33. Guest post: Not blown away by Kingdom Come

by E. Stephen Burnett

Originally posted on the website Speculative Faith. (Part 1: June 20, 2007; part 2: June 27, 2007; part 3: July 11, 2007)

(Reprinted with permission January 2016)

Part 1 of 3

“Well, I’m back.”

— Samwise Gamgee’s final words, The Return of the King

Firstly, I must apologize for being absent these past several weeks. My last column, about the film Spider-Man 3, was written and published [on the Speculative Faith website] in early May. Since then I have written nothing to fill my slots on Wednesdays, finding myself at first out of town for weeks on end, and then afflicted with a profound bout of writer’s block.

Now, 1.5 months and one job change later — to a position that involves much writing, oddly enough — I am ready to resume my weekly duties as columnist and cyber-promoter of the Christ-honoring speculative fiction genre: the field of literature that will surely, take over Christendom at last, even if we must wait for the New Heavens and New Earth to have that happen. I thank you all for your patience and hope I can make it up to readers of Speculative Faith with future columns.

Finally ending the end-times thrillers

My reading of such fiction has been lax during my absence, save perhaps for the certain double-book-length fifth installment in a highly popular fantasy series.

However, I have also recently read the last novel in another highly popular — though certainly not as well-executed — series about the End Times. That would be Kingdom Come, book no. 16 of the Left Behind series, and supposedly the final installment.

Yes, I’m another one of Those. Or rather, I was one at one time: a Left Behind freakazoid.

I have been hanging onto Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry Jenkins’ bestselling apocalyptic neo-thrillers since reading the first volume in 1997. Eventually I got to the point of reserving each succeeding hardback at the Christian bookstore in advance, eagerly awaiting its release date with almost an anticipation more worthy of the Second Coming itself, until finally — oh, joy! — I was able to stop by the store to pick up the new novel, and usually finish it by the next day. Since the “real” series ended with Glorious Appearing in March 2003, I have lost that level of enthusiasm. However, I continued to retrieve the books in a similar street-date manner, even up to last year’s The Rapture.

For the first time, I did not follow this routine for Kingdom Come, which takes place in a literal 1,000-year kingdom on Earth that follows Christ’s return in Glorious Appearing. Instead, still somewhat disillusioned by The Rapture’s stunningly un-rapturous portrayal of journeys to the intermediate heaven and such — and frankly, wondering if I even believed in a secret “pre-second coming” of Christ at all anymore — I held off on buying Kingdom Come. Those books are rather expensive, after all.

Instead, months after the release date, I grabbed the volume at the library and finished it two days later. And now, in addition to doubting the Biblical validity of the Rapture doctrine, I’m now in serious doubt about a literal Millennium. Who’d have thought this would be possible? that I would gain this from a book that so heavily advocated that exact view?

A dearth of fantasy for fantastic events

Some years back I pored over books on prophecy by Tim LaHaye and other writers, whose work made me quite convinced that 1) Christ snatching Christians from Earth would precede the Tribulation; 2) there would be seven years of an evil global government and divine plagues with the Antichrist, the False Prophet and everything; 3) Christ would return and reign over 1,000 years of relative peace, after which would be a final Satanically-inspired rebellion, followed by heaven at last.

But I am slowly coming to realize that little of this seems to make any sense — not when portrayed in nonfiction, with Biblical support — but when set to the music of fiction.

This is perhaps not the fault of fiction per se, but of Jerry Jenkins. I say this mostly because Jenkins is not a fantasy writer.

Left Behind’s original volumes were quite contemporary, light on the supernatural elements — the Rapture was overall portrayed realistically, despite the radical concept of people vanishing out of their clothes. As the Biblical plagues began, the series still read more like science fiction than anything else. I even bought into the demon locusts from the bottomless pit — partly because Jenkins included a few very interesting chapters about them, suspending disbelief for only that long, and then promptly ignored the demons in favor of more-epic elements, such as refueling planes and childbirth. Ahem.

Only when the demonic horsemen showed up did the story’s fantasy elements truly begin. And when the Beast rose from the dead and Jews started fleeing to the desert, things became slightly more interesting.

The problem was that Jenkins did not approach these elements as fantasy. While speculating, of course, on the manners in which God might protect his people, he didn’t nearly go far enough to be fantastically interesting. Other than people getting shot at and the bullets, missiles, etc., passing right through them, most described miracles would simply pattern themselves off those in the Bible, such as people surviving in a fiery furnace, or seeing light while others stumbled around in darkness.

But if we really can expect to see the Tribulation and such things someday — and I’m not saying they won’t happen; you are welcome to attempt re-persuading me to adhere to this view — should we not expect God to work miraculously in new ways rather than simply plagiarizing Himself?

That is what fantasy does. It does not merely repeat the Bible’s descriptions of true-life, supernatural events, because after all, we shouldn’t ever think outside of those anytime. Rather, a great fantasy takes into account the supernatural, awesome power of God — or His fantasy-world Equivalent — and invites readers to imagine what the possibilities are — most optimally, without contradicting Scripture.

But Jenkins’ series dared not to speculate upon, at least to the extent that I would have, the weird and utterly incredible, seemingly indescribable, events that might occur upon Christ’s physical return to Earth. And why not? Probably because to do so — to picture the new things God might do at such a time that are not directly forecast in Scripture — would generate outrage among readers, who are convinced that the Left Behind series does, or should, only rarely speculate on future miracles that aren’t forecast in Scripture, and nothing further whatsoever.

In my next column, I’ll explore more specifically how LaHaye’s and Jenkins’ final volume Kingdom Come failed completely to plant in me a yearning for that Earthly kingdom (if indeed it will really occur; again, you are welcome to argue as I haven’t yet made up my mind on this issue); and how instead, a nonfiction book like Randy Alcorn’s Heaven or a completely fantasy series like Lord of the Rings succeeds much better in making me long for the Creator/Savior and Heaven.

Yet in the meantime, what have been your thoughts about the Left Behind series? Do you consider its portrayal of end-times events “realistic,” because something like them will Really Happen Someday, as do its authors and many readers? Or can we consider these books as closer to fantasy/science fiction — a view that, I contend, may have made the stories better had the authors held that perspective themselves?

[TOM’s note: the original article contained a comments page, which is not reproduced here.]

Not blown away by Kingdom Come, part 2 of 3

Last week’s column, about the seeming failures of the Left Behind novels and particularly its last volume, brought many in-comment criticisms of the 16-installment series on both fiction and theological grounds. No one stepped up to defend Tim LaHaye’s understanding of the end times, or Jerry Jenkins’ style in portraying seven years of the Tribulation in fiction form.

Let me therefore be the first to support these guys more, at least here, and divulge that once upon a time, I had a few interactions with Jerry Jenkins on the (now-closed) “Left Behind” online message board. He was a great guy from what I could tell, with quite the sense of humor.

One of my first cyber-columns was a piece spoofing wacko-Christian predictions of the Second Coming: after a string of nonsensical “connections” between Biblical verses, supposed original languages and numerology, I set the date at April 1, 2000. And only a few people actually understood this as a satire — Jerry Jenkins among them. I still recall, nearly verbatim, his advice to other board participants: “The Indwelling releases March 30, 2000, so if you’re right, read fast!”

Anyway, that is my disclaimer of sorts, ensuring that my criticisms of the series do not cross over into perceived slams against its authors. My now-dislike of some of the Left Behind volumes, chief among them the most recent release Kingdom Come, in no way reflects any dislike for Tim LaHaye and “Super J,” as I used to call him.

At the same time, though, I sincerely doubt Kingdom Come will be very high on the reading list of timeless titles in the New Heavens and New Earth — or the real Millennium, assuming it does occur. Its portrayal of the prophesied “thousand years” is unimaginative, and failed to result in me, anyway, any sort of yearning for the “real” thousand-year period, or the New Heavens and New Earth to come. To me, only fantasy literature can do that — and Kingdom Come would never qualify as fantasy fiction.

Unresolved non-conflict

The first 12 books in the Left Behind series took readers through the seven-year Tribulation, including dozens of main characters and even more peripherals, 21 judgments and plagues, lots of action, and one villainous Beast and an evil Earthly empire, to be sure. In those one can find conflict aplenty, lots of death, destruction and significant levels of special effects from said judgments and plagues.

The next three volumes, prequels to the very first book, didn’t have as many supernatural occurrences but still, enough evil going around to make things interesting.

Kingdom Come nukes that approach thoroughly in favor of a dull and passionately uninteresting tour through LaHaye’s and Jenkins’ imaginings — sort of — of what the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ on Earth might be like — or at least a few months of it. Most of the described events take place just short of 100 years into the era, a few years before the first expected waves of non-Christians are expected to start dying. (Yes, non-Christians exist during the Millennium but they automatically assume room temperature before blowing out their birthday candles — the authors base this on an obscure verse in Isaiah.)

Ergo, with world events finally proceeding quite nicely, there isn’t much to do — plotwise, that is. The storyline’s bulk is taken up with ripped-from-Scripture descriptions of the restored Temple (theologically dubious; why would we need another literal Temple and sacrifices under the New Covenant?), and then a bunch of dialogue and goings-on within an absurdly acronymed children’s ministry, inordinate levels of attention given to the nation of Egypt’s bad attitude and the need for a name change, some romance here and there, and, perhaps worst of all, chapter-length accounts of Bible stories with no speculation at all beyond anything anyone could learn from the Bible itself.

I am sure the actual Millennium, if it does occur, will be more than interesting.

Yet in a rather obvious attempt to scrounge for whatever conflict elements could be found, Jenkins winds up trivializing the notion of a peaceful Kingdom, absurdly portraying people’s interpersonal problems, for instance, although Christ is supposedly right there in Jerusalem and the saints are all over the place, any one of whom could just fix everything easily.

Meanwhile, somewhat interesting theological concepts could have been realized so much better in the realm of fiction, among them the seeming Scriptural forecast that nonbelievers will be present in a literal Millennium and will eventually join up with Satan for a final, though anticlimactic, showdown when the thousand years have passed. Again the narrative lets us down: a quasi-religious group called The Other Light is present fairly early on in the hodgepodge storyline, but isn’t so scary at all. Its beliefs are absurd — its advocates, transparently silly. (Non-Christians have often been shown as frightfully stupid throughout the Left Behind series.)

But again, that obstacle shows itself anyway: a novel about a utopia can’t have much conflict without disrupting the utopia, but an honest portrayal of the utopia would be boring. This seems an insurmountable catch-22 — and as I’ve said before, it didn’t help that Jenkins hasn’t much bothered about genre-shifting the Left Behind storyline from contemporary/thriller to fantasy.

Yet the Millennial Kingdom (thought the concept may be theologically up in the air) and the New Heavens and New Earth to come (much more clearly described in Scripture) will naturally be environments absolutely bursting with fantasy-story elements. Thus, only a fantasy style, attempting to render the real Heavenly elements or else portraying a parallel world, can even approach doing a future-forecasted utopia justice.

Fantasy forecasting Heaven

Frankly, once I put down Kingdom Come, I dove somewhat frantically for the next (and so far, last) books in the Harry Potter series. And I found in them — in this “pagan,” Godless, disobedient-kid-intensive, neutral-supernatural series — much more incentive to long for a new world to come, where the fantastic is no longer mere fiction, than I did in a novel about the “real” new world to come.

Have you found this yourself? — that a “secular” movie, musical composition, or work of literature can bring out in you that God-given desire for the next world — the world that was meant to be — more effectively than a bit of specifically “Christian” artistry did?

Meanwhile, what may be continued perspectives on the Left Behind series and its contributions to Christendom, or the perceptions of Christendom by others?

In my next column, I hope to explore the potential of alternatives: issuing suggestions for some author somewhere, perhaps merely a 30-years-later version of myself, to create a better portrayal of the New Heavens and New Earth / Millennium for use in fiction form. As Christ-followers, we really should be fixated more often on the world to come anyway, right? It’s not that future world’s Creator’s fault we make the future world seem so dull in our theological constructs, and worse in our fiction works. Surely something can be done about this very weird quandary.

[TOM’s note: the original article contained a comments page, which is not reproduced here.]

Not blown away by Kingdom Come, part 3 of 3

In my first column in this incidental series, I started picking — affectionately, though critically — on the final (we might hope, anyway) volume of the Left Behind end-times fiction series, Kingdom Come.

My chief complaints about that novel are first, that it attempts to portray a future utopia under Jesus Christ’s rule while inserting some semblance of conflict for dramatic interest, which both 1) cheapens the utopia and 2) makes the superficial conflict frightfully dull.

But more than that has been my other annoyance about scene-scribbler Jerry Jenkins’ portrayal of the Millennium. My objection, outlined mostly in the second part of this series, is chiefly because he’s a contemporary-fiction guy trying to make everything so “realistic” about a future world like that — so much so that he subconsciously dismisses any inclination toward fantasy. And that is exactly what an ambitious novel like Kingdom Come could have used most.

Last time, I wrote:

[T]he Millennial Kingdom (thought the concept may be theologically up in the air) and the New Heavens and New Earth to come (much more clearly described in Scripture) will naturally be environments absolutely bursting with fantasy-story elements. Thus, only a fantasy style, attempting to render the real Heavenly elements or else portraying a parallel world, can even approach doing a future-forecasted utopia justice.

When I think of Heaven, now, I think of very little I’ve read in specifically evangelical literature — partly because so much of that is so focused on the here-and-now, rather than the world in which we Christ-followers will dwell for eternity. Among contemporary Christian authors, only author Randy Alcorn has dared speculate on the specific, real-world, intermediate Heaven, and the New Heavens and New Earth, in fiction format — and even more effectively, I think, in his nonfiction book Heaven. But even he does so within a contemporary setting, at least from what I’ve read thus far.

Might someone, though, someday consider the challenge of speculating upon the Millennium and/or the New Heavens and New Earth, in fantasy or sci-fi form — and not even a fantasy-world equivalent?

Unfulfilled fantasy

As a Christ-follower, no doubt exists in my mind that the Earth will undergo an incredible refurbishment someday, transforming into something even better than its original existence before the Rebellion described in Genesis.

But let’s assume that the Millennium will occur first, as believe the authors of Kingdom Come.

Satan is locked up and they’ve thrown away the key, at least temporarily. Christ is ruling in Jerusalem, along with King David and everybody. The Temple is restored (which, theologically, makes little sense to me because believers are the Temple now and no further need exists for a sacrificial system!). Certain facets of entropy have been revoked, and it’s impossible for believers, anyway, to want to sin. (They don’t even want to want to sin — an incredible notion, that, and something Christians can only dream about for now.) Still, according to this view, some people, come down from Heaven, have an advance shot at glorified bodies; others, having eked out their lives through the Tribulation, still have Body Version 1.0 — somewhat of a bummer, come to think of it.

What differences would exist between these forms of existences? Would the glorified-body people have mental or physical powers that the non-glorifieds would not? Could they glow? Solve for the last digit of pi? Fly? Perhaps even “apparate” in the manner reminiscent of advanced wizards in Harry Potter?

This calls for in-depth imagination and speculation — something Jenkins has not done. And it’s likely he could never do this anyway, given that, on the surface, such things seem insane and un-Biblical and many of the Left Behind series’ audience members would go mad. For certain people, perhaps, only a Cliffs-notes-style barebones summary of nearly exactly what the Bible says about the Millennium, no more, no less, will be accepted; and speculation beyond what Scripture has told us is forbidden. (This is partly why, in Kingdom Come, cameo appearances by saints such as Joshua and Noah result only in long, dull rehashes of anything you could have ever found out about them already in Sunday school.)

Yet there is so much about the New Heavens and New Earth (or Millennium, whichever comes first) that we’re not told; and that, of course, makes sense — why would God want to ruin all the surprises?

What about technology? Kingdom Come skipped any incredible advances people could have developed in 1,000 years of near-absolute perfection. In merely a tenth of that time, humankind would surely have developed means of transport much more interesting than mere cars or planes (portrayed, rather listlessly, as being alive and well in their modern-day form a century into Kingdom Come’s Millennium). Meanwhile, our communications would be fantastic. Our nanotechnology would be astounding. And you know we would have developed warp drive by then. Can you say New Jerusalem Spaceport?

Combining the Kingdom with conflict

The quandary remains, though: how to tie in a fiction portrayal of a future perfect world — with thrilling adventure and exploration aplenty, to be sure, but no fighting — with potential for dramatic tension that marks the best fiction.

Perhaps an element of time travel could tie a human visiting the New Earth and returning to the present one, thus preserving necessary conflict but also allowing a writer to speculate on the perfect Kingdom to come. Perhaps a team of scientists could develop a virtual equivalent of Heaven. Or maybe even members of the angelic dimension could transfer from the New Earth to the historic old one for adventures; the Creator is outside of time, after all.

Surely someone could take a crack at this sometime. I’ve pondered the concept much myself, of course; and I suppose I can try for it if no one else does. Author Douglas Hirt, after all, “beat” me to the whole pre-Flood-world-as-fantasy-realm concept in his fantastic Cradleland trilogy and I loved his execution — therefore, I wouldn’t mind much if someone was inspired by anything I’ve written here. But fantasy and science fiction can do it, where traditional, limited-to-the-Bible stories dare not go.

While such a story would be speculative, of course, and perhaps contain things its author might like to correct in the real Heaven, the overall effect will be superlative: it will awaken within readers that desire for a new world, to go beyond our fallen and corrupt present-day existence, to yearn for a universe which Christ has at last, finally and fully, restored to the way it was meant to be.

When I picture the future Heaven, with or without a Millennium preceding it, I will likely never recall a scene from Kingdom Come. Instead, starships and the Shire will come to mind. I visualize a real-life and functioning Enterprise NCC 1701-D replica in spacedock over the New Jerusalem. I picture rolling green hills from the Hobbits’ homeland, majestic mountains overhung with epic soundtrack-level music, a seven-tiered city carved from stone. Swimming up waterfalls, flying on an eagle or dragon, or helping test a new transporter beam come to mind …

Oh yes. It will certainly be awesome. And it will last forever. That perhaps is more worth writing about than many other present-Earth, Christian-literature themes we can come up with today.

Meanwhile, what about you? Do certain fantasy and science-fiction story elements result in you a yearning for the New Heavens and New Earth? How could Christ-honoring stories further benefit from the perhaps-accidental inclusions in secular stories of elements reminiscent of Heaven? And what mistakes have Christians made, in fiction and otherwise, in cheapening or overly mythologizing the very real nature of the world to come?

[TOM’s note: the original article contained a comments page, which is not reproduced here.]



29. On world-building and Things Go Boom

(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=37 )

Robert Frost speculates on the end of the world in a succinct poem, “Fire and Ice,” that outclasses so many longer works (including this one). Aside from poetry, many people will not read science fiction because “it’s so depressing.” This may be a reason that “Star Trek” is so popular, as it is one of the few futures that tries to be hopeful.

Sometimes readers are just doing what is best for themselves according to the Romans 14 stress test. That is, sensitive individuals, believers of tender faith, and the like may simply know what is good and best for them. Doomsday stories are hard, stark: they can break hearts, and not just because God is largely absent. For those with stronger constitutions, a Things Go Boom story can point out where we as a species are going wrong and what, if anything, we can do about it.

What got your host (that’s me) scribbling on this odd topic is the sheer work that goes into the suspension of disbelief, of immersing oneself in a story, and by extension, the effort that goes, or ought to go, into the author’s attempt to create a world to blow up. Rogue asteroids, exploding volcanoes, Acts of God, and the guy-with-his-finger-on-the-trigger-just-slipped-on-a-banana-peel theories may blow it all up, but why should the reader care?

Consider the reasons why people dwell on end of the world stories:

Entertainment. It’s spectacle. It’s big, it’s cool, it’s a release for the thrill-seeker to watch the world’s end without the inconvenience of experiencing it. It’s no coincidence that doomsday stories that vaporize faceless crowds tend to be more popular and profitable (Independence Day, anyone?). Ask these same people why they would not delight to watch the earth being born, Digory-and-Polly-in-Narnia style, and they’ll hastily reply that of course that would be good to see! in the same tone of voice of the spouse who forgot your birthday, and is making some excuse about the present being hidden behind the car, and to fetch it the car has to be moved, apparently all the way to the store.

Fear of death. Alternately, if Things Go Boom in a sufficiently extravagant manner, perhaps the end will be instantaneous and painless. The doomsday stories most likely to be labeled “depressing” are the ones that doom the characters to die of attrition. Examples include On the beach, The road, What Niall saw, and the “Moon novels” of Susan Beth Pfeffer. Such stories dwell upon an internal logic that some people want to live as long as possible even if life is misery: “where there’s life, there’s hope.” Characters trapped on a dying planet may resort to hoarding and clannishness, rationalizing it as “times are different.” In such works religious people often are portrayed rather poorly. Corrie ten Boom and Victor Frankl may have seen real-life individuals “who gave away their last piece of bread,” but that philosophy is not always found in fiction.

Also, in this category the line between hope and delusion sometimes gets blurred. A married couple in On the beach spend the last months of their lives planning a garden they will not live to see. Whether they are living Martin Luther’s observation that “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree” or simply hiding their faces from death is something the novel chooses to leave unanswered.

Displacement. Aliens become substitutes for the stranger, the rival, the enemy, whoever that is from one decade to the next. Klingons and Romulans and Borg, oh, my! Even inanimate objects will suffice. One can “hate” the asteroid in Armageddon, for example, because it’s okay to hate the asteroid. (On a whim your host rented both Deep Impact and Armageddon for a weekend. Your host preferred DI, by the way.)

Distraction. Sooner or later, people get exhausted dreading all those killer rodent viruses, mosquitoes, flesh-eating bacteria, flu-of-the-week, melting icecaps, holes in the ozone layer, comet strikes, briefcase nukes, bad guys trying to light their shoes, Yellowstone’s super-caldera burps, Skynet/Borg potentials, and of course killer bees. Doomsday stories are the flip side of the man of the house turning off the football channel to watch a World War II film: “I just wanted to watch something I knew we would win.”

Extinction (of the earth, not of us). Subdivided into categories of Academic Curiosity and Disillusionment.

Disillusionment arises from the notion that the earth is a condemned house that needs to be torn down. Whether anyone escapes largely depends upon overlap with other categories such as Prophecy. Curiosity arises from an assent that the house is burning down but it’s not our house. Characters can lift off from the doomed world and watch its destruction from a safe distance (classic Christian rapture fiction, classic Star Trek).

Modern rapture fiction may fall into either category, but any novel (When worlds collide) or film (Deep Impact) that evacuates the chosen to a safe haven will do.

Extinction (of us, not the earth). This is the thinking behind the otherwise insightful book The world without us. How would the earth respond if humans simply vanished? Not “dropped dead,” since the corpses would pollute the ecosystem. Just vanished: bodily removed by the Kanamits, the rapture, or the Enterprise. Some parts of the earth would heal. Other parts would flood, burn, melt down into radioactive sinkholes, or drain into the whirlpool of garbage—plastic can’t sink—that even now roils in the far Pacific like a toilet that can’t stay flushed. In the last chapter, the writer argues that all we have to do to see Eden restored is to stop having children, to graciously go extinct, as if humans are not really native to this world and should be weeded like any invasive plant. (Amazon.Com readers almost melted down, themselves, at that: “God promised that humans will never go extinct!” being among the politer protests.)

Sin (ours). Things simply must Go Boom because of humanity’s fallen nature. See the classic A canticle for Leibowitz.

Sin (throughout creation). Things Go Boom regardless of which species acquires sentience: that sentience itself is the trouble. See the classic Planet of the Apes film series. Sometimes overlaps with Dystopia, in which the world does not end but the “other” is in charge.

Depersonalization. People find it easier to visualize the end of the world than the end of themselves. It is the individual’s fear of death, fear of growing old, fear of getting really sick, fear of outliving your money, your family, your church, or your wits. If the world goes Boom, you don’t have to worry about what you, personally, will need for the next 50+ years of your life.

This theory is popular among economists. They argue that Westerners buy on credit and save so little money because the discipline required to manage money derives from one’s ability to visualize the future and then to visualize oneself living in it. The theory is that those who see the future as too distant or otherwise unreal cannot plan for it.

Prophecy (inevitable). Different from disillusionment. Sometimes the prophecy is secular (say, when scientists predict that a meteor called “Aphosis” might hit earth in the 2020s), sometimes New-Age (say, the Mayan calendar), and sometimes religious (say, Jack Van Impe). Televangelists Jack & Rexella Van Impe (pro-Rapture, pro-animals-go-to-heaven) endorse the Mayan calendar’s 2012 date. Based on that calendar, JVI predicts the Christian Rapture in 2012 followed by 7 years of tribulation, with doomsday in 2019. JVI interprets it as that the Mayan calendar doesn’t “end” so much as predict a cataclysm, and that that calendar has already had several of them, one of which he says was Noah’s Flood. That sets him apart from most of the other rapturists, a lot of whom were betting on 2007 for the departure day. Where prophecy meets fiction, people may read Things Go Boom stories for rehearsal, for advice, for pointers. Stories become handbooks.

Message (also called Prophecy, negotiable). The future can be changed (The book of Jonah, Terminator 2, and A Christmas Carol ). Our world faces imminent catastrophes, some of which do not necessarily rise to the level of all life being wiped off the planet, but are nonetheless scary beyond what we like to acknowledge at a rational level. Keeping doomsday scenarios in mind on a more abstract level (e.g., in our history, literature and entertainment) may inspire people or help mobilize them, to keep the boat afloat or at least make an effort to patch the hole.

Once upon a time, Westerners had to pay the garbage truck to take old newspapers; now fundraiser recycling bins inhabit our parking lots. Until recently, lead was everywhere; now lead is banned from gasoline, paint, and from grocery store cans—staggeringly, the latter ban was not achieved until 1993. We know more about nutrition nowadays. And then something else “too big” comes along and knocks our baby steps out from under us. Sometimes we learn to walk and realize we have tied our shoelaces together. (The switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs may save a few coins in the electricity bill—but if you drop and break the bulb, it releases poisonous mercury into the room, carpet, and fabrics and can cost money to clean up. This is progress?)

The feeling of being overwhelmed makes us wonder whether our bit makes a difference. And that is “mere” calamity; sin adds so much to the mix. Fiction offers the satisfaction of detecting an “unsolvable” problem and then either solving it before the end of the story, or closing the book and being so thankful that it’s not us.

Note that in the Message category, the characters sometimes advertize a political message: both Life as we knew it and One second after chastise politicians. Also, the Message category tends to include an expositional character whose job is to blow a trumpet … a lot. “Someone should have prepared! Someone should have known! [Tech speak] [geek speak] [prophecy]! Message, people! Pay attention to the Message!” The story, in other words, can get heavy-handed. On occasion such views (of the characters) even influence the outcome in the sense of, say, the characters treating food and goods as as renewable or non-renewable resources e.g., should we farm or should we migrate. However, as no party or philosophy can make the sun shine or the rain fall, the reader needs to be alert for such distractions.

(As to your host’s observations on Things Go Boom, no one seems to pay attention to water. Where are we going to get water? There’s a crisis that could qualify as natural, supernatural, man-made, or all of them together. But it probably won’t be marketable as a manly action movie.)

Now that we know why fictional Things Go Boom, we return to the original question: why should the audience care?

Well, because the storyteller cannot destroy a nothing. He needs to blow up a Something. The reader needs to care about the Something that is being blown up. Otherwise, they both might as well watch a lightning display on a distant horizon: spectacular, but without risk or reward or context.

There are two popular techniques to make readers care about the world soon to Go Boom: make your own world, or use a world already in service. Less commonly, one encounters a world-within-a-world set in the aftermath of a super-catastrophe that the narrator cannot clearly describe or remember. (See What Niall saw, The road, and Part 1 of Canticle for Leibowitz.)

Life as we knew it and Deep Impact start with a world just like ours and then break one thing. All other consequence flows from that one ruined thing. Readers have little difficulty identifying with such stories, since the settings are familiar and character responses tend toward the realistic rather than the fantastic.

The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are examples of a created world which C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien had to form, breathe upon, and populate before proceeding to blow it all up. If an imaginary world contains non-human species, the author also must create “point-of-view” characters with whom the audience can identify. It need not be restricted to human characters, but the POV must have relatable human characteristics. The purpose of all this extra work of world-building is much the same as with a prefab world: by the time the author gets around to destroying the world, the reader has to care that it’ll be gone. “See, I have watched my mother’s death,” declares Tirian of Narnia. “It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn.” Tirian is comforted and overjoyed to realize that all which was good in Narnia came into the afterlife with him. For the author, that requires building yet another world, one without the defects of our reality.

The Left Behind series, as it does with so many other things, tries to have it both ways. It creates a new world after the old one Goes Boom but struggles to make that Edenic world both realistic and fantastic, or either realistic or fantastic. The Edenic world, called the Millennial Kingdom by the characters, is preceded by seven years of history during which the old, existing world gets blown up real good. This existing world is purported to be just like our world, thus no world-building ought to be needed. In the world of LB, the United Nations rules all, abolishes nations’ currencies, buys news outlets to promote itself, nukes defenseless cities at will, and makes treaties with “little Israel.” An Israeli scientist who lacks Galadriel’s magic ring independently invents her miraculous plant fertilizer, and Israel becomes the wealthiest nation on earth by growing cereal grains. Russia and Ethiopia become sufficiently annoyed by said cereal grains that they drop nukes on Israel in numbers like unto a locust plague (fortunately, no Israeli loss of life was recorded, God having performed a miracle to deactivate the nukes). A rabbi is spoken of as being eligible for a Nobel Prize (in which category?) for making a checklist of what his fellow Jews should look for in the Messiah. Every child on earth vanishes, but aside from a few hysterics behaving badly the world recovers nicely in two weeks. (No one actually looks for them.) A villain tells the world press that the children are vaporized (“like someone striking a match in a room of gasoline vapors”), and the parents react to this minor mystery solved by going back to work, remarrying, selling the big house with its unnecessary extra bedrooms, and buying gold while the market is good. And that’s before the fantastic elements of plagues and judgments rock the world until it is utterly destroyed. Other than that, though, it’s just like our world. It’s uncanny, really. Well, maybe not.

Having blown up that Tribulation-world, the authors of Left Behind go on to build an earthly Millennial realm supposedly modeled on Eden, populate it with mortals and immortals side by side, let them mingle for a thousand years … and then blow it all up and create a third realm, the New Heavens and New Earth … in ten pages. To paraphrase that planet-wrecker James T. Kirk, “Where’s the terror of blowing it all up? The suspense? The fun!” Here we have a Built-and-Boom story that is, well, lightweight.

To make the audience care about Things Go Boom, the storyteller has to create a world that is “heavy” and believable. How does one build a world? There are authors, directors and professors who make a living at this, but for our purposes, we can restrict the list to a few manageable elements.

The creator must decide if his world will be realistic or fantastic. He must decide how realistic to make his fantasy, how fantastic to make his reality. The creator must decide what will be retained from existing worlds, what must be invented, and what will be absent.

The creator needs characters, an environment for them to live in, and a belief system to explain them or, alternately, to explain their adversaries. When a character “comes alive,” he often surprises his creator, and the author must decide if the world should be changed to accommodate the character, or if the character can be said to be sent by his creator to change the world. It should be noted that many storytellers actually come up with the character first, then have to create a world to be his home. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth stories all sprang from the simple sentence, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” But what a world Tolkien had to create to support that sentence!

The creator has to decide how long the characters will live. Do any of the characters have health problems? Would the narrators sacrifice themselves for the sake of children, pets, friends, enemies? Will the narrator be among the first to die or among the last to die? The doomed narrator—a child or other person who can neither survive unprotected nor contribute survival skills—tends to live in a short book because the character’s life is cut short. Longer books may feature a narrator such as a retired soldier or some other person with survival training. That’s not a flaw, unless the readers cannot identify with this hero-person. The larger flaw with such narrators is when hero types crowd out better-trained survival types: One second after focuses on the retired soldiers, while the off-the-grid hippies and Tinfoil Hat recluses remain an untapped resource. In contrast in Life as we knew it the chief survivalist is a mother who has absorbed Great Depression penny-pinching skills from her grandparents. To feed her family, she knows which flower bulbs to eat from the garden. Both are among the doomsday novels with pets in them.

The creator must decide what coping mechanisms the characters will employ. For example, Left Behind, On the beach, and Panic in the Year Zero! enforce strict routines and gender roles. In the first and second, the dad does not even lose his job. In the third, the dad does not even lose his suit and hat. The world may be ending, but Dad will be impeccably attired and clean-shaven to meet this end! His wife and children, including adult children, will be deferential to his authority. It may not stop the rain of death, but it calms Dad and gives him a feeling of having protected his family, however fleeting that feeling might be. Alternately, gender roles can be used to tear a family apart as in Pfeffer’s “moon series”: Life as we knew it, The dead and the gone, This world we live in, Shade of the moon.

Finally the creator has to decide what he will and won’t attempt. As of this writing, One second after is almost too new for review, but an immediate reaction is that a doomsday novel takes a big risk when it skips the crucible known as Winter. This novel also includes a teenaged pregnancy conceived after the disaster. In contrast, in LAWKI a teenager is punished for dating because of the parent’s terror that it might lead to pregnancy and another mouth to feed. In A Canticle for Leibowitz the author decides not to explain how the nuclear war was begun. In The road, the author goes one step further by refusing to explain what disaster actually happened. Thus “the Man and the Boy” could be living ten years after Life as we knew it or ten years after Canticle or Niall, and we would never know it.

To build your very own world, it helps to understand the existing one a little. Such understanding itself may be shaped by the author’s belief system, and by extension, the experts upon whom he chooses to rely for his history lessons. Some Christians will not read a secular work because of the book’s starting point of old earth, evolution, and so forth. Others who do not have a Romans 14 stumbling-block response might browse the more digestible secular hits such as the world-building trio of Guns, germs and steel; A short history of nearly everything; and The world without us. The “humans should go extinct because we’re bad for the earth!” comment in World we have already noted. Short history lacks motive, though to be fair modern humans are its audience not its subject, and Guns fails to take into account either peer pressure or belief system as agents of culture.

A created world needs at least as much cohesion as the real one, and often a little more. (Writer’s proverb: “The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.”) To the extent that one can, a creator often borrows from our world what works. We can poke a stick at, say, Middle-Earth and build a speculative history of Man cultures, and Tolkien’s work would stand up to the scrutiny. The same theme of music as an accompaniment to creation appears in the Bible, The Silmarillion, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The magician’s nephew. The fictional Canticle for Leibowitz and Babylon 5’s “Deconstruction of Falling Stars” draw upon real-world instances of holy men preserving knowledge and civilization after a great fall.

Tolkien called fictional universes “Secondary Worlds” as opposed to the Primary world in which we live. Tolkien argued that an author shows respect for his Secondary World by making it internally consistent through character, language, geography, and timelines that fit together like puzzle pieces. When this is done properly the creation “comes to life” and becomes believable. In a bit of a mystical turn, Tolkien believed that creating fictional Secondary Worlds helps us to understand better our Primary, divinely created world and the God who created it. But this is Tolkien’s personal belief and does not necessarily reflect his religion as a Roman Catholic. More on Tolkien’s views on world-building can be found in his The monsters and the critics.

Building a world, in other words, is harder than it looks. But your host believes in giving points for degree of difficulty attempted.

27. Bonus: Volume 16-called-13 (L.B. Kingdom Come) discussion topics

(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=32 )

Left Behind: Kingdom Come, the Final Victory (c2007) discussion topics

(Added August 2007)

Discussion topics

Discussion topic: Do you believe in an earthly Millennium? If yes, what version? (Examples: pre-millennial dispensationalist-rapturist leading to tribulation then millennium; post-millennium leading to rapture and tribulation, etc.) Do you believe in a literal 1,000-year reign, an unspecified finite, or a never-ending era? The “Peaceable Kingdom”? How many resurrections do you believe in? How many judgments? Who participates in any or all, and why? How does Left Behind: Kingdom Come, the Final Victory conform to and deviate from your interpretation of the end times?

Discussion topic: After the Rapture, the once 12-year-old Raymie Steele skips over his formative teen years to adulthood. Some readers liked this idea, in that “children” like Raymie, Bahira and Zaki did not lose their childhood trust and wonder when they became adults. Other readers found this plot point puzzling, even creepy. (Sample quotes included, “Did God conclude that our human birth-and-growth process was a glitch in the system that He deleted from the next software release and hardware upgrade?” and “Does God have template personalities to plug into our unformatted hard drives/dry husks?” See also Montgomery’s Anne’s House of Dreams and the theological debate raised by the subplot about whether Anne and her dead baby would recognize each other in Heaven.)

Personality shapes and is shaped by experience, habits, education, talents, travel, memories, hopes and dreams, choices, and relationships. What would it be like for the 12-year-old Raymie, or an unborn child, to skip their formative years and emerge into our view as adults?

Related: The novel is structured in a certain way for a certain reason. From Volume 12, page 355:

“If God did not allow Satan one more chance to deceive the nations, all the people who are born and live during the millennial kingdom would be exempt from the decision to follow God or follow Satan. By releasing him one more time, all people are given equal standing before God.”

Children who died or were raptured before an “age of accountability” are exempt from this “equal standing” requirement. They have been to Heaven and received their glorified bodies and minds. They never made a decision and indeed cannot make a decision. They are forever fixed as belonging to Jesus, because He claimed them when they were too little to claim Him. What do you think about the series’ decision to grant this exemption, particularly in light of this new volume portraying a millennial kingdom full of children?

Discussion topic: The characters cite Zephaniah 3:9 as source for the novel’s plot point that the characters can speak pure Hebrew. One could posit that an earthly Kingdom of God heals the disunity of Babel, among other things. The TLB footnote to Genesis 11 comments, “Language is the basis upon which science feeds upon itself and grows. [Babel] was the beginning of an explosion of knowledge, nipped in the bud because of wrong motives and wrong use of the knowledge gained. Similarity with today’s world is significant.”

Babel was only three generations after Noah. Why were the people of Babel building a walled city as an expression of unity? Who were they walling out? Their own relatives! (Trivia alert: Genesis 9:28-29 states that Noah lived for 350 years after the Flood. The Scofield Reference Bible, c1917 (“SRB-1917”) dates the Flood as the year 2348 B.C. and Babel as 2247 B.C. By Scofield’s reckoning, Noah was alive at the time of Babel. Was he locked out too? Or was he locked in? The characters should have asked him.)

Many Biblical scholars argue it is Pentecost which fulfills Zeph. 3:9. The argument is that the prophet said “pure speech,” not “Hebrew language.” “Pure” speech would be “purity in speech,” i.e. no lies, no faithlessness (supported by verse 13). This is why Pentecost did not turn humans back into monolingual speakers. Instead, languages became additional instruments to spread the gospel. It was not only about tongues being loosed, but about ears and hearts being opened. The talking was important, but the listening was equally or more important. When strangers believed at Pentecost, they were restored to one family: the family of God. The sundering of minds, hearts, and family begun at Babel was ended. And for believers, the Spirit prays for us, in groanings too deep for words (Rom. 8:26), surely a “pure speech” or possibly the purest form of speech.

Discuss the novel’s decision to have the characters speak Hebrew. How would the story have been different if they spoke “a pure speech” in the sense of being incapable of deception, of words that are spoken only in right use?

Discussion topic: Rayford wonders why the Jewish people must sacrifice animals in the Millennial Kingdom. Jesus answers by quoting Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:26b, 28a; Heb. 10:1, 4, 12-14. In between these verses, King Jesus adds, “But in these [restored, physical] sacrifices [in the temple], there is a reminder of sins every year, just as the celebration of My supper is in remembrance of the price paid of My body and of My blood …. My chosen ones [i.e. the living Jewish inhabitants] must continue to present memorial sacrifices to Me in remembrance of My sacrifice and because they rejected Me for so long” (pages 22-23).

(We call this version of Jesus, “King Jesus,” because He is an earthly king in the novel, and because we need to distinguish Him from the Jesus-of-the-Gospels. The title may sound slightly flippant, but it isn’t intended to be. The character Chaim used the term in Volume 12, page 269.)

The SRB-1917 footnote to Ezekiel 43:19 (page 890) states: “Doubtless these offerings will be memorial, looking back to the cross, as the offerings under the old covenant were anticipatory, looking forward to the cross. In neither case have animal sacrifices power to put away sin (Heb. 10:4; Rom. 3:25).”

Non-dispensationalists, such as amillennialists, reply that Ezekiel 46:13-15 describes a lamb and cereal offering with oil (i.e., Lamb, loaf/body) that are offered up every day, forever. Do you consider this a reference to the holy feast, when believers all over the world approach the Lord’s Supper? When Gentiles partake of the body and the blood, do we do it to remember that we too rejected Christ for so long? What are our motives for partaking of the holy feast?

Consider Hebrews 10:17-18, which says that where there is forgiveness of sin, there is no longer any offering for sin. Isn’t the whole point of Hebrews 10 that the new sacrifice is superior to the old, and therefore Heb 10:3 was written down to show what the sacrifice of Christ has replaced? Even Jer. 31:34 says God will remember their sin no more. If so, why would Jewish citizens of the Millennium “bring it up again in conversation,” so to speak, at the altar every day?

What about the Dispensational belief that converted Jews are not part of the Church? The SRB-1917 footnote to Hosea 2 (page 922) states:

”That Israel is the wife of Jehovah (see vs. 16-23), now disowned but yet to be restored, is the clear teaching of the passages. This relationship is not to be confounded with that of the Church to Christ (John 3:29,refs.). In the mystery of the Divine tri-unity both are true. The N.T. speaks of the Church as a virgin espoused to one husband (2 Cor. 11:1, 2); which could never be said of an adulterous wife, restored in grace. Israel is, then, to be the restored and forgiven wife of Jehovah, the Church the virgin wife of the Lamb (John 3:29; Rev. 19:6-8); Israel Jehovah’s earthly wife (Hos. 2:23); the Church the Lamb’s heavenly bride (Rev. 19:7).

If the Bride of Christ is a “virgin,” and the Bride of Christ consists of those who are born again, born of the Spirit, born from above (John 3:5-8), this would seem to mean that believers have died to sin (Rom. 6:3-8) and are born again as spiritually pure, or virginal. The novel, and Scofield, could be interpreted to be saying that this does not happen with converted Jews, only with Gentiles. If a Jewish believer was baptized into Christ, baptized into His death, “became like Christ in newness of life, a new creation” would not this person be a member of the virginal Bride of Christ? Don’t Jews get “born again,” or do they do so in a way that looks different than it does on Gentiles?

Why do the novel’s Jewish characters have to sacrifice animals instead of (or, for all we know, in addition to) partaking in the Lord’s Supper? Didn’t every Gentile who entered the tribulation alive also reject Jesus their whole lives? Additionally, Tsion says that every Jew who made it alive to the Millennial Kingdom will “know the Lord” (page 33). The novel states that Passover will continue to be observed—with no lamb, because the Lamb is among them. Otherwise Mosaic law is to be observed (pages 26-27). Why?

Did King Jesus answer Rayford’s question? Did King Jesus answer your questions?

Discussion topic: Kenny is willing to wait 2-3 years until his 100th birthday exonerates him. But is the team really so inept that they cannot solve this problem any other way? If Kenny cannot depend upon family and friends, then in theory this would be an opportunity to bring back Hattie Durham: she witnessed so many conspiracies (some as perpetrator, some as victim) that she might have identified patterns or even suspects. Who would you recommend that Kenny go to for guidance?

In the series, saved characters receive the seal of God on their foreheads. Rev. 22:4 reminds us that the blessed have The Name on their foreheads in Eternity. In Volumes 4-12, these signs are physical and visible to other believers. Why doesn’t Kenny have a Saved Seal?

Discussion topic: What is your impression of the Millennium Force as a team, in terms of their mission statement, and in terms of their priorities? Compare and contrast the Millennium Force to their parents’ Tribulation Force.

Discussion topic: Like the MF, TOL suffers from infighting and a lack of focus. Most or all of TOL’s characters are runaways from believing households, and at times they appear to treat their cult as merely a form of teenage rebellion against parents and King Jesus. What does the novel do or fail to do to explore why children from good families grow up badly? Did you or someone you know misspend your youth and turn to God as an adult? What is your reaction to the plot point that all “bad kids” die young without a chance to turn their lives around as adults?

Related: Where are the children of the Goats? Both volume 12 and volume 16 insist that all living humans attended the Sheep and Goats Judgment. The idea that King Jesus would doom small children because their parents were Goats would not be consistent with Volume 1, in which children were raptured regardless of the “Saved Status” of their parents. However, if these children of the Goats were spared, where are they?

(Until the reader was more perfectly informed by later details, it was reasonable to suppose that COT was an orphanage. Chloe and Cameron were promised many children to compensate them for their separation from Kenny. Chloe and Cameron were not Kenny’s babysitters or schoolmarms but his parents. A like compensation would make them parents to more children. However, as the novel progresses, it speaks of “day care” services and children bringing their parents to the guest appearances. No mention is made that Rayford, who built COT’s campus, ever built COT any dormitories.)

If Goat orphans (born and unborn) were spared, who raised them? How much do they remember and understand? What was their reaction to when they heard about TOL? (All TOL who identified their parentage are children of Sheep. Their parents are alive!) Should the novel have included a few characters who identified themselves as children of the Goats?

Discussion exercise (optional): As much as believers enjoy a good Bible story, even devoted fans of the series have called it excessive to devote dozens of pages to reprinting the Bible narrative of four Hebrew heroes of faith. It reminds readers of Matt. 8:28-29. (“Jesus taught as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” The scribes only quoted the Scriptures and did not presume to present any fresh revelation.) Not only do the children never meet a First-Century hero of faith—are these role models out of a job?—but the reader learns nothing new about the Hebrew heroes of faith.

(Indeed, critics comment that, between the lengthy reprinting of the four Bible stories, the extensive reprinting of material previously published in Volume 12, and the leisurely implosion of the Millennium Force—torn apart by anonymous memos, also called “office politics”—it makes some readers wonder what the TOL is doing these days. Didn’t Tsion predict “war, murder, drugs,” and so forth on page 36? To be fair, it is difficult to write an interesting utopia.)

Sometimes the best way to meet a person is to meet the person next to them. Since most readers already know the stories of Noah, Joshua, Caleb, and David, consider having your book club compose a testimony of the people next to them. (Examples: David’s life, told from Samuel, Bathsheba, or Nathan’s point of view.) Alternately, compose a testimony of some lesser-known Biblical individuals. (Examples: Ebed-Melech of Jer. 38; the four lepers of 2 Kings 7; the apostle Peter’s wife, etc. What about Mary and Joseph? Ever since the release of Prince of Egypt your host has had a soft spot for Jethro. [See Exodus 2:18-21; 18:1-27.] Why did Jethro have to teach Moses how to organize a government? Didn’t Pharaoh teach Moses how to run a government? Isn’t that the whole point of “heir and a spare”?)

Using Scripture, flesh out the story of a Biblical “supporting character” in some way that is “not as the scribes.”

(Note: if your book club is uncomfortable with the idea and calls it “Biblical fan-fiction,” one need not press the exercise. Remember Romans 14 and do not hinder your brother. It might be acceptable to discuss whether the series itself would qualify, if all participants are comfortable.)

Discussion topic: If “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot” and “the farmer’s children go hungry,” Cendrillon works at a Saved Store but she doesn’t move any product and never tried it for herself. Bahira calls Cendrillon a critical, doubting scoffer, but one of these things is not like the others. Traditionally our Lord has been gentler with doubters than with overly-confident people. (Example: Job’s doubt sprang from his sense of justice and decency, and that they didn’t reconcile with his experiences; his friends actually got the sterner rebuke in Job 42:7-9. Example: “Doubting Thomas” needed proof, and got it in John 20:24-29. No one calls the others The Doubting Ten, even though they also did not believe without proof. See Luke 24:10-11.) Maybe Cendrillon is one of those “Thomas” types who needed more proof than she was given. That’s a problem, because King Jesus is never recorded as having visited COT, and no one else is really keeping an eye on her.

The Amish have a custom called rumspringa, “to run loose.” This does not mean “sowing wild oats.” It is related to “informed decisions.” The Amish acknowledge that some teenagers are naturally more restless than others, asking hard questions as they struggle with their faith. Their church lets them take time to work through their concerns. Otherwise, when young adults take vows of church membership, those vows would lack integrity, because there would be only recitation, not declaration. (See also the “Sister Lily” arc in Joan of Arcadia.)

Cendrillon and Kat needed to see for themselves that “not all that glitters is gold.” Kat seized her chance; Cendrillon backed down. Yes, Cendrillon probably wanted to use Bahira as an alibi, to legitimize their activities. But there also is the possibility that she felt intimidated to go away alone with her wild cousins. (They certainly intimidated Kenny. Also, Rayford can’t be the only kidnapped person out there; who’s in the brothels, after all?) Whatever her motives, for a moment Cendrillon felt she could confide in Bahira. Bahira could have welcomed her by counter-suggesting an activity they both would enjoy. Could they have gone water-skiing on the Once-Dead Sea? Go to a concert of their favorite resurrected composer? (Bach has probably written something new by now.) Cendrillon has never been more than 300 miles from home. King Jesus supposedly created a beautiful new world; why don’t the girls take flying lessons or scuba lessons or take a backpacking tour and go see it?

Instead, Bahira slaps her down. Bahira claims she never intended to “lord it over her,” but Bahira really did not need to list all her credentials to say No. It’s a little like the overwhelmed mother who confides that she aches for a vacation and intelligent adult conversation—and the second woman replies, “I had twice as many children as you; they all grew up to be doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs; and I was never bored with my children.” To which the probable response would be, “How nice for you, but I’m not being spiritually fed here.” Cendrillon saw others being fed but was so hungry herself that she considered consuming something that was bad for her, simply to fill that void. Cendrillon was alone, and TOL was the only faction wooing her.

What was your reaction to Cendrillon’s death? To what extent is this young person responsible for the choices she makes, and to what extent are the adults around her responsible to ensure that her needs are being met?

Discussion topic: Consider the social ramifications of Cendrillon’s death. Her funeral is actually much closer to the funerals in Jesus’ day than in our own. Her relatives prepared the body, organized the events, and buried their loved one by hand. Jesus’ own death was attended by the women who would prepare his body for burial. (Nowadays we farm out the business of death to professionals.)

One of the most distressing factors is that Cendrillon died one of The Types Of Death That People Don’t Talk About. Her parents are under enormous pressure to respond “correctly,” even if it increases their suffering. As this is a Left Behind novel, the parents yield to Cameron and Rayford’s request (to turn the funeral into an altar call), and as this is a Left Behind novel, the altar call is extremely successful. (Characters resist repenting in ones and twos but readily convert in hundreds and thousands.) Are Cendrillon’s parents being asked to renounce their daughter to retain their place in the worship community? Why or why not? They slink away and are seen no more, but did they choose to slip away or did their community fail to nurture them?

Sometimes we find it hard to give ourselves permission to feel grief and hurt. Some of the pressure is external (our need to be acceptable in the sight of other people), and some is internal (when we struggle to trust God and ourselves with strong emotions). Often we must remind ourselves that God does not condemn us, even though others might, when we do not immediately put on our “company faces” or resume normal routines after a life-shattering experience. What did you need from others when something bad happened to you? What did you and your worship community do to nurture someone?

Related: Cameron says that he does not know what to do. This makes sense: Cameron’s family is saved. And the Steeles are saved and the Whites are saved and the Ristos and Zekes and “Smittys” are saved. This actually is one of the criticisms leveled against the series: that there is a difference between “free” grace and “cheap” grace, and critics claim the easy “say the magic words” conversions followed by minimal discipleship and sacrifice qualify as the latter. The truth is that the characters have never been tested in this fashion. Of course Cameron does not know what to do.

Only two major characters (three, if Ming Toy counts as a major character) lost their next-of-kin to forever-death and to Cendrillon’s eternal fate: Leah Rose and Hattie Durham. (Hattie’s sister and Leah’s husband both died unsaved in Volume 6.) Should Cameron have demurred in favor of one of these characters instead? How would the narrative have been different if someone who knew what the family is going through had handled this situation?

Discussion topic: The portrayal of King Jesus troubles some readers. Many believing characters say that Jesus speaks to them. The rebels say Jesus “speaks” through actions they dislike. Both sides conclude that they have all the information they need to make a decision. None of this really helps the Undecideds. They would have to actually go to COT; rarely does anyone go seeking them.

It is suggested that King Jesus did not attend Cendrillon’s funeral because it would be “inappropriate.” The Jesus of the Gospels constantly disregarded human notions of propriety. He ministered to Samaritans (John 4:40-42); talked to strange women (John 4:27), let women sit at his feet (where men sat before their teachers at the university; Luke 10:38-42), and got a doomed woman’s death sentence commuted (John 8:2-11).

Jesus let his disciples “work” on the Sabbath, and joined them (Mk. 12:1-13, Luke 13:10-17). He forgave sins (Mark 2:5-12). He let a woman anoint him with an alabaster jar and wipe his feet with her tears (Luke 7:37-50). (This was egregious because of the custom for women to keep alabaster “tear jars,” filled with the tears she shed over her lifetime, shed for her children. Thus the jars were considered holy, as a mother’s acts and love were holy. Some Biblical scholars wonder if the woman poured out her lifetime supply of tears on Jesus in addition to the new tears and the ointment.) As for Jesus’ habit of raising the dead, the authorities were so upset that they plotted to kill Lazarus and make him dead again (John 12:10).

Jesus was in trouble with someone most of the time. Yet so many times Jesus was in trouble because He was illustrating the Father’s extravagant generosity and hospitality (Matt. 9:10-13; 20:1-16, Luke 15:11-32), and people said that it offended propriety. This may have been the reason that the Canaanite woman was the only person who ever won an argument with Jesus (Matt. 15:22-28). When Jesus said that it was not right “to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus was proffering a common attitude of the day, dating back to Isaac. (The patriarch did not have enough blessings for all of his children. A blessing for Thee means none for Me.) When the woman replied that the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table, she was pointing out that God has enough blessings for everyone—which was a message Jesus had been trying to impart to the people for His whole ministry. Together, this woman and Jesus refuted the all-too-common notion of God being as limited as man. Her great faith allowed her to help Jesus make this case to the people.

The Jesus of the Gospels confronted death, including His own. His compassion was stronger than religious piety. He did not heed its ritual uncleanness or shrink from its grief and pain. Where the dead went, He went too. Luther put it that God’s proper work is bringing life. Indeed, Jesus empowered the disciples to raise the dead (Matt. 10:8)—which meant all the disciples, which meant even Judas Iscariot. We do not know how many people Jesus raised from the dead, or how many the disciples as a group raised, or how many a specific disciple raised, or how many of those raised from the dead had been, shall we say, taking the express elevator in the wrong direction. Jesus was not in the habit of asking whether a person deserved to be raised from the dead. He simply did it, and what they did with the second chance was up to them.

Obviously if the novel is to take Isaiah 65:20 literally, someone had to die, and someone had to die first. Cendrillon happened to be that one, and the fact that she was an Undecided sinner rather than a vile one is probably intended to prove a point (possibly Luke 16:30-31?). At the same time, Jesus repeatedly raised children from the dead (Matt. 9:18-26, Luke 7:11-15). If only because Jesus has a history of raising the dead, should this issue have been dealt with in the novel?

Perhaps the reason that readers wonder why King Jesus did not appear at Cendrillon’s funeral is because they wonder whether or not the Jesus of the Gospels would have agreed with this decision. What do you think?

Related: Modern expectations have changed over the past centuries. In truth some people might find it easier to adjust to a “King Ralph” than to a king who truly has the might and right to rule over them. We are accustomed to monarchs who obey us. (Your host is not much of a royal-watcher, but even your host heard something about a monarch and her daughter-in-law, the latter of whom died in August 1997. At first, the mourners gathered at the monarch’s door as a community of grief. Four days later, the mourners were holding up angry slogans saying, Show us you care. At this point the monarch surfaced briefly to say that they had been privately mourning as a family, because there were small children involved. This mollified the crowd somewhat, but still they had expected their monarch to be there for them; it was part of the job, as they perceived it. In the novel, only the bad guys would say such a thing to or about the king. Particularly this King.)

The novel’s King Jesus disappears into the Temple some time in chapter 4 and does not physically reappear in the novel until chapter 33, the last one. The authors ask readers “to see the Millennium as yet another of God’s efforts to reach the lost (page xiv). Yet King Jesus is not recorded as visiting COT, TOL, or any place where lost people might be found. Some readers wonder, would the Jesus of the Gospels take a second job as earthly king if it interfered with His first job, “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10)? Is it in fact interfering? Why or why not?

The Jesus of the novel is also a type of leader, not a business leader but a leader of men nevertheless. Four crises are named (Cendrillon’s death, Egypt’s rebellion, the woman assaulted, Kenny’s innocence), and King Jesus is absent from all of them. In Organizational Behavior studies, it is noted that aloof people tend to justify their remoteness, their inaccessibility, by claiming that it is a calculated tactic to teach other people to think for themselves. The problem is that it is one thing for a leader to encourage initiative and good judgment. It is quite another thing to wait until “after the fact,” and then try to justify one’s own lack of involvement. A career coach would ask, why can’t the leader just admit that this is who he is? If the leader ignores people and they learn to make do for themselves, the leader should not credit himself—to say that it is because of his behavior—but should admit that the follower’s success is in spite of the leader. At the same time, constantly bringing in King Jesus to solve other people’s problems runs into the same difficulty as constantly bringing in, say, Hattie Durham to solve other people’s problems: the characters will find it hard to grow if everything is done for them. Where does one draw the line? Why didn’t Kenny, Abdullah, Cendrillon, or the rest go to Jesus with their problems? Is it that they cannot go to Him, or that they always are welcome but never thought of it?

What about as a politician? King Jesus calls no press conferences. He issues no written statements, no sound bites. He is not recorded as having weekly “Fireside Chats” on the radio. The media is not recorded as airing any “60 Minutes” or “Nightline” special presentations to address any crisis, and if such programs survive, neither King Jesus nor any official spokesperson is known to have appeared on them. Jesus sort of invented the concept of “kissing babies” on the campaign trail. (At that, the Jesus of the Gospels took the time to bless children individually, rather than blessing the group. See Mark 10:13-16.) But King Jesus is not seen kissing the babies now, at COT or anywhere else. For twenty-nine chapters Jesus is not seen, well, anywhere.

When we see the Lord face to face, what do you think He will be like?

Discussion topic: Many readers, both critics and fans alike, found Abdullah’s agape mission to TOL to be their favorite part of the novel.

Dick Staub, author of Too Christian, Too Pagan once said:

Some people who are too Christian befriend pagans only because they intend to convert them …. “Rick” was straightforward regarding his motivation. He wanted to “win these guys for Christ.” This is certainly a worthy desire. But what, wondered “Alex,” is the true nature of relationship in such a situation? And so Alex, keen of mind and full of curiosity, asked a profound question. “Rick, if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that not one of these guys would ever become a Christian, would you continue playing racquetball with them?” Given the seriousness of the question, Alex was surprised at the rapidity and intensity of the reply. “Absolutely not,” Rick said. Further discussion revealed Rick’s belief that his sole purpose on earth was to fulfill the Great Commission, and any investment of time that could not contribute to this purpose was vain and frivolous.

Before criticizing Rick, I want you to stop for a moment and ask yourself if you share Rick’s passion for the lost. It is commendable and all too rare among today’s disciples.

But I also want to acknowledge the trap laid for those of us who are type-A, goal-oriented, management-by-objective achievers. Given our evangelistic zeal, we can view people as targets for our efforts instead of relating to them as fellow humans created in God’s image. We are embarrassingly capable of becoming ministry machines, clustering people into categories and then intentionally organizing our time with them to accomplish our purposes.

This happened to me early in my life with Jesus. After starting as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” Christian, I swung to the other extreme and became totally calculating and strategic in my passion to share Jesus with my friends. As presumptuous as it sounds, I would invite people for dinner and then prior to their arrival would think through where they were in their walk and where they should be. I would then develop communication goals for the evening. The joy of relationships became dulled by the obsessive-compulsiveness of a well-intentioned but misdirected Christian. Eventually I realized that relationships are spontaneous and grow out of the serendipity of long, aimless stretches of time with another human. I then understood that a calculating and mission-driven Christian often is not a very good friend at all.

Although it has been 93 years since Abdullah was an active member of the Tribulation Force, his mind and spirit bear the scars of that struggle. He wheedles and sneaks, giving the audience a chance to reunite with some old friends, but not really accomplishing anything. He second-guesses himself from beginning to end. In a paradise of peace, he thinks in terms of war. He has to unlearn almost as much as the TOL does. Abdullah’s willingness to acknowledge his mistakes, to befriend people who threaten him, to make himself vulnerable by sharing his wife’s letters, and to follow Jesus’ example in Luke 5:29-32 is not only refreshing, but startling in its originality—almost as if Abdullah had wandered into a Janette Oke novel.

As Abdullah ministers to the spiritual needs of others, describe the character’s own socialization progress and spiritual growth.

Discussion topic: For the Steeles, one of the pleasures of the Millennium is the chance to eat together again as a family. Raymie and his mother pick vegetables, and Rayford does the cooking. (Rayford got a new toy.) Irene collects milk from a cow and makes fresh butter. The Steele-Williamses then sit down to a dinner of “steaming piles of produce, drenched in butter” (page 2). This unfortunate choice of words does not do justice to their celebration, or to Irene’s talent and hard work. (When the Gentle Browser hears the expression, “That is some steaming pile of [fill-in-the-blank],” the word “produce” is probably not the first word that comes to mind to fill in the blank. Future descriptions sound better, if didactic in a “remember to floss” sort of way.)

Irene loves to cook, and she is good at it. This new world should be a chance for Irene to teach her craftsmanship, to share her gift. (If the Gentle Browser has read Volume 1, you’ve seen her desserts.) Irene might serve fruits and vegetables for their first meal, for the novelty of it, but by this time tomorrow, they’re appetizers. Irene would be working her way through lists like this one, or compiling them.

Why do we mention mere food? Well, it is not “mere,” given that cooking was one of Irene Steele’s foundational attributes, and one that Rayford especially cherished about her. Recall that in Eden, God took special care to provide Adam and Eve with two things: honest labor, and food. Recall that Esau sold his birthright for food. Recall that God fed the Israelites with daily manna to teach them to trust Him. Recall that Daniel’s vegetarianism was an intentional witness to his captors (Dan. 1:8-16). Recall that Jesus left us a sacrament of loaf and cup. Recall that the miraculous Feeding of the Multitudes is recorded in all four Gospels. Recall also that many of Jesus’ followers abandoned Jesus after the incident of John 6:22-66. (Strange but true: linguists claim that there is a word for “bread” in every known language. When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” it was no random sentence. The message would translate to everyone on earth.)

It is said that the characters turn vegetarian because of a belief that Eden was a vegetarian era, but the novel never really explores what that means. (The economic implications alone are staggering.) Also, the novel does not “sell” the vegetarian menu very well. (Try it for yourself: when a character invites another character to supper, do you think “peach-bread pudding, twice-baked potatoes, chocolate-covered cherry tarts, and butternut-squash soup” [or at least “cheese fries without guilt!”]—or do you think, “oh, goody! Fiber! Brussels sprouts every day for life”?)

If Volume 11 includes food as a worldly blessing and/or temptation for individuals, Volume 16 hints at the communal aspects of abundance, how our choices affect those around us. Discuss how diet affects our spiritual lives, our health, our livelihoods, our planet, our town, our children, our attitude toward animals, and other factors as appropriate. If desired, also discuss why the vegetarian characters do not go all the way and become vegan. (As to whether the resurrected dead will eat at all, this question is addressed in another discussion topic.)

Discussion topic: It’s not just food. It is commendable that the authors celebrate the dignity of labor, but why not let us see it? Rayford builds “housing,” but does he build log cabins, Fallingwater, brownstones, split-level ranch, skyscrapers, why not treehouses for grown-ups? What does Farmer Zeke grow? Chloe and Cameron work at COT, doing what, exactly? The narrative (finally) mentions baptism on pages 44-45, but why do they never mention the form they practice, contemplate its meaning, or invite the audience to one such celebratory milestone, particularly Kenny’s? What would it be like to live in a world without pollution, poverty, weather-related calamities, or a need for charitable giving or uplift organizations? King Jesus (re)created a beautiful planet; what does it look like?

There is a difference between, say, an Amish farmer’s paradise and a stagnant society. As another writer observes, this healed world should be bursting with wonders and delights. What aspects of this brief paradise would you like to have seen developed and explored?

Discussion topic: Rayford Steele (page 241) Kenny Williams (page 45) and Bruce Barnes (page 132) have implanted their cellular phones into their bodies. Now, it would not be a Left Behind novel if the characters were deprived of their telephones, but is this variation acceptable?

The “mark” or “implant” theme is widespread (to the point of being formulaic) both in science fiction and in rapture fiction. As is the formula in rapture fiction, Kenny’s parents were pursued by a Beast who wanted to “mark” them, the better to subject them to mind control. (Rayford Steele adds to this interpretation when he tells Krystall that she lost her free will when she took the mark. See Volume 11, page 40.)

Meanwhile, in science fiction stories, protagonists often accept a Seemingly Innocuous Body Implant, usually a communicator. Evildoers then transmit Mind Control Signals through the implant’s radio frequency. Examples: Justice League Unlimited, episode “Grudge Match”; Star Trek:TNG, episode “The Mind’s Eye.”

(Personal aside #1: Your host is embarrassed to admit that, upon broadcast of the “Grudge Match” chickfight-fest, your host’s insta-reaction was, “You dummies, Hal Lindsey told you not to take Implanted Brain Cellphones!”—the term TOM coined for this invention. When the novel’s protagonists opted for Implanted Brain Cellphones, your host waited for the TOL to take advantage of the situation as per the rapture fiction/Sci Fi checklist. But nothing happened. It feels kind of unresolved.)

(Personal aside #2: Now that the series is concluded, your host would ask, why this deep and abiding love for telephones? They may be convenient and unique inventions, but so are socks and spoons. TOM leans toward the Judith Martin approach instead: “Miss Manners has always been given to believe that the one who is truly important, the one who has ‘arrived,’ is the one who cannot be readily summoned by a bell.” Those who can—those who accept and respond to a telephone interrupting their leisure, marital relations, slumber, or thoughts—they merely work for that person.)

On a more serious note, in the Bible the Israelites were forbidden to cut themselves or to apply the local equivalent of tattoos (Lev. 19:28, Deut. 14:1, 1 Kings 18:28). These were ways of marking themselves. The monotheistic revulsion for being “marked” pre-dates Christianity. The reason for the ban was that Israel’s neighbors did those things to honor strange gods. Some would say that Christians shouldn’t do it either, because of Romans 14 in general and 1 Cor. 6:19-20 in particular. Would this Implanted Brain Cellphone be acceptable, or would it come too close to honoring strange gods (in this case, Ma Bell)? What boundaries should we set out of respect for our bodies and the One who created them?

Discussion topic: The resurrected characters and their mortal ex-spouses frequently move into one house, where they live as brother and sister. Why do the Glorified women move in with their ex-husbands? Don’t Irene, Chloe, Amanda, Yasmine, Mrs. Barnes (who still doesn’t have a first name) have callings of their own? Why are the Natural ex-husbands called, and the Glorifieds defer and tag along? When Rayford moves to Indonesia, Irene joins him (page 41). When Prince David assigns Rayford to Egypt, it simply is assumed that Irene will go (page 101). Mrs. Barnes is assigned to Mac McCullum (page 108). Abdullah moves to another city, and Yasmine follows him (page 109.) David the Lord’s Prince refers to the couple as “he and his wife,” although they are not married, twice over: Yasmine is Glorified, and he divorced her under the “Pauline privilege” of 1 Cor. 7:12-16. By David’s logic, where (and who) is Prince David’s wife? (And the reunion of Bathsheba with her husband Uriah the Hittite—what must that have been like?)

Chloe is the only glorified woman whose calling is actually printed for us to read—Jesus implied she and Cameron should be equal founders of COT—and even she defers to her relatives. She doesn’t name COT, speak for it, or invite its hero guest speakers. Twice she defends an underdog (Cendrillon, Kenny), but when Cameron disagrees with her, she falls silent then quietly adopts his position. Is she COT’s co-founder, or just its chief file clerk?

Readers propose that, with the debatable exception of Chloe, all of the Glorified women used to be housewives and, without husbands, they are all out of a job. Individually, the novel clearly intended to show that they associate with their “brothers in Christ” because of agape love. Cumulatively, the effect is that the women seem to linger in their ex-husbands’ houses because they can still get a job as housekeepers. Such readers cite as proof the deafening silence around Hattie Durham and Leah Rose, who were never housewives and have no men to go home to. (Well, maybe Hattie can see if Floyd Charles will take her back. As his sister, of course.) Where are these women in the Millennium? What do they do with themselves all day?

Discuss the living arrangements of the Glorifieds in their reunited families. Is this what you think the afterlife might look like? Why or why not?

Discussion topic: Consider the reasons for marriage. Marriage is a common grace bestowed upon all people in all times and places. Christians believe that marriage gives us a glimpse into the self-giving love between Christ and His Church. Secondly, marriage gives us a built-in partner to help us get into Heaven. Thirdly, because it often results in children, marriage gives us the privilege of helping to populate Heaven. When we get to Heaven, these things will be fulfilled. That’s why we won’t need marriage anymore.

In this volume, we already know that Rayford is going to Heaven. There are many plot points to prove this. He lives in a series which subscribes to “once-saved, forever-saved” teachings; he had a Saved Seal on his forehead; and he survived the Sheep-and-Goats Judgment.

Rayford also doesn’t need quite the same glimpse of the afterlife as we would need. After Irene Steele returns from Heaven, she tells him stories all about it. (This includes the time that the Church and Jesus Christ had an actual marriage ceremony [page 9], and now the Bride and the Bridegroom are One.)

As for the third privilege, Rayford the Rapture-widower has produced no children since Irene was raptured, and has had no marital relations since wife number two Amanda White Steele was killed. Because Rayford never remarries, he can only help to populate Heaven by helping other people. In other words, it’s over 1,000 years of celibacy for Rayford. (This isn’t a criticism—as another celibate, TOM also doesn’t have a horse in this race.)

Regarding these brother-and-sister relationships, the novel never addresses whether this arrangement is fair to the Naturals (usually men like Rayford, Abdullah, Zeke Jr., Mac, and Chaim). Consider the meeting of the Natural Zeke Jr. and the Glorified Yasmine:

The big man greeted Yasmine with a bear hug. “I heard all about you, ma’am,” he said. “I sure did. Tell you what—I’da been your husband, you’d have changed MY mind.” As soon as he said it he appeared to realize how it sounded, blushed, and apologized. “I just meant … you know … never mind.”

Clearly Zeke believed that “how it sounded” was something for which he needed to apologize. Well, how it sounded was that Zeke noticed Yasmine as a woman.

And that’s just a fleeting incident between strangers. What would it be like to live with a beloved mate with whom one can never again consummate? Could those longings and memories become an occasion of sin? Are these living arrangements in fact fair to the Naturals?

Obviously Rayford is getting something from his reunion with his Glorified former spouse—something that satisfies him to the point that he never remarries. However, he will never live a normal life with a mate who shares his weaknesses and his needs. For example, Rayford has no one to grow old with. That’s a big deal even in our world, let alone in a world where the righteous live hundreds of years. This is why he asks Cameron to “free up a building [on Cameron’s estate or COT’s campus] where you young ones can keep an eye on us oldsters and make sure we’re not warehoused somewhere else” (page 341). He may call it what he likes, but Rayford lives to be about 1,050 years old, and he spends the last of those years—or decades, or centuries—parked in front of the television (page 343) with the rest of the wheelchair-bound residents. It’s a coin toss as to whether Irene left him for a new assignment; she disappears from the story when he retires.

Nevertheless, Rayford seems to be held up as an ideal. Every known Saved adult character in Version 1.0 bodies also keeps celibate. Not one of the pre-Millennial adults marries or remarries. Why do you think that might be?

Discussion topic (in three sub-topic discussions): What is the nature of the glorified body? We sampled this subject in the foundational sections, before the Volume 16 novel was written. Let us refresh our notes from post “Applied theology II: the life.”

Because the mortal body dies, Christians say it will be resurrected in a “glorified” or eternal and imperishable form. The glorified body is designed to live in the eternal realm. [One of our foundation critics, David] Currie (pages 412-413) says that the glorified bodies of the righteous will have incorruptibility, clarity, agility, and subtlety.

Incorruptibility means that the glorified body is not susceptible to the elements, whether external (such as weather) or internal (such as pain or hunger).

Clarity means that the body becomes luminous with the glory of God. See any passage on the Transfiguration, such as Matt. 17:2.

Agility means that the body will have powers that at present belong only to the mind. As mortals, we may think of a distant place but our bodies do not go there. As glorified beings, we will think of a distant place and the body will go there at the speed of thought.

Subtlety. The body still will be physical, but it will do what the spirit nature wants it to do. The resurrected Jesus could pass through walls (John 20:10) but Jesus also could eat fish (John 20:26). Currie calls it the Christian version of “mind over matter.”

We do not yet know all that this could be. However, what we already know is inspiring. (See Phil. 3:21, 1 Cor. 15:42-49.)

Angels rescued Lot by blinding his attackers (Gen. 19:11). Jesus eluded people who wanted to stone Him by becoming “hidden” from them (John 8:59) in some miraculous way that affected their eyes. Was this Agility (to think “be blind for a while”) or Clarity (to shine with the glory of God), or both? (The old hymn “Immortal, Invisible” refers to God being “hidden” by light.)

The resurrected Jesus met some friends on the road to Emmaus. When they recognized Him, Jesus vanished from their sight (Luke 24:31) and went to see Simon (verse 34). In this instance, we may suggest Agility because we are specifically told that Jesus went from Point A to Point B.

Subtlety may be more difficult to define. One school of thought is that “mind over matter” should be taken literally—that the body is the primary beneficiary of this gift. Others suggest that the mind is the primary beneficiary; thus this is a type of discernment, of spiritual insight. (Purportedly the original word for subtlety was related to “pierce, penetrate,” which includes room to sift words, hearts, and thoughts.) The most popular definition is that Subtlety means that the body is completely under the dominion of the transfigured or glorified soul, but that this is not the same as arguing that the body is refined into an ethereal form.

When the friends from Emmaus visited the Eleven, Jesus appeared to all of them (Luke 24:36-43). To satisfy them that He was not a ghost, Jesus ate some fish … which when combined with John 21:25 gives us two Gospels to witness. However, notice that John 20:19, 26 often is translated differently: that Jesus “came” to the disciples, whereas in Luke’s gospel Jesus “appears” and “disappears.” When someone “comes up to you,” they usually walk up to you. If Subtlety is primarily physical, the resurrected Jesus could walk through the door—the same door that John repeatedly mentions was locked. It could be Subtlety, the Christian version of “mind over matter,” for Jesus to be able to walk through a door yet also be substantial enough to eat fish.

Other interpretations suggest that Jesus used Agility to think His way into the locked Upper Room, and that Jesus used Subtlety to walk upon the water (Matt. 14:25-32; Mark 6:48-52; John 6:19-21). In Matthew’s account, Peter joins Jesus on the surface of the water. In Matthew and Mark’s accounts, Jesus calms the sea after He gets into the boat. In John’s account, Jesus gets into the boat, and immediately the boat is at their destination. This makes sense if kept within its school of interpretation; Agility is useful for things to be done at the speed of thought, whereas Subtlety sounds useful for things to be done in a more leisurely manner.

If Jesus used Subtlety to walk upon the water, then that also could be the gift Jesus radiated to let Peter walk upon the water, as if both were the wind. (The Spirit appears in Gen. 1:2, John 3:9, Acts 2:2-4 as a force of wind or something compared to it.) And Peter did walk on the water, like the wind, until he took his eyes off Jesus. Then, suddenly, it’s as if Peter’s young faith is Wile E. Coyote suspended in mid-air, and Peter’s doubt is Roadrunner in the boat, holding a sign saying, LOOK DOWN. If Jesus used Agility, Peter resisted it. We know what Peter was thinking (“I don’t wanna sink!”), and he sank anyway.

If Subtlety manifests primarily in the mind, we ascribe physical feats to the other gifts—walking on the water being Agility, for example. Augustine and Gregory were particularly passionate advocates of the Subtlety Is Not Rarefaction interpretation. They argued that a body that could be penetrated by anything, even something as innocuous as air, would not be truly Imperishable. (They also believed that Clarity would not necessarily be perceived by outsiders, and that different humans would have different levels of glorified manifestation. For example, the resurrected would be Impassable, i.e. none would be Passable. But some would be more glorified in Impassability than others, according to their merits.)

How this ties in with the novel is this: the novel proposes a world in which Natural unsaved mortals (who die on their 100th birthday), Natural saved mortals (who age but never die), and Glorified immortals live side by side. The Glorified characters sometimes exhibit curious behaviors. We will divide those behaviors into three categories: the daily routines, the nightly routines, and the dangerous routines.

Daily routines.

In the introductory sections, the authors state that the sun and moon will become so bright that humans will have to wear sunglasses (page xli). Cameron Williams has fitted his home with “heavy draperies” to exclude “the glare” of natural light (page 37). Irene opens her blinds, then shields her eyes (page 317). Why would they do that if the light did not bother them? Shouldn’t a glorified, imperishable body be able to endure any created source of light? Otherwise, the “incorruptible” body would be corruptible, because it could be injured; in this case, by burning the retinas. Wouldn’t it?

(Possibly one might avert one’s eyes when in the presence of God, and at that, it probably would be out of awe. The alternative is to conclude that God will spend eternity surrounded by loved ones who turn their backs when they talk to Him, because they can’t look Him in the face.)

Do the blessed breathe? If humans could die without air, would they still be Imperishable? If creation is glorified, then air may exist for its own sake in the afterlife. Air carries sound, making our hymns beautiful. Air refracts light in ways that makes light even more beautiful. But must resurrected humans have air to live? (It would answer the question of whether the blessed and the angels will be playing volleyball on the moon, after all.)

As we have mentioned, the characters eat. If the resurrected righteous could starve to death, would they be Imperishable? Do angels eat? Several times in Scripture, humans feed them (cf. Gen. 18:8, 16), and so some Biblical scholars say angels eat. Others say that angels only appear to eat, and that they really eat “angel bread,” a heavenly manna that is hard to describe in mortal terms. (Too many speakers make it sound like a machine sipping electricity.) We humans were created with bodies, and when Rev. 22 describes food and drink in heaven, it may be valid to interpret the chapter literally.

(Of course, this makes for interesting discussions when one attempts to describe the afterlife to children, and we all know why: Do the blessed poop? This is why Noah was so popular in the novel’s Chapter 16: he told poop jokes. “Imagine the smell!” he says.

There is a theory that our glorified bodies will be so efficient that there will be nothing left of our meal. Obviously we have no proof, but it spares parents the burden of questions such as, Do the blessed fart. As to belching and armpit farts, your host has done all that one can to help … probably falls under the category, “They could, but they don’t.”)

Other Biblical scholars argue that the resurrected Jesus ate fish to demonstrate that He could eat, not to prove that we would eat. If we need not eat to survive, would that be eating purely for pleasure? Would that make it off-limits, by reason that one could better devote oneself to contemplating the glory of God? Would it be retained, since the sharing of meals nurtures social bonds, which could make it holy? The resurrected do not practice the animal, survival function of procreation—but would the blessed eat?

Like Rayford and Kenny Bruce, Bruce Barnes has a cellphone implanted in his body (page 241). Why does a Glorified have an Implanted Brain Cellphone? Would an angel accept an Implanted Brain Cellphone? Would Jesus? If Bruce has Agility, wouldn’t he simply go to Kenny’s location and talk to him?

Chloe and Bahira cry. What do you think about that?

On page 332 Irene learns that Rayford has been abducted by TOL. Could she have rescued him? Consider: using Agility, could Irene think that she wants to be where he is, and go there? Using Agility, could she open the lock on his cage? Using Subtlety—if Subtlety is primarily physical—could she walk through the bars and then walk out again with Rayford? Using Subtlety—if Subtlety is primarily mental—could she discern who was sympathetic to the faith and discern the best words to say to this person, thus securing both a soul and Rayford’s release? If the villains tried to arrest or remove Irene, could they? (Maybe Irene is not living with Rayford—maybe Rayford is living with her because it’s like having Superman for a bodyguard, only better. No Kryptonite in this world.) Jesus rescued Peter from the sea; the angel Anis rescued the novel’s thirty captives. Why didn’t Irene do the same?

Nightly routines.

Irene sleeps (page 317). Cameron has a bed and a “bedchamber;” presumably he too sleeps (page 37). Would a resurrected human need to sleep? Do angels sleep? (If so, which ones?)

What else do mortals do at night that (one would think) Glorifieds need not do? That’s right: marital relations. If the Gentle Browser thinks that terminology is mechanical, consider how the characters describe it.

“It’s bizarre. I still love and admire and respect you and want to be near you, but it’s as it I’ve been prescribed some medicine that has cured me of any other distracting feelings.” (Chloe Williams, explaining to her former husband that she has no romantic or sexual interest in him; page 3.)

“Why do you think that among the glorified there is no marrying or giving in marriage? The glorified bodies of women must have no child-bearing capabilities, because they are not even interested in reproductive activity.” (Abdullah Ababneh, observing that no Glorified woman has ever become pregnant; page 122.)

Critics note that the authors do not “sell” celibacy as a desirable and joyous future; they actually do worse than they did in “selling” a vegetarian future. Celebrating marital love is like having a disease, and in Heaven people are “cured” of that disease? Oh really? Being celibate is like being strung out on medication? One should hope not!

Two, the notion of celibacy as “chemical castration” conjures up unpleasant images; there are societies and judges which prescribe “chemical castration” to punish the local sex offender. (Your host is eating lunch, and therefore is disinclined to pursue this unappetizing thought at the moment.)

Thirdly—and this is where it stops being creepy and starts being funny—it does not escape critics’ notice that baby Kenny was a “surprise” baby, the product of recreational marital activity. (The novels made things sound so … dutiful, until that happened.)

Fourthly, there may be some truth to the critics’ snarks that it had to be Chloe who says, “It’s as it I’ve been prescribed some medicine that has cured me” of wanting to have sex with her husband. Based on the established characterizations in the series, would Cameron, a man, publicly proclaim that he is delighted to be “cured” of sex with his bride? Could we realistically expect Abdullah, a man, to confess that Glorified men also seem “uninterested,” and therefore they must be sterile, impotent, Not Getting Any For All Eternity, and they like it like that? If this presentation does not make the men in the audience shout, Yes, yes, sign me up!, then it is just as unpleasant to say it about and to women. The authors do not even have a little fun with their “medical cure” proposal: no more menses for Glorified women, and for men, no more prostate exams! Those poor Natural women and their 500 years of periods! Those poor Natural men and their 500 years of being sent by their wives and daughters to go “shopping down The Pink Aisle!”

Celibacy can indeed attract converts when it is “sold” as “better than sex.” The Shakers made it work for more than 100 years. (They also enforced gender equality more strictly than does this novel, which in itself was a major selling point.) Saint Andrew purportedly gave a believing woman the right to say No to her pagan husband. Andrew was martyred for that. Despite its flaws, even the Everybody Loves Raymond episode “Tasteless Frank” acknowledged marital sex as a good thing that people sometimes trade for something even better.

Jesus confirmed that the Glorified human will be celibate, like the angels in heaven (Mark 12:25). So this is something the novel gets right. It just has difficulty communicating the idea that it is anything we would want. How would you explain celibate glory and joy to a person who has not heard of it?

Dangerous routines.

But all these diversions pale in comparison to the most astonishing examples. A Natural male attempts to rape a Glorified female (pages 122-124). His futile scheme is to impregnate the victim and become founder of a “super mongrel race” to advance TOL. The incident is written as titillating gossip, which Abdullah hears at third remove, at best.

Only once in the Bible has a human fought a superhuman to a standstill: Jacob wrestled “a man” by night (Gen. 32:24-30). At that, most Biblical scholars state that Jacob was the one being tested, and that “the man” was never in any danger. (George Robinson [Essential Torah] offers a particularly intriguing interpretation: that God answered Jacob’s prayers by causing Jacob to wrestle either with “a dark emissary” of his brother, or with his own vivified conscience which Jacob had avoided all his life. After “the man” beat him up, he would have been a bruised and crippled mess when he groveled before his brother. The sight might make Esau pity and forgive him.)

In the novel, the gossiper describes the attempted rape in the words, “Her story is that she fought him off, but he subdued her” (page 123). How could a Natural “subdue” a Glorified? This woman should be Incorruptible, Imperishable. Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that “they who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not be faint.” There always have been disagreements on the “wings” part. We have enough material for a literal interpretation on the rest of the verse, and the verse about outrunning the evildoer is supported by the verse in front of it. Granted, we have few specifics—how fast is fast, how strong is strong—unless an immortal such as Jesus or an angel would care to bench-press something or run a few laps as a demonstration. Nevertheless, a Glorified human probably should not be beaten up so easily. Do angels get beaten up? Can the resurrected Jesus get beaten up?

(It doesn’t help matters that Kenny [page 260] and Rayford [page 308] both speak of saved Naturals as “invulnerable.” This is not to question Invulnerability precedents such as Acts 28:3-6 but to inquire why a Glorified woman is, well, vulnerable.)

Shouldn’t this Glorified woman have Clarity? Jesus said that the righteous will shine like the sun (Matt. 13:43). A few chapters later, Jesus did just that (Matt. 17:2). Peter, James, and John were tough men, and they trusted Jesus, and they were still scared half to death (Mark 8:6). (Actually, we do not know what would happen if a mortal touched a body radiating Clarity. Would that be like a moth touching a flame? If so, the woman still had nothing to do with her assailant’s death. The man turned to ash, but only after she fled the room. We may observe that, whenever a Biblical figure shines with Clarity, the mortals around them never get close enough to them to conduct an experiment. They’re usually too busy running away.)

Shouldn’t the Glorified woman have Agility? We need not even explore offensive applications versus defensive applications, because this ability is so powerful. Could this woman do something neutral, like thinking her assailant belongs in the nearest jail? Instantly, he goes there. Could she do something defensive, such as thinking she would rather be on the other side of the planet, right now! and instantly she goes there? So we need not advance to discussions about “responsible use” of her power, such as whether it is acceptable to dispose of her attacker by, say, thinking him into a volcano, or thinking to stop his heart. She doesn’t need to. (In any event, the text makes plain that she did nothing to cause his death.)

And then there’s Subtlety. If this woman was in the middle of something and did not want to flee—it is her house, after all—couldn’t she use Subtlety? If Subtlety is physical, the man could no more clutch hold of her than he could grasp the wind.

Alternately, could she harden her skin to become as strong as Superman’s skin? When her assailant punches her, he breaks every bone in his hand. It ties in nicely with Incorruptibility. (Offhand, your host cannot recall a Biblical example of “Superman skin.” The closest example is locked up in “geek debates” over whether the Samson of Judges 16:14 had Christopher Reeves’ “Superman IV hair,” because the loom snapped instead of the hair in it.)

If Subtlety is primarily mental, then shouldn’t she already have so many other Agility abilities that she would still be safe? Could she elude her attacker by leaping into her home’s fireplace and departing in the pillar of fire, smoke, and heat (cf. Judges 13:20)? Or why not just walk through walls?

When Daffy Duck falls off a cliff in “The Million-Hare”—Bugs Bunny quips, “I wonder if that silly duck will remember he can fly”—it is intended to be funny. This incident is not funny. It should not have been possible for this unsaved Natural, mortal man to assault a woman who has been resurrected and glorified like Christ. The characters never perceive any of this. All Abdullah cares about is exulting in the “message” the man’s death will send to evildoers. What about the message it sends to the reader about the nature of the resurrection?

Additionally, what message does it send to female characters, both Natural and immortal? The message that even a Glorified woman is an unimpressive creation compared to a Natural man? The message that, even in the presence of the living Christ on earth, it will never really be over? Oh, someone (God? Jesus? a passing angel? no one takes responsibility for it) smites the evildoer dead, eventually, but this woman had to take a few punches first. What message does that send to the reader?

Related to this problem is the nature of the Glorified characters’ minds. Science fiction fans sometimes ask if, in the afterlife, we will all have telepathy or something. If Subtlety is primarily about discernment, these characters seem to lack it. If we are resurrected like Jesus, shouldn’t we be able to do what He can do, namely discern the truth? Even as mortals, we have a little discernment. (Job 12:11 comments that the wise try words the way the palate evaluates food. Then again, we mortals sometimes “eat” flattery and hearsay the way we eat unhealthy snacks. This seems to be a persistent weakness for the characters. The tamest example is when Chloe must scold her [mostly Glorified] staff for gossiping. See pages 187-189.)

The Bible states that God looks upon the heart (1 Sam. 16:17). Jesus discerned human thoughts and intentions (Matt. 22:18, Mark 2:8, Luke 6:8, 9:47). People did not fool Jesus. (They betrayed Him, but that’s entirely different. He knew about that. See John 6:64, 70-71.)

In contrast, the glorified Cameron asks the natural Rayford for advice. The resurrected and glorified Chloe, Cameron, Raymie, Bahira, and Zaki are fooled no less than three times (Cendrillon’s situation, Kenny’s innocence, Qasim’s guilt). The weeping Chloe temporarily sides with Kenny, but she is made to apologize for her 1 Cor. 13:7-styled faith in him, whining that her emotional response is “typical” of mothers (page 293). As for the Glorified woman who was assaulted in her own home, should she have been attuned to the fact that an evildoer was thinking about her and approaching her? Could an angel be taken by surprise? Could Christ?

The Bible tells us that Jesus is both the first-born of creation and the first-born of the dead (Acts 26:23, Col. 1:15, 18). The other humans in the Bible who were raised were revivified, healed of whatever killed them, and healed of decomposition, but they remained in mortal bodies. In time, they all died. Jesus was the first human actually resurrected in Glorified form. Are Kingdom Come’s immortals glorified, revivified, both, neither, or other?

Discussion topic: TOL’s manifesto proposes, “Perhaps the new ruler [i.e., Satan] will resurrect us and allow us to reign with him” (page 121.) The characters do not put forward any Bible verses to support their notion that Satan could raise any human soul from Hell, let alone give them resurrection bodies. However, there is an internal consistency in the series. Specifically, the authors allow Satan to resurrect Nicholae Carpathia in Volume 7, The Indwelling. This is why TOL believes that Satan could do it again. In the novel, this is fiction. How would you address this rather serious problem in real life?

Discussion topic: Now that you have concluded the series, discuss the long-term development of a character of your choice. Looking at their words and behaviors, what might we say that they value? Would what we say we see match what they say they believe? What can we learn from their example?

Discussion topic: Now that you have concluded the series, what do you think of the portrayal of the Bible, “the Jews,” the Church, and the future?

Discussion topic: Now that you have concluded the series, what do you think of the portrayal of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the Left Behind series?

(Spoilers will appear in a separate post.)

26. Bonus: Volume 16-called-13 (L.B. Kingdom Come) spoilers

(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=31 )

Volume 16-called-13 (Left Behind: Kingdom Come, the Final Victory, c2007) spoilers

(Added August 2007)


Spoiler: Why are we covering “Left Behind: Kingdom Come, the Final Victory” out of order, and why do we call it “Volume 16-called-13”?

Answer: This is the first time that your host has seen a volume as soon as it was released. New readers will acquire either this last volume or the first one, and we’ve covered the first one.

Some readers count the three “Countdown: Before They Were Left Behind” prequels as volumes 13, 14, and 15. Other readers do not count them, making “KC” Volume 13. As there are two candidates for “Volume 13” but one candidate for “Volume 16,” we refer to KC as Volume 16.

(Introductory sections)

Spoiler: How does this book begin?

Answer: The book opens with The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13, NKJV & NIV translation), the NKJV text of Rev. 20, and several authors’ notes.

The Millennium is the time in which Christ reigns for “one thousand years.” An editorial note (pages xiii-xv) cites the rapturist interpretation: specifically, that Christ lives and reigns on earth during a literal 1,000 years. “Not many details are provided about Christ’s millennial kingdom in Revelation 20, except the final order of last-days events, the windup of history as we know it, and the length of the reign.” There are passages in both Testaments that the authors consider applicable to this period. (Trivia alert: when the authors do not cite a Bible verse to support a world-building detail, your host may attempt to locate a verse.)

The authors clarify that this kingdom is not Heaven. They call it a foretaste of heaven, with Christ on an earthly throne surrounded by believers. “But as newborns come along, obviously, they will be sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation.” The authors take a specific stand that unsaved people will die not merely in their hundredth year, but on their hundredth birthday, thus exposing the deceased as unbelievers (page xiv). (Trivia alert: the unattributed verse Isaiah 65:20 will be one of the defining Scriptural references of the novel’s plot.)

The authors ask the reader “to see the Millennium as yet another of God’s efforts to reach the lost” (page xiv). The authors predict that sin will invade the Millennial Kingdom as it invaded all previous Dispensations. Only Heaven will always be populated with only believers.

The note concludes, “It should be plain from our treatment of this great future period that we are the opposite of anti-Semites. Indeed, we hold that the entire Bible contains God’s love letter to and plan for His chosen people. If Israel had no place within the future Kingdom of God, we could no longer trust the Bible” (page xv).

Next is a roll call of characters. A map of the Holy Land shows east-west demarcations between the lands allotted to the returned 12 Tribes of Israel. (Trivia alert: the land is assigned by instructions from Ezekiel 47:13—8:29.)

The novel reprints and revises most of Chapters 20-21 from “Glorious Appearing,” (Volume 12, pages 355-397). This section featured the judgment of the Sheep and the Goats, the welcome of the Old Testament saints, and the reunion of Rayford Steele with his son, daughter, son-in-law, and former wives Irene and Amanda. In Volume 16, any narratives related by the non-Steeles/Williamses are deleted. The resulting narrative flows purely from Rayford’s point of view. (Trivia alert: many readers call Rayford “the voice of the series,” so this is a way of showing that he is still a voice in this sequel.)

An authors’ note (pages xxxix-xl) titled “The 75-day interval,” cites to Daniel 12:11-12. Reference is made to the temple of Ezekiel 40—46. The authors state that God will build that temple in the first 30-day interval. (Trivia alert: in the novel, the desecrated Third Temple stands empty until Day 30, when it is destroyed. The Fourth Temple is completed on Day 75, but in a different location. The text is unclear as to whether construction started on the Fourth Temple while the Third was still standing. See pages 10-11.)

The latter 45-day interval is interpreted as a time of preparation for the temple and the kingdom. (Trivia alert: In Volume 12, pages 359-60, the authors state that “the Old Testament saints” will be resurrected during the 75-day interval. Chaim states that these righteous dead “were technically justified by faith,” but since they died before Christ, they did not count as “the dead in Christ.” Thus these O.T. Saints were not resurrected at the time that dead Christians were resurrected and did not go up in the rapture.)

The longest editorial note is titled “The Millennial Kingdom.” See next spoiler.

Spoiler: What else do the authors want the audience to know about the Millennial Kingdom?

Answer: This section (page xli-xlvi) describes a new world. The moon will shine as brightly as the sun shines now. The sun will shine seven times brighter than it shines now. (See Isaiah 30:26.) “People will have to wear sunglasses any time they are outside, twenty-four hours a day” (page xli). They will have to get used to sleeping during daylight. (Trivia alert #1: animals and plants seem to endure the light without aid. Trivia alert #2: The authors create a world in which sun and moon still rise and set. Compare and contrast to Isaiah 60:19-20, Zech. 14:7.)

Next, the authors cite Zephaniah 3:9 to explain the plot point that humans will receive from God the ability to speak Hebrew.

Humans who have been to heaven will have received their glorified bodies. They will recount to earth-bound Naturals what they saw at the Marriage of the Lamb. (Trivia alert: in the Bible, the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place in heaven before the Second Advent of Christ. In the novel’s timeline, only those who entered heaven between Pentecost and the Rapture attend the marriage. All other righteous persons, living and resurrected, are invited to the post-wedding supper, a celebration which the authors place on Day 75 after the Second Advent, i.e. the day the Millennial Kingdom is inaugurated.)

At first, humans “will be assigned temporary housing” in the empty homes left after the “Goat Judgment.” In time, people will build their own homes.

Jesus will use the time of the 75-day interval to re-create Eden on earth. (Trivia alert: reference to Isaiah 51:3?) The earth will have been shaken flat, with mountains falling into the sea, and displacement forcing water upon formerly dry land. “Rocks, foliage, buildings, and water will create a residue that coats the earth, leaving everything at sea level.” Only Israel rises high above sea level, particularly Jerusalem. (Trivia alert: reference to Zech. 14:10?) “How appropriate that the new, holy capital [sic] of the world should stand high above all other cities and nations, more than a thousand feet high and gleaming, pristine, and ready to be redesigned and decorated for and by the Lord Jesus Himself” (pages xlii-xliii).

Each new day will reveal new greenery and growth. (Trivia alert: until the fields tended by humans are ripe for harvest, immediate food could be available from the perpetual blooms of Ezekiel 47:12. The leaves’ medicinal properties are not mentioned here but are cited on page 27. Compare Rev. 22:2, which places this scene after the Final Judgment.)

There will be a [fourth] Jewish Temple near Shiloh, some 18 miles north of Jerusalem. This Temple will be massive. Its courtyard alone will be more than a mile square, bigger than Jerusalem’s entire Old City used to be. A holy area set aside for the priests and Levites will extend for about 40-50 miles, “more than six times the size of greater London and ten times the circumference of the original ancient, walled city.” This temple is large because it will be the only one on earth, and the entire population of the earth will visit it. As for Jerusalem, it will grow until this Temple is within its city limits (page xliii). A great causeway will run from the original city to the Temple (trivia alert: reference to Isaiah 35:8?).

Jesus will be in Jerusalem, where he will retake the throne of David (page xliv). The nations are granted as an inheritance, and Jesus will rule the world with an iron rod. (Trivia alert: reference to Rev. 12:5, Luke 1:32, Psalms 2:6-9?)

“Strangely, all of us will lose any desire to eat meat. Animals will no longer be our meat. Our sustenance will come from the bounty of the trees and bushes and vines and from what we ourselves harvest from the earth” (pages xliv-xlv). (Trivia alert: the characters eat vegetables, but calling them vegetarians is debatable. They are not vegan: they eat butter [page 2] and cheese [page 152]. It’s the fish that challenge the term. Ezekiel 47:10 states that, someday, fishermen will catch as many kinds of fish in the Dead Sea as they could catch in the Mediterranean Sea. The Once-Dead Sea becomes fresh in this novel. If the characters eat fish, would it make the characters “vegetarian” in the sense that Catholics eat fish on “meatless Fridays”?)

The authors quote Isaiah 65:18-25. They add,

“You may be a stellar student or an athlete or a bit of a techie, but you will not have to be good with your hands. You may not be a gardener let alone a farmer, and perhaps you always pay to have carpentry, wiring, or plumbing done around the house. But in that day God will plant within you the desire—and the acumen—to do all those things yourself. On the first day of the Millennium, you will exercise new muscles, new ideas. You will plant vast acres, tend massive orchards, and build houses. All the knowledge, and the desire, will be poured into you” (pages xlv-xlvi).

The authors conclude, “You will meet for worship and praise with friends and loved ones, joined by new acquaintances of all colors and nationalities. Some will be compelled to tend animals, and not just tame ones. You will need fear no creature anymore” because of Isaiah 11:6. (Trivia alert: and verses 7-9. That is, carnivores become herbivores, snakes are harmless, all creatures live in peace, “and a little child shall lead them.”)

This concludes the authors’ introductory sections.


Spoiler: As the novel opens, what are the major characters doing?

Answer: It has been an unknown amount of time since Rayford Steele was reunited with his raptured former wife Irene, and son Raymie, and his resurrected daughter and son-in-law Chloe and Cameron Williams. It may be the same day. People begin to go about their business after the Sheep-and-Goats Judgment. The characters have begun counting down the 75 days until Jesus’ kingdom is formally established upon the earth.

“Rayford Steele had to admit that the first time he saw a bear and then a leopard moving about in public, something niggled at him to keep his distance, to not show fear, to make no sudden movements” (page 1). But the animals have become vegetarian. They eat leaves together and rest together. Rayford nibbles a few leaves. He can taste why the animals like it, but he still prefers fruits and vegetables. “He trusted Christ to calm him when the great leopard leaped down and nuzzled his leg the way a house cat would, purring, then sitting down to rest.”

Rayford and Tsion Ben-Judah notice that the sun is brighter but not hotter, and conclude that the sun is responding to the Shekinah presence. Irene and Raymie pick vegetables for supper. Rayford does the cooking, using some “magnifying” contraption to heat the food with sunlight. “Irene had made butter from milk she had collected from a cow, so when everyone had assembled, they were met with steaming piles of fresh produce, drenched in butter” (page 2).

Irene is overjoyed to be reunited with her loved ones. She describes the Marriage of the Lamb by making reference to Rev. 19:6-9, Mark 1:11, Eph. 5:26-27, Matt. 22:2-10. Irene possibly reinterprets John 14:3, 16, 26 and quotes 1 Peter 1:7-9. When Rayford asks about the post-wedding feast, Irene clarifies that this event is yet to come (pages 7-10).

Cameron was only in heaven one day, but he has changed. “No one called Cameron Buck now, because, he said, ‘there’s nothing to buck here’” (page 2).

The resurrected Chloe Steele Williams realizes that their romantic love has ceased. Her love for her former husband has become wholly platonic. The immortal “Glorifieds” neither marry nor are given in marriage. Chloe admits, “It’s bizarre. I still love and admire and respect you and want to be near you, but it’s as it I’ve been prescribed some medicine that has cured me of any other distracting feelings.” Cameron feels the same. Neither person is troubled by this realization. Their hearts’ desire is to worship Jesus.

The Williamses still have to raise little Kenny Bruce “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and see to it that he decides for Christ” (page 3). As they consider Kenny’s future, they “cannot imagine what havoc unbelievers could wreak” in this new world. One of them [the text is unclear] replies, “I hope God grants us the strength to do with them what He wants” (page 4).

Some days afterward, Cameron notices that Kenny has found playmates. Of course they are all under seven years old, because children (including the unborn) who lived before the tribulation were raptured to heaven and returned to earth as adults. Cameron and Chloe feel it impressed upon their hearts that their special duty and blessing will be to tend to many children. Cameron names the ministry COT, or Children of the Tribulation. Somehow, the children know to go to him. “So, start telling us all about Jesus. She [meaning Chloe] can tell us too.” Cameron takes two youngsters upon his lap and begins to witness to the children (pages 4-5).

Spoiler: What happens during the Interval?

Answer: Citing Daniel 12:11, Tsion says to expect “something dramatic” on Day 1,290, which he places as Day 30 after the Glorious Appearing. On the duly noted day, the sky roils to black. When all eyes are fixed upon the sight (pages 10-11), a blast of lightning vaporizes the Third Temple (the empty temple that Carpathia defiled).

On Day 75, Tsion tells Rayford that Jesus will be the government and will appoint princes and governors to report to him. “Any munitions left over from anywhere on the earth will be dismantled and eliminated. The temple will be full of priests, and the nations will be called to worship and sacrifice there.” (Trivia alert: since the entire earth has been leveled and reduced to a “coating of residue”—there are no original surviving mountains, hills, or even graveyards—the only weapons that theoretically remain could be either in Israel, which was not leveled, or in a survivor’s physical custody.) Rayford replies that Tsion taught him “that Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb who rendered the sacrifices obsolete. With Him here and in charge, what is the need for a temple, and especially for sacrifices?” They hear the blast of a sheep’s horn. Tsion says that Jesus will answer Rayford’s questions (page 12).

The party joins the procession along the 18-mile causeway between the capitol and the temple. Children and animals frolic. The air smells “glorious.” Rayford and Chaim follow the scent to discover that the foothills yield streams of pure white milk, the mountains rivers of wine, the valleys brooks of water. When Chaim quotes Joel 3:18, Rayford cries, “Hallelujah! We’re living the Bible!” (pages 13-14).

Jesus greets the crowds with Isaiah 2:2-3, among other verses. When Jesus quotes Ezek. 40:4, Rayford is drawn into the monologue of “the man of brass” directed toward “thou son of man,” (i.e. Jesus quotes “the man of brass,” and Rayford hears what Ezekiel heard). Jesus then quotes (long) fragments from Ezekiel 40—47 to Rayford (pages 15-22) and to Cameron (pages 26-7).

Cameron meets Abdullah “Smith” Ababneh’s raptured wife (Yasmine) and two children (14-year-old Bahira and 13-year-old Zaki). They all look like Raymie, who, though a 12-year-old when raptured, now looks to be in his mid-twenties. Cameron marvels to think of the Dead Sea healed and filled with fish. (Trivia alert: the Once-Dead Sea, as we shall call it, does not receive a new name from the authors. Local tradition states that its ancient name was the Sea of Lot.) The faithful Zadokites are elevated above other Levites. Levites may remain in service as guards, and they may slay sacrificial animals, but their ancient sins ban them from actually offering sacrifices or doing anything priest-like. Rayford views the (Fourth) Temple from inside and out.

(Trivia alert #1: Rayford lists proportions such as “equal sides” but no measurements. Ezekiel’s temple is smaller than this fictional Fourth Temple, but its proportions are similar, and probably are intended to be identical. Trivia alert #2: For ease of use, The Living Bible converts cubit measurements into feet and includes illustrations of Ezekiel’s temple. This may help the reader in comprehension: for example, pictures show why the floor plan is organized the way it is, so that the priests do not have to carry the sacrifices from one dedicated area to another dedicated area through the outer courtyard, lest they sanctify the people. See Ezek. 46:19-20.)

Jesus’ tour of the Temple takes enough time that Rayford ponders his question about sacrifices four more times. (“Rayford only hoped he wouldn’t have to wait a thousand years to know the mind of God” [page 21].) Jesus finally addresses Rayford’s question with a compilation of Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:26b, 28a; Heb. 10:1, 4, 12-14. In between these verses, Jesus adds, “But in these [restored, physical] sacrifices [in the temple], there is a reminder of sins every year, just as the celebration of My supper is in remembrance of the price paid of My body and of My blood …. My chosen ones [i.e. the living Jewish inhabitants] must continue to present memorial sacrifices to Me in remembrance of My sacrifice and because they rejected Me for so long” (pages 22-23).

Spoiler: How does Jesus organize the government?

Answer: Jesus summons King David. A “tentative, timid” man falls upon his face, reciting Psalm 51:1-4, 7, 9, 15-19a. Jesus replies with verses 10-11 and Psa. 103:12. As David departs to wash up for duty, Jesus addresses the crowds with Isaiah 2:2b-4; 11:6-9; 29:18; Jer. 31:9b-14 and so forth.

David will be prince-king of the world. (Trivia alert: probably a literal interpretation of Ezek. 37:24, 26 which call him king and then prince.) The next layers of government are “the apostles, who judge the twelve tribes; their princes; local judges under them; counselors; and finally you foreigners” i.e. Gentiles like Rayford. Tsion teases him, “Oh, don’t look that way, friend. You know we will not make you suffer” (page 35).

Spoiler: Describe the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Answer: Cameron joins others on the Highway of Holiness. All have dressed in their finest, and some laugh and sing as they walk. Like Irene, Cameron makes a distinction between the Bride (defined as: all born-again believers from the time of Pentecost to the Rapture) and the “friends of the Bridegroom” (defined as: all righteous persons who died before Pentecost, like John the Baptist, or after the Rapture, like himself). These friends were not present at the actual Wedding.

The temple neighborhood is lined with “miles” of tables. “Stretched from sky to sky were spectators, the angels, who in no way qualified as guests.” They sing praise and glory to the Bridegroom, the Lamb. Jesus quotes Isaiah 25:6 while serving the redeemed a heavenly banquet of wine, meat, and marrow. Cameron contemplates Jer. 31:3 and marvels that he has seen something like the Feeding of the Multitudes for himself (pages 37-9).

Spoiler: According to Tsion, how long will humans live?

Answer: Tsion quotes (and possibly makes additions to) Isaiah 65:20. He states that no human who is born into the 1,000 year era or entered the era alive will die of natural causes before the age of 100 years. Secondly, he states that unsaved humans will die at 100 years. When a centenarian dies, that person will be considered to have died young. Thirdly, Tsion implies that Jews will not die. (He cites Jer. 31:31-34 to assert that there will be no unsaved Jews, at all. All Jews will know the Lord.)

“And, you know, Rayford, the only ones who will die will be Gentiles who do not trust Christ for their salvation …. Imagine—children born of the Tribulation, when they reach an age of understanding, and, thus, accountability, become the only unregenerate persons alive. And each one born here—without birth pangs, according to the prophecies—still must come to a place of repentance and a decision to become a follower of Christ.” Having seen Christ, living in a world surrounded by believers, Rayford and Tsion marvel that any child could choose otherwise. Nevertheless, Rev. 20:7-8 states that, at the end of time, the rebel host will be numberless as the sands of the seashore. Rayford shudders to think of it (pages 32-4).

Spoiler: How do the characters begin their new lives in the Millennial Kingdom?

Answer: Tsion and Chaim move away to live with their respective tribes. Rayford hears reports that people are “trying to find the resources necessary to rebuild infrastructures. And from all over the world came reports that citizens were determined to rebuild mass communications methods, airplanes, and computers, restoring all the modern conveniences” (pages 39-40). Bruce Barnes goes to Africa to neutralize weapons and to build roads, buildings, and power grids. Mac McCullum goes to Russia “to build airliners for the whole world” (page 75).

One day Rayford wakes up feeling a compulsion to build a house. Knowledge and physical strength come naturally to him. “Within days, toiling with dozens of like-minded men and women, he helped create lodging for hundreds of thousands of people in their lush valley alone, assembling the beautiful dwellings from raw material.” Next, he aids Chloe and Cameron by building “huge recreation and teaching centers to accommodate the hundreds upon hundreds [of children] that began showing up every day.” Every day, children close to the age of seven put their faith in Christ. “Those who did choose the alternative were not public about their intentions. Their fate and their true loyalties would be revealed only in time.”

Abdullah, Yasmine, Bahira, Zaki, Irene, and Raymie assist Cameron and Chloe at COT. One day, Rayford and Irene feel compelled by God “to head a team that would supervise growth and development in Indonesia.” (Raymie will stay with COT). Under Rayford’s direction, Indonesia gets some of the best [unspecified] technology in the world (page 57).

Spoiler: What is the first crisis of the Millennial Kingdom?

Answer: It is Year 93 of the reign of Jesus the King, the 100th year after the Rapture. Rayford gets an emergency phone call from Chloe. (He has a cellphone implanted in his head. That is not the emergency.) The first human has died [pages 46-58]. A COT worker, a “wonderful girl” named Cendrillon Jospin has died on her 100th birthday. This is proof that “Cendrillon is in hell, no longer with us because she never trusted Christ for salvation.” Chloe protests that “If I’m not mistaken, she had actually led others to faith.” Cameron counters that Cendrillon was merely busy. He knows of no one who came to Christ specifically through her leading. Chloe falls silent.

The grieving parents have asked Cameron, as head of COT, to speak at the girl’s funeral. He doesn’t know what to do. “A funeral is no place for me to tell the awful truth … Would her parents forgive me? Perhaps they’re in denial, desperate to find some loophole, some reason why a believer might die at one hundred.” Rayford tells Cameron to just ask them. “If they don’t permit you to be honest, there’s no point in doing anything but declining their request. The only benefit I see coming from this is if they allow you to warn other young people of the consequences of putting off the transaction with Jesus.”

The Jospins prove to be “devout believers who knew the truth. ‘She’s gone because she was lost,’ her father managed, shoulders heaving.” The mother confesses that, to combine it with a family reunion, they had held Cendrillon’s 100th birthday party a little early. The parents give permission for Cameron to say whatever he must say to prevent others from sharing their daughter’s fate (page 57).

Raymie is “sad and shaken.” He had been “duped” by a co-worker despite both the purity of his childhood faith and the gift of a Glorified adult intellect, which allowed him “to realize that practically every subject of discussion had intricate layers of meaning, things that had to be examined and ferreted out in order to understand.”

Bahira takes the death hard. Raymie has not seen tears since before the Rapture. Bahira feels responsible for Cendrillon’s death, because she suspected that Cendrillon might be unsaved but never told anybody. Bahira says that the Lord has been silent. He granted her a measure of comfort, but not enough to remove her fear. “Then it came to me. He too is grieving.” Raymie replies that Cendrillon could not have been a surprise to Him.

Cendrillon Jospin sang to children, played with them, read to them. She may have been “mischievous and a kidder,” but she was so involved with COT that people thought they knew her heart. In public Cendrillon was a model leader. In private “she was critical, a scoffer, a doubter at best.” She had said that, “as her childhood was coming to an end, there were times when she wished that for just one night she had pagan parents.” She wanted to visit France or Turkey to see if the “nightlife rumors” were true. Her cousins urged her to visit them in Amman. Cendrillon “pleaded” with Bahira to go with her. They would not have to participate. They would simply “watch and imagine and pretend” for one night that they didn’t have Christian parents. Bahira had responded that as a raptured, redeemed, sealed, and Glorified human, she had absolutely no interest in such activities.

“[Cendrillon] accused me of being superior, holier-than-thou. I actually apologized. I certainly didn’t want to lord anything over her. I hadn’t been bragging, just explaining why the temporary pleasures of sin had no hold on me. She said, ‘They don’t have a hold on me either. I just want to see what I’m missing.’ Well, I guess she knows now” (page 55).

Cendrillon’s death is so out of place in this new age that her next-of-kin must improvise. Her parents must store her corpse in their wine cellar. They conduct the funeral at COT’s recreation center. Since there are no cemeteries (the entire earth having been pulverized and re-formed, including the resting places of the unsaved dead), her parents eventually bury her on their property (page 58).

Spoiler: Describe Cendrillon Jospin’s funeral.

Answer: Cendrillon’s father, struggling with his emotions, says a few words in praise of Jesus, author and finisher of their faith. “But this is neither the memorial of a life nor the celebration of a home going, for as you all know, there is only one place for the dead now, and it is not heaven.”

Cameron “presents the unvarnished truth,” with plain warnings of the death of sinners on their 100th birthday and their eternal fate in the lake of fire. He says that in olden days it took much more faith to believe in Jesus whom generations had never seen. With the Rapture, Tribulation, Jesus’ return and kingdom, and now Cendrillon’s death as a fulfillment of prophecy, “you would be lying to say that the Christ is anything or anyone else than who He says He is.” From now on, those who die choose to die. “Do not say you haven’t been warned” (pages 58-9).

All those in attendance are amazed. “Hundreds” of sobbing mourners approach Cameron to let him lead them in a prayer for their salvation. Raymie admires Cameron’s boldness. Some of Cendrillon’s relatives are visibly upset. Kenny is “taken aback by his own father’s message.” (He doesn’t say why, other than that his father used to be a writer, not a preacher.) Kenny never knew that there were so many unsaved people in the world, let alone in this one gathering. Raymie notices Kenny’s awkwardness and playfully asks if Kenny is saved. “I’m not going to be sitting here stunned again in a few years with my own nephew lying in a box up there?” Kenny assures him there is no chance of that (pages 61-2).

Kenny befriends two strangers, brothers, who turn out to be Ignace and Lothair Jospin. They are complaining about Cameron’s altar call. “That crackpot sure made her sound like a loser. Don’t know who he thinks he is.” Kenny carefully replies that he doesn’t know what else the man in charge could have said. Offended, Lothair gets in Kenny’s face. If Kenny knows Cendrillon, he ought to know that “she wasn’t some big sinner. She hadn’t even been outside Israel since she was a little kid.”

Nevertheless, Ignace and Lothair don’t have anyone else to talk to about their feelings, not in this crowd. The Glorifieds “all look like porcelain dolls.” The cousins ask if Kenny knows of some place they can go for “fun,” i.e., “something other than singing songs to Jesus to make sure you live past a hundred.” Kenny replies there isn’t much “nightlife” in Israel these days. Ignace boasts that Lothair’s wine could make a party. He takes God’s original brew and “only makes it better.” Kenny, feeling out of his depth, compliments their custom-made suits. As he takes a second look at the pinstripes, he realizes that they consist of micro-printing: the letters T-O-L in endless succession (pages 63-6).

Spoiler: Who are The Other Light, or TOL?

Answer: They are “fans” of Lucifer. (According to Qasim, they don’t use the word “Satan,” considering it an insult.) Cendrillon’s cousins Ignace and Lothair Jospin are members. They tried to “talk her into having a little fun.” (She wanted to go, but not alone, so she asked Bahira to join her. When Bahira refused, Cendrillon did not go.)

Raymie confirms that there are “kids in their eighties and nineties” who have a movement, aspiring to be a cult, called The Other Light. (The name loosely derives from Isaiah 14:12.) Bahira asks if they are rebelling to get attention. “Surely they can’t claim not to believe in a God who has again limited Himself to human form and lives and reigns among us.” Raymie is uncertain whether they plan to repent before the age of one hundred. But he finds their offenses more serious than teenage rebellion. They run brothels, nightclubs, and black markets. France and Turkey have had to hire police and build jails again. “Those who commit actual crimes have been known to be put to death by lightning—God dealing with them immediately as He did to Ananias and Sapphira of old” (page 70). The TOL only recruit more youngsters. Raymie snorts, “I’m surprised the Lord doesn’t squash them like bugs” (pages 53-4).

Kenny has kept in contact with the Jospin brothers. They write missives called “If It’s True.” TOL writes that “if it’s true” that nonbelievers die at the age of 100 years, then those who reject Jesus must keep their teachings alive for nine generations. Also, they need to have as many children as possible to build up the size of their future army (pages 70-2). The actual missive adds that they “do not deny that God was the Creator and that Jesus is His Son.” They deny that Jesus came to earth in the flesh, died, rose, and has any right to rule. It denies people their free will, says the missive. If Jesus “will not countenance an alternate point of view,” then people should support Jesus’ foe, who, in their opinion, was treated unfairly. “Perhaps the new ruler will resurrect us and allow us to reign with him.” The missive concludes with a call to improve the argument, refine it, and pass it on (pages 120-122).

The saved know that TOL has chosen the losing side. “But what about those [undecided people] who might otherwise have chosen Christ and are instead influenced by these monsters?” (page 72).

Spoiler: What do the junior employees of COT decide to do about TOL?

Answer: They form The Millennium Force, or “MF.” (Bahira names the group.) Raymie Steele, Kenny Williams, Bahira Ababneh, and Zaki Ababneh are the founding four members: three boys, one girl like the Tribulation Force before them. They will compete with TOL for the hearts, minds, and souls of the undecided children. Raymie admits that the MF will not face the physical hardships that their parents faced, but still “the souls of men and women are at stake” (pages 69-70).

Spoiler: Who is Qasim Marid? What is the MF’s connection to him?

Answer: He is a Natural youth and one of Zaki’s closest friends. They have known each other for 90 years. Zaki wants to bring him into the MF.

Bahira votes against Qasim. She calls him a mischief-maker: “he reminds me of Cendrillon.” Raymie asks if Qasim is saved. Zaki stammers that Qasim must be saved since he spends so much time at COT, but they don’t actually talk about it. Raymie dislikes Qasim on sight. His redeemed-robe is too short, his list of complaints too long, his beard too scraggly. Worse, Qasim cannot give a detailed account of Where, When, and How he was saved. His story is “passionless” and vague. He says he was simply very little, too young to recall the brief time in his life before he was saved. He also cannot name any COT child that he led to salvation. In contrast, he gushes, “I’d love to become part of your little band and find out what those French guys are up to” (pages 73-4, 78-80, 102-104).

Zaki protests that his friend is being “blackballed,” to which Raymie replies that it is Zaki’s own fault for “over-promising.” At this point, Zaki adds that Qasim already went to France to investigate a TOL cell there (page 104). On cue, Qasim arrives bursting with “amateurish” enthusiasm and a copy of the “If It’s True” missive. The Jospins haven’t even trusted Kenny with a copy (pages 115-6). As for betraying confidences, Qasim boasts that, yes, of course, he told everyone that Kenny works at COT. Kenny is a TOL infiltrator spying on COT! Now the Jospins will like him and talk to him, says Qasim proudly. Raymie sighs. The Millennium Force is spiraling out of control. “I’ve got half a mind to disband the whole thing” (page 169).

Spoiler: Who is Ekaterina “Kat” Risto? What is Kenny’s connection to her?

Answer: She is a new hire from Greece (pages 84-5, 91-2). Her parents met during the Tribulation in an underground church that Kenny’s parents supported. In the new era her family came to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Tabernacles, and they loved Israel enough that they decided to stay. (Like many young people in this series, Kenny is a love-at-first-sight sort of boy, and Kat is a very Nice Girl; pages 104-105).

Kenny thinks Kat would be a perfect Natural addition to the Millennium Force. She’s “the right age, the right gender, no baggage, and a ton more mature than Qasim” (page 125).

To Kenny’s surprise, Kat goes on a date with Qasim. She finds him “hilarious” but indiscreet. He told her all about the MF and told her she should become a member so she can infiltrate bad guys. Kat is so happy to have a friend like Kenny that she can talk to, “just like a girlfriend” (pages 131, 135). Finally Kenny says he would rather be her boyfriend. Kat replies that she only went out with Qasim because she thought Kenny, the son of the world-famous Steele-Williams “heritage” was too far above her. She would love to go out with Kenny (pages 137-40).

When Kenny starts thinking of marriage, he and Bruce Barnes tease each other with the idea that Bruce should perform the ceremony (pages 151, 241).

Spoiler: Where, when, and how do the characters get saved?

Answer: Kenny Bruce Williams is saved when we meet him in the year 93. He had been around ten years old—between Kingdom Years 6 to 8—when his mother Chloe led him to Christ and prayed with him while tucking him into bed. For Kenny, the decision to accept Christ had been easy. His whole family consisted of Tribulation Saints. Besides, Kenny had seen Jesus. “If He wasn’t God, nobody was” (pages 61-3).

Ekaterina Risto did not become a believer until she was 80 years old. She always knew that Jesus was Lord and was Son of God and was God. “I just didn’t know what I wanted to do about it.” She felt terrible about her indecisiveness, knowing it grieved her parents. She was never a scoffer, just “stubborn, prideful” and “sincere in wanting to decide for myself and not just inherit my parents’ faith.”

It was Kat’s friends who shocked her into accepting Christ. They championed Lucifer, even prayed to him, and it scared her. She tried to pray for her friends. As an unsaved person, her prayers availed nothing. In time she realized that she was no better than her friends. She had not truly surrendered her “pride and ego” if she thought she was in a position to help others. “I came to the conclusion that [God] may have been silent, but He was still communicating. I saw myself for what I was,” and lay on the floor, weeping, pleading for forgiveness, and committing herself to the Lord. Since that day, two of her friends have been saved (pages 92-96, 99-101).

Spoiler: What is the second crisis of the Millennial Kingdom?

Answer: The land of Egypt sent no representatives to the mandatory Feast of Tabernacles (page 75). A Zadokite priest named Yerik summons Rayford, Chaim, and Tsion to the presence of the prince-king David. (The glorified Lord’s Prince wears a purple robe with a gold fringe and a simple gold crown set slightly askew.) David reports that Egypt unwisely elevated two “children” to governmental positions. They influenced the nation to “faithlessness.” David says that Egypt is “beyond [his] jurisdiction” to punish or to restore. God will smite the land, and someone will die. David can and does send Rayford, Tsion, and Chaim to rebuild the country and re-evangelize the Egyptian people (pages 87-91). Rayford expects this will take about a century.

Rayford knows Irene will be grieved to be moving again after just having got settled near her children, but “we” have “our” assignment (page 101). David perceives that Rayford wants to bring Abdullah, but that will not be possible. “He and his [Glorified and divorced] wife will be relocated to their homeland” for a separate duty (page 98).

As proof that God loves the Egyptians despite their disobedience, the land is hereby renamed “Osaze,” or “loved by God.” (Trivia alert: this is a proper name, akin to naming a place The Land of Bob. In time people probably will get used to it, just as people are used to place-names like Maryland, Dakota, or Corpus Christi.)

Egypt’s punishment is to lose all ground water. No rain falls, no rivers flow, no springs percolate (pages 110-111). The water will not be “turned on” again until the last holdout repents on page 144.

Spoiler: As long as Rayford has an audience with David, what favor does Rayford ask?

Answer: He asks David for some Biblical heroes of faith to visit COT. “The children plead for [stories from the Bible] above refreshments, above games, above singing.” Rayford thinks they would love to meet the people they have read about. He asks for Noah, Joshua, and David himself. David agrees to all, and sends Caleb (the man, not Chloe’s angel) with Joshua as a bonus (pages 98-99).

Noah tells his story to huge crowds in Chapter 16 (much of it is reprinted from Genesis). Joshua and Caleb do the same in Chapter 22. David does the same in Chapter 26.

Spoiler: In Volume 3, Tsion was rescued by a stranger. What happens in the Millennium?

Answer: Tsion sees Anis again (page 186). Anis is an angel. “I was your rear guard that night, just as I am on this mission” in Osaze. Then he vanishes.

Spoiler: What is the third crisis of the Millennial Kingdom?

Answer: The TOL is spawning splinter groups, much more violent than the group that lures children with chain letters and wild parties. “Abdullah had not been in Amman an hour” before he hears about one new faction. A Natural attempted to rape a Glorified woman that morning.

”Her story is that she fought him off, but he subdued her. However, before he could proceed, he died in her arms. When she reported it to authorities, they found his ashes in her bedroom …. She may have been immune [to lightning] because of the nature of her body, but her account is that he merely died. The incineration had to have happened while she was running for help …. Not even the blanket on her bed [was damaged].”

One of this splinter faction’s ambitions is to impregnate Glorified women to produce a mongrel race of super-Naturals: not immortal, but longer-lived than other Naturals. Abdullah dismisses the idea out of hand. “The glorified bodies of women must have no child-bearing capabilities, because they are not even interested in reproductive activity.” He declares, “We must spread this story far and wide” because “this will be a lesson for others” (pages 122-124).

Spoiler: What is Abdullah’s assignment?

Answer: He is to “thwart” TOL in his home city of Amman (page 109). He concludes that he must disguise himself as a minor, which means locating Zeke, the master of disguises (page 127). Zeke Junior is a farmer in Albania. On the side he runs a miniature COT called For The Undecided. Zeke welcomes “Smitty” but says he can’t help him. Abdullah is too old, Yasmine too young, and Zeke dares not modify her Glorified face anyway (pages 133-135). Zaki solemnly “counsels” that God might make his father into a “shape-shifter” or do something to the TOL’s eyes so that they do not see him as an older man. Maybe the Millennium Force’s mole(s) in TOL could make things work (pages 168-9). “The boy had all the answers. Kids.” Even Qasim offers to help Abdullah disguise himself, or at least feed him information (pages 190-2).

Abdullah concludes that “either Jesus either got tired of seeing me running around and getting nowhere or was amused by it. Finally He made it plain to me during my morning prayer. Do you know what a chaplain is?” (pages 175-7, 179-80). Abdullah is to walk into the nearest TOL hub and ask for an office. If they decline, he will pull up a table and chair outside their door. If they let him in, he will be available for their spiritual needs: “questions, counseling, teaching, or whatever else they want.” His job is to love them. Yasmine asks, “With all due respect, have you lost your mind?”

Spoiler: How is Abdullah received by TOL?

Answer: He presents himself at the Theological Training Institute (“TTI”), Bible in hand, where Mudawar and Sarsour regard him with suspicion. Why would they welcome a representative of the God who slew a man “who merely deigned to try to make love with one of His ‘glorifieds’?” Abdullah tells them that he too was mistaken about God at their [mental] ages. He explains his mission. He adds that they can test their lessons on him to determine whether they have accurately interpreted Scripture or are merely invoking tradition. In exasperation Mudawar gives him a corner of an office (pages 205-6, 207-13).

“It was clear the young men did not know what to make of Abdullah, but they were growing more civil to him every day.” Abdullah starts bringing their favorite snacks to work: garlic hummus for Sarsour and a particularly chewy coffee for Mudawar. Mudawar starts consulting him, asking earnest questions such as, “If I wrote something like this about God, would believers say I was wrong or unfair, or would they just be bothered because they don’t understand Him either?” Sometimes Abdullah wonders if he is doing the right thing, but he concludes that no argument of man could besmirch God’s name (pages 236-8).

Sarsour starts loitering in his area. He merely says that he loves stories, and Abdullah has stories of the old world that is gone. Abdullah shares how he lost his wife. He obtains her permission to show her private letters to Sarsour. Yasmine’s last letter emphasizes the point that she had to convert because she did not have a religion, but a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ (pages 231-4, 238, 245-51).

Spoiler: What lesser conflicts divide COT and the Millennium Force?

Answer: When Kat tells Qasim she probably will not date him again because she likes Kenny, he becomes angry. It makes her doubt his faith (pages 171-4). At best, it makes her uncomfortable to work with him.

Chloe confronts Kat with a poor performance report, signed by supervisor Mattie Cleveland. Allegedly Kat is often tardy and argumentative, has failed to mend her ways, plus she sat next to Kenny at the Noah appearance without permission (i.e. children were unsupervised). Kat denies everything. Mattie denies writing the report. She adores Kat (pages 177-82). Chloe questions her employees, but it only agitates the staff.

Chloe lectures Kenny, Kat, and Bahira. Bahira rolls her eyes at mention of Qasim, and Chloe says that that sort of behavior is the reason she has called this meeting. “Scripture says that you all are to be considered children until you reach age one hundred, but because you’re twice as old now as my parents were when I died, I don’t know; I guess I expect you to be more mature.” Chloe reminds them that the Tribulation Force existed to add as many people to the family of God as they could. The Millennium Force ought to be doing the same (page 187-9).

Just when Chloe thinks the troubles are settled, she receives an anonymous note saying, “Kenneth B. Williams is your culprit in the Risto personnel matter” (pages 236, 238-9, 242-3). Cameron tells Chloe to discard the note. “You know how I feel about garbage like that.” Instead, she confronts Kenny and Kat. Kenny squeals, “Good grief, Mom!” He plans to marry Kat and would never hurt her. Chloe asks if Kenny has any enemies. Only Qasim, if he even counted, and a long time ago. He is quite reformed these days.

Spoiler: What greater conflicts divide COT and the Millennium Force?

Answer: The Jospin brothers summon Kenny to Paris (page 192-3, 258-63). They want access to the very little children before COT can “brainwash” them. Kenny is supposed to help TOL gain access. (At this point they are joined by yet another Jospin cousin, Nicolette.) Kenny “proves” himself by telling them how to refine their strategy. “Don’t you respect your audience?” He mocks them for luring teenagers with drugs and parties and expecting “a bunch of dopers and alkies” to compete with the army of God. They should appeal to the children’s minds. “Raise up impressive, bright, humble young people who are a credit to society but who disagree about the future” (page 262). Lothair mentions a TOL cell in Amman that seems to be practicing that strategy. The four of them could go there this Saturday. (Kenny neglects to report this change of plans to COT or the MF.)

When Abdullah sees Kenny at TTI, Abdullah hides and flees. He calls his reliable source, Qasim, to ask if the good guys have any infiltrators other than Qasim. Qasim says carefully that they did have one, but that one “turned” and joined TOL for real. For the sake of “damage control,” Qasim begs Abdullah to tell no one (pages 280-282). Abdullah promises, then promptly calls Kenny’s father (page 294).

Kenny returns home to learn that he is being blamed for the fact that the COT list of employees has been stolen. The MF is holding a meeting at their usual restaurant (the Valley Bistro), with Qasim and Kat, and without him (pages 285-91). Kat flees in tears when she sees Kenny. Qasim says he found a certain memo on Ignace Jospin’s desk in Paris. Raymie leaves his copy on the table; he doesn’t need it anymore. Acting as one, the MF walks out on Kenny.

Kenny reads the memo. The memo-writer taunts Chloe as “dull-witted” because she thinks he is saved. (“Well, Mom, you have to mean it if you pray that prayer.”) He takes credit for giving the TOL the stolen personnel list. (“My mother is making noises about putting locks on the doors; my access to her office won’t cross her mind this Millennium.”) He takes credit for planting the previous damaging memos. No one would suspect him of framing himself. “The new girlfriend” is more naïve than Chloe. Her “homely, swarthy” and unaccomplished parents “worship the ground I walk on.” He may even marry the girl to broaden his reach within COT. More vital information will follow in the next core dump. “Keep Nicolette warm until I get there …. Loyal to the Other Light forever, KBW” (pages 289-91).

As the dazed Kenny goes home, Nicolette’s van reappears. They have gotten lost and need directions. “You’re a peach,” she says and kisses him on the cheek. As they drive away, Kenny belatedly notices that Lothair took a photo of the kiss (page 292). They forward the photo to Kat’s e-mail.

Spoiler: How is Abdullah threatened?

Answer: He tells Mudawar that it is his duty to expose Kenny. Mudawar replies that Kenny must be working for TOL for real, or Abdullah would have known about his visit. If Abdullah tries to expose “their” spy, Mudawar will have to frame Abdullah. After all, Abdullah does not wear the redeemed-robe but secular clothing. He does not speak Hebrew at TTI. Mudawar will invent the rest. Abdullah protests that as a Natural man over 100 years, he clearly is saved. “And thus you are incapable of sin?” retorts Mudawar. “Oh, it will surprise believers, horrify them, even. But how will you explain it? …. Who in his right mind would believe [that TOL welcomed Abdullah into their headquarters]? You hardly believed it yourself!” Abdullah panics, praying for guidance as to whether he imagined or misunderstood God’s message (pages 320-322).

Spoiler: How does Kenny’s family respond?

Answer: Cameron sits steely-eyed while Chloe weeps. “Call me a typical mother, but I believe him.” Cameron says he wants to believe him. He suspends Kenny from COT, “just until we can figure this out” (page 295).

Kenny asks his family and friends to cooperate in prayer. If they did, surely Jesus would not let this injustice stand. (Rayford, Irene, Chaim, Tsion, Mac, and the Barneses hold the prayer meeting in Osaze, until Mrs. Barnes says that it has been given to her to know that the boy is innocent [page 305]. The text is unclear as to whether she, or anyone, informed Kenny’s parents and friends.)

Kenny composes a brief memo to the MF. “I suppose all I can do now is to endure a little more than two more years until I turn one hundred. And when I am here the next day, you’ll know that I am a believer” and not guilty of the charges.

Kenny composes a second memo to Kat. “I can only imagine how phony and hollow that sounds, coming from me right now.” He begs Kat to read 1 Corinthians 13 and think of him. He adds that the day she decides he is innocent, please come back to him. She should not think that he will hold it against her that she did not trust him. (He admits that he hopes, but is not certain, that he would believe her if their situations were reversed.) She is his lifetime love, and there will never be another. (pages 296-7).

Kat lasts only half a day apart from Kenny. If she is wrong, she is a fool and accepts it. She loves Kenny (page 329).

Spoiler: How is Rayford Steele captured?

Answer: Rayford and his team are living in motorhomes in Osaze. He takes a walk by moonlight, as is his habit. A black sedan approaches, and an old man pleads for help. Believers and undecideds are under attack. When Rayford gets into the car, three Natural youngsters produce weapons and cuffs. He considers resisting or fleeing, but the Lord tells him to comply (pages 305-8).

Rayford has been abducted by “the enforcers” of TOL, called “The Only Light.” They know that Rayford has an appointment in Siwa. If they can prevent him from appearing there, they can say that their god is greater than his. Rayford laughs and calls them “idiots” because of their reasoning: their leader locked himself away to prove a point and will release himself and will defeat a nonexistent God who is capricious and unjust but doesn’t exist, and so on. They take Rayford to a dank underground prison—Rayford has not seen this pure a darkness since the sun and moon became supercharged—and cage him with minimal clothing and no food (pages 310-312).

Rayford’s guard is Rehema (“Compassionate”). He thanks her for being his guard and witnesses to her (pages 312-6, 318-9). Within the hour she is sneaking him bites of her sandwich. She says she has a four-year-old son who is kept in a TOL facility. Rayford tells her of his own children.

Rayford asks Rehema to “call my wife” and assure her that he is unharmed. Rehema places the call but asks Irene where they are “hiding.” Irene is puzzled; they haven’t moved. God has blinded TOL’s eyes. Irene asks that Rayford please be on time. Rehema says carefully that, “If he makes it, it will be either with my help or with me under his protection against my former superiors.” Irene replies that they will welcome her warmly into the family of God. Rehema fights back tears. She considers it, but she will not leave her son—and Rayford will not leave the other 30 prisoners. There is no need for either person to choose. The TOL have been eavesdropping and throw Rehema into Rayford’s cell in chains. Rayford prays with her. Rehema is now saved but frightened for her son (pages 331-5).

Spoiler: How is Abdullah’s situation resolved?

Answer: Sarsour confesses he was assigned to spy on Abdullah. He knew Abdullah would come back from his snack run, because he left his Bible. Sarsour grew up in a believing household. Abdullah reminds him of his home. Last night, Sarsour visited his parents. There he felt the presence of God. That night deepened his crisis of conscience. The way that Mudawar threatened Abdullah put an end to it. Sarsour tells Abdullah plainly that Qasim Marid is the TOL infiltrator at COT; Kenny is innocent. Sarsour asks Abdullah to pray with him. He won’t go back to the TTI building without being a believer (pages 323-7). With Mudawar’s threats neutralized, Abdullah’s good name is out of danger.

Spoiler: How is Rayford rescued?

Answer: He teaches Rehema the hymn “Trust and Obey” by Sammis and Towner, to calm them both to sleep. Rehema sees Anis in the prison. An earthquake opens the doors of all cells. The TOL guards are paralyzed with fear. The prisoners follow Anis to freedom, specifically to a caravan of cars (to which Anis tosses them the keys). As they drive away, Rehema asks Rayford to sing again, with “Trust and Obey” fading into the distance (pages 336-9).

Spoiler: How is Kenny’s situation resolved?

Answer: In its entirety from page 340:

Qasim Marid was, of course, fired from the Children of the Tribulation ministry, and he died at one hundred. He was replaced by Abdullah Ababneh’s friend Sarsour, who endeared himself to the staff and Cameron William’s extended family over the next nine centuries. Ignace and Lothair also died at one hundred—as did Mudawar—and became the Other Light martyrs, still revered by billions more than nine hundred years later.”

Spoiler: Describe the wedding of Kenneth Bruce Williams and Ekaterina “Kat” Risto.

Answer: In its entirety from page 340:

Kenny and Ekaterina Williams’s wedding was performed by Bruce Barnes, and the couple produced eight sons, six daughters, and more than eighty grandchildren over the next two hundred years. The couple expanded the work of COT to Greece, as had been Ekaterina’s dream, until they grew too feeble to carry on. By the end, the ministry was maintained by the Glorifieds …

Spoiler: Describe the rest of the Millennium.

Answer: From pages 340-342: Naturals start to notice slowed reflexes and weakened sight and hearing in their seven hundreds.

Mac McCullum invites his friends to celebrate his 800th birthday at COT in Israel. He asks his friends to do two things. One, may they all return for his 1,000th birthday party. Two, may they all meet again to witness the last day of the Millennium—in effect, the last day on earth.

On Mac’s millennial birthday, he, Chaim, Rayford, Kenny, Ekaterina, and Abdullah (a.k.a. “the six oldsters”) line up their wheelchairs to face a receiving line of well-wishers. Mac grumbles, “This here’s like a funeral where the dead guy won’t go.” They greet a long list of Natural and Glorified characters from previous novels: Rayford’s parents, Amanda, Hattie, Chang, and so many more. Rayford asks for a photo of the original Tribulation Force. Chloe, Cameron, and Bruce join him for a picture.

The instantly produced photograph stunned even Rayford. It depicted three robust young people frozen in the prime of their lives and a long, bony man with drooping jowls, liquid eyes, and no hair, weighing barely over a hundred pounds, veins prominent on the back of his hands, bundled in a sweater despite the desert heat.

Spoiler: Describe the last battle.

Answer: From pages 343-349: Rayford and Chaim watch television. The past three years have been bad viewing. The TOL has amassed an army “a thousand times bigger” than the one seen at Armageddon. The TOL brazenly rolls its tanks through any street and holds parades filled with missiles. Naval fleets churn toward Holy Land ports. Army supply lines run uninterrupted from port to front line, where the TOL await “their leader.” The faithful can only stand beside the road and look. Most believers flee the Holy Land. A few vow to stay and fight TOL “to the death.”

Rayford reassures himself that the faithful do not need soldiers. This is good, because they have none, not one. Chaim says that the end will be “anticlimactic.”

“As the entire world looked on—many by television, many from what they hoped were safe distances—the colossal fighting force suddenly came alive with a buzz of anticipation. Clearly Satan had been released and was in their midst, preparing to show himself and to lead them” (page 346).

Satan emerges from the crowd as a shining figure with a sword. He says that the throne of God is rightfully his. King Jesus, in the Temple, rises. Satan screams, “Charge!” Jesus replies quietly, “I Am Who I Am.” The sky roils, the heavens open, and “yellow and red mountains of white-hot, roiling flames burst forth. Satan’s entire throng—men, women, weapons, everything—was vaporized in an instant, leaving around the holy mountain a ring of ash that soon wafted away in the breeze.” Satan slowly drops his sword.

Jesus quotes Ezekiel 28:12b-19. David quotes Phil. 2:9-11. Jesus opens His palm. “A seam in the cosmos opened before Satan. Flames and black smoke poured from where the Beast and the False Prophet writhed on their knees, screaming, “Jesus is Lord!’” (Trivia alert: the SRB-1917 footnote to Rev. 20:10, page 1351, states that the reason we see the Beast and False Prophet is to make plain that they are “undestroyed” after 1,000 years, that the second death is not “annihilation” or extinction.) Satan screams, “Jesus is Lord!” Then Jesus closes His fingers and Satan is “thrown” into the abyss. The seam closes and vanishes (page 349). There is only silence.

Spoiler: Describe Rayford’s eyewitness experience of the end of time.

Answer: Rayford suddenly finds his body and mind glorified. He looks and feels thirty years old. He is dressed in a robe of gleaming white. He and his companions ascend through the ceiling and fly toward the holy mountain. As the billions of believers ascend, Rayford sees a “stunning” sight descending toward them. A beautiful, massive “foursquare city of transparent gold” meets his gaze (pages 349-50).

The redeemed of all ages gather in this new Jerusalem. Far below, the final resurrection has come. “From every nook and cranny on the earth and from the seas and below the earth came the bodies of all the men and women in history who had died outside of Christ.” They stand in shame and know it. Jesus descends from Heaven, seated upon a great white throne. The dead encircle Him. (They have no choice, as the earth and sky flee away.) Fire from above and from below the earth ignite the globe and incinerate it to sparks (page 350).

Rayford recalls Rev. 20:5 and worships “with all who had escaped this fateful hour.” He sees Jesus consult three great books: the Book of Life (a census listing the name of every human who ever lived); the Book of Works (listing all deeds for each person); and the Lamb’s Book of Life (listing the names of all who had trusted Christ for their salvation). Rayford knows that all who are in the Lamb’s book have been forgiven of “misdeeds” written in the Works book. Not one of “the desolate souls hovering about the throne” is in the Lamb’s book.

Somehow, the Lord addresses all the unsaved individually. All go to the lake of fire, but some get (unspecified) worse punishment as well, “such as those scoffers who had led others astray, particularly children.” Rev. 20:13b-15 is cited. Rayford once would have been horrified to hear these judgments. Now, as he sees Jesus’ tears as He pronounces sentence, “Rayford understood as never before that Jesus sent no one to hell. They chose their own paths” (pages 351-2).

Now, with only the new Jerusalem filled with believers and Jesus upon the throne, the skies are empty. In an instant, Jesus creates an entirely new earth, upon which the Holy city descends. Jesus opens His arms to the people, saying, “You chose to believe in Me and accept My death on the cross for your sins. My resurrection from the dead proved this sacrifice was acceptable to My Father.” Rayford sees what John the Revelator saw in Rev. 21:1-5a, 6, 8, 11-14, 18, 22-23. All who, like Rayford, were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, would enter the new heaven and new earth and reign forever and ever.

Spoiler: How does the novel close?

Answer: From pages 355-356: The authors call the Left Behind series a daunting, enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding experience. They hope this fictional format “has made clear some admittedly complex and often confusing elements of Scripture and help them come to life in your eyes.”

“By now there should be no question, but for the record let me say that yes, we believe that what we have portrayed here will happen someday. Our deepest prayer is that this sixteen-book story has drawn you closer to God and caused you to either receive Him as your Savior or more deeply commit yourself to Him if you were already a believer. Thousands of readers have told us that they became believers through reading these books, which makes everything else associated with them—media coverage, controversy, best-seller lists—pale in comparison. There’s nothing any novelist enjoys more than to hear that his work has changed a reader’s life. Well, when readers tell us that, they mean it literally.”

The authors close with Rev. 22:17: let whosoever desires, come take freely the living water of life. If anyone is uncertain as to whether one has received the living Christ, may they receive Him as Lord and Savior today.

(Discussion topics will appear in a separate post.)