Tyndale House, publisher of Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” novels, in 2004 published “The Last Disciple” by Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer, a novel giving another view of the world’s last days.
It is a view I learned to appreciate 50 years ago at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Professor Ray Summers’ class.
Left Behind’s take on the end of time comes from an interpretation of the apocalyptic Book of Revelation. It is a notion called “premillennialism” or “dispensationalism” introduced to the modern world in the mid-1800s by Plymouth Brethren minister John Nelson Darby.
The Rapture, according to Darby’s theology and LaHaye’s novels, will involve a sudden snatching up of millions of the faithful into heaven, followed by a seven-year Tribulation. During this time the world will be ruled by the Antichrist. It will be followed by the return to earth of Jesus and his triumph in the battle of Armageddon.
Seeking to capitalize on the runaway success of Left Behind, Tyndale House followed up with a second fictional series relying on a vastly different interpretation of the Last Days.
LaHaye called the decision by his publisher “stunning and disappointing” and said he felt betrayed. “They are going to take the money we made for them and promote this nonsense,” he said.
The author of the new series disagreed.
“I am elated with Tyndale’s support,” said Hanegraaff, the host of a syndicated call-in radio show, “The Bible Answer Man.”
Though LaHaye’s series has sold more than 42 million copies, Hanegraaff and Brouwer’s novel is more biblical.
Revelation–as penned by John the Beloved Disciple of Jesus and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–was written in a typical Jewish method using code words and phrases. It was written for the Christians who were suffering great persecutions for their faith under Romans in the first and second centuries. It is book not of prophecy but of comfort–written amid sorrow, but with faith that God will ultimately reign triumphant.
The first book in the new series is titled The Last Disciple. The Last Sacrifice followed in 2005. Additional volumes are planned.
“I don’t know what science fiction he is reading,” LaHaye complained about Hanegraaff’s theology. “We believe the Rapture is going to come, not his nonsense that Christ came back in 68 A.D.”
Hanegraaff replied: “I am reading the Bible, specifically Revelation written for first-century Christians. I am not relying on some wooden, literal interpretation that is unsupportable.”
Hanegraaf’s depicts Nero as “the beast,” with Christians in Rome and Asia Minor suffering through a tribulation-like persecution. In the novel the emperor is trying to find the Apostle John’s letter and destroy it. To survive, the early Christians must decipher a mysterious code. Nero’s number is 666, mark of the Antichrist.
Eschatology, the branch of theology dealing with the end of the world, is ambiguous, highly symbolic and subject to varying interpretations.
Revelation was written as a polemic against corruption, debauchery and greed of the Roman Empire. The book is meant to be an encouragement for the Christians of every age living under persecution.
Ray Summers expressed it in the best commentary on the Book of Revelation ever written. It is out of print but worth searching for and reading. The title is Worthy Is The Lamb.
Britt Towery, a former missionary to China, now writes a weekly column for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.
Click here to purchase The Last Disciple from Amazon.com.