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Date Published: 11/1/2006
www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=557
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

LEFT BEHIND

Religion, Technology, and Flight from the Flesh


Stephen Pfohl



3

After the Rapture


In Left Behind the Rapture is followed by the mercurial rise of the Antichrist. As a legendary figure of apocalyptic human corruption and evil, the Antichrist (or anti-messiah) can be traced back to messianic beliefs of late Second Temple Judaism (from the third century B.C.E. to 70 C.E). Over the course of Christian history, although occasionally a symbol of internal spiritual decay, the Antichrist has largely been portrayed as a figure of external threat (either as a singular individual or dangerous collectivity). The persona of the Antichrist has been draped in polar images of dread and deception, fearful destruction and seductive fascination.[1] The Antichrist was an archetypal figure in medieval millenarian theology and pivotal to both Protestant and Catholic thought during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

In our own time, the Antichrist has figured primarily in the religious imagination of fundamentalist Protestants. In the Left Behind series the Antichrist is both charismatic and humble. Secular reason and science are this "great deceiver's" calling cards. Shortly after first appearing in the narrative, the Antichrist arranges for peace between Israel and its neighbors. This is when things get really bad. The peace covenant is really a prophetic door into the Tribulation -- seven catastrophic years of terror, war, devastating storms, earthquakes, floods, famine, disease, and unprecedented human suffering, all under the sign of the "wrath of the lamb." Three-quarters of all people left behind after the Rapture die in terrible ways.

Backed by one of the world's most powerful financiers, Nicolae Jetty Carpathia, the mesmerizing Antichrist, rules the world during the years of tribulation. Nicolae is an entrepreneurial businessman, political liberal, and advocate for global disarmament and peace. In a flash Nicolae is named President of Romania. About a week later he is asked to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. "Carpathia entered the assembly in a dignified yet inauspicious manner... Even from a distance, the man seemed to carry himself with a sense of humility and purpose. His presence dominated the room, and yet he did not seem preoccupied or impressed with himself. His jewelry was understated. His jaw and nose were Roman and strong, his piercing blue eyes set deep under thick brows." His captivating speech "displayed such an intimate knowledge of the United Nations that it was as if he had invented and developed the organization himself."[2] Almost immediately, Carpathia is proclaimed Secretary General. He soon renames his position, calling himself World Potentate.

Under Nicolae's inspired leadership the U.N. morphs into a One World Government called Global Community. The seductive Antichrist speaks nine languages and is pictured as "an inch or two over six feet, broad shouldered, thick chested, trim, athletic, tanned and blond." Nicolae is said to be as "handsome as a young Robert Redford" and is named "sexiest man alive" by People magazine. He is also a skilled hypnotist, able to erase the recollection of actual events and implant false memories. The mesmerizing Antichrist promises peace, but his actions bring death and destruction. Soon megaton bombs are dropping on global cities everywhere as the Global Community does battle with U.S. militia and an underground network of Christian resisters.

Carpathia relocates Global Community (GC) headquarters from its former United Nations facilities in New York to the reconstructed city of New Babylon in Iraq. In the Bible, ancient Babylon was an evil empire. At its center was the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar, the enemy of the Israelites in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. One night King Nebuchadnezzar had a puzzling dream that neither he nor his court astrologers could make sense of. With God's help, the prophet Daniel interpreted the King's dream of a beautiful statue with four distinct parts as an image of four successive empires in decline (Daniel 2: 31-45). In Are We Living in the End Times, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins provide a contemporary prophetic interpretation of Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. LaHaye and Jenkins draw a chart depicting the devolution of four imperial world orders, the first being Babylon and the last Rome. They then connect passages from the Book of Daniel to passages they are believed to foreshadow in the New Testament Book of Revelation (12:3; 13:1; 17:3,7, 12-14, 16).

This leads LaHaye and Jenkins to conclude that the Roman Empire -- history's final empire -- is itself composed of seven stages, and that its final stage is yet to come. For LaHaye and Jenkins, this final stage is just around the corner. All the signs, it appears, are falling into place, including the establishment of a "New World Order" modeled on the ancient empire of Rome. This new order of global domination will be ruled over by the Antichrist, who will unify the world economically, politically, and in the realm of religion.[3] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have recently prophesied the emergence of a global empire of a related sort, although their vision of a "New Rome" is based on a far more material interpretive method.[4]

In the Left Behind series, the Antichrist rules the world for the seven years of tribulation from the reconstructed city of New Babylon in Iraq.[5] He is assisted by a variety of henchmen, including Pontifex Maximus Peter II (the former Catholic Archbishop Peter Mathews of Cincinnati, Ohio). Pontifex Maximus helps secure Carpathia's domination by overseeing the development of Enigma Babylon, a One World Religion that complements his boss's One World Government and One World Economy. Another member of Carpathia's staff is supreme commander Leon Fortunato. The buffoonish Fortunato replaces Pontifex Maximus as Nicolae's "False Prophet" and serves as the "great deceiver's" chief public relations officer. The mysterious Viv Ivins, a lifelong friend of Nicolae's, is another key GC operative. Viv oversees the development of an identity microchip, implanted under the skin of all citizens of the Global Community. Those that refuse the implant (a high-tech analog of the biblical "Mark of the Beast") are arrested and decapitated by guillotine.[6] Suhail Akbar, Chief of Security and Intelligence in the Global Community Palace, emerges later in the series as another dangerous villain.

The evil rule of the Antichrist is contested by the Tribulation Force, a heroic band of believers, operating out of New Hope Village Church in a suburb of Chicago. This was Irene Steele's church before she was taken up into heaven. Associate pastor Bruce Barnes operates as the Tribulation Force's theological guide and spiritual leader.[7] Before The Rapture Bruce's faith had been more phony than real. But after witnessing so many people's disappearance, Bruce immerses himself in the study of biblical prophecy, testifying to his parishioners, "There is no doubt in my mind that we have witnessed the Rapture... Jesus Christ returned for his true family, and the rest of us were left behind."[8] Inspired by Bruce's teaching, Rayford Steele, Rayford's daughter Chloe, a former college student at Stanford, and Cameron "Buck" Williams, a renowned journalist and senior writer at Global Weekly news magazine, constitute the core membership of the Tribulation Force.

Buck was on board the Pan-Continental flight to London piloted by Rayford Steele when the Rapture took place. Shortly before, he had been in Haifa, where he'd interviewed Chaim Rosenweig, a scientific genius and "Newsmaker of the Year." Chaim invented a secret formula that transformed the deserts of Israel into a veritable Eden of flourishing vegetation. Buck also witnessed a squadron of Russian jets vaporized into thin air when attempting an attack on Israel. Had he been better versed in biblical prophecies, Buck would have recognized this as a sign of the earth's final days. Buck, Chloe, Rayford, and Pastor Bruce Barnes team up to combat the Antichrist and spread the gospel during the years of tribulation. Flight attendant Hattie Durham might have also joined the team, had she possessed greater faith. Instead, Hattie is seduced into becoming Nicolae Carpathia's personal secretary and ill-fated lover. Hattie becomes pregnant with the Antichrist's offspring and miscarries a "very premature, very deformed fetus" of "indeterminate" gender.[9]

Members of the Tribulation Force infiltrate Carpathia's global empire and create a network of safe houses for persecuted Christians. Rayford and Buck become double agents. Rayford accepts an offer to pilot Carpathia's Global Community One. Then, following Carpathia's buy-out of the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe and virtually all of the world's other news media, Buck becomes the publisher of the Antichrist's new Global Community Weekly. The multiethnic Tribulation Force also includes the orthodox rabbi and scholar Tsion Ben-Judah. After completing an intensive three-year study of Jewish historical documents and the Old Testament, Rabbi Ben-Judah appears on CNN to announce his conclusion that Jesus Christ is the true messiah. Tsion converts to Christianity and replaces Bruce Barnes as the spiritual leader of the Tribulation Force after Bruce is killed when GC "peacekeepers" bomb a hospital where he is a patient.

Throughout the years of the Tribulation, Tsion broadcasts daily sermons of hope over the Internet to an audience of over one billion underground believers. Other members of the Tribulation Force include computer wiz Donny Moore and, following Donny's death in an earthquake, his replacement, Dr. Floyd Charles. The team also includes several "secret agents" who infiltrate the Antichrist's information technology headquarters. These Tribulation Force "moles" include computer expert David Hassid, the GC's Director of Purchasing and Shipping, Chang Wong, David's assistant, Abdullah Smith, a former Jordanian fighter pilot, and Mac McCullum, another pilot and member of Carpathia's flight team.

Many strange and disturbing events take place during the Tribulation. None is more astounding than the televised assassination and subsequent resurrection of Nicolae Carpathia. In his new incarnation, Carpathia is now more demonic than ever. Satan now "indwells" or possesses the body of the World Potentate. In The Glorious Appearing, the series' final volume, we arrive at the Battle of Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus. But the Jesus who returns hardly resembles the crucified Lord whose sacrifice blessed humankind with the divine gifts of love, peace and forgiveness. He is, instead, Jesus Christ the Warrior, Christ the Judge and Destroyer.

With heavenly hosts hovering in the sky, Jesus descends from above, landing atop the fabled Mount of Olives on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Jesus immediately enters into battle with Carpathia and his satanic legions. Armed to its satanic teeth with a wide array of the most lethal of military technologies, Carpathia's Global Community Army of Unity was mounting an all out attack on Jerusalem. "The siege was deafening. Jet engines, Jeeps, cars, trucks, Hummers, transports, armaments, munitions, rifle fire, machine gun fire, cannons, grenades, rockets -- you name it." But, suddenly, a dense and technologically disabling darkness descends upon and envelops the Antichrist and his Global Community Army of Unity. "The only sound was the clicking of weapons that would not fire. Nothing produced light. No headlights. No matches or lighters."[10]

Perched atop his stalled Humvee, the brazen Antichrist is incensed. "'Light,' screeched Carpathia. But everything was dark. 'Fire!' he raged. Still nothing." Next, there appeared a "brilliant multicolored cloud." Then, the cloud opened, rolling back "like a scroll from horizon to horizon." Christ makes his entrance, astride a white horse. "Jesus' eyes shone with conviction like a flame of fire, and He held His majestic head high."[11] Christ offers everyone a last chance to repent. But, foolishly, Carpathia and his followers attack. Jesus unleashes his Word, a fierce technology of righteousness. The Word violently splits open the bodies of the Antichrist's demonic legions. "At that instant the Mount of Olives split in two from east to west ... All the firing and the running stopped. The soldiers screamed and fell, their bodies bursting open from head to toe at every word that proceeded from the mouth of the Lord as He spoke."[12]

The apocalyptic landscape is littered with the "splayed and filleted bodies of men and horses," as "that sword from His mouth, the powerful Word of God itself, continued to slice through the air, reaping the wrath of God's judgment. The enemy had been given chance after chance, judgment after judgment to convince and persuade them... But except for that now tiny remnant of Israel that was seeing for the first time the One they had pierced, it was too late... The Unity Army had rattled its sabers, loaded its weapons, and made lots of noise. And Jesus had killed them all, with mere words."[13]


Notes
---------------

[1] Bernard McGuinn, Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. pp. 3-5.

[2] Ibid., pp. 241, 246.

[3] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times: Current Events Foretold in Scripture and What They Mean. Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale House, 1999. pp. 159-177.

[4] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000. pp. 10, 20-21, 314-315. To refer to Hardt and Negri's interpretive model as more "material" does not imply that religion is absent from their analysis. Hardt and Negri depict St. Francis of Assisi as a figure of counter-empire, underscoring his opposition to "every instrumental discipline" and the "mortification of the flesh." Affirmatively, Francis is said to celebrate the virtues of a "joyous life, including all of being and nature, the animals, sister moon, brother sun, the birds of the field, the poor and exploited humans, together against the will of power and corruption." (p. 413)

[5] For prophecy theologians, such as LaHaye, the fact that ancient Babylon is located in present-day Iraq is of great importance. LaHaye's reading of chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation contends that, for "unfulfilled prophesies" to finally be realized, Babylon must be rebuilt, so as to "live again" as "the Seat of Satan" during End Times. In this regard it is of great interest that Saddam Hussein, whom LaHaye describes as a "servant of Satan," was in the process of reconstructing Babylon before invaded by the United States and its "coalition of the willing" in 2003. For LaHaye, the so-called demonic "butcher of Baghdad, had long envisioned himself as "becoming the modern counterpart to his lifetime hero, King Nebuchadnezzar... Religiously, Saddam may give lip service to Muhammad and act like a devoted Muslim, but there is strong indication that he is actually a Satanist" with plans to build a "temple to Satan" in a rebuilt Babylon. This is not to suggest, however, that Hussein himself is the Antichrist. According to LaHaye and Jenkins, "he is little more than a cheap imitation of Nebuchadnezzar. He could well be, however, the forerunner of the one who we believe is soon going to emerge on the world scene to take control of the United Nations (or its successor), move the commercial and governmental headquarters of his world government to Babylon, and rule the world from what we call in our Left Behind novels "New Babylon." See, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times, pp. 139-143.

[6] The identity microchip imagined by LaHaye and Jenkins is a high-tech analog of earlier figurations of the demonic "mark of the beast." Others have also involved computer-based surveillance devices, such as the "666" mark that some prophecy believers associate with credit cards and social control in a cashless society. See, for instance, Mary Stewart Relfe, When Your Money Fails: The 666 System is Here. Birmingham, Alabama: Ministries Inc., 1981.

[7] In the novels, Bruce is given no racial identity. Or, by default, perhaps he is imagined by the novels' predominately white readership as white. But in both the film and graphic novels of the story, Bruce is portrayed as a passionate Black minister. In the films and graphic novels U.S. President Gerald Fitzhugh is also African American. This suggests a more complicated representation of race in Left Behind in its several incarnations than in the novels alone. As Amy Johnson Frykholm points out, in the books, despite the Tribulation Force's multicultural veneer, "true authority" is bestowed exclusively on white men. See, Amy Johnson Frykholm, "What Social and Political Messages Appear in the Left Behind Books?" in Bruce David Forbes and Jeanne Halgren Kilde, eds., Rapture, Revelation, and the End Times: Exploring the Left Behind Series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. pp.184-186.

[8] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind, p. 198.

[9] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Apollyon: The Destroyer is Released. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999. p. 78.

[10] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Glorious Appearing: the End of Days. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004. p. 202.

[11] Ibid., p. 203

[12] Ibid., p. 286.

[13] Ibid., pp. 209, 258.


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