For a split second, Abel felt excruciating pain as a rock smashed the base of his skull. He blacked out momentarily. When he came to, he felt himself floating above his crumpled body. His head lay in a pool of blood.
Cain was standing over the corpse, with fear in his eyes. Then Cain ran away.
Abel was still trying to piece together what had happened. He and his brother were having a verbal altercation. When Abel turned his back to leave, that’s when it happened.
It suddenly occurred to him that Cain tried to kill him. How could his own brother do that?
It then occurred to him that Cain had succeeded in killing him. Was he dead? Is this what it was like to be dead?
He had seen animals die. Indeed, he had killed his share of animals. Livestock and wild animals. He was a hunter and herdsman.
After his parents were banished from Eden, they moved south to a shady spot on the right bank of the Upper Euphrates, which would one day become Carchemish—the future capital of the Hittite Empire. There his parents and their two sons tried to eke out a meager subsistence from farming, fishing, hunting, and husbandry.
He used to own a pet fox he was very fond of. Because its mother would prey on his lambs, he set a trap. She left a puppy behind, which he raised. Nursed by hand with goat milk.
But it grew frail with age and died. Everything died.
His parents also told him about the curse. About their impending demise. They, too, would age. They, too, would die of illness or old age.
But this was different. Abrupt. Violent.
And, as it turned out, they would have to bury their son.
Yet he didn’t have much time to think about it before he felt himself passing through a tunnel towards a light. When he came out the other end, he was back in his body—or so it seemed—standing on the bank of the Euphrates. It’s as if he’d never left.
And there was a stranger standing nearby. The stranger looked like a man, but there was something a little odd about his appearance. The face was perfectly symmetrical. Except for his eyebrows, he had no facial hair. No beard. No stubble. The skin was perfectly smooth. No lines. No variation in the tone or texture of the skin. No freckles or blemishes or ruddy cheeks or five-o’clock shadow.
“Who are you?” Abel asked.
“Gabriel,” he answered.
“Are you a man?” Abel asked.
“No, I’m an angel,” Gabriel answered.
This is the first time Abel had ever seen an angel. He’d heard of angels. His parents told him about the cherubim who patrolled the Garden of Eden. They told him about the Angel of the Lord.
And they told him about another angel named Draco. Draco tempted his parents to disobey the Lord.
“Is that your body?” Abel asked.
“I don’t have a real body,” Gabriel answered. “I assume this form when I speak to human beings.”
“Am I dead?” Abel asked.
“Yes,” Gabriel answered.
“Do I have a body?” Abel asked.
“Not really. Not now,” Gabriel answered. “Someday you will. At the resurrection of the dead.”
“So this is like a dream body?” Abel asked.
“Yes, you could say that,” Gabriel replied.
“Where am I?” Abel asked.
“Heaven,” Gabriel replied.
“This is heaven?” Abel asked. “Why does it look like earth? Why does it look just like where I came from?”
“Heaven isn’t any one thing or one place,” Gabriel explained. “Heaven is a place of infinite beauty and infinite variety. Endless possibilities. We thought it best to start you in familiar surroundings. Give you time to adjust. After you get used to your new existence, I’ll show you other dimensions of heaven.”
“So this is like a dream?” Abel asked.
“You could say that,” Gabriel answered. “But you won’t be waking up from this ‘dream.’ Not for thousands of years. Not until the resurrection the dead.”
Outwardly, heaven was just like the world he left behind. Night and day. Wind and water.
Yet something felt different. For a time he couldn’t quite put his finger on the difference. He couldn’t see anything different.
Then it occurred to him. What made it different wasn’t the presence of something new, but the absence of something old.
He was different. For the first time in his life, he was sinless. And that made all the difference. A world of difference. He saw his old world through new eyes.
All the anxiety, sadness, resentment, regret, impatience, pride, and boredom which he used to feel from time to time had melted away.
He could now see the beauty in all the little, mundane things he used to take for granted.
Living with his parents was sad—because his parents were sad. So sad. Burdened with regret. Inconsolable.
He was alone here, but he didn’t feel lonely. For heaven was reverberant with hope and expectancy.
There was no hurry. Each day had its own good things—to taste and savor. Just enough. Not too much and not too little.
He wasn’t totally alone, though. He had his pet fox. Gabriel restored his pet fox to him.
Abel was sitting on the bank of the river when Gabriel appeared to him.
“Now that you’ve had time to become accustomed to your new existence, what would you like to see?” Gabriel asked.
“Could I see Eden?” Abel asked.
His parents often spoke of Eden. Of life in Eden. Of what they left behind. Bittersweet memories. Nostalgia drenched in regret. So Abel was naturally curious about the Garden of Eden.
“Yes,” Gabriel answered. “We have a replica of Eden.”
The scene faded. The very next moment he found himself in the Garden of Eden.
It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. A river valley with plush meadows and perennial trees. Wildflowers and fruit trees. Songbirds and butterflies. And panoramic views of the Taurus Mountains in the distance.
The fruit was delicious. Not that he needed to eat to survive. But heaven simulated the senses. Indeed, it was more vivid than life on earth.
Abel lost track of time. Every day was full of wonders, great and small.
One day, whether months or years later, Abel couldn’t tell, Gabriel appeared to him again.
“Today I’ll take you to see the New Jerusalem.”
The New Jerusalem was a vast, gleaming city, like a huge solarium or Gothic cathedral. A park-like city.
It’s as if a city sprung up from the Garden of Eden. The New Jerusalem had a river flowing through it, lined on either side with trees like the tree of life.
It felt a little odd to be the first man in heaven. To stroll through this deserted city. It was an awesome sight.
But he didn’t want to live there. Not alone, all by himself. Not now. Not yet. But the day would come.
One day, when Abel was back in the Garden of Eden, Gabriel appeared to him once again.
“Today I’ll take you to the throne room of God!”
The throne room was situated in the New Jerusalem, within the inner sanctum. He who sat upon the throne had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, were wingéd seraphim. And day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"
Abel was overwhelmed. He swooned at the sight. When he awoke, he was back in Eden.
Abel waited. As the first man in heaven, he would be the usher, to greet each saint upon their arrival, as they began to trickle in. Be their tour-guide to the glories of heaven. He was given visions of the future to prepare him.
And come they did. One by one, then by twos and threes. The trickle became a steady stream—at times a torrent. First Enoch. Then Abel’s parents. And Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and so many many more—from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
The deserted city began to fill and to swell. Brimming over with the joyful citizens of a better country.
And so it went—until the day of resurrection, when the New Jerusalem made her earthly descent. Heaven on earth, for the ages to come.