Brian Godawa’s thrilling new novel, Tyrant: Rise of the Beast kickstarts a new series, Chronicles of the Apocalypse that promises to 1) re-animate the astonishing lives of first century Christians with rich historical detail and emotional power; and 2) confront 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.
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.
But before I get into the theological discussion, let’s talk about what makes “Tyrant” a worthy novel that readers will enjoy whether or not they share Godawa’s theology about the end times.
A Powerful (and Horrifying) Front-Row Seat to Nero Caesar’s War Against Christians
“Tyrant: Rise of the Beast” brings to life the historical context of first-century Christianity, and it does so with power and carefully hewn detail. Godawa is known for the exhaustive amount of research he does for his stories set in the ancient world, and I dare say that “Tyrant” takes it to a new level, especially his unflinching look at what Rome and the terrifying reign of Nero Caesar was like.
One thing was evident: Nero was nasty–beyond nasty.
In fact, he might have been one of the nastiest, most purely evil leaders in history.
I had a general notion about Nero going into the novel, but I had no idea about the true extent of Nero’s horrendous acts until I read “Tyrant,” which wields the wealth of historical knowledge that scholars have about Nero to full effect. Godawa carefully supports everything with citation after citation in the novel’s narrative, and I found the diversions into those footnotes, which explain the research behind each historical claim or event, gripping. Coming back to the novel’s narrative after reading a footnote and knowing that the particular event you are reading at the moment actually happened added a compelling weight to the story. It made the novel very difficult to put down.
It’s not just the things that Nero did. Sadly, such atrocities are not uncommon among the many vicious leaders who have taken the world stage in history. It is how Nero reveled in the evil with a shameless, wholehearted, almost childlike delight.
In fact, Godawa’s vivid, stomach-turning depiction of Nero reminded me of something C. S. Lewis wrote in the novel “Perelandra” when a character encounters Satan in a possessed man’s body: “…he had never before seen anything but halfhearted and uneasy attempts at evil. This creature was wholehearted. The extremity of its evil had passed beyond all struggle into some state which bore a horrible similarity to innocence. It was beyond vice as the Lady was beyond virtue.”*
This same horrifying, childlike, wholehearted commitment to evil is seen in Godawa’s Nero, and it sets fire to the pages (and makes you burn through the book in hours) as you watch the monstrosity of Nero unfold and feel terror for the Christians.
But what’s even more gripping about this novel, and what really creates the emotional touchstone for me, is whenever the Christians appear on the story’s stage and we see that bright light in contrast to the darkness, especially as the Christians interact with the Romans and Jews who persecute them. Amidst the madness and hell on earth created by Nero and the moral chaos of Rome, the courage that must have been required to be a Christian, to be a lamb among such filth-craving wolves, is absolutely astonishing.
The book, however, does more than just highlight the courage it would have taken to stand for Christ in that great tribulation. It also shows that, despite all these terrible things, nothing could stop the power of Christ, the will of the Father, and the unrelenting presence of the Holy Spirit, even as the worst took its course. (And if Christians found strength in Christ to endure that tribulation, we can find new life in Him to endure the hardships in our own lives as well.)
“Tyrant,” in other words, allows the reader to feel the heat and see the light of Christ’s holy fire burning brighter than Nero’s fire.
It also allows us to see the true depths of fiery persecution that Christians endured during that time. It’s a good reminder that words are cheap. It’s the actions that matter. As the character Severus says in Godawa’s story: “Forgiveness is much easier to proclaim than to provide, is it not?” (One of my favorite lines in the novel.)
Encountering Redemptive-Historical Preterist Eschatology for the First Time
What makes “Tyrant: Rise of the Beast,” 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 very confidently (and persuasively, I must admit) argues against the standard Left Behind model of end-times events.
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.
All of this was new to me. For years I have held a post-tribulation version of events close to what author Joel Rosenberg believes. To better understand Godawa’s viewpoint while reading “Tyrant,” I picked up Godawa’s non-fiction book End Times Bible Prophecy: It’s Not What They Told You.
I was stunned, to say the least. I’m still reeling from it, frankly, and attempting to process it all.
While I’m still searching out this matter (and will probably take the next year to do some serious reading and soul-searching about it), one thing is indisputable: in “End Times Prophecy” Godawa shows very clearly how we have forced Western thinking and Western assumptions onto a long list of end times prophecy verses in the Bible. It seems that we have forgotten sola scriptura, downplayed the immediate historical events following Jesus’ ministry as irrelevant, and, as a result of those two errors, badly misinterpreted many key verses. And it seems we’ve then taken those key mistakes and scaled them to a massive cottage industry of publishing and media.
I’m still processing all of the above and haven’t yet landed on final conclusions about my own views on the matter, though so far I have found it very difficult to find any faults in Godawa’s arguments.
What I especially appreciate about Godawa’s writings on the topic is his humility and openness to change his views if he finds serious errors in them. This soft-heartedness comes through in the writing. I wish that kind of attitude was more prevalent in end times discussion. He makes it clear that, ultimately, he is not going to be dogmatic or angrily divisive about the particulars of end times theology, and he keeps his eyes on the fundamental prize that sits above all else: knowing Christ and bringing the hope of the Gospel to a hopeless world.
One Last Note: ‘Tyrant,’ While a Very Powerful Novel, Also Has Some Gritty, Mature Content That Might Not Be Appropriate for All Ages
If you’re already a fan of Godawa’s fiction, you already know this, but to any newcomers to his books: Godawa does not shy away from depicting wickedness in all its ugliness, and, in this case, of ancient Rome, Nero Caesar, and the demonic principalities who roam and growl and pace throughout the story as the puppet masters behind the evil rulers.
To be clear, what Godawa does not do is write with needless graphic detail. He writes with restraint, but he is not shy about describing with frankness the evil acts that characters are doing. In “Tyrant,” these acts include extreme sexual immorality and violence. Those dark, sometimes shocking, moments have a purpose, however. His depictions of those actions expose the evil and break the heart of the reader in a healthy way. The adulteress who is caught cheating on her husband is not glorified in the reader’s eyes, but pitied, for example. We see the tragic consequences that these actions have.
There’s a redemptive purpose, in other words, to these dark depictions in the novel, but they are indeed dark. A novel about Nero Caesar that wasn’t dark would not be an honest witness of history.
As long as you feel prepared to dive into the dark world of ancient Rome under Nero, “Tyrant” will reward you by giving you a front-row seat to history and to the amazing way that Christ blazed His light in the midst of all of it. Godawa’s extensive research turns the novel into a time travel machine.
I’m already eagerly waiting the second time traveling trip, Book Two in the Chronicles of the Apocalypse called Remnant: Rescue of the Elect.
*Lewis, C. S.. Perelandra: (Space Trilogy, Book Two) (Kindle Locations 1872-1874). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.