Left Behind

REPORTER: Bronwyn Adcock

SPEAKER: Our goal is to challenge every person within the sound of our voices today, with the truth that soon Jesus Christ is going to come, and the central question is this – if Christ were to come today, are you ready for him to come?

Getting ready for the second coming of Christ is why these people are here at this conference on prophecy in Houston, Texas.


The guest today is a superstar in the world of biblical prophecy. Dr Tim LaHaye is an expert on the Bible’s Book of Revelation, which some Christians interpret as a literal account of how the world will end.

DR. TIM LAHAYE: Here we have the Rapture of the church is going to come at any time, possibly within the lifetime of many of us. After that there’s a little 7-year tribulation period when God will shake the earth and give man an opportunity to who missed the Rapture to receive Christ.

Dr LaHaye has turned his interest in prophecy into a publishing phenomenon, with a fiction series based on the Book of Revelation. Called ‘Left Behind’, the series begins with the key event in Revelation – the Rapture, when all believers are taken up to heaven and non-believers are left behind. Five of the books in series have debuted at number one on the US best-seller list. They regularly outsell authors like John Grisham and Stephen King.

DR. TIM LAHAYE: That’s happening all over America.

Tim LaHaye says he got the inspiration on a plane trip 15 years ago when he was thinking about the Rapture.

DR. TIM LAHAYE: And I was sitting there and the captain came out of the cabin and started flirting with a flight attendant. And I looked down and I noticed he had a wedding ring on but she didn’t. And the sparks between them were obvious, and I began to think, Well now, what would happen if when he went back into the cabin, if she’s pounding on the door and she’s screaming, “Captain, there are 100 people missing from our aircraft?”

MOVIE SCENE: They’re not here, they’re not anywhere, OK. Their shoes, their clothes, … it’s crazy. All left behind. The people are gone.

‘Left Behind’ has been made into a movie. While the film never came close to the success of the books, it tells the same story. The central character is the plane’s captain.

DR. TIM LAHAYE: And so he comes back and he turns to the co-pilot and he says, “You don’t suppose this is that Rapture that my wife’s been telling me about?” And then it dawns on him. If it is, when I get home, she’ll be gone ’cause she was a Christian and I’ll be left behind. And he becomes the hero for the entire series.

While Christians are taken up to heaven, those left behind wage a 7-year battle on earth against forces led by the anti-Christ.

REPORTER: I mean can you see why these books are so popular now?

DR. TIM LAHAYE: Well, basically because there’s an element of truth. It’s fiction characters that describe the truth and so people want to know about the future and these books give it to them in a very short dose, an interesting manner. It’s an excellent tool for education.

WOMAN: I think you’re amazing and I absolutely love the books, love them.

It’s not surprising that at the prophecy conference sales are booming. But this is a nationwide phenomenon. Including offshoots like children’s books and videos, 58 million copies have sold, the vast majority in America. LaHaye claims the books have converted many people to Christianity.

MAN: From reading ‘Left Behind’ series, I went on to read Revelation itself and I went on to read the Book of Daniel and I’m goin’ on to study the Bible and just overall I’ve just got such a deep interest in it now. I can’t believe it. I think about it every day. Everything I do causes me to think prophecy, future, God, Jesus, and it’s all I think about.

WOMAN: I think it was a brilliant idea that these gentlemen decided to go on a fiction route for people that are non-believers, they’re able to read these books almost like a John Grisham. They’re as exciting, as gripping as something like Robert Ludlam or John Grisham. And yet they still clearly receive the message that’s intended. So I think fiction kind of brings it to the masses and therefore evangelises.

LARRY KING,CNN: The books themselves are called the ‘Left Behind’ series. The latest in that series the ‘Indwelling’. There you see its cover. ‘The Beast Takes Possession’ is number one this week and last on the ‘New York Times’ best seller list in fiction.

While Tim LaHaye provides the theological inspiration for the books, he works with author Jerry Jenkins to actually write them. From his home in Colorado Springs, Jenkins is preparing to begin work on the much anticipated 12th book in the series.

JERRY JENKINS: These are not necessarily the order of events the way they’ll appear in the novel because he does leave that to me, but it’s the order of events as they appear in the prophecies.

It’s a unique partnership. LaHaye provides Jenkins with a set of briefing notes that contain passages from the book of Revelation followed by an interpretation. Jenkins then turns this into a novel.

JERRY JENKINS: Rather than try to interpret everything symbolically, he tries to interpret it literally. We get criticise for that but it really has opened this up to people. When it says that meteors fall and the heavens are shaking, he takes that literally. So that’s a novelist’s dream. I get to describe that, put my characters in the way of that and see what happens.

While some may turn to the books because of their interest in Christianity, most will get more than just a spiritual boost. The stories also carry a distinctly political message. In the books and the film, the modern day anti-Christ is the head of the United Nations. He gets to that position with the help of shadowy international financiers. The casting of the anti-Christ as the head of the UN reflects LaHaye’s own personal suspicions.

REPORTER: Why did you choose the UN to be the body that the anti-Christ essentially uses to take over with?

DR. TIM LAHAYE: Well he’s going to establish a one-world government. That’s one reason Christians are suspicion of globalism. They see it as maybe a precursor of anti-Christ. And I just used the United Nations because it’s an entity today that people can understand. It may not be the United Nations, it may be something else. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised in today’s geopolitical situation where the United Nations and the European common market will gradually grow together and join other countries of the world against the United States, the superpower. And gradually they will move their centre of government to Iraq. An interesting thing in the Bible is –

REPORTER: This is from your book? Or this is what you’re saying will happen?

DR. TIM LAHAYE: This is what I’m saying will probably happen – that the capital of the anti-Christ kingdom will be in Babylon.

ROB BOSTON: One thing you have to understand about Tim LaHaye is that he’s paranoid and I say that upfront, without apology – the man’s paranoid.

Rob Boston works for a lobby group in Washington DC called Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He’s followed Tim LaHaye for decades, ever since LaHaye was one of the key architects of the Religious Right, a conservative Christian movement set up in the ’70s designed to influence public policy.

ROB BOSTON: There are a people in the Religious Right, very, a lot of people in the Religious Right who believe that from day one, the United States was founded as almost God’s experiment. That it was God’s will that we would spread across the continent and we did. That it was God’s will that we would vanquish the godless atheists of the Soviet Union and we did. And now it’s God’s will that we become the most powerful nation on the earth and that by default, we run the world. The UN is standing in the way of that. The UN, according to Religious Right and the far right, wants to run the world instead.

TIM LAHAYE: Can you imagine the wonderful plan God has for our future and that plan is far better than any religion in the world. Would you compare it with the Muslim religion? We hear a lot about that today. You kill yourself in a suicide attempt and you can go into heaven and you have at your disposal 14 dark-haired maidens, or some said 72, whatever. My point is what about the maidens? That doesn’t sound like heaven to me for the maidens. But anyway, and then you think of the Hindu religion.

Rob Boston is uncomfortable with the political agenda underpinning Bible prophecy.

ROB BOSTON: The reason I get alarmed by some of these folks is because they are taking a controversial interpretation of the Book of Revelation, which is a symbol laden, metaphorical book, that many people believe described events in first century Rome. They’re taking that and trying to impose that on modern day society and saying that certain behaviours should follow from that, that there are ways that people ought to vote or get involved in politics because of this interpretation of the Book of Revelation. A good example of that is the on going efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. There are people who have disagreed with some of the approaches that have been suggested because the approach might conflict with an interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

At the prophecy conference in Texas, preachers are teaching that according to the Bible, Israel is for the Jews only.

PREACHER: God just said, this is gunna be your land. God declared it. Now that’s gunna become extremely important in a few moments to our better understanding of the situation in the Middle East today.

REPORTER: Should there be a Palestinian state?

DR. TIM LAHAYE: I don’t think so because that’s – the Palestinians were nonexistent really, for many, many centuries. They should be assimilated by the other Arab countries that could have assimilated them and solved this problem, but it’s a manufactured problem.

LaHaye’s message is not only preached from the pulpit. Influential Republican and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay actively lobbies against a Palestinian state, based in part on his interpretation of the Bible. This politician is a hero at the prophecy conference.

PREACHER: If you know representative Tom DeLay you wanna pray for him, ’cause he’s the only voice in Washington I know is standing up and saying, “Hey, this thing is crazy, we need to stop this.”

ROB BOSTON: Lives are at stake here. We can’t allowed this carnage and the killing to go on because some television preacher thinks it conflicts with a thousand-year-old book. Yet there are people urging our national leaders to take just that approach.

So are they just a good read or are the ‘Left Behind’ books something more powerful? According the Rob Boston, it depends on who’s reading them.

ROB BOSTON: The people that concern me are the ones who take this seriously and look as these books as a blueprint of things to come and are wondering how they can help bring all that about. They’re the ones that keep me up at night.

GIRL: And just tell you I thought you did a wonderful job today. So, I’ve enjoyed your book a lot. So keep on doing the good work. Thank you very much.