I wrote this several years ago for a writing exercise, so it’s a little rough, but I wanted to share it today. I had really hoped to have another story to celebrate the Lord’s victory, but I didn’t so here is the old one again.
First Line-October Exercise–It Was Hell Being A Hero.
Title–Three Days in Hell
It was hell being a hero, the angel thought as he watched the man lying on the stone ledge before him. Amused by his cleverness, he smiled slightly and stretched his wings in boredom. The receiving cave was cool and refreshing. Antius enjoyed this part of his job, the quiet and solitude, the peace. The gray granite walls curved inward at the top, forming a rough dome. Inside the cave, a ledge jutted out from the wall before him and an assortment of large boulders lined the opposite wall. Antius was perched on the boulder nearest the man. The top of the rock was worn smooth from countless such vigils. A slight depression was hollowed out to fit his backside perfectly. How many such watches did it take for the backside of an angel to carve stone into a seat, he wondered.
He curved his right wing around until he could touch the blue-black feathers with his fingers. Smoothing and preening the ruffled lower wing, he waited for the man to waken. It wouldn’t be long now.
Why was heaven and earth so concerned about this one pathetic being? There was nothing special about him, except maybe the gaping wounds in his body. The torture had been particularly violent. What had he done to deserve such treatment? Hushed whispers floated in the caverns and caves of this world on breezes of curiosity and fear. No one dared speak aloud of the new arrival, but everyone wondered. Was this the man their lord feared? Could this be the enemy prophesied so long ago? How would their world change? Surely no mere man could have the power to challenge their master. What if he wasn’t just a man?
The outstretched wing folded neatly behind Antius, as he looked closer at the pathetic wretch before him. The man could bleed and die like any other; that much was obvious. He wasn’t a great hulking brute like many of the warriors received here. The muscles in his arms were lean and sinewy as if accustomed to years of manual labor. So, he wasn’t a warrior and he wasn’t a scholar, although he did have a certain intelligent look about him. The eyes, closed in death, were wide-set below the generous forehead. The large hands were calloused from working, with small scars here and there. A craftsman perhaps? Someone who used sharp tools in his trade? His legs were muscled and lean. A traveling craftsman who plied his trade from town to town with no home to call his own?
Soon, very soon, the new arrival would open his eyes. He would feel his wounds and wonder why the pain was gone. He would wonder if it had all been just a bad dream. It hadn’t been. The wounds would close miraculously and he would wonder where he was. He might even ask. Most didn’t. The mind and body were still in a state of shock, and didn’t function properly at first. When he finally realized he was dead, he would look for signs that he was in heaven. There were none. He would notice Antius. Then the complete and awful truth would permeate his being. The face would collapse into despair, and then terror. His voice may have returned by then. If so, he would beg to be released and explain that it was a terrible mistake. They all did. Antius would stand and offer the man a robe to cover his nakedness. The man would be awed by the grandeur of the angel before him. It was natural. Man was a pitiful being crafted of clay, while Antius was a heavenly, well; at one time he had been heavenly, being of light. The angel would stretch his wings upward slowly adding even more height to his already impressive stature. The glistening feathers would radiate tiny slivers of light throughout the cave, and the man would crumble in abject terror.
Antius didn’t enjoy terrifying helpless humans like some of the receivers did. Without speaking or condemning, he would convey to the human that escape was hopeless and judgment had already been set. Then he would escort the arrival to the master for assignment.The man’s punishment would mirror the life he had lived on earth, only he would now be the victim over and over, throughout eternity.God valued the spirit of man because it was eternal. So did Satan. His pleasure at torturing God’s greatest treasure would go on and on without end. Most of these hapless creatures would beg to sink into oblivion, but it was impossible. The spirit and soul of man could never be destroyed, only corrupted.
Antius looked closely as the blue-veined eyelids fluttered softly. The arrival was waking up. Antius waited for the shock to register on the man’s face and then the horror. The large, brown eyes were open now and the wounds began to heal. It was Antius’ turn to be surprised. The battered face resumed its normal appearance. The flayed back healed, covering the internal organs, which had been exposed by the merciless shredding by the cat-o-nine tails. The raw and bloody knees covered with fresh skin. However, the wounds in the wrists and feet and the gaping wound inflicted by a sword or spear in the man’s side remained. This had never happened before. Everyone was restored completely here. Everyone except the arrival.
Antius stood, stretching his wings heavenward. He sighed inwardly. Heaven. His home. Because of his great vanity, it was a home where he was no longer welcome. He had followed Satan in the great revolt, refusing to serve and protect man as God had commanded. He was Antius, a mighty warrior angel. No. He would never be a mere servant to these puny, created beings. God gave them free will to choose which master they would serve. Those who remained in heaven gave up their right to choose ever again. Those who chose rebellion were cast from heaven until the great day when they would all be thrown into the lake of fire. He had chosen freedom. Or so he thought. He had actually chosen to serve a master of hate rather than a master of love. And here, eons later, he was serving man. Greeting him and escorting him to the master.
“Do not fear,” Antius said. He looked into the face of the man and saw no fear. His words had been wasted. There was a deep, penetrating sadness, but no fear. There was also something he hadn’t seen in thousands of years…strength. Strength mixed with something else. Could it be hope? No, hope had long ago been exterminated in this world.
“What is your name?” Antius asked.
“Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth,” the man replied.
He was right. This was the messiah who had come to his chamber. Strange, he didn’t look like a hero. Antius had expected God to send a warrior prince to deliver His people. He sent a rather ordinary, soft-spoken tradesman instead. He pointed to the robe and sandals at the man’s feet. “Put them on. The master awaits us.”
Antius’ orders had been specific. When Jesus arrived, he was to take him on a tour of hell instead of straight to the master. He was to show this savior what manner of people resided in the bowels of the earth. These were people who deserved to be in hell. Jesus would see their crimes and their punishment and, in the end, he would agree justice had been served. When all had been revealed, Antius was to escort Jesus to the grand chamber where Satan would give the man one last chance to listen to reason. If he refused, Satan would try him for the sins of humanity and he would be found guilty. The Son of God was guilty of every crime that ever had been and ever would be committed by man. Antius was astounded at the thought, even though nothing surprised him.
Jesus finished strapping on the sandals and stood upright. He was taller than he first appeared. The soft brown hair, devoid of the matted blood, fell in waves around his face. This was a gentle man who seemed more like a shepherd or teacher of children than a hero.
“Come,” Antius said. “My master would have me show you his kingdom.” Jesus followed the angel without question. They traveled down the main road slowing down only occasionally when Jesus would ask a question or when Antius felt obligated to point out a certain scene or person. Serpents, which were sent from the master to torment souls, slithered by on their way to feast. The serpents were always hungry and there was an ever-present meal waiting for them. Jesus frowned at the sights, but largely remained silent.
News had already spread through the depths of hell that Jesus walked among the lost souls. “Jesus, seed of David, son of God, save me. I will no more curse God. I will praise Him all through eternity.” The frail, elderly woman begged for mercy, where none existed. At last Jesus could bear her cries no more.
“Why do you torture this woman?” Jesus asked. “What is her crime?”
“She was bitter at the calamity that had befallen her life and turned to the black arts to restore her luck. She seduced the young of the village with promises of fame and fortune through her fortune telling. The potions and charms she sold brought many to the kingdom as they lured the people away from God. She encouraged the dark arts and worship to the Master.” Antius was surprised to see a tear sliding down the face of Jesus. Antius remembered heaven even though it had been centuries since his exile. This woman had robbed hundreds of the right to dwell in peace for all eternity. Surely Jesus could see the justice of her punishment.
A bell rang as the woman shrieked in terror. The souls of the damned she had led astray poured into her pit and tore her to pieces until only her chain remained. She would soon be restored and the process would repeat itself again, throughout eternity.
Antius showed the man murderers and the murdered. Scenes of unspeakable violence were replayed so he would truly understand why mankind was undeserving of mercy. Rapists, murderers and thieves. Blasphemers, liars, cheats, adulterers, witches, and every other manner of the damned were displayed. The great and the small occupied this world. The beautiful, wealthy and powerful were no longer greater than the vilest beggar. All had been reduced to ashes…and then restored. Jesus saw it all.
Jesus stepped slower now. He walked as though weighed down by an invisible burden too great for any one man to carry. Antius realized this was Master’s intention. He would be so discouraged by these images that he would give up on these vile humans. He would understand they were not worth saving.
Antius watched the man breathe deeply and visibly square his shoulders before they entered the grand chamber. The sadness remained in his eyes, mixed with great sorrow. Did Jesus know he was lost? The battle had been fought and he was the prize. Satan now possessed the greatest treasure the world had ever known. Mankind had spit on him and scorned him, not realizing they had destroyed God’s greatest gift of all. Now, he would reside in hell with the rest of the sinners.
Jesus walked into the chamber with purpose and renewed strength. The sins of the world still weighed heavily on him, but he repeated the precious words he had lived by all his life. The joy of the Lord is my strength. He smiled slightly; knowing the battle to come was already won. If God be for me who can be against me? No one, he thought, not even Satan.
Satan motioned for the pair to come closer. Antius was his greatest warrior angel. He could have used this superb being in many battles, but he was the angel selected to escort Jesus through hell from the time of the great rebellion. He had guided untold thousands to this chamber, waiting for just this one man to appear. Satan knew this angel would guide Jesus through hell and explain all the depravity and vileness of humanity. Other angels delighted in torturing the souls. Jesus would have turned against the guide and Satan to protect Father’s children. Antius was intelligent and gentle, in his own way. Jesus would identify with that and be lured in to the angel’s disgust with mankind. Satan smiled broadly. Antius could now be spared to return to the raging spiritual battle.
“Come forward, Jesus of Nazareth,” Satan invited. Antius moved forward, slightly slower than normal. Jesus walked beside him, slowly, with purpose. The mantle of sin weighed heavily on him, as Antius knew it would.
“Jesus. Do you know why you are here?”
He raised his head and looked at the filling gallery. Insults hurtled down at the Son of God from all sides. “I was made sin, for the redemption of the world,” he replied deliberately. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whomsoever believed in me should not perish, but have life everlasting. I am the light and the way.”
Satan’s fury was barely controlled. “That whomsoever would believe in you would have life everlasting? Who will believe in you now? You were despised, tortured and killed. These ungrateful creatures wouldn’t believe in you when you were alive, when they saw your power with their own eyes. Why would they believe in you after you are gone?” he screeched.
The gallery erupted with a crescendo of shouts, encouraging the master. Satan raised his hand, silencing the crowd. The howling demons were the last to sink into silence. At last all was quiet.
Jesus looked at the fallen angel with unwavering eyes. Satan flinched. No one had ever been bold enough to look him in the eyes before. Antius hid his surprise well.
“Those who have seen me and believed are blessed. Those who have not seen me and yet believe are the foundation of faith. Their belief will set them free.”
Satan shifted on his throne. “Jesus, you who have been deserted by the Father, why do you persist in this folly? Do you not know that I heard you in your hour of sorrow? ‘My Lord, my God.Why have you forsaken me?’ You who had never been out of fellowship with God were alone. He turned away fro you.” The gallery roared in approval at these words. Satan responded boldly to the encouragement. “Truer words were never spoken. When you needed Him most, He abandoned you. What kind of loving father is this? Do you see Him here? I don’t.” The crowd cheered at his wit. “No, He isn’t here. He sent you like a lamb to be slaughtered and then He left you alone to face your doom.”
Jesus knew the truth of the words and bowed in his head. He had prayed for the cup to pass if it were possible, but had stayed in obedience. “Not my will, but yours,” he prayed. His flesh dreaded the torture he knew was coming. His spirit cried out in pain at the thought of being separated from the Father. He had lived in constant fellowship with the Father and yet, when he became sin for mankind, that bond would be broken. God would turn his face away from him while he was in a state of disgrace. It was the thought of being torn from God, which had caused him to sweat drops of blood. He didn’t reply to Satan, because the words were true. He had been abandoned. This was something that he would do alone, but with the strength of God’s word.
Satan stood and waved his arm. “Behold!” Scenes of wars, death and destruction filled the chamber. Armies swarmed over plains and mountains, carrying flags with crosses. Weapons of untold power fell from the air, obliterating everything and everyone for miles. Blood flowed in rivers. Nation rose up against nation. Innocents were destroyed along with the armies. Entire civilizations were laid waste.
Satan noted the pain and horror on Jesus’ face. “All this will be done in your name. Millions of people will be lost because of you and God. Religious wars will be fought with people convinced you are blessing their every step. YOU! You, the savior of mankind will be its greatest enemy. You will cause the destruction earth and of mankind if you return. Stay in my kingdom and you can avoid all this. Return and you will become a martyr to these zealots so that they may kill and maim each other.”
Jesus turned back to Satan as the scenes faded. “I was born to be the perfect, final sacrifice for mankind. My blood was shed to save them.” His voice grew stronger. “I am not the cause of this horror. You will plant these seeds in men’s minds and tell them it is done for me and the Father. You will convince them the quest for power and wealth is done in my name and attach my image to it. You will whisper in their ears that it is the right thing to do. Do not lay your schemes at my feet, Satan. What is done in hate is done at your altar and not mine. I will return, as was foretold centuries ago. I will sit at the right hand of God. One day, when the Father has decided, I will lead the army of the Lord and you will be destroyed. Man will be free of you forever.”
Satan stung under the rebuttal. “So be it. Then stand trial for your crimes. I will not show you any more mercy.”
He motioned for Antius to step forward. “Who did this man tell you he was?”
“Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus watched as Satan waved his arm again. Satan was still beautiful physically, but spiritually he was devoid of light. It was as if anything good would be sucked into that gaping maw and lost forever. He had once been chosen of God. The leader of the angelic choirs, creating incredibly stirring music of praise and worship. He knew he was beloved of God and yet he turned from that. He rebelled, refusing to serve man and God. All the former light and laughter had turned to darkness and hatred.
Jesus watched the air fill with scenes of sin. Murders, rapes, theft, idolatry and every other sin committed by mankind throughout the ages was present.
“Jesus, do you see the sin of the ages?” Satan roared.
“Whose sin in this?”
Jesus wept. “It is mine.”
“What is the punishment for sin?”
“The wages of sin is death.”
“What kind of death?”
“Eternal death separated from God,” Jesus answered sadly.
“Son of God, how will you pay for these sins? You can never do enough good to repay this debt. There is not enough gold in the world to fulfill this obligation. An eternity would not erase these sins. How can you go before the Father with this burden?”
“Through grace,” Jesus replied softly. “I could never work enough to erase the sin. I am forgiven by grace.”
Satan screamed in fury as sin fell away from the man. He had been defeated in his own kingdom. God’s grace and mercy extended to the depths of hell and released the man from sin. The light of God surrounded the man and flooded into the dank recesses of hell. Chains fell away from the bound. Demons fled in terror at the sight.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
Satan howled in pain and anguish. “Enough!” he roared. “Get out of my sight.”
“Satan, you will be defeated by the word of God. Men will speak his words in faith and you will flee. You are defeated in heaven and earth, and this day you are defeated in hell. These souls you have tormented are set free. You will reign on earth for a short time longer. In that time men will freely turn to their God. They will be redeemed when they admit they are sinners. They will call upon my name as their savior and they will be saved. God’s grace will grant them eternal life with him. Mercy will abound on earth and will defeat your hatred. Your days are numbered.”
“Antius!” The name reverberated off the walls of hell. “Remove this abomination from my sight.”
Antius stepped forward and touched the arm of Jesus. “Come,” he said. “I will return you.”
They walked in silence to the tunnel leading back to the light. The screams of the damned were gone. The sound of their footsteps echoed hollowly as they ascended to the earth. Antius walked with the man into a garden. He stooped to pick a flower as the fresh air and sunlight bathed the two heavenly beings. One returning to the Father. One forever lost.
Jesus looked out over the valley and smiled. “Goodbye, Antius.I thank you for your kindness.”
Antius wondered if grace extended to a fallen angel as he watched the man return to the tomb.