Christians who are still alive on the earth go on to do the same (1 Cor 15:51-52).
Ironically, a passage that is all about bringing Heaven down has been misinterpreted through modern eyes to be about Christians flying into space, never to return to the earth as it catches fire and explodes. The very start of Left Behind establishes an ideology that is counter to this passage. And perhaps we would have noticed that a lot sooner if we just had a proper understanding of what Biblical resurrection is.