Awareness returned to John with an unexpected sense of calm. Eyes still closed, remembering his previous agony, he touched his throat, testing with his fingertips for a wound. No. No blood. No pain. But he found a scar and traced its subtle ridge…slowly encircling his neck. How could it have healed so quickly? How could it heal at all?
Opening his eyes, John found himself in a limitless space of grayed hush. Others were here. He sensed them nearby. One presence in particular—perfect and all-encompassing—permeated this place, lulling John with a peace surpassing any he had ever known.
You are here, he thought to the Spirit. And I am not where I was. Again he touched his throat, still amazed to find it restored. I am not what I was…
Memories of the past intruded now, shaking his tranquility. Fears and inadequacies gnawed hard and he cried to the Spirit in anguish. I have failed!
The Spirit answered in calm, wordless clarity. You did not fail. But my work is incomplete. You will complete your work, when His time is completed. Until then, rest. Obedient to the Holy One, John settled into the hush and awaited his liberation, at rest with the righteous souls brought to this place before him.
And with those yet to appear.
A joyous calm slipped over him as the Spirit promised, Your Redeemer nears!
Joseph understood what had happened.
He was in a place that wasn’t supposed to exist: Sheol.
I’m alive! My soul lives! I’m here… His elation faded as he remembered his vulnerable young family. How could he protect them from this distant place? From beyond time?
In despair, he appealed to the shaded hues of quiet surrounding him. The Lord’s Spirit was near. Joseph felt the blessed presence and pleaded with all his soul’s might, They need me!
The Spirit answered his soul in reassurance, with a promise. They are remembered. Rest and wait. He is near.
Restless, the Adversary traced the fringes of the place he could not enter, not permitted because of It.
And pacing from here to stars in protest would avail nothing. Nor would an audience before the throne of Almighty Him, arguing legalities that should be considered. “The earth is mine—it was given to me. This place is also within my realm.”
Yet the Almighty sheltered these souls within this place…these pathetic beings, no less contemptible now that they were freed from their dust-formed flesh. Why did He protect them so avidly—as if they were treasure?
The Adversary continued his zealous watch, peering inside, longing to grasp those protected souls and confront them with all their wrongs, to prove their unworthiness of the Almighty’s regard. But they had somehow escaped him.
He must exploit other options.
Anticipating further maneuvers, he departed, calling his shadow-silent followers to ensnare those yet-walking still-breathing souls bound by flesh and time.
Jerusalem’s House of the Lord dazzled in the late winter sunlight like a bride in purest white, its pristine marble crowned with gold, its whole presence perfumed with incense that beckoned those who loved her.
Feeling like a bride herself, Elisheba climbed the crowded southern stairs to the Lord’s House, varying her pace to match the differing treads of each stone step. How difficult it was to conceal her eagerness when each step took her nearer to her love, her husband, Joseph.
And to You, she told the Lord, sensing His presence—delighting in His Spirit.
A small body collided against Elisheba’s legs, catching at her blue tunic and veils, almost making her trip. Her four-year-old, Benjamin, righted himself, staring at the Roman soldiers who lingered near the steps, all conspicuous in crimson cloaks, their helmets, weapons and shields glinting in the sun.
“Watch where you’re going,” she scolded softly, taking her son’s hand.
“I am.” But the little boy continued to stare at the soldiers, his brown eyes wide. Clearly their weapons fascinated him.
“Really!” Elisheba began in pretend complaint. Glancing beyond the edges of her sheer blue veils and head-covering, she stopped suddenly, realizing that the soldiers were watching them—watching everyone—hard-eyed, as if prepared to attack anyone who caused a scene.
She tightened her hold on Benjamin’s hand. Should she should turn around and take him home? Her servants still waited in the huge public courtyard before the steps, guarding her small blue-curtained litter. They could leave almost immediately.
But what if Joseph was in danger?
Elisheba’s stomach clenched at the thought. Trying to reassure herself, she prayed beneath her breath, “Please shield us, Almighty Lord.” She urged Benjamin up the myriad steps, moving quietly amid the other visitors and worshipers past the temple’s usual Levite guards....