What if Jesus was just a man who heard voices and did what they said? And what if the voices weren't who he thought they were?


"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

CRUCIBLE

The voices, they called to me by name.

"Jesus," they chanted, "borne of a Virgin Mother," tenderly, affectionately. They soothed my soul far more than the salve of my mother's love.

"Son of God, hark my words. For it is ye who hold the key to man's salvation."

The voice was so sweet, the hallucination so beautiful. His incandescent crown aloft in the air. His goldspun hair gleamed in the darkness. He fluttered gracefully above me. I reached out with my child's fingers to grasp him. I felt the silky cloak escape my hold, lighter than air. Softer than silk.

"Jesus of Nazareth, you are meant for greatness."

Gabriel reached out and held me aloft as if I weighed nothing.

"Teach them to forget their pagan gods and their heretic idols for you alone can show them the way. Lead them to me. Strip them of their convictions and their rituals. You are the messiah. For children are the surest way to heaven, their hearts are the purest. Let yours remain as white as snow."

I who had farther to go than all on the thorny path of virtue. I merely followed the footprints of the angels on the road never traveled.

Still temptation came for me in so many skins for I was still a man.

Gluttony.

Greed.

Pride was my constant nemesis. Who were kings to contest my utterances? What was a king to a God?

Sloth.

But most of all, my body hungered for the handsome Mary Magdalene.

At times I saw no hope. The fate of humanity seemed unsavable. Wrath for my father and his brethren overtook me.

"Lead yourself not into temptation," they admonished. "You must," they insisted. "You are the Chosen One, the son of the Lord."

It was plain to me that I had no choice.

I lashed myself before I went to sleep in exchange for blessed serenity and freedom from trepass. They rejoiced in my penance. "You are truly without sin," they praised me. "Hallelujah," they exulted and praised me for my solemnity to my task. "So stay your fears, for it is far more to suffer among men than to seek respite in Hell."

My fellow disciples, numbered a few good men among the scores of evil. How could I ever hope to baptize this new faith into being, if it was being routed out by so many heretics – What was a merciful God to a non-believer?

"Stray not and thou shalt be rewarded, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. Great things will come to you, but you will also suffer. But therein your suffering will lie the key to the Kingdom of Heaven for man."

I fasted for penance, but when the voices were joined by others, I ceased. The sinful whispers in my ear were stayed only by the echoes of my apostles. They pleaded for me, breathed only for my word. I could hope that I would lead them not astray.

Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, though I knew him for a different name: Judas Isacariot, pure of heart.

It was he who loved me the most and he who will be rewarded beyond all others on the Day of Judgement. Judas who wept bitterly into my breast when I told him of his destiny, who refused until I told him the fate of man resteth with him - who begged and pleaded that he would willingly take my fate.

Envy filled me for the fate of Judas Iscariot, my truest, most beloved disciple. For as difficult as his burden was, it was nothing for what lay ahead. I coveted his task, but I was to proceed for only by his treachery would mankind be saved – his sin to pay for all of theirs.

"No other will receive a higher place in Heaven. It will be no more right, because God himself willed that his son be delivered to death, to ascribe the guilt of the crime to Judas than to God."

Was one sin worse than another? How I lied to the disciples that I loved. How I had cursed Judas to a fate worse than mine? He and all his successors would only in the shadow of his ignominy, out of love for me.

Where was humanity? Were these indeed the peoples that I was saving? The rancid stench of fear and conquest. Those that would unfeelingly crucify me?

I relinquished my sight. My vision of the world was so ugly I couldn't bear to see it for a moment more.

If this was greatness, I would rather be wicked. Have I done wrong by Judas?

"You have done well."

Have I? What have I done?

I have lead my followers to this moment, cursed them with my teachings, betrayed them with my death. They will drown by the weight of their wisdom in the far-flung sea of sin. A dead man is a dead man no matter how beautiful his grave. Where will their faith take them now?

Could I be sure it had not been the sinful mellifluence of Lucifer who spoke so sweetly to me. What merciful father would sacrifice his son on the altar of humanity?

And somehow, for such a harsh edict, their voices were lovely.

All my years to this moment. All my roads to this impasse. All my pride to this fall.

They persuaded, sang, demanded, groveled, and, in the end, threatened. They promised me the macabre, showed me grotesque sights I could never unsee if I failed, the fate I condemned humanity to if I were to fail-my sins for theirs, all will be wiped away and cleansed.

"My son, welcome. My kingdom is thine."

Oh, Lord, forgive my doubts. I am your son and I did your bidding. Have mercy upon me for I share the failings of man.

"Open your eyes, Jesus of Nazareth and look upon your eternal resting place."

I opened my eyes, prepared for the glorious fruit of my toils.

He was so lovely. No other angel held a candle to his luminous beauty. He seemed to shine with an inner light that spread to touch everything around him, like the radiance of the morning sun.

He smiled unto me.

It was terrifying and beautiful.

"Welcome to paradise."

Finally, the voices I recognized them.

I looked behind me, where I could still see the throngs of people amassed around my lifeless earthly body, waiting to follow my lead. Terrible cries and among them, blossoming hope.

Lord, what hast I committed? I have walked so long on this road and yet did not recognize the absence of your mercy. I mistook the footprints for guides, the seven circles for halos.

No one answered.

Then this, this is the road to perdition.

Lucifer beckoned.