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bits of grace before the rapture
on August 24, 2006
The Rapture is the third Left Behind Prequel novel written by the team of Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Thus far, it is the fifteenth Left Behind novel written for adults. The main sequence was twelve novels and now the prequel trilogy has concluded. This trilogy has been giving the reader stories about what was going on with the major characters of Left Behind before the Rapture. To give a brief background, the Rapture is a concept of some Christians which states that at some point in the future Christ will return and claim those who truly believe in Him. There are two schools of thought on the Rapture, a Pre-Tribulation Rapture and a Post-Tribulation Rapture. In the Pre-Trib theology it is the Rapture that will start a seven year tribulation of the planet which is signally the End of the World as has been known. So, all of the Believers will have ascended into heaven before stuff gets really bad. In Post-Trib theology, the Rapture happens at the end of this seven year period. Left Behind (the first book in the sequence) began moments after the Rapture and works on the basis of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. The Rapture is the last of the prequels and moves up and through the event that began this entire series.
There are several storylines moving through this novel. First there is the story of Nicolae Carpathia and his rise to power. Nicolae is the man who will become the Antichrist. Second, the story of Rayford Steele, an airline pilot. Rayford is one of the heroes of the main sequence, but here he was not a believer and resented his wife and son trying to push "religion" into his life. Steele is on the verge of an affair with one of the hostesses on his flights. This leads into the story of his wife Irene, a good Christian woman who prays for her husband to believe. There is a brief chapter or two with their daughter, Chloe, also a non-believer. There are sections with Cameron "Buck" Williams, an acclaimed reporter who is central to the main sequence as well. The Rapture serves to bring all of these characters to the beginning of Left Behind. What will interest readers most is that this novel actually moves past the rapture and we get to see the vision of heaven and meeting Christ and God and judgment and reward as imagined by Jerry Jenkins. I have been skeptical of the previous two trilogies as they were disappointing in terms of telling a story and expected more of the same, and since I found the end of Glorious Appearing disappointing as well I expected the vision of the Rapture to be as disappointing as the vision of the true Return of Christ. As a Christian, that is an odd thing to have to write.
A valid criticism about the prequel trilogy would be that there is no real conflict in these three novels because we know exactly where Jerry Jenkins is bringing the story: the Rapture. Jenkins is simply bringing the characters along, showing glimpses of their lives and prior motivations before the Rapture changed everything. This much is true, but my personal criticism is that this is a book (and trilogy) that cannot stand on its own without the main sequence of Left Behind novels. All of the interest in the characters and reasons to care about the characters is entirely based on who they later become after the Rapture. What comes before is background and backstory and these events were covered in the main sequence, but now we have novels further exploring the backstory...except Jenkins is attempting to cover too much ground. There are too many characters which do not interact with the other primary characters until some time after the Rapture. Another criticism is that if the prequels are read before the main sequence then the sense of discovery of who Nicolae is completely eliminated because now the reader is simply waiting for Nicolae to declare his true allegiance rather than finding out along with the rest of the world the true nature of Nicolae Carpathia.
Now, with that criticism stated, The Rapture is the strongest of the three prequel novels. Jerry Jenkins has done an excellent job in describing the Rapture and the subsequent judgments of the "saints" and what the first moments of heaven may be like. This surprised me because I thought the return of Christ in Glorious Appearing to not live up to the hype. The description of those first moments in heaven and the how the resurrection of the soul changes a person is remarkable, and the joy of the saved in hearing the stories of the other saints and feeling/experiencing their lives of faith are very well written and well described. Jerry Jenkins often is criticized for his simplistic style, but in some instances it works very well. He may spend a bit too much time in heaven, and not enough telling a story, but Jenkins is very effective in communicating the story he is trying to tell.
The Rapture should be very popular with its intended audience: Christians and fans of the Left Behind series. Those readers will be pleased with this novel and for the intended audience this novel has to be considered a success. As a novel, it must be taken in consideration with the rest of the series because it is incapable of standing on its own. The prequel trilogy should be read after the main sequence because of the spoiler effect it would have for several of the early Left Behind novels. Overall, The Rapture does not truly tell a story in sense of having a plotline, but instead moves characters from point A to point B so they can be in the places they need to be. It is a weaker novel than it necessarily needs to be, but I believe it will reach the intended audience.