The Great Tribulation occurred in the first century during Roman emperor Nero’s reign. Writing within this framework, authors Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer have penned a fast-paced novel (the first in a series) that credibly weaves Biblical teaching into a fictional format.
Much of the action centers on Vitas, a war hero, who walks a tightrope as a member of Nero’s inner circle while maintaining connections in the Roman Senate. In the book’s opening pages, Vitas has become sick of the executions Nero continually orders. Nero’s contempt is directed toward Christians. Some are crucified or cremated alive. Captive believers are released in the arena to be torn to pieces by hungry lions. Their deaths are but entertainment to the morally numb Coliseum crowd viewing the brutality.
Vitas is almost as tired of living in Rome as he is of seeing death on the battlefield. He sees no meaning to life but cannot understand how condemned Christians can face their demise so peacefully.
Those faithful to Nero have learned of a letter written in code by the last living disciple, John, that describes Nero as a beast whose reign will end. That letter and its author must be found and destroyed on the grounds of treason. Because their ease and livelihood depend on Nero’s favor, these insiders will employ deceit and betray and risk danger and death to find John’s letter.
Vitas’ outlook begins to change significantly when he meets a slave girl who is a Christian. He obtains her freedom and passage to Jerusalem. Later he travels to Jerusalem to find her and at the same time renews old friendships, finds new personal dangers, and faces the opportunity to bring to light dark secrets of the local ruler, Flores, who is on a murderous rampage among the Jewish population. One wrong move and his own life will end. Meanwhile his new-found desire for truth, justice, and the protection of life has earned him powerful enemies in Rome. He has no place where he is safe. A wrong act in either city could lead to a swift sentence of death.
But Vitas desires truth more than his own safety, while the enemy scrambles to understand a mysterious letter. Both sides must get to know Christians for the accomplishment of their different goals.
Skillfully, the writers take us into the world of first-century Christians. The debauchery and deceit does not devour their faith. Yet they face internal struggles. Will they remain faithful when soldiers come for them? Once captured, will they remain faithful unto death? Are they sufficiently strong to withstand the pleas of non-Christian family members to bow to Nero? When should they flee persecution? How can they prevent their own circles from being infiltrated?
The novel ends with the coded book still missing and with key characters sailing away from Rome to an unknown destination. They carry with them many unanswered questions and leave behind those who can provide the answers they earnestly desire. Future books in this series will unfold the contents of the coded letter and how the characters learn and react.
The authors bring a refreshing view of hermeneutics into their writing. An explanation of Matthew 24, Revelation l3, and references in Daniel show not only the unity of the testaments but also the importance of interpreting New Testament passages in light of the Old Testament. Clearly the generation of Jesus’ day will not pass away until the Great Tribulation comes and the temple is destroyed. This interpretation is not only Biblical but also the only interpretation to provide comfort to suffering Christians in the first century.
In the Afterword the authors point out that they are more concerned with correct Biblical interpretation than with teaching a specific eschatological view. They then explain why the literal interpretation of Revelation l3 cannot hold up when viewed in light of the entire Scriptures.
The authors have written a riveting account of the Roman world under Nero’s rule. A number of story lines are developed and interwoven throughout the volume. Excruciating suffering is described but not dwelt upon in detail. Such suffering of body, mind, and soul is historically accurate and underlines the Biblical teaching that the Great Tribulation occurred in the first century.
This page-turner can be read for enjoyment as well as for understanding the time of the Great Tribulation. It can be confidently recommended to those who are caught up with a misinterpretation of Scripture.
The story leaves readers anxious to read the next book.
- Byron Snapp
Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia. He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina. He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren.