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Living Olive-Wood Doors

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will give power to my witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. They are the ‘two olive trees’ and the two lampstands. ‘They stand before the Lord of the earth.” Revelation 11:2-4

Image result for olive tree and doorIn addition to the Temple proper, John is also told to measure the altar and to count the number of people who are worshipping therein–with the exception of the outer courts, the court of Gentiles. This area was quite large, approximately 26 acres. It was all the area surrounding the Temple since the Gentiles were not aloud to enter the building. However, the great mystery of the gospel is that Jesus came to save the Gentiles too. So why would they be excluded here?

Remember that 144,000 Jews, living during the end times, have been sealed and that the church–Jews and Gentiles alike–have been raptured into heaven [Revelation 7]. So these Gentiles are those who have rejected God. And they will continue to defy Him in all their earthly power by trampling His holy city of Jerusalem for 3 1/2 years. A similar historical trampling is mentioned in Daniel 7:25, and Jesus prophesied to this end times trampling during His time on earth [Luke 21:24].

While all this religious chaos is happening, God will empower two witnesses for a period of just about 3 1/2 years. And they will prophesy in sackcloth–the dark, itchy clothes of mourning or great grief. These two witnesses were foreshadowed in the construction of Solomon’s Temple. He had two olive-wood doors constructed to enclose the inner sanctuary [1 Kings 6:32]. Here also, a golden lampstand was kept full of oil and burning night and day. The inner sanctuary was where the ark of the covenant–an image invoking the very throne room of God–was kept. So the olive-wood doors–or twin witnesses–allow access to the mercy seat even in these late End Time days.

Again, Zechariah 4 first mentions these two End Times witnesses and calls them both olive trees and lampstands [verse 1, 3 & 11]. These witnesses are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth [Zechariah 4:14]. Anointed meaning that they were chosen, set apart, prepared and empowered for their specific ministry–to preach the gospel when the people of God have been removed from the earth. Without doubt the most harrowing experience in the history of the planet if not for being imbued with God’s Spirit from on high to carry out the work.

God has also empowered us–with His Holy Spirit–to be His witnesses today. We do not need to clothe ourselves in grief and mourning, rather we’re called to put on joy and to wear Jesus like a robe. So that the whole world may know Him whom we have believed.

Are you a faithful witness of Christ? When people meet you, do they see Jesus in your life?

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Speak Life

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: ‘Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, ‘Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’ I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.” Revelation 10:8-11

Image result for eating paperThe thunderous heavenly voice from verse 4 speaks again. This time instead of telling John to seal up words, the voice tells him to prophesy.

First, however–in his vision–he is to approach the Christ-like angel and take the scroll. John, demonstrating a proper fear of the Lord, asks rather than takes in his own power. The angel gladly hands over the scroll, with the command that John is to eat it.

This sounds strange to us. Who would eat a thirty foot roll of parchment paper? But John–in his vision–does just that. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of eating the word of the Lord that came to him, and they were his joy and delight [Jeremiah 15:16]. God also commanded the prophet Ezekiel in a vision to eat a scroll rather than to be hard-hearted and rebellious like the Israelites to whom God was sending him [Ezekiel 2:8-3:3].

Both John and Ezekiel said the scroll tasted sweet like honey, and honey is often the figurative standard in the Bible, indicating just how pleasant something really is. However, the pleasantness may not necessarily end well. In John’s case, for example, his stomach churns in his gut, aching, no doubt. The angel warned him ahead, but he still obeyed the command to eat.

So feeling sick to his stomach, he receives the command to prophesy again. The cross-reference notes in my Bible connect this command to Ezekiel 37:4-9, in which Ezekiel–in a vision–sees a valley of dry bones and is told to prophesy to the bones. He does, and the bones come together and grow back into perfectly formed, healthy human beings. John may be being commanded to speak life into the coming days of the end. The ever-intensifying tribulation will claim a massive death toll, and yet there are those who will find eternal life even now.

The specific command to prophesy concerning many peoples, nations, languages and kings likely means that all of these will bow and acknowledge God as God and Jesus as Lord [Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10]. Many before the rapture of the church, and some in the midst of great tribulation. How difficult it will be for them in those days. But how joyous to know that eternal life, free from any more tears or pain or fear of death, is still available during these dark hours [Revelation 21:4].

The word of God is double-edged [Hebrews 4:12], both tasting sweet and leaving that sour feeling in the pit of the stomach. Like our Creator, as humans we don’t want others to have to perish [2Peter 3:9], but many choose this end. Our salvation tastes sweet, while the stubborn refusal of our closest friends and family can sour our stomachs. What a mercy to know that even in the end of the age, God will extend His hand of mercy. He will raise up prophets to speak life into the dry bones of those who will endure the tribulation.

But what if they gave their hearts to Him today? What if you spoke that life to them now?

Unraveling the Mystery

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, ‘There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” Revelation 10:5-7

Image result for I Pledge HandOaths are not common in our modern American culture. We often see them only in pomp and circumstantial events like presidential inaugurations and courtroom witness stands. But once upon a time, oaths were common, everyday practice. You see an oath is basically a weighty promise. Today people sign contracts and all kinds of other paperwork acts to affirm their intentions. If broken, contracts can bring legal action against the person who failed to honor the commitment.

In the Bible, the right hand–which was used to swear the oath–carried significance. It embodied the character and authority of the person. Abram raised his right hand and swore on God the Father before the King of Sodom [Genesis 14:22-23]. The song of Moses sings of God raising his right hand to swear on heaven [Deuteronomy 32:40]. When this Christophany lifted his right hand heavenward and swore an oath on God the Father, Creator of All, it packed a power punch into the promise of the Godhead Three-in-One.

After seven seals and six trumpets with an interlude for this angelic Christophany, straddling land and sea, the end will come swiftly–without delay. In the days leading up to the sounding of the seventh trumpet, God’s great mystery will be accomplished.

What is this mystery? During the time of this writing, mystery cults abounded in the Roman provinces, such as Asia Minor where this book circulated. Ephesus notably dealt with the mystery cults which the apostle Paul addressed in his epistle to them. Primarily, the mystery cults claimed to have secret knowledge of the workings of the world, of principalities, and of God Himself. If you weren’t in the cult, you had no hope of understanding the mysteries of the world. But Paul said that God’s great mystery was that the Gentile believers were coheirs with the Jewish believers and that God had always intended it to be that way [Ephesians 1:7-10 & 3:2-6]. A huge shock to the religious devout of that day.

Here in Revelation, however, we read that God’s mystery will be accomplished in the days before the seventh trumpet, which would be days of loud anguish, or certain tribulation. One commentator suggests that this refers to God having won the victory over the forces of evil and reigning forever and ever. Later, this passage seems to confirm this viewpoint [Revelation 10:11].

As believers, apocalyptic literature like this Revelation 10 passage is interesting or maybe even intriguing. We like to read it and consider what it might look like, maybe debate with others about differing ideas. But we do so from a place of considerable comfort, knowing that we enjoy the security of either having been raptured by this point or having been sealed by God. Either way, we have nothing to fear. Many, however, still do not know God or the good news of Jesus Christ. Many still fear this mystery unaware.

Do you know someone who needs to know God? Are you willing to push through your own temporal fears to bring the truth of eternity to them?

The Ever-Hardening Heart

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.” Revelation 9:5-6

Image result for scorpionThe storm of hybrid locust-scorpion creatures may not harm any of God’s sealed people, but everyone else is fair game. Their sting will create such a powerful reaction–worse than any bee sting, snake bite or natural scorpion strike–it will feel like torture. Scorpion stings induce painful burning, tingling, and/or numbness at the site. More severe reactions include symptoms that spread throughout the body, such as: widespread numbness, difficulty swallowing, swollen tongue, blurred vision, loss of eye muscle control, seizures, drooling and difficulty breathing. Imagine living with these effects in your body for five months.

However the five month time period coincides with the life cycle of a locust and the duration of the dry season in the Bible lands at which time locust invasions are a perpetual danger. So it may be used here to indicate a limit on the duration of the stinging-locusts’ presence on the earth, rather than an exact medical timeline of sting aftereffects.

The Roman poet, Cornelius Gallus, who lived and wrote in the same century that John wrote the book of Revelation, wrote, Worse than any wound is the wish to die and yet not be able to do so. The readers of Revelation would’ve recognized this poetic quote here in verse six. But all truth is God’s truth, just as every lie belongs to Satan. To be clear, there are remnants of truth in every culture and every human heart, but throughout history these have been dissolved in lies from the pit of hell until it is nearly impossible to distinguish the truth from the lie anymore.

And the truth herein is that God wants us to live, to have life to the full [John 10:10], that none should perish [2 Peter 3:9], but that all should come to eternal life [John 3:16 & 17]. Satan wants us to be destroyed and to die [John 10:10]. Moreover, he would like us to curse God and then die [Job 2:9], sealing our eternal death with him, Satan, in the pit of hell [Luke 13:27-28; Revelation 20:15].

Even now, the hard-of-heart view God’s mercies as unjust judgment. What has any done to deserve a fate worse than death? To be clear, all sin is worthy of this consequence. But those who believe on Jesus will not have to suffer the punishment their sin deserves. They will receive a merciful pardon.

Yet in the end, the hardened heart will choose to become harder. God will mercifully limit the punishment to a period of time that all can endure, and the hard of heart will–as Job’s wife suggested–wish to curse God and die. They will refuse His gift of abundant earthly life and eternal life in the hereafter, stubbornly clinging to the reality of themselves as god and all of the pain it brings, longing for the death that Jesus conquered [Revelation 1:18]. And it will not come.

Will you lay down yourself as god to surrender your life to the One True God and receive His gift of life?

The True Triumphal Entry

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9-10

Image result for People Waving Palm Branches Palm Sunday JesusSome of the reason that the 144,000 number in the previous passage creates disagreement among biblical scholars is that it seems to limit who and how many can get into heaven. In reading the larger context of this next portion of scripture though, it seems clear that–like the twenty-four elders of Revelation 4–we are again seeing representation of both the Old and New Testament faithful.

This great multitude is uncountable, like the stars in the sky or sand in the seashore spiritual descendants promised to Abraham [Genesis 22:17; Galatians 3:29; Hebrews 11:12]. See how people from the whole earth–and likely throughout all of history, though time is not mentioned–stand before God the Father, who is on His throne. See Jesus, the Lamb and Son of God, is there before the people too.

It is a white robed multitude, the victorious by grace through faith [Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 3:5] from all the earth for all time. And they hold palm branches and proclaim the gospel, the good news. God is alive. He is on the throne of the whole universe–everything that ever was, or is or will be. He alone holds the power of salvation, and He has brought it through the perfect sacrifice of His spotless Lamb, the Son of God who laid down His earthly life to atone–make right–for our sins.

Do you see the heavenly original brought to light from an earlier scripture? The gospels record an earthly Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem [Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12]. Here the people laid down their cloaks on the road and waved palm branches, heralding Jesus with shouts of Hosanna–meaning O Lord save us. The disciples thought they had backstage passes to the beginning of the kingdom of God in their day, especially when all of Jerusalem turned out to hail their Rabbi as king of the Jews, acknowledging only His ability to bring victory and deliverance from the Romans.

But Jesus knew better. His time had not yet come. The people’s hearts were not yet ready to truly worship and serve Him alone as King. They didn’t fully understand Who He Was and what His heavenly purpose was.

And now that John shows us this moment in heaven when only those who have accepted Jesus as Lord–who have laid down their lives for Him just as He did for us, who have stood faithful and forgiven to the end, who recognize no other as God–wave the palm branch, acknowledging God’s victory and deliverance for all time over sin and death. The true triumphal entry was not Jesus’ donkey ride through Jerusalem, but the day we stand in heaven acknowledging Him Lord. It is our return to perfect communion with God for all eternity. What an incredible day that will be!

Will you be numbered among the white robed multitude? Do you bow your life to Christ alone?

Death and Hades

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:7-8

Image result for gapin beast jawsJesus slips His finger under the center seal, and the final living creature–which is His throne–beckons a fourth horse and rider. Pale, the color of lifelessness. Death. And right behind this personification of Death comes Hades.

Now Hades is the Greek underworld, but also the name of the god in Greek mythology that rules there. The Bible is not corroborating the existence of such a one as this. Rather, since the New Testament was written in Greek, it was using the Greek word for the Hebrew term Sheol that was used throughout the Old Testament to describe the grave and the gated depths of the dead [Job 17:16]. Death and Hades often appear together in scripture, showing the twin ends of life, death and grave.

So here, when Death is allowed to consume one-fourth of humanity, its fellow Hades is permitted to lock these dead in the depths of the grave. It is interesting to note that Sheol is sometimes portrayed in the Old Testament as a fearful beast with gaping jaws [Isaiah 5:14, 14:9; Habakkuk 2:5] and in each case this reference is to the grave.

As humans, it is our sinful natural tendency to fear death, but as Christians we should place our faith and trust in Jesus instead. He conquered death, hell and the grave [Sheol/Hades] [Revelation 1:18]. He holds the keys to them. No one who has died or will die will remain dead in the grave. And everyone who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ will be present with the Lord when they are absent from the body [2 Corinthians 5:8]. That is to say that we can be assured, like the thief on the cross who accepted Jesus’ lordship, that the day we are parted from our mortal bodies we will be with Jesus in paradise [Luke 23:43].

But woe to those who perish without acknowledging Jesus as Lord. Now that is something to truly fear [Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4], because those who refuse to bow their knee to Jesus will face a second death in the lake of fire [Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8].

It is interesting to note that Jesus rides out first [Revelation 6:2], a merciful opportunity for people to recognize and accept Him as Lord. Then war, famine, and death come next [Revelation 6:4, 6, 8]. Still opportunities for unbelievers to recognize God for who He is and repent, though many will further harden their hearts against Him instead. It is also, unfortunately, a time when believers who are not firmly rooted in faith, will fall away [Mark 4:15-20].

We are living in such times. There are wars and rumors of wars, though these may intensify before the end [Matthew 24:6]. There are famines [24:7]. There are people and nations turning to slay one another [Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:4]. There is death and the grave seemingly for more all the time. Though again, these things may yet intensify before the end.

Is Jesus Lord of your life? Do you have faith that will persevere in the tough times ahead, even to death [Revelation 2:10? Hold onto Jesus through it all, and He will hold onto you.

Goodness and Godliness at War

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.” Revelation 6:3-4

Image result for red horseOnce again, Jesus slips his finger under the loose edge of the scroll and breaks a waxen seal, the second of seven. So the second living creature–that is His throne–beckons a second horse and rider. Red this time.

Red. The color of Mars, named for the Roman god of war–as counterfeited by Satan. Red is the color of war, but the god Mars is no more than a figment of ancient imaginations. Yet, Christian and non-Christian readers or hearers of John’s vision would’ve recognized the meaning of this horse and rider immediately. War.

So first Jesus the victorious conqueror rides out across the earth. Then, He is followed by war. Surely Jesus reminds us that, in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world, [John 16:33]. But His other words also come to mind. Words of end time signs. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come, [Matthew 24:5-6].

Jesus rides victoriously across the earth, while many false “Christs” present themselves and continue to turn hearts. Jesus is armed with a bow and arrows that pierce the heart straight and true. It is not His desire that any should perish [2 Peter 3:9], but that all should have eternal life [John 3:16-17] and even here He mercifully shows Himself to the world again, allowing one more opportunity.

Yet war directly follows. War–that two-sided weapon that decides once and for all who has conquered. Make no mistake, Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword [Matthew 10:34]. Peace, meaning that He did not come to accept everything done by human kind despite His holy nature. But God’s Word–His sword–clearly shows us time and again, that God’s holiness demands decisions be made, right be done, evil be forsaken.

Throughout history, Satan has placed it in the hearts of men to war with one another over trivial things, earthly things that will all pass away. He desires only to steal, kill and destroy human life [John 10:10], and war accomplishes exactly that. Jesus’ presence on the earth has maintained a modicum of peace, so that the whole earth does not turn and destroy one another. But He will remove His presence in the end, and allow men to see what life without God is truly like. Because Satan has also placed it in human hearts to war against God Almighty for the right to be our own gods [Genesis 3:5].

And many who think they are good enough by their own measure, would not see a problem with being allowed to be their own god. They twist the sentiment to make God seem unloving and unjust for not allowing such a system. They want, like a spoiled child, to be allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, without God’s opinion on the matter, because they’re basically a good enough person to handle themselves.

But let me ask, if people are really good and God is good, then why do we choose to fight Him? Wouldn’t goodness demand that we at least work to get along with God as well as with all other people? And if we’re working to get along, wouldn’t our goodness bring us to recognize that true goodness needs a governing authority? And wouldn’t this recognition humble us to realize that only the One who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good and all-wise is worthy of such a position? Wouldn’t we then joyfully lay down our insistence to rule ourselves for the good of all if our self-imbued good was really good enough?