Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 122-125
I’m losing faith in the Antichrist.
On paper, Nicolae Carpathia seems qualified, with all the unholy charisma he needs for the job. And here in the third book of the series, he’s finally allayed my earlier fears that he might not be evil enough. The pointless, arbitrary mass-murder of the last couple of chapters has settled that question. The slaughter of millions certainly qualifies as evil.
But the pointless and arbitrary aspect still worries me.
I’ve tried to give Nicolae the benefit of the doubt. He’s stuck with a prophecy check list that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, so it would be unfair to blame him for pursuing the various quirky and irrational goals required by this assigned agenda. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you have to Antichrist with the evil schemes you’ve been assigned by prophecy, not with the evil schemes you wish had been prophesied.
The problem, though, is that even given all that, I’m still not confident that Nicolae Carpathia is up to the job. In the remainder of this chapter, we’ll eavesdrop along with Rayford Steele as Nicolae outlines his plans for the seals and trumpets to come and, frankly, I think what we hear is an Antichrist who’s in over his head.
Before Nicolae and his “seven loyal ambassadors” settle in to discuss their future plans, he first has to deal with another situation — one he ought to have foreseen:
The Middle Eastern ambassador was speaking. “Dr. Rosenzweig sends his most heartfelt and loyal greetings to you, Potentate. There is an urgent personal matter he wants me to share with you.”
“Is it confidential?” Carpathia said.
“I don’t believe so, sir. It concerns Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah.”
“The scholar who has been creating such a furor with his controversial message?”
Jerry Jenkins loves to have this kind of overlap between the Rayford sections and the Buck sections of his story. Since Buck Williams is currently flying to Israel to meet with Ben-Judah, he has the Antichrist council discussing Ben-Judah here as Rayford listens in.
That means this little boilerplate description wasn’t needed here to re-introduce readers to Ben-Judah, but that’s not really the purpose of that little bit there about “the scholar who has been creating such a furor with his controversial message.” Jenkins isn’t describing Ben-Judah there, he’s flattering his audience. He’s not reminding them of who the rabbi is, but of who they get to pretend to be in the fantasy world of this series.
The dangerous and “controversial” message of Ben-Judah, after all, is just mundane Christianity. But in the world of this novel, that’s an exotic and bewildering message, and anyone who believes in it is a heroic rebel and a danger to the powers that be.*
The problem here is that Ben-Judah’s Christian message also seems to be exotic and bewildering to Nicolae himself. That’s troubling. You’re never going to be a very good Antichrist if you haven’t bothered to learn anything about the Christ to which you’re the Anti-.
Know your enemy is good advice. Nicolae Carpathia ought to have the Gospels committed to memory. And he ought to be more intimately and instinctively familiar with those “Bible prophecy” charts than even Bruce Barnes ever was. But as we’ll see here, Nicolae seems lazily ignorant of all of that.
That ignorance raises questions about Nicolae’s strategy — shouldn’t he have a plan to counter the divine plan? And it raises questions about his motive — shouldn’t opposition to the divine plan be what drives him?
“One and the same,” the Middle Eastern ambassador said. “Apparently his wife and two stepchildren have been murdered by zealots, and Dr. Ben-Judah himself is in hiding somewhere.”
Tsion Ben-Judah is Exhibit A in the authors’ defense against the charge that these books are in any way anti-Semitic. One of the main heroes of the series is a Jewish rabbi! And that’s true. Tsion Ben-Judah is Jewish and he is always portrayed in a positive light.
But Tsion Ben-Judah is also a Jewish convert to Christianity whose wife and children were murdered by angry child-killing Jews. And I’m not sure that makes him as much of a shield against the charge of anti-Semitism as the authors seem to think.
“So what does Rosenzweig want from me?”
“He wants you to intercede on Ben-Judah’s behalf.”
“I suppose with the zealots,” the ambassador said, bursting into laughter.
Rayford recognized Carpathia’s laughter as well, and soon the others joined in.
“OK, gentlemen, calm down,” Carpathia said. “Perhaps what I should do is accede to Dr. Rosenzweig’s request and speak directly with the head of the zealot faction. I would give him my full blessing and support and perhaps even supply some technology that would help him find his prey and eliminate him with dispatch.”
We’re not told exactly who this “head of the zealot faction” is, but it seems he’d make a more enthusiastic and capable Antichrist than Nicolae Carpathia does.
Who, exactly, are these “zealots”? Well, they’re Jews. Not real Jews, but the vile caricature of Jewish people derived from centuries of lethal slander. What we have here in this “zealot faction” is Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ rendition of the same blood-libel that Christians have used to persecute Jews for centuries. These zealots are Christian-hating Jews, Christ-killing Jews and child-murdering Jews.
LaHaye and Jenkins don’t completely reject this vicious, racist stereotype, they merely qualify it a bit. It’s only a “faction,” they say. Only some Jews are Christ-killing, child-murdering monsters. Most Jews aren’t like that, the authors say. Or, rather, they say that most Jews aren’t quite so “zealous” about it.
And thus, they say, we are not permitted to regard these books as anti-Semitic. If they were anti-Semites, the authors protest, then they would say all Jews were zealously like this, rather than generously insisting that it’s only a fraction and a faction.
This ancient caricature, this hateful projection from Christian bigotry, appears here, as ever, as the enemy of Christ. This shadowy “head of the zealot faction,” in other words, is explicitly an Antichrist figure, a person who is anti-Christ.
This is part of the long, ugly pedigree of the singular, capital-A “Antichrist” figure and it lives on in the fever-dreams of “The Antichrist” in the premillennial dispensationalism of Tim LaHaye. The unmistakably Roman Beast of John’s Apocalypse has, time and again throughout history, been reimagined as a Christ-killing, child-sacrificing, Jewish “zealot.” So it’s not surprising that when this disturbing caricature makes an appearance here in this book in the person of the “head of the zealot faction,” he seems more enthusiastic and more focused on the agenda of “The Antichrist” than Nicolae does himself.
Nicolae himself seems content to take a pass on pursuing Tsion Ben-Judah directly, advising his lieutenant to give Rosenzweig the run-around. “Stall him for a while,” he says, hoping that the “zealots” will take care of things on his behalf. “Tell him that I have chosen to remain neutral on the subject.”
But Carpathia was not neutral. He had just begun to warm to the subject. Rayford heard the squeak of the leather seat and imagined Carpathia leaning forward to speak earnestly to his cadre of international henchmen. “But let me tell you this, gentlemen. A person such as Dr. Ben-Judah is much more dangerous to our cause than an old fool like Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig is a brilliant scientist, but he is not wise in the ways of the world. Ben-Judah is more than a brilliant scholar. He has the ability to sway people, which would not be a bad thing if he served our cause. But he wants to fill his countrymen’s minds with this blather about the Messiah having already returned. How anyone can still insist on taking the Bible literally and interpreting its prophecies in that light is beyond me.”
And that, right there, is why I don’t think Nicolae Carpathia is up to the job of Antichrist.
PMD “Bible prophecy” isn’t really about “taking the Bible literally,” of course, but still, “interpreting its prophecies” is exactly what any semi-competent Antichrist should be doing. Nicolae’s office should look exactly like Ben-Judah’s study, or Bruce Barnes’ old office at New Hope. It should be filled with all of the exact same check lists and charts spelling out exactly what is to happen and when during his reign here in the Great Tribulation.
Nicolae is in a chess match against an all-powerful God. That seems hopeless. And it would surely be hopeless, except for his secret weapon — a detailed, step-by-step account of every move his opponent is going to take. Studying those moves and preparing for what’s to come should be any Antichrist’s No. 1 priority, yet Nicolae seems not to take any of this “Bible prophecy” seriously or to consider it worthy of his attention.
If Nicolae had done his homework, he wouldn’t be surprised or confused by the enthusiastic converts Ben-Judah is winning over:
How anyone can still insist on taking the Bible literally and interpreting its prophecies in that light is beyond me, but tens of thousands of converts and devotees have sprung up in Israel and around the world due to his preaching at Teddy Kollek Stadium and in other huge venues. People will believe anything. And when they do, they are dangerous.
“Believe anything,” just so long as you are passionately sincere and sincerely passionate.
If Nicolae had done the assigned reading, studying his Scofield, Lindsey and LaHaye, then he would recognize Ben-Judah’s “converts and devotees” as the PMD version of the “144,000 sealed” from the book of Revelation — the army of singing, virgin martyrs that “Bible prophecy scholars” say will rise up during the Tribulation. And if Nicolae had studied this ahead of time, he might have put together a plan to deal with them.
But it seems, instead, that the rise of these 144,000 martyrs will be a surprise to him, a surprise for which he is completely unprepared.
I’m starting to lose faith in this Antichrist.
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* This fantasy aspect is rather depressing, if you think about it. Christian readers are being offered a fantasy in which their faith is something vibrant and exciting, and those readers lapped it up — buying millions of copies of these books because they found it so appealing to escape into such a fantasy world. That tells us less about these books than it does about the sorry state of the hum-drum, mundane faith from which so many millions of Christians seem so eager to find an escape.
This same fantasy fuels more than book sales for American Christians. Much of the “culture wars” are a desperate attempt by complacent, comfortable American Christians to recast themselves somehow as people who might yet “create such a furor with their controversial message.” Dimly recognizing that the pampered privilege they enjoy isn’t anything like that, some Christians creatively seek new ways to pretend that it is. “Merry Christmas!” they declare, aggressively, to the Walmart greeter who wished them a happy holiday. Hah! There’s a controversial message that will create quite a furor!