From the day that the Temple was opened, membership in the Twelve Tribes (which totalled144,000) froze. Suddenly it was as difficult to win a new disciple as what it had been before the Temple agreement had been signed.

 

Both Rayford and Chaim were prepared for it. They switched their emphasis after the Temple opening from outreach to inreach. Bases gradually moved from paying rent to squatting in disused buildings; laptops were updated to models that would pick up email from public phone booths; and more time was spent on theory. During those first seven and a half months, few of the 144,000 members had been able to find time enough to read, much less digest, all the truth that was in the material that Chaim and Rayford had prepared. Now they could spend whole days studying and discussing what had been prepared specifically for them and for their place in history.

 

Translators completed the articles that they had not been able to finish earlier, and Neville and Rayford were able to update all of the studies on the internet, creating links for sites in virtually every major language. CDs and audio cassettes were prepared and stockpiled, along with hundreds of tons of printed literature.

 

The material itself was altered, in many cases, because what was going to be needed for the next great surge would be different to what had just taken place. Rayford explained it in an article called "The Seal and Beyond". He wrote:

 

"You people have been sealed or especially selected by God to be the force that he uses to proclaim his message to the entire world in the last three and a half years of church history.

 

"Don't be surprised that you cannot see some outward evidence of your seal. The seal itself is known only to God. But our miraculous coming together as a worldwide, visible force is the greatest proof that he has chosen us.

 

"It may be that God will bring in others to take the place of any of us who die or who turn away from following the Lamb. But apart from that, there will be no further growth in our numbers. You could say that our fate has been sealed. However, as you each must realise, we still have our free will. We can still choose to reject our calling and be lost. Do not be drawn into tempting God by believing the lie that he has no right to take away your inheritance (as he did with the Jews, and as he has done with the institutional church); for if you do, your place will most assuredly be given to someone else.

 

"Nevertheless, God, who knows the end from the beginning, must know that at least the majority of us will freely choose not to turn back. Similarly, he knows that the majority of those who have not been included in our numbers will refuse to turn to him, no matter what happens.

 

"What remains for us to do now is to point the way for great multitudes to escape the curse of the Antichrist. But, to do that will, to a large extent, actually create the Great Tribulation. I will explain:

 

"As you know, people are daily accepting the Mark of the Beast, and they are doing it by the millions. They have been told by their religious leaders that they could do it and then claim ignorance, or that they can make some demand upon God's grace when Jesus returns, and they will be saved. It will be our job to preach most strongly against that lie, at the same time that we actually do offer those billions who have accepted the Mark of the Beast one last hope of salvation."

 

The Twelve Tribes were shocked by Rayford's claim that there could be a means of salvation even after people had accepted the Mark; but Chaim backed him up in what he said.

 

They were not told, however, what form their message of salvation to the Marked ones would take. They were only told that it would be revealed to them after the final three and a half years had started. For now, they should teach as strongly as possible against such a hope.

 

The tribes had heard enough to do two things. For one thing, what they heard challenged each of them to ask God for reassurance that they had not been deceived. They were living in a time of great deception, as had been prophesied, and what Rayford and Chaim were saying sounded suspiciously like the lie of perverted grace that they had each been delivered from.

 

The other thing that the message had done was to purify their attitude toward others who had taken the Mark. It was so easy to be self-righteous if, in fact, there was no further need to love these eternally damned people. But what if the world was not yet eternally damned? And what if the 144,000 themselves could be eternally damned? Such doubt about their own salvation and about the hopelessness of others was good for them; it worked against their natural tendency toward religious pride.

 

In the meantime, while the Twelve Tribes waited for the day to come when the message of salvation would be preached to the damned, it was hard to believe that they were actually living in the last days. The world had miraculously recovered from the greatest disaster in recorded history, as people put behind them the tragedy of more than thirty-five million deaths in America's collapse. On the heels of that horrible event, the rest of the world was, in fact, prospering as it had never done before. Xu Dangchao's incredible leadership had brought in a number of changes, each of which had benefited virtually everyone. Even the Twelve Tribes themselves had benefited from the new era of religious tolerance.

 

How hard it was to believe that the future held pain and suffering in store for the world, which would make the significance of the fall of America shrink by comparison!

 

"Use it! Use it!" Chaim had written in a list of instructions on how they should use their time during this period of apparent world peace. "But don't for a minute believe that it is genuine," he warned.

 

Chaim and Rayford both believed the authorities must have taken notice of their little movement by now, and they knew that it would just be a matter of time before the axe would fall.

 

A prophetic promise about God's people being given "the wings of an eagle," in order to escape the coming persecution, had stumped both of them. It obviously was poetic. They did not expect to sprout literal wings. But even if they had succeeded in gathering enough aircraft to fly themselves somewhere, they did not know of any place on earth where they could hide from the technology that would be available to the government to hunt them down.

 

Air travel itself was becoming increasingly more difficult, both because of the need for a Mark to purchase a ticket, and because of the number of authorities and regulations governing it.

 

Some Bible experts had taught that the place of hiding would be in Petra, a city carved out of solid rock, in Jordan. But it would hardly be impenetrable against modern technology, and if it was to have been secret, that cover had been blown by all the commentators who had announced it as the secret place in their writings.

 

Scripture called the place of refuge, "the wilderness", or "a desolate place", but neither of the two leaders could say where it would be. For the time being, they urged members of the movement to just maintain a low profile in their own localities, and to take comfort in the Rock of Ages, and in his teachings, which the Bible promised would be like a solid rock, protecting them from the coming "floods" and "storms". (Matthew 7:24-25)

 

Neville was joined by other computer experts who had become part of the Twelve Tribes, and together they had devised a series of satellite relays for their website which would make it difficult to track them down. But they still knew that it would only be a matter of time before that important link of communication would also be cut off.
* * *

 

It was less than three years since the Temple had been opened in Jerusalem. Half a dozen high level security experts were gathered in semidarkness, around a series of sophisticated computers and other hardware in an office in Moscow, on a Monday evening in late June. Other office staff had gone home for the night.

 

One of the experts, a big man named Sergei, broke the silence as they all stood staring at the screen on one particular computer, obviously waiting for something to happen. "Any of you guys ever visit the site yourselves?" he asked innocently, in an effort to ease the boredom.

 

The others looked at each other, hesitant about answering. Sergei guessed that he had asked an embarrassing question, but he tried to patch the matter up with further talk.

 

"It's ridiculous, really. They think people can live without money. They say the implant comes from the Devil." And Sergei laughed nervously.

 

Still no response. The others turned and looked at Sergei, as though waiting for him to say more.

 

"I...I only checked it out because my son told me about it," he said defensively. But that put him in even deeper. Eyebrows raised, and Sergei's heart sank as he realised what he had done to his son by trying to excuse himself.

 

"Well, he didn't really... I mean..." he began, not certain how he would finish the sentence.

 

"There it is!" shouted one of the officers, whose eyes had returned to the monitor. Sergei, and his son, had been spared, at least for the moment.

 

"It's in England. West London!"

 

The men had succeeded in tracking down Rayford Strait's internet provider.

 

"We'll pull the plug on these traitors now!" said an older man, who appeared to be in charge. "But first we need to find out who's behind it. Oleg, get London on the phone!"
* * *

 

The staff at Web Wonders, in Clapham Junction, were just finishing up for the night, when it happened. The explosion came not from within, but from above, a powerful laser that cut straight through the building, and then exploded outward, totally reducing every thing and every one in that building to a pile of ashes, while, at the same time, leaving neighbouring buildings with little more than scorch marks on their walls. Web Wonders and all of their staff no longer existed. The Great Tribulation was about to begin.