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From the Students Question Board: Are Ghosts Real?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your mind? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Luke 24:37-39

Image result for flashlight faceAfter Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples–alive! And not just alive, but in bodily form–flesh, blood, hair, fingernails, you name it. But the disciples couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t wrap their understanding around Jesus’ appearance. He didn’t come through the door, He simply stood before them. A dead man. Standing before them. Not even a little bit dead. With all the same human body features that they themselves had. It blew their minds.

The English translation here is problematic in our culture, because the Greek word pneuma or spirit is rendered as ghost. To be clear, there is a spiritual world all around us–angels and demons at war for our souls. Sometimes we can see this spiritual dimension. But ghosts, the supposed spirits of deceased humans, are not a part of it. It’s kind of like the popular myth that when people die they become angels. Like humankind, Angels are uniquely created beings [Hebrews 2:7]. So when we die, though we go to heaven, we do not morph from human to angel. The saints will still be the saints and the angels will still be the angels in heaven [Revelation 7:9-11]. Similarly, when people die, our spirits do not join the spiritual warfare of the angels and the demons, nor we do not haunt those still living.

Rather, just as Jesus told the thief on the cross–who acknowledged Him as Lord–that he would be in heaven with Jesus that same day they died [Luke 23:43], so we believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8]. And for those who are not believers, their souls sleep with their bodies in the ground until the judgment [Revelation 20:11-15].

Christians are often spiritually sensitive, even from a young age, sensing the spiritual battles around us. But we do not need to be afraid. God reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light [Job 12:22]. He is our lamp that turns our darkness into light [2 Samuel 22:29]. Where He is, darkness cannot be because darkness cannot stand in the presence of light [John 1:5]. That is, darkness cannot overcome or overtake the light.

When spiritual fears and worldly superstitions threaten to overwhelm our senses, we need only to call on the name of Jesus. If we remain in Him, He is with us. His authority will drive out every demonic spirit that tries to come against us [Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 1:21-34 & 5:1-17] and, at the same time, He will fill us with a peace that beyond anything we could understand [Philippians 4:7].

Is the Lord your lamp? Does the truth of His word light your way [Psalm 119:105]?

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Preparing for Victory

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths. They are blameless.” Revelation 14:1-5

Image result for Mount Zion in the BibleZion. The holy mountain that served first as a fortress before the Israelites established the city of Jerusalem. Later, it became synonymous with Jerusalem itself. And in Hebrews 12:22-24 as well as here in Revelation, it connotes the heavenly Jerusalem in which God and His people will live for eternity.

So it is not surprising that John sees the Lamb, Jesus, standing on Mount Zion with the 144,00 who were sealed [Revelation 7:4-8 & 9:4]. We learn a little more about this group. Previously we saw that they consist of 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Then we saw that they were protected from the hybrid locust-scorpions that came out of the Abyss.

Now we learn that they kept themselves pure from women. This does not mean that the group is made up entirely of unmarried men. Not at all. Before Israel used to go into battle, the soldiers would keep themselves from their women for a time to prepare [Deuteronomy 23:10; 1 Samuel 21:5; 2 Samuel 11:11]. Now in Revelation, we see that Babylon is portrayed as a woman, a prostitute really, that represents all of the false religion in the world [Revelation 17:1-5]. And that those who remain faithful to God are like a pure spouse [Revelation 19:7 & 21:2, 9]. So the 144,000 are Jews living in the last days, the end times, who refuse to participate in the false religions of the world, regardless of the persecutions it invites.

Heaven opens up on this scene, with a roar of rushing waters [Revelation 1:15, 4:5 & 22:1] and peals of thunder. The sound of harpists followed by the 144,000 singing a new song, signifies the celebration of victory in battle [Exodus 15:20]. And they sing this song in heaven before the four living creatures and the elders that surround God’s throne [Revelation 4:4 & 6]. None else in heaven will be capable of learning their song, because none else can understand what is like to come through the end times faithful to God. Just as the four-living creatures sing a different song than the twenty-four elders [Revelation 4], who sing a different song than the angels [Revelation 5], who sing a different song than the great multitude in white robes [Revelation 7], so the song of praise that the 144,000 will offer up will be a personal testimony to God’s work in their life. A story that no one else can sing, because no one else has lived it.

The amazing thing about this passage of scripture, is that it will lead up to the final battle–Armageddon [Revelation 16:16]. Many speculate about and fear having to live through such a battle. But Revelation shows us how calm and cool Jesus and his army are while preparing for Armageddon. They’re standing on the fortress. They’re keeping themselves pure as they would for any routine battle. And they’re already celebrating the victory. Before the battle even ensues, they’ve won with Christ, and they know it.

Are you living in victory today? Are you living a life of spiritual purity, garrisoned on the mountain of Christ, celebrating in advance the victory that He has already won?

The Allegory of Israel

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.” Revelation 12:1-2

Image result for pregnant womanHere John’s vision seems to hold a vision within a vision. The Greek word for heaven here, ourano, appears 38 times in scripture. Only two of these mentions receive an English translation of sky, and this only in a newer English version. The majority of scriptures agree that ourano is heaven while the word hassamayim appears 236 times in scripture and is translated more interchangeably as sky, heavens, and prepositional phrases ending in heaven.

So John is seeing a vision of heaven, ourano, [Revelation 1:10-12 & 4:1] and in his vision he sees a sign appear in heaven, ourano [Revelation 12:1-2]. This woman clothed with sun would’ve been understood by New Testament readers to represent Israel, God’s chosen people. The Old Testament prophets often portrayed the nation as a mother to the future remnant [Isaiah 54:1 and 66:7-10; Micah 4:9-10] as well as to a bride [Isaiah 62:5].

Clothed in sun, like the face of Christ her groom [Revelation 1:16], crowned with twelve stars likened, possibly, to the twelve tribes of Israel. Moon under her feet, meaning darkness subdued as in the enemy as footstool motif [Psalm 110:1; Luke 20:43; Acts 2:35].

Childbearing pains seize Israel in the vision [Matthew 24:8]. A labor that is not fruitless, but that is fraught with opposition. A labor that fulfills the very first messianic prophesy[Genesis 3:15].

This allegorical passage encapsulates both the messianic prophecies and the Jewish history leading up to the birth of Christ. It simplifies both, concentrating the overview of world history into the single most important person of all time and eternity–Jesus Christ. In this way, the reader’s perspective is strengthened and clarified for the very real events yet to come.

Are you familiar with the messianic prophecies that Jesus fulfills? Are you ready and able to give an answer for this hope that you have within you [1 Peter 3:15]? If not, study to show yourself approved [2 Timothy 2:15].

Mercy from the Throne of Thrones

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“In the center around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered in eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was and is and is to come.” Revelation 4:6b-8

Image result for ark of the covenantIn the ancient world, thrones were typically formed so that the King sat on the images of powerful animals. It affirmed their position of authority in the perception of their people. King Solomon’s throne, for example, had two carved lions serving as armrests and the dais–leading up to the throne–had six steps with twelve more lions, each step flanked with a sculpted lion on each end.

However, just as God Himself lives and His Word is living and active, here in Revelation 4–as in Ezekiel 10–God’s throne is portrayed as being alive. These four living creatures full of fire and eyes and wings in conjunction with the fiery, intersecting wheels create something like a divine chariot on which God crosses the heavens [2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:10; Ezekiel 10:1].

Moreover, these living creatures–aka the Cherubim–guarded the way to the Tree of Life after Man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:24], and were included in the adornment of the ark of the covenant [Exodus 25:18-22] and the tapestries of the Tent of Meeting [Exodus 26:1]. In this way, the creatures served as a reminder of the holiness of God’s house. And the symbols themselves were in fact patterned after the originals in heaven.

Interestingly enough, the set-up of the ark of the covenant with the winged cherubim facing each other on top and the requisite construction and layout of the Holy of Holies gave the room the appearance of a throne room. So in a very real sense, God was seated on His throne among His chosen people, the Jews. And the name of this ark of the covenant throne in the Holy of Holies? The Mercy Seat [Psalms 99:1; Exodus 25:17-22]. For it was here that the sacrificial blood–once a year–was sprinkled to make atonement for the sins of all Israel.

But this was just a copy of the original. Jesus–having shed His blood on the cross–was seated at the right hand of His Father on His throne in heaven. The original Mercy Seat. His sacrifice didn’t need to be repeated year after year [Hebrews 10:1-10]. And it made atonement–that is it made a wrongdoing right–for the sins of the whole world, not just Israel [Ephesians 2:11-19; John 3:16].

Do you believe that God is holy? Does His holiness pervade your life as a Christian? Do you allow His mercy to flow from His throne through you to this world to His glory and honor?