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Don’t Worry about being”Left Behind.”Have a Holy Fear of being taken up to Judgment.

October 2, 2014 20 Comments


The movie “Left Behind” opens today. And while, in a secular culture dismissive of any consequences for unbelief, we can rejoice in any salutary reminders, it is unfortunate that the reminder is riddled with questionable theology and dubious biblical interpreation.

In certain (but not all) Protestant circles, and especially among the Evangelicals, there is a strong and often vivid preoccupation with signs of the Second Coming of Christ. Many of the notions that get expressed are either erroneous or extreme. Some of these erroneous notions are rooted in a misunderstanding of the various scriptural genres.  Some are rooted in reading certain Scriptures in isolation from the wider context of the whole of Scripture. And some are rooted in reading one text and disregarding others that balance it.

The Catholic approach to the end times (eschatology) is perhaps less thrilling and provocative. It does not generate “Left Behind” movie series or cause people to sell their houses and gather on hillsides waiting for the announced end. It is more methodical and seeks to balance a lot of notions that often hold certain truths in tension.

I thought it perhaps a worthy goal to set forth certain principles of eschatology from a Catholic point of view, since the movie “Left Behind” is bound to generate questions among fellow Catholics.  Most of the teachings offered in this post are drawn straight from the Catechism and the Scriptures. What I offer here I do not propose to call a complete eschatology, only a sketch of basic principles rooted right in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

While we cannot know the exact time of His Coming, nevertheless we can be watchful for things that both remind us and signal us to His approach. These signs give indications only. The presence of such texts cannot be seen to overrule that He will come “on a sudden” and that many will be caught unawares.

Here are some notes from the Catechism (the blue and red texts are my own). I have made the Scripture quotes live by way of hypertext so you can click right over and read them.

1. “Soon + Sudden”Since the Ascension, Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent (Rev 22:20), even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority”(Acts 1:7). This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are “delayed” (Mat 24:44; 1 Thes 5:2; 2 Thes 2:3-12). (CCC # 673).

Of all the points the Catechism makes, this one sets the tone of balance that must, most surely, be maintained. On the one hand, Christ says, “I am coming soon” and that His coming could be both sudden and without warning.

Yet this truth must be held in tension with other truths that set forth certain signs and things that must be accomplished first. And these things are not easily or quickly accomplished. This is further developed in point # 2, which follows.

2. Suspended The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel” (Romans 11:20-26; Mat 23:39), for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” (Romans 11:20-26) toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old” (Acts 3:19-21). St. Paul echoes him, “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Rom 11:15) The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles” (Rom 11:12), will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”, in which “God may be all in all” (Eph 4:13; 1 Cor 15:27-28). (CCC # 674)

This going forth of the Gospel to all the nations and the acceptance of Christ by the Jews would seem to be matters that would take some time.

Has the Gospel really reached all the nations? Have the full number of Gentiles come in and are they serving God and repenting in sufficient numbers? Perhaps so, one may argue.  And yet, on a planet of seven billion people, fewer than one-third are Christians. But on the other hand, there are very few places in the world where there is no Christian presence.

And what is meant by the “full number” of Gentiles? That number is hidden from us and is surely debated.

And has the “hardening” that has come upon Israel been lifted? This too is debated and, despite certain movements of “Messianic Jews,” it does not seem that the hardening has been lifted in any wide sort of way or that Jesus has been recognized by “all Israel.”

3. Suffering and Sedition Before Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers (Luke 18:8; Mt 24:12). The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of His Messiah come in the flesh (2 Thess 2:4-12; 1 Thess 5:2-31 Jn 2:18-22). (CCC # 675)

Clearly, many of these troubles have afflicted the Church in every age. There has always been persecution. Many have fallen away, sometimes in large numbers, most into schism, but some into unbelief. There have been times, too, during which it can be argued that the love of many has grown cold.

And yet, clearly, in the times in which we live, these are very severe problems and they have grown to envelop most of the planet. But God only knows when these signs will be present in a definitive way rather than merely present prefiguratively. However, there is no real basis for  a rapture of the Church prior to the final crisis. Indeed, the biblical narrative seems quite clear that the end of times will be a time of test and purification for the Church, not something from which we are exempt. 

4. Secular Utopianism RejectedThe Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the attempt is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism (CCC # 676).

Yes many in human history, but especially in modern times, have advanced the notion that a secular utopia could be ushered in by human effort, and by submitting oneself to a government, worldly power, or charismatic figure to do so.

Many repressive regimes and movements (often typified by powerful or charismatic leaders) of the last century claimed the power to usher in such a utopia. The sad legacy of the 20th Century shows how tragic, bloody, and repressive such attempts have been.

The Church also rejects religious forms of this, which hold that prior to the Second Coming of Christ a period of 1000 years is set aside during which Christ will reign on earth or in which the Church will somehow attain a total victory prior to Christ’s Second Coming. This will be developed more in the final point below.

5. Second Coming follows a final unleashing of evil The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection (Rev 19:1-9). The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven (Rev 13:1ff; Rev 20:7-9; Rev 21:2-4). God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world (CCC # 677).

Hence, a final and intense unleashing is envisaged by Scripture and the Church. And this final and cosmic conflict will usher in the great triumph and the Last Judgment. This unleashing of the full power of the Devil in the very end is mysterious and difficult to understand, but it is clearly set forth in Scripture, perhaps as a final test for the Church, perhaps as a definitive demonstration of the power of God. Notice again that there is no teaching of “rapture” wherein the Church is spared this final trial. Just as Christ was not spared his crucifixion, neither is His mystical body, the Church, spared a final passover into glory. 

Balance! Now please note that while we may wish to focus on one or two points above, each of the five points must be held in balance. In one sense all these signs have been present in the Church’s history, yet not in the definitive and final sense.

Thus, while these are signs that do in fact signal and accompany and usher in the last things, exactly when and how they come together in a definitive sense cannot be known by us. Were that the case, Christ’s clear words that He will come at an hour we do not expect (cf Mat 24:44) and that no one knows the day or hour (cf Matt 24:36), would be violated.

The key point is to hold all five principles in balance, and to accept the tension of knowing signs but not the knowing the definitive time or fulfillment of them.

Most errors in eschatology proceed from a lack of balance and a failure to appreciate that the final age in which we live is steeped in mysteries and meanings known fully only by God. Time itself is mysterious, as are the deeper meanings of events and human history. The Lord, while giving us a framework that reminds of us His coming and signaling us in a merciful way to remember, has insisted that it is not for us to know the times or the seasons fixed by the Father, let alone the day or hour.

Humility, prayerful vigilance, readiness through obedience and the gift of holiness, along with  an eager, longing heart for the Kingdom in all its glory are our best posture.

Avoid doing lots of mathematical calculations here. The Catholic approach  may not be the stuff of movies and bestsellers, but it is the balanced and trusting faith to which we are summoned.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen. (Rev 22:20-21).  And again, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience (2 Cor 5:10-11).

At the end of the day, the true “preoccupation” we have ought to be with our judgment, wherein nothing will be hidden and all the masks we like to wear are stripped away. Even our most idle words will be part of that judgment. Here is something that should concern us and which is both certain and near: our own particular judgment, of which scripture says, It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb 9:27).

Just for some fun, and also for a creative reminder, here is a little video I put together over a year ago.

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Comments (20)

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  1. Stephen Leete says:


    I Pray and intercede for our nation and the world, that you have Mercy on us and allow people to see your Mercy.

    Amen †

  2. Catharine says:

    Thank you, Father, for this very excellent post. I got very “into” biblical and private Catholic prophecy and revelations about the end of times after coming back to the church some 22 years ago. After a lot of study, meditation and prayer, I have concluded that the basic mistake virtually everybody makes is to attempt to telescope the entire future, including the end times, into the near to mid future (i.e., everything will come to pass in no more than 5-10 years). I believe this is because of original sin; we tend to believe even unconsciously that we are at the center of everything. Nonsense! Jesus Christ is the center of everything.
    The Rapture is a “new” alleged public revelation which only surfaced approx. 1850 or 1860. Thus, it is unsupported by either scripture or tradition.
    Finally, most of these self-proclaimed prophets completely ignore the entire history of Catholic prophecy which, although not part of the deposit of faith, is remarkably consistent in some respects. It would appear that we are not at the end of all time, but rather hurtling towards the end of the period of church history (and world history) that began with the Protestant revolt and the so-called Enlightenment. The world is not coming to an end; the world as we know it (western so-called civilization) is, however, coming towards an end.
    Most of the true Catholic prophets are at pains to stress that virtually all of the events predicted will be caused by either natural (i.e., events of nature) or man-made (i.e., war) causes. God will only intervene to bring certain horrific situations to a premature end, shortening those days because otherwise no flesh at all could be saved.
    It would appear that the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary spoken of by Sister Lucia of Fatima has not occurred yet. From later interviews she granted, it would appear that after total chaos and widespread wars and disasters, including a totally unexpected resurgence of Communism which will overtake the entire world, the triumph of the IHM will then occur, ushering in a fairly lengthy period of time in which mass conversions to the Church will take place, a completely new and most Christian civilization will be rebuilt on the ruins of the old, and peace and stability will prevail. This period of time will apparently be of some duration, towards the end of which people will again grow corrupt, faithless and degenerate, and those events which will usher in the true end of time will take place.

  3. Catharine says:

    I beg your indulgence, Father, for one last point: no one should assure him/herself that he/she will still be standing when Jesus Christ returns at the end of time to judge the world. Rather, one should realize that in all likelihood, each of us will die before that day. For the great majority of human beings, the end of time will not be the Last Judgment, but rather bodily death and one’s particular judgment, which takes place right at the time and place of one’s own death.
    The most important consideration, then, is to keep oneself in the state of sanctifying grace, striving to the utmost of one’s ability to live a faithful and devout Christian life. To do all one can to bring Jesus to souls and souls to Jesus. To strive to worship and adore the living God in spirit and truth, as Jesus instructed us.
    This way, when our own bodily death comes, we will be found to be one of those servants who is awake and watching, meriting a heavenly reward for faithful performance of our duties.

  4. Patrick C says:

    Very good reflection.

  5. Michael Petek says:

    One of the things I noticed about the thousand years in the book of Revelation is that it seems to refer to the period in hiistory – however long or short – which separates the final historic defeat of Amalek and the final apostasy which will precede the Last Judgement.

    Amalek is the human enemy of the people of God who is committed to the physical annihilation of the Jews and the Christians.

  6. kent says:

    A day for us is like 1000 years to the Lord. Lehaye makes for good fiction, but his attempted interpretation of the end times is like most baptist preachers, fallible and mostly false. The only thing we know for sure is that Christ will come again (and He will not have two or three 2nd Comings) and the wheat will be separated from the chaff.

  7. teo says:

    When I think about being “left behind” I imagine that all my brothers and sisters (8 total) are sitten ’round at the heavenly banquet and I’m the only one who didn’t make it…..big ouch! (eternal ouch!)

  8. Doug Bishop says:

    I noticed, through Catharine’s comments, that even she does not know exactly, but has a pretty good idea about how our particular judgments will occur. She appears to have an excellent handle on just what is important in this life for Catholics and Christians in general to put their hopes and prayers toward.

    Nothing, in my opinion, should stop us from thinking that our judgment would be delayed when death finally overtakes our bodies, and our souls can once again be free to live in peace and tranquility with our Lord and Savior. Therefore, it does no good to stop praying and hoping that everything will be “forgiven” without putting in the effort to make amends before bodily death finally happens, even if we don’t know exactly if we could have done more to assure our particular salvation before Jesus comes again.

  9. Steven Merten says:

    It is the Catholic Church, the Bride of Jesus, who will be carried up on eagles wings, aka raptured, to become the New Jerusalem, Christ‘s Kingdom Come, on earth. The resounding promise through out scriptures is that God is going to come and rescue Israel from Babylon and restore her to her former glory, in New Born Zion.

    Please visit: Israel on Eagles Wings

    Armageddon is not the end of the world. At the Battle of Armageddon God pours out His wrath on the unrepentant wicked, not His precious faithful (Catholics in a state of grace) residing in His Church. God’s faithful are protected by God on their way to the Wedding Day of the Lamb. The reason only a ‘remnant’ of Israel return home is because there are going to be a massive number of unrepentant wicked people laying dead on the Battle Field of Armageddon.

    Rapture is actually a second Passover. Those in a state of grace, in the bosom of the Catholic Church, shielded and robed in the blood of the Lamb, praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, in their homes, with the windows blocked out, for three days straight, will be Passed over by God’s Woes of Armageddon. God pulling Israel (The Catholic Church), out of symbolic Babylon, and carrying her safely into New Born Zion, will mirror the Exodus of Israel, where God carried Israel safely out of Egypt and into the Promised Land One.

    Please visit: Surviving the Battle of Armageddon

    Scripture tells us that the Woman (the Catholic Church) will be protected from Satan at the Battle of Armageddon. Satan is man’s evil human pride on earth. When Satan realizes that he cannot harm the woman (the Catholic Church), he goes after the Woman’s ‘other offspring’ who keep God’s commandments. Well just who are the Catholic Church’s ‘other offspring’? Dear Protestant brothers and sisters, please return home to the Catholic Church, so that you do not get ‘Left Behind‘!

    Jesus will Rule on earth for tens of thousands of years. Jesus will Rule, with and through His Church, the Catholic Church, using the keys to the kingdom. Jesus will come to reside with His Bride Zion in a new and spectacular way. The whole world is going to know just who their New King is! Massive miracles, peace and justice, will flow from Zion where Jesus and His Bride, the Catholic Church, dwell. All the nations will see Jesus shining His light from Zion and they will stream to her through the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. Let Jesus Rule the World! Let us go to Zion!

  10. Veronica says:

    The most accurate and detailed non-fiction book I know of on pretribulation rapture history is journalist Dave MacPherson’s “The Rapture Plot” (available by calling 800.643.4645) – a book every Catholic should have since the best known pretrib rapture promoters (e.g., Scofield, Lindsey, LaHaye etc.) are strongly anti-Catholic and believe that the future Antichrist will be headquartered in Rome (and you can almost guess where!). Google articles of interest include “Catholics Did NOT Invent the Rapture,” “The Real Manuel Lacunza,” “Pseudo-Ephraem Taught Pretrib – NOT!,” “John Darby Did Not Invent the Rapture,” “Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart” (she originated the pretrib rapture), “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Evangelicals Use Occult Deception,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty.” Every Catholic church should have “The Rapture Plot” (see above) especially since many Catholics have been brainwashed by the best-selling “Left Behind” books and movies based on the false, 185-year-old pretrib rapture fantasy which didn’t invade and take over American evangelicalism much before 1909!

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