While Harold Camping’s latest prophecy that the end of the world would come on Friday 21st October has fallen through, an Oxford student’s research has sought to explore why premillennial Rapture movements have such a big impact on the public consciousness.
Anbara Khalidi’s research suggests that such movements use the media to play on human fears, focusing on the Left Behind novels, a series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins that has found huge popularity across the world. Although ostensibly fictional, they contain prominent premillennial ideas and teachings. Khalidi explained: “They use imagery from the Bible alongside sort of stock disaster-movie or science-fiction cliches to paint a very vivid image of the Apocalypse, and the horrible fate that awaits those who don’t accept the truth of Rapture theology.”
While premillennial ideas have struggled to be taken seriously in the mainstream media, Khalidi said “The ‘Left Behind’ series itself has sold over 63 million copies, and it has been estimated that 1 in 10 adult Americans have read at least one book of the series; at this point I’m not sure these ideas cannot be simply dismissed as marginal.
“In some Rapture or premillennialist understandings, we come across ideas that suggest Obama could be the Antichrist, a figure that must be assassinated to set Jesus’ return in motion. We see narratives that suggest the UN is the powerhouse of the Antichrist, that to promote global peace and disarmament is the covert work of Satan and must be resisted. Can we really afford to dismiss such ideas as ridiculous? To mock and disregard such beliefs creates serious blind spots in the way the ‘mainstream’ narrates the fabric of our contemporary society, and underestimates both the power and the influence of such beliefs.”
Khalidi emphasized that the rapture is not a new phenomenon: “These types of Apocalyptic or Rapture theologies are far from new- certainly dating from at least the 1600s, and neither are these concepts really that ‘weird’ if we were to consider many other wider Christian accounts of the end of time”.
Second year Alex Fisher said: “In an age where science is the new religion, to be honest I tend to think of these ideas as largely defunct. If the rapture does occur in the near future, after all these centuries of hype I have a feeling it’ll be a bit of an anticlimax- a storm in a teacup, so to say”.
Khalidi is a third year DPHil in the Theology Faculty. She said “The project hasn’t been published- I am working towards that in the next year while I finish up!”.
Premillennialist theories suggest that Christ will return to the earth, to establish a new kingdom, just prior to a 1,000 year reign. These arguments are primarily drawn from a literal interpretation of Revelation in the New Testament, which describes Jesus’ return to earth and subsequent reign at the end of an apocalyptic period of tribulation, in which those who choose not to follow God at the Rapture will be left behind to suffer widespread hardship.