The teacher’s followers couldn’t make sense of what happened. One minute they were listening to the wisest, most loving man they had ever seen. The next minute he was subjected to an unfair trial, declared unfit to live, and sentenced to die. Now he was gone. The teacher’s life and vision for the future seemed to end as quickly as he had come. After 3 days of living in the shadows, the teacher’s friends saw the unexpected happen again. Their mood suddenly changed. First, a group of women reported that the tomb where the teacher had been buried was empty. One woman claimed that she saw him alive and spoke with him. Soon whole groups of men and women announced that they too had seen him.
The friends’ lives changed dramatically. In the days and years that followed, many of them were killed for refusing to deny their story. Their courage convinced many of their neighbors to believe that the friends were telling the truth. In whispered conversations and behind closed doors, enemies of the teacher tried to figure out how to offset the reports of the friends. They knew that people lie to save their lives, not to lose them. They knew that some even die for what they believe to be the truth. But they would soon find out that the followers of the teacher would suffer for more than a belief. They would die for their claim that they had seen the teacher—alive and well— after his death.
The teacher had one more surprise for his friends. As they stood talking with him on top of a hill, he defied gravity and rose weightlessly from the ground until he disappeared in the clouds. As the friends stood speechless, looking into the air, two messengers appeared to them and said, “As you have seen him go, so he will return.” Later, the friends remembered that the teacher himself had told them that he would return for them at a time they did not expect. Yet he also promised that he would never leave them. He assured them that even when they could no longer see him, his spirit would always be with them.
During the public life of the teacher, some believed he would follow the pattern of other false hopes. They predicted that once he was exposed as an impostor, his friends would disband, sadder but wiser for the experience. The opposite happened. After the teacher’s departure, the movement rapidly grew in numbers and intensity. As word spread through the region, many became convinced that they had been visited by more than a teacher. From the movement’s point of view, every indication was that the great king himself had visited his people.
Many found the explanation not only compelling but life- changing. The story was told in public arenas, marketplaces, and family gatherings. In city streets and countrysides, young and old alike heard that the king’s death on a tree was directly related to the two trees he himself had planted in the center of the first garden of the caretakers. In the beginning of caretaker history, the king had pointed to one of those two trees and said, “The one who eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil will die.”
When the first couple ate of that tree, they died spiritually and began to die physically. With spiritual separation and mortality came a separation from the king. Now, however, a third tree stood between the first two. The tree on which the king died became the means by which he paid for the caretakers’ decision to eat of the forbidden tree.
Finally, the king’s plan could be told. All along, he had planned to fulfill his vision and protect his citizens by personally and voluntarily paying the price of their freedom. All along, he had been planning to sacrifice himself for those who were destined to die for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Within a short time, the king’s friends were traveling the world, spreading among people of all nations the news of another tree—a tree of rescue that was used in paying the price for the caretakers’ wrong choices.
This message was for everyone. The great king was offering citizenship and family privileges to anyone who would accept his offer. Until he returns, the realm of his kingdom exists in the hearts of all who acknowledge him as king and trust his offer of forgiveness and everlasting life.
The king’s story is a story of love and mercy. No one returns to paradise on his own merit. All return only by being like one of the two criminals who died on either side of the king. One mocked the king for not being able to save himself. The other acknowledged his own wrongs and said to the king, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In response to a simple request of faith, the king said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”