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This Tuesday the grand finale to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' best-selling Left Behind novels went on sale at bookstores across the nation. Glorious Appearing tells the tale of Jesus' return to crush the Anti-Christ and inaugurate his millennial reign. It's a finish filled with plenty of drama to top off a series that's engrossed millions of readers—the first 11 novels have sold more than 40 million copies, leading LaHaye and Jenkins to edge out John Grisham as the most popular novelists in America.

Just what's driving this literary phenomenon? The way LaHaye tells it, Left Behind taps into growing anxiety over global political and religious instability. "The fact that we're seeing some of those things happen right now must be a wake-up call to some people to say, 'Hey, we may be closer than we think.'" On the official Left Behind website, LaHaye notes, "The true account of the Rapture and the subsequent seven year Tribulation period—as described so graphically in the Book of Revelation—has to be the greatest story in the two thousand years since Christ ascended to His Father."

LaHaye's language reminds me of the hype that called Mel Gibson's Passion the greatest Christian outreach opportunity in two millennia. But LaHaye hardly has a monopoly on interpreting the Book of Revelation. A brief overview of Christian end-time schemas from Christian History's Issue 61: The End. A History of the Second Coming should prove the point.

A Perplexing Apocalypse The Revelation of John has bred a plethora of end-time interpretations. For example, first-century Papias (c. 60-120) believed that Christ's resurrection had already inaugurated the new millennium, while Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) believed that the church would reign with Christ ...

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