The Last Disciple Paperback – Apr 19 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Tyndale House, the publisher of the Left Behind books, the megaselling Christian series about the end times, now presents a new series with a very different interpretation of biblical prophecy. Christian radio-show host Hanegraaff and bestselling CBA novelist Brouwer take readers back to the time of Nero in the first century. As the Roman Empire ruthlessly persecutes Christians, the novel's warrior-hero, Vitas, tries to defend them. But even Vitas can't prevent the destruction of the Jewish Temple—the historical event that sits at the center of this novel. Hanegraaff and Brouwer posit that the Book of Revelation, in code, predicted Roman persecution and the Temple's fall; subsequent novels in the series presumably will walk readers through the rest of Revelation, tying historical events to biblical prophecy. This is, to be sure, middle-brow genre fiction, and not an especially shining specimen thereof. The prose is plodding, with far too many dramatic sentence fragments and a conventional plot. The dialogue tends toward the unsubtly didactic (" 'Jesus, then, uses this rich symbolism?' Darda nodded.... 'You said John was obviously educated. Can you make any other guesses about him?' 'John verges on genius.' ") Despite the series' many flaws, readers who are hungry for apocalyptic fiction may embrace it, though it remains to be seen whether they'll find a first-century apocalypse as gripping as Left Behind's 21st-century one.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story includes a large cast of characters so it is not the type of book you can read slowly a bit at a time over a number of weeks (if you do, you'll start forgetting who some of the characters are). The story is intriguing, and will interest any who like historical fiction and any who want to find out more about an alternate interpretation of Revelation.
Sigmund Brouwer and Hank Hanegraaff have woven a riveting tale, one that has been painted with vivid imagery and haunting details. The characters are well-fleshed out, with much to admire in such persons as Vitas or Sophia or the last disciple, John, but also characters who are so sinister that I shudder to imagine that they actually existed. The historical setting of Rome under the rule of Emperor Nero, combined with his ruthless persecution of Christians, makes for a compelling read, equally entertaining and disturbing at the same time.Read more ›
There are interesting twists, great action, and the gospel message found within. A historical perspective on Revelation.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
AS for the book itself, I believe it was entertaining fiction. It has a complex story line, and it took a great deal of time to see the characters intermingle. In fact, there are still many questions unanswered specifically to interlude the next book in the series. Ultimately, the book was solid and the theology is fully acceptable in orthodox Christianity. Some of the reviewers criticizing the eschatology in this book should research exactly what partial preterism is, and what it entails. While I am inclined to argue that partial preterism makes AT LEAST as much sense as futurism, that is not what a review for this book should encompass. But for the sake of other reviewers, it must be noted that partial preterism is not this heretical nonsense that other reviews might suggest. At least research the subject with an open mind if you are in debate about this (don't take my word or that of an opposing review).
I recommend this book. It is outstanding fiction and corroborates historical fact. Brouwer is a talented writer and the eschataogical position posited by Hanegraaff is plausible (not flawless, but no more so than all other eschatological positions). I would encourage anyone who is considering purchasing this book to do so. Finally, if my review tends to have the "helpful" question answered in the negative, please do not feel my opinion is rendered useless because of this. If you honestly feel that way, I'd rather you come to that conclusion on your own.
Left Behind has been left behind. Hannegraaff has it over LaHaye on the theology and Brouwer has it over Jenkins on the narrative. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, although as other reviewers have noted, it is highly episodic and jumps around between scenes a lot, therefore requiring careful attention. But the characters are credible, synpathetic and have rational motivations, unlike Jenkins' wooden stereotypes. I did however have a hard time accepting Queen Bernice as a good character, given the negative portrayal of her in the Bible and her well-known incestuousness. But it worked. Other historical persons were well presented (principally Gessius Florus, governor of Judea, and to a lesser extent, John, Nero and various members of the Jewish priesthood). The plot was strong, and to the degree that a series novel can be resolved, it was, cleverly.
The story rests on two fundamental ideas - 1) That Revelation was written prior to the sack of Jerusalem; and 2) That Nero was the Beast of John's Apocalypse. These are also the foundation of the theology known as preterism.
What is preterism, you ask? Simply the school of Biblical interpretation that holds that all or nearly all Biblical prophecies were fulfilled within the lifetime of the generation of Jesus, culminating in the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70AD. It stands in stark contrast to the futurist interpretation, whose name is self-explanatory and which arises from (largely aberrant) dispensationalism. Hannegraaff doesn't refer to it that way, though - in the afterword he describes it as "Exegetical Eschatology" and goes on to show an example of why the ideas behind Left Behind are wrong. The novel itself explains why Nero is the most likely candidate for the Beast of Revelation and argues that any self-respecting 1st century Jew would have known almost immediately that his was the name behind 666. From this it becomes clear that Revelation, if interpreted correctly by the Roman authorities, was a very dangerous book to possess.
Now I doubtless have to wait ages for the next installment...
Vilas is sick of war and the blood on his hands so he goes to Jerusalem to report on the Roman in charge of Judea, who is thought to have committed crimes against the Empire. In Judea, Vilas asks Sophia, the former Jewish slave he freed, to marry him although she is Christian and he is part of Nero's inner circle. They agree to hide her religion when they return to Rome as a married couple. However, Vilas has enemies who see his wife as the instrument to destroy him. At the same time, John the Revelator who is the last living disciple is in danger as he comforts incarcerated Christians. John and Vilas meet as both flee the wrath of the Beast.
THE LAST DISCIPLE depicts Nero as the Beast of Revelations as he persecutes Christians. The period is when people still living can provide eye witness accounts about the miracles Jesus performed. Vilas is a terrific representative of the age as he tries to remain loyal to the Empire, but detests the ruler he believes is destroying it. Much historical information is included in this biblical thriller so that readers obtain a taste of life in the first decades following the crucifixion in Rome and Judea, which makes for an enthralling read.
The authors go with the idea that the Tribulation talked about in the book of Revelation has already happened in the first century when Nero was emperor. I don't agree with that premise, but I still enjoyed the book. The authors did a great job describing what happened and may have happened during that time period. I was pulled into the story and could almost see the streets of Rome and Jerusalem and other places they described.
The book was also sobering as it described what kind of person Nero was and how he persecuted the Christians. Although this would be classified as Historical Fiction, books like this should be a warning to Christians to be more careful about who they vote for, even in local elections, as this country is fast heading down the road to being anti-Christian.
I liked the characters in the book, and am looking forward to reading more about them in the next book in the series.
I am disappointed to find that Hank is not able to deal with why Revelation prophesies things in specific detail if it is not literal: things like locusts with stings, darkness, blood, reminders of the plagues that literally plagued Egypt (recall that Hank is always reminding the reader that Revelation recalls the Old Testament) and a new age in which believers reign with Christ followed by another unleashing of Satan. I sympathize deeply with Hank's hankering for metaphors that enable us to relate to prophecy in ways in which mere words would be inaccurate to describe, but I don't see how such metaphors alone could account for the specific claims that the text makes.
I am also becoming increasingly uneasy with how Hank deals with callers who have questions relating to methodology. He seems to be too dismissive of various literal interpretations of passages, and as he sounds dismissive, he sometimes sounds quite dogmatic. I'm always hearing that the blessed hope of the believer is not the "rapture", as if the word "rapture" implicitly had "pretrib" attached to it. It seems obvious to me that the blessed hope is both that the believer will be resurrected and that our present tribulations will not be forever. Deliverance from tribulation is a recurrent theme in scripture; one may argue about whether it means the pretrib rapture, indeed God's acts of protection specifically mentioned in Revelation are also instances in which God does not put believers through wrath, but one dare not say that God capriciously desires we go through tribulation with no hope of deliverance. It is interesting that Harold Camping uses the word "rapture" a hundred times in his sensational "1994", even though he is certainly not pre-trib! Obviously, rapture does not mean pre-trib rapture, and while whether pretrib rapture is scriptural is debatable, whether rapture is taught in scripture certainly is not. I hate it when I hear Hank continually denounce the very word "rapture" itself, as if that were a bad sign. It irritates me to no end to see the graphic language Paul uses to describe believers being taken to heaven with Jesus being stripped of its meaning. There may be some cloud metaphors used in scripture, but we know that there is at least one intance where clouds are literal, and that is at Jesus' assension. There, it is said that Jesus would return the same way he left.
Anyway, before I forget that this review is about the book, let me point out that there seems to be no end of examples like this where Hank irritates me; and it is not because he is not a dispensationalist, but because in some ways, he actually manages to demolish some common ground. These traits seem to keep coming up every time another caller asks about eschatology. And personally, I'm being made to feel silly that I ever bought into a literal thousand-year reign of Christ, as if I should have known better.
One thing that really irks me about preterism, even partial, is that it tends to explain away second coming passages as "70 AD" passages. Gradually, one by one, you lose warrant for the second coming, as piece by piece of evidence for it is explained away. I feel that this is a slippery slope that leads in the end to the heresy of full preterism. I can't help reading Matthew 24 and related passages and feeling that I'm getting glimpses of both 70 AD and the far future. In Revelation, Christ's coming is always being spoken about as coming "quickly" and bringing rewards to faithful believers in its wake. In fact, I think the second coming is even a code-breaker on par with the Old Testament when it comes to reading Revelation. I think it is very difficult to divorce Revelation from the second coming and what it entails. Even as I meditate on Rev 3:10, I am reminded that Jesus promised he would come quickly and bring his rewards with him, that he warned another congregation that if some of their members did not repent, they would soon find themselves in a bed of tribulation, or a heap of trouble to use modern vernacular, and that the plagues that the book will later discribe are simply staggering, even in comparison with the plagues of Egypt.
Then there is the early dating/late dating thing. Hank's argument for the early dating of Revelation is very disarming. To be honest, I myself don't understand why John would not mention the destruction of the temple, but that is more than overwhelmed by the late dating of the conditions of the seven churches. It is simply not likely that around 65 AD, seven churches in Asia minor would have had time to develop as widely diverging characteristics as the text describes, one of them, particular Ephesis, having gone through many changes since Paul had first written to them. By 95 AD, it is more than likely. Also, even if Revelation is written before 70 AD, one would have to wonder why John isn't continually reminding his reader that the temple is going to be destroyed with its prophesied destruction getting nearer. And the fact that a temple is mentioned in Revelation could be interpreted variously as: metaphorically, as indicating the reality in heaven of which the earthly temple is only a shadow, as speaking of things to come, or as speaking of things that have already happened. And no matter how you interpret that one particular passage, it is the only time the temple is ever mentioned. Obviously, Revelation is not a gospel account, and it does not have to read like one. It does not need to dwell on historical events with "this was to fulfill..." clauses attached, simply because it's in a different genre altogether. It is, after all, prophecy, and it serves the purpose of both foretelling and forthtelling.
Besides interpreting Revelation, "Last Disciple" also tries to give an accurate impression of the first century. I am never certain which characters in the book are to be taken as literal and which ones are fictional. It is hard to find anyone else who agrees strongly with Hank that Nero is definitely the Anti-Christ, and at times I think he is too dogmatic. I have developed a fondness for Vitas, and yet I don't believe he's real at all. Never before have I ever gotten any impression that a first century Roman general was ever conciencious about Rome's imperialism or ever tried to "postmodernize" or "enlighten" the empire. As much as I loved the story, I must say that such impressions are misleading. I also find the situation between Vitas and Sophia getting unequally yoked to be morally ambiguous. If Hank and Sigmund write something like that, then they shouldn't be worried about the morally ambiguous fantasy books that are now popular. For in neither case does it do to expect characters to be always perfect.
One thing that impressed me the most was the insight the relationship between Israel and Rome. It makes it easier to understand why Caiaphas would say it was better to let Jesus die, and why Jesus would hold up a roman coin to remind them of their ties to Rome.
I am glad to have a new fascination with the historical character or Nero aroused. It was interesting to read "The Austere Academy", the fifth in the Snicket Series, in light of what I learned.
After all the misgivings that I have about both the history and the eschatology inherant in the book, I would say it is a good thing. It encourages debate, and it engages the reader in productive thinking. I only wish Hank would allow Norman Geisler on his show to give his defense of dispensationalism and to encourage debate. After all, he's written an excellent response to "Last Disciple". And when's that book "E^2" coming out?