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Demolition and New Construction

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.” Revelation 8:12

Image result for demolition and new constructionBeat four, enter the fourth trumpeter. This time the blast takes out one-third of the heavenly lights. Naturally darkening the skies for those who already live in a figurative darkness. Even those who live in highly light polluted areas and everyone clinging to human light sources will be effected by the dim.

Light plays into mental health as well as physical. Minds crack and bodies heal more slowly in diminished light. So it will be as the end of everything sinful nears.

But look again at these first four trumpets, in light of the days of Creation:

  1. Trumpet one destroys one-third of the land and plants with seed from day three of Creation [Genesis 1:11].
  2. Trumpet two destroys one-third of the sea from day two [Genesis 1:6 & 10] and its creatures from day five of Creation [Genesis 1:20].
  3. Trumpet three destroys more of the water from day two and, as a result, day six descendants of Adam and Eve die [Genesis 1:26].
  4. Trumpet four destroys one-third of the celestial bodies created on day four to govern light [Genesis 1:16].

Every day of Creation–except Day one, light and darkness [Genesis 1:3], and Day seven, Sabbath rest [Genesis 2:2]–is partially destroyed by the first four trumpets. How else can there be a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 21:1] if the old is not destroyed? It’s like building a new skyscraper to replace an old, condemned one. There must first be demolition and disposal of the old to prepare for the new construction.

As Christians, this demolition of the old man–the person we were before accepting Christ as Lord–begins in this life. We are to flee from evil desires [2 Timothy 2:22], be transformed by the renewing of our minds [Romans 12:2], comport our bodies as the holy temple of God [1 Corinthians 6:19], clothes ourselves with Christ [Galatians 3:27] and live as living sacrifices [Romans 12:1].

It’s not easy and we’ll never be perfect, but in view of God’s mercy, we will be pleasing to Him as we grow more and more like His Son, Jesus, every day.

Have you submitted your old self to God for demolition and renovation? Is there any part of your old self that you stubbornly–or pridefully–cling to? Trust God, in His perfect wisdom and love, to make you new beyond all you could ask or imagine [Ephesians 3:20]. Knowing full well that He loves you [John 3:16], that He will never leave you or forsake you [Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5], and that He has prepared a place for you with Him in heaven [John 14:2-3]. Will you surrender all to His loving demolition?

The Fire Coals of Forgiveness

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” Revelation 8:1-5

Image result for burning coalsAfter our brief intermission to learn the whereabouts of the sealed and the saints, we return to Jesus opening the seven-sealed scroll [Revelation 5 & 6]. He picks up right where He paused while heaven prepared, the seventh and final seal. He slides His finger under the wax, loosing the last thing holding the scroll together, and all of heaven draws a collective breath, silently holding it to see what will happen next.

Seven angels stand before God’s throne and accept trumpets, which were used of old to announce important events or to signal troops during war.

But before the announcements being, an eighth angel comes to the altar, carrying a golden censer–the firepan used in the Old Testament temple and tabernacle to carry live coals for burning incense. Incense, representing the sweet aroma of praise to God, and the prayers of His people. Both of these mingle in the angel’s hand and waft up to God on His throne.

The censer, or firepan, the angel then fills with live coals and throws it down onto the earth. Where have we heard about live fire coals in the Bible before? Proverbs 25:22 and Romans 12:20 speak about the fire coals of forgiveness. That when we repay the evil that others to do to us with good instead of retaliation, our forgiveness heaps burning coals on their head.

Could it be that God is foreshadowing His vengeance on our behalf [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19-21]? We are commanded not to judge, because He alone is Judge of all, and we are also told that if we present the truth of God to nonbelievers they may repay us with violence [Matthew 7:5-6]. Those who neither accept our message nor God’s forgiveness, call down the burning coals of their own rejected forgiveness on their heads. This rejection should sadden us, knowing what they will receive in the end, rather than enrage us to the point of seeking revenge in this life. It’s a tragic choice to reject faith in God, but it is every person’s choice to make.

On two other occasions, Revelation shows that peals of thunder, rumblings and flashes of lightning emanate from God’s throne [Revelation 4:5, 11:19]. This fire-coal judgment elicits a grievous response from the Almighty God who does not want any to perish, but all to come to eternal life [2 Peter 3:9]. But it also brings another earthquake–though not the last [Revelation 6:12, 11:13 & 19, & 16:18].

It breaks God’s heart when we choose our destruction, when we reject His love and grace and forgiveness. Does you heart break like God’s when people around you choose sin? Do you understand the seriousness of your own sin? Do you freely forgive those who do you wrong?

How To Study Puzzling Bible Passages

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulon 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.” Revelation 7:4-8

Image result for puzzleI’m going to be honest, I’m not exactly sure the significance of the numbers in this passage. But when I come across a piece of scripture that perplexes me, it is exciting to start hunting through God’s Word for understanding. The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. It makes the simple wise and enlightens the eyes [Psalm 19:7-8].

Obviously, 144,000 is the product of 12,000 sealed from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. But my question is why 12,000 from each tribe? I’ve searched through the commentaries to see what others have said and the agreement is inconclusive. This is a point of Scripture on which we can pray for God’s understanding and that, if it still pricks our hearts to know, we can ask Him about in heaven .

A few thoughts to consider when delving into the Word to understand this matter:

1) The tribes are given out of order and two are omitted, but there are still twelve total–so in all things we can know that God’s purposes prevail [Proverbs 19:21];

2) These same 144,000 are mentioned again in Revelation 14 with the Lamb–so we can read within the larger context of Revelation to see if anything else can be disclosed about who and why;

3) There are many Old Testament passages that refer to the twelve tribes in list fashion, often with social/spiritual commentary about the state of each [i.e. Genesis 49, Numbers 26 and Deuteronomy 33 to name a few]. I’m particularly interested to study through these scriptures to see what light they can shed on the puzzling Revelation 7 passage, because they may give insight into the order rearrangement and omissions mentioned above. But also because they give snapshots of the tribes over distant points of time and place.

In Genesis 49, the patriarch Jacob is blessing his sons, the tribal heads, on his death bed. Blessing in this instance meaning that he speaks to the character and lets them know what it will produce in their life, so not always a positive. While the Deuteronomy 33 passage is Moses blessing the twelve tribes before they part ways–him to his death and them to possess the Promised Land. This blessing is as it sounds, good things spoken on behalf of each tribe, good things spoken with future blessing in mind.

4) One other factor not to be overlooked in interpretation of difficult Scripture passages–the Holy Spirit. As I puzzled over this the last few days and looked for other passages that might give insight, the Holy Spirit spoke to me about the equality of the number 12,000.

No matter what each tribe’s patriarch behaved like or the decisions he made, no matter what the particular history of each Israelite tribe throughout scripture and beyond, God does not show favoritism [Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25]. He forgives each of us equally. He loved each tribe equally. No matter their position or their history, when they devoted themselves to God they inherited the same measure of blessing.

What’s your Bible study routine? Do you dig deep into passages that perplex you or skip over them? Do you have sound Bible study tools and practices?

Seal of Protection

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Revelation 7:2-3

Image result for seal on foreheadDestructive atmospheric calm will come upon the earth, but–just like during the famine of the third seal–the angels are instructed not to allow anyone or anything to be harmed until God’s mercy intervenes on behalf of His people. An angel comes announcing the charge to seal the foreheads of God’s servants.

We see a similar scene in Ezekiel 9. A man dressed in linen with a writing kit is charged to go through Jerusalem and mark the foreheads of the holy–the people who detested idolatry just like God does. The mark was the Hebrew letter taw which had the shape as either an x or a + on the forehead. This charge and carrying out is a pause in the middle of the judgment on the idolaters in Ezekiel just as it is in the world judgment of Revelation.

To authenticate and protect ancient documents, they were folded, tied and a lump of clay pressed over the knot and stamped with a signet ring. This chapter 7 seal is literally God’s name being stamped on the foreheads of his followers [Revelation 14:1, 22:4], authenticating them as true believers and protecting them in the coming judgments [Revelation 9:4].

It’s reminiscent of the Old Testament command to bind God’s Word to our foreheads [Deuteronomy 6:8], which showed an understanding of and devotion to His Word. Practicing the godliness outlined in Scripture protected the Jews from many natural phenomena throughout history–one such being the Bubonic plague, because God’s dietary and hygiene laws prevented the spread of disease among the Jews long before science understood why.

But this Revelation 7 seal will protect not based on the undiscovered science of a world that is passing away, but it will be the hand of the Almighty God on the lives of those who worship and serve Him alone. More like the first Passover when the Hebrews were protected if they had lamb’s blood painted on their doorposts and lintels. This sealing of the faithful will be like a final Passover when–in God’s mercy–He will withhold the intensifying judgments, beginning with the seventh seal until He identifies His own.

In other words, God is Just. In this life, God allows both believers and unbelievers to enjoy His sun and rain, to experience the blessings and hardships of our freewill [Matthew 5:45], to have the opportunity to recognize Him and repent. But a day is coming when God will separate the believers from the unbelievers [Matthew 25:32]. Seven being the number of completion, God will not complete the judgment of the earth without first identifying and protecting the innocent–those pardoned for their sins because they have accepted Jesus as Lord of their life.

Is Jesus’ name already written on your heart? Do you trust Him to provide for you and protect you no matter what may happen on this earth? Do you believe that He alone is God and worthy of your faithful devotion?

Poured Out for God

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” Revelation 6:9-11

Image result for drink offeringThe fifth seal is a reprieve from the devastation of the last three. This time, the living creatures that make up God’s throne are silent. No horse and rider is sent to the earth. Instead, we see an altar in heaven, just like there was an altar in the Tabernacle and Temple of the Old Testament. Now the altar was where the lifeblood of the sacrifice was poured out, and this was done at the base of the altar.

So here, under the base of the heavenly altar, God recognizes those who have laid down their lives for their faith in Him, the martyred. In John’s vision, God portrays the martyrs’ personal sacrifice as the origin of the earthly sacrificial system. This system foreshadowed the coming savior and taught people to see their need for a savior, but it also foreshadowed the call to daily take up our cross and follow Jesus. Lay it all on the line for our faith. Pour out our lives to the glory and honor of God alone.

However, just like the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin, neither can our own blood wash away our sins. Only Jesus’ blood can take away sin. So we do not seek to be martyred. It is not a requirement for heavenly admission any more than regular church attendance or daily Bible reading. Again, by God’s grace, only our faith–believing on the Lord Jesus Christ–will bring eternal life [Ephesians 2:8-9]. There is nothing we can do in our power, including choosing martyrdom, that can open the gates of heaven to us.

These martyrs recognize God for who He truly is and address Him as such–Sovereign. Lord. Holy. True. They speak to Him about avenging their blood–the injustice created by sin that one should die for faith in the One True God–because vengeance belongs to God alone [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19]. And God gives them the promised white robes of victors [Revelation 3:5], but He tells them to wait.

Be patient. Jesus is coming soon [Revelation 1:7, 22:7, 12, 20], but with God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day [2 Peter 3:8]. My kids put in this perspective for me the other day when they were thinking of insect lifespans. They said, “What if each minute was a year? Then we’d only live 120 minutes–2 hours!” And so earthly time is for God. What feels like years, decades, centuries and millennia to us, are nanoseconds to God.

Jesus is coming soon. Judgment to avenge the blood of the martyrs will also be coming soon.

Do you recognize, as the martyrs do, that God alone is the Sovereign Lord? Do you believe that He is holy and asks us to abstain from the sinfulness of the world, to set our lives apart for Him? Do you believe that He is true and will come again soon, avenging the martyrs, just as He said?

 

In Due Time

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the whole earth.” Revelation 3:9-10

Image result for ancient church of philadelphiaThese scriptures are in no way Jesus indictment against Jews. After all, the Israelites were God’s chosen people throughout the Old Testament. Rather, here Jesus is specifically referring to those Jews who denounced Christians to Roman officials. Remember that Christianity initially came out of Judaism and for a time the two of them coexisted, both teaching in the Jewish synagogues. But the sect converted some from Judaism, and brought in some God-fearing Gentiles as well as former pagan worshippers.

Judaism was protected under Roman rule. So when a few of the Jews decided they wanted to separate themselves from the followers of Christ, the Christians became dissenters to the Imperial cult, that is the practice of emperor worship. Not only did this noncompliance mean persecution, but all out prosecution by the Roman legal system.

Jesus encouraged His followers that one day, those who had denounced them would submit–falling at feet was a common Near East act of submission–and thereby acknowledge that Jesus loved the Christians. It’s an interesting assurance since Jesus Himself will be acknowledged as Lord by all [Philippians 2:10; Romans 14:11], then this group will also recognize the truth of the people they denounced. It should remind us of God’s right to avenge and His promise to repay [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19]. The Christians didn’t need to increase the strife of this life by futile retaliation. God would set all to right in due time.

Additionally, Jesus promised that since the Philadelphian Christians would be exempt from a worldwide trial of an undisclosed nature. We have to remember that the book of Revelation is largely prophetic–it records Jesus’ words for things to come. Some things, like the persecution that the churches would face in their culture, came to fruition within in a few decades after the letter circulated. Other things, such as this worldwide trial, have yet to come.

There are some who speculate perhaps this tribulation refers only to what the Christians experienced under the Roman Empire, but notice that this verse specifically says a worldwide trial. Worldwide as in a calamity like Noah’s flood. There have been many local trials of faith. But we have not, in human history since the flood, experienced a worldwide trial of faith.

Do you face persecution–whether great or small–for your faith? Are you enduring patiently, leaving vengeance to the Lord?

As One Standing in the Gap

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: ‘Never again will curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:21-22

Image result for ropes course spotterGod can smell. Did you know that? He enjoys savoring the scent of fire-grilled meat that waft heavenward just as much as we might enjoy driving by a local barbecue pit with the windows down. When we please God–as we were intended to do from our Creation [1:26]–He remembers [8:1] us, that is He keeps us in mind as worthy of consideration.

Makes sense. Our relationship must always be a two-way street. We remember God, that is we keep Him in mind as worthy of our consideration by pleasing Him, and He remembers us. He remembers us and forgets–puts out of His mind–our sins, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.

God prays for our hearts. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever [Deuteronomy 5:29]! Because we were created to love God with our whole heart et al and to love our fellow human beings just like we love ourselves. But the natural inclination of our heart, our human tendency, is evil–morally wrong or profoundly immoral.

But here, Noah stands in the gap. Because of Noah’s faithful and righteous remembrance of God, God promises that no human being ever after–until the end of the earth [Revelation 6:14; Matthew 24:35; 1 John 2:17]–will have to endure total world destruction.

And God’s promises are faithful and true [2 Corinthians 1:20]. So when the scientists and the news reports predict asteroids or comets colliding with earth, the polar ice caps melting and flooding the earth, the sun running out of fuel or exploding or whatever, we don’t have to be afraid. They’re wrong and God’s right. He promised that we will always have planting and harvesting so we can self-sustain, cold and heat and summer and winter so the earth can rest and then live again, and day and night so that our bodies–especially our eyes–can fully rest. If Jesus is the Lord of our life, we don’t need to fear human predictions, we just need to trust and obey God.

We don’t make animal sacrifices since the death of Christ, but we can still be a pleasing aroma to Him. Our prayers are like a fragrant incense [Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:4]. And we can live as one standing in the gap, just like Noah did for us, reminding God of how very good His Creation was and is. Remembering our love for Him as He remembers His love for us.

How often do you pray? Do you daily fill up God’s nostrils with the perfume of prayer? Do you live as one standing in the gap? In other words, by your life, does God remember in you the goodness of His Creation and hold back the floodgates of heaven’s wrath once more?