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Have You Forgotten Someone?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this one thing against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:1-4

Image result for Church of Mary at EphesusChapter 2 opens with a letter to the church in Ephesus. It is the first of seven letters–one to each of the seven churches of Proconsular Asia, the Roman province which is modern day Turkey. Ephesus was the capital of the province and an important port city.

In Greek grammar, the two phrases sandwiching the preposition of could be read either way. So the opening could either read to the angel of the church in Ephesus as is commonly translated, or it could read to the church of the angel in Ephesus. Again, it could be either to the Ephesian church’s angel or to the angel’s church in Ephesus. The second translation seems the more likely of the two in human terms, though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the seven churches were entertaining angels unaware [Hebrews 13:2].

The letter then follows with a description of Jesus taken from His Revelation 1 description. Interestingly, each of the seven church letters open in this same format, but they each contain a different portion of this description, one specifically suited to the particular church’s needs.

So to the church in Ephesus, Jesus’ priestly, kingly and godly nature was re-emphasized [Revelation 1:12-13].

Then, Jesus told them that He knows all about them–their deeds, hard work and perseverance. This was an active church, full of ministry, missions and mercy.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d kept wicked men out from among them and tested false apostles just as they ought. This church was fighting the good fight, staving off heresies and cultural/idolatrous influences.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d persevered, tirelessly enduring hardships for His name’s sake. This church had withstood tests of intensifying persecution in their Roman state.

By all human measures, Ephesus was walking the walk.

But Jesus needed them to know that they were missing one very important piece of the Christian puzzle–Christ. They’d forgotten their love for Him. Not unlike the 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 reminder that without love–specifically without Love [Jesus Himself; 1 John 4:8; John 15:9]–they’d gained nothing. They were doing ministry, preserving the knowledge of God, and enduring hardship in vain. All this while Jesus was walking among them [2:1].

How about you? Do you work tirelessly to advance the gospel? Do you avoid sinful influence? Do you suffer for the name of Jesus? And in all this, have you forgotten Someone very important in your Christian walk? Or are you walking daily with Jesus who is walking right here with you?

Fear Rightly. Breathe Life. Live Golden.

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:17-20

Image result for gold lampstandSeeing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His heavenly appearance compelled John to fall prone before Him. It’s that awestruck, worshipful response so natural to the heart that fears the Lord. But Jesus reminds John that fear of the Lord does not mean that we have to be afraid. Fear of the Lord is reverencing God for who He is, giving Him His rightful place as Lord of our lives and Creator of all. When we do this, we have nothing to fear from our loving Heavenly Father.

Jesus , further, proclaimed himself to be the First and the Last, just as He called Himself the Alpha and the Omega in 1:8, emphasizing His eternality in this passage.

He is the Living One. The one with God at the beginning through whom all things were made [John 1:1-3], One with the breath of life that was breathed into humankind in Adam. The One through whom all are made alive again [1 Corinthians 15:22], reversing the Adamic curse through which all died. The One who conquered death [1 Corinthians 15:57], hell and the grave [Revelation 1:18] to restore eternal life to those who believe in Him [John 3:16].

Therefore, because of who Jesus is, John was commanded to write down the God-given vision of present and future things. Only God is able to know such things. And the validity of a prophesy is known only when it does or doesn’t come to pass. So Jesus–as the author of life–orients the reader to some key symbolism in John’s vision. The stars [angels] and lampstands [churches].

I love knowing that the lampstands, representing the seven churches of Asia Minor, are golden. Gold is refined in a fire and purified in order to be formed into the tabernacle/ temple instruments. It took 75 pounds of gold to make the tabernacle lampstands and their accessories alone to God’s specifications [Exodus 25:39], and they stood, burning in front of the Most Holy Place [2 Chronicles 4:20]. But God tested the hearts of the churches in His refining fire, burning away the impurities, purifying them [Proverbs 17:3]. Yet, as we are about to read, even then at the time of John’s writing they were not perfect.

Likewise, God regards each of us as more precious than gold and He is testing our hearts, refining us day by day to become more like Him. We do not need to be afraid of Him or this process, but in faith to reverence Him as the One True God and Lord of our lives.

What is your response to God? Do you recognize Him when you see Him at work? Do you allow His word to work in your life? Have you given him the reins as Lord of your heart?

Alive and Active

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze in a glowing furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was shining like the sun in all its brilliance.” Revelation 1:12-16

Image result for thracian long swordNow that John has set the stage, he begins to reveal how his vision unfolded. At first he turns to see the owner of the voice that told him to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor. The first thing he sees are golden lampstands, a well-known tabernacle/temple furnishing among the Jews, not unlike people-height menorahs.

Walking or standing in among these candle-less lamps is someone he describes to be like a son of man. Now Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man about eighty-five times in the gospels, while He let others recognize Him as and call Him the Son of God. The Jews were familiar with the Daniel 7:13 prophecy about the son of man quoted in Revelation 1:7, so it’s likely Jesus was proclaiming to them that he was, in fact, the fulfillment of this prophecy.

But the title Son of Man also shows that this person speaking to John had human form. A human form that was dressed in the full-length robe of the high priests and kingly golden sash. A human form that also bore resemblance to the Daniel 7:9 description of God–clothing white as snow, hair white as wool, flaming throne.

As we’ll learn later, the seven stars represent the angels of the seven churches to which John is writing [Revelation 1:20]. And isn’t it comforting, knowing the persecution these Christians faced, that Jesus held their angels in his almighty hand? That he himself walked among the churches?

Not only that, but as he did so, a double-edged sword–likely a long Thracian sword symbolizing divine judgment–came from his mouth. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that, the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing… And John 1 describes Jesus as that word of God. That word that we hide in our hearts that we might not sin against God [Psalm 119:11], because the word judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12].

Is the word of God alive and active in your life today? Do you hide God’s word in your heart, allowing it to penetrate your thoughts and attitudes in all things?

The Alpha and Omega

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:7-8

Image result for alpha and omega bible imageHere John’s  vision invokes Old Testament scriptures, Messianic prophesies given pre-Christ.

Daniel saw one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven [Daniel 7:13] in a vision given in a dream. But the verses that follow make it clear that Daniel did not understand what he saw; so he approached one of the angels in his vision for an interpretation. John, however, receives a more complete revelation. He knows who this one like a son of man is–Jesus–and he passes on the angelic prophesy of Christ’s future return [1 Thessalonians 4:17].

Zechariah also prophesied pre-Christ that they [Israel] will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn [Zechariah 12:10]. Now Zechariah was given many Messianic prophecies, however, it is not clear whether he knew the full extent of his own message. But John, again, knows the one who was pierced–Jesus–and he speaks to the people’s response when they recognize what they have done.

Then John stamps these Old Testament revelations with a so let it be done, meaning, let God’s word come to pass as it is written.

Jesus speaks in verse 8, calling himself the Alpha and Omega. He’s not talking about wolf packs or lion prides though. When he says Alpha, he means the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the last letter. That is to say that Jesus was the beginning of all things and he is the end of all things. He reaffirms this title by defining his eternality, saying, who is, and who was, and who is to come. In John’s gospel, he wrote that Jesus was at the Creation [John 1:1-10]. He was here before everything and everyone else. And in Revelation, we learn that Jesus’ kingdom will have no end. He will exist after everything else on this earth has passed away and after our earthly bodies have been made a new creation.

Not only that, but speaking of himself as letters, Jesus reminds us of the Creation being spoken into existence. Jesus is that word. John 1 tells us that through him all things were made.

Jesus alone is the Almighty–all powerful, sovereign Son of God.

Have you recognized Jesus as such? Do you worship him as sovereign of your life?

Ascribing to Jesus

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits from before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:4-6

Image result for Ruins of EphesusThe apostle John opens with a greeting to the seven churches of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. Now the Romans had a Leading Council of Asiarchs that met on a yearly rotation to six of these same influential cities. The seventh–a much more northernly city–John swapped for the centrally located Thyatira. It’s possible that these cities were also the postal centers for seven geographic regions which would have facilitated delivery and dissemination of the Revelation given to him.

Grace is an important greeting. Basically blessing people with more goodness than they deserve. Grace is the crux of God’s gift in the gospel, and the apostles often greeted their readers with that unmerited favor, paying forward what God had done for them. Peace is another powerful spiritual blessing. Especially when the enemy–Satan–is at work to steal, kill and destroy. [John 10:10]. He brings confusion and conflict where God intended peace [John 14:27].

And John doesn’t claim this in and of himself. He passes the grace and peace of the One True, eternal God the father–like the conduit that we’re each meant to be–onto the seven churches. But he also sends these from the seven spirits before God’s throne and from Jesus Christ the son of God. Who are the seven spirits? Revelation 1:20 indicates that these are the angels for each of the seven churches. What a wonderful thing to know that there are ministering spirits who are also contending on our behalf.

Jesus the Messiah is described as being the faithful witness. We can count on his testimony on our behalf if we have believed on Him [John 3:16]. He is described as the firstborn from the dead. Before Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected, no one else had been born again into new life. True, Jesus raised Lazarus and others from the dead, but they had not yet been born again because death still reigned. It is only through Jesus that we can be born again and have eternal life because he conquered death, hell and the grave to make that possible [1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Timothy 1:20; Revelation 1:18]. He is called the ruler of the kings of the earth, because all authority has been established by him [Matthew 28:18; Romans 13:1] and is subject to him.

The praise of Jesus continues. Glory–high renown or honor–be given to Jesus alone because 1) He loves us; 2) He died for us which freed us from the curse of sin; 3) He redeemed our heavenly citizenship which was lost in the Fall of Man. But not just glory. John also ascribes power–dominion, authority over our lives–for all time, to Jesus Christ, and stamps it with Amen–so let it be!

Is Jesus glorified [aka honored] by your life? In other words, do others see how amazing Jesus is when they meet/get to know you? Does Jesus have all authority in your life? Have you submitted everything to Him?

When God Said, “Enough!”

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” Genesis 6:1-4

Image result for male angelsIn Noah’s generation, earth’s population exploded. Easy to imagine being in the tenth generation of peoples who lived to be several hundred years old, having children throughout their lives. During this population explosion, the sons of God start to notice the human girls. Now it is commonly accepted that these sons of God are the fallen angels whose half-human-half-angelic offspring were the Nephilim recorded in verse 4.

It was not God’s intention for humans and angels–whether fallen or other–to intermarry. Just as He never intended for dogs and cats to produce offspring, or pines and maples. However, sin perverted God’s design in so many ways. Marriages became fraught with difficulty, dissension, and the temptation to be unfaithful. Lamech [McCain] perverted the marriage relationship to include a third spouse. And here, human women married fallen angels. The scripture records many other marital perversions that are an abomination to God, and it is easy to see that these distorted desires are rooted in the sinful nature.

And these relationships created the heroes of oldmen of renown. Men. Myths. Legends. This explains a lot of the Greek and Roman [et al] mythology. Fallen angels–touting themselves as sons of God…and maybe, still believing Satan’s lie, straight up gods–had demi-human offspring who possessed superhuman strengths or abilities. By human standards, they would have been like demi-gods. It’s easy to understand why people would have feared and revered them, even though these too were nothing more than corrupted progeny of the Creation, with a sin nature that would one day stand before God.

This perversion truly exasperates God, makes Him throw His hands up and say, “Enough!” People are mortal–mort meaning death–so people are able to die. Their sinful beings were not able to live forever. But lifespans of up to 900 years with all of the wickedness carousing on the earth was intolerable to our Holy Creator. He wanted so bad to get rid of all sin right then and there, BUT…He. Loved. Us.

One hundred twenty years later [the limit set in verse 3] God sent His first judgment for sin on the earth–the destructive, worldwide flood. And it is important for us to know that, “as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man,” [Matthew 24:37].

Look around. Are people living perversions of the lives that God intended? Marrying in anything other than one man and one woman for life? Are people doing–in all things–whatever they feel is right for themselves? Do people disregard God’s Word or deny His existence altogether? These are exactly the things that were happening in the days of Noah.

The Lord is coming back soon. Are you ready to meet Him in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:17]?

The Cherubim Guard

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24

Image result for cherubim + revelationCherubim. One of the fascinatingly mysterious creations for man to try to comprehend. The cherubim are angelic beings created by God and first charged–in human history–with guarding the way to the tree of life with the aid of a flaming sword.

For anyone whose never seen a cherubim before, Ezekiel 10 and Revelation 4 describe what the they look like. First of all, Ezekiel tells us that they have four faces: man, lion, eagle and cherub [Ezekiel, but calf in Revelation]. Now they are often represented with one face on each side of their head, probably because Ezekiel says that they can go in any direction they face and that they never turn their head. These angelic creatures also have six wings: four to cover themselves with and two with which they fly. And their whole body–four heads, six wings and human hands underneath the wings–is covered in eyes. In Ezekiel, the cherubim are accompanied by four wheels that look like wheels intersected by wheels which are also covered in eyes and that move in sync with the cherubim.

Surprising that no movie producer has tried to portray cherubim. Doesn’t this sound like the epitome of a creature from a mythology? In fact, the Sphinx and mythological creatures that are part-human-part-animal [i.e. centaurs and satyrs] or two animals mixed together [i.e. griffins and manticores] were Satan’s knock-offs of God’s original cherubim. Satan likes to take God’s truth and create his own version of it to lead people astray. And it doesn’t matter to him when his lies fall into mythology, because unfortunately, when people doubt Satan’s knock-off lies, they also doubt the original truth of God from which it was drawn.

In Ezekiel 10, the cherubim were the rear guard, ushering out the presence of the Lord from among the Israelites. In Revelation 4, the cherubim surround the throne of God, lifting Him up in praise. “Day and night they never stop saying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Which sets off a chain reaction in heaven, because then the twenty-four elders around the throne fall down and worship God as Creator as well.

But isn’t it interesting that the Cherubim are heavenly creatures that look like four of God’s earthly creations combined? And isn’t it interesting that these creatures continually recognize God’s holiness, sovereignty and eternality? Because when sin entered the world, God’s created man stopped revering those very things.  The sin in our hearts cannot tolerate a holy God. [If you don’t believe me, just listen to how the media talks about Christians and the Bible.] The sin in our hearts refuses to be subject to anyone other than self. And the sin in our heart would keep us from eternity.

God set a cherubim guard at the tree of life, because the cherubim faithfully recognize His holiness alone. They didn’t fall for Satan’s lie in heaven, and they wouldn’t be deceived by sinful man. God. Is. Holy. Period. *Drops the mic.*

What does it mean that God is Holy? How then should you and I live our lives?