|War in Babylon has evangelicals seeing Earth's final days
Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer
Saturday, March 22, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
America is embarked on a battle of biblical proportions -- and in the eyes
of a growing number of evangelical Christians, this long-awaited fight could
actually bring about the fulfillment of ancient prophecies about the war of
Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.
Wars and rumors of war in the Middle East have long inspired doomsayers and
date-setters who see the unfolding of prophecy in current events.
But the attack on Iraq provides especially rich imagery for students -- and
entrepreneurs -- of "end times" theology.
Babylon, the ancient Mesopotamian capital where the Israelites were once
held in captivity, is located in modern Iraq, now being invaded by the
United States and Britain.
Adding to the biblical overtones of the Iraqi invasion is the backdrop of
the battle between Israelis and Palestinians for control of the Holy Land
and Jerusalem. That conflict reignited on the cusp of the new millennium,
when Ariel Sharon, now the Israeli leader, ascended one of the holiest
shrines in Islam, the Dome of the Rock, and symbolically reclaimed it as the
site of the ancient Jewish Temple.
Put it all together and the selling of Armageddon becomes a growth industry.
Some signs of the times:
-- ArmageddonBooks.com features a newly updated edition of "The Rise of
Babylon -- a Sign of the Endtimes," with the face of Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein staring ominously from its fiery cover.
-- Tyndale House, the Christian publisher of the megaselling "Left Behind"
series of apocalyptic novels, initiates a huge promotional campaign for its
11th installment of serial fiction, this one titled "Armageddon," set for an
April 8 release.
-- Prophecy Watch, a Web site dedicated to "revealing the truth in
scripture," prepares for its International Prophecy Conference April 2-5 in
Tulsa, Okla. There will be a session devoted to "Iraq and the Rebuilding of
Babylon" and a lecture by the author of "The Assyrian Connection -- the
Roots of the Antichrist and the Emerging Signs of Armageddon."
Meanwhile, in the real world, President Bush condemns Hussein as the "evil-
doer" and sets out to bring him down.
Some religion scholars are troubled by the president's use of religious
language in justifying the war against Hussein.
"There is enormous arrogance and presumption in his use of religious claims,
" said James Donahue, the president of the Graduate Theological Union in
Berkeley. " 'God is on our side' -- it's too simplistic in its labeling of
good and evil. It personifies evil in one person and makes it one bad person
versus the rest of the world."
But the books, movies and conferences are part of a growing belief in
conservative evangelical circles that the Antichrist is alive, well and
working in the world.
Before the Antichrist is revealed in the flesh, however, Jesus will appear
in the sky and "rapture" true believers up to heaven. They escape seven
years of intense earthly tribulation and disaster that culminate in the end
of the world.
At end of the Great Tribulation comes the battle of Armageddon, with Christ
fighting the Antichrist. Once the Antichrist is defeated, Satan is bound and
kept out of the way for a perfect 1,000 years -- lions lying down with
lambs. Then there's the Last Judgment and people go to heaven or hell. Human
This is also the scenario of the "Left Behind" serial novels, which have
sold more than 50 million copies dealing with the adventure-packed lives of
Buck, Chloe and Rayford. In their next installment, writers Tim LaHaye and
Jerry Jenkins link the events in Iraq and Israel.
"New Babylon is in a strange pillar of darkness that has incapacitated its
population and its power," the prepublication hype proclaims. "Who will stay
true to their newfound faith in the face of possible capture, interrogation
or torture? While the world focuses on the chaos in New Babylon and the
possible cause for this inexplicable darkness, what about Jerusalem?"
The Rev. Dick Bernal, pastor of Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, said
his Pentecostal flock is "always looking for signs that line up with Matthew
That passage in the New Testament quotes Jesus as saying the Second Coming
will be preceded by "wars and rumors of war," famine, earthquakes and
"nation rising up against nation."
"Some of what's going on today does look interesting," Bernal said. "But
some people in my camp get a little too carried away, and it makes us look
Bernal does not think Saddam Hussein is the anti-Christ because that great
deceiver will be "extremely subtle, cunning. He will look like the ultimate
In the "Left Behind" series, the anti-Christ is the evil, Russian-accented
secretary-general of the United Nations, Nicolae Carpathia, who rapidly
assumes political, economic and religious control of the entire planet.
Lynn Garrett, the religion editor of Publishers Weekly, said the "Left
Behind" series took off before the turn of the new millennium and shows no
sign of slowing down.
"This kind of thinking is just a part of American culture," she said. "It
feels familiar to people who aren't even part of the evangelical movement.
They just find it a good read -- like any other thriller."
Garrett said several publishers have tried to imitate the "Left Behind"
craze with their own apocalyptic thrillers but have not found a market.
Bantam Books, she said, recently signed a $40 million to $45 million
contract with LaHaye to put out a new series of end-time thrillers.
Gary DeMar, the evangelical author of "End Times Fiction: A Biblical
Consideration of the Left Behind Theology," said LaHaye's hugely popular
novels are not just harmless entertainment for "escape-minded Christians."
"There is no reason to bring about a peace movement because they believe all
this has to take place," DeMar said. "It's prophetic inevitability."