Brian Godawa’s richly immersive new novel, Remnant: Rescue of the Elect, continues his new series, Chronicles of the Apocalypse that brings the reader deep into the world of first century Palestine and Rome in the tumultuous, history-changing years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Like the first novel in the series, Tyrant: Rise of the Beast, “Remnant” confronts the “Left Behind” end-times narratives with a bold and controversial claim: the Western church has forced its modern assumptions upon the Bible’s prophecies about the end-times with a disquieting degree of error.
Or at the very least, the modern Western church has often overlooked the prophetic significance of the destruction of Jerusalem, how it might relate to the Book of Revelation and how first century Christians saw those events.
While Godawa holds to orthodox Christian views about the Second Coming of Christ at the end of history (i.e. that Christ’s return is indeed a physical return that includes a physical resurrection and final judgment), he challenges popular details of modern eschatology that have swept across the evangelical church over the last 100 years. It’s “not your father’s Left Behind,” as the Godawa site says.
But before I get into the theological discussion, let’s talk about what makes “Remnant” such a riveting, immersive book.
The Feast of a Good Historical Novel (Blended With Other Genres)
“Remnant” is an absorbing blend of genres that combines historical fiction with thriller elements of spiritual warfare as well as the intrigue and machinations of a political suspense novel. I especially appreciate the level of historical and theological research–all supported with extensive citations in the appendices–in “Remnant.” As I said about the first book, you get an intensely vivid sense for what it would have been like to be a Christian in the mad house that was the first century. (Though the 21st century might very well be a madder house in some ways. In other ways it’s not. There was some crazy things happening in the first century that we comfortable Christians in the west can’t always relate to.)
But it’s more than just a well-researched, immersive, atmospheric historical journey. It’s a moving glimpse of some of the most beloved figures of the New Testament and the early church. In one of my favorite segments of the novel, the story takes you to Patmos to meet the Apostle John. He was always my favorite apostle (sorry, Peter, and the other eleven, if you’re reading this from Heaven.) Honestly, I had been looking forward to meeting John in fiction form ever since the first novel hinted that it would happen. The Patmos era of the Apostle John’s life has always been one of the most mysterious, compelling elements of the New Testament for me because of the vision he received there.
And now, finally, an author has put Patmos in a vivid novel where you can go back in a time machine and experience what it would have been like for the Apostle John and other Christians who knew him. One of my favorite lines of the story comes from John:
Tears were streaming from John’s good eye. “The things best for us are also the most painful.”
But “Remnant” doesn’t stop there. It’s just getting warmed up. It builds a slow-burn suspense story that moves steadily closer to the event that hangs over the entire narrative of the Chronicles of the Apocalypse: the destruction of Jerusalem. How close it gets to that event I won’t say (no spoilers), but the tension rises steadily and powerfully with multiple storylines running parallel to each other, each one adding to the suspense with every development (which is always a great sign for a novel). It’s an addicting, intense read as “Remnant” gives a vivid account of how political and spiritual events quickly draw Israel closer and closer to that terrible doom of judgment.
What the author is especially good at: methodically building up wide-sweeping events until they climax in an epic, panoramic “moment” when all of the moving parts of the plot collide into a single outcome.
That’s what makes good historical novels so fun to read.
Another element that added an unexpected layer to the story: the dive into the world of the Essenes. This was awesome. They are another aspect of New Testament history that I’ve always been curious about, and I’ve always wondered what their deal was, frankly. What were their customs? Where did they live? What were they like? How were they related to the Jewish Christian community? What did they think of Jesus or of John the Baptist? What role did they play in history besides their famous scrolls?
“Remnant” dives into many of these questions, and this adds yet another fascinating layer to the story.
Encountering Redemptive-Historical Preterist Eschatology for the Second Time
What makes “Remnant,” and the whole Chronicles of the Apocalypse series, stand out from other Christian fiction is its redemptive-historical preterist view (aka orthodox preterist or partial preterist view). This automatically makes it a controversial book in the modern Western Christian context because it argues against the standard Left Behind model of end-times events.
Let me recap what I covered in my review of the first book in this series:
Redemptive-historical preterism says, in a very general nutshell, that most of the end-times prophecies that deal with the rise of the beast, the tribulation, etc. were fulfilled to the tee in the remarkable and oft-ignored events between the Book of Acts and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Godawa, however, like all other orthodox Christians, still believes in the eventual physical return of Christ, the physical resurrection of the dead at His coming, and the final judgment of humanity by Christ at the end of history. Godawa’s partial preterism simply disagrees about all of the events leading up to Christ’s physical return to earth.
It argues that we are missing a great deal of intended meaning in Revelation when we try to divorce it from its first century context and assume that it must be talking about current events in our generation.
All of this was new to me. For years I have held a post-tribulation version of events sort of close to what author Joel Rosenberg believes. If “Tyrant” served as an introduction to the partial preterist view, “Remnant” developed it in greater detail, especially during the “interview” scenes with the Apostle John on Patmos as he explains to other Christians what his writings meant.
(If you feel prompted to research the topic in greater detail, you can check out Godawa’s non-fiction book End Times Bible Prophecy: It’s Not What They Told You.)
I’m still in the process of studying partial preterism and reading the various scholars who are associated with it, but so far I have found it persuasive and hard to gainsay because of the way it connects Revelation to the events leading up to the destruction of the temple. It’s hard to deny how all of the puzzle pieces fit together so perfectly when you look at Revelation in that context.
You don’t have to agree with partial preterism to enjoy this book, however. The central goal is to still tell a good story in a vivid, atmospheric context, and “Remnant” delivers.
One Last Note: ‘Remnant’ Has Some Content That Might Not Be Suitable for All Ages
To any newcomers to Godawa’s books: he does not shy away from depicting wickedness in all its ugliness, and, in this case, “Remnant” depicts both the extreme violence and the sexual immorality of the ancient world without sugarcoating it or downplaying its repulsiveness. The most evil moments happen whenever Nero is in the scene. Nero was one extremely sickening dude. He did things to innocent people (and innocent Christians), both violently and sexually, that makes the stomach turn.
To be clear, what Godawa does not do is write with needless graphic detail or with lurid descriptions. He writes with restraint, but he is not shy about describing with frankness the evil acts that characters are doing. Those dark, sometimes shocking, moments have a purpose, however. His depictions of those actions always expose the true nature of the evil, not glorify it.
As long as you feel prepared to dive into the dark world of first century Rome and those troubled days of Israel, “Remnant” will reward you by taking you back in time and letting you see those astonishing events through the eyes of some of the first Christians in history.