You and I are privileged to stand on the cresting waves of prophecy—to live in a time closer to the return of Jesus Christ than any other generation in the history of the world. We sense the nearness of His return. We see the signs of the times. We know the world is reaching a climactic point of unparalleled crisis.
Nuclear weapons are now sophisticated enough and small enough to be carried by hand; such weapons even have a nickname: “tactical nukes.” The global economy is hanging by a spider’s thread. Political fragmentation seems to be occurring simultaneously on every continent.
And the -isms—secularism, radical Islamism, communism, totalitarianism, and terrorism—are spreading over the nations like a runaway case of poison ivy.
These realities frighten us and are heartrending, but to me they’re also exhilarating, for they portend the return of Christ. I’ve been exhilarated by the thought of seeing Christ for many years, and, like you, I’ve been privileged to live at a time when we can trace the prophecies of God’s Word being fulfilled before our very eyes.
Prophecy Comes to Life
I also feel honored to have been connected in a small way with two of the most important prophecy books or series of books that have ever been written.
I began my pastoral career in 1969 when my wife, Donna, and I, along with seven families, started Blackhawk Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1970, the second year of my pastoral ministry there, Hal Lindsey published a book entitled The Late Great Planet Earth. The book came out a few years after the Six-Day War in the Middle East when people were focused on the remarkable events unfolding in Israel.
This book brought the message of biblical prophecy into everyday conversation, and it became the bestselling nonfiction book of the seventies. It sold more than twenty-eight million copies by 1990 and was eventually translated into more than fifty languages. Some pundits have calculated that, all together, Lindsey’s book sold more than thirty-five million copies.
Hal Lindsey graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary, the same seminary from which I graduated in 1967. Both of us were privileged to sit under some of the greatest teachers of Bible prophecy in the modern era—professors including Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, and Charles Ryrie. In his book, Lindsey took the theological truths he had learned in seminary regarding the prophetic portions of Scripture, as well as insights from his own subsequent studies, and connected them to events in the present and future.
The coauthor of Lindsey’s book was a gifted and godly woman named Carole Carlson. In the early eighties, I met Carole and her husband, Ward, at the Forest Home Bible Conference in California, where I was a speaker. Sometime during that week, Donna and I had coffee with Carole, and she suggested she might be able to assist me in putting some of my prophetic sermons into print.
Two books came out of that conversation. The first one, The Handwriting on the Wall, was released in 1992. It captured the message of the Old Testament book of Daniel. Escape the Coming Night, a contemporary commentary on the New Testament book of Revelation, was released on the first day of the Gulf War and became my all-time bestselling book.
I recall with fondness the hours Carole and I spent together talking about prophecy and discussing how to make it come alive for our readers. Since then, both Carole and Ward have graduated into the presence of the Lord. Yet they’re still alive today, not only in heaven but also in the books they helped two authors create.
Tim LaHaye and the Left Behind Series
In the late seventies and early eighties I developed a relationship with a California pastor by the name of Tim LaHaye. By the providence of God, I was called to be his successor at what was then called Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, California. Today that church is Shadow Mountain Community Church. After forty-two years, I am still the pastor of that church. It fills me with gratitude to think Tim LaHaye and I have pastored the same church for over sixty years.
In the early 1990s, God placed a burden upon Dr. LaHaye’s heart as he was flying home from a speaking engagement. After a vigorous study of the Scriptures, he had firmly come to the conclusion that all believing Christians would be removed from the world prior to the Tribulation by means of an event called the Rapture.
On the airplane that day, he couldn’t help noticing one of the pilots flirting with a flight attendant. The pilot was wearing a wedding ring. Dr. LaHaye thought to himself, What if this were the moment God chose to remove His faithful believers from earth, leaving behind billions of bewildered unbelievers? What if the Rapture occurred while I was riding on an airplane?
It was then he decided to write a fictional account of what could happen on earth in the moments after the Lord returns in the skies to suddenly take all Christians to heaven.
Dr. LaHaye joined forces with an experienced author named Jerry Jenkins to write the series. The first book, Left Behind, was published in 1995. If you’ve read it, you likely remember the opening scene, which features an airline pilot interrupted by a frantic stewardess telling him that dozens of passengers have disappeared. Only the bodies were missing; everything else—clothes, shoes, and even gold fillings—were left behind.
What an opening scene for a novel—especially one based on biblical truths about unfolding prophecy!
That book and the fifteen that followed sold close to eighty million copies. The last six volumes in the series each debuted as number one on all the major bestseller lists, including those of the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and the Wall Street Journal. Two of the books were made into movies, and the entire series inspired a children’s collection of Left Behind books.
Even as I’m writing these words today, a new Left Behind movie has been released, more than two decades after the first book was published.
I had the honor of walking through some of those exciting days with my friend Tim LaHaye. On a number of occasions he’d invite me to lunch and present me with a signed copy of the latest release in the series.
I owe a lot to Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. They helped me understand how important it was to teach the prophetic Scriptures—which, by the way, comprise 27 percent of the Bible. I believe one of the reasons God blessed these remarkable books by Lindsey and Dr. LaHaye was this: the Rapture is the central event in each series.
The Rapture Is the Central Event in Biblical Prophecy
Mark Hitchcock wrote, “More than any other single thing, studying the end timeshas helped me to understand the whole Bible. And while there are many truths about the end times that have deeply affected my life, one truth stands out above all the others: the Rapture.”
Who among the followers of Jesus wouldn’t be thrilled to hear the blast of the trumpet, catch the shout of the angel, and feel the upward pull of the magnetic, rapturous grace of God calling us out of this world and letting us see our Lord Jesus face-to-face?
How we need this anticipation! It’s our glorious hope in a world filled with hopelessness. Peter spoke of how wonderful it is to be “looking forward to these things” (2 Pet. 3:14).
It will be the Great Disappearance—the moment when billions of people suddenly vanish from the face of the earth, along with billions of dead bodies returning to life and ascending to meet the Lord in the air. Imagine the thrill for those who go and the terror for those who stay!
Scriptural Truth to Give You Hope
This is something to think about upon rising in the morning and retiring at night. This isn’t just the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s the light that heralds eternity, heaven, and the fulfillment of all God has promised His children.
This is the truth spoken by the Savior who said, “I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3).
It’s the truth Paul proclaimed when he said the Rapture would happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52).
This is the truth expressed in these infallible, unforgettable words: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16–17).