The Last Disciple The Last Disciple

Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer
ISBN 9780842384384 (0842384383)
Tyndale House, 2004
£8.99

Category: Fiction
Subcategory: Christian
Reviewed by: Phil Groom

Left Behind — or taken in? Thousands, if not millions, of Christians have been, though I'm not too sure which way around it is. No doubt we'll find out when Christ returns.

This novel, set in the 1st Century AD, after the death of Christ but before the fall of Jerusalem, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, explores what life was like for those early Christians under the mother of all persecutions. It explores their faith as they faced horrific torture and death, somehow hanging on to their belief in Christ's ultimate victory and the assurance that those who perished before his return would share in his victory with those who were left behind, still alive at his return. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 for a hint of the anticipation they felt and picture yourself back in those days, when the New Testament was still being written, when those letters and Gospels and that strangest of books, Revelation, writings with which we're so familiar, were circulating secretly amongst the believers.

This is the world into which The Last Disciple will take you, where possession of these documents branded you a traitor and guaranteed your death. If you were fortunate, you'd be used as bait for lions in the arena; less fortunate and you'd be used as a human torch, burnt alive at the roadside to light the way to the arena. Be warned: this isn't a book for the faint-hearted — the horrors our early predecessors faced under Nero are described only too well.

The story starts from an outsider's viewpoint, following Vitas, a high ranking Roman, one of Nero's inner circle of advisors. Against his better judgement Vitas finds himself drawn into Christian circles and into conflict with his Emperor. His travels take him from Rome into Judea, into conversations with a rabbi, Ben-Aryeh, into involvement with an ex-gladiator, Maglorious, into personal, political and religious conflicts between the Jews and their Roman overlords as he searches for answers — and for a woman, a Jewish Christian, with whom he has fallen in love.

Interwoven with Vitas' story is an account of the last disciple, the apostle John, author of the forbidden document that contains the offensive code, the number 666. What does it mean? Who is "The Beast" John refers to?

Whether or not the apostle John is the same John who wrote the book of Revelation is, of course, a debatable point. Hanegraaf and Brouwer assume that he is and set the book of Revelation solidly within that historical context, before the fall of Jerusalem. The "Great Tribulation" isn't some far-flung future event but took place under Nero: Revelation was written to strengthen and encourage the believers facing Nero's persecutions. The Last Disciple is deliberately presented as an alternative to the LaHaye & Jenkins Left Behind understanding of the end-times, and it acheives this remarkably well in a powerful and dramatic retelling of early Christianity.

If, like me, you've found yourself questioning the LaHaye and Jenkins approach to biblical interpretation, you'll find this book a refreshing reassessment of what the book of Revelation is about. If, on the other hand, you're a fan of the Left Behind approach, you may prefer to keep your distance: after all, it wouldn't do to have to rethink your eschatology when the end-times are so nearly upon us — you might get left behind!

Phil Groom, February 2005

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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