I’m not certain how many “Left Behind” films there have been so far but since the 1970s there have been several evangelical thrillers—beginning with “Thief In The Night”—based on the eschatology of John Nelson Darby (1800–82) et al that anticipate a “secret rapture” of believers as part of a complex of events associated with the “end times.” As a young, newly converted evangelical I was quickly introduced to the evangelical pop sub-culture which included Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). For a time I even worked at one of the pioneering CCM radio stations (KBHL, Lincoln) with some of the folks who invented that radio genre (Scott Campbell, Dewey Boynton). Back then the most famous and one of the better CCM artists was Larry Norman and one of his more popular songs was “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”
The song in question starts at about 1:30. It’s fun to hear Phil Keaggy and Larry having fun. Whatever one makes of his theology, Keaggy is an amazing guitarist.
The premise of the song is that Jesus will come and believers will be taken secretly to be with him and, in this scheme, it the rapture will be followed by a period of tribulation. The imagery behind “left behind” is taken from Matthew 24:36–44:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son,but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (ESV).
According to Thomas Ice Dispensational Premillennialist theologians don’t often appeal to this passage in support of the so-called “pre-trib” rapture but in popular evangelical folk-culture this passage is often taken this way. It certainly was taken that way in the circles in which I was introduced to evangelicalism.
If, however, we read the passage slowly, carefully, however we will see that, in context, to be taken is not a good thing, it is not to go to be with the Lord in the air. No, to be taken is a bad thing. Observe the comparison. Our Lord begins with Noah. Who, in that episode was “taken” and who left behind? Noah and his family were left behind and everyone else is “taken” in the floodwaters of judgment. That establishes the pattern and the analogy that informs the rest of the passage. “So it will be when the Son of Man comes.” Two men are working. One will be taken and the other left. Two women are making bread. One will be taken and the other left. Following the analogy with Noah, one does not want to be taken because that is to be destroyed. One wants to be left behind.