The peaceful sound coming from the river running nearby and the touch of the fresh breeze on his skin soothed him and brought back good memories. The view from the balcony of the house, featuring a mountain rim that surrounded a vast green carpet covering the whole valley of Shushan, made Artaxerxes feel right at home. He was serene for a moment before he got angry again.
“Nehemiah, what are you trying to say?” Artaxerxes asked.
He kept gazing at the landscape. The surroundings looked familiar, but this house was not his. It looked more like a house of a slave or a servant. He refused to believe that his palace, together with his empire, was gone.
“I know it’s hard to accept,” Nehemiah said. “Here, please. Drink some water.”
“Are you not forgetting something, cup-bearer?” Artaxerxes demanded.
“Don’t worry,” Nehemiah replied. “The water is fine.”
Artaxerxes took the cup and sat down.
They had been there for hours. After Nehemiah mentioned that Artaxerxes was no longer a king, he kept going on and on, moaning about it. Artaxerxes was so absorbed in his feelings that he hadn’t noticed how Nehemiah looked so much younger now. Worse yet, he had not even realized how he had become a young strong man himself. In 424 BCE, the year that Artaxerxes died, there were no mirrors in the Persian houses, and he kept missing the polished disk of copper on the wall by the bed.
“This is all Themistocles’s fault,” he murmured, standing up and moving towards the balcony’s parapet. He kept looking at the horizon.
“Themistocles?” Nehemiah said. “The Athenian general?
“Yes. Who else?” Artaxerxes exclaimed.
“I can see why you would think that, but I assure you; Themistocles had nothing to do with your present situation.”
“You?’ Who are you calling, You?” Artaxerxes protested. “Show me some respect, Nehemiah, please.”
“Sorry, but as I said…”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about, Nehemiah. Themistocles had everything to do with it. I’m sure,” Artaxerxes affirmed.
Nehemiah nodded and listened patiently.
“We had a plan to stop Athens. The plan was simple,” Artaxerxes continued. “Sparta hated the Athenians. We would fund Sparta’s military build-up while making overtures of peace and gifts of gold to Athens. The Spartans would eventually grow tired of Athenian arrogance and would be ready to wage war against them.
“I understand, but…” Nehemiah tried.
“When the time came,” Artaxerxes continued, “Themistocles was supposed to help the Spartans defeat the Athenians. That was the deal. I granted him asylum in Persia when the Athenians wanted to kill him, and he was supposed to repay me by helping us take Athens,” he explained.
“Hmm, hmm,” Nehemiah nodded.
“But, what does Themistocles do, you ask?” Artaxerxes paused and took a deep breath before he exclaimed. “He kills himself! Can you believe that?” he said, upset. “And that was the beginning of the end, Nehemiah. After that, it was just a matter of time before they came for us.”
“I see,” Nehemiah said, calmly.
“We fell before the Greeks, didn’t we? Tell me I am wrong,” he demanded.
There was silence for a time. Artaxerxes stared at the horizon again while Nehemiah waited. He was about to say something when Artaxerxes resumed.
“I guess you’re right. It wasn’t Themistocles’s fault,” he said gloomily. “I’m the only one to be blamed for this. I should have known that he would never fight against his countrymen.” Artaxerxes paused again and turned towards Nehemiah, and asked: “Maybe, ruling over kings with a light benevolent hand wasn’t such a good idea, was it? So much for being the ‘Kings of Kings’ now.” Nehemiah approached and stood beside him.
“What has become of me, Nehemiah?” Artaxerxes continued. “What am I now? A slave?” he asked, still agitated. “Look at me,” he pleaded, pointing at his simple white garments. “A slave to the Greeks?”
“You are not a slave to the Greeks. You are…”
“Of course not,” Artaxerxes interrupted again, shaking his head. “The Greeks would have killed me,” he thought aloud. “To whom, then? To the Egyptians?” he asked. “But we are not in Egypt,” he remarked, looking at the scenery that reminded him of Shushan’s basin, but not quite. “Where are we anyway, Nehemiah? What place is this?”
“Artaxerxes, please calm down,” Nehemiah said, touching Artaxerxes’ shoulder empathetically. “Why was he so troubled by his lost empire? Can’t he see that he is not an eighty-years-old sick man anymore?” Nehemiah thought to himself. After giving Artaxerxes a moment to settle down, he asked him: “Do you remember how the Greeks called you Longimanus?“
“Are you making fun of me now?” Artaxerxes replied, standing up and moving away from Nehemiah. “Is it not enough that I have lost everything? You still have to mock me?” he said, turning his back to Nehemiah.
“Sorry. It was not my intention to offend you,” Nehemiah replied. He was truthful, but he did need to try something that would get Artaxerxes’ attention and help him stop obsessing about his lost empire. “I just want to show you something,” he continued. “They called you Longimanus because your right hand was longer than you left hand. Look at your hands now,” he requested.
“What kind of silly game is this Nehemiah…huh…what?!” Artaxerxes shouted, looking at his hands perplexed. “My hand!” he exclaimed, staring at his perfect hand; before of abnormal size. “How is that possible?” he asked, dumbfounded.
“Come inside. I want to show you something else,” Nehemiah went back to the bedroom, taking Artaxerxes with him. “Look,” he said, pointing to a polished disk of copper hanging on the wall. “Do you recognize that young man?”
“Huh,” Artaxerxes gasped. “Nehemiah? Is that? Am I? How?”
“Come with me,” Nehemiah said. He knew now what he would have to do. Maybe a little sooner than he would normally do when welcoming people from 400 BCE back to life, but he felt like Artaxerxes had forced his hand. They walked out of the house where Nehemiah took out a device from his inner garments and pushed a button. The house, the mountains, the river, the wind, everything vanished. The Persian landscape gave place to a large white dome-like structure. The room had only one door, no windows, and walls and ceilings were covered with screen panels. Nehemiah kept moving towards the door, but Artaxerxes stayed behind unmovable, bewildered by what his eyes were seeing.
“Artaxerxes!” Nehemiah called out. Artaxerxes jumped back, startled. Not a drop of blood on his stunned facial expression.
“Don’t worry, my friend,” Nehemiah reassured him. “Come with me. It’s all right.”
“What kind of magic is this, Nehemiah? Is this vision coming from your God?”
“As I’ve been trying to explain, you were dead, my friend. And you were brought back to life. Welcome to Paradise,” Nehemiah pronounced excitedly. “Come! I will show you everything,” he said, turning around and moving towards the door.
“Nehemiah, wait!” Artaxerxes demanded while trying to catch up with him. “Paradise?” he asked, confused.
“Paradise?” Artaxerxes said. “This is very different from my idea of paradise.”
It was a lovely sunny day in Israel. The gardens of the Lazarus complex looked especially beautiful at that time of the year. Nehemiah and Artaxerxes enjoyed going for a walk during their break.
“What do you mean?” Nehemiah asked.
“Well,” Artaxerxes said, feeling a little bit ashamed of himself. “I think I hate cleaning,” he said.
“Ha ha ha,” Nehemiah laughed until he realized that Artaxerxes didn’t laugh with him. “Ow. Are you serious? Of course, you are being serious. I am sorry,” Nehemiah said. “What is so bad about it?” he asked.
“You know,” Artaxerxes answered. “Before I would have servants to work for me. And now I have to cook for myself. Wash dishes, tidy up my own house, wash my own clothes. And when I am ready with that, I still have to come here and work with…cleaning. It feels like my life has become a big unending chore sometimes. Chores I don’t like doing.”
“Okay,” Nehemiah said. “I know you don’t like cooking. But you don’t have to cook that much, do you? Since most days, you have dinner with families in the congregation and with me?”
“That is true, but…”
“And as for the dishwashing, we can get you one of those new recycle bins that is also an object printer, have you seen them? They separate and break down any material you want into its atomic building blocks and it uses that to print new objects, like dishes, cutlery, cups, even clothes.”
“Hmm hmm. I know,” Artaxerxes said. “A brother in my department just installed one for me yesterday.”
“Really? How nice of him,” Nehemiah said. “And you have the automatic surface cleaner in your place, don’t you? All Lazarus’ student housing is equipped with that, right?”
“They do, yes,” Artaxerxes responded. “With a push of a button, the walls and floors of a chosen room will chemically react with the dust and dirt, breaking them down and absorbing them, pretty much as the soil does with biodegradable material on its surface. It’s amazing.”
“It is,” Nehemiah replied. “As for your cleaning assignment, they have even better-cleaning systems here in Lazarus, don’t they?” Nehemiah said. “And how many days a week is your assignment now? Three days?”
“Two,” Artaxerxes replied.
“Two days,” Nehemiah repeated. “Talk to me, my friend. Is cleaning really the problem?”
“I guess not.”
“Do you still miss the advantages of the life of a king?”
“Yes. I do,” Artaxerxes replied. “I miss being in charge. It’s very hard for me to take orders from someone else, and not having servants to do things for me.”
“What about the disadvantages of a king’s life? What don’t you miss?”
“Ah. There are a lot of things I don’t miss about being a king. The conflicts, the betrayals, the lies, the schemes, the killing, the fight over power. “
“You are well known for having been an extremely kind and good-hearted king. What we have today, isn’t it what you have envisioned? What are the things you love here that you didn’t have then?”
“Being young again is amazing. The wonders of the New World are fascinating. I’m humbled by the advances made by humankind here. And playing with wild animals on that trip we made around Asia and Africa? That was marvelous! But, it’s the love, peace, and unity among people here that really makes me love this place. “
“Would you trade what you have today for the life you had then?”
Days later, Nehemiah joined Marcel and the other princes to discuss the needs of their local territory. Nehemiah shared with the body how Artaxerxes is responding to training. Artaxerxes had just graduated from his School For Resurrected Ones at Lazarus XII and received a cleaning assignment while continuing personal training both on a spiritual and a practical level.
“My dear friend is still struggling to adapt. Going from a king to a subject overnight hasn’t been easy for him,” Nehemiah said.
“Totally understandable,” Marcel said. “I can only imagine how it might feel. And he is not the only one that had to go through that process. Remember how David, as in the king David, also had a hard time at first?”
“Marcel! You are a genius!”
“Aren’t we all?” Marcel said, joking. But no one laughed. “Because we are perfect?” he continued. “And, we have perfect brains? Get it?” he kept trying, already turning red. And then there was silence.
“Yet, not very funny,” Nehemiah said, breaking the silence making them laugh. “David is building a convention hall in our territory, isn’t he?” Nehemiah continued.
“Yes, he is,” Ezra confirmed. “They start construction in a couple of weeks. He is beyond himself with the privilege of finally being able to build houses for Jehovah. His assignment in the worldwide building committee is a dream come true for him.”
“Maybe he can give me a few minutes of his time. I would love for him to talk to Artaxerxes,” Nehemiah said.
“Oh, yeah. Great idea. He would definitely love to do that. Ezra,” Marcel continued. “You will meet with the building committee, right? Could you talk to David after that meeting?”
“Consider it done,” Ezra said.
In the course of the meeting, they also talked about how the vast majority of resurrected unrighteous ones in their territory were accepting, adapting, and integrating very well into the new society, while some individuals born in the New Earth are displaying a lack of interest in spiritual matters. Young ones are more interested in enjoying life. Many have become addicted to adrenaline putting their own lives at risk while pushing their perfected abilities. Some feel they should be able to do whatever they want. They discussed how the New Heavens program ‘Learn From The Past‘ would help these young ones learn more about humankind’s dark past, and perhaps help them appreciate what God’s kingdom has done.
I have fought battles; I have won wars. I have defeated generals and their armies. I have faced death many times. Every single time I looked it straight into its eyes, unmovable and unafraid. I have never backed down or felt like running away before, but this? This is an army of a completely different kind, and for the first time in my life, I am terrified.
“Thank you, brother da Vinci,” the moderator said. “That was very insightful. Who has another question for our special guests?” he asked.
‘Teenagers.’ So many of them. Hundreds of them. They were all there, staring at me. Well, fortunately, not only at me. My colleagues seemed to have done this before. They sounded very confident and articulated. Not at all nervous.
“The young man in the third row,” the moderator said. “Please, tell us your name and your question.”
“Here we go again,” I thought to myself, hoping he would miss me.
“My name is Carl. My question is for brother Einstein,” the young boy said.
To my satisfaction, the children seemed to be more interested in my new friend Albert than in me.
“Okay. Go ahead, Carl,” the moderator said.
“Why don’t we hear more from you, sir? You don’t publish your studies and discoveries as often as you used to. What happened? Did you get bored?” the boy asked.
“Hi, Carl. Please, call me Albert,” he said.
I had seen old pictures of him, and I had to say. Paradise did him good. Fortunately, they didn’t have any of these so-called photographs of me lying around.
“That is a great question,” Albert continued. “Of course, I didn’t get bored. I never get bored. But you are right. I have been publishing less than I used too. What happened?”
I looked at the boy while Albert spoke. He looked fascinated, thrilled to hear from him. I guess I would be too if I understood half of the things he wrote about. He seemed to have been a pretty big deal in his time, and he was definitely a big deal now.
“With time, I decided that I don’t ever want to lose what I have,” Albert continued. “A perfect body. A perfect brain. And the possibility to keep learning for eternity. But, for me, it is not enough to be able to live forever. I have realized that the best part about creating and discovering is sharing what you have created or learned with someone else. I have also realized that I want to share all the things I have with as many people as possible. And I want to share in their creations and discoveries too. But the end of the Millennium Reign is drawing near, and we all know what is coming. So I decided that I would dedicate more of my time helping as many people as I possibly can to be ready to stand firm and survive the Final Test.” He paused for effect and took some steps forward in the boy’s direction. “I made a mistake once, where I prioritized my curiosity and personal achievements over others’ needs and the greater good. I had to live with the pain of knowing that my work contributed to thousands of people’s death. You all know what I am talking about. Thanks to our Creator, many of them were brought back to life and are here today. But I promised myself not to make the same mistake again. I continued advancing my work, sure. But my work is not my number one priority in my life anymore,” Albert said.
He is good, isn’t he? After that one, even I was fascinated with him.
“Thank you so very much, brother Albert,” the moderator said. “Would someone else like to ask a question?” he asked. “Please. Here, the young lady in the front. Tell us your name and your question.”
“My name is Ana, and I also have a question for brother Albert.”
They loved him. I could only hope they kept firing their question at him.
“Is it true that you said once, ‘I want to know God’s thoughts’? You said that in the old world before your resurrection, right? What about now? Are you still trying to know God’s thoughts?”
“Great question, Ana,” Albert said. “I like to think that now I have a pretty good idea about how He thinks. And it has nothing to do with how much more I know now about how things in the visible universe work. It has everything to do with how I feel spiritually connected with him and his creation and how I know him as a person. I still want to know exactly what his thoughts are, especially about the universe. Still, I am quite sure that once our King hands over the kingdom to our Father, we will have a completely different kind of relationship with Him, and that intimate relationship will allow us to have even greater insight on how He thinks. I’m looking forward to that.”
“Okay, guys. One more question before we conclude. Yes. Please, the young men in the back,” said the moderator.
“My name is Alex. I love history, and my question is to Artaxerxes.”
“To me? Are you sure?” I thought to myself.
“Go ahead, Alex,” the moderator said.
“Well, you were one of the most powerful kings in human history. Now your current assignment is to help with the cleaning in the Lazarus Center. How do you feel about it? Don’t you miss being rich and powerful?”
Do you understand now why I was so nervous?
“Hi, Alex,” I said. “I have to confess that it was hard for me in the beginning. Before, since I was a child I had people treating me like I was some kind of a god. Never learned how to do simple basic things like cleaning or cooking because I had never needed to. But now I know all about cleaning, as you might guess. And I have never been happier. One thing about being powerful is that you can rule over other people. And without Jehovah’s guidance, we did a pretty bad job doing that. We were terrible at it. A lot of people died when I was a ruler. And I killed a lot of people because I wanted to continue to be in power. Today I don’t have to decide who lives or dies to protect my people and my family’s ways of life. I wouldn’t ever trade the peace and unity we have today for the riches and power I used to have back in the old world. Most of you here have no idea what real suffering and pain feels like. For most of you here, human death is just a concept. Learn from the mistakes of those who lived through human history and cherish what you have. You are truly fortunate. You have everything. And do never allow anyone to fool you into thinking otherwise,” I said.
“That was beautiful, Artaxerxes. Thank you for that,” the moderator said. “Thank you too, brother Einstein and bother da Vinci, for being part of this wonderful interview series of the ‘Learn From The Past’ program,” he continued. “We very much appreciated you taking the time to share some of your thoughts and experiences with us today.” The moderator then turned to the audience and continued. “And for you, students. Don’t forget. Next week we will have a field trip through what once was Rome, and brother da Vinci will be our tour guide,” he concluded.
“Brother Artaxerxes, are you ready?” Nehemiah asked.
“Yes,” prince Artaxerxes replied. “A little nervous. I hope he reacts better than I did.
“You were trained for this moment. You will do just fine. Now go on in before he wakes up.”
“Hey, grandpa. How are you feeling?”
“Artaxerxes? Is that you?” Darius I replied.