February 11, 2029, Desert, Jerusalem
Seiko returns from her records research in Jerusalem and finds us sitting in the shade of the largest boulder cluster we could find. “Well, I’ve finished mapping out the known tunnels that run under the Temple and the Dome of the Rock. There are ten that have been excavated and recorded in the city’s records. I can’t find any hint of the tunnel that might hold the Ark of the Covenant.
“Here’s an interesting tidbit: Every tunnel excavated so far had ‘wall vaults.’ These vaults varied in size from a shoebox to a large closet. They held treasures, weapons, and survival supplies for the priests. To protect the items from being taken by invaders, the wall vaults were blended into the tunnel walls with clay and dirt. The only way to locate them and to know what is stored in them, is to know the Hebrew lettering and the symbols from the map key.
“All of the vaults of the known tunnels have been emptied, and there’s no record of anything remotely close to the Ark of the Covenant listed as a historical find. This would seem to imply the tunnel we seek has not been located and searched. There is one possibility for the lingering mystery: for the last fifty years, it’s been illegal to search the tunnels known to pass under the Dome of the Rock. There is a chance the Ark of the Covenant is hidden in a yet-to-be-discovered tunnel crossing that area.
“The laws are still in effect and very clear: It’s forbidden to explore the tunnels that run under the Dome. But, since the two undiscovered tunnels do not exist in the records, we wouldn’t be technically breaking the law to explore them to see where they go. One word of caution: the ban on the exploration of the ten known sacred tunnels is a huge condition of the developing peace treaty between the Islamic and Jewish faiths. If we were to find an unclaimed tunnel, the law is a little fuzzy. It might fall under the New Discovery law. This would make a new tunnel open for claim—and exploration—until it is legally classified otherwise. In this case, the courts would be called upon to decide ownership of any new discoveries within the newly-identified tunnel.
“If this information is correct, and the maps are correct, the logical conclusion is there are two undiscovered tunnels whose entrances are hidden here in the desert and disguised well enough to have eluded discovery for centuries.”
Sterling weighs in. “What is it about these people that made them hide things and make finding them such a big game of mystery? They remind me of pirates leaving maps to their buried treasure.”
Tova answers him. “I know it’s frustrating, but it’s like escape rooms that are popular all over the world right now. Everyone loves an adventure and a challenge. Some of our ancestors were all about the clues, the mystery, and the riddle. One can assume they only wanted the extremely intelligent and resilient to uncover and take possession of their treasures. They planted clues in their religious writings in hopes their own people would be the ones to make the discoveries.
“I do have a thought, though. Many things surrounding the Jewish religion are about the numbers. There are many that repeat. When it comes to the Temple, the number that keeps repeating is twelve. We have already assumed there are twelve tunnels. Is there any indication the ten already identified were tied to the twelve tribes of Israel?”
Seiko straightens her back. “Are these the names of the tribes?” She shows the records she is holding to Tova.
Tova jumps to her feet. “Yes, these are the Hebrew names of the tribes of Israel. The tunnels have been discovered for Gad, Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, Naphtali, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, Reuben and Simeon.” She stops to count out on her fingers. “The missing ones are for Judah and Benjamin.”
Seiko is intrigued. “Keep going.”
“Judah was the fourth son of Jacob. Benjamin was the twelfth. If I were to guess, the Ark of the Covenant is in the tunnel of Judah. This is the line of King David, King Solomon, and ultimately, Jesus. As I look at this diagram you brought from the city’s record keepers, I see a pattern in the layout of the tunnels. Do you see what I see? There seems to be a missing tunnel that should run through this solid area. The twelfth one would probably lie outside of the pattern we see. Benjamin was the beloved youngest son of Jacob. It would make sense that his tunnel is protected outside of the excavated area. If we think it’s the fourth tunnel, the outlier doesn’t matter.”
Seiko folds up her map of the tunnels. “I can’t suggest a spot for an opening, but I can tell you the symbol would look like this.” Seiko shows the Hebrew sign for the number four to the group. It is followed by the fourth Zodiac sign of Cancer.
“Excellent sleuthing work team. I’m impressed.” Seneca flashes us a knowing smile.
“Whoa, sorry for interrupting, but what is that in the distance?” Liam points towards the western plain. A wall of red is heading in their direction. “Seneca, is that a sand storm? We experienced a small one in the Gravity Pod, but that looks like a serious wall of sand headed our way.”
Seneca confirms Liam’s suspicion. “Yes, it’s a sand storm—a very large one. Don’t be alarmed, it doesn’t do more damage than a small one. It just takes longer to pass. Gather your backpacks and follow me. We have to find the tightest and tallest crevice we can find between the boulders.”
Even as we squeeze into a crack of the large desert rocks to take cover, we find ourselves inside the storm. The wind is making it hard to stand upright. Little by little, the wind arms itself with grains of sand. It’s hitting my exposed skin and feels like a thousand bee stings to my face and hands. My breathing becomes labored as each inhale is filled with more and more dust. At times, it feels like I might suffocate. I’ve had this same fearful feeling with underwater SEAL training and when I was dying on the hillside.
Making things worse, is the fact I can’t open my eyes. They’re already burning and watering because I waited too long to close them in the first place. Tears are crawling down my face. They move slowly as they push their way through the thick dust covering my cheeks. I can’t hear anything, I can’t see anything, and I can barely breathe. I stand there holding Tova, hoping it will end soon.
After fifteen minutes, the storm subsides. We take turns knocking the sand off each other’s shoulders and backs and out of our hair. I need to blow my nose and spit out the sand in my mouth. In all my years of playing in sand, it never occurred to me it could be weaponized.
As I brush the dust from my backpack, I’m startled by Kimmy’s screams. “Look, look! This boulder has markings. Seiko, these are Hebrew letters, right? Isn’t this what you told us to find?”
Seiko steps to the markings and shakes her head. “Unbelievable. Here is the letter for Judah, and here’s the emblem for the fourth Zodiac symbol. Almighty is amazing! He used a sandstorm to move us to the entrance of the Fourth Tunnel.” She joins Kimmy in the happy screaming.
I’m happy too, but have learned not to celebrate until the mission is completed. “I see the emblem, but I don’t see a tunnel. What I do see is a rock wall.” I pick up a small stone and start tapping on the boulder. “It’s hollow! Liam, Tony, Sterling—help me pull it open.” We put four men on the job, and the rock begins to budge. After another good pull, the boulder rolls along easily on a row of small round rocks perfectly aligned above and below the doorway.
Once the door is pulled back, Liam steps inside. “This has to be the one. It looks completely undisturbed. There are cobwebs everywhere. Look, here are torches—and containers of some liquid. I’m guessing this stuff burns. Seneca, what do you think?”
Seneca is grinning ear to ear. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you have found it! Commander Cunningham, what are your orders?”
“I say we wait out the evening hours until the sunlight is back. The night is setting in, and the temperatures will drop quickly. Let’s sit tight until daybreak. We can use the time to master the use of these torches and to get the sand out of places it has not yet unlodged—but will. Trust me, you will need to do that.”
“Sounds like an excellent plan, Cunningham.” Seneca’s smile gives way to his serious look again. “Well, my friends, I have to part ways with you now. This Mission is yours and yours alone. I cannot assist you any further. When the light breaks, I’m heading back to the opening of the Portal. I will wait there for you to return with the keys. I must tell you, there is a deadline for returning the keys to Heaven. Tomorrow at midnight, the gates of Heaven will close. You must find the Ark, retrieve the keys, and return them to me at the Portal no later than midnight. Is everyone clear on these instructions?” We answer him with our nods. “Great, let’s enjoy the evening. Liam, are you still carrying the music box you smuggled in through the Pearly Gates? If you do, we could use some tunes about now.”
“Hey, I didn’t smuggle it in. I just didn’t claim it.” We all enjoy a laugh as Liam puts on some classic rock mixed with some inspirational music of the faiths. The music plays as we take turns undressing and redressing behind the rocks to empty the sand and dust from our clothes. Sterling and Tony gather some sagebrush and dried wood and start a bonfire. This celebration of locating the cave is just what we needed to recharge ourselves for the rest of the Mission.
The girls start to dance and eventually pull Liam and Tony onto their rock dance floor. Their laughter is filling the evening air. I have something on my mind and see a chance to have a private talk with Seneca. I walk over to where he rests on a large boulder away from the music.
“Seneca, when you told us about Lucifer’s limited resources and her battle strategy, I realized there are some things about Almighty I don’t know. I must admit I was a lukewarm follower of my faith. I knew I believed in Almighty, and I surrendered my life to him, but the rest of my knowledge is pretty much limited to Vacation Bible School. Can you share the highlights for me that might apply to these End Times?”
Seneca smiles and taps on the boulder. “Sure, pull up a rock and let’s talk.” He laughs at his joke. I find a place near his feet and stretch out. “First of all, don’t disregard your education in Vacation Bible School. It’s about as pure a source as one can find. Almighty isn’t complex. Even small children can understand His plan—and they are much better at understanding faith. So, beyond Lucifer’s battle strategy, what’s troubling you? I’ll offer up any and all of my observations from my one hundred years in Heaven.”
“That’s right, 1929-2029. One hundred years. That’s a long time.”
“Not really. Once you live outside of time, you will see it’s not about marking years. It’s about absorbing deeper into experiences. Why don’t you start with a question? Most people have the same ones.”
“Alright. If I were to guess, most Millennials ask you about the other religions and their relationship to Almighty. What happens to someone who never hears about Jesus, or doesn’t believe he’s the Messiah? What if they don’t ever hear about Almighty’s plan to cover sin? Are they going to Heaven?”
“That’s one of the most asked questions, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is—and as you astutely observed—especially from the Millennial Generation. The world is well-connected now. With recent efforts made by the Peace Corps and the United Nations, most every person has, or will soon have, access to a free education through the World Wide Web. Your generation is practically wired-in to data and opinions. Your friends come from a mixture of cultures. Because of this, it’s hard to settle the salvation question. Someone you love and respect has a different approach and you can’t rectify the traditional teachings with the way you want to think now. Am I getting close?”
“Tradition tells us Almighty sacrificed part of Himself to make a way for us. The sacrifice was necessary to give us eternal life with Almighty. If He had not made the sacrifice, we would be forever separated from Him because of sin. The story you learned in Vacation Bible School told you Almighty placed part of Himself into the body of a man to come to Earth to spare us. He was born, lived as a carpenter until age thirty, and then began a three-and-a-half year ministry. In the three and one-half years, He established the church, performed miracles, and taught us incredible lessons with his mesmerizing stories. After living a sinless life, He was willingly crucified like a criminal to serve as our sacrificial lamb. It’s a beautiful story of unconditional love and mercy.
“Here’s the thing often overlooked: even if you don’t know how or why the price was paid to purchase your freedom, it doesn’t change your coverage. Every single person who is conceived on Earth is a creation of Almighty. No matter who they are, or what they’ve done—they’re covered. They just need enough faith to believe in Almighty and enough humility to surrender their lives to their Creator.
“Many members of your generation say they can’t accept something in faith. They want evidence. They decide to wait until the scientific community proves Almighty exists before they give the matter their attention. Yet, since the beginning of time, man has believed in things he couldn’t verify—like gravity, the shape of the world, subatomic particles, and so many others.
“Most of the time, science plays catch up to prove theories and conjecture conceived in the minds of men—not the other way around. You personally have stepped into dimensions man is still trying to prove exist. These dimensions have always existed. Here’s the bottom line: Even if a man isn’t exposed to Almighty’s story of salvation, it doesn’t change the fact it exists—nor that he’s covered by his sacrifice. He must believe in Almighty and surrender his life to that purpose. Most men believe in a higher power. That part they have down. It’s the surrender part that’s held up by pride. Sadly, that pride keeps him separated from his Creator.
Seneca’s explanation raises another question for me. “How old are we when we can really understand and accept Almighty’s plan?”
“Every person conceived on Earth has the essence of the Creator pulsating through his veins. The conversation between the Creator and His created begins in the womb. There doesn’t need to be a human messenger involved for salvation to happen. However, I don’t want to imply spreading the good news isn’t important. Of course, it is. Yesterday, you were excited to learn how Lucifer’s strategy works. It sparked new ideas within you. That, in turn, drew you closer to your Creator. This is what we do when we reach out to our fellow man. We share our knowledge, stories, and interactions with Almighty. We start the conversations. All of this helps to evangelize the world. Evangelizing is important because Lucifer and her demons are effectively luring man away from the truth and into the darkness. Her ability to twist the thinking of man is undeniable. It’s in response to her bold deceptions that we must activate to spread the truth.”
“So, you are saying Almighty makes himself known to every human being. Our part is to expose Lucifer’s lies and share the truth of Almighty’s love.”
“Well said. Can you think of a better way to model what Jesus did in those three-and-a-half years of his ministry?”
“No, I cannot. He told relevant stories, performed miracles, and showed compassion to the ones who were ill, misdirected, searching, sinful, and even downright evil, like Saul. I could never measure up. I can’t walk into a room and pick out the ones who are hurting the way Jesus could.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, maybe I could. I suppose if I were looking for it I might see it.”
“Yes, you would. Can you imagine if every believer asked for this ability before they began their day? Their ministry would advance daily. That prayer would always be answered with a yes.”
“What about the miracles? He got the attention of the people by healing, controlling Earth’s elements, and using a vast data bank of information about them. I can’t do any of that.”
“To most men, being given access to clean water, food, medical care, friendship, and compassion are miracles. If you bring these things to man, you will get his attention. The starving man is too focused on surviving to listen to stories of a benevolent God who is supposed to love him. If you feed him, he will sit at your feet to try and understand the source of your compassion. This is when he can see and believe in the Savior who has been speaking to him since his conception. Our job is to connect the dots. The rest is a private relationship between the Creator and His created. No man can know the spiritual experience of another—and shouldn’t treat him harshly because he has a different approach.”
Grayson adjusts his seat on the rock. “That makes perfect sense. I wish I’d seen it before. I have another question: With all the worship practices I’ve seen around the world, what does Almighty really want from us?”
“Almighty wants what Jesus sought from His disciples and what He experienced with Adam and Eve. He wants a continuous relationship filled with conversation and praise. When you are in Heaven, you’ll walk and talk with the spirit of Almighty continuously. This is what He desires from His followers on Earth as well. His spirit is with us. Jesus told us so before He left Earth. Even more impressive is He told us He ‘must go, so that the Spirit can come to us.’ The implication is having the Spirit of Almighty within us is mightier than having a live person in front of us.
“Sinful man and his sinful world could be best described as distractors. Lucifer and her demons are active every single minute in hopes of tipping the scale in her favor. They celebrate every human who turns to the dark side. We should be celebrating this way with every man who turns towards his Creator. Satan worshipers who gave over their souls to Lucifer walk and talk with her every day. They hide it well, but it happens. These days, it’s easier to recognize one of Satan’s worshipers by his sinful acts than it is to recognize one of Almighty’s worshipers by his righteous acts. Lucifer gets the better press coverage. This doesn’t mean good deeds are less prevalent. With the world practically dripping with sinful temptations, it takes about seven good deeds to make the same impact as a bad one.
“There are two things I observed in Heaven I wished I had seen during my life on Earth. I’ll share them with you. First, Almighty delights in the man who bows to pray to Him throughout his day. A prayer that takes place regardless of the kind of day a man is having or the state of mind he is in delights our Creator. A praise verbalized so others can hear brings him great joy.”
“This practice sounds like the call to prayer Muslims do five times a day.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful thing to behold when all the men of the city stop at the same time and pray. Can you imagine what would change in a man’s devotion and his spiritual walk with his Creator if he stopped and offered praise five times a day? With religious tolerance expanding throughout Europe and the United States, it’s the perfect time to start something like this. Public prayer could become common at work, at school, at the gym, before meals, and before assemblies of people. Instead of focusing on the decline of worshippers gathering for typical services of the past, man should focus on the openness to religious freedom awakening. Man is still going to worship his Creator—it’s just going to look different than it used to.”
“I don’t know, Seneca, it seems as if we just stopped all these things. There’s no longer a pledge to the American flag at the start of the school day or before sporting events. Prayer has been prohibited in work places that have over twenty-five people. Even Congress dropped prayer from its day just this month.”
“Do you remember what we discussed about the generations—that they repeat a pattern? The world is returning to traditional values now that the Primaries are on the scene. They are the most religious and traditional of the four generational types in the cycle. They will enhance the examples set by the Millennials. They are watching you and will swing the pendulum back in the other direction. Laws can be reversed. It is the right time to try again.
“There’s one more observation I want to share. It deals with prayer and one the most misunderstood points of communicating with Almighty. This one will stir up some fire on Earth. Are you ready? You know how Lucifer can’t read our thoughts? Well, Almighty won’t read our thoughts.”
“So, you are saying prayers that exist only in our thinking are not heard? That’s a big statement, Seneca.”
“I know it is. Almighty must separate Himself from our thinking. If He thinks for us, makes decisions inside our minds, directs actions from within our bodies, then He would simply be us. This is the thing He limited by establishing free will. He will not think for us. He will not anticipate for us. Those who walk in the ministry for a time come to recognize the power of spoken prayer. Almighty knows all about us—except our unspoken thoughts. He knows our pasts and can see our temptations. He knows how we think and what causes us pain. He doesn’t need to get into our thoughts to understand any of these things.
“If man were to begin speaking out his praise, desires, and pain, he would see greater results from his prayer life. At the same time, man should remember he is engaged in spiritual warfare. He should keep his negative and doubting thoughts limited to his self-talk as much as possible. Seeking counsel is good, but expressing doubt to those who cannot help you is just spreading negativity and weakening your ability to stand against the Enemy. Nothing good comes of it. One should not arm the enemy with information that can be used against him. It’s like handing the enemy a secret map to your soul.”
“This is great stuff, Seneca. To quote Liam, I say ‘preach!’ I do have one more question for you.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“What’s happening with the scientists? They seem to be disproving the existence of a Designer—even as the design is coming into focus. Aren’t these theoretical scientists among the most brilliant men on Earth? Who am I to question their conclusions?”
“It’s an illusion. The sciences are Almighty’s creation. All around us, there are patterns and mathematical answers to common problems. Man’s arrogance keeps him from embracing tremendous truths in physics, chemistry, and biology. I told you that Almighty’s plan is simple enough for a child. If scientists approached their discipline as a believer in search of supportive material that Almighty exists, they would find it. They would understand the workings of the universe and come to harness the power and capabilities of the human body and brain.
“Instead, most approach science with a vengeance to prove man can thrive without a Creator. They’re looking for support from the universe to their hopes that man can be self-sufficient and immortal. It gives them a superficial high to announce a new ‘discovery’ that ‘proves’ man is a result of happenstance. Plus, eliminating the Creator removes ethics, responsibility, and uncertainty. This is wrapped within man’s need to control. The scientists are hitting a wall now, though. They have gone as far as time will allow them. Now that Almighty’s protective hand has been withdrawn from the planet, natural disasters will hit in succession and show man once and for all just how vulnerable he is. He’ll learn that he has always been dependent upon Almighty.
“Near the end of the seven-year Tribulation, man will finally face his vulnerability and the study of the sciences will come to an end. He will put down the microscope and pick up the written word of Almighty. As in the beginning of time, man will be consumed with knowing all he can know about his Creator. Unfortunately, it will be too late for most.”
I change positions again and take in all that Seneca is sharing. “Yes, the end times as described in the writings of the prophets and disciples sound awful. Even though I’ll be spared from going through the Tribulation as a human man, my concern for my family and friends who do not follow Almighty is forever on my mind. Like it or not, I have a front seat for watching all these things line up. It’s hard to believe this will fall on man and Earth in such a short span of time.” I pause as a thought passes through my mind. I turn to look at Seneca. He is looking me dead in the eye, like a tiger looking at his prey before lunging to take it. “Seneca, is everything that has been written going to happen? Or, is there a way we can alter the future?”
“You have asked the question I wish every man would ask. Can the future be altered? The answer must be yes. History recorded in the very words of Almighty gives us many examples of man bargaining with his Creator, of resetting conditions, of upping and lowering antes, of being spared from certain destruction, and of the impossible becoming the possible.” Seneca lowers himself down from the boulder and seats himself right in front of me. His pace is speeding forward, and his intensity is growing with every sentence.
“God is not limited—not even by His own words. We have seen Him change His trajectory many times when man pleaded his case before Him. He may be hoping man will turn from his wicked ways so He can lift the penalty that is set for man at the end. Imagine if there were to be an international effort to restore Almighty as the center of man’s existence, and man’s love were extended to each other without prejudice and judgement, and evil was marginalized. There is no reason Almighty would not honor his word to heal this land. There is no reason the New Jerusalem could not be restored here.”
“Seneca, you are speaking like a crazy man. What about Lucifer?”
“True, Lucifer would still have to be contained. She cannot be destroyed, because nothing Almighty creates can be destroyed. There’s no reason she cannot be locked away in Hades. There would still be men who would willingly turn to the Dark Side and choose to dwell in her universe. No one can save man from his own free will. Nothing I’ve seen tells me man cannot alter his future. In fact, there exists more proof that he can.”
“Why are you saying this to me? Have you shared it with anyone else in Heaven?”
“No. I was waiting for this generation. Millennials have a Warrior mentality. They are the only generation with enough hubris to believe they can alter a future already written.