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A Dark and Terrible Night

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given the power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” Revelation 16:8-11

Image result for sun scorchedThese next two plagues deal in day four of the Creation–sun, moon and stars–plague nine from Egypt–darkness. We know that the end of the physical earth is near, because God promised that seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease as long as the earth endures [Genesis 8:22].

But here we see that the sun’s stability will begin to unravel without God’s mercy to hold it together. Unlike mythology which tries to explain scientific law with made up folktales, the Bible has always explained science before scientists even know it’s a thing.

Almost a thousand years before global warming, the ability to monitor sun spots, calculate the mass of the sun and hypothesize about the rate at which it will wear out, the Bible told us that, just like God started it, the sun will run out exactly when God withdraws His mercy. First, sunspots will intensify and scorch the earth. Then the sun will go completely dark, plunging the antichrist’s kingdom on earth into pitch blackness.

Yet so hardened will be the hearts of human beings at this time, that they will find the words and the strength to curse God, but not the contrite heart to acknowledge their sinfulness or the humility to ask forgiveness. They will follow their beast into the darkness, grumbling and complaining against God for all the wrong befallen them, never admitting to themselves that since God exists, He is in control and therefore must be reverenced as God. Never accepting His love and mercy in their lives.

As long as it is day, we must do the works of God [John 9:4] and encourage one another so that no one may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness [Hebrews 3:13]. Night is coming, Jesus said [John 9:4]–this dark and terrible night at the end of the world as we know it is coming. Will the people you have love be lost in the dark? Will people that know you face these final days of wrath? Are you, like Christ [John 9:5], a light to this world that is ever plunging deeper into the darkness?

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Paying the Wage of Sin

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.” Revelation 14:17-20

Image result for Wine StompingAn angel with a much smaller sickle, the curved knife blade used for harvesting grape clusters from the vine, comes out of the heavenly temple next. Following him is the angel in charge of the fire for the heavenly altar–another evidence of the earthly temple being patterned after the original in heaven [Leviticus 6:13]. The fire-angel passes the harvest command to the grape-knife angel.

The grapes are ripe. The time for God’s patient love has passed.

The image of God’s wrath as a winepress was common in the Old Testament [Isaiah 63:3; Lamentations 1:15; Joel 3:13]. To make wine, harvested grapes were filled into the vat and then workers would tread barefoot–that is walk through the vat, squishing the grapes underfoot so that their juice flowed into the lower levels of the winepress.

Again, it is not God’s desire that any should choose this end [2 Peter 3:9], but everyone has the free will to do just that–choose or reject God–despite His desire for all to come to eternal life [John 3:16-17].

Those who choose sin, thereby choose to pay the wages of their own sin by themselves. The Bible tells us clearly that the wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23; Leviticus 17:11]. And just as Jesus suffered outside the city gate [Hebrews 13:12], those who reject God will face their end in this place of disgrace. They will give their own life blood in their appointed time of death–as all must face [Hebrews 9:27]–only their blood can never bring forgiveness of sins. So when the unforgiven die, they face the second death, that is eternal punishment in the fires of hell [Revelation 2:11, 20:6 & 14, 21:8].

So great is the number of those who refuse God in this life, that John sees a vision of blood rising somewhere between 4 and 6 feet high, covering an area the length of the Holy Land from north to south.

Everyone’s sins must be paid for. But no one has to pay the penalty for themselves. Have you accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins? Or will you choose to pay for yourself?

Hagion

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” Revelation 14:12-13

Image result for persecuted churchTwo times the book of Revelation calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints–first during the reign of the antichrist [Revelation 13:10] and now while those who followed and worshipped him are judged.

Hagion–rendered here as saints–appears 39 times in the New Testament. It refers to faithful believers who endure suffering [Acts 26:10; Romans 8:27; 2 Corinthians 9:12], but it is also used as the adjective holy to describe prophets [Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21; 2 Peter 3:2], angels [Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Revelation 14:10] and places [Hebrews 8:2, 9:8, 10:19]. The Holy of Holies from Tabernacle and Temple times is referred to in Hebrews 9:8 as the hagion. This was the inner sanctuary where the high priest would offer the prescribed sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people [Leviticus 16:2; 1 Chronicles 6:49].

The writer of Hebrews recognizes, then, that the saints are the temple of God and indwelled by His Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 3:16]. To be holy is to be set apart for a special–usually a Godly–purpose. God is holy. Where He is, sin cannot be also [1 John 3:9]. When God lives in our hearts, then sin has to move out. Because He is holy, we too are to become holy–set apart unto Him [1 Peter 1:16].

As God’s saints, we must patiently endure the effects of sin in the world, faithfully holding to Jesus all the while.

Then the voice reminds us that John is seeing a vision. Write to the churches that those who believe on Jesus and die [1 Corinthians 15:12-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16], they will be extremely joyful–aka blessed. Those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will find rest from the toil that sin brought through eternal life [Genesis 3:17-19; Matthew 11:28-30], and they will store up for themselves treasures in heaven [Matthew 6:20].

Do you have this hope within you? Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and none else? Do you love Him?

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?

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?

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 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?