The day started like any other, with the alarm ringing. Bob turned it off, got up, and headed to the shower. The water started out cold, shocking him out of his half asleep drowsiness, and then warmed as the hot water made the trip from the water heater to the shower.
He finished the shower in a few minutes and then quickly got dressed, noticing that it was almost six thirty. He only had a few minutes before he had to leave for work. He stopped by the door and looked at the mail that he had ignored the night before. There were two bills and four junk mails, and one hand-addressed envelope. He put the others down and opened it. This was the seventh time in as many weeks that his brother Joe had written. He read the first few lines of the letter and put it down. "Joe, I really wish you wouldn't talk about this Jesus thing so much." He remarked out loud, "All this God talk is dangerous." He picked up his briefcase and keys, and left.
As he drove his mind wandered to the last several letters his brother had written. Joe had started writing a couple of months ago saying that he had been ' born again '. It seems that Joes' wife had talked him into going to some special church thing or other and when the preacher invited people to come forward and get to know God, Joe had gotten up and gone forward. He said that he had actually kneeled at the altar and prayed, tears in his eyes, and told God how he knew that he was a sinner and how sorry he was for it and invited Jesus into his heart, whatever that meant. Joe had been writing every week since. He'd said that when he had done that, he had been 'born again', which also didn't make much sense to Bob.
His brother said in his letters that he wanted Bob to get right with God, and talked a lot about the bible, Jesus, and going to heaven. Bob had answered the first few letters and told him that he didn't think that a person should get too involved with the church stuff. "I mean it's a felony Joe. You could go to jail." But Joe didn't relent. He had insisted that it was important that Bob make sure that he was going to go to heaven. Saying that it was important because Jesus was going to come back someday soon and only the people who were ready when he did would get to go to heaven. Bob believed that nobody could really know that they were going to go to heaven, and said so. All folks could do was to try to be good people and if you were good enough then you were rewarded with heaven. Joe wouldn't give up, he insisted that without Jesus there was no way to get into heaven.
Bob shook his head and turned the corner, heading for the on ramp. He was sure that his younger brother was sincere, but misguided. He hoped Joe was just going through a phase and would soon go back to being the guy he'd always been. After all, it wasn't safe to be talking about the things that Joe was into, just two months ago the world government had outlawed any religion that would not accept the way things were. People were being arrested in record numbers, especially anyone who would not join the rest of society in the new cashless electronic system, and this religious group that Joe was involved in was one of those who wouldn't accept it. They insisted that the Mark-6 Identichip was evil, and that anyone who had one was going to hell. He even saw on world news a few weeks ago that the emperor's press secretary had announced that because these people not only refused the ID chip, but openly denounced the emperor and refused acknowledge him as God in the flesh, that they were all to be arrested. They would be given one last chance to change their minds, and executed if they refused. The dissenters had to be dealt with once and for all. The furor that had followed was worldwide, and executions had been proceeding in every city in the world. Bob only hoped that Joe would come to his senses before it was too late.
Bob couldn't believe that people could be so stubborn about something that he had decided was really obvious. He hadn't wasted one minute when it was time to switch over to the cashless system. He'd gotten his chip as soon as they were available. After all, he was a banker and dealing with money was the lifeblood of his job. Without the chip, he would have been unemployed fast. He also wouldn't have been able to buy anything because all of the stores had installed scanners and the cash drawers were no longer used. Money, checks, and credit cards had become extinct literally overnight. Bob had no idea how these people managed to get by without being able to buy or sell.
Seeing the sign for the downtown exit he glanced to his right and hit the turn signal to change lanes. As he looked, there was another car even with his for a moment as he passed. Bob stared in total shock as the driver of the other car simply vanished. The now driverless car drifted to the right and careened through the guardrail and into the rear of a building. He jerked his head around to the front as he noticed his own car starting to drift to the right. "What was that?!?" he asked aloud. Then in the downtown area ahead there was an explosion as an airline jet crashed into an office building. There was smoke and flames coming from cars on the overpass ahead as well. And on the road in front of him the carnage was beyond belief. He headed for the next off ramp he came to just to get off of this expressway-turned deathtrap. He had just started up the ramp when the gasoline tanker struck his car from behind. His car was thrown into the rear of the car in front of him. The two cars were locked together by the impact, and both were pushed up the ramp by the semi that had been moving fifty miles an hour when it hit. As the two cars were being pushed by the semi drifted to the left side of the ramp and eventually all three vehicles went off of the ramp and rolled down the embankment. The three vehicles settled into a crumpled pile on the expressway. Bob was dazed, cut and bruised in a dozen places but he had managed to crawl out through the shattered window of his car. He was still standing next to his car wondering what had happened when the gasoline tanker was struck broadside.
Bob was engulfed in a ball of flame and metal as the tanker exploded. He was in agony, and every inch of his body was on fire. He felt the searing heat wash over him as first his hair, then his clothes, and finally his flesh was charred to ash. The agony seemed to go on forever. He was amazed that he seemed to remain conscious despite all that had happened. He flailed wildly about trying to put out the flames, and finally he tripped over something in the road and fell. His screams grew faint and he collapsed. His unconsciousness was short lived. At first he couldn't move or see, then the pain and burning returned and intensified to heights Bob hadn't thought possible. For what seemed like hours it was totally dark and all he could hear was the roar of the flame and his own screaming. He lost all track of time as the pain and screaming seemed to go on endlessly.
While no matter what he did he could not escape from the searing heat of the flames, his mind continued to function and he began to notice his surroundings. The first thing he saw was that he was not still on the highway. This was a dark place, with most of the light coming from the flames that seemed to be everywhere and rivers of burning sulphur that crisscrossed the harsh, jagged landscape. There was a blackness in the sky above from the smoke and fumes that rose from the mass of flaming humanity. People were everywhere, running madly trying to put out the flames, seeking an escape from this nightmarish world.
A creature ran up to him screaming, "Please! Help me! It hurts! Make it stop, please!" Bob simply stood there, screaming in agony himself, not knowing or caring what he could say to it. He saw that the pathetic thing before him was a man, though hardly recognizable. The man had a large gaping hole in the side of his head. Without waiting for Bob to answer, the man ran screaming into the semi-darkness. Another tormented creature ran up to him and flung itself at his feet, sending more waves of pain through him. "Please! Forgive me!" Screamed a young girls voice, "I'm sorry! I'll do anything! Just let me out!" There was nothing he could do to help her, in fact he was interested in nothing else except begging for mercy himself, pleading with anyone that might listen for help getting out of this nightmare. Next to his own pain and torment, hers seemed really unimportant, he had to save his own hide before he could even think about anybody else's.
He didn't know how long he had been in this land of horrors. Time had no meaning here. The only thing that ever seemed to change was where people were running to or from. Everyone it seems, was in the same condition. Over the din of screaming humanity, he heard other voices. They too were in agony, but they did not just scream and beg for mercy, they also cursed and jeered at those around them. Doing anything they could to add to the torment of whoever they came near. "Fool!" one screamed at him, "You had your chance to escape, and what did you do? You ignored it! You didn't believe!" the creature was clearly not a human, and had never been one. It grabbed him by the arms and threw him face first onto the rocky ground. As Bob desperately tried to escape this latest horror, it kicked his face repeatedly. "You moron!" it screeched, "You fell for one of the oldest, dumbest lies there is!" It picked him up and held its disgusting warped face to his, "what's really stupid is that you were told that you could never get to heaven on your own merit!" The beast told him, it's reeking breath making him vomit. "But did you believe the truth? Nooo, you were so full of your own importance that you actually thought you could be good enough on your own!" It raged. The creature screamed something incomprehensible at him and threw him into a fast-moving river of molten sulphur as it ran to find another victim.
Bob had no idea how long he flailed about in the flaming sulphur river. The only thing he knew was pain and confusion. Eventually he managed to catch himself on a rock protruding into this impossible river and slowly, inch by searing inch, he dragged himself back onto dry land. He had just regained his footing when suddenly the unearthly din ceased, and a deathly quiet dropped like a sledgehammer on his ears. "Now what?" He screamed as what little light there was faded to black.
Bob found himself standing in a sea of people. He was still in agony, burned and charred beyond recognition. Every move or jostling of the crowd was pure liquid pain. Looking around, he saw that there were more people in this place than he could imagine. In front of him in the distance was a brilliant white light so bright that he could not look at it directly.
As he looked around the crowd, off in the distance he saw Joe and his wife, they were steadily moving toward the bright light. Fighting to move in spite of the torment, he began pushing his way through the crowd, trying to catch up with his brother. As he went, it became obvious that they weren't in any pain. In fact, they seemed to be downright glad to be here, wherever 'here' was.
Slowly, he made progress toward his goal, narrowing the gap between him and his brother. As he got closer, he began to hear singing. The music was more beautiful than any he had ever heard. As he finally came close to Joe, he was able to make out the words of that beautiful music. They were singing about a lamb, "Thanks to the lamb who saved us, you are holy forever. All praise and glory and honor belongs to You." Bob thought it sounded like something he had heard the church choir singing when his mother used to take him to church as a child. "Never mind that!" he told himself, "you just talk to Joe and find out what's going on."
"JOE!" He yelled, sending more waves of pain into him. Joe looked up "Bob? Is that you?" he asked. "Of course it's me! You wouldn't believe what I've been through. Please, get me a doctor. I'm in horrible pain!" He begged. "I'm sorry Bob, but there is nothing that I can do for you anymore." Joe answered apologetically. "I tried to show you the truth, but you didn't want to accept it." "What truth?" Bob asked, "What are you talking about?" "I'm talking about the truth of Jesus. About how faith in Him is the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven." He answered. "Joe," interrupted Bob, "I wish you would forget about this Jesus stuff. If the cops ever find out, you'll be executed." "No, I won't." He replied. "They can't touch me now, no one can ever do me any harm again." "What are you talking about?" Bob asked. "I'm talking about the fact that you died. And when you died it was because your car was hit from behind by a gasoline tanker whose driver was one of the Christians that Jesus caught up in the rapture."
This was too much, it was obvious to Bob that his brother had something wrong with him. "Jesus taking people to heaven in the rapture is nothing more than a child's fairy tale!" he yelled. "No Bob, it is not a fairy tale, it's the truth." Replied Joe. "And not only that, It happened a thousand years ago. That tanker hit your car because the driver was among the faithful, and was caught up to meet Jesus in the air. Since then we ruled on earth with Jesus, until just a little while ago the last battle was fought. This is judgement day, and over there is the great white throne. That bright light is coming from Jesus Himself, now more than ever He is the light of the world."
Bob couldn't answer. Everything was happening much too fast and he was in too much pain to argue about it anymore. He stayed with Joe, mostly because it was easier than trying to go somewhere else, and because he didn't have the slightest idea where he would go anyway.
The crowd of people had been steadily moving toward the white light the whole time that he had been there. And now Bob was finally close enough to see that there was indeed a great white throne here. In fact, calling it great was an understatement. It was clearly the most beautiful piece of furniture he had ever seen. And if the throne was awesome, the one who sat on that throne was almost beyond description. With one look he knew who the man on the throne was. There was no mistaking that Jesus Himself sat on the great white throne of judgement. Just looking at Him made Bob feel dirty and shamed. Unlike Joe, who looked Jesus straight in the eye, his face filled with joy as he sang the praises of the Holy One. Just then, Jesus turned to Joe and looked at him and with a warm, cheerful voice said to him "Well done, Thou good and faithful servant. Welcome Home!"
Bob stood in stunned silence as his brother was greeted by Jesus, and welcomed like he was an old friend returning from a long journey. Then Jesus turned to him. His face was no longer warm and cheerful. The joy had faded from His face, and with a tone that made it clear He would rather do almost anything else said "Depart from me, you that work iniquity, into the lake of fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels." His voice lowered, and He added softly, "I never knew you." With that last, almost whispered phrase, Bob saw pain in Jesus' face that made his own seem insignificant.
What looked like two large powerful warriors with wings, flew down. With powerful hands each of them took one of his arms, and with one massive thrust, lifted him into the air. They carried him farther and farther away toward the horizon. "What's happening?" Bob asked, "Where are you taking me?" One of them looked at him for a moment and answered "You have refused to believe in the only begotten son of the living God. Therefore you are to be thrown into the lake that burns with molten sulphur." And then, reaching a point over the middle of a large angry looking lake, they threw him down. As he fell, screaming, they turned and silently returned for their next passenger.