Jesus’ meetings were like happy family gatherings. Each group was composed of a unique blend of characters and Jesus enjoyed the connection he had with each of them.
Thomas’ group was made up of those who had spent the last period of the Previous Age growing together in a particular community and helping it come to know unfailing love. The start of that period had been named the Great Suffering as many people had suffered and died in the calamities that occurred, most of which were the direct result of the imbalances caused in the natural environment by human activity. God had asked Jesus to return and, with the help of the resurrected saints, to set about healing the earth.
The saints Thomas, Anne, Harmony and Yan had been raised when Jesus returned and they had willingly offered to help him show the way of unfailing love on the old earth. They had been sent to a community where they demonstrated agape love to all they met. Four members of that community – Bull, Sylvia, Yvonne and Carlos – had grown to become Christlike, first through experiencing the love shown by the resurrected saints, and then by growing in their relationship with Ruach. These four had become mature enough to be resurrected directly into Zion when the old earth and the Previous Age came to its final end. They were overjoyed to find they had been grouped together to help some of those placed in communities on the New Earth.
Jesus now set about explaining the next steps to the group. He loved to debrief over food that he had prepared.
“Absolutely delicious,” said Yan, putting his bowl down.
Jesus smiled across the table. Not everyone loved his concoctions; they were adventurous in the extreme, as Jesus enjoyed creating new blends of flavours and textures. But he always had some safe bets in reserve, just in case he could see his friends struggling with his experiments.
“You always have been brave with my food!” laughed Jesus.
Harmony grimaced and pushed what was left in her bowl around with a fork.
“Here you are, Harmony.”
Jesus took the lid off a pot, revealing a vegetable casserole that was rather more predictable. He winked and Harmony chuckled as she filled her bowl with the steaming stew.
“Thank you for welcoming each person into their community,” said Jesus, looking around at his friends. “We’ve only raised a small number so far. Only another one hundred billion to go!”
There was laughter at the sheer enormity of the number who were yet to be raised and inhabit the New Earth. Everyone who had ever been conceived – from aborted and miscarried foetuses to the oldest people to have lived in the Previous Age – each was to be brought to the New Earth to either immediately serve with Jesus from Zion or to mature in a community before gaining admittance there.
As they ate, Jesus shared about the challenges that lay ahead.
“The environment selected for an individual depends on how their desires have been shaped by their experiences in the Previous Age. Within their communities everyone will have the opportunity to mature and learn the ways of agape love. Not all processes will be the same; some will be more challenging than others. Every fifty years the populations of each community will be rearranged. These jubilee periods will help the overall process in ways that I will explain later.”
The team were all leaning in over the table as Jesus continued.
“You’re all ready for this. You were chosen because you have matured to truly follow me, in mind and spirit. I know you still make mistakes, but you have come to understand that all situations can be resolved with patience and forgiveness. You are willing to show agape love, because you know that God’s love for you is unfailing.
You will be beacons of agape love in each community, ready to assist members if they ask for help. Your presence will help even the most stubborn of individuals to understand Papa’s heart. We will keep showing everyone agape love for as long as it takes for people to be reconciled. I must warn you that the work ahead will have difficult moments, but remember that you are able to access your dwelling places here in Zion whenever you need time away from your community.”
“Jesus, can I ask you something?” said Yvonne. “If you wanted to, could you shorten the process and make it easier for everyone to understand and demonstrate agape love?”
“The honest answer is no. During my first time on earth, I couldn’t bring even my twelve closest friends to a point of total trust and understanding. But that’s ok. The truest, deepest works of the heart require time and a process of learning. There is no quick fix for the human will. In fact, it is not about will power.”
“So what could people have done before you returned to the earth in the Previous Age?” asked Yvonne.
“Ruach did her best to encourage people to listen to her and follow her guidance. If more people had followed her promptings, the suffering that came upon the earth would have been greatly reduced. Many strived to control their actions, but they didn’t realise that perfection of character is not the goal. Agape love is the destination that everyone is moving towards, and it can accommodate failure and mistakes. It’s the great safety net that will allow all of humanity to exist in peace and safety once everyone is living within its flow.”
As Yvonne considered this, it raised a new question.
“So absolute perfection is not the ultimate goal?”
All the team were listening intently as Yvonne voiced some of the questions that many of them had been carrying. Jesus took a deep breath, looking at the bread he held in his fingers.
“It really depends how you define ‘perfection’. Agape love makes all things work. All things will eventually become good, but not everything will be perfect – people won’t stop making mistakes, being irritating or causing upsets and misunderstandings. People are too complex for that. Remember, all of you experienced suffering at the hands of others, long after you chose to follow me. What made the suffering bearable for you was knowing and trusting that it was not the ultimate truth or power in the situation. Rather, you came to know that agape love is the highest power and that if you hold to it all things will be well in due time. That’s why you’re all here. You all came to see that agape love is the ultimate divine good and you did not compromise your trust and belief to accommodate upset, hatred or revenge.”
Now it was Bull’s turn to speak up. “So there will still be upset and hurt one hundred million years from now?”
“In relationships, it’s impossible to never upset each other, but when all things are reconciled to Papa God and I hand over the New Earth to him, everyone will be rooted in unfailing love. Upset and hurt will happen, but the remedy will be quickly applied.”
Bull understood what Jesus was saying but had no idea how it might be achieved.
“Things will become clearer as the age plays out. Agape love is the reason all things exist. It is the ultimate, deepest meaning in every atom and fibre of creation and in due time it will succeed.”
“Zion is a place where agape love already flows unhindered,” added Thomas. “This is the place where we can come and receive all that we need to be encouraged in our work and to just… be. Don’t forget, this is where the living water is, and the leaves on the trees are for the healing of the nations.”
“Where are those trees?” asked Sylvia.
“The trees are by the River of Living Water,” replied Jesus. “They have real leaves and produce much fruit. Those trees and their leaves have been used as a metaphor for the library of material we have built up recording the experiences of individuals in the Previous Age. The descriptions of those experiences will often be helpful in warning people about the potential consequences of pursuing a particular course of action. Soon a few people from every group in the history of humankind will be represented here. Those who heard Ruach’s voice and accepted her invitation to follow the way of agape love will be formed into teams and, like you, will have a place here in the city, as well as assignments spread out across the New Earth.”
As Thomas’ team had been busy settling people into the communities, it hadn’t been possible for Jesus to fully explain his plans before this meeting. Each member was still in awe of the New Earth, so they were glad to now have the opportunity to ask him their questions.
“In the ages to come, you are going to have plenty of questions,” laughed Jesus. “It takes time to figure all this out. I can only tell you what I see Papa doing and what I know from our communication. One day I’ll hand the New Earth over to him; all things will accept him as their Father and creation will finally be grounded and saturated in agape love.”
Jesus’ voice trembled with emotion as he continued. “I cannot tell you the beauty I’ve seen. No words can possibly describe it. Every inspired work of art, be it a painting, dance, music, book or film, all of it is reaching for what is to come. The crescendo at the completion of this symphony will be beyond what any eye has seen or ear has heard.”
Jesus began to weep gently, tears running down his face and into his short black beard. He let them flow.
“The wonder and the beauty of it all! I was there when Papa spoke it into existence. But that was just the start. When I hand it over, it will be complete, and everything will be restored and reconciled. Agape love will not have failed anyone or anything. Thank you, my friends, for believing and for reaching beyond your own understanding and your pain. Thank you for trusting me and for joining me in our Father’s work.”
A silence descended on the table. Each team member was lost in the wonder of Jesus’ words. For a few precious moments, each one could see and feel the crescendo Jesus described as if they could take it in their hands and eat it like the food before them. Following Jesus was hard at times, but at junctures like this it was more than worth every struggle, every hurt and every minute spent outside a personal comfort zone.
Everyone joined in the washing up after the meal. Jesus always insisted on having his hands in the suds, while the others wiped things dry and put them away. It was a time for telling stories, cracking jokes and some enjoyed playfully whipping each other with rolled-up tea towels.
“I’ve been so looking forward to some time here,” grinned Yvonne excitedly to Carlos. “The beds are so comfy, and the views are spectacular from every single room.”
“Have you ever walked by the River of Living Water in the cool of the evening?” Thomas asked Yvonne. “Light hits the golden streets, and everything glows in a perfect amber hue. Maybe we can go down there now?”
Jesus turned away from the sink and nodded, “Go ahead. Get down to the riverside before the light changes. We’re all done here.”
Thomas and his team bade Jesus goodbye as they quickly gathered themselves and stepped outside onto the golden streets.
“I guess some things weren’t metaphors then?” mused Harmony to Yan as they set off at a brisk pace towards the river.
Yan laughed, “No I guess not! We have golden streets, there is a river of living water lined with trees, and there are those huge gateways. It seems that the visions depicted in the Book of Revelation really did foretell of this place.”
Harmony and Yan came from a similar time period in history and could relate easily despite coming from different sides of the planet. For a team of people from across the centuries, the eight of them had developed a remarkably good understanding of each other through their many years together.
The sky seemed to roar into a new phase of luminescence as the heavenly bodies moved in their orbits. The city around them was beginning to throb with warm golden light as the pavements reflected the changing colours. In various windows and doorways of the dwelling places people began to appear and stood in wonder, enjoying the spectacle unfolding before their eyes.
The River of Living Water seemed to dance and sway as the friends looked out. It was a wide river, but the other side was clearly visible. Small groups of people were gathered on its banks; some dangled their legs in the water, while a couple were drinking from their cupped hands and splashing each other.
“Every summer evening in my hometown was pointing towards this,” sighed Harmony. “We used to say it was like heaven on earth when the sun set over the delta and the kids would swim and play.”
“It was the same for us,” said Anne. “We would keep cool by playing in the Jordan. There were places where you could jump in and some where it was deep enough to dive. We used to say it was ‘like heaven’ too.”
“Seems like all the good things we knew were just whetting our appetite for this,” said Carlos as he gazed out over the stunning vista before him.
The golden streets began to mellow as the intensity of the moment wore off. The sound of laughter and conversation could be heard throughout the city as people began to settle in for the night. The colours in the sky continued to wax and wane, continually changing the reflections on the streets of Zion.
Thomas’ team made their way back from the riverside to their dwellings for the night. Everyone had their own room and went to bed full of gratitude for all they had heard and seen.
Sleep was different in Zion. Peace hugged each sleeper close, and the pure bliss of complete safety meant that all dreams were sweet.
In the morning it was time for the group of friends to move back out to the communities to which they had been assigned. There would be no more additions to these communities, as the first jubilee period was about to officially begin.
Each pondered what new experiences awaited them as they bade each other goodbye and set out.
Anne and Harmony were to return to the settlements in the woodlands in Beulah.
“Why do you think we get to be so close to Zion?” asked Anne.
Harmony thought for a few seconds. “I think it’s because those who were victims of much abuse in the Previous Age are often humble of heart and open to love. I think Jesus wants them to know they are close to him.”
Anne nodded in agreement. “These people have certainly been traumatised and their lives have been so full of suffering. It will be good for them to be in a safe environment and to know they are loved. It will need much care and attention to bring out their true identity – not as victims but as beloved children of God.”
Anne’s settlement was a ten-minute walk away from Harmony’s. It also had eight cabins surrounding a small communal space.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Anne waved Harmony farewell as she headed off to her clearing.
On the side of a valley further into the woodlands was the kindergarten where Yvonne and Yan were helping newly reunited families. When babies and children had died in the previous age, they were reunited with resurrected family members and grew up in small communities.
Yan cast an attentive eye over the dwellings as they entered the village.
“I like how children are reunited with relatives,” he said to Yvonne. “Stillborn children can grow up in a family, as they would have done had they lived.”
Yvonne was a bundle of energy and fun. She was enthusiastically waving and pulling faces at some of the children as they watched from their windows. Some ran cheering from open front doors, approaching Yvonne expectantly.
She turned and smiled at Yan as several small children pulled at her arms.
Yan was a wise and calming influence and was a good friend to adult family members such as Johan. The village was situated on a hillside with slides and swings and other play equipment built into almost every nook and cranny. The wooden houses were all different colours and there were views out across the treetops. In the distance, the huge radiant walls of Zion could be seen.
“Yan, you must come for some tea and cakes,” called Johan from his balcony. “I want to thank you for all your help yesterday.”
Yan looked up and saluted Johan. “Ok! I’ll come in an hour or so.”
Yan loved to sit and talk with people. He would listen more than he spoke, but when he did speak, it was with wisdom and consideration.
“You get real tea, while I have make-believe tea parties sipping air from tiny wooden cups!” laughed Yvonne.
“You wouldn’t change it even if you could,” replied Yan with a chuckle.
“True!” called Yvonne as she was dragged by a mob of giggling children towards their hamlet of Wendy houses.
Carlos and Sylvia entered their village, a picturesque settlement of small thatched cottages.
“Off you go to your end then!” said Sylvia, jokingly pushing Carlos’ shoulder.
The women lived at one end of the village and the men at the other.
Carlos smiled ruefully. “I know exactly how today will go. I’ll see a few solitary men trudging around, hands in pockets. Or there’ll be a small group huddled together complaining how they have been wronged and plotting ways to gain the upper hand. None of them will even look at me.”
“Well at least you get a quiet life,” replied Sylvia. “I can already envisage the women outside my door complaining that she said this and they said that and so-and-so always does whatever… Ugh, it’s exhausting! This would be such a beautiful place to live if it wasn’t for all the gossip, griping and envy.”
Carlos nodded sympathetically. They were both relieved that they didn’t have to get too involved most of the time, so there were still plenty of opportunities for them to enjoy the New Earth.
“Always grateful for the lift!” said Bull to Cedric as they soared over the terrain below them.
Thomas held out his arms, getting a thrill from letting go of Cedric’s back. The air around him felt increasingly arid as they approached their destination.
The settlement where they had left Yuri would be their home for the coming jubilee period. Thomas and Bull had been through enough to feel both excitement and trepidation about the challenges ahead.
“This will certainly be no picnic,” said Bull.
“True,” replied Thomas, arms still outstretched. “There are going to be some difficult days ahead.”
The jubilee period would be regularly interspersed with time back in Zion, but they would have to live among these hardened and violent men for many years.
“I’ll be watching,” said Cedric in his deep resonant voice.
Knowing that the giant seraph would be watching over them was a great comfort to Bull and Thomas. Jesus wouldn’t have asked them to suffer without providing them with a clear sign of his presence and ultimate authority. Cedric was a reminder that everything would be working towards the reconciliation of all things.
“Hold on,” warned Cedric as he began his descent. Swooping low to land at the edge of the gorge, Bull and Thomas knew they’d have to climb down from Cedric’s back and be delivered in the same way as everyone else.
Cedric reached out a giant arm and gathered the two men to his chest. He took off again and dived down into the camp. After touching down, he released his passengers, nodded to them and flew off towards his nest on the cliff top.