Local television stations from around the world reported bizarre occurrences. . . . CNN showed via satellite the video of a groom disappearing while slipping the ring onto his bride's finger. A funeral home in Australia reported that nearly every mourner disappeared from one memorial service, [along with] the corpse.
-- From "Left Behind," by LaHaye and Jenkins
Since publishing their first "Left Behind" novel four years ago, Christian authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have released five sequels and a separate series for teens and sold more than 10 million books. This puts them in the same league as secular blockbuster writers Danielle Steele, Michael Crichton and John Grisham.
"Assassins," LaHaye and Jenkins's sixth work, came out in August and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for eight weeks. "Apollyon," published in February as the fifth in the Left Behind series, is No. 15 on the Times hardcover list, while the inaugural "Left Behind" ranks No. 18 among paperback bestsellers.
The next installment, "The Indwelling," is due out in May. And Illinois publisher Tyndale House, which produces a variety of Bibles and Christian books, next month will release LaHaye-Jenkins's nonfiction account of the Tribulation, "Are We Living in the End Times?"
Rufus Walsh, a buyer for Spring Arbor, a major Christian book wholesaler near Nashville, said the increasing popularity of the Left Behind series is notable now that "a lot of millennium publishing has died down."
The spate of millennium-oriented religion books, especially those focusing on the potential Y2K computer glitch, came early this year, he said. By now, most readers seem to have "formed an opinion or estimate of what might happen to them personally or said, 'Y2K is not that big a deal.' "
But millions of people are intrigued by the biblical prophecy of a millennium to end all millennia--the prediction that Jesus will return to Earth to rule for 1,000 peaceful years before the end of the world as we know it, Walsh said. And the Left Behind books are fueling that interest.
The series features a Mission Impossible-type cadre called the Tribulation Force, people whose wives, husbands, sons, daughters or friends have vanished into thin air, as evidenced by piles of clothing, jewelry and other personal effects. Members of the force realize that the prophesied Rapture has occurred and that they have been "left behind" because they did not accept Jesus as their savior.
After committing their lives to Christ, they try to win over other left-behinders during a seven-year period called the Tribulation. They also must fight the forces of the Antichrist and endure the horrible wars, plagues and desolation prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
Future books in the series--the 12th and final offering is scheduled for 2003--probably will continue the countdown to the battle of Armageddon, which concludes the period of Tribulation and marks the Second Coming of Jesus. But LaHaye and Jenkins are keeping mum on how their story will end and at what point in the end-times process, a Tyndale spokeswoman said.
Other religious publishers have joined the effort to explain the millennial events foretold in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Here is a selected list of new and recently published works on biblical prophecy.
ARE WE LIVING IN THE END TIMES? by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (November, Tyndale, $16.97 hardcover; $15.99 two-cassette audio-book). This nonfiction work offers an overall interpretation of biblical prophecy concerning the Tribulation, or "end times," dramatized in the six-book fictional Left Behind series. LaHaye, a former pastor and educator who is a graduate of Bob Jones University, and Jenkins, biographer of sports heroes Walter Payton and Hank Aaron, among others, chide "date setters" who try to pinpoint Jesus's return. But they leave no doubt that they believe "He will come in our generation."
THE COMPLETE BOOK OF BIBLE PROPHECY, by Mark Hitchcock (Tyndale, $11.99 soft cover). More outline than prosaic text, this handy guide presents prophetic scriptures using graphs, time lines, charts, lists. It also addresses terms and theories with an accessible question-answer format. The Oklahoma pastor explains, for example, that the word Rapture does not appear in most English-language Bibles but does occur in Latin translations of the original New Testament Greek: rapturo, meaning "to snatch," "seize" or "take away."
END-TIME PROPHECIES OF THE BIBLE, by David Haggith (Putnam, $30). The next millennium will be the seventh 1,000-year period of human history, according to biblical accounts. Will this "Sabbath millennium" have sacramental significance like other sevenths, such as the seventh day of creation or the seventh Sabbath (Jubilee) year? Haggith intersperses such philosophical issues and speculations, with reasoned but non-didactic answers, throughout this anthology of prophetic passages. He arranges Hebrew and New Testament scriptures thematically, rather than chronologically, under such headings as Covenants, Visions, Signs (Is the End Near?), Antichrist, Armageddon and Paradise.
END-TIME VISIONS, THE DOOMSDAY OBSESSION, by Richard Abanes (Broadman & Holman, $9.99 soft cover). Abanes, a self-proclaimed former cult member (The Way International), tracks centuries of failed and misguided doomsday believers, including the Millerites, Jim Jones, David Koresh and Heaven's Gate. He challenges the prophetic conclusions of many modern-day interpreters, including Tim LaHaye. And he concludes with a "Timeline of Doom" citing dozens of proclamations of the imminent world's end--beginning with the year 60.
MILLENNIUM BIBLES, TEXTS
APOCALYPSE 2000: THE BOOK OF REVELATION, edited by John Miller with an introduction by Andrei Codrescu (Seastone/Ulysses, $17.95). Spiteful demons, vengeful angels and thundering horses seem to come alive in this dramatic presentation of the ultimate book of prophecy--printed entirely in black, red and white. Apocalyptic visions by Gustave Dore, Albrecht Duerer and other classic artists illustrate John's text, complemented by quotes from a host of writers: William S. Burroughs, D.H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, Zoroaster, Lawrence Ferlinghetti et al. Even Fox Mulder of "The X-Files" gets a word in: "Look around, Scully. Maybe it does not look like you thought, but it's the apocalypse."
THE CELEBRATE JESUS MILLENNIUM BIBLE, devotions and commentary by Calvin Miller (Broadman & Holman, $29.99). Where would we be without at least one "official Bible of the Millennium"? Broadman & Holman, the nation's oldest Bible publisher, took the initiative with this boxed, gold-trimmed maroon edition of the King James version. Miller, a best-selling Christian author, offers 366 daily devotions plus personal views of religious artworks by Rubens, Dali, Raphael, Vermeer and others. A 16-page section for filling in family records suggests the editor's belief that life may go on after 2000.
NIV PROPHECY STUDY BIBLE, Grant R. Jeffrey, general editor (Zondervan, $34.99). Prophetic Subjects. The Holy Spirit. Salvation. Temporal Blessings. Solid blocks of blue, red, dark green and light green highlight these themes throughout all 66 books of the Bible. Color-coded citations aid cross-referencing. Includes an introduction to prophecy and 13 color maps.
PROPHECY STUDY BIBLE, John C. Hagee, general editor (Nelson, $34.99). This edition of the New King James version contains more than 300 pages of articles on prophecy, plus two large charts illustrating events prophesied in the Scriptures. Hagee also explains differing views on the sequence of the Rapture, Tribulation and Second Coming that have created acrimonious divisions among evangelicals. Like LaHaye and Hitchcock, he comes down on the side of those who believe the Rapture precedes the Tribulation rather than the other way around. As a "premillennialist," he argues that Jesus will return before, not after, the final millennium.
VISIONS OF THE APOCALYPSE: SELECTIONS FROM THE ANCIENT PROPHECY OF REVELATION (International Bible Society, $2.50 soft cover; text online at www.Visions-of-Apocalypse.com). This 48-page booklet, designed in size and format to resemble a CD, includes the editors' choice of key verses from Revelation about the end of time. The interactive effect is cute--the creators hope effective--as the reader must break a "seal" to open the first page, then follows the recurring image of a digital clock counting down to 0:00:00.
CAPTION: Revelation, the ultimate book of prophecy, comes alive with illustrations, quotes, and black, white and red text in "Apocalypse 2000."