It’s only been a week since the mysterious disappearance of millions of people around the globe. Adults who were Christians. Young children. Even the unborn have vanished from their mothers’ wombs. In the ensuing chaos, looting, vandalism and destruction are rampant. And the world economy is crippled and about to crash. What can be done to restore order and calm? Movers and shakers at the United Nations think they have the answer: invite Secretary General Nicolae Carpathia, a man who talks earnestly about peace and unity, to assume a position that is tantamount to "president of the planet."
Explanations abound as to why people are missing. But a small group made up of a pastor (Rev. Barnes), a news reporter (Buck Williams), a pilot (Rayford Steele) and his daughter (Chloe Steele), know the truth. Calling themselves the Tribulation Force, this left-behind quartet believe they have a mandate from God to "work together to share the truth with anyone who will hear it." They realize, however, that they cannot alter biblical prophecy. "There’s no changing the events of the Bible," declares Barnes. "The Antichrist will rule, but what we can do is fight back [and create] our own Tribulation Force to spread God’s Word."
For Ray, fighting back means becoming Carpathia’s private pilot, then using his position of trust for espionage and sabotage. For Buck, it means risking his life to alert the world to the presence of two Jewish "witnesses" at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. For the reverend, it means setting up a triage at his church to assist the wounded, and boldly offering spiritual answers to all who will listen. For Chloe, it means lots of prayer and a helping hand wherever she can give it.
positive elements/spiritual content: Will the rapture take place before, after or during the coming Great Tribulation? This movie, like the wildly popular book series that spawned it, assumes the former. But no matter what eschatological position one takes, Christians everywhere should be excited that people seeking to be entertained will also be exposed to the truth of the Gospel. And Tribulation Force presents that Gospel even more clearly than the first Left Behind film did. The plan of salvation is presented not just once, but several times. It's reported that star Kirk Cameron, who has been studying under author/evangelist Ray Comfort, influenced the re-writing of the script at several key points—most notably an onscreen exchange between Buck and a minor character in which Buck uses the Ten Commandments to evangelize. It’s precise, easy to follow, and sure to produce spiritual fruit.
Elsewhere, Ray leads a suicidal man to Christ. A burn victim asks Christ into his life moments before he dies. Buck’s assistant also becomes a Christian. Rev. Barnes shares with church attendees why people are missing. Buck prays with Ray for a sense of peace, concluding with the words, "In Your Son’s Name." Members of Barnes’ church sing "How Great Thou Art." An angelic visitor sings "Amazing Grace" as Buck and Jewish spiritual scholar Ben-Judah approach the witnesses at the Wailing Wall. Rev. Barnes explains to the other Force members, "[The Antichrist] will hunt down and kill every Christian he can find," a sobering thought the group contemplates before eventually (and not without some struggle) reaching the decision to fight against Nicolae and his schemes. [Spoiler Warning] Although initially convinced Nicolae is the Messiah, Ben-Judah changes his mind, and in a televised speech, explains that Jesus is the real Messiah. His change of heart comes after an encounter with End Times’ witnesses who preach salvation scriptures such as John 3:16. Buck’s assistant eventually comes to Christ after listening to Ben-Judah’s televised speech.
In addition to its evangelistic bent, Tribulation Force may inspire those who are already followers of Christ to investigate what scripture says about the End Times. Does God really mention two witnesses that breathe fire? (Read Revelation 11.) Will the Antichrist control the entire world? (Rev. 13:7-8) And what should Christians living at this time do? (Rev. 13:10) In one scene, Hattie, the Antichrist’s assistant, remarks, "I think [Nicolae] is a Christian," a line that serves as a poignant reminder that this prophesied "Beast" will likely appear good and "religious."
sexual content: When Chloe, who is becoming increasingly interested in Buck, arrives at his apartment, she is met by his female assistant. Chloe assumes the pair is living together until Buck gets the opportunity to explain. Still, one has to question the wisdom of opposite sex co-workers sharing an apartment, even during catastrophic times.
violent content: In search of food, looters break into a van, only to be gunned down by machine gun-toting militia. A flashback scene from Left Behind shows Nicolae callously shooting to death two men at pointblank range. (Neither scene is excessively gory.) The face of a seriously burned firefighter is covered with pus and blood. A distraught man threatens Ray with a gun and then becomes suicidal, turning the weapon on himself. (He abandons both ideas, ultimately, and gives his life to Christ.) Guards attempt to shoot Buck and Ben-Judah at the Wailing Wall, but the pair retreat quickly. The two witnesses, miraculously protected from the bullets, retaliate by spewing fire from their mouths which consumes two guards. (The burning shooters agonizingly stumble to the ground.) An angry Nicolae reacts to Ben-Judah’s speech by throwing his laptop off a table.
crude or profane language: None.
drug and alcohol content: Characters drink wine on a couple of occasions.
other negative elements: When Nicolae meets Ray, then shakes his hand aboard his private plane, the Antichrist’s face takes on a demonic look. (This "negative element" will only be a source of fear for some younger children.)
conclusion: Visiting the Tribulation Force set back in June 2002, I had a chance to chat with Peter Lalonde, one of the two brothers who head up Cloud Ten. He told me, "We haven’t arrived yet. We’re not Spielberg. Still, we want to make every film better than the last. We’re pioneers in a relatively new Christian film industry." And, indeed, these pioneers are doing everything possible to live up to that promise. In the original Left Behind movie, depictions of Rapture-caused devastation come across more like a 6 o’clock news report of a five-car pileup. Missing was the magnitude of this cataclysmic event. But this time around, Tribulation Force is more about dialogue than action. Scenes take place inside offices, planes, homes and churches. And it worked better for me. There’s suspense, intrigue and daring. There are likeable characters worth rooting for. And there’s a concerted desire to convey God’s truth through entertainment. That deserves praise and support from all of us.