“‘On that Day, two men will be in the same boat fishing – one taken, the other left. Two women will be working in the same kitchen – one taken, the other left.

“Trying to take this all in, the disciples said, ‘Master, where?’

“He told them, ‘Watch for the circling of the vultures. They’ll spot the corpse first. The action will begin around my dead body.'” Luke 17:34-37.

The ‘left behind’ theory, that it will be the unbelievers who will be left behind to be destroyed with the earth by fire, has captured the imagination of Christian writers, producing a flood of novels and teachings that bring this theory to life for the reading public. It may be an interesting subject for a good story but is it true to Scripture?

There are two aspects to the teachings of Scripture that we must examine. Firstly, who will be ‘left behind’ and why? This is tied up with God’s intention for the earth and for the human race. Is it His intention to destroy the earth and start all over again?

God created the earth as a perfect dwelling place for man. His intention was that He would come and dwell with humans, blending heaven and earth together in a union of perfect love and harmony where men would rule the earth under God.

Man was put on probation to see whether he would worship and obey God because he loved Him. Man was lured away by the temptation to be his own boss and set up his own rules. This disrupted the unity between him and his Creator and resulted in the introduction of chaos on the earth.

This chaos and the wickedness of men increased until God had no option but to put an end to it. What did He do? He caused a flood which did not destroy the earth; it destroyed the entire wicked human race except for eight people who were kept alive in a boat, together with the animals that would reproduce and replenish the earth.

Why did God not just wipe out everything and start again? Because that was not His way. Because of who He is, He did not abandon His original purpose but set in motion a plan of redemption, when Adam rebelled against Him in the beginning, that would reveal to all of creation the greatness of His mercy and grace.

He rescued Noah and his family through the very waters that destroyed the rest of the human race. The ark that Noah built was the means of their salvation, sheltering them from the wrath of God as a picture of Jesus in whom we are sheltered from the wrath of God that will fall on disobedient mankind. God did not take Noah and his family out. They were ‘left behind’ when He took out all the wicked through the flood.

Secondly, how will the earth be ‘destroyed’? This is how Peter describes it: “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” 2 Peter 3:12b, 13 (NIV).

At face value, it seems as though Peter is talking about literal fire and literal destruction. However, we must understand this in the context of God’s power. God works by the power of His word. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth.” Psalm 33:6 (NIV). His word is not only creative but destructive – “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” Jeremiah 23:29 (NIV).

We must also examine meaning of the word ‘elements’ – ‘the elements will melt in the heat.’ Paul uses the same word in his letter to the Galatians (4:9b) which is translated ‘weak and miserable principles’ and in Colossians 2:8 ‘hollow and deceptive philosophy’.

Both Peter and Paul are speaking of the godless philosophies by which people live rather than the truth which Jesus came to reveal.

When we put this together, it throws a different light on what has been written about the ‘end of the world’. When Jesus returns, He will purify the earth, by the power of His word, of all those who refused to submit to Him and believe the truth He came to bring. The earth will be purged of the corruption that came with Adam’s rebellion and will be renewed to its original perfection. God will make His dwelling with men in perfect unity and man will rule over the earth in obedience to Him.

Luella Campbell

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