Ready for round two of the tribulation in A Thief in the Night? At least I did end up splitting this topic up in the end, or it’d be 14,000 words in one go.
You know what? I just thought of this after I wrote that sentence: maybe I should pitch a book about the A Thief in the Night series to ECW Press for their Pop Classics collection. They use an unusually small 4.5” x 7” format (paperbacks are almost always 5” x 8” or 6” x 9”) and run from 20–40,000 words. The submissions page reads, in part:
ECW wants to give you a chance to expound on something different. On that thing that makes an evangelist of you, that makes you hold party guests hostage long after the coffee has gone cold or has you playing a Rage Against the Machine track for your grandma or streaming Fleabag episodes for your dad.
Which is exactly how writing this series of massive and wildly digressive blog posts full of jokes and references, let alone topics of interest, that I might be the only person who finds funny and/or interesting could be described. Also, you know, evangelicals made an evangelist of me? If I include that in my query letter, I think that’s what they mean by perfect pitch.
The Pop Classics collection actually includes my friend Suzannah Showler’s book Most Dramatic Ever: The Bachelor:
As well as another book I’ve read, Andy Burns’ Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks:
I’d have to totally rewrite it to make it a coherent and tightly focused essay with a central argument, rather than a bunch of research on dispensationalism and lengthy summaries of each film with every single thought I’ve ever had about them interleaved as I slowly discover things I’m interested in.
But I already have 15,500 words on this series alone, and in some manner I’d have to cover the context from Parts I and II, which is another 6000 words. I’d also have to cut out all the images and work whatever jokes would have a wide enough audience to hang onto into the body, but that could be a fun challenge…
Something to think about when I’m done Part VII—and after I take a break and write about other non-religious apocalyptic topics for a bit.
In this post, after I have finished covering the events of the fourth film, The Prodigal Planet, I’ll talk a bit about how some aspects of the never-made fifth film, The Battle of Armageddon might have turned out.
Next, given that many children saw the A Thief in the Night series at a young age, I was inspired by the common practice in Christian media reviews of summarizing the violent elements in any given narrative to include a table comparing frightening elements in this series with those in Left Behind.
Then I’ll spend some time discussing the topic that evidently came to interest me the most during my watching of the A Thief in the Night series: post-tribulation salvation, or, as it may be useful to think of it, salvation anxiety.
Interestingly, it seems that like Left Behind and the first two A Thief in the Night films, the There’s A New World Coming comic also takes the position that everyone can get saved at any time:
At the end of this post, I’ll dip back into the world of Larry Norman, and, as well as looking at how the tribulation is represented in his hit song, reveal the fun facts about him (and his brother) that I have been holding back.
And in the final instalment, Part VII, I’ll look at the signs that dispensationalists see reflected in the contemporary world as heralding the start of the End Times, and the significant impact believing in those signs—which, for believers, falls on a continuum between being passively excited for the End Times and actively trying to make them happen—has had and continues to have.
Table of Contents
- The tribulation in pop culture (continued)
The tribulation in pop culture (continued)
A Thief in the Night IV: The Prodigal Planet
Where we left off last time, Leslie and David had just convinced a three-year-old child to accept being beheaded along with them, because it was Billy’s only chance at salvation. The film ended with Billy and Leslie being led out of their cells for execution, which we don’t see. But when it’s David’s turn, we do see him being brought out by the guards up to the bloody guillotine.
The final instalment, The Prodigal Planet, from 1983, does start inside the prison with UNITE guards taking David to be executed. But from what we soon learn about what’s been going on in the world outside, he must have had his execution delayed at the last minute—and only now, after what seems to have been a couple of years, they’re finally getting to it.
After the scene is interrupted by a nuclear explosion near the prison, a woman in a UNITE uniform pulls her gun on David’s guards and rescues him, and they escape in a stolen armoured RV. Once they’re on the road and trying to “outrun the fallout,” which is not possible in our world, the woman says her name is Connie and she is a spy working for a group of Christian believers.
Connie explains that the believers are building an encrypted communications network that will secretly piggyback on top of UNITE’s. It is complete except for a transmitter module, which they had to steal from UNITE, and which will require David’s skills to integrate into their equipment. Which is why Connie has busted him out.
Connie is in possession of the module along with a coded message that will lead them to the hideout of the believers. But she doesn’t have the key and they will have to decipher it themselves.
David is all in, and thinks that not only can he help the believers set up their system, maybe he can actually hack into and destroy UNITE’s. Remember, last film he and Kathy were foiled by a grocery store checkout, but we’ll see how this goes.
First, though, David takes Connie to see if Reverend Turner is still around. He is, but because UNITE destroyed his house and barn and killed his livestock, he now lives in an underground bunker and has been surviving by eating rats.
Turner warns them that large numbers of vultures are all over the place, and they aren’t waiting for people to turn into carrion first to eat them: groups of four to five of them will work together to kill a person.
The vultures likely reflect the prophecy from Matthew that when Jesus is coming soon—we don’t know how soon—vultures will gather wherever there are dead bodies. Jesus has already been here for part one of the second coming when the rapture happened, but I suppose the signs of him coming could happen again when he’s getting ready to come back for part two, the Battle of Armageddon.
Either way, however, I can’t find any evidence anywhere in the Bible of vultures killing people, so that part is just creative license.
We then learn that Turner has saved the best bit of exposition for last: the earth is now full of violent gangs of mutants because of the ongoing nuclear exchanges. Needless to say, this is as absurd a scientific claim as Nicolae’s in Left Behind, but unlike that one and the article about the UFOs in this series, we’re supposed to accept it.
In a development that genuinely surprised me, however, before David and Connie leave, Turner reveals that he actually feels so guilty about his past of leading people away from salvation that he still hasn’t been able to ask Jesus for forgiveness and devote himself to Jesus’s will in order to claim salvation for himself.
We saw in the other films that Turner felt guilty, but I assumed he was supposed to be seen as a true believer who had converted since he seemed genuinely penitent immediately after the rapture in A Thief in the Night, a brash evangelist in Distant Thunder, and an obsessive expert on Revelation in Image of the Beast.
But I have to wonder, is he even able to convert now if he wants to? It seems from what David said to Kathy in Image of the Beast that an informed rejection, which Turner is clearly portrayed in Distant Thunder as having made before the rapture, shuts the door on salvation.
And if that’s not accurate and Turner could still become a believer now, because at this point he understands God’s plan better than any of the other characters, does deciding he’s not worthy of salvation and refusing to start the conversion process count as a second informed rejection, or just an indefinite delay?
I guess we’ll never know, as we don’t see him again and we have to rely on David to tell us what the future holds. Either way, Doughten and Thompson, are really going to town on Turner for his very appealing humanist beliefs. Not only is he going to the the lake of fire, but he believes he deserves it. Yikes.
Back on the road, David and Connie rescue a woman, Linda, and her daughter, Jodi, who are being attacked by one of the gangs of mutants.
Linda and Jodi are not religious but they refused to take the mark and have been surviving by scavenging. Linda used to be a nuclear scientist, and she explains the mutants are afflicted with “acute x-ray, beta, and gamma disfiguration.” Sure.
David figures out that the first part of the code means “New Mexico,” so they all decide to head there and hopefully figure out the details on their way.
A news report that they see on the TV in the RV shows UNITE’s armed forces moving toward Israel and Brother Christopher talks about how they’re going to take on the God of famine, pestilence, and so on. This means the Battle of Armageddon is on its way. But first we’ve got to get through the seven bowls.
The crew makes their next stop in Omaha. The computer in the RV says that since it’s been a couple of days since it was hit with a nuclear strike, the radiation has decayed enough for them to safely spend enough time to look for supplies. (In reality, the fallout would still be gravely dangerous for at least a couple of weeks.)
Omaha is full of skeletons, as all the bodies of the people who were killed in the nuclear strike have been picked clean by the vultures. I wonder if vultures would somehow be smart enough to stay out of a heavily irradiated area?
Jerry and two other UNITE members, who have been following them in their own identical armoured RV (and who are all now afflicted with at least one boil each due to the first bowl) show up and Connie gets separated from the others trying to avoid them. She radios David and says not to wait for her and she’ll catch up later.
Anyway, now that we’ve seen the foul and malignant sores show up, time for my diagram of the bowl judgements:
The seven bowls
Linda and Jodi are threatened by another mutant while clothes shopping (of course), but it turns out he just wants to befriend them—well, sort of. He wants to be befriended, at least.
His name is Jimmy and although David is resistant to taking him with them, Jodi shames David by calling him a bad Christian, and he relents. Jimmy looks less like a mutant and more like he just has some burns on his face. I imagine radiation burns would cover much larger areas, however, since you wouldn’t just get exposed to radiation in tiny patches like that.
At any rate, from the word “mutant,” I was expecting him to look something like David Lynch’s Elephant Man once he pulled back his hood.
That night, David spends a bunch of time trying to convert each of the others individually. He only gets any traction with Jimmy, who commits to Jesus by himself shortly after their conversation.
Jodi, on the other hand, is not at all worried about eternal damnation; she’s mostly bummed that they haven’t met anyone in the post-nuclear wasteland who she wants to date.
“I find a boy and he’s got a face like a burnt marshmallow,” she tell David.
It’s okay; Jimmy is an asshole too. After she tells him she doesn’t need God, he says what she needs is a spanking.
When it’s her turn, Linda, being a scientist, responds with the series’ critical question: is it too late for her and Jodi to convert?
This time, David goes even further than he did with Kathy, saying that not only before, but also after the rapture,
if anyone […] heard and understood the plan of salvation from a friend, a pastor in church, or even a movie or TV show, and rejected it, the opportunity for a second chance now would be about zero.
Even a movie, which means—well, dang.
Highlighting for us the ambiguity of the terms and also the nature of power, David goes on to say that when his mother tried to explain everything to him when he was a surly teen, he hadn’t listened at all to what she was saying. So he didn’t technically reject God’s plan and he’s in the clear.
Which not only feels like cheating but also part and parcel of a system that rewards “boys being boys”—which should absolutely come as no surprise to anyone.
We do actually see part of one of the conversations between David and his mother; it was prompted by David’s brother getting killed trying to beat a train to a crossing.
This approach is also a contrast with Left Behind, where during the tribulation people are asking for forgiveness and presented as truly committing to Jesus left, right, and centre, no matter what bad things they thought or did before. Although I don’t think it makes audience members that much more sure about whether they have met that bar themselves.
Back on the road, David radios Connie and tells her where they are, in code. A news anchor on TV says that the seas have turned to blood, killing a large percentage of sea life, which is a reference to the second bowl.
Outside Oklahoma City, Jerry’s armoured vehicle and several UNITE helicopters catch up with David and crew. The encounter ends with Jimmy getting killed and David showing mercy and pulling Jerry’s unconscious body from his armoured vehicle before it explodes.
After this, with Jerry tied up in the back, they make a stop in a ghost town. There are some vultures, as shown earlier, but they don’t do anything besides look at the characters.
Another UNITE helicopter shows up and David asks Jerry, who’s now conscious, how UNITE keeps finding them. Jerry won’t tell him but says he owes David for saving his life and he’ll do the same for him now, making them even. David agrees, so he releases Jerry, who gets into the helicopter and flies off.
Meanwhile, we see Connie again for the first time since Omaha, driving an open-top Jeep. She reaches the ghost town after they others have left and tries to refill her water bottle from a pump, but blood comes out: the result of the third bowl.
Connie is also menaced by vultures in the ghost town, and she runs away, but I can only count three of them: two inside and one on the roof. So I don’t think she met the threshold for danger.
Yet another UNITE helicopter shows up while the RV crew are cooking around a campfire, but it turns out they have a rifle, and Kathy is a great shot, and she shoots this one down with a single well-placed pull of the trigger.
By the time the crew gets to Arizona, the RV’s engine is overheating due to the sun’s rays becoming really intense, which is part of the fourth bowl. They find shelter in a structure in Red Rock State Park labelled as a “Navajo hogan,” which is the traditional dwelling of the Navajo peopl and appears to be part of a tourist attraction.
By the side of the road, Connie has made a shelter out of branches to protect her from the sun, but then what seems like acid rain begins to fall. I guess this is an interpretation of the sun burning people with fire part of the fourth bowl. The acid rain burns through the radio she uses to communicate with David, which is on the ground just outside the shelter, and it also makes her Jeep blow up.
And now, for something completely different, two more UNITE helicopters. I don’t know why they invested so much in helicopters for this film. They’re not cheap to operate. I wonder if the filmmakers had some kind of connection to a helicopter company. They’re not military helicopters, they’re just painted green; this isn’t Top Gun.
At any rate, this time the helicopters start shooting at the RV, or at least, in front of it. David, who by the way is now wearing a camouflage headband, says “wait a minute” to the others. Then, kicking off a bizarre tonal shift that continues for the rest of the scene, an instrumental adaptation of a song about bullfighting from the 1875 opera Carmen, popularly known as “The Toreador Song,” begins playing.
David leaves the RV, and walks out in front of the helicopters. They shoot all around him at first but don’t hit him, then stop as he continues to walk forward in a straight line. Then he starts dancing. After this goes on for a little while, the pilots nod at each other, and the helicopters leave.
If there’s some Biblical precedent for this I have no idea what to even search for to find it. Searching
dancing just comes up with scenes of celebration or worship.
Now David accuses Linda and Jodi of being the ones to give away their position to UNITE, but at this point, the sky suddenly goes dark and stays dark, bringing us to the fifth bowl. But everyone seems to know it’ll only stay like that until it’s time for the next judgment, and the judgements are coming thick and fast now.
At this point, David also finishes decoding the message so they will be able to find the other believers. But Connie still has the transmitter and David can’t reach her.
On the TV in the RV, a news report gives us the first indication of who’s currently at war:
With Russia and the United States nearly destroyed, it appears that China is the thorn in the flesh of Brother Christopher, and it appears now that China is going to challenge him for control of the Middle East.
So I guess it’s not quite time for the Battle of Armageddon yet, even if the Beast has declared that it’s his aim to take on Jesus and God.
If China’s army is now attacking the Beast’s forces, evidently the evil frog spirits haven’t yet convinced the kings of the world to send their armies in support of the Beast against God’s army.
This report does seem in keeping with the general thrust of Pentecost’s narrative where the Beast takes over the Middle East in a whole military campaign, however.
So I guess China declaring war on the Beast’s armies, and Russia and the United States getting nuked into oblivion, possibly by each other, reflects more of the military double-crossing in the chapter of Daniel that I can’t face reading carefully?
That section makes me feel the same way I feel about all the steps involved in using cryptocurrency (leaving aside all the reasons not to in the first place) and I just can’t stomach it.
Now we see Connie again—yelling at the UNITE officer who shot Leslie for leaving her stranded for so long after her Jeep blew up. She was a double agent! And the real reason she asked the others to leave her behind in Omaha was because she actually had the mark, just carefully covered up to play her role, and she got sores along with Jerry and the other UNITE members.
Connie also reveals she accidentally left the transmitter component in her jacket pocket in the RV when they were in Omaha, so David has actually had it with him the whole time.
Of course, Linda puts on the jacket to stay warm in the very next scene, so the RV crew realize they have the transmitter and that Connie was the leak. David even apologizes. They’ve now almost reached the believers’ hideout in New Mexico, and hey’ll have to hike the rest of the way.
David somehow manages to send their armoured vehicle off on its own across the desert, with its radio broadcasting, as a decoy.
Connie and the UNITE officer take the bait and drive toward the decoy vehicle, when lightning flashes across the sky. Connie quotes from Matthew, which she’s familiar with because she had to learn scripture to fit in with the believers she was spying on:
For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Jesus coming, yo!
But then, apparently not having realized that the RV is traveling at a constant speed in a straight line, the officer—who naturally is the one driving and making the decisions—is so desperate to catch up with it that he tries to beat an oncoming train, just like David’s brother, with predictable consequences.
At long last, David, Linda, and Jodi finally find the cave of believers. While more earthquakes kick off as part of the seventh bowl, David installs the transmitter.
Apropos of nothing, Jodi converts, but Linda’s still thinking about it as her story ends.
David must have done some hacking too while we weren’t looking, because as Jerry looks on, the equipment in the control room at UNITE starts smoking and then catches on fire, just like my friend Justin’s turquoise iMac did in 2005, and then we see fires raging in other areas of the base as well.
The film ends with Jerry ripping off his UNITE armband and alternating between laughing and weeping before the whole facility blows up.
You can watch the whole A Thief in the Night series for free on YouTube. It’s on Tubi too, with better subtitles, but I feel like Google is the lesser of two evils compared to Fox (who owns Tubi) when it comes to collecting ad revenue from people using their service.
Here are the links:
A Thief in the Night V: The Battle of Armageddon (never made)
Like the title says, a fifth film, The Battle of Armageddon, was planned but never produced.
I’m so curious how Thompson and Doughten would have interpreted the description from Revelation of Jesus riding in on a white horse and killing all the enemy forces with a sword coming out of his mouth while the armies of Heaven, also on horses, seem to be there for backup—especially given the context that the armies of the kings of the world, who get tricked into forming the Beast’s army, are currently fighting each other and/or the Beast with contemporary conventional and nuclear weapons.
There’s a New World Coming seems to portray it that way as well:
There have actually been a number of Battles of Megiddo (the more common name for the geographical area in Israel referred to in Revelation as “Armageddon”) throughout history. There was even one as recently as 1918, near the end of World War I, that, almost 2000 years after John was writing, was partly won by men on horseback:
Supported by British infantry and accurate artillery support, a daring charge by the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba stunned the Ottoman defenders. This attack broke the deadlock, led to Gaza’s capture and opened the road to Jerusalem.
It’s wild to me that this was happening at the same time as what would soon be called “armoured cavalry,” that is, tanks, were playing a major role in the trench warfare in Europe.
Come to think of it, although it’s a US term introduced during the Korean war that was never adopted by other militaries, there is also the concept of “air cavalry,” which refers to, well…you can guess.
Speaking of appropriating the names of Indigenous peoples in my side quest last post, the US Army used to mandate that all helicopter models be named after the Indigenous peoples they have massacred, relocated, and otherwise mistreated (Apache, Blackhawk, Cayuse, Cheyenne, Chinook, Kiowa, Lakota, etc.). Although it’s not required anymore, it’s still a proud tradition they have kept up.
Anyway, given what we’ve seen in the series, lots of helicopters seems like an avenue they might have gone down, budgetary constraints allowing.
It bears repeating that Jesus doesn’t kill everyone: he captures the Beast and the False Prophet and then throws them into the lake of fire to be tortured forever. Which, as I said in “Jesus Loves Nukes,” is definitely not compliant with the Geneva Convention. (It just occurred to me now that the rest of the enemy soldiers probably end up there too, just not until a thousand years later, during the Last Judgement.)
At any rate, at least they were enemy combatants (and war criminals), unlike all the civilians who are going to end up there after the Last Judgement.
A Thief in the Night vs. Left Behind: frightening elements
As low-budget and poorly written as it is, I think it’s pretty clear how much more frightening the A Thief in the Night series would have been to to all the children it was shown to at an early age than the Left Behind trilogy. Good thing it’s the one that had hundreds of millions of viewers.
Christian reviews of popular media always seem to include an overview of negative content (this example, in a review of the Left Behind kids’ novella featuring the locusts that I discussed in Part IV, just gets more and more entertaining as it goes on). So in that spirit, here’s a quick comparison of some of the potentially scary things for children in the two film series:
Frightening elements by film series
in the Night
|Before the rapture, children thinking
they’d been left behind
|Believers who thought they were
devout being left behind
|Disappearance of family
members during the rapture
|Betrayal by friends and family||❌||✅|
|Car and plane crashes||✅||✅|
|Deaths from explosions and fires||✅||✅|
|Deaths from gun violence||✅||✅|
|Deaths from biological agents||✅||❌|
|Deaths from being beheaded||❌||✅|
|All of the seal judgements||❌||✅|
|All of the trumpet judgements||❌||✅|
|All of the bowl judgements||❌||✅|
|Proselytizing that threatens
the lake of fire
|The possibility there’s no way to
be saved after the rapture
|The possibility it’s already too late
to be saved
|3-year-olds responsible for their
|3-year-olds told by faith leaders to
choose to be beheaded
|Attempted self harm||✅||❌|
That said, if we include all the Left Behind novels or even just the novellas, I’m sure it ends up much more equal, but even then, you don’t have to see these things, even with terrible production values.
A Thief in the Night and salvation anxiety
Now, even though I included even more references to it in the table above, I’m going to beat the irradiated, third-degree burned, and falling rubble–struck (but not so close to the epicentre that it got vaporized) dead horse of post-rapture salvation a few more times before it gets eaten by vultures.
One part of what interests me so much is why the view of who could get saved after the rapture shifted from “anyone at any time” in the first two films to the much more restrictive position of the last two. (As with who gets raptured, however, the latter version is ambiguous and subject to abuse, as David’s own qualification for salvation shows.) What made the beliefs that Thompson and Doughten wanted to share with the world change so drastically in just a few years?
A second part has to do with whether we apply that shift retroactively to the events of the first two films. In A Thief in the Night and Distant Thunder, we’re hit over the head (or heads) with examples of Patty and Turner rejecting God’s plan after both hearing and understanding it before the rapture, which is depicted in as unambiguous a way as the films could possibly do so: the two of them attend the evangelist’s lengthy and detailed presentation on the End Times.
But we only learn that this could be a barrier to salvation later in Image of the Beast, well after Patty has already agreed to take the mark, which would disqualify someone from salvation immediately in any of the films. And we find out in the The Prodigal Planet that it doesn’t seem to matter for Turner since he’s not pursuing salvation anyway. A reminder, from right after the last time we ever see Turner:
CONNIE: Why does he choose to live in that hole and eat rats? He might as well take the mark.
DAVID: Probably what he used to preach: salvation through good works. You know, “do good, obey the law and get to heaven.” But Jesus said in Matthew 7:22, “Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and perform many miracles? And I will tell them, ‘I never knew you, away from me you evildoers!’ The only way to get to the father is through Jesus Christ.”
The sneering tone true believers take when they talk about doing good in this series is so fascinating—not only is it not taken into account, it is presented as a waste of time. You just have to not do evil, so there’s no incentive to do anything other than protect your own neck.
Anyway, all that is to say, it bothers me that, because all the evidence is there for us to do so, I don’t know whether or not we’re supposed to believe that Patty and Turner could never have been saved to begin with.
If we didn’t know exactly how Patty and Turner would be affected by the change and why, it would be a lot easier for me to move on and just focus on the replacement “tormented now and then possibly tormented way more later” characters of the final two films, Kathy and Linda.
I suppose how engaged I am in this topic means that I am even more interested in “salvation anxiety” than rapture anxiety. It makes sense that most current believers who experience anxiety about the End Times would focus on the rapture, because it comes first and either you get to avoid everything bad that’s coming, or, whether the people you care about abandon you or not, you end up in a world that’s going to get real tough real fast.
But the fact that I’m not part of an evangelical faith community and there is zero chance I would get raptured, which also goes for everyone I’ve ever met, colours my perception. As does my recent experience watching seven movies and writing tens of thousands of words about people who were left behind to face the tribulation.
So, unlike blue shirt from the There’s a New World Coming comic, I keep thinking about the Last Judgement, because I’m so focused on all the people who hadn’t heard and understood God’s plan before the rapture, or had done so and rejected it.
At any rate, if, despite the almost infinite improbability of this being the case, the dispensationalist view of the End Times is correct and every other religion (and science) is wrong, figuring out clear instructions for everyone who is left behind so that as many people as possible are able to avoid the literal manifestation of the following two verses of Revelation seems like the greatest moral imperative imaginable:
The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night.
With respect to the lake of fire, it’s hard not to think about how exactly spending eternity submerged in burning sulfur works. Dispensationalist beliefs agree you get resurrected in a physical body so you can experience the maximum amount of agony. But even believers wonder how different your resurrected body would have to be from your earthly body for you to regenerate tissue as fast as it is damaged.
I found myself imagining that in order to accommodate this, everyone would be closer to human-axolotl hybrids than anything else, since axolotls have a freakish ability to regenerate tissue.,-In%20addition%20to):
The axolotl […] constitutes an important vertebrate model for studying regeneration and tissue repair due to its capacity to regenerate several body structures such as tail, limb, central nervous system, and tissues of the eye and heart.
I couldn’t shake that image until I remembered science is not a consideration in any of this at all. Too bad; if we ended up more axolotl than person, we probably wouldn’t suffer as much.
That said, Curtis Mayfield isn’t wrong to point out a silver lining, such as it is, with his 1970 song title. At least the medieval illustrations all show everybody burning together—if I do discover that dispensationalists agree you’re also alone, I’ll make an update to reflect it.
Thinking now of where the believers go instead in their own resurrected bodies, there are many questions about what “reigning forever” in the bejewelled city of New Jerusalem will be like.
You know, when I started writing this series, I thought, “I’m going to try to be neutral and not include my own views in a Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends kind of way,” but that clearly hasn’t happened. I’ve probably gone past criticizing this particular subset of an organized religion and onto saying disaparaging things about God earlier—well, this particular conception of God. It’s hard to keep those two separate. There are plenty of other ideas of God that I don’t see a problem with. But it feels like by now I’m really doubling down on that.
So. New Jerusalem does include emeralds, but it is not an emerald city. But who knows, maybe when God (as dispensationalists see him) manifests in bodily form to rule over the city, it somehow turns out to be a Wizard of Oz type scenario?
Actually, the related movie Zardoz is way more relevant here. It would make a whole fascinating piece on its own, as you can guess by looking at the poster.
Anyway, we know that in New Jerusalem there will be no more “death or mourning or crying or pain” and “the curse” will be lifted, which dispensationalists interpret as the curse God visited upon Adam of having to perform difficult labour and then eventually die. And when it is lifted, by that same interpretation, “life will be blissful and productive.”
But, of course, those adjectives are defined by dispensationalist beliefs. And there is a lot of room for, to be quite frank, suffering, if you are forced to live under someone else’s idea of what is “blissful and productive.”
Unless, of course, you become literally unable to feel anything other than bliss or to even have negative thoughts about your experience, even if you would have done so in the past. Which is entirely possible because God can do anything. That whole omnipotence thing really messes with anything I have to say about this.
That said, if we stick to the idea that “blissful and productive” is how God sees your life, not how it necessarily feels or how you think about it, the first red flag that comes up for me is that there may still be labour issues, as the focus of life in New Jerusalem seems to be serving God:
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
And to reinforce that role, in an echo of the Beast’s behaviour—but also what God already did with the 144,000 Hebrews to protect them from the judgements—God marks his name on the foreheads of everyone in New Jerusalem too.
But beyond labour issues, there’s the elephant in the room, which I alluded to earlier: everyone will spend eternity under a dispensationalist theocratic regime.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, it seems like in this scenario God sees himself as a benevolent dictator and is trying to govern his true believers in what he sees as a loving way and reward them for their earthy commitment to him and his son.
But even if that’s the case, I would imagine there would be believers, who, when confronted with having all of dispensationalism’s edicts legally imposed on their eternal lives, might find themselves disagreeing with some of them, as well as anyone who managed to be saved despite already disagreeing with them. And it’s not like you can vote God out and you probably can’t even protest in front of his residence either.
So, to end this section on an especially dark note—in what has been a whole opera subtitled The Rake Punished worth of dark notes—no matter how bad eternity in New Jerusalem could get for anyone who is forced to live under a system with laws they disagree with and no recourse, if there’s no more death, the only other potential option is the lake of fire.
But I say potential, because even if things really are so horrendous that the lake of fire would be preferable, like I said before, with the whole omnipotence aspect of God in setting this whole situation up, I don’t know that his servants will have enough autonomy to relocate, either by request or by performing sufficiently wicked acts.
As well as the idea that God might make it impossible to have negative thoughts or feelings about your experience, it could also be that nobody who could even possibly have any reservations later would even make it into New Jerusalem, so none of this is a problem to begin with.
Like I said in Part IV, the Last Judgement could be complicated.
But now I’m done with that. I’ll release you from the abyss to return to pro-punk, anti-disco Christian folk musician Larry Norman and look at his view of the tribulation, along with more fun facts about him.
I Wish We’d All Been Ready
Larry Norman’s song also describes the tribulation as well as the rapture. I’m sure you got this already if you listened to it earlier or even just looked at the Twitter post about it. But in the interest of structural consistency, here are the relevant lyrics:
Life was filled with guns and war
And everyone got trampled on the floor
I wish we’d all been ready
Children died, the days grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold
I wish we’d all been ready
There’s no time to change your mind
How could you have been so blind
The Father spoke, the demons dined
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind
There’s not much more to say about it. It covers the four horsemen, who bring war, famine, and natural death, and as well as the wild beasts, there are innumerable other ways people could get trampled in Revelation too.
But now I will drop one last Larry Norman fact, since, as I said before, I purposely held something back for the end.
Turns out his interest in punk actually went far beyond finding it harmless and preferring it to disco. After writing that letter, Larry:
- went to “many” more shows
- introduced his brother Charles Norman to the music of the Sex Pistols
- funded studio time for Charles when he formed a hardcore band called Executioner, whose songs included “Hellbound” and “Bible Bangers,” with the condition that they also record a song Larry had written (unclear which one it was)
- recorded some tracks himself with former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones (also sadly lost to posterity)
Nice redemption arc! Well, depending on how you see redemption.
In the last post, Part VII, which allows to me to match my series of seven blog posts to all the other groups of seven in Revelation, I’m first going to look at some of the signs in the real world that dispensationalists see as indications that the rapture is coming. I will then explore the consequences of so many people seeing the world this way, including figures who either are US politicians or have a lot of influence on US politicians.
Which finally brings us to talking about what got me interested in this topic in the first place: that there are people with some degree of power, either as individuals or collectively, who are looking forward to or even trying to hasten the world ending, possibly in a nuclear holocaust, based on their religious beliefs.
In addition, after tens of thousands of words about what American evangelicals think of events prophesied to take place in Israel, I’ll discuss about what Israeli and other Jewish groups think of all of this.
And now, there is no other option for us than to leave this one with “Hellbound” by Executioner.
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