When I was a kid, my parents went to a lot of religious bookstores for some reason. I was always left to my own devices and would always find my way to the Jack Chick comics and posters on the wall. In the pre-millennium tension world that was the late 1970’s, one movie was always getting shown and that was A Thief In the Night.
This movie is thought to have been seen by an estimated 300 million people and was the pioneer of a whole new genre of Christian film, one that would marry rock music and horror movies to create a film that would, quite frankly, scare you into believing. This isn’t family-friendly evangelic filmmaking. This is punch you in the face and demand you get saved now mania.
Patty Myer wakes up to learn that millions of people have disappeared in the Rapture. Even her family is gone and she’s been left behind. She’s trapped in a world where the United Nations has set up an emergency government system called the United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency (UNITE) and declare that those who do not receive a symbol of identification — yes, the Mark of the Beast — will be arrested.
It didn’t have to be this way for Patty. One of her friends loved Jesus and followed Him. Another friend was bitten by a snake before finding his way. And now, she doesn’t believe in Jesus or the UNITE preachings, so she’s on the run.
Patty is chased by UNITE to a bridge where she falls to her death, but then she awakens only for it to all be a dream. But guess what? The Rapture happens again and her family is all gone again. What happens next? Will she accept the Mark? Will she try to find her way to Heaven? If even a priest will take the Mark, how can a normal person avoid Satan?
There were three other movies in this series — of course we’ll be covering all of them — and they all build on the tension of the end of all things. These things played in libraries and churches and used fear to lead the conversion call at the end. I’ve never understood that, but the majority of humanity leaves me questioning a lot of things.
All I know is that I spent most of my childhood nights awake in bed worrying about the end of the world. Would I be ready? Would I make it to the Rapture? How would I survive when the rest of my family went to Heaven and I was left alone to battle the forces of the evil ones? I would get the shakes, waking my whole family up screaming in terror.
Did the movie work? According to an interview on a Baptist church website, Heather Hendershoot, associate professor in the media studies department at Queens College, City University of New York said, “I have found that A Thief in the Night is the only evangelical film that viewers cite directly and repeatedly as provoking a conversion experience.”
25 years later, the authors of the Left Behind series of books and films had the same success but on a much more secular level. We’ll never lose our fear of the end times until after they come…and according to scripture, we’ll never know exactly when we’ll all be taken or left behind.