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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 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?

Hard Rock Heart

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

Image result for rock heartDespite the wide spreading insistence to the contrary, when this great earthquake shakes even the heavens, every person of every station of life–whether the most famous and wealthy and powerful or the least known and most impoverished–on the face of the earth will recognize that there is a God in heaven.

And as the mountains and islands are shaking from their foundations, slipping, sliding and moving in ways no human has ever seen or could ever bring to pass, people will actually speak to the rocks instead of even now turning to God. That’s how great the hardness of the human heart, the pride that we can do it for ourselves and never have to face up to our Creator. It’s a lie from the pit of hell.

God offers us love–always has and always will. But love comes with discipline–the positive discipline of a life well lived, forsaking things that hinder or hurt, and the harsh discipline of consequence for disobedience, as even our human legal systems recognize to be necessary. God never stops loving us, but one day earthly time will stop. When it does, every knee will bow and acknowledge that God is God [Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11].

The day of the sixth seal is not that end of time day. People will be so bold and arrogant–and yet aware of their sinful ways–that they will try to once again go it alone. Though the rocks themselves cry out to God when people will not [Luke 19:40], the people living on the day of the sixth seal will cry out to the rocks, “Hide us from God!”–just like Adam hid in the garden because of the awareness of his sin against God [Genesis 3:10].

But we can never hide our sins, because God sees even the most hidden things about us. He sees inside our hearts [1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:12]. Only those who have believed on Jesus, God’s Son, will be free from the guilt and shame of sin [Leviticus 14:13; John 3:16; Hebrews 10:10, 14 & 17; 1 John 3:5]. Only those who have repented their self-as-god ways, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, will find forgiveness for their sins [Acts 2:38, 3:19].

When time stops, where will your faith lie–in God or in yourself-as-god? How hard is your heart? Would you sooner call out to the rocks to hide you or do you gladly bow your knee to your Creator?

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.

No Participation Trophies in Heaven

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” Revelation 6:2

Image result for participation trophiesNotice that the thunderous voice emanates from God’s living throne, the same voices that continually lift up praise to God throughout eternity. So when we read about the peals of thunder coming from God’s throne elsewhere in scripture, we can know that this thunder is the praise rising from the throne itself. Praise that proclaims, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty [Revelation 4:8].

Perhaps that is why as young children we so fear thunder. Because our spirits–in childlike faith [Matthew 19:14]–recognize God’s holiness in it.

The breaking of the seal and the beckoning of one of the living creatures–that is God’s throne–usher in a rider on a white horse, symbolizing righteous justice and victory. The rider holds an archer’s weapon and receives a crown before riding out. And as prophesied from the Fall of Man [Genesis 3:15], it is time to finish crushing Satan.

The adversary never had the power of God, and yet throughout history he has deceptively promised to be able to give just that. He struck at Jesus’ heal with the crucifixion. But was crushed when Jesus conquered death, hell and the grave [Revelation 1:18]. Still, his final defeat, and those of his deceived followers, will come at the end of time with the seal and bowl judgments of Revelation, starting with the conqueror on the white horse–Jesus Himself [Psalm 45:4, Revelation 19:11].

Remember the double-edgedness of God’s Word–it cuts two ways. For Satan to be vanquished, all that were faithful to him must also share in his punishment. For the righteous to be victorious, their adversaries have to be overcome. There has never been a war that ended in a tie, or a victor without a loser.

It’s no wonder that Satan’s anti-God campaign in our time is a message of tolerance and participation trophies. Everyone can do what they want, when they want, how they want, and everyone should be honored with a participation trophy for whatever they did. No one should be allowed to feel bad for anything they have done, no matter what.

But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to many in the world and foolishness to the rest of it [1 Corinthians 1:23]. Because all have bought into Satan’s lies, Did God really say?…You will not surely die…You can be like God… [Genesis 3:1,4 & 5]. We like to be so empowered and so emboldened to believe that we’re never wrong and we don’t really deserve to ever face a consequence for anything we do. But it’s a lie from the pit of hell. It is entangling sin [Hebrews 12:1], because it denies that there is a God in heaven. One God. That He alone is Almighty. And that He is holy.

Are you tempted by tolerance? Or do you recognize God and His holiness? Are you embarrassed to speak God’s truth in the face of majority opposition [Luke 9:26]? Or victoriously emboldened to stand for Jesus?

 

Mastering the Crouching Tiger

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:5b-7

Image result for crouching tiger

In the human struggle with sin, this is one of those verses that I keep coming back to.

Cain was offended that God didn’t accept his offering–as if behaving like a spoiled child would make God accept the unacceptable after all. He got angry and he pouted. So God talks to Cain and asks him the same pointed kind of questions that He asked his father in the Garden of Eden.

Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? But God already knew the answer to these, because God knew Cain’s heart [Psalm139:1; Jeremiah 17:10; Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; Romans 8:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 2:23]. So again, God asked these questions so that Cain would consider the answers very seriously–why was he angry? Why was he pouting?

Had Cain thought it all the way through, he may have realized that it was because of the effects of sin in his life. He didn’t choose to be born with a sin nature, but the fallen nature was as much a part of him as it was the ground he worked and it was causing him to think, behave, react, and choose wrongfully toward God and his fellow man [aka his little brother Abel].

The third question is the sticker though, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Think about it Cain. If you choose to do right–to learn from your honest mistake–then you won’t feel jealous of your brother because you’ll both be accepted by me, God. Then you won’t feel angry at me, because there won’t be a conflict between us. Then you won’t feel depressed or discouraged because when you do what is right you are accepted–and everyone, even Cain, wants to be accepted.

But the most important take away from these verses and this story is Genesis 4:7b, “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door…” A crouching tiger, waiting to pounce on its prey. Sin has stalked you all the way to your house where you feel most safe and it’s lying in wait for you outside your own front door, the entrance to your home. And that sin that you think is no big deal? It is hungry to devour you.

But YOU must master IT.

Plain and simple. Despite being born with a sin nature and into a fallen world, it is our choice to recognize sin and flee from it or not. It is ours to master or to allow it to consume us.

Just like Cain, we have all been born with this sin nature, and the Holy Spirit speaks to us, convicting our hearts of that which would become sin to us, that which threatens to destroy our lives both physically and spiritually.

Do you believe that you can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, master the sin that threatens to devour you? Do you hear God’s voice? How is He leading you to overcome?

Love is Golden

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

Image result for teen teamwork handsIf the two most important things that we do are: 1) to love God with everything about us, and 2) to love others like we love ourselves, then we must know what love is.

God’s definition? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 contains a well-known list of love’s attributes–patience, kindness, not jealous or boastful or proud, etc. Moreover, Jesus called us to love one another the way He–who is God, who is good, and who is love–loves us [1 John 15:13]. He went on to say that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

All summed up? Love is the active, self-deferent care for another. It’s the golden rule lived without exception–not out of obligation–but out of genuine concern for every other human being, even those who don’t love us back [Luke 6:31].

How is that even possible? Learn to see people with God’s eyes.

He made everyone, and He loves each of us all the same. There are no favorites with God. In fact, Jesus made it clear that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” [Matthew 25:40]. So by loving our fellow human, we are loving God Himself.

As a Mom, this has become so clear to me through my children, but you may want to think about this as having two best friends or two pet dogs. In both cases, you love both equally. No favorites, because they are yours. Because you chose them.

But what if one dog turns and tears the other apart. Would you allow it? Would you ignore it? Or would it break your heart to have to punish one and to watch the other one suffer? And if one best friend hated your other best friend? Just think about the grief of having to time-split, and hearing one constantly tearing the other person apart. But you love them both the same.

God feels this constantly as He watches His creation act hatefully one to another–sometimes willfully and other times thoughtlessly. But love is the golden rule on Energizer batteries–it just keeps going and going. Willing even to give one’s own life up for someone else’s sake.

Is there a limit to your love for others? Ask God to bring it to light and then to remove it from your heart. Is there a limit to your love for God? Seek Him until it dissolves in the refining fire of His presence.