The Last Disciple by Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in "The Last Disciple" series.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Several plot lines and perspectives are captured in this story about first-century Rome, and they involve numerous characters — from common house slaves to former gladiators to Nero. Much of it is told through the eyes of one of Nero's inner circle of advisers, Gallus Sergius Vitas. Vitas, whom the Senate still trusts, helps keep the Roman Empire from falling apart. Even though Christians are routinely persecuted, belief in Jesus Christ spreads, due in part to the letters that believers read and study in secret. The most recent letter, circulating throughout the city, describes the revelations witnessed by Jesus' last remaining disciple, John.
An unhinged Nero believes he is a deity and obsesses over anything and anyone whom he deems a threat to his throne. Christians fit the bill perfectly: They believe that the crucified Jesus was the Son of God. They even paint Christian symbols throughout the city, which alarms Nero and Helius. While Vitas does not believe in Christ, he is sympathetic toward the persecuted believers.
A young woman named Leah visits her jailed brother, Caleb, who will soon be thrown into the arena with lions, along with other Christians. Caleb makes her promise to watch the event and signal to him when the deal he made — his sacrificing himself so that a group of captive children would be sold instead of killed — has been honored. Leah watches and signals to him. Caleb's strong convictions spur her to become a believer in Christ.
Meanwhile, Leah's other brother Nathan manages to find an audience with Helius. Nathan's goal is to save Caleb. He talks Helius into staging a debate with a Jewish priest. Nathan tells Helius that Helius can prove Jesus is not who He says He is. The debate doesn't go as planned. Part of the way through it, something they say frightens Helius. He orders guards to murder Nathan and the priest.
Leah joins a group of believers. One of them is a spy, and Roman guards burst into their fellowship meeting and force everyone in the house to renounce Christ and say that Nero is god.
Vitas travels to Smyrna to find his brother, Damian, and buy his freedom. Damian is a gladiator and is scheduled for one last battle in the arena the next day. Vitas purchases Damian's freedom, and Damian becomes a sought-after slave hunter. He is eventually tasked with finding the disciple John. Vitas eventually falls in love with a housemaid, who is a Christian. She is not sure about marrying Vitas since he is not a believer.
At the heart of this story is the conflict between good and evil: Jesus Christ and Christianity versus the Beast. One key difference between this book and others in the "end times" genre is that the authors have written the novel from a preterist point of view. They show how the end-times Tribulation period occurred in first-century Rome. Nero is the Beast described by John in Revelation, and the early Christians being persecuted by Nero are the believers who endured the Tribulation.
Though he does not appear in many scenes, an important character in the book is John, the last living disciple of Jesus. The life-and-death decisions that characters face at the book's closing are related in some way to their knowledge of the most recent letter written to Christians by Jesus' last disciple. John's words are sent to believers throughout Rome, and the storyline is based on the authors' interpretation of John's book of Revelation.
Other Belief Systems
The two belief systems represented in this book besides Christianity are Judaism and Roman emperor worship. All the characters are either Roman or Jewish. Most of the Jews adhere to Judaism, though a handful of them believe in Christ. All but a handful of the Romans are portrayed as heathens who worship emperor Nero; however, a few of the Romans do believe Christ is the Son of God.
Although none of the violence is explicit, several people — namely Christians — are tortured and killed. There are fistfights and knife fights, Christians are fed to the lions, and one character is mugged and beaten on the highway and then set up and accused of rape after helping a girl who is lying disheveled on the side of the road. These types of violent acts happen throughout the book. Queen Beatrice attempts to seduce Nero with the intent of murdering him.
First-century Rome is saturated with gluttony, sexual innuendo and sexual situations. Helius, one of the main offenders, is leering and lascivious. The authors characterize him as a homosexual. It is also implied that Nero is bisexual. Several scenes are sexual in nature, though none of them are graphic. For instance, in the aforementioned incident between Queen Beatrice and Nero, the two meet one night for the sole purpose of sexual relations. They never get that far, however, as Nero discovers that Beatrice is hiding a weapon in her clothes and that she intends to use it to murder him.
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