“Jesus Triumphant” Review:
Novel Imagines Jesus’ Journey Into Hell
The novel Jesus Triumphant, written by Hollywood screenwriter and director Brian Godawa (To End All Wars, The Visitation), dispels what I agree is a Western stereotype version of Jesus: that He has (and had during His ministry) sort of a mouse-like “let’s just all get along” Kumbaya meekness to Him that, frankly, looks suspiciously like what Westerners feel comfortable with when they discuss religion. We re-make Jesus in our own Western P.C. image, in other words.
However, one look at the Bible and we see how ridiculous some of our white-washing of Jesus’ nature is. For example, when Jesus quotes Isaiah to announce that He indeed is the Messiah (Isaiah 61), we forget that the passage also says that the Messiah comes to proclaim the “day of vengeance of our God.” And when we look at Revelation, we see what that Day of Vengeance can look like when Jesus’ full warrior nature is revealed: He’s charging His enemies from Heaven and slaying all of them. And these are just two quick off-the-top-of-the-head Scriptural examples.
“Jesus Triumphant” takes it a step further. It opens the Scriptures and reminds us that though Jesus was gentle with His sheep and with many (but certainly not all) people, He was downright militant and aggressive in His battle against His spiritual adversary and the demonic hordes who opposed Jesus at every turn. When it comes to the unseen battles of spiritual warfare between angels and demons — between the armies of Heaven and the hordes of Hell — Jesus is more like William Wallace than Gandhi. He is and was, even during His earthly ministry, Hell’s worst nightmare.
This novel is Book Eight in a “theological fiction” series — i.e. a fiction series that has creative license, yes, but it also has enormous theological research behind every detail. The series is called Chronicles of the Nephilim, a series of thriller/adventure novels that trace the real war behind history: the Great War of the Seed — the Seed of the Woman against the Seed of the Serpent, which began in the Garden of Eden as we see in Genesis. The historical research done for this series is so extensive that there’s a separate book devoted to the appendices of research that Godawa conducted to shape the series.
And “Jesus Triumphant” is no exception. Besides watching Jesus take on the demonic principalities that lurked behind every event in the Gospels, we also get a wonderfully immersive guided tour of ancient Israel during Jesus’ time. We get a rich sense of what life was like in those days with the full historical and cultural backdrop painted in vivid detail for us. It was like time-traveling into ancient Israel during the Roman occupation.
We also witness that world, and the drama of Jesus’ ministry and war against Satan, through the eyes of well-crafted fictional characters — i.e. the Maximus-like warrior (echoes of the film “Gladiator”) of Demas, a Hellenized Jewish character who makes a living fighting beasts in front of the mobs who come to coliseums for entertainment. We learn his heartrending back-story and can’t help but get emotionally invested in his fate. And that’s just one example. And the way that Godawa intertwines the fate of Demas with the path of Jesus is truly brilliant and one of my favorite aspects of the novel (though no spoilers here; you’ll just have to read it yourself).
The true wonder of this novel, however, is its imaginative and theologically-informed, well-researched depiction (though with plenty of fun creative license too) of what Jesus’ descent into Hell — after He died on the Cross and before His resurrection — might have entailed. If you’ve been reading the series from beginning to end, this thrilling depiction of the promised Messiah, the Seed of the Woman, finally storming the halls of Hell itself to crush the Seed of the Serpent in unstoppable domination — like Heaven’s perfected version of William Wallace — is an absolute rush to behold.
Two Versions: A More Graphic, Mature PG-13 Version and a Little Less Intense Young Adult Version
What’s interesting is that Godawa has released a normal version of the book, which is more PG-13 (maybe even inching close to R-rated, though it’s not needlessly graphic, so I still say it’s more PG-13). But there is also an altered Young Adult version that’s safe for younger readers.
If you’ve read Godawa’s book “Hollywood Worldviews,” you’ll know that he doesn’t agree that all depictions of violence, sex, and evil in general are innately sinful or wrong. It all depends on the context. Is the material glorifying the evil or is it depicting it in a context that shows how the evil is repulsive? What is the worldview that informs the presentation of good and evil? Is it excessive in its depiction of evil — i.e. focusing on lurid, graphic details just for the indulgent pleasure of it — or does it have a measured approach in which, yes, it might have some moments of sobering, shocking realism or even frightening brutality as the evil reveals itself, but the material restrains itself just enough to accurately expose the evil — and perhaps shock and disturb us with it — without glorifying the evil.
This comes across in “Jesus Triumphant” when the author shows us the evil of the demonic adversaries who make war against Jesus — as well as in its realistic portrayal of the violence and perversions of the Roman Empire. Some of these wicked demonic creatures use swear words or they express detestable ideas of sexual perversion, and the book describes their intentions and actions with enough detail to show the revolting wickedness of the demons. Bottom-line? If you have a teenager who might enjoy reading this story or you’d prefer a less graphic depiction of the evil at work in the story, then pick up the Young Adult version. It softens the depiction of evil throughout the book and removes those more PG-13 elements mentioned above.