In Case of Rapture
Jesus and Mr. T Tell You Where to Go
by Catherine McEver
illustration by Rick Baker
WHEN AN estimated one-third of the American electorate believes it gets to go directly to heaven when the shit hits the fan, it behooves the rest of us to figure out what the hell is going on. The Evangelical Christians among us are looking forward to the Rapture, basing their hopes on creative interpretation of the Revelation of Saint John the Martyr in the New Testament. If you think none of this concerns you, think again: Their numbers include the President of the United States and key members of his administration. These are people who consider the end of the world to be a good thing, and they’re currently running the country.
Fortunately, two media-savvy televangelists, Canadians Peter and Paul Lalonde, have provided complete operating instructions to the end times in two separate but parallel movie series released by Cloud Ten Pictures. The Apocalypse series was produced in association with televangelist Jack Van Impe, who pops in and out of the fictional plot with biblically correct doomsday messages. The better-known Left Behind series is based on the best-selling book and sequels of the same name by Canadian televangelists Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The first installment in this series, Left Behind: The Movie (2000) beat out both Toy Story II and The Green Mile in its first week as a video release. While the Left Behind series also made a stab at the big screen, the primary venue for both series, other than viewers’ homes, are church screenings. At this point the curious can pick up used copies of any of these movies in VHS or DVD format for pennies online.
Since the plot in each series is based on Revelation, a quick recap won’t give away any secrets. The world teeters on the brink of apocalypse, and full-scale global havoc is imminent due to escalating conflict between Israel and the Arab nations. Just as oblivion seems certain, a portion of the planet’s population vanishes, leaving clothes, eyeglasses and assorted accessories behind. The group is comprised of the righteous true believers who get a free ticket out of this hellhole, corporeal selves intact, via the Rapture. Everyone else is abandoned to their biblically prophesied fate, including not only atheists and agnostics, but Jews, Arabs, Buddhists, Hindus and those from all other wrong-minded religious sects. Among the human offal are all of the Christians, from Catholics to Quakers, who made the fatal error of choosing the wrong church. The exact tally of those swept up by the Rapture is 142,380,000 in the Left Behind series and 187,000,000 in the Apocalypse series. With the current world population at over six-and-a-half billion, it’s clear that most of us aren’t worth the spit on the bottom of Jesus’ sandals.
After the Rapture, the antichrist (aka Satan) steps to the fore and declares himself the messiah. There is one message that both film series make perfectly clear: Beware of organizations working for international accord, nuclear disarmament, global harmony, peace in the Middle East and/or the end of global hunger. They’re all the work of the devil. In the Left Behind series, the antichrist is Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie), Secretary General of the United Nations, and in the Apocalypse series it’s Franco Macalusso (Nick Mancuso), head of the European Union.
The antichrist proceeds to “form a covenant with the many” for seven years, luring everyone into believing in him and abandoning Christ. During this period, known as the Tribulation, the remaining humans get a second shot at saving themselves by embracing Christ as their savior. They are discouraged from doing so by the minions of the antichrist, who are determined to track down and either convert or kill every Christian before the seven-year period is over. The game is over when Jesus stages a second coming and metes out final judgment.
Armageddon Outta Here
The first film in each series is the most fun, when people mysteriously disappear and it slowly occurs to the protagonists who are still here on earth that they’re screwed. Left Behind: The Movie features child television star Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains, all grown up as TV reporter Buck Williams, the world’s last, best hope. In this version of the Rapture, cars crash as their drivers disappear, and airplane passengers freak out as seatmates vanish. Anyone with the misfortune to have a pilot who has a friend in Jesus is out of luck. Fortunately, the plane that Buck Williams is on when the Rapture hits has a pilot at the helm who is not only a nonbeliever but an adulterer. Pilot Ray Steele (Brad Johnson) and Buck eventually form an alliance to rescue the world from the antichrist’s nefarious plot to end world hunger and bring peace to the planet. If, like me, you think world peace and an end to hunger are good things, you’ll start rooting for Satan at this point in the film.
The Left Behind series goes downhill from the initial movie, continuing the struggle of the Christian underground against Satan’s plans for world harmony with Left Behind: Tribulation Force (2003), also starring Cameron and Johnson. They succeed in convincing the world’s foremost theologian, a Jewish Rabbi, to stand before a world press conference and thwart the devil by declaring Jesus Christ to be the true messiah. In Left Behind: World at War (2005), Louis Gossett Jr. enters the apocalyptic picture as the beleaguered President of the United States, a plague hits, and you begin to wish for total annihilation of the planet and this tape along with it.
In the Apocalypse series, the Christians are called “haters”—an epithet that seems apt, considering that they, too, are fighting global harmony. Those aligned with Satan sport the “666” sign on their right hands and are able to perform magic tricks and seeming miracles in return for selling their souls. Instead of using his supernatural powers, the antichrist relies on a virtual-reality headset to convert Christians to his side. The Christian rebels run a mobile pirate television station broadcasting real-world clips from the series’ televangelist producers.
Apocalypse: Caught in the Eye of the Storm (1998) begins with an odd, Martha Stewart-style touch: The vanished leave their clothes in meticulously folded piles with shoes and accessories placed neatly on top. One wonders where an ascending soul finds the time. Television reporter Bronson Pearl (Richard Nester), “the world’s most trusted man,” and his TV reporter wife, Helen Hannah (Leigh Lewis), are the heroes in this story. After the Rapture, they see the light, embrace Christ and become part of the underground fight against the devil. The Helen Hannah character continues as rebel, martyr and saint in the rest of this series, along with a rotating cast of second-rate talent.
In Revelation (1999), Thorold Stone (Jeff Fahey) is a counter-terrorism expert working on the side of Satan as Helen Hannah and her Christian underground try to dodge the devil’s virtual-reality headsets. In Tribulation (2000), a pot-bellied Gary Busey plays a confused cop, Howie Mandel a confused schizophrenic, and a gaunt and crazed-looking Margot Kidder a devout Evangelical Christian. In Judgment (2001), Mr. T appears as a disgruntled Christian freedom fighter, and an apoplectic Corbin Bernsen stars as a defense attorney for Helen Hannah in a court battle that “puts God on trial.” At one point Bernsen’s character, beginning to wonder if maybe God really does exist, digs up his long-dead, God-fearing dad to see if the corpse has disappeared and ascended to heaven in the Rapture. It has, making Bernsen’s character a believer and making the rest of us wonder about moldering corpses shuffling around in the afterlife.
Travels With My Antichrist
In the interest of objectivity, it should be noted that the Rapture is never mentioned in the Bible and did not appear as a teaching of any church until the 1830s. Further, many believe Revelation to be little more than a covert political message to Christians forced underground by the Roman Empire, using symbolism easily understood by those living at the time. However, there’s a fine line between fact and fiction in the Evangelical world. If you’re willing to breach the slippery boundary between fantasy and real life, there are any number of ways you can join in the fun and become part of the eschatological plot in addition to, or in lieu of, watching either of these series.
A new video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, appearing in the second half of 2006, allows you to become a virtual participant in the apocalyptic showdown between good and evil on the gritty streets of New York.
Like the “haters” in the Apocalypse series, you can huddle in front of your TV set and listen to televangelist Jack Van Impe and his wide-eyed, peroxide-blonde wife, Rexella, who appear Sunday nights across the country in the syndicated show Jack Van Impe Presents. In a recent broadcast, Van Impe warned that the Rapture is almost upon us, the signs are everywhere, and the mark of the beast will manifest itself as a subcutaneous international identification chip we’ll all be required to wear. Rexella and Jack were also eager to share some late-breaking news about the Rapture: There is no need to worry about what will happen to your pet when you’re whisked off to heaven. “Fido’s gonna be there,” Van Impe asserts, and he can prove it. He’s selling a brand new Rapture-related video, Animals in Heaven?, for just $24.95.
You may also want to check the Rapture Index at raptureready.com. Forty-five indicators from “false Christs” to “wild weather” are combined to generate a numerical rating indicating the imminence of the Rapture. If you’re reading this article after the main event has already happened, note that the site also includes a thoughtful section titled “Information for Those Left Behind.”
Catherine McEver is a freelance writer planning ahead for her next incarnation by practicing the following death chant: “Buy real estate, real estate, real estate.”