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An All-Anticipating Fairy-Godmother?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Revelation 2:19-23

Image result for wrapped in paddingLike Ephesus, the church at Thyatira had a lot going for it. But also like Ephesus, there was one major problem–Thyatira allowed a false prophetess among them, one of the things that Ephesus did right.

Jesus calls this false prophetess Jezebel–not likely her real name, and certainly not a compliment. The wickedest Israelite queen in their entire history, Jezebel ordered the killings of every prophet in Israel [1 Kings 18:4]. Her husband, King Ahab, did more to rouse God’s anger than every king before him [1 Kings 16:33].

This so called Thyatiran Jezebel taught the church that it was well and good to participate in the local pagan temples, which involved sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols as an expression of worship to the false gods. Apparently, God was patient with this woman, and He gave her opportunities to change her ways. Perhaps He sent people to try to set her straight. Perhaps He allowed the natural consequences of sin to manifest in her life in hopes that she would return to Him.

But she refused God. And just like every one who refuses the Creator of the Universe, they give themselves over to the destruction of sin and death, both of which are replete with suffering [James 1:15; Romans 1:21]. Even in this, God is mercifully patient, still allowing those who followed this prophetess the opportunity to repent.

Though some may say that because He said He would strike her children dead that He is anything but a good and loving God. Consider this: Jezebel was luring God’s children to die eternally. And God ends this portion of scripture saying that He would repay each according to their deeds. Jezebel herself was luring her own children to die eternally.

Why do we always blame God for allowing us to choose when that is exactly what we as humans want so much? We want to choose. To do whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it. And we want God to be an all anticipating fairy godmother that keeps anything bad from happening to us despite our choices. And if He ever lets us feel the consequences of our choices, then we get indignant. Surely God isn’t really good or loving or actually God if He lets “bad” things happen. This mindset has riddled humanity for too long. Since the Garden actually [Genesis 3:5]–remember the be your own god lie? Except, when we screw it up for ourselves, then we can blame the real God, right?

Is there a Jezebel spirit at work in your life? Someone mixing God’s word with a more culturally appealing teaching? Ask God to give you discernment and the boldness to cling to His truth in an intolerant generation.

Promised to the Victorious

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Whoever has  ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

Image result for name engraved in white marbleThis is the third church so far to whom Christ has commanded the people to hear Him, His Spirit’s words to them. And for the third time, He promises something to the one who is victorious. Victory played a big part in the Greco-Roman culture with arenas and wars. To the victor went the spoils and great honor. But what God can give us is far greater than any earthly reward for victory.

So how can a Christian be victorious? To the Ephesians Jesus commanded them to restore their first love, to put Him first again. In this way, they would be victorious and gain access to the true tree of life. To the Church in Smyrna Jesus commended their faith and commanded them to be faithful even to death. In this way, they would be victorious and gain protection from the second death. To Pergamum He commands repentance from compromise. In this way, they would be victorious and gain miraculous provision–hidden manna–and an invitation to a divine party.

In this time period, when the Caesars would hold banquets, they sent out invitations–white marble with the invitees name engraved on it. How much more should we desire to receive an invitation from Christ to the divine banquet in heaven.

Each of these commands and promises are essentially the same, yet personalized to the cities’ challenge. All were commanded to get/keep their relationship with Jesus Christ right. And all were promised eternity for doing so.

What has Jesus commanded you to right in your life? Check your relationship with Him carefully and tend to those needy areas. If you are victorious in holding to your faith in Christ, then just like the seven churches of Revelation, you too will receive eternal life.

Life by the Sword

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live–where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.” Revelation 2:12-13

Image result for Satan's Throne PergamumPergamum means citadel in Greek. Once capital of the region, Pergamum became the first site of the Imperial–or Caesar–Cult in the Roman Empire. But the city was home to many pagan temples: Zeus [king of kings and god of gods], Asclepius [healer], Demeter [harvest/provider], Dionysius [pleasure], and Athena [wisdom].

It’s no wonder then that Jesus introduces His words to the Pergamenian Christians by reminding them that He has the sharp, double-edged sword. His words are the judgment that matter. And, knowing where they live, His words–not Satan’s pantheon of Greek and Roman frauds–were the only true judgments on which they were to build their lives.

Because Jesus is the actual King of Kings and Lord of Lords [Revelation 19:16]. Jesus is the divine physician and the healer from whom all healing flows [Exodus 15:26]. Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest and our loving provider [Matthew 9:38; Genesis 22:14]. Jesus is the center of pure pleasure because He came that we might have life more abundantly [John 10:10]. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and in Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10; Colossians 2:3].

But to proclaim Jesus in Pergamum was to denounce the gods and goddesses, to be basically labeled an atheist and subject oneself to Roman persecution. Pergamum was truly a city where Satan had his throne. But Jesus commends the church here for holding onto His Name. A Name that is above all names [Philippians 2:9], but that sentenced its bearers to suffering and even death.

Tradition holds that Antipas was the first bishop here and that he was martyred–that is killed–for his faith in Jesus. Despite his death, the church at Pergamum held onto Jesus as a child holds firmly to a park merry-go-round that is spinning faster and faster, threatening to throw them off. And Jesus held just as firmly to them–as He does to us–while the world does all it can to loosen our grip on the truth.

These are the positives that Jesus has for Pergamum. In the next few verses, we will learn where this church fell short. But consider what they did right as you consider your own life today.

Do the things of Satan [that is anything that is contrary to God’s will] infuse the cultural context in which you live? Whose judgments matter in your life? On whose words do you build your life? Do you hold onto Jesus’ name even in the face of opposition?

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?

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?

Enter False Religion

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel–because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:5-9

Image result for chichen itza mayan ruinsThe Tower of Babel construction is known as a ziggurat. Ziggurats–also known as step-pyramids–can be found on five of the seven continents. These towers were built in many cultures as a temple to worship the heavens, that is the sun, moon and stars rather than the One True God.

Nimrod was the first to turn the hearts of people from their understanding of and a personal relationship with their Creator. And with the help of his wife, Semiramis, he propagated the first false religion on the face of the earth.

Because of this blatant disobedience and misuse of God’s name, God confused the languages of human beings. Human beings were made in God’s image [Genesis 1:27], with the ability to plan and create and work together. God acknowledges that if allowed to continue to work together, they could accomplish anything that they could of think of to undertake.

As the people scattered in their separate language groups, each culture shared a few common historical events: Creation, Flood, and the division of languages at the Tower of Babel. Until modern history, most people groups had in fact preserved a variation on these three stories in the forms of myths, legends and religious stories. The existence of ziggurats on five of seven continents itself is a testimony to a shared history and ancestry.

Moreover, this event is very important to the Biblical viewpoint of world history. So important that Babylon is mentioned 315 times in scripture. About 100 of those mentions occur in Jeremiah with the pending captivity.

When Israel, God’s chosen bride, prostitutes herself with the idolatry and false religions of surrounding nations, God relents. He gives Israel exactly what she insisted on out of His will to begin with. He allows Israel to have front row seats and firsthand experiences with the lifestyle that they so earnestly desired in Babylonian captivity in hopes that she will turn her heart once again to Him.

But one day, Babylon will fall. Revelation 19 records how the heavens will rejoice when that day comes, when the season of idolatry and false religion will lay decimated, never again to rise. When glory and honor will belong once again to God alone.

Is there any trace of Babylon in your heart or life? Is there anything that turns your prayer, praise, worship and devotion from the Creator? Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and bring such things to light to God’s glory and honor.

Foreshadowing the Fish

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons who themselves had sons after the flood. The sons of Japheth…The sons of Javan [Japheth’s son]: Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittites and the Rodanites. (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.” Genesis 10:1-2a & 4-5

Image result for open fish mouth + imageAs an already established Genesis pattern, chapter 10 gives us a zoomed out understanding of where the post-flood nations came from. It tells us from which of Noah’s sons the people groups hailed and which regions of the world they generally settled.

However, just like the specific details of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, these settlement divisions and the notation of their separate languages will be more fully explained in a zoomed in story in chapter 11.

We’ll start with a look at one of the notables in Japheth’s line. If you notice, many of the descendant names in the Genesis 10 Table of Nations passage also double as town/city names in many biblical passages. That’s because often times, as in the case of the City of Enoch [Genesis 4:17], the town/city was named for the first or an important family member who settled it.

Do you see a familiar person/town name in Japheth’s line? His grandson Tarshish is listed as one of the many maritime dwellings–or seaport cities. Where do you know that name from? While Tarshish is mentioned 18 times in the Bible, it is most commonly associated with the story of Jonah.

Tarshish is believed to have been located near the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow spit of Mediterranean Sea that stretches between Spain and North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean.

A few verses from now we’ll see that Nineveh was descended from Ham [Genesis 10:11]. Jonah, on the other hand, was an Israelite–a descendant of Shem. So all three brothers’ descendants are present in this story.

Japheth’s territory was extended all across the Mediterranean [Genesis 9:27]. Shem was blessed as the Chosen People of the One True God [Genesis 9:26]. But in the story of Jonah, God is reaching through the generationally handed down sins of Ham’s line. He sends the son of Shem to preach repentance to the sons of Ham, but that son of Shem runs to the tents of Japheth. Crazy, right?!

Each Bible story and piece of world history is often connected in ways that we never even think to consider. One of Satan’s greatest lies is to make believers doubt the continuity of the Bible. However, as an aspiring author myself who has written a handful of novel manuscripts, I can tell you that it is remarkably difficult for one human author writing for a focused period of time to author a story that has no plot or character inconsistencies. Let alone for about 40 men over a period of about 1,500 years to write an amazingly consistent plot and character. And these men were separated not only by time, but often geography as well. And the Bible is still the longest, most richly layered and consistent stories in all of history!

It can only be a God thing.

And it’s not fiction. The Bible is truth. It’s the history of the world in its purest sense. As Christians, we do ourselves and the world around us a disservice when we do not intimately know God’s Word, His truth, His story. For without such an understanding, how could we ever be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have within us [1 Peter 3:15]? Or–like Jonah–how would we understand God’s heart to share His good news with the world?