(This is the conclusion to Return to the Kingdom, an imaginative retelling of the Story of God. Click here for Chapter One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six.)
The condemned exiles were tied together and their hands tied behind their backs.
The journey back to the kingdom, something they had desired for years, was dreadful. More than once, the eldest among them stumbled and fell hard, unable to catch themselves with their arms. The littlest grew weary but could not be picked up and carried. Lucius and his knights were merciless.
“Don’t give up,” encouraged one of the old men. “We may face a terrible death, but we are finally doing right by the King. We will be true to who he was and what he stood for.”
The others found strength in his words. They were scared, but their resolve was steadfast. They would die for their King.
As the sun set behind them, the army stopped and set up camp. The condemned exiles were given no food and no bed. The knights forced them to stand through the night, and they huddled together for warmth.
The eldest took turns telling stories and singing songs about the King and the kingdom. They all knew, from the oldest to the youngest, this was their last night on earth.
The sun did not rise the next morning. It was hidden behind a foreboding wall of dark grey clouds. No warm, golden rays would be breaking through today.
An unusual silence pervaded the land. The condemned exiles realized there was no birdsong this morning. “How fitting,” they whispered to each other.
A bitter wind came in from the southwest, chilling the air and creating unease even among the rebel knights. The grey clouds let down a dreary mist of cold rain. It was as if creation knew what evil this day held and clearly spoke its’ disapproval.
The army advanced, spurred on by cold and wet and darkness, intent on gaining victory. Soon they stood at the threshold of the King’s land.
The kingdom was unchanged. It was as lush and green as it had ever been, just as perfect in every way. The King’s palace towered over the land, almost the embodiment of the King himself, offering protection and provision to all within her walls.
But the King was no longer there to protect his land or his people.
“At last,” Lucius growled lustfully, stepping forth into the kingdom and turning back to his army and shouting, “Our kingdom awaits! Use the miscreants as shields, and take no prisoners!”
The knights picked up the condemned exiles, held them as makeshift shields, and started forward together. And then the earth quaked violently.
The knights stumbled backwards and threw the exiles down. The earth convulsed. A large crack appeared, separating the condemned exiles from Lucius and his army. The gap widened and quickly became impassable.
But no one noticed. They were all looking up, towards the palace.
The sun was rising from the east and appeared to be moving towards them. It chased away the wind, the rain, and the clouds. The light was blinding and all shielded their eyes.
The condemned exiles were the first to realize the blinding light was not the sun but rather the likeness of a man upon a horse. Their eyes adjusted to the light, and they found they couldn’t look away. But they didn’t want to look away. There was something familiar and welcoming about the advancing man of light.
The army was having a more adverse reaction to the oncoming light. To them, the light was unbearable, the emanating heat suffocating, and they were overwhelmed with fear and dread. They buried their heads in their chests, and trembled.
“It’s the King! It’s the King!” a little girl shouted. And it was. The man of light was none other than the King riding to their rescue.
He’s alive! the little girl thought. There is an aliveness about him that wasn’t there before, as if he is now life itself, and life and light and warmth are flowing out of him to us.
The King stopped and dismounted with a hearty laugh. “My children! I knew you would come back. You are no longer exiles. You are redeemed. You are again my people.”
The condemned exiles’ ropes fell off, and they ran to the King. As tears of joy flowed freely, he embraced them one by one, spoke a word to them, and welcomed them home.
Finally, he came to the little girl.
“Sir, why didn’t you stop Lucius before? Why did you let him kill you?” she asked innocently.
“That is a good question. I came to you to help you wake up. To remember me and want to come live with me again. But you would have gotten here only to find out you could not get in. As an exile, the barrier would have kept you out.
“There was only one way to remove the barrier. You see, the kingdom and the barrier and myself are all connected to each other. So I left the kingdom to die. In my death, the barrier was removed, opening the way back for you.
“But death could not contain me. I overcame death and have burst through as a new creation. I am the same King, but now more. This is the same kingdom, but now more. There is no longer need for a barrier, for now all things will be made new. In time, you will find yourself changing. You will be more you than you were before. I will make you new as well.”
“Oh, how wonderful!” the little girl squealed. “But what about them?” she asked pointing to Lucius and his army.
“The barrier was not only to keep my enemies out; it was to protect my enemies from my judgment. It was to give them time to come to their senses, as you did, and come back to me. That time has now ended. With no barrier holding her back, my kingdom is expanding and soon will take over all the earth. My presence and my kingdom, while life-giving to you, are death to my enemies. They can no longer live here.”
Sure enough, as the King spoke, the little girl noticed the crack in the earth that separated them from the defiant ones had encircled the King’s enemies. The ground under their feet continued to shake, and then the earth swallowed them up. Their cries grew faint.
The little girl looked beyond where they had been and discovered her vision had increased. She looked out for miles and miles in all directions. She could see pockets of people, some running towards the kingdom and some away. She watched as those running away were swallowed up by the earth. It hurt her heart to see their destruction.
As the others ran towards the kingdom, it was as if the kingdom was also running to meet them. The ground smoothed before them, and the vibrant greens of the kingdom spread towards them. The kingdom was expanding right before the little girl’s eyes. She realized there were people from all over who belonged to the King.
The King picked her up in a warm embrace. “My child, you are home. You need never fear again. We are now entering a new age, where we will never be separated again, where all my people will live with me in the kingdom.
“Go now, run and play where you will. Explore and discover all this land has to offer. I must go and welcome the others who are finally coming home.”
And she did. And they all lived happily ever after.