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Left Behind: A novel of the Earth's last days

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Left Behind Cover
Left Behind
Book SeriesLeft Behind
AuthorTim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins
PublisherTyndale House Publishing
Release Date1995
Preceded ByThe Rapture (canonical order)
Followed ByTribulation Force


Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days is a best-selling novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins which starts the Left Behind series. It was narrative form to a specific eschatological reading of the Christian Bible, particularly the Book of Revelation.

Plot Introduction

Millions of people suddenly vanish and frantic "survivors" of the disappearances begin their search for their friends and families as well as answers to what's happened. Among them are pilot Rayford Steele, his daughter Chloe Steele, and Bruce Barnes, who begin to discover that what has really happened is that the Rapture of the Church had occurred. Meanwhile, a young journalist, Cameron "Buck" Williams follows an unknown, but charming Romanian politician named Nicolae Jetty Carpathia, who quickly attracts millions of followers, seemingly overnight.

Summary

It is an evening flight from Chicago to Heathrow Airport in London, where Pan-Continental airline pilot Rayford Steele has thoughts about having dinner with his flight attendant Hattie Durham, with hopes of something more coming from it, while also thinking about his wife Irene being so involved as a "born-again Christian" that she's always talking to Rayford about the Lord's second coming. Meanwhile, Global Weekly journalist Buck Williams recalls having been in Israel for witnessing the miraculous supernatural protection given the country when Russia sent a massive military strike to destroy her.

Then suddenly Hattie reports to Rayford that she saw passengers disappearing, leaving nothing behind but clothes and other personal items. Rayford has an inkling of what might have happened and gets Hattie to calm the other passengers down. He also calls other pilots and air controllers, who confirm similar things have happened on their flights: people disappearing. He is told not to continue to Heathrow, but to return to Chicago. As he turns the plane around and heads toward O'Hare Airport, he sees planes jamming the runways, some of them wrecked and on fire. Buck manages to get in touch with his boss Steve Plank in New York City, and is told to come there at all costs to put together the story of the disappearances.

Chaos reigns through the airport terminal as people, also witnesses to disappearances, are unable to get flights or phone calls or any rides out. Rayford and Hattie manage to acquire a helicopter ride out to the suburbs, where they both get a ride home to their own residences. Upon reaching his house, Rayford finds that nobody is there: that his wife and his son Raymie have both disappeared, leaving only their night clothes behind. He mournfully sobs at the thought he will never see them again.

Buck, meanwhile, gets a charter plane ride as close to New York City as possible with the help of Ken Ritz. Upon reaching the Global Weekly office, he is greeted by Steve and his secretary Marge Potter as they also mourn for losses. He then gets a call from his friend Dirk Burton, telling him to come to London about some important information he needed to disclose about Joshua Todd-Cothran. Steve Planks forbids Buck to go to London when a bigger story about Nicolae Carpathia coming to address the United Nations is going to happen. However, after receiving a phone call from Scotland Yard that Dirk was found dead in his apartment, and then another from his friend Alan Tompkins who worked at the Yard, Steve allows Buck to meet with Alan in London.

Rayford waits at home for his daughter Chloe to return from Stanford University, who comes to find the same thing her father did. She doesn't believe that God would be that loving to just take her mother and her brother with Him to heaven and simply leave her and her father behind, and totally dismisses the possibility that what her mother said was true, that Jesus has come for His people to take them to heaven. Nevertheless, Rayford does seek out answers from the church Irene went to, New Hope Village Church, and finds that its visiting pastor Bruce Barnes was left behind, revealing himself to be a hypocrite. Bruce gives Rayford a copy of a tape made by Vernon Billings, the pastor who was taken in the disappearances, who tells the viewer that what happened was the Rapture, that it was a precursor to the coming time called the Tribulation, and that there's still a chance for anyone to be saved during that time. Rayford willingly repeats the prayer Vernon teaches him to pray, asking Jesus Christ to be his Lord and Savior, which assures him that he will be saved.

In a pub in London, Alan Tompkins meets with Buck Williams and tells him that Dirk Burton's death wasn't suicide, but rather foul play, a set-up by Todd-Cothran who also threatened Alan to remain silent about it. Suddenly, as Alan goes outside to turn off the lights on his car, a bomb rigged inside blows, killing Alan and almost taking Buck with it. He barely escapes by dumping his personal ID on the scene, making it look like he was killed, and secretly returning to New York City under an alias and a partial disguise. Steve Plank meets him and takes him to the United Nations in time for Nicolae Carpathia's address.

The crowd goes wild as Nicolae calls them all out by their countries, believing that he alone could unite the whole world together with the promise of peace. The media is looking to have interviews with Carpathia, including Buck's rival Eric Miller from Seaboard Monthly, despite Carpathia already giving permission for Buck to interview him. But on Buck's way to the interview, police cars are already outside the hotel, waiting to deliver Buck into the custody of Scotland Yard regarding murders he had been framed for. With Steve posing as Buck, the young reporter manages to sneak his way past even his rival Eric into the hotel room where Carpathia was staying. Nicolae lets Buck know that he knows about the trouble he's in with Scotland Yard and offers to help clear the reporter's name of any charges.

Back near Chicago, Rayford is trying to convince his daughter Chloe to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior even as their house gets robbed of its valuables, including the VCR that still had the pastor's tape in it. She joins him on a flight to New York City, where they meet Hattie Durham, who has went there to meet Carpathia personally with Buck Williams as her escort. Buck also meets with the Steeles, getting Rayford's perspective about the disappearances and getting to know his daughter Chloe. He joins Chloe on a return flight back to Chicago, which was when she revealed she became a believer.

Meanwhile, Buck finds out that Eric Miller had suspiciously fallen off the Staten Island ferry, and discovers from Eric's work that he had information that linked Carpathia to Jonathan Stonagal. He also finds out that Carpathia is intending to take over as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and eventually move it to New Babylon, a modern city that was built in Iraq. But more disconcerting, Buck finds out from Bruce Barnes that Carpathia may be the foretold Antichrist of Scripture. Before attending the meeting Carpathia held at the United Nations where he would personally nominate the ten ambassadors for his security council, Buck prayed to God for salvation and protection.

Stonagal & Todd-Cothran comic

Nicolae Carpathia is ready to deliver "justice" to Cothran and Stonagal.

During the meeting he attended, where he saw Hattie as Carpathia's new personal assistant, Buck witnessed him slaying both Stonagal and Todd-Cothran with a single gunshot, and then telling those present that what they really saw was the two people killing each other. Later, Buck finds himself dressed down by both Plank and his superior Stanton Bailey for his supposedly not showing up at the meeting, being demoted and deported to the Chicago office of the Global Weekly. Buck reunites with Rayford, Chloe, and Bruce to tell them the truth of what he saw, thanking God for His protection. The four of them decide to form a group called the Tribulation Force to reach out to the world with the truth as they face the time to come.

Characters

  • Rayford Steele - 747 captain for Pan-Continental in his mid-forties. He is member, but non-attender at New Hope Village Church; Mount Prospect.
  • Chloe Steele, Rayford's daughter who is a student at Stanford University in her early twenties and skeptical of Christianity. She lost her mother and brother in the Rapture. Chloe resides in California.
  • Cameron "Buck" Williams - journalist and senior writer for Global Weekly from New York who authors the Newsmaker of the Year story on Chaim Rosenzweig.
  • Bruce Barnes - assistant pastor at New Hope Village Church in his mid-forties who must lead new congregation
  • Joshua Todd-Cothran - international financier, head of London Stock Exchange
  • Jonathan Stonagal - international financier and wealthiest man in history
  • Ken Ritz - charter pilot
  • Chaim Rosenzweig - Israeli botanist and statesman who discovers of a formula that makes Israeli deserts bloom; former Global Weekly Man of the Year.
  • Steve Plank - publisher of the Global Weekly; old school journalist; Cameron's boss.
  • Hattie Durham - flight attendant in her late twenties, works with Rayford at Pan-Continental.
  • Nicolae Jetty Carpathia - president of Romania in his mid-thirties who was invited to speak at the United Nations.
  • Stanton Bailey - publisher of Global Weekly.

Major themes

Christian prophetic themes are explored in a fictional context around the theme of the "Rapture of the Church", an interpretation of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. Amongst those Christians who believe there will be a Rapture, there are three main theories on the timing of this event: Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation, and Post-Tribulation. This book takes the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position. The story is built around such End times themes as the Second Coming, the Antichrist, the Tribulation, and the expected coming Millennium of Messiah.

Reception

This novel has received different reactions; however, the American evangelical Christian community in general has approved the idea of representing in a worldly language the end times theology. Jerry Falwell said: "In terms of its impact on Christianity, it's probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible." There have been several good reviews from various media. The New York Times stated that it "...combines Tom Clancy like suspense with touches of romance, high tech flash and Biblical references". The Chicago Tribune called it "...an exciting, stay-up-late-into-the-night, page turner story". Publishers Weekly recognized Left Behind as "...the most successful Christian Fiction series ever."

Controversies and criticisms

Some evangelicals are concerned about the message of the genre. Their objections are based on the paucity of scriptural evidence for the Pre-Tribulation Rapture which forms the basis for the story. The supposition is that the Christian Church will not be present for the "final witness" nor need to prepare themselves in the faith for that possibility. It forms a growing basis for discussion among evangelicals who hold to a Post Tribulation Rapture, amillennialism, or forms of preterism.

Other evangelicals object to the message of Left Behind because they say it is not a Christian message, though framed as a Christian series. Loren L. Johns, the Academic Dean of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, writes: "At the end of the day, this series is ultimately a rejection of the good news of Jesus Christ. I say this because it rejects the way of the cross and Jesus’ call to obedient discipleship and a new way of life. It celebrates the human will to power, putting Evangelical Christians in the heroic role of God’s Green Berets. ... Love of enemies is treated as a misguided strategy associated not with the gospel, but with the Antichrist."

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) reported that "the ideas expressed in the Left Behind series are in many ways contrary to the teaching of holy scripture. Though containing a fictional story line, the books promote a theology that is, in important respects, at odds with the biblical revelation."

The interpretation of Revelation, as presented in the Left Behind series, also appears to encourage a highly individualistic approach to salvation that eschews responsibility for performing good deeds or missionizing: “Because, in the novels, those who take the mark of the beast cannot be saved, saving oneself and punishing ones enemies are the only viable courses of action for believers… Working toward social justice is not necessary and might even distract believers from their steadfast focus on their own salvation and the salvation of their family, friends or community” (824-5).

Others have noted how a literalist interpretation of scripture and visionary experience can have a potentially dangerous impact on behavior, and may act as a factor in unnecessary violence. One reviewer observes "...the books portray the head of the United Nations as the Antichrist, and jubilantly celebrate the massacre of millions of non-Christians by a militant and curiously unforgiving Jesus."(7)

Film adaptation

This book has been adapted into a feature film, Left Behind: The Movie, first released on video and DVD, and then to cinemas where it fared poorly. In the movie Cameron "Buck" Williams was played by former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron who said he finds the series inspiring; he is a practicing evangelist and co-host with Ray Comfort on the TV show The Way of the Master.

So far there have been two sequels released straight to video. The first was named "Left Behind II: Tribulation Force". The most recent one, Left Behind III: World at War, premiered in thousands of churches before its video and DVD release. In 2006, a fourth installment was announced by Cloud Ten Pictures and may resume development / production since there has been a July 16, 2008 settlement of a lawsuit over rights involving the first three films. The fourth film has now been scrapped by Cloud Ten.

On August 2008, a website revealed that LaHaye planed to remake the series and possibly turn all twelve (or sixteen) novels into feature film adaptations. As of 2010, the rights to making the movie versions of the books  reverted to Cloud Ten Pictures, who made a big-budget remake of the first Left Behind film with some partners which was released in 2014 as Left Behind (2014 film). The rest of the first novel will likely be adapted in its sequel Left Behind 2.

Release details

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