See that person sitting next to you? Depending on how righteous they are, they are going to disappear. One moment they are there and the next just gone. Not just them. A whole lot of people will vanish into thin air. That isn’t the half of it, as planes and cars hurl out of control because some drivers and pilots suddenly aren’t available. This will cause many deaths, but its only the start. Those left behind will then have to endure a massive amount of guilt for, well, not getting taken. A worldwide epidemic and tyrannical government takes over among a lot of other bad things. More fun follows.
All of this is happening at a theater near you, or cable. If you dare or even care. It appears that what is known as the Rapture, or something much like it, where the good people are taken up to Heaven and leaving the rest has grabbed hold of creative types. No less than one series and two soon to be released movies are based on this religious idea. Even the non-religious are inspired. The series isn’t religious and mocks those of faith while taking up the idea as a serious plot.
The series on HBO The Leftovers is about 2 percent of the population disappearing. Those left behind, particularly in Mapleton, New York where the show takes place, turn to fear and sorrow over what might have happened. A group known as Guilty Remnants sulk and fret over the loss and abandonment issues, forming a type of cult. Meanwhile, a former religious leader who now publishes a conspiracy newspaper grapples with the reason he didn’t go with those who were taken away. Trying to put the pieces together, both of what happened and the aftermath, is the town chief of police who works on maintaining law and order. The religious nature of the disappearances are only one possible explanation explored by the series. It could also be aliens, among other things. Be aware that this is an adult show by a cable channel not devoted to family friendly entertainment.
Two other productions are both movies put out by big money companies. The most talked about, Left Behind, stars Nicolas Cage, the hit and miss actor whose very presence can create a film’s buzz if not save it from disaster. It also stars Lea Thompson of Back to the Future and Some Kind of Wonderful fame. The movie is based on the popular book series of the same name, and is a film reboot of sorts. The other movie, The Remaining is a low budget, but still mainstreamed, treatment of the Rapture event. Described as a horror drama, it has pleased some from the Evangelical religious community. Filmed in the found footage tradition of The Blair Witch and Cloverfield, it follows a recently married couple who must live through the tribulations. This means lots of hysterical people and hand held unsteady camera work. Why the sudden creative interest in this topic is anyone’s guess.
Mormons and the Rapture
These stories are based on a pre-tribulation interpretation of the Coming of Jesus Christ taken from 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17, where the believers will be caught up into Heaven to be saved. This is often mixed in with Matthew 24:40 describing how, “two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” Believers in the pre-tribulation Rapture usually discuss the end times calamities in the Book of Revelation as happening after the righteous have been spared. The purpose is to destroy the unbelievers and give one last chance to the undecided.
Not all Evangelicals, the main body of Christians who believe the left behind theology, accept it as a Biblical teaching. Many see it as false doctrine taught by misinformed preachers influenced by visionaries. Its popularity and development is traced to the anti-clerical Irish preacher John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren who believed strongly in Sola Scriptura. The early 20th Century United States saw a surge in believers to the theology of dispensationalism, where Earth’s history is cut up into sections of marked time. This was accompanied by the pre-tribulation Rapture doctrine said will occur at the end of the years before the great upheaval that ends the World.
There is nothing in Mormon teachings that supports pre-tribulation Rapture, but a more complicated mixing of the tribulations and the coming of Jesus Christ. If there is any definition that could fit, it would probably be post-tribulation with some caution. The righteous and the Church will have to endure along with the rest of the World the judgements of God, until He has to save the Church from destruction by evil forces. An illustration of this comes from 2 Nephi 30:8-12, describing the last days:
8 And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall commence his work among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, to bring about the restoration of his people upon the earth.
9 And with righteousness shall the Lord God judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth. And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
10 For the time speedily cometh that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will he destroy; and he will spare his people, yea, even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire.
11 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
12 And then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling, together; and a little child shall lead them.
A type of the Second Coming can be found in Third and Fourth Nephi, when the Nephites and Lamanites are graced with Jesus Christ’s visit. There is tremendous destruction and death accompanied by three days of total darkness. Very few righteous people exist at that time and no one is raised to Heaven before the tribulations. Those remaining behind spared of death are actually the least wicked among the people. They are taught by a descending Jesus how to live in peace and goodness. For a few hundred years there exists a kind of utopia until evil sinners once again spread across the land. Eventually wickedness will become so great that perpetual war is all that remains of civilization; leaving no righteous believers at the end of the record. For Mormons this will be the pattern of the end times. The wicked will grow strong enough that Jesus comes to save the world from total collapse through fire and destruction.
As mentioned, the Second Coming is more complicated than Jesus coming down after the wicked burn. There might be three or more separate events associated with the Savior’s return. One of them is the Sudden return of Jesus to the Temple, perhaps in Salt Lake. Some Mormons have speculated that the First Vision and Kirtland Temple is a fulfilment of this prophecy, although other Scriptures put this into the future. Another return will be when Jesus comes down during the last great battle to save Israel from destruction. This will be followed by the bodies of Saints resurrected to be raised and then come down with Christ as a witness to all. Another aspect is the meeting of Adam and all the great prophets and leaders to hand over the Kingdom of the Earth to Jesus to reign during the Millenium. When and what order these happen is open to debate. None of this can be considered a pre-tribulation viewpoint, although it might be less definable than a once only arrival.
For a religion that has Latter-days in the name, Mormonism mainstream has not been preoccupied by end time prophecies. The responses to its history and doctrine have been much more practical and at times immediate. Not that discussions have been ignored, but placed in the context of lived experience and eternal salvation. Novel series similar to Left Behind have been written by Mormons, with some popularity. Would Mormons go watch these Rapture movies? Are they more than a curiosity and have some relavance for a potential Mormon audience? For those who have read the series, is there any religious agreements or complete doctrinal incompatibility?