Thanos didn’t do it this time.
No, when millions of people simply vanished from the face of the Earth on one otherwise fine day, it wasn’t the result of an Infinity Stone-gloved snap. The experts would certainly scoff at that potential explanation. Why, that’s almost as silly (they would say) as believing the disappearances were because of the Rapture.
But if it’s not a Marvel movie and it’s not the biblical End Times, what is it? And could it happen again?
Intrepid reporter Buck Williams aims to get to the bottom of this global mystery. But he’s not getting much help. His boss wants him to stop asking so many questions already.
“The news? It’s no longer about the truth,” Buck gripes to his girlfriend, Chloe Steele. “It’s about the message. As if we’re afraid that [viewers] can’t handle the truth.”
Chloe and her grieving dad, Rayford, are focused on one terrible truth: Half of their family is gone now. Ray’s wife, Irene; and son, Raymie; vanished with all those millions of others. Again, the world has no explanations.
But here’s the thing: Irene told Ray that this very thing would happen. In fact, this very thing was prophesied literally 2,000 years ago. And while the experts say it wasn’t the Rapture, Ray suspects that maybe—just maybe—it was.
But if the vanishings were the Rapture, that means that other, darker forces are at work, too.
The world feels like it’s collapsing in the wake of the vanishings. Violent crime has risen exponentially. Suicides are up tenfold. Stepping into the chaos is Jonathan Stonagal—creator of Eden, the biggest social network in the world. He’s (ahem) generously offered to allow the world to use Eden as a new worldwide banking system—a conduit, he says, to ease financial panic and ensure the world’s citizens get what they need.
All he needs to make that happen is buy-in from two foot-dragging countries: Israel, which needs a Mideast peace treaty in order to sign on; and Romania.
But Romania’s charismatic leader, Nicolae Carpathia, wants some extra-special assurances from Stonagal before he climbs on board.
And those conditions will be a beast to meet.
We offer a tip of the hat to Buck Williams, a popular cable news personality who returns to his investigative journalistic roots here. He’s unwilling to accept expert talking points on face value, and he’s determined to find out what’s really going on. When a second wave of vanishings allegedly strikes, Buck is immediately suspicious. And his investigations lead to some truly revelatory information. Buck risks both his career and life to bring those revelations to light.
He’s not alone. Buck is joined in his truth pursuit by Dirk, a conspiracy-minded hacker; and Connor, a born-again newbie at Buck’s cable network. All three are willing to go to significant lengths to expose the rotten roots behind Eden, and not all of them make it to the credits.
Speaking of credit, let’s also give some to Ray and Chloe and Bruce Barnes, a pastor of New Hope Church who was inexplicably (but not unexpectedly) left behind. All three had heard about the Rapture well before it happened. Pastor Barnes had even studied it thoroughly. (Religiously, you might say.) All three—and millions of others—had rejected the truth lurking behind that Rapture, that Jesus is Lord and Savior.
We’ll get into the more explicitly spiritual journeys our protagonists find themselves on in the section below. But here, let’s just acknowledge that it takes courage to admit when you’re wrong.
And while must of the world continues to live in denial, these three, along with a few others we meet, understand that they rejected a truth that they should’ve not just accepted, but embraced and cherished. And by the movie’s end, they and others are determined to follow a new, harder path, and to bring as many other people as they can along with them.
Obviously, Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist is explicitly Christian. It’s based on Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry Jenkins’ incredibly popular Left Behind book series, which itself was based on how many interpret the book of Revelation and other prophetic Scriptures. It’s not the only interpretation—but it likely represents the most popular understanding among many evangelical Christians today.
And certainly, most of the events we see here are intended to point straight back to Scripture. For example: When characters wonder about Eden’s role in biblical prophecy, Pastor Barnes points back to Revelation 13:16-17, which indicates that “no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” Another example: We hear 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 quoted, where the Apostle Paul talks how during the Rapture the dead will “rise first,” followed by the living. Punctuating that truth, one character digs up a grave of a departed loved one to confirm that, yes, Paul was right. We could point to many, many other instances, but that gives you a flavor.
While Rise of the Antichrist stresses that the bad times are just beginning—we haven’t even hit the hardcore tribulations yet—they’re ramping up. A narrator reminds us, “Jesus told us that the world would hate Christians” as the film shows a vandalized church. “All Souls Matter” is scrawled on its marquee. Inside, the accusation “God is dead” is scrawled on the walls in red paint, and a pig’s head with a crown of thorns hangs on the cross.
“Why do people who don’t even believe in God suddenly hate Him so much?” The narrator speculates. “Because they have nobody else to blame it on.”
But some moments of spiritual beauty take place in the midst of that destruction and persecution. A pastor offers hope and encouragement via video, even though he himself was Raptured. “Whatever you have to face on Earth,” the pastor says, “It’s not too late. You can still spend eternity in heaven.” Several people commit to Christ during the course of the movie, most reciting a version of the Sinner’s Prayer. Pastor Barnes admits, “I may have given up on God, but I’m humbled to know that God hadn’t given up on me.”
We hear other Bible verses read and see well-used Bibles on screen. Some characters, pre-conversion, refer to the Bible as “that stupid book” and its adherents to “religious wackos.” Chloe tells her father, “I’m really not in the mood for church,” and hangs up on him; but a kindly woman manipulates circumstances to bring Chloe to church anyway. A Jewish man talks about his own faith while wearing a kippah, and we hear a few references to the Dome of the Rock, the Islamic holy site sitting where Solomon’s Temple once was. We learn that Solomon’s Temple was originally built right next door—and there are plans (in the film) to build a massive temple on the real original site.
In the books, former pilot Rayford Steele admits that he had a “roving eye” before the Rapture, and we meet the flight attendant upon whom his eye landed.
Hattie visits Ray unexpectedly at his home, wearing a work outfit that reveals her back and a good deal of leg. She wraps her arms around Ray’s neck suggestively, but Ray extracts himself. “What almost happened between us, it doesn’t matter now,” he tells her. “I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and you cannot find the truth without Him.”
Chloe and Buck are also dating, but the most physical affection we see between the two of them is an occasional hug or touch.
A man dies in an explosion. Three people are murdered—shot to death. (Guns are fired elsewhere, too.) We hear that one of Buck’s coworkers supposedly committed suicide (though the movie insinuates that that’s likely not true).
Someone is attacked by a knife-toting mugger. The would-be thief knocks the victim down and cuts her arm, and we see a bit of blood. (Later, the victim is told that the cut doesn’t even require stitches—just a bit of antibiotic. We see the wound a bit more as it’s treated.) She sprays the mugger’s face with mace, and he eventually runs off.
We learn that Pastor Barnes was also attacked by the same folks who vandalized his church. He’s lying down in a pew when Ray finds him—not, apparently, knocked out, but nursing a bruised jaw.
We see news clips indicating the world’s chaos and violence—though the most actual violence we see seems to be sequestered to scenes of fires burning in the street and riot police brandishing batons and whatnot. Buck also confronts his boss over horrific footage of people jumping to their deaths being used on his show. We, however, do not see that footage.
We do see the feet of an otherwise unseen character inching to what appears to be a building ledge as the narrator tells us about a drastic rise in suicides. On a news program, we learn that murders have risen by 300%, and suicides are up by 1,000%. (It’s being called a “pandemic of evil.”)
The finale of the film includes a high-speed car chase.
We hear two uses of the word “h—.”
Stonagal and Nicolae Carpathia sip what seems to be whiskey as they discuss their conspiracy to, essentially, take over the world’s entire financial system.
Rise of the Antichrist has been updated, obviously, from the original books (written in an age before social media was a thing). We hear plenty of references to more modern events, especially COVID (both overt and more subtle nods). And while those more political allusions are not necessarily “negative,” depending on your point of view, they’re certainly pervasive.
When a handful of characters ask Pastor Barnes who or what they can trust in this age of misinformation, Barnes tells them this:
“Trust God. Trust Jesus. Trust the Bible. And for literally anyone else, take what they’re saying to you and weigh it against the word. And then you pray, pray, pray. For God’s help, not to be led astray.”
It’s in moments like these when Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist, is at its strongest—when it leans into the ultimate truth of the movie, and the greatest truth of all. It’s at its best when the characters are on their knees, just like the rest of us should always be.
Rise of the Antichrist has some other strong moments in it, as well. The writing can feel crisp and even funny; it clips along at a reasonably good pace, as a thriller should. And it comes with some pretty decent acting, too. (Neal McDonough, who plays Stonagal, is always a riveting presence on screen, be it in secular or spiritual movies.)
But it’s still a bit uneven. For me, the movie’s socio-political allusions slowed down the pace and felt not just unnecessary, but distracting. And fans of the book—presumably the primary audience for Rise of the Antichrist—may find the movie’s departures from LaHaye’s and Jenkins’ work distracting.
I’d like to see this series continue. The Left Behind books were such a phenomenon back in the day. And because they were written as apocalyptic adventure thrillers, the source content lends itself to cinema. Rise of the Antichrist feels like a modest step up from the Left Behind movies that came before—but I think that future iterations can be better yet.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.