They Will All Assemble
“How did a message get through whoever’s watching the camp borders now?” Simay asked.
“Those patrols are only interested in people.” Iskender held his arm out. With the grace born of years sailing the breezes a falcon settled on his outstretched arm.
“Oh!” Simay exclaimed.
The bird cocked his head at the noise. His beautiful golden eyes stared into her brown ones as he gazed at her curiously.
“Here.” Iskender said to the bird, tying a return message to his foot and handing the small paper into one of the bird’s taloned feet. “Now go.” He said, giving the bird a boost with his arm.
The falcon rose quickly and was soon high above the camp. He took off to the North West, bearing away Iskender’s words back to whoever had summoned the Ephesian.
“I didn’t even see him come.” Simay said, watching the small black speck as it rose higher and higher and then disappeared.
Iskender laughed. “I doubt anyone did. They were too preoccupied with the announcement and that… show. Who would see one bird when they’re all staring at a ‘ship’ flying around the camp?”
“True.” Simay said, “But… why must you go…?” she changed the subject back to the more pressing issue.
“Let’s get out of the heat.” Iskender gently tugged on Simay’s hand and she followed him inside.
Once alone, Iskender hugged his wife close, took a deep breath and then began his explanation, “When I lived in Ephesus – before I went searching for you – I became friends with a man, one of Paul’s travelling companions, named Timothy.
“Do you remember the time that I left Jerusalem – almost thirty years ago now – and didn’t return for a month and a half?”
“I remember.” Simay said.
“I went back to Ephesus during that time, to see Timothy who had become the pastor of the church there. While I was in town he introduced me to a man named John – the very same one who now appears in the accounts written about Jesus.”
“The apostle?” Simay asked in amazement.
“Yes.” Iskender smiled, still holding his wife. “And we too became friends. I told him about my friend Malcus and his troubled family; about the evil spirit that had indwelt his home and his wife’s friend. John was very understanding and helpful in everything he did and said. The best word that I can use to describe him is ‘gentle.’ He was – is a man of great insight and love for God…” Iskender paused to look down into his wife’s eyes. “And he is in trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“He is now in exile. That is why he is at Patmos. Before they sent him to that island they tried to kill him. They failed. But John lives with the scars and pain to show for their attempts. They could not kill him, so they sent him away.”
“And now…?” Simay prodded.
“He has something he wants to give me. That was what that message was about – news from Timothy about John’s exile and his gift for me.
“He cannot come to me, so I must go to him.” Iskender said.
“Is it really so important?” Simay asked.
“Yes, my dear. It is.” He replied. “Whatever it is that he has for me, it was important enough for Timothy to seek me out here, in a camp that no one outside the valley is supposed to know about. Yet somehow, he found me anyway – through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, no doubt.”
“Be careful…” Simay said, burying her head in her husband’s chest to hide her tears.
“I will be.” He laid a kiss on her forehead. “I need to leave tonight. There is no moon, so it’s less likely that I’ll be caught leaving.”
Simay turned her tear-filled eyes up towards his face, “Please come back.”
He smiled sadly at his wife and then he kissed her before replying, “Through the enabling power of our Saviour, I will return.”
Night fell over the camp and the evening guards were posted. The patrols made one continuous circuit about the camp, always watching. However, on moonless nights, like this one, the patrols tended to move a bit more warily. The ground was harder to see in the dimmer light, so they walked more slowly.
This gave Iskender the perfect chance to make his exit. While the two men who were supposed to be patrolling the perimeter nearest his family’s campsite were studying the ground in front of their feet the Ephesian scurried past the invisible line that marked the boundaries of the pilgrim camp. He did not stop running until he was absolutely sure that the guards had not seen him.
When no one clubbed him or ran him through with a blade he was fairly certain that he had made it with no incidents – thus far.
The falcon had turned North West; he would go the same way as the bird and stop at whatever town or oasis it had rested at.
This would be a long trek. He would have to go as quickly as possible through the desert and up through Roman-ridden Israel, then he would have to take a ship out to Patmos – hopefully finding a captain who would brave the open waters instead of hugging the shore
all the way there. On the whole, if all went well, he would be back in five months – an entire sixty days before the ships’ appointed departure date.
He had left his family with a difficult task – covering his absence. The others were bound to notice eventually that he was gone. Iskender prayed that they might assume him to have fallen gravely ill and be bedridden, or come up with some equally as innocent reason for him not being up and about the camp.
So much had changed for his little family in the past year or two… Life was certainly never boring. From the night that he had met Simay’s mother until now, forty-four years later, he had never truly had a dull moment.
He had decided that he would travel through the night tonight and on into the next morning, stopping to sleep when the air was the hottest. Then he would continue his journey the next evening.
This would be his first solo trek through the desert and he was not looking forward to it.
Within the first three days Iskender reached a small town, refilled his water supply and purchased a good, trusty desert horse. From there he set out across the sands, still headed west, partially retracing the steps he and his family had taken with the caravan to come to the pilgrim camp.
He reached the borders of Israel on schedule and carefully skirted the more populated areas such as Jerusalem and Jericho. Occasionally he passed a few Romans but because he did not look Jewish he was spared many of the questions that otherwise might have been thrown his way. After all, a stranger leading a clearly foreign-bred animal and wearing desert garb was not the norm in these parts.
Despite his irregular appearance, he made it through Israel unscathed, catching a ship mere hours before it was to leave harbor again. The ship was not going directly to Patmos unfortunately, but the sailing weather was superb and the winds were in their favor. Even the horse, which Iskender had decided to keep, didn’t get seasick, and they made good time.
The crew of the ship was curious as to why this strange man from the desert wanted to go to a barren, rocky island full of criminals out in the middle of the sea. Iskender patiently answered their questions, but did not volunteer too much information. He told them that he was going to visit an old friend – more of a political prisoner than a truly dangerous man – who had been sent to the island. After telling the curiosity seekers a few things about himself they ignored him for the rest of the time he was on board ship.
A couple of event-less weeks passed, then on the first day of the third week of the voyage Iskender caught his first glimpse of the island of the exiles.
It was truly a forsaken-looking little place. Rocks were everywhere about the island and there were evidences of mining sites at several locations on the small patch of land.
Iskender doubted that John would be able-bodied enough to work in the mines. His health and his years would preclude him from such labor.
The ship docked and Iskender unloaded his few belongings and his horse. After leading the animal around the beach for a while to get him used to dry land again, Iskender swung himself up onto the animal and set off towards what looked like the prison.
An hour later, when he had traversed the rocky terrain that separated him from the largest building on the island, Iskender slipped off his horse, entrusting him to one of the men stationed at the door of the prison.
“I’ve come to see one of the prisoners.” He told the man as he handed over the reins.
“You’ll have to talk to the keeper about that.” The man replied before letting the Ephesian in.
Iskender nodded and got directions from the man before stepping into the prison.
Getting in to see the keeper of the prison was not difficult. Apparently he rarely saw anyone other than the guards and the prisoners and he was eager to talk with anyone not from the island. Iskender carefully talked his way out of spending the entire evening with the keeper, explaining that his ship was waiting and that he needed to leave with it in order to make an important rendezvous back on the mainland.
The keeper accepted his guest’s reasons for needing to leave his company and the Ephesian breathed a silent sigh of relief. When the keeper finally asked him which prisoner he was there to see Iskender told him. The keeper sent for a prison guard to take him to the designated holding area for the man named “John.”
As he walked the length of the prison, looking here and there, the reality of where he was and what he was doing struck him. He was on an island in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from his family who were waiting to board a ship that would take them to the stars. The ridiculousness of it all was amazing. Reality, Iskender had noticed, often tended to be that way. He then wondered if John would believe him when he told him everything that was going on.
Iskender did not have time to think more about the many possible reactions that his old friend might have to his tale. The guard grunted at him as the lock on John’s living space clicked open.
The Ephesian thanked the man and entered the area.
Looking around the room, Iskender caught the first glimpse of John that he had had in thirty years.
“You still look old.” Iskender said.
“Only on the outside.” The apostle’s eyes shone with recognition and joy. “You’ve come at last.”
“What other choice did I have? Timothy hunted me down – in the middle of the desert.”
John let out a faint chuckle. “That man knows how to find people; that is most assuredly true.”
“Though I still don’t understand how he actually found me…” Iskender said, a look of puzzlement on his face.
“Why’s that, my friend?” John asked.
“That,” Iskender took a deep breath and sat down in the chair that John was motioning to, “is where this all gets interesting. You wouldn’t believe what’s happening right now…”
John laughed again, “Just try me, Iskender. I’ve seen things this past year…” a faraway look appeared in the old man’s eyes. The Apostle suddenly shook away whatever memory had recaptured him, “In light of the things I know now, nothing would surprise me.”
“Are you sure?” Iskender asked, still looking skeptical.
“Quite.” Came the answer.
“You have something for me?” Iskender changed the subject, still unsure of telling his tale.
“Indeed.” John said, face lighting up again. “But I’ll hear your story first.”
Iskender hesitated. “I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it all myself…” he finally began. “It all began after I returned from my visit to Ephesus…”
John’s face remained unchanged throughout the entire tale – everything from to the births of Ibrahim and Seda to the flight from Jerusalem up to the ship that had flown around the camp the day that he had left.
“How can you just sit there?” Iskender asked, confused.
“I told you, my friend. I have seen things this past year – things that no human eye has ever seen before and none living today will ever see.” He paused, letting his words sink into his visitor’s mind.
“What kinds of things do you mean?” Iskender asked hesitantly.
After a moment of thoughtful silence John looked his friend in the eye and stated. “I’ve seen the end.”
“The end. The end of what?” the Ephesian asked.
“The end of the world.”
At this, Iskender stared at the old man, completely speechless.
The two sat in silence for a while, until Iskender regained his ability to speak coherently.
“But how is that possible? Only God knows –” the Ephesian stopped short.
“Yes, Iskender. Only God knows the end of world, but He has chosen to reveal it to us at this time.” At this, John carefully and reverently lifted a painstakingly bound and protected book. “And it is this that I have to give you.” The Apostle laid the book in Iskender’s lap. “It is the revelation of Jesus Christ, imparted to me by the Holy Spirit Himself.”
The Ephesian was so stunned that he did not even lift a hand to touch the cover.
“It will not bite you.” John said.
“I – I – don’t know what to say…” the Ephesian said, tears beginning to well up in his eyes at the realization of what he held in his lap. “This is much too precious to entrust to someone like me… I don’t even know where I’ll be a year from now… how will the word be spread?”
“Not to worry.” John reached over and laid his hand on a second book lying on the patchwork “desk” that he sat beside. “There is more than one copy. I have had time to do little else.” He smiled at Iskender. “It is more fulfilling to write the words of my God than to journey thousands of miles to find a treasure and return a wealthy man.”
Iskender stared down at the cherished unread words that he now held. As he stared he whispered, “This is the highest of all honors… These words will be a witness to untold thousands in the generations to come.”
“Indeed.” John nodded. “And, in light of the things I’ve been told to write… and those that God forbade me to reveal… your own story makes perfect sense to me – more sense than it may make to you at this point.”
For the first time since he had entered the room, Iskender’s countenance lifted a bit. “You understand what’s happening?”
“I cannot claim to know the mind of God… but I do know that, no matter how far humanity flees from this world, no matter how many stars he tries to inhabit, he will never escape God and His Word of Truth. Man will not remain scattered forever, my friend. You may leave here, but someday your descendants will return home. They will all assemble when God calls.” Another faraway look settled on the old Apostle as he continued, “I remember being with Jesus… Those three years with Him… they were more wonderful than I can describe… and now that He has shown me the things that are to come, I only long for His return even more than I did before.”
Iskender laid a brotherly hand on the Apostle’s shoulder. “May I read this now?” he asked the old man, indicating the treasured book.
“Yes! Yes, please do.” John said, returning to the present.
Iskender spent the rest of the day with John, reading and asking the Apostle when he did not understand something. It was a day that the Ephesian would not ever forget, for as long as he lived.
When the time came for Iskender to depart his heart nearly tore in two. This was the last time that he would ever see or speak with John before their deaths. It was a hard parting, one that Iskender wished did not have to happen. He desired with all his heart to take the old man with him back to the desert and out to the stars with the rest of the camp… but he knew that he couldn’t.
With much sadness and even more hope Iskender said his last good-bye to his dear friend, boarded his ship and watched the tiny island disappear as they sailed away. The book that John had entrusted to him was sealed carefully inside a waterproof skin and slung around his neck. The volume, even within its casing, seemed to hug Iskender’s chest, the words of his Saviour resting just over his full, beating heart.