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                                  DREAMS  OF  FIRE     by Jacob Ben Avraham

 

 

Antonius Flavius Aquila sat down to breakfast at the large ornate wooden table in his Pompeii Villa.  It was a villa of luxury built with the many denarii and aureii gained during his tenure in the senate of Rome.  All, however, was not earned by honor, but by corruption and bribery, of turning a blind eye in the face of justice.

For a few hundred denarii, another innocent Roman became another resident of the Mamertine (notorious prison in Rome), and the heart of Antonius was hardened even more.  He was very much a part of the corruption of Rome, even though he tried to justify his actions with the desire to provide the best for his family.  His wife and son, however, wanted none of it.

     He raised his hand and motioned for his household slaves to bring him his breakfast meal.  They came to him with roasted fish, cereal, and some bread, with honey, figs, and dates.  They also filled his silver goblet with wine and set it also before him on the table together with the breakfast food.  The slaves then returned to do other household chores leaving Antonius to have breakfast alone.

He lifted up his silver goblet and looked toward the mosaic image of his wife Julia.  The tile image stared at him like a ghost from the past on the wall across from the table.  The coal black eyes of the image reminded him of his blackened soul.

             “Hail Julia, the love of my life, I miss you so” cried Antonius as he lifted his silver goblet toward the image, and then sipped some wine from the cup.  Julia was indeed a woman of Rome, a patrician of a noble family whose voice cried out for the needy, the indigent, and for justice.  Her noble ideals clashed with those of Antonius.  Many times, she lifted up her voice in protest to the injustices of Antonius, his voice rose above that of Julia so as to silence her protests.

             In the last few years, she became a shell of her once robust being, a shadow in the darkness instead of a light for justice.  A light snuffed out by the injustices of Antonius, and others of the senate.  Over the years, Antonius made a few enemies, so he thought the move to Pompeii would be good for his family.  The villa and costly estate brought no change to Julia.  Rome had taken its toll on Julia, wife of Antonius Flavius Aquila.

          She took refuge in the garden of the Villa, eating hardly anything.  She just sat on one of the stone lectii lined with velvet cushions, surrounded by the beauty of flowers, a fountain, and a statue of the god Jupiter.  Day by day she would look out toward the distant olive groves.  Her eyes followed the birds, wishing that she too would have wings, to fly away from the memory of corruption.  Her eyes would look past the olive groves to the mountain called Vesuvius, wishing she could somehow hide out in one of its many caves, never to be found.

     It was one March morning when Antonius came down to breakfast, that he went out into the garden.  He found Julia lying down on the velvet cushions of a stone sofa, thinking her asleep, he went to awaken her only to find her cold corpse with a vial of poison in her outstretched hand.

     He would have to live with his “ides of March”, the price of Roman corruption had followed him to Pompeii.  He would have rather faced an assassin’s dagger than see his beloved Julia dead, and by her own hand at that.  Her once lively voice now silenced forever.  

     Marcellus, son of Antonius lay asleep in his room on the second floor of his family’s Pompeian villa.  Suddenly, the earth began to shake and rumble from below, there was a loud noise of an explosion of some sort.  The sky turned dark and the air became hot, so hot that it was hard to breathe.  Small white stones began to fall like heavy rain drops all around the villa; on the roof, in the garden, stones dropped and floated in the fountain.  More stones began to fall, larger ones, stones glowing with red hot fire hit the roof, breaking off bits and pieces of tile.

       As the air became more and more heated, a hot white powder began to fall mixed with the falling stones.  The hot air was now painful to breath in, the smoke and fire seemed to come from the mountain called Vesuvius.  Marcellus clutched his throat as breathing became more and more painful.  The white-powdery substance burned his eyes. Finally, he passed out.

     When he opened his eyes, it was day light.  He was lying on his bed.  The birds in the garden were chirping.  He quickly got out of bed and ran to the window overlooking the garden.  He gazed at the countryside beyond the garden and observed the mountain called Vesuvius in the distance.

     It was the same as ever, a tall monument of earth and stone overlooking the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  A few clouds covered the peak but there was neither fire nor smoke.  Marcellus realized it was a dream, yes, a dream. But what could the dream mean?  All dreams had meanings. Just as the dream of Jacob and the ladder had a meaning, so did this one, but what was the meaning?

     Marcellus got up from his bed, put on his tunic and sandals, and went down stairs to the dining area where his father was having breakfast.

     “Good morning father” greeted Marcellus with his usual smile.

     “Good morning son” replied his father rather coldly.  Antonius had undergone a change since moving to Pompeii.  Even though he retired from the senate of Rome, his thoughts still returned to the corrupt activities he had been a part of. He could not escape his own conscience, and it showed.

     “I am going to meet with Claudia father” replied Marcellus, “I would dine with you but she is waiting for me”.

     “Yes” said Antonius, getting up from the table, “go and meet with your Claudia Do you really take me for a blind fool?” Antonius walked slowly toward his son.  Marcellus was surprised at his father’s response.

     “What do you mean father? I don’t understand?”

     “There have been rumors about secret meetings of Christians, Marcellus” said Antonius coldly, “you and Claudia have been seen with them”.  Marcellus just stared at his father.  So, he knew, somehow, he found out.  He dare not deny his new found faith in Israel’s Messiah, knowing that many had already sacrificed their lives at the mere sport of previous emperors.

     “Have you nothing to say Marcellus?” asked his father

     “Yes father” replied Marcellus standing erect, “I am a Christian and Claudia too”

     “By the gods” roared Antonius “have you any idea how many denarii I’ve had to spend to keep certain people quiet by not sending a message to Rome saying;

‘The son of Antonius Flavius Aquila is part of the sect known as Christians’

“Who knows” he continued “we might lose all this” waving his hands around looking at the villa.

    “It’s always money and everything material, isn’t it father?” replied Marcellus more boldly, “did you ever think, father, that there is more to life than just money and power?”

     “Everything you see here I built for you and your mother” replied Antonius, “but your mother didn’t appreciate it” pointing to her tile image on the wall.

     “How could she?” replied Marcellus, “knowing how this place was built with blood money of innocent Romans, money that closed your eyes to justice and truth.  She couldn’t live with that”

     “It was hard on your mother” said Antonius looking down at the ornate tile floor.

     “Rome took mother’s life” snapped Marcellus, “so many times she cried out for justice and your voice and actions always silenced hers.  She couldn’t live with that anymore. 

    “Your mother took her own life” Antonius said quietly “You were still young”

    “But not too young as not to remember the look in her eyes, of anguish and sadness, you and Rome drove her to her death” replied Marcellus.

     “Remember son, you too are a Roman”

     “Don’t remind me father” cried Marcellus as he turned his back to his father, walking quickly to the entrance of the Villa.  Antonius just stood there watching his son leave the house.  Marcellus turned once more to his father.  He still loved his father, and his heart went out to him.

     “Father, why don’t you come with me and Claudia to our meeting and listen to what is said about the master?” said Marcellus hoping for the best.

     “Just go” yelled Antonius, “go follow your dead Jew and see where it gets you.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in front of a gladiator’s sword. I can’t protect you forever”.

     Marcellus looked at his father sadly, if only he could understand the truth.

“He isn’t dead father, he lives, he lives in the hearts of all those who follow him.

His spirit lives in all who believe in him, even if it means facing the gladius (a roman short sword) or wild beasts.  With those words, he left the house and went out into the street.

     He would look for Claudia in the usual place, at the forum in front of the temple of Apollo, right under the sun dial.  As he made his way to the busy forum, he continued to think about his mother. Oh, how he missed her, if only she had not taken her own life.

     The move to Pompeii was somewhat sudden.  Antonius sought peace and safety from the life of Rome, as there were those who sought his life for his misdeeds.  Pompeii would be like a city of refuge he thought, not only for him but for his family.  But Rome had taken its toll on Julia.  Unable to help those who fell to the fate of the Mamertine, or to the jaws of beasts, she decided to join them by her own hand.

     The forum was just ahead.  Marcellus looked toward the temple of Apollo and found the sundial, but Claudia wasn’t there.  He noticed that there was a group of Pompeians gathered in the middle of the forum.  He heard the voice of one crying out as if giving a speech, a speech of warning.  As Marcellus approached the crowd, he saw Claudia on the outskirts listening attentively.  He approached her and put his hand on her shoulder.

     “Oh Marcellus, I’m glad you’re here” she said with an anxious voice.  “It’s Sostenes, the Greek.  He is going to speak to our group today but he chooses first to speak to this crowd of mockers”.

     “Indeed” replied Marcellus, “he has valor and courage like a gladiator”

     Both Claudia and Marcellus continued to listen.  They now formed part of the crowd which now pressed closely around this old, bearded stranger from Greece.

     “Oh people of Pompeii” continued the stranger, “Rome has sinned a great sin against the Almighty God. Rome has destroyed his holy temple in Jerusalem and has stolen its treasures”.

     “God, which god?” cried out one from the crowd.

     “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” answered the stranger. “The only one God who created the heavens and the earth.  He has seen the corruption of Rome and the injustice toward man.  He has seen the idolatry and sin of this city too. He will therefore come down and destroy Pompeii with fire, brimstone, smoke, and ash.  Judgment will come from your mountain you call Vesuvius. Judgment will be swift for God will not be mocked.  Your city will reap the whirlwind.  Woe unto you people of Pompeii and Herculaneum, flee while you can, flee to the sea to escape judgment”.

     By this time, the people had started to laugh and mock the stranger.  “Get out of here Greek” said one; “This city has too much life to die” said another.  Just then, two burly gladiators pushed through the crowd grabbed the stranger by the arms and pushed him to the ground.

     “Go preach doom to another city old man” said one of the gladiators.

     “The gold, silver, wine, and women keep this city alive” said the other as he gave the stranger a hard kick to his ribs.

     “Sostenes” cried Claudia as she pushed through the crowd, falling by his side to protect him, “Leave him alone”.

     “A few rotten tomatoes and old fruit were cast a Sostenes as he lay on the ground, staining his beard and clothing.

     “Ah, the lady Claudia to the rescue, eh?” remarked one of the gladiators, “then see to it that this old man stays out of trouble, we don’t need any prophets of doom here.”

     The two gladiators then left the crowd which then also dispersed, continuing their routine business in and around the forum.  Marcellus then came near and helped Claudia get Sostenes to his feet.  After a few minutes they were alone, and no one else paid any attention to the three.

     “Sostenes” said Claudia somewhat upset, “were you not told to go straight to the house of Gaius the fisherman?”

     “Ah yes” replied Sostenes, shaking off the dust, dirt, and rotten fruit from his clothing, “but I couldn’t resist speaking to these Pompeians.  They must be warned just as Noah warned the people of his time.”

     “And no one paid any attention to Noah did they?” replied Marcellus, helping the old man to remove the rest of the rotten fruit from his tunic.

     “This is my beloved Marcellus” said Claudia, “he is also a believer in our Messiah from Nazareth.

     “I am glad to meet you Marcellus” replied Sostenes, fully regaining his footing.

“I am used to this my brother, these are the things one must endure for God. At least I have not been stoned like Paul”

     The three then made their way toward the house of Gaius the fisherman, whose house was near the sea port of Pompeii.

     “Sostenes, what happened to you” exclaimed Gaius as he opened the door to let the three in.

     “A little problem convincing the crowd of impending doom” replied Sostenes, sitting down in a rustic wooden chair near the kitchen area.  The ordeal with the crowd and the walk to the sea port wore him out.

     “What are you talking about?” replied Gaius, rather bewildered.

     “I will explain my dear friend” said Sostenes rather calmly.  “Will all the families arrive soon?”

     “Yes” said Gaius, “I have sent word to all of them that you would be here with a special message.”

     “That’s good.  Now I would like to wash and have a little something to eat and drink” replied Sostenes, as he pulled his chair next to the wooden kitchen table, in the humble house of Gaius the fisherman.

     Gaius and his wife went to the kitchen and brought back some food for Sostenes.  He then washed his hands in a small wooden bowl and enjoyed a meal of figs, dates, and some roasted fish with bread.  Gaius then poured some wine in a little wooden cup and handed it to Sostenes.  He broke the bread and lifted up the wine, reciting the blessing.

     As he was eating, the Christian families started to arrive.  Before long, the humble house of Gaius was filled with men, women, and children who had placed their trust in the resurrected Yeshua, Messiah of Israel, and the hope of all mankind.

     As Sostenes got up from the table, Gaius motioned to the people to sit down on the floor.  All eyes were now on Sostenes, the old Greek believer from Athens.

He made his way to the front of the large room, which now seemed small on account of all the people.  Gaius set a chair for him to sit down.  Once seated, Sostenes started his discourse.

     “My dearly beloved brothers and sisters of Pompeii, I wish you peace and the believers of Athens also send greetings and peace”

     “Peace to you also, Amen” replied the crowd in unison.  There were about 50 gathered together in the house of Gaius.

     “For those who don’t know me, my name is Sostenes” he began.  “I am a devote Jew from Athens. I am also a follower of our Messiah Yeshua who was foretold by the prophets of old”

     “It was during the feast of Passover that I and some other Jews from Greece went to Jerusalem for the event.  We had heard when we got there that a certain man named Lazarus was raised from the dead, and that the man “Yeshua” was the one who gave life unto him again.

     “Now, we asked ourselves, if this man Yeshua could possibly be the Messiah that the Torah speaks of, we would have to seek him out and meet him personally.  We found his followers and spoke to one called Phillip and asked him if we could see Yeshua.  He then went and told another named Andrew.  They went and returned to us with Yeshua, who was very happy to meet us.” (John 12:20)

     “He then confirmed our hopes and the miracle with Lazarus.  He revealed to us the prophecies from the Torah concerning himself.  He also told us that now, his time was at an end, and that he would accomplish the purpose for which he came into the world.  We could not understand his saying, but later we understood. It was when we saw this same Yeshua hanging from a Roman cross.”

     “Our souls were parted in pieces, but we also understood that the prophecies of  the Torah concerning Him had to be fulfilled.  “Now, almost 50 years later, Yeshua again spoke to me through his Holy Spirit.  It was through a dream, a strange dream.  It was a dream of fire, smoke, destruction, death, and judgment, the destruction, my dear brothers and sisters, of your city Pompeii and your neighbor Herculaneum.  The fire of judgment will come from the mountain you call Vesuvius.”

     At that time, others from the group of believers stood up and spoke;

     “I too had a similar dream”.  And another said “I too dreamed of fire coming from the mountain.”  The Marcellus slowly stood up and said;

     “I have had that dream for the past three nights.” 

     Claudia looked at him with wide, wondering eyes of awe.  She pressed her hand in his and said;  “I also had the dream”.

     Sostenes, with wide open eyes looked around the room slowly nodding his head.  “Then it is confirmed among all of you.  Judgment is indeed to fall upon this city.  God is not mocked, for in destroying his holy house, now the house of Rome will fall.”

     “But when?” asked one, “When will this occur?”

     “The LORD has hidden this from me” answered Sostenes, “but I will enquire of the LORD right now.”  Sostenes slowly turned and prostrated himself on the floor of the fisherman’s house.  The believers in the room were all quiet, and waiting.  All eyes were on Sostenes.  The lips of Sostenes moved but no sound came out.

     Then, he was quiet, deathly still.  After what seemed to be an eternity of tension, he slowly got to his feet.  His eyes showed a mixture of fear and awe.  Then he spoke his oracle.

     “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Hear ye people of Pompeii and Herculaneum, thou hast lived a life of ease, pride, and arrogance, praying to gods that are not. By the hands of your emperor Titus, my holy house in Jerusalem was laid waste, burned with the fire of hate.  Now, your houses will be laid waste with my fire of judgment that will proceed from my chosen mountain called Vesuvius.  My fire and ashes will cover your cities and they will lay forgotten for a season.

     “For on this day, the twenty and fourth day of this month of Augustus, will judgment fall.  Run my children, run to the sea and sail away to safety.  Tarry not for judgment is here.”

     Sostenes dropped his hands to his side.  All the people in the room were deathly quiet, deep in thought, in unbelief.  Then they started to talk among themselves.  One spoke out

     “The twenty-fourth day of August, that’s today, we have no time to lose”

     Gaius the fisherman spoke next.

     “I have ready three fishing vessels outside tied to the docks; we need only water and provisions”

     Then yet another spoke;

     “I have two boats in the boat houses in Herculaneum.  I will get them and bring them here; I need only a few men to help me.” At that he left quickly followed by four other men of the group.

     Another spoke up; 

     “I am a close friend of Pliny the Elder.  He is at Misenum in charge of the Roman fleet.  I believe he will lend me a few vessels.”

     “Go quickly” cried Gaius, “all of you return to your homes and gather some food and vessels of water.  We shall all meet back here at the docks.  Sostenes, you shall stay here with me.”

     Sostenes, the old Greek nodded and sat down.

     “May the LORD delay his judgment until we are all gathered back together again!”

     “I shall return home and warn my father and the household slaves.” said Marcellus as he embraced Claudia.

     “I too will return home and warn my parents.” replied Claudia, “But I know that they will take me as a fool.”

     “We shall meet back at the boat docks as Gaius directed.” said Marcellus as they broke their embrace and took to the streets of Pompeii.

     The group of believers was soon headed back to their homes as fast as their feet would carry them.  Marcellus passed the Forum, heading toward the street that lead up to his father’s villa.  As he approached his home, he looked into the garden and saw that his father had some guests.  The slaves were also busy serving some wine and food to them.  He approached his father quietly and with due respect.

     “Salutat dear father” said Marcellus as he bowed in reverence.

     “Ah Marcellus my son” replied Antonius lifting a silver cup with wine, “I am sure you know my two friends from the senate at Rome, ex-senators Quintus and Marcus”.

     The two other men nodded at Marcellus, lifting their hands in greeting.

     “It is a pleasure to see you again, dear friends of my father” replied Marcellus.

     “The pleasure is ours” responded the two with a smile.

     “Father, I must warn you” began Marcellus, “we must leave Pompeii at once, there is danger.”

     “Danger?” questioned Antonius. “What sort of danger?”

     “The mountain called Vesuvius will rain down fire and ashes.  This whole city will be covered.  All will be destroyed, lost.  This is the judgment of God.” ended Marcellus excitedly.

     Antonius just sat there on one of the garden’s stone lectus, hanging his head with a deep sigh.  Marcus and Quintus looked at each other and then at Marcellus with looks of confusion and disbelief.

     “And just where did you hear that?” questioned Antonius, looking sternly at his son.

     “From Sostenes, an old man from Athens, and…”

     “A Greek” interrupted Marcus with a laugh, “so that was the commotion at the Forum early this morning.”

     “Those Greeks are all actors, always into drama” added Quintus, looking at Antonius and then to Marcellus.  “But tell me dear son of Antonius” continued Quintus, “which god will bring this judgment?”

     With nerves of iron and a deep breath, Marcellus revealed his faith to the party of three there in the garden.

     “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who is also called Yeshua.  The only One God who came to earth in human form to save all mankind from sin.  It is he who will bring judgment to this city.”

     The three men just sat there at the ornate marble table in the middle of the garden, looking up a Marcellus.  Their eyes spoke of wonder and disbelief, hearing the words that came out of the only son of Antonius.

     “Now my son speaks as a Jew as well as a Christian” responded Antonius rather angrily.  “You see my dear friends” continued Antonius, “Marcellus my son belongs to this sect called “Christians.”  Much to my disappointment he has abandoned the gods of Rome to worship this “Jesus of Nazareth” or as the Jews called him, “Yeshua”

     “But didn’t Rome put him to death under Pontius Pilate?” questioned Quintus

“I believe I remember seeing that report which was sent to Tiberius so many years ago”

     “His followers claim he rose from the dead” said Marcus quietly.

     “Nonsense” replied Antonius loudly, “these Christians have caused nothing but trouble in Rome with their ridiculous teachings.”

     “Trouble?” questioned Quintus, “how?”

     “Why they burned Rome to the ground” replied Antonius, “when Nero was emperor….

     “Oh Antonius” interrupted Quintus, “it was Nero himself who torched Rome,

him and his praetorian guard.  The Christians were only his scape goats, quite impossible for them to have done such a thing, what with their teachings of peace and love.”

     “You speak treason” replied Antonius, now standing erect before his friends, “I could have you arrested for speaking so about an emperor.”

     “Sit down Antonius” replied Quintus rather annoyed.  “I know several Romans who would pay many aureii to have some Cacius or Brutus place a dagger in your gut dear friend.  Hail Caesar!” he said mockingly, raising his almost empty silver cup toward Antonius.

     Antonius glared down at his friend and then slowly sat down, his eyes still flashing anger toward his friend.

     “But come now Antonius, we are good friends, are we not?” replied Quintus smiling.

     “I would never do such a thing. What are a few hundred aureii between you and me?”  “Now about these Christians” continued Quintus, “Why don’t you ask Marcus here about them?” why he would know more about them, wouldn’t you Marcus?” now looking intensely at his other friend.

     Up to now, Marcus had almost nothing to say.  He just sat there with a silver wine cup in his hand.  He seemed though to be deep in thought.

     “I have nothing to say” replied Marcus quietly, not even looking at Quintus.

     “I think you do my friend” said Quintus, “your silence speaks for you. Tell Antonius about your son Flavius.  Remember you are among friends.”

     Marcus finally looked up at his two friends, “My son Flavius is also a Christian” he said softly.

     “Flavius?” said Marcellus, “Yes, I believe I know him.  He brings us the bread from the market place for our meetings.  I deeply admire his devotion and his love for our LORD.”

     Marcus, upon hearing Marcellus, continued to speak, but now with more courage.

     “My son is a changed person since following the teachings of this Jesus. He is more polite, more helpful around the house. Why he even helps the slaves with their chores, something he never would have thought doing before…”

     “You see Antonius” interrupted Quintus, “much benefit could come from this sect called ‘Christianity’, or “the Way” as some of these people call themselves.

Just imagine Rome with these Christians, more love, less corruption, more peace toward fellow man as they often times say.  Rome would be a very different place if these Christians had their way, wouldn’t you say so my dear Antonius?”

     Antonius just sat there looking at Quintus, then at his son, but said nothing.

He seemed to be pondering the words of Quintus, and the testimony of Marcus concerning his son Flavius.  A Christian Rome! What would the world make of it?

     “Please, I beg you all” said Marcellus now with a worried look on his face, “We don’t have much time, we have boats at the docks and we are gathering provisions what with the city marked for destruction….”

     “Marcellus” interrupted Antonius, “My friends and I have business to discuss and we can’t be bothered with the tales of a fanatical old Greek.”

     “It was nice seeing you again Marcellus” said Quintus with a broad smile, lifting his silver cup toward one of the slaves to have it refilled with wine.

     With tears in his eyes, Marcellus turned quickly and left the garden.  He hurried through the streets of Pompeii forgetting all about gathering provisions from his house.  The attitude and disbelief of his father and his friends saddened him, but what more could he do?  Noah also announced judgment in the time of the flood,

But no one believed him.  He made his way through the Forum and hurried in the direction of the docks.

     As he approached, he saw that there was a great crowd already loading provisions aboard the boats, with Claudia among them.  He would do his part with the loading as well.  Suddenly, he felt a rumbling sound beneath his feet.  The sound grew louder, now the ground started to shake.  Then he heard a loud noise like an explosion.  He looked toward Mt. Vesuvius and saw that black smoke and fire were coming from the top.

     He observed a column of black and white smoke reaching far into the sky and then breaking off into what seemed to be branches.  The sky slowly turned dark, blotting out the sun.  Small white pebbles mixed with blacked stones started to fall from the sky, hitting roofs of houses and buildings.  The noise was like a violent rainstorm, but worse.  The pebbles and rocks brought with them a smell like sulfur. The air all around grew hotter and hotter.  Then he heard a voice calling his name, it was Claudia.

     “Marcellus, hurry, we need to leave now!” she shouted from the boat she was near.  Marcellus looked back in the direction of his home.  His thoughts went to his father.  He must, he thought, save him from this now evident judgment of fire from Vesuvius.

     “I must go back for my father” shouted Marcellus.

     “We haven’t the time” cried Claudia, “Please; I don’t want to lose you!”

Marcellus didn’t think twice, he turned and ran back toward the city.  When he reached the Forum, people were crying out to each other, hardly able to see amidst the falling ash which now blanketed the city.  The citizens of Pompeii were running to and fro in mass confusion.  The air was now hot and suffocating, being almost impossible to breathe and see ahead.  Marcellus took a piece of cloth and covered his mouth hoping to filter out the deadly sulfur fumes which now poisoned the air. 

     The volcano continued to throw out burning rocks and ash.  Lava bombs were everywhere.  Only the LORD could protect him from the falling fire.  As he ran toward the direction of his house, he saw Lucius, one of his household slaves running towards him.

     “Marcellus, where are you going?” cried Lucius amidst the cries of the crowd around them.

     “I must rescue my father” cried Marcellus, with eyes wide with fear.

     “It’s too late master Marcellus” replied the slave with tears in his eyes, “the ground opened up under the house and garden, and the walls fell in.  Your father and his friends were buried under the walls.  I am sorry master, only I was able to escape alive.”

     “Oh father” cried Marcellus, burying his face in his hands, “why didn’t you listen? Oh why did you not heed the warning? Now it’s too late.”

     “We must hurry Master Marcellus, to the boat docks!” said Lucius, grabbing Marcellus by the arms.  The two ran through the streets in the direction of the boat docks.

     The volcano was now in full force.  It seemed like all hell had come to the surface of the earth.  Fire and smoke shot high into the sky.  The air was thick with choking gases and sulfur fumes.  All around them burning rocks were falling, red hot with glowing fire.  The lava bombs were hitting buildings and people all around. Marcellus and Lucius passed a poor dog in the agony of death, being slowly covered with hot ash.  Many people now lay still in the ash covered streets, slowly being covered with the volcano’s blanket of death.

     As the two hurried along the streets towards the seaport, they passed a small girl about two years old crying and hugging her mother.  The mother lay dead in the street, her head split open and a smoldering red hot rock lay beside her. 

     Marcellus didn’t think twice.  He rushed over and picked up the whimpering little girl and continued to run toward the boat docks with the house slave Lucius.  Finally they could see the boats at the docks already sailing away.  The air and wind were hot and there was a continuous rain of hot ash and burning rocks all around.  People all around them were screaming and crying out for their loved ones.

     With each breath, the intense volcanic heat and ash scorched the throats of the dying citizens of Pompeii.  It seemed like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra was being repeated. 

     One boat was still tied to the dock. The people on board were shouting to the two who were running towards them.  Marcellus noticed that Claudia was there, standing near the mooring.  She caught sight of Marcellus as he ran alongside of Lucius

     “Marcellus, hurry, we need to leave now” cried Claudia.

     “Get in the boat,” shouted Marcellus, “I’ll untie the ropes.” and he handed the little girl to Claudia.  Marcellus and Lucius both loosened the ropes that held the boat fast to the dock.  They both pushed the boat away from the dock and jumped aboard.

     “Let’s go” cried Gaius the fisherman when he saw that the two were safe on board.

     A few men pulled hard on the oars while a few others pulled up the sail. The hot wind quickly filled the sail and the boat was off, sailing away from the docks of Pompeii.  Burning rocks and ash continued to fall all around them.  The water around the boat sizzled and boiled as the red hot lava bombs hit the surface. 

     The men in the boat strained at the oars, pulling hard against the waves to catch up with the other boats which carried the believers.  Finally, the five boats were together.  Gaius looked around at the boats, and when he saw that they were all together, began thinking about a destination.  The five boats kept up a swift pace, making distance from the burning inferno of Pompeii.  When they were a good distance away, Gaius called out to get the attention of all.  

     The people aboard the boats were talking amongst themselves, wondering about their destination.  Gaius could sense that, and they were quite right to wonder. They had to have some place to go, but where to?  With a loud voice which carried to all five sailing vessels, Gaius stood up and began to speak.

     “Dear brothers and sisters in the LORD, Today our God has saved us from the fire of his wrath against the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Yes, we will miss our homes, but we will find new homes where we shall begin anew.  Now, where will we go? There is the city of Paestum which is South by South East within a day’s sailing.  With fair winds we shall get there shortly.”

     Gaius then sat down and ordered the men at the oars to take the lead.  He motioned with his hand for the other boats to follow him.  All the people nodded their heads in agreement.  Paestum would be their destination and their home for the time being.

     Sostenes got up and moved over to where Marcellus, Claudia, and Lucius were seated.  “Paestum is a small city, but it does have some groups of believers. They will welcome us.” His voice was calm and assuring.  There three sat there and smiled, embracing one another.

     Claudia now looked down at the little girl who was clinging tightly to her legs.

“and this little girl?” she asked

     “Her mother was dead” responded Marcellus.  “I picked her up on the way to the docks.  I believe I did the right thing.  I think the Master would have done the same.”

     “Yes” replied Claudia who picked up the little girl, now holding her against her breasts.  “You did the right thing; this little girl has a new family now.”

     “Well then” said Marcellus, “since we are a family now, don’t you think it would be good to be united as man and wife, and receive the LORD’s blessing on our union?”

     Claudia looked up into the eyes of Marcellus, her own eyes filling with tears of joy.  “With all my heart I will accept you, my dear Marcellus, as my husband.”

     The two then turned to Sostenes.  “My dear brother Sostenes” began Marcellus

“Would you be willing to join us in marriage when we reach Paestum?”

     Sostenes nodded and smiled.  “It would be an honor to join the two of you as man and wife.”

     Marcellus then turned to Lucius who was sitting by his side; “and you my dear Lucius, are no longer a slave, but a free man, so don’t call me master any longer.”

     Lucius looked up at Marcellus, a broad smile of joy appearing on his face.  He slowly got up and embraced Marcellus.  “I would still like to be by your side.  You, Claudia, and this little girl could be my family.” He said with happiness.

     “Then” answered Marcellus, “By our side you shall be, however, you shall receive wages for your services, we can discuss that later when we get to safety.”

     Upon mentioning wages, Lucius reached down and unrolled some clothing revealing a medium sized leather bag.  He untied the top showing the contents of several hundred silver denarii and gold aureii coins. 

     “I took these from your father’s house just before it collapsed Marcellus, I thought this money might come in useful in the future” said Lucius thoughtfully.

     Marcellus and Claudia looked into the bag.  They could only imagine how many lives had been destroyed over the greed of silver and gold.  But now, this silver and gold would have to be put to good use.

     “A heavy burden to bear” said Marcellus, now deep in thought.  “Yes, this money will be useful.  All these people in the boats have lost everything they owned.  When we get to Paestum, we shall divide up the money and give each family an equal share.  They will then have a little something to start their lives over again”

    Marcellus look into the eyes of Lucius, putting his hand on his shoulder he continued.

     “That will be your first duty as my accountant dear Lucius, to separate the silver and gold coins.  Count all the coins and take a count of the people, then each family will receive an equal share of gold and silver.”

     “You are indeed generous Marcellus” said Lucius, “so unlike your father.”

     “My father did not know our LORD and Savior” replied Marcellus sadly. 

     “I would like you to tell me more about Jesus” said Lucius, “I would so much like to be a part of this community of believers called “The Way”.

     “I will gladly tell you all that I know” replied Marcellus happily, “and Sostenes will tell you first hand of the Master of Nazareth.”

     “Yes” replied Sostenes, as he put his hand on Lucius’ shoulder, “I met Jesus many years ago, and it seems like only yesterday.  I will tell you about him.”

     Behind the boats lay the city of Pompeii, now being covered by lava and ash.

The four looked behind one more time at the city of doom, now just a faint orange glow in the distance, the fire, smoke, and ashes, all a reminder of God’s fierce judgment against the empire of Rome.

 

 

PIC:  Region of Galilee, Israel

 

 

     

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Beautiful story.

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