Revelations on Revelation (Part IV)

Now that all the deserving have been uploaded to the cloud, shit’s about to get real. Well, even realer than losing people you love and, for some characters, knowing that what’s coming is seven years of the worst events anyone could possibly imagine. Well, except John, who maybe did?

On a related note, you can actually visit the cave on Patmos where John supposedly dictated Revelation to his disciple, but it seems to now be full of stuff that, however holy, probably wasn’t there at the time:

John's cave, jammed with paintings and golden metal...stuff.
I wonder what Plato’s cave is like these days.

Anyway, following the same format as Part III, which looked at the rapture, this post and Parts V and VI will focus on the tribulation—giving the Left Behind series and the A Thief in the Night series one whole post and two who posts respectively because there’s so much material to cover. And to close things off in Part VII, I will look at the signs that dispensationalists believe show that the End Times are imminent, along with the consequences of seeing world events this way.

Table of Contents

The tribulation in individual experiences

Rapture anxiety

Many of the posters using the #raptureanxiety hashtag mention a terror of getting left behind, but don’t explicitly spell out what they believed it would be like after they were. The ones that do are, understandably, horrifying.

This woman was taught as a child that during the tribulation, she wouldn’t be able to buy her life-critical medication, because to do so, she’d have to get the mark of the Beast, and if she did that, she’d end up in the lake of fire:

The medicine supply chain will likely get disrupted by the manifestations of God’s love and/or wrath as well.

It turns out some churches even involve churchgoers in a sort of passion play to represent what the tribulation would be like:

I hope they have the children dress up as the locusts. Since the locusts have horse bodies they could even do the pantomime horse thing with one kid being the front and one kid being the back.

Opposing perspectives

I think this pretty much sums up the other way of looking at belief in the tribulation:

Read the room, “dude.”

The tribulation in pop culture

Like the rapture, a lot of believers have had their idea of the tribulation reinforced through the same popular media I discussed in Part III.

Before I dive back into their worlds, I should first note that the timing and representation of events isn’t quite as straightforward as my overview of the tribulation in Part II might suggest, for a couple of reasons:

  • These are obviously still fictional stories with narrative concerns, even if the overall goals are proselytizing and reinforcing religiosity among existing believers.
  • Since dramatizing the dispensationalist End Times narrative involves projecting events described in roughly 95 AD into our own future, there’s room for a lot of interpretation at every level of abstraction.

That said, while they do differ in many ways, the Left Behind and A Thief in the Night franchises actually share a lot of ideas too, in large part because both of them—like the modern dispensationalist imagination as a whole—were heavily influenced by the work of Hal Lindsey.

Cover of The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey with C.C. Carlson. There is yellow text on a red background, with an illustration of the globe as an eggshell cracked in half, and the tagline "A penetrating look at incredible prophecies involving this generation."
Lindsey’s book sold more copies in the 1970s than any other book categorized as nonfiction, even The Unhappy Gays.

I’ll discuss Lindsey at length in Part VII, as his bestselling 1970 book The Late Great Planet Earth popularized translating Biblical material into recognizable signs that the End Times are imminent—but in doing so, he also establishes some interpretations that carry forward into the events of Revelation.

He also wrote a book on Revelation itself, There’s a New World Coming, which the comic I’ve included panels from is based on, but for whatever reason it wasn’t nearly as popular and I haven’t been able to find out much at all about his original version.

Anyway, enough extra context. Let’s get back to Rayford and Buck and the gang and see if they manage to get their hands away from their foreheads.

Left Behind

After the rapture takes place in the first Left Behind movie, as I mentioned last time, Rayford feels compelled to tackle reading his wife’s Bible. Of course, he has to make it all the way to the end before finally getting to Revelation. Thanks, St. Augustine.

So, now that Rayford knows what’s going on, he goes to church, where he meets Pastor Barnes, and the two of them commit themselves to Jesus—for real this time, in the Pastor’s case.

Rayford and Barnes kneeling, facing away from the camera and towards the altar, in a church.
Let’s hope Barnes got it right this time because there’s an anthrax-laced Bible coming with his name on it.

Meanwhile, Buck and his colleagues watch a web stream of the new UN Secretary-General, Nicolae Carpathia. He blames the disappearances on accumulated radiation from nuclear weapons testing, which Buck’s colleagues agree is a reasonable explanation, and they support Nicolae’s suggested plan for global nuclear disarmament.

Even though I understood that his claim that 142 million people suddenly disappeared because of background radiation wasn’t supposed to be believable to the audience (and what could be, I guess), it completely threw me out of the fictional dream and I had to go back and make sure I heard it correctly.

CRT computer screen showing a gaunt young-ish man with sunken eyes and perfectly in-place dirty blonde hair, wearing a grey blazer and reddish pink shirt and tie, at the lectern at a press conference. Behind him is a blue logo that seems to be inspired by the UN one. At the bottom of the screen is his name, "Nicolae Carpathia," plus a red box reading "LIVE" and a ticker reading "Confirmed vanished: 142,380,000."
But how many people vanished from the rapture and how many just vanished with the rapture?

Regardless, we are supposed to see professional journalists accepting whatever Nicolae says as further evidence that he is the Beast: he clearly has supernatural powers of persuasion and now he leads a global organization.

Nicolae also talks about a new fertilizer developed by an Israeli scientist, Chaim Rosenzweig, that allows crops to grow in barren land and will solve world hunger and contribute to world peace. This scientific claim is supposed to be real in the world of the film, however.

Then, in a spy movie section involving US government agents, a diskette of secret information (again, it is the Y of our Lord 2K), and a car bomb, Buck uncovers a plot by two international bankers to gain ownership over ten giant tracts of land, disrupt the world’s food supply, and bankrupt the UN.

The silhouette of a figure holding a bag and looking at a car on fire.
Jason Bourne Again. Although he’s not born again—yet.

I was surprised at first that the international bankers weren’t coded as Jewish. But, of course, dispensationalists “love” Israeli Jews at least, because they play such a big a role in the End Times. So although, as we’ll see in Part VII, dispensationalists are laser-focused on global conspiracies as signs the rapture is coming, they’re not Jewish space laser-focused—well, most of them, at least.

While Buck is fulfilling the thriller component of the narrative, Rayford converts his daughter Chloe. Then with the help of Pastor Barnes, he tries to go for the double and convert Buck too the next time they meet. As part of this attempt, they show Buck a tape that was left by Pastor Billings, another pastor from Pastor Barnes’s church who evidently did get it right, explaining the rapture for anyone who’s left behind.

But his tape doesn’t go on to explain anything else about the tribulation or End Times, which is a very odd choice, as leaving information for those left behind on what’s required to achieve salvation during the tribulation is a real thing:

Pamphlet reading the following: “"TRIBULATION CHRISTIAN" - PREPARE TO SUFFER! IF, AFTER THE "RAPTURE" you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, please be assured that no matter what happens to your physical body and life, you WILL have eternal life with God forever. You will NOT BE ABLE TO BUY FOOD, because you will refuse to wear the mark of the Antichrist (Rev. 13:16, 17). BUT, that is BETTER THAN THE END of those that WORSHIP him! (See Rev. 14:9-11). As a "Tribulation Christian" you may be EXECUTED FOR YOUR FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST! Jewish "Tribulation Christians" (144,000) will be protected or sealed from the "Tribulation Judgments." They may be the "Evangelists" during this time. MANY, if not MOST, of the others (Jews and Gentiles) saved DURING the Tribulation may have their HEADS CUT OFF for refusing to worship the Antichrist "world leader" (Rev. 7:4-14; 20:4).” Pamphlet reading the following: “SURVIVAL of the "Tribulation" IS NOT PROBABLE for you, PHYSICALLY! This is due to the execution of Christians for their faith and the death of over 1/2 of the world's population from the judgments. YOUR CONSOLATION, however, is your resurrection and eternal life with God, which He has PROMISED (Matt. 24:21, 22; I Cor. 15:44, 54-57; Rev. 20:4-6). In spite of the SUFFERING which you will encounter as a "Tribulation Christian," you have made a WISE decision in trusting Jesus Christ as your Saviour. The HORROR of the "Tribulation" will not last long, when compared to "eternity" without God. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him (God) which IS ABLE to destroy both soul and body in Hell (Matt. 10:28).”
See, how hard was that? Complex typesetting for the 1970s aside.

Rayford and Barnes do point to verses from Daniel to explain just enough so that Buck understands what the conditions for the tribulation to officially begin would be. But nobody has realized that the Beast and Nicolae are the same person yet, and Rayford and Barnes also don’t say anything to Buck about what is going to happen once the tribulation starts—let alone who’s responsible for which parts of it, which is relevant (to me at least) later.

Although he finds their explanation interesting since it connects some things he’s encountered, Buck is not yet ready to accept that Bible prophecy could be real or to devote himself to the will of Jesus, and he goes alone to the UN to warn Chaim and Nicolae about the bankers’ plan.

The Flags of Canada, an installation in downtown Ottawa, featuring a number of while flagpoles bearing Canadian flags and the flags of the provinces and the territories.
Imagine my surprise to see that these “world flags” outside the UN are actually the Flags of Canada a few blocks away from me in downtown Ottawa.

In the room where Buck meets with Nicolae and Chaim, he sees architectural plans for the Temple of Jerusalem. Nicolae reveals that using access to Chaim’s miracle fertilizer for leverage, he is brokering a seven-year peace deal between Israel and not just its historical enemies, but the entire rest of the world. And it will, of course, also allow Israel to rebuild the Temple.

This confluence of events, of course, means the seven years of the tribulation will officially start once it’s signed. Buck then gets to where he’s supposed to and realizes the Bible might be right.

Chaim and Buck in an office, wearing suits with a visitor pass and a media pass pinned to their left breasts, respectively, looking down towards the camera, with windows showing office buildings in the background.
Is seeing that part of a claim is true as proof that the entire claim is true a logical fallacy with a fun name? Of course, the entire claim in this case is true, but still. Inquiring minds want to know.

Here’s my cow diagram from last post as a reminder of where that seems to put us—right before the signing:

Tribulation timeline

Diagram showing that first the events of Seal 1 take place (a ribbon like the ones from an elementary school track and field meet), then the Beast signs a peace deal with Israel (a hand making the peace sign). At that point the Tribulation begins, and during the first 3.5 years, the events of Seals 2-7 (ribbons again), then at the 3.5 year mark, the Beast demands worship and requires the mark (a cow). And finally, over the second 3.5 years of the Tribulation, the events of Trumpets 1-7 (a trumpet) and Bowls 1-7 (a bowl) also take place.
“It can’t be,” Buck says aloud, when he puts it together.

Also, in case you’re wondering how Jews knocking down two Muslim holy sites in order to rebuild their own Temple fits into a peace deal, Chaim reveals that they’ve conveniently found the true historical site of the Temple, which is next door to the Temple Mount. Honestly, the only part of this world I do want to live in.

Now Buck takes a minute to himself in the bathroom to think about what he’s learned and decides this is the time to commit himself fully to Jesus.

Although it’s clearly not intended to appear this way, since God’s plan is, you know, God’s plan, and can’t be judged by human criteria, it’s tragic to me that Buck came to the UN wanting to stop the bankers from causing a global famine, and then devotes his life to the will of Jesus seemingly without knowing that the will of Jesus is to do that exact same thing (and worse).

Buck with a tear-streaked face and red eyes slumped against the wall in a bathroom and looking up.
They don’t call it praying to the porcelain throne for nothing.

When he returns from the bathroom, Nicolae invites Buck to a special UN meeting involving the two bankers. At the meeting, Nicolae tells the ten UN delegates who are present that he is giving them total dominion over the ten tracts of land the bankers were trying to acquire, and even refers to them as being like kings.

The bankers object to this plan, naturally, but Nicolae shoots them both and brainwashes everyone else to think that one killed the other and then himself. All except Buck, that is, who is immune because of his newfound commitment to Jesus. He leaves the UN building and goes to a church. Mission accomplished.

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force

Tribulation Force, from 2002, picks up a week later. The global financial system is even more on the brink of collapse than usual due to knock-on effects from the disappearances. I mean, the Suez Canal alone must be jammed with Ever Givens. In response, with the likely brainwashed blessing of an IMF representative (although who knows what leading economists would push for after 140 million people disappear), Nicolae announces he is implementing a single world currency. This currency doesn’t seem to be related to the mark of the Beast, however, as we don’t hear about it again after the announcement.

In Nicolae’s speech, he says that with one currency, world peace is finally possible. I’m not sure it’s just the Euro that has kept EU members from fighting each other, but again, powers of persuasion. Regardless, he seems confident in it and calls on every nation to disarm completely. Since he already talked about dismantling all nuclear weapons and Israel’s peace deal is with the entire rest of the world, this series really hits us with the idea that the Beast brings peace at first super hard.

Nicolae gesturing to a room full of people, with a sign saying "Secretary General" in front of him, and a variation on the UN logo with a globe projection that is squashed vertically and flat ovoid rings encircling it, each on a diagonal so that they cross above and below the globe.
Their take on the UN logo reminds me of an atom, or the trajectories of intercontinental ballistic missiles during a nuclear exchange. Clearly, if I am any example, men literally only want one thing and it’s mutually assured destruction.

Nicolae goes on to mention religious differences being a cause of strife and uses language borrowed from the Lord’s Prayer to say that there is no Heaven and Hell, just our time on Earth. He even twists the knife by saying “amen” at the end. So the Beast blaspheming gets a big check mark too.

After they discuss Nicolae’s speech, which they saw on TV, Buck, Rayford, Pastor Barnes, and Chloe, who all now understand Nicolae’s true nature, decide to form the titular “Tribulation Force,” also known as the “Trib Force,” a organization for people who were left behind but have now become believers. Since they know the events depicted in the Book of Revelation are immutable and Nicolae won’t be defeated until Jesus returns for the Battle of Armageddon, they will just devote themselves to providing resistance, as it were, however they can, until that time.

This fan-made crest for Tribulation Force—maybe inspired by a description in the books—is very familiar:

A black shield with a dark red border, featuring a white cross over a gold-winged dagger. The white scroll below it reads "TRIBULATION FORCE" and there is an awkward bend in the type where the scroll comes to a point at the bottom.
This also reminds me of the Jagermeister logo, but that’s not where I’m going with this.

Guess which US military branch includes the group whose badge it resembles?

The exact same shape of shield as in the Trib Force crest, with a blue top half and a red bottom half, interlocking as if with jigsaw puzzles, and in front of it, a winged sword. The white scroll below this image reads "AIR COMBAT COMMAND," with the A and T in "COMBAT" even more disfigured by bending along with the scroll than in the other crest.
Interestingly, although the Sword of Damocles hanging over the world/the imperialists is how Kennedy and Khrushchev independently described nuclear weapons, Air Combat Command isn’t the part of the USAF that includes the nuclear strike capability, which has a badge with three lightning bolts (in a past version held by a knight’s fist) instead.

The group’s next step is to gather more recruits for the cause, so we see Pastor Barnes giving a sermon aimed at the unbelievers in attendance that reinforces that Nicolae is both the first horseman and the Beast and that he is conquering under the guise of world peace—before closing with an appeal to attendees to line up and convert right then and there.

Then, in probably the most unpleasant sequence in the entire series, Buck and Rayford tag-team convert Rayford’s former copilot Chris, whose family was also raptured like Rayford’s and, but not being a believer, is very much struggling with his grief.

Chris attended church with the others but Barnes’s preaching didn’t convince him to abandon his own view—similar to Patty’s in A Thief in the Night—that being a generally good person is sufficient, so he walked out suddenly rather than join the conversion queue.

Buck and Rayford with their hands in their jacket pockets addressing Chris in a churchyard at night.
Based on his behaviour in this scene, it turns out that Buck is no longer a sympathetic character but instead a smarmy, deluded, self-righteous bully, and I no longer think anything bad happening to him is a tragedy. Something must have changed inside him, but what?

The two stop him outside and Buck comes right out with it and tells Chris that actually, he’s not a good person by God’s standards, and that if he doesn’t convert, he’ll be cast into the eternal flames as an adulterer because of the one time he looked at another woman with lust. (Rayford, of course, is in the clear for having kissed Hattie right before the rapture because he is a believer now.) Chris says he doesn’t accept that and walks away again.

But then, when we see Chris again later than night, he is actively suicidal and holding a revolver. Just in time, Rayford swoops in and finishes the job with a more positive approach—although that wouldn’t be hard compared to Buck’s—and he feels such a thrill after Chris hands over the gun and says he’ll commit to Jesus that he decides evangelizing is his life’s purpose. I guess at least it’s good it wasn’t Buck having that epiphany.

Chris inspecting a gun with a cup of coffee in front of him, with the light in the scene coming from a knocked over lamp in the back left.
I wonder if the fact that he has a cup of coffee instead of a bottle of whiskey is an evangelical Hays Code thing, like the fact that at the last possible millisecond before Rayford and Hattie’s lips make contact in the previous film it cuts to a close up of an elderly woman on the flight.

Soon, Nicolae invites Buck to a meeting, which takes place dramatically on a rooftop. There he tells him that the UN is taking over all the world’s media, again, for the sake of peace, and, as Buck is a popular TV news presence, offers him a job. Buck accepts so he can learn more about Nicolae’s evil plans. Rayford applies to be the pilot of Nicolae’s private plane, Global Community One, for the same reason.

At his new office, Buck learns from his boss Steve that Nicolae is creating a mandatory single religion in the name of world peace. (In the third movie you see a magazine cover that says it’s called Enigma Babylon One World Faith.)

A piece of paper with the logo for the one world religion. In an outer ring with a red background it says "God is in us," "God is us," and "We are God." Inside that is a solid yellow circle with five reddish bubbles projecting into it from a solid black circle. The bubbles hold symbols reminiscent of a number of different cultures, and so do the yellow and blue arms and red centre of a star in the middle of the figure, within the black circle.
They could have just used one of those ☪☮℮✡☥☯✝ bumper stickers.

Next time the Trib Force all meet, Pastor Barnes tells them that he has seen two significant news stories. The first is that Tsion Ben-Judah, an influential rabbi and Jewish religious scholar, is going to make a public announcement about the messiah in Jerusalem. (Jews differ on whether or whether not Jesus had a positive impact on the world, but either way, he wasn’t the messiah of the Old Testament, so Jews are still waiting for the first coming, let alone the second.)

The second is that three men were burned to death by the Wailing Wall, which is another Jewish holy site in Jerusalem, where Jews are allowed to pray, although probably still not sacrifice lambs, and Barnes thinks it could be the work of the two fire-breathing witnesses. We never find out in the movie who the three men were or what they did to deserve it.

A bunch of people, mostly in black, many Orthodox Jews, in front of a corner of the Wailing Wall, which is made up of many different kinds of sandy brown rectangular stones, on a sunny day.
You don’t see the real Wailing Wall in the movie, but this photo is used in the Left Behind fan wiki entry for it, so it’s the next best thing.

Buck makes plans to go to Jerusalem to investigate both Tsion and the incineration murders, but not before he and Chloe have time to fall in love and make it official by going to a photo booth, since this is at least a couple of years before Facebook.

Meanwhile, on Nicolae’s plane, Rayford finds an email that shows Tsion was planning to reveal that Jesus was the messiah, but Steve has rewritten the speech so it all applies to Nicolae instead. And of course, Nicolae must have brainwashed Tsion into believing it too.

An email inbox with emails that include "just a reminder" from "wmstr," "Re:Webpage" from "Lisa Jarvis," "birthday news" from "Derek," "10% off" from "investment report," "invitation" from "Emily," and, highlighted, with no sender, "Ben Judah Speech - World Presentation Revised."
This is likely Steve’s laptop, not Nicolae’s, but I love the idea of the Beast’s inbox being just like boomers’ inboxes in 2022.

In Jerusalem, Buck meets with Tsion and tricks him into coming with him to see the witnesses so he can make his argument even stronger by disproving them. The witnesses, who could have escaped from The Life of Brian, “prophesy” a few lines from the Gospel of John and say that Jesus is the son of God.

Then they barbecue a couple of UN soldiers, who have chosen that moment to attack the group. But Tsion runs off before we find out if this experience has had any effect on him or not.

Two men dressed in rags breathing fire in front of a wall made of sand brown rectangular stones.
Fire breathe with me.

Next we see Tsion beginning his televised speech in front of a huge crowd. He says he knows who the messiah is and starts listing their characteristics, building up to revealing their identity.

On Nicolae’s plane, we learn that Nicolae is aware Tsion met the witnesses and he doesn’t know if his brainwashing has held against their prophetic powers. So, with his control over all the world’s media, he aims to disrupt the broadcast at the critical moment with his own claim that he is the messiah. Rayford, however, pulls a plug and prevents Nicolae from patching himself in.

And so Tsion is free to drop the hammer: he was wrong, and all Jews were wrong, because Jesus was and is the messiah. Which sets up the members of the twelve tribes of Israel to convert and be saved when the Last Judgement takes place. And, of course, the first 144,000 to apply will even get God’s seal on their foreheads to protect them from some of the horrors to come before that.

Tsion Ben-Judah, balding, with wire-rimmed glasses, in the middle of saying the word "Jesus" into a bunch of TV-channel microphones.
And his name is Je—

Left Behind III: World at War

The final movie, World at War, was released in 2005. It’s now 18 months later and during this time, the UN has been renamed the GC, or Global Community, matching Nicolae’s plane, and all the countries of the world have agreed to turn over their military weapons to the GC to dismantle.

Perhaps because they are immune to Nicolae’s brainwashing and aren’t ☪☮℮✡☥☯✝ing like everybody else, dispensationalist believers like the members of Trib Force are now being specifically persecuted. It seems like the mandatory religion is still Enigma Babylon One World Faith, however, and Nicolae hasn’t tried again at getting people to worship him personally yet.

A magazine with the title "Today Weekly," a picture of Nicolae in profile, and the coverline "New World Peace: One World Relgion."
Today Weekly?

We even hear that the GC considers Bibles “hateful literature,” which is just a throwaway line meant to express Nicolae’s villainy, but it feels a bit like Reverend Turner’s humanist speech in A Thief in the Night, where what’s meant to be easily dismissed is actually quite persuasive if you don’t already have the same beliefs as the writers.

As well as the obvious examples that apply to the present day, like Biblical attitudes toward homosexuality, I keep thinking about the question of the Canaanites. Does a sacred text count as preaching hate against an identifiable group if they no longer exist because, according to the text at least, the deity who modern believers worship ordered historical believers to kill them all, adults, children, and animals alike?

The cover of the book "The Ancient Canaanites: A Captivating Guide to the Canaanite Civilization that Dominated the Land of Canaan before the Ancient Israelites" from the "Captivating History" series. It features an illustration of a very one-sided battle.
Before the ancient Israelites indeed.

Hateful or not, now that Bibles are banned, we first see the Trib Force again in the middle of conducting a raid on a GC warehouse so they can steal back confiscated copies. When two security guards roll up and start shooting, Chris is hit multiple times in the back. Despite Chloe’s entreaties from the passenger seat, the driver of the truck full of stolen Bibles (he’s still wearing his balaclava and his voice is muffled, but it’s got to be Buck) says that their haul is more important, so Chris is left behind to be captured and questioned.

Chloe and Buck wearing black inside a truck cab.
Now that Buck and Chloe are engaged, who else but Buck would we see alone in the temptation-filled environment of a truck cab with her?

But Chris is a now a good Christian soldier and says only that he works for the Lord Almighty rather than giving up any important details and the frustrated interrogator shoots him in the head.

Although the Trib Force members do show up, in an unexpected departure from the first two films, it turns out the protagonist this time is a new addition, US President Gerald Fitzhugh. At first, it seems like the President believes all of Nicolae’s lies and has aligned the US entirely with the GC.

Lou Gossett Jr., who plays President Fitzhugh, looking serious. He is wearing a dark suit and has a moustache and a shaved head.
Lou Gossett Jr. has won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the past. He is wasted in this. I mean, you’d have to be.

But then when the VP, John Mallory, tells him when they’re alone that he’s seen intelligence that Nicolae’s forces are preparing for an attack on the US, likely biological in nature, it’s clear the President has started having some suspicions about Nicolae already, and he’s willing to entertain the possibility that the VP is right. Before the VP can answer the President’s question about why the US would be the target, however, they are interrupted by an attack on their motorcade by masked men on Skidoos with rocket launchers, and the VP is killed.

A gang of masked Skidoo riders with their lights on.
Guessing this one was shot in Canada too.

Back at the Trib Force HQ, Pastor Barnes presides over an interminable double wedding for both Buck and Chloe and Rayford and Amanda, who is a new character who was friends with Rayford’s wife. As a side note, Hattie, the flight attendant who Rayford kissed, is now one of Nicolae’s lovers. That’ll show her.

Pastor Barnes, now played by a different actor, addressing the two couples in the darkened church as light streams in from the window and candles light the foreground.
The actor who played Pastor Barnes in the previous film was actually Catholic and his own priest was relieved when his schedule meant he couldn’t reprise his role in the final film and they had to go with someone else.

What appears to be the next day, Buck gets kidnapped off the street by the Secret Service. He’s hooded and interrogated by none other than the President himself, who acts at first like he’s still on Nicolae’s side and threatens to kill Buck if he doesn’t spill because he’s been caught with a Bible.

But then the President drops the act partway through and says they had to grab him that way in case the GC was watching and then he needed to test him to make sure he could be trusted. After all that, all he learns from Buck about any biological attack, however, is that the answers are in the Bible, by which Buck means there is a use of the word “pestilence” associated with the End Times in Matthew (that translation of the word is from the King James Version).

Buck in a sport coat, jeans, and a black hood over his head.
The Abu Ghraib photos came out while this movie was in production, but I guess nobody thought the resemblance was an issue.

The President goes on to do his own detective work and uncovers a plot where Nicolae’s forces have a whole lab dedicated to lacing Bibles with anthrax to kill believers (uh oh), but that biological attack isn’t the one the VP had heard about.

If the President warns Buck I missed it, but it doesn’t matter, since Chekhov’s Bible immediately…falls open? Flies violently off the press? I can’t think of a good active verb. The point is, Pastor Barnes and Chloe both become deathly sick with anthrax.

After a different resistance group called “the militia,” that is secular, or at least, not dispensationalist, makes contact with him, the President agrees to meet with their leadership. They tell him they are working with the British and Egyptian governments, and that the VP’s intelligence was wrong; instead of biological agents, Nicolae is actually going to use the weapons surrendered by other countries that GC has supposedly been dismantling in his attack.

On a video screen mounted to chain link fencing: a bald man in his sixties addressing the camera, some illegible green text on black, and a map showing red paths originating from within the US and heading towards Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
When one side of a war is a global government, I guess it makes sense to see both launch sites and targets within the same country. Also Nicolae’s headquarters is now in Iraq, so New York is fair game.

The UK and Egypt evidently held back some weapons from the disarmament initiative, because they are ready to launch a pre-emptive strike. It would target Nicolae’s headquarters in Iraq, which is in a city called New Babylon (does this mean Hattie becomes the Prostitute of Babylon?) as well as his other forces worldwide, including “the seat of his air power, Heathrow.” Which is, of course, one of the busiest commercial airports in the world, and located near London.

The President convinces them to hold off until a predefined time so he can try to assassinate Nicolae himself first to minimize the bloodshed. He shows them a porcelain gun he can sneak past any metal detectors. We know he’s not going to be able to kill Nicolae, because of the fixed events of Revelation, but nobody in the militia is a believer either, so they don’t know any better and they agree.

But while the President has got Nicolae at porcelain gunpoint, the two of them see on the TVs in the room, which are for some reason tuned to non-English news channels, that the militia have begun their attack, starting World War III.

Two TV screens showing the news, one in French and one in Chinese. The French one says "La Guerre du Monde!" and shows what looks like an impact or explosion at sea with a ship in the foreground. The Chinese one shows a blurry column of fire and/or smoke at night.
Mon dieu!

So presumably now, after a long delay, this is the war promised by the second seal, or at least some of it.

I hadn’t expected the Beast’s armies would be directly involved in any of the wars before the Battle of Armageddon, but, like I said before, everyone’s got their own interpretation of the Bible verses.

Indeed, the dispensationalist theologian J. Dwight Pentecost, who, confusingly, has no relationship to Pentecostalism, uses Biblical references to construct his influential view of a whole campaign fought by the Beast against various countries, which is reflected to a certain degree in A Thief in the Night series—although Left Behind doesn’t seem to be following that.

In this case, technically the militia started this one. And who knows, although Nicolae is literally evil incarnate, maybe all the intelligence he was planning an attack was manufactured by someone else with an agenda. It wouldn’t be the first time a villainous leader based in Iraq was attacked under false pretences.

Still can’t believe this fucking happened.

It’s unclear if this war is supposed to be seen as nuclear. We don’t see any mushroom clouds, but they may have just blown their FX budget on the Skidoo rocket launcher attack, which includes a bunch of explosions.

I will briefly stray from my plan of not talking about the novels in this section to say that they are full of nuclear exchanges and a 100 megaton bomb, which is twice the yield of the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever tested, gets dropped on Heathrow.

A map with concentric circles coming out from London.
According to Nukemap, not counting the impact of fallout, dropping a 100 megaton bomb on Heathrow would cause 4.5M deaths and 6.7M injuries, based on a fireball that vaporizes everything within a 5 km radius, blast damage causing most buildings to collapse within a 35 km radius, and thermal radiation causing 3rd degree burns within a 75 km radius. I have to wonder, what was the authors’ experience at Heathrow?

Anyway, back to the movie. Once both Nicolae and the President digest the information on TV, the President fires his gun but the bullets pass harmlessly through Nicolae’s head, referencing the Beast’s prophesied fatal head wound that miraculously heals.

Nicolae then throws the President out of a window with his mind, which I wasn’t aware was a power the Beast had. But again, it’s not like the Bible says it isn’t. But even though the President is not religious—yet—God has decided it’s not his time to die, so he walks away from the 20-story fall.

Meanwhile, it is Pastor Barnes’s time to die, but not Chloe’s. She is saved when the Trib Force accidentally discover communion wine is a cure for anthrax.

Chloe lying down on her back and sipping from a metal cup.
I once knew a cowboy who’d have liked to know about this.

Provided they do qualify for salvation to begin with, however, I think both Pastor Barnes and Chris will count as having been martyred for their faith. So they will be resurrected into physical bodies after the Battle of Armageddon and live for 1000 years under the reign of Jesus before passing the Last Judgement and going on to spend eternity in New Jerusalem with God. Not the worst outcome—if that all sounds like your style:

You can fit a lot of Monopoly games into 1000 years, and even more into eternity. You can also fit eternity into a single Monopoly game.

When we see the President again, he is sitting alone in the Oval Office, even though the White House is mostly on fire due to World War III—which seems not to include any biological element after all—when Buck shows up and tries to convert him. He threatens the President with the lake of fire too, but rather than making himself a cup of coffee and then whipping out the porcelain gun, the President emotionally converts while Buck is sitting there.

Afterwards, he is somehow able to reenter Nicolae’s headquarters, despite having recently tried to assassinate Nicolae there. Once inside, even though he has admitted that he now knows he can’t kill Nicolae, only slow him down, he calls in a missile strike with a hidden transmitter. The missiles destroy the building, killing the President too, and Nicolae walks away.

Nicolae looking particularly devilish and walking away from a fire at night.
Cool guys don’t look at explosions.

I wonder, will the President count as a martyr, or just a regular believer, since he was the one that called in the air strike that resulted in his death? I hope Jesus has also called out to the librarians’ hierarchies.) for assistance with how to approach endlessly proliferating edge cases so the Last Judgement doesn’t end up like Facebook’s content moderation.

And that’s the end of the three Left Behind films. Although they do include a few key events and are clearly setting up for others, they don’t cover that much of the tribulation timeline, especially compared to the A Thief in the Night series, which gets through almost all of it. Also, given that believers know so much of what’s going to happen in advance in general terms, it’s interesting that the audience doesn’t really get to hear much about the future. But the films do, after all, only include the storylines from the first two novels of 16.

Before I talk a bit about the novels, however, I’ve got two production-related notes about the films.

Left Behind production trivia

First off, as I have mentioned a couple of times, they were actually shot in Ontario, with a local quarry standing in for Israel—at least in some scenes—and downtown Ottawa as the area around the UN building in New York. It turns out the production company, Cloud Ten, which specializes in Christian apocalypse films, is based in St. Catherines.

I don’t know about the veracity of this quotation, as it’s flagged as missing a citation on Wikipedia but I enjoyed it so much I still have to share it:

Bowmanville Zoo’s Mike Hackenberger commented, “Camels sell the look. … As a prop, camels are great. You can move ’em around, you can stick ’em there, and you see a camel on sand, you know it’s desert … They might not fit through the eye of the needle, but without them, this movie would have been a disaster. There should be at least one camel in every movie.”

Two camels at the Bowmanville Zoo.
The camels from the Bowmanville Zoo were once kidnapped during transport in 2010.

And on a second note, after the first movie did not have a Hollywood-film level of box office success despite the huge book sales, LaHaye sued Cloud Ten. He demanded the rights back, claiming breach of contract for “not making the blockbuster they had promised, thereby limiting the movie’s mass-market appeal.”

He swore Cloud Ten said they would spend $40 million on the film, but there was nothing in the contract to that effect. Naturally, he was quiet on the role of the writing in the film’s reception. After nine years of legal battles, they settled, with an agreement that would allow LaHaye to remake all three films.

The CEO of Cloud Ten said on the matter that LaHaye’s “personal, malicious, win-at-any-cost attack” was “one of the ugliest acts I have seen one Christian commit against another.” Clearly he didn’t read The Unhappy Gays.

But a couple of years later, Cloud Ten somehow got the rights back again and went on to produce the reboot in 2014 with Nicolas Cage as Rayford. It’s a huge departure from the plot of the first novel and movie, but it turned out even worse.

Google search preview of the Rotten Tomatoes' page for the 2014 remake of Left Behind, which reveals that it has a Tomatometer of 0% over 69 reviews.
The critics’ consensus is not part of the preview this time, but it reads, “Yea verily, like unto a plague of locusts, Left Behind hath begat a further scourge of devastation upon Nicolas Cage’s once-proud filmography.”

Then two years later, at age 90, LaHaye died.

Anyway, here’s a reminder that you can watch the three original movies for free on Tubi, and support Fox News whenever ads come up:

Left Behind adult novels

From what I can tell from the wiki devoted to the franchise, as the novels continue past the plot points that are in the first two novels and original movie trilogy, they are increasingly made up of material lifted directly from Revelation, with angels, Jesus, God, and Satan getting directly involved.

Despite the 16 volumes worth of plotting, reviewers who are clearly going to get left behind now if they weren’t before have called them uninspired because they crib so much from the Bible.

I started listing some more plot points but realized I was just retelling Revelation again with the Trib Force members popping up from time to time over a period of over 1000 years.

For instance, the blurb on the back of the final book is 100% just a description of Revelation chapters 20 to 22:

Back cover, reading "Not all is well in utopia. Though Jesus has established His thousand-year reign on earth, people are born every day who still must choose to make Him their Savior. And not all do. While those who choose not to trust Christ are accursed and die young, devotees of the Other Light (Lucifer) conspire to populate the end of the millennial kingdom with a massive army. When Satan is finally loosed to once again tempt the nations, he leads this force to the ultimate conflict of good versus evil, and the result ushers in the new heaven and the new earth. Reunite with all your favorite characters and see how they fare in this capstone final title of the Left Behind saga."
Get accursed, die young, bad girls do it well.

All that said, I’d imagine the writing is probably stronger in the novels than the movies, or at the very least, explains what’s going on better. And no matter how good or bad they are, that doesn’t mean that the premise—being left alone to face an awful world because you didn’t meet some uncertain qualifications—is any less scary or damaging.

Left Behind kids’ novellas

On that note, I should also talk a bit about the kids’ versions of the Left Behind books by the same authors, where all the horrifying events from the tribulation happen to child characters.

All forty of the Left Behind kids' novellas arranged on a carpeted step. Some have ex-library stickers that mark them as YA.
Until I saw the ex-library stickers in this photo, I didn’t think about these being available at the library, but if they were that popular, of course they were.

Here’s the official Left Behind: The Kids series description from Amazon:

With more than 10 million copies sold in the series, Left Behind: The Kids is a favourite of kids ages 10–14. The series follows teens that were “left behind” and have nothing left but their newfound faith in Jesus Christ. Determined to stand up for God no matter what the cost, they are tested at every turn.

You’d expect at the very least they’d also have, like, friendship? Otherwise this just sounds like A Little Life, or, you know, the Book of Job. But I suppose that’s not wrong.

Speaking of marketing copy, this is the back cover of A Dangerous Plan, the book that introduces the locusts), which cover the earth in a dark cloud:

Back cover of book with a description that begins with big yellow text on a black background that reads "Amid screams of agony". It continues in smaller text, "from the scores of people affected by the latest judgment, the Young Trib Force struggles to stay alive as terrifying demons take over the earth. In Israel, Judd, Lionel, and Samuel hatch a plan to tell Sam's father the truth one more time. At the schoolhouse, an old friend offers Vicki an exciting opportunity-will she take it even if it means leaving the others behind? Follow the Young Trib Force as they risk their lives to make disciples around the world." It also has bios for the authors: "Tim LaHaye, who conceived the Left Behind series, is a renowned prophecy scholar, minister, and educator. His forty nonfiction works have sold more than 11 million copies. He and his wife, Beverly, live in Southern California." and "Jerry B. Jenkins, writer of the series, is the author of more than one hundred books, of which eleven have been national best sellers. He and his wife, Dianna, live in Colorado Springs."
I love the contrast between the “Tyndale Kids” logo and the display title at the top.

Let’s skip the big yellow text for a second and start with the last clause. “Terrifying demons”? Could be age-appropriate. R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series was for roughly that age group too, Grade 3–7. But Goosebumps was enjoyable because everyone understood that the monsters weren’t real, which is definitely not the desired outcome here.

Now returning to the display title, the fact that “screams of agony from the scores of people affected by the latest judgement” refers not just to unique events but to the setting takes us beyond horror into the category of the literature of witness (if we are talking good art) or torture porn like the Hostel movie series (if we are talking bad art).

Also, as a note so tangential that I’ve set it off in its own section so you can skip it once you realize what I’m going for if you like, referring to the number of people affected by the locust judgement as “scores,” while not wrong, is misleading. As a score is 20, usually when things are counted in score they’re pretty small numbers, like the obvious example of “four score and seven years ago” (87 years) in Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”

So, to calculate the number of score actually at play here, and making a bunch of totally arbitrary decisions on a few important factors—

  • how many locusts it takes to make up a dark cloud covering the earth: assuming way more than there are people
  • how effective they are at tracking everyone down: assuming very
  • whether just the 144,000 Jews are perceived in this interpretation to have God’s seal and will be spared, or whether that description includes anyone who has converted too: assuming the latter
  • if the latter, how many there are at this point, since it’s before the Beast starts executing them: assuming the proportion of people worldwide who currently hold evangelical beliefs would reflect the proportion of people open to converting after the rapture, 8% (600 million divided by 7.7 billion)
  • how many people are left total: even though this is way low, assuming 20% (1.5 billion) since at least we know that’s the estimate shared by PBS for the number of people who survive until the end of the whole tribulation

—that’s still 300 million people, or 15 million score screaming in agony.

In addition, both the genres of literature of witness and torture porn depict a real or imagined past, whereas A Dangerous Plan presents a future that awaits the reader if they aren’t adequately devout.

Understandably, this was one woman’s reaction to reading that book at the suggested age:

That’s like reading A Little Life twice or the Book of Job thirty times.

The kids’ books stop after the Battle of Armageddon. So, sure, the series does end on a good note, with the Young Trib Force hanging out with Jesus after he defeats Nicolae and casts him into the lake of fire, but readers don’t get to hear about Jesus’s thousand-year reign. Or what living in New Jerusalem forever with God is like.

And going by an estimated page count of around 6000, the series really is just about kids being tested at every turn with nothing but their faith because the 0.3% that consists of the good ones being rewarded could just be a rounding error.

But now let’s leave Left Behind behind and the locusts with it. Well, for now.

In Parts V and VI, I’ll close off talking about representations of the tribulation by looking at the four A Thief in the Night films, which do include locusts, or at least a locust, or—well, you’ll see what I mean. I’ll also briefly discuss Larry Norman’s song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” again, and I’ve got some more neat facts about him that I held back. And then finally in Part VII, I’ll look at some of the signs the rapture might be coming and what the implications are of viewing the world that way.

This time, let’s end with a song related to that goofy quotation about camels. The Biblical reference the zoo employee was making was to the something Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

On an entirely unrelated note, when he died, Tim LaHaye was worth $20 million USD.

So, here’s Brian Eno’s 1974 “Needles in the Camel’s Eye.”