"Next Year in Jerusalem": An Update based on "Assassins", the New Book in the "Left Behind" Series, and on the Novel "The Visitation" by Frank Peretti
by Massimo Introvigne
My paper "Next Year in Jerusalem": Jerusalem in Catastrophic Millennialism, read at a seminar on "Law Enforcement and Religious Violence" co-organized by CESNUR and by the Critical Incident Response Group of the FBI at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on June 7, 1999, discussed millennial expectations by mainline Evangelical protestants based on two sources: theological textbooks, and millennial fiction. In the second category, I used as a principal reference the best selling "Left Behind" series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. At the date of my paper, five volumes in the series had been published, and I noted that, after the fifth trumpet of Revelation 8 (a plague of locusts), we lost the guidance of "Left Behind" (but can still rely on theological literature) in order to map what Evangelical premillennialists foresee for the Tribulation years. The sixth volume in the "Left Behind" series, Assassins - Assignment:Jerusalem, Target: Antichrist, has now been published by Tyndale House (and has immediately made the bestseller list in the U.S.). While for the general scheme of premillennialism, or catastrophic millennialism, readers are invited to refer to the paper "Next Year in Jerusalem", Assassins (who will no doubt influence, just as the previous volumes did, how millions of Evangelicals expect the Tribulation to occur) offers some new views on the sixth trumpet and the end of the first half of the Tribulation, not necessarily identical to those presented in most Evangelical textbooks. The sixth trumpet involves a supernatural horde of 200 millions demonic horsemen slaying a third of the Earth's remaining population. Assassins states (in accordance with most Evangelical premillennialist theologians) that only unbelievers will be killed by the horsemen. Just as real-life Evangelical theologians, fictional scholar (and spiritual mentor of the Tribulation saints) Tsion Ben-Judah struggles in Assassins with the question whether the horsemen are real or symbolic, visible or invisible. He prefers the idea that they are symbolic, and certainly they remain invisible to unbelievers. But some believers (not all of them) do see the horsemen, and the horrible death of those they slay is certainly very real. As predicted, towards the end of the first three and a half years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, plans the destruction of the universal apostate religion, called in the "Left Behind" series Enigma Babylon One World Faith. His pontiff, former Catholic cardinal of Cincinnati Peter Mathews, is finally killed by a conspiracy of the regional potentates (the "Kings" of the Book of Revelation) masterminded by Carpathia himself. However, the potentates also secretly conspire to kill Carpathia. So do members of the Tribulation Force (the leadership of the Christians left during the Tribulation), and some undecided players (Hattie Durham, the Antichrist's ex-lover, and Israeli genius scientist Chaim Rosenzweig) who, while not having converted to Christianity, have their own reasons to hate Carpathia.
The events climax at the close of the first three and a half years of the Tribulation. Carpathia calls a rally in Jerusalem (despite the earthquake foreseen by the Book of Revelation) where he announces the dissolution of Enigma Babylon One World Faith. He proceeds to the Temple Wall and kill the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 (their time has, in fact, come), but cannot prevent their resurrection, broadcasted live by international TV networks. Finally, the Antichrist himself is killed but, as in a good season finale cliffhanger of a TV series, we do not know who the assassin is (candidates are many). We do know, however, that he will be resurrected by the Devil and install himself as God, both because this is the standard interpretation of Revelation in the premillennialist community, and because the series can hardly go on without Nicolae Carpathia, the villain millions of Evangelicals now love to hate. (As for his chief aide, Leon Fortunato, he does worship Nicolae as God but his life has been miraculously saved by the true God of the Christians, and we would not be too surprised should he convert in one of the subsequent books). Book 7 in the "Left Behind" series is announced for late spring 2,000 but perhaps it would be anticipated by popular demand.
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Compared to Assassins, another recent Evangelical novel by a normally apocalyptic author, Frank Peretti's The Visitation (Word), appears somewhat anticlimactic. In Peretti's novel, set in Antioch, Washington, apparently miraculous events culminate in the appearance of a young messiah who leads his followers to believe that he is the returning Christ. It turns out, however, that these are not the last times, and the boy is by no means the messiah. Abused by his father (a fundamentalist Southern pastor), and disappointed by a gilded but spiritually dead California megachurch, the boy has opened himself to demonic possession. This is, after all, a Peretti's novel, and demons abound. The "miracles" performed by the pseudo-messiah are "real", but demonic, and ultimately conductive to no good for all those involved (the boy himself is finally killed by his own demons). The messiah's followers create what is described as a cult, reminiscent of the popular image of the Branch Davidians and Jonestown. Anti-cult language is occasionally used, but lessons from Waco have also been learned, and ultimately the day is saved not by law enforcement's use of force but by the wisdom of a disaffected Pentecostal pastor, Travis Jordan. In the process, Jordan finds again both God and a wife (a female Methodist pastor, who in turn gets saved and throws overboard her liberalism). The lesson of The Visitation is that overzealous millennial Christians should cool off, lest they be deceived by false prophecy, pseudo-miracles, and demons. Peretti, as Christianity Today promptly noticed (Susan Wise Bauer, "Peretti Out-Grisham Grisham: God and the Devil in the Summer Blockbusters", Christianity Today, vol. 43, n. 9, August 9, 1999: 70-72), is going mainstream, and may successfully compete with a John Grisham, whose The Testament also features theological issues. Although Peretti's devils may still be "cartoonish", he obviously aims at a different audience than the fans of the "Left Behind" series. The Visitation proves, thus, that there is more than one side in contemporary American Evangelical fiction, and perhaps in Evangelical expectations of the Millennium.
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