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Locust Storm

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those  people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” Revelation 9:1-4

Image result for locustAfter the eagle interlude, angel number five takes a deep breath and blows his trumpet, adding to the earthly discord wreaked by the first four. At the blast of his horn, a single star–sometimes referring to angels in scripture [Job 38:7; Daniel 8:10; Revelation 1:20 & 12:4]–is given the key to the Abyss.

Used here, Abyss is a Greek term meaning very deep or bottomless. It was believed in ancient times to be a place beneath the earth’s surface where all demons were confined. The Hebrew word equivalent refers back to the deeps of the earliest recorded moments of the earth [Genesis 1:2] and the springs of the deep that loosed Noah’s flood [Genesis 7:11; Proverbs 8:28]. The legion of demons in Luke 8:31 begged Jesus not to send them into this Abyss.

This should be warning enough for Christians not to dabble in séances and other rites or activities that claim to call demons forth. Because it is not just a game, it opens up the deep and it opens up our spirit to the forces of darkness.

John records such vivid imagery of the opening of this Abyss. Smoke pouring out of a large furnace, like the chimney stacks of factories or nuclear plants that cloud the horizon for miles. Smoke enough to screen the sun and the entire sky like a stormy, black-clouded day. The eighth Exodus plague bursts back onto the scene with locusts pouring out of the smoke and raining onto every inch of earth [Exodus 10:1-20].

But this is not your ordinary locust. This is a supernatural hybrid of locust with scorpion power–aka venomous barbs–and the express mission of stinging people, rather than destroying the vegetation [as locusts normally do]. All people, that is, except for those sealed by God [Revelation 7:1-8].

Interestingly, these seals were initially given after the opening of the sixth of seven scroll seals [Revelation 6:1-8:5]. At the time, God expressly forbid the land and sea harming angel to touch anything until He sealed the foreheads of His people. Here in Revelation 9, we see that the locust-scorpion hybrids are commanded not to harm the land at all and not to touch anyone who has this seal. God’s mercies are at work.

Later on in the tribulation, Satan will counterfeit this seal with his own version–the mark of the beast [Revelation 13:16-17]. As Christians, we do not need to worry about whether or not we will relent and take this mark, because it is clear by this timeline that we will either have already been raptured or received God’s seal on our foreheads. And if we’ve been sealed by God, taking the mark will not be an option.

Do you worry about end times events? Study the Word to understand them better. Understanding can dispel many fears. Trusting God will quell them all. Do you trust Him as you love Him–with all your heart, and with all your strength and with all your mind?

 

The Fall Reversed in the Greatest Commandments

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them of springs of living water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:15-17

Image result for lamb leading to waterBible scholars–and often the various church denominations–hold to differing views on which point of the end times the church will be raptured into heaven [1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17]. There are usually three views of this: pre-tribulation [before all the bad stuff happens], mid-tribulation [sometime during while all the bad stuff happens] and post-tribulation [after all of the bad stuff happens].

Since no one knows the day or the hour that Jesus is coming–not even Jesus Himself [Matthew 24:36]–God doesn’t want us to spend our time debating it [2 Timothy 2:14]. We’re not even supposed to concern ourselves with anything except believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and trusting Him in all things. That does not mean that we won’t experience anything bad in our physical bodies. On the contrary, so long as sin remains and our bodies remain here in the sinful world, we will have trouble [John 16:33]. But our fear is not to be bound up in the physical [Matthew 10:28].

Rather, as we can see here, an innumerable multitude stays faithful through at least the opening of six seals which release increasing hardship on the earth, and then they are standing before God’s throne in His heavenly temple. The temple here signifying the presence of God and the tent, spread out over them, His tabernacle.

The next verses begin to show that God is undoing sin–in the exact reverse that He pronounced the consequences of sin in Genesis 3–and creating everything anew.

In heaven, we will not hunger, thirst or be scorched by sun–a reversal of Adam’s curse [Genesis 3:15-17]. And why will this happen? Because Jesus–the Lamb–will lead us. Having restored the reverence for God in our hearts, we will once again submit to His perfect authority and do the good things that He intended for us from the Creation. When He leads us to the eternal living waters and the banquet tables of heaven, we will follow without exception out of a free will governed by our love for God.

In heaven, we will no longer cry–a reversal of Eve’s curse [Genesis 3:16]. Not because women tend to be more emotional than men, but because the result of her sin was painful childbearing–meaning childrearing, as in broken relationships. Relationship breaks that lead to emotional strife–arguments, hurtful words and actions, betrayed trusts, mistreatment, abuse, oppression…heartbreak on so many levels in every type of relationship–and that escalates even to the point of war and death. All of our imperfect human relationships will be made whole out of a free will governed by our love for our fellow human beings, the way God intended for us from the Creation.

Though we are not in heaven and have not been made perfect yet, each day we ought to become more and more like Christ [Colossians 1:28], we ought to grow more and more in our love for God and fellow human beings [Matthew 22:36-40; 1 John 4:7-21].

Amazing isn’t it? The culture around us cries out for love for all, but deny the God who is love and who is trying to restore this very thing.

The Loud Anguish

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:14b

Image result for tribulationSo who is this white-robed multitude? The elder says they are the people who have come out of the great tribulation. So what is the great tribulation?

Tribulation was actually a death penalty in Rome, as was crucifixion. However, in tribulation, large flat stones were stacked on a person’s chest–one at a time–until all of the air was crushed out of them. They died then of suffocation/asphyxiation. In this way, the word tribulation is a figurative description of the end times.

The Greek word thlipseos, translated tribulation here, is translated elsewhere in the Bible as: affliction, anguish, and persecution. The Greek word for great, megales, is also translated as loud, and great in both the sense of magnificent and the sense of very large.

Jesus assured all believers that they would have trouble in this world [John 16:33]. The seven churches of Revelation faced persecution under the Roman government, and many other times and places in history–including several countries in our world today–have also shared in very large scale, hard hitting persecution.

I love that this can also be translated the loud anguish. Because it expresses more fully that the sin and death of this life clamor to a tumultuous, agonized wailing. But all the more as the great and glorious day of the Lord approaches. The end times that Revelation begins to describe with the six broken seals leading up to this moment and which will continue with trumpet and bowl judgments yet to come, will feel like one rock at a time being laid on the chest of all–believer and unbeliever alike–until the Lord, in His mercy, raptures us home [1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17].

How much will believers have to experience? We don’t know exactly, only that God has promised to protect us through whatever we may endure [Revelation 6:6, 7:2]. His strength is perfect in our weakness [2 Corinthians 12:8-10]. We may be struck down, hard pressed and persecuted from every side, but we will not be crushed by the tribulation of this life [2 Corinthians 4:8-9]. His breath of life fills our lungs and will sustain us through it all [Genesis 2:7; Psalm 46:1 & 118:14].

Our robes–a symbol of our righteousness or goodness–have been made paradoxically white through blood that we know to be red. But it is again a symbol of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Life is in the blood [Leviticus 17:11], and more specifically, eternal life rests in Jesus’ blood alone. When we put Him on as a robe [Galatians 3:27], by accepting His sacrifice on the cross as the payment for our sins, then our sinful-self-righteousness–which is like filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6] next to His Holy Glory–are washed white as snow. Sinless. Perfect enough to stand before a Holy God.

Can you hear the loud anguish rising all around? Do you feel pressed down in life or persecuted by the world today? Hold on. Jesus is coming soon!

Questions of the Spirit

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes–who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.” Revelation 7:13-14a

Image result for askVerses like this are sprinkled throughout the Revelation account to remind us that John is still in a vision and being shown things that will happen in the future. An elder takes John aside to make sure that he understands what he is seeing, because John has been charged with reporting it with accuracy to the world at large.

In this instance, just like in Revelation 1:20 with the symbolism of the lamps and the stars, John is clearly told what the literal white-robed multitude means. But the elder does so through a question, much like God employed with Adam and Eve in the garden [Genesis 3:9, 11 & 13] and with Cain [4:6, 9 & 10].

The Genesis questions were not for God’s sake, not because He didn’t already know the answer, but to cause Adam and Eve, and Cain to consider the truth. Here in Revelation, the elder’s question is not because the elder doesn’t know the answer, but to prompt John to be an active observer–not passive. He needs to know what he is seeing, and the elder’s question causes John to ask for understanding.

We, like John, are not to be passive consumers of Christianity. We too need to understand what we read and hear of God’s Word so that we can always be ready with an answer for the hope we have within us [1 Peter 3:15]. And when we don’t at first understand, all we need to do is ask God for wisdom and believe that He will show us the truth of His Word [James 1:5].

What questions is the Spirit prompting your heart with today? Are you seeking His understanding? Are you listening for His answer?

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?

 

The Open Door

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:7-8

Image result for open doorJesus’ introduction of Himself as holy and true was a cultural assurance to the Philadelphians rooted in their current events and political climate. Following an earthquake, the city was neglected by the Roman Empire, they didn’t send help to rebuild. Then Domitian ordered them to tear out their vineyards so that the Italian ones would be the frontrunners, breaking the Philadelphian economy. The Christians themselves faced neglect and opposition from the local authorities.

But Jesus tells the Christians that He is apart from all of the betrayals of this world. That He will do them no wrong and be faithful to them.

Now Christianity, though having begun as a sect of Judaism, began to be excluded from the synagogues as well. Literal doors were closed in their faces when they came to teach and hear the teachings with family that may not have converted yet from Judaism, segregating them further. Not only that, but Judaism was protected under Roman rule at this time. So anyone who wasn’t included on the religious rosters was subject to Imperial worship and punishment for noncompliance.

It was a big problem that the Christians were being shut out of the synagogues. It could mean their very lives were at stake.

Despite all this, the Church at Philadelphia faithfully persevered. Though they were weak, they remained strong in Him. So Jesus encourages them that He holds the key of David–an allusion to His authority over the Nation of Israel. And He would open a door for them that no one would be able to shut.

As Christians today, we have plenty of cultural pressures that segregate and alienate us from the world. Just as Jesus holds the key of David, so He holds the key to the whole world and every nation therein. We can hold to the promise that He made the Philadelphians, He will hold open the door to eternity for us if we, like them, keep His word and boldly proclaim His name in our lives.

In your weakness, do you allow Christ to show Himself strong [2 Corinthians 12:10]? Despite being excluded by the world, do hold fast to your faith in Him?