While the series is fiction, many Christians believe the events will happen someday, so our story challenges readers to examine their own lives from a spiritual perspective. What matters? Does heaven await us? Can anyone know for sure?
Some of the answers lie in Paul's life and writings, which were crucial to constructing the world of Left Behind.
Paul knew what he believed. For years he was called Saul of Tarsus, a man proud of his traditions. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews with unquestionable credentials. Similarly, Rayford Steele, Left Behind's searching Everyman, also thought he had it figured out. Both men had a lot to learn.
When a new sect called the Way arose, claiming that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, Saul was outraged. Jesus was a fellow Jew, a mere man, and could not be the Christ. Saul was sure of that. Rayford's wife, Irene, knew the truth about Jesus, but Rayford refused to even consider the possibility. Key to Irene's story was the belief that one day all true Christians would be raptured-raised bodily past the clouds and into heaven--and the rest of the world would be left behind. Rayford wasn't buying.
Nor was Saul. Instead, he focused on crushing what he saw as a spiritual insurrection. Saul conducted a campaign of terror, mercilessly persecuting Christians. When Stephen was martyred, Saul stood back eagerly watching, caring for the coats of the attackers. Had we been in the crowd, no doubt we would have seen the young Saul nodding his approval. Saul demanded warrants so he could pull Christians from their homes and families and try to force them to blaspheme. Believers were hunted, unsafe anywhere. When saints were imprisoned, he cast his vote against them and they were put to death. Saul was efficient, a scourge.
In a flash, it all changed. His life was fractured by an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that left him helpless and blind. "Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" Jesus asked. The question threw him to the ground. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Revelation snapped his chains. He saw his bloody actions, understood what he was doing to the Body of Christ - the early church, Jesus, and himself.
His returning sight brought a vision of the lost and empty-hearted around him and a view of heaven and Christ's triumphant return.
Likewise, in the Left Behind series, Rayford watches the Rapture unfold-and suddenly sees truth staring him in the eye: "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up [raptured] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever" I Thessalonians 4:16-17. At that moment, Rayford bent His knee to the Savior and became a changed man. All he wanted was the chance to tell others the Good News.
Twenty centuries earlier, Paul wrote that he hoped to see the Rapture one day-the same Rapture from which the fictional Rayford was left behind.
Paul also wrote, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." He called it a mystery: "We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed" (I Corinthians 15:50-52). These writings show that Paul believed in the Rapture, an event that Christians like me believe will ultimately trigger an explosion in the numbers of those coming to Christ.and being martyred in His name.
In the Left Behind series, Rayford and the underground believers risk their lives to spread the Gospel. They face constant enemy attacks as well as terrifying judgments from the hand of God. Though they became believers (the Bible calls them Tribulation saints), life didn't get any easier for them.
Neither did it for Paul. After finding his faith, he was shipwrecked, beaten, mocked, and spent two years in prison.
Stark differences exist between life here and now and life everlasting with Jesus. The Left Behind books show men and women making decisions for eternity. In the end times, believers will encounter the same kind of torment first century Christians faced. Though death is imminent and inevitable, each of us can choose Christ and live forever with Him.
It's a decision we must all make, a choice Paul urged on everyone he met.