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A Blazing Mountain-Thingy

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” Revelation 8:8-9

Image result for Mountains and Ocean WavesBeat two, trumpet two enters. The result? Something like a huge mountain. Something like? John is seeing things he has to explain with words he knows, even if he has no words for the reality. Though God doesn’t correct Him as He could have.

So a blazing mountain-thing is hurled to the earth–like the censer and the hail-fire-blood mix–but this time into the ocean. Jeremiah 51:25 speaks of a destroying mountain that will repay Babylon for her idolatrous ways, leaving behind a pile of burnt rubble. Remember that Babel first introduced and spread false religions [Genesis 11:4-6], so false religion will be blotted out from the earth in the reversal of sin in the new creation at the end of time.

But Jesus also told believers that, with a mustard seed of faith, we could tell a mountain–an obstacle in our lives–to throw itself into the sea. And if we believe, it will happen [Matthew 11:23 & 21:21]. This something like a mountain being thrown into the sea, could very much represent the faith of believers moving the hindrance of false religion from the world, not by might, not by power, but by the spirit of the Lord [Zechariah 4:6].

And fire is used to refine [1 Peter 1:7]. It burns away the impurities, leaving behind pure gold, silver, and other precious metals. In scripture, a fire coal is also used for figuratively cleansing, in much the same way, the prophet Isaiah’s lips or his words/speech [Isaiah 6:6-7]. Any part of our life that is built on anything or anyone other than Christ will burn away in the refining fire of judgment [1 Corinthians 3:11-15].

Here again, we see a repeat of the first Exodus plague, water turned to blood [Exodus 7:14-24]. Just as in Egypt when the Nile’s fish died [Exodus 7:21], so the effected ocean life will die as a result of the fiery mountain turning one-third of the sea to blood. Not only that, but one-third of all the world’s ships–a creation of human hands–will also be destroyed.

Now you could probably name a dozen movies that glamorize this much ecological and nautical carnage. And many people have no problem attaching this type of thing to governments at war either. But one mention that God is involved and, all of a sudden, He is unjust. On the contrary, it is because God is just and holy and good that false religion cannot continue eternally. It is because of who He is that sin and death cannot exist eternally. And why would we want it to?

But if death is to be destroyed, then its root–sin [James 1:15]–must also be destroyed. And we each are responsible for choosing how the sin is removed from our lives. We can either accept Christ’s sacrifice to cleanse us from sins–as simply as believing in Him–or we can reject His sacrifice and accept the wages of our own sin [Romans 6:23], death in whatever form it takes.

Have you accepted Christ’s sacrifice for your sins? Do you have a faith in Him that moves mountains? Or do you intend to face death without Jesus?

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?

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 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?

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?

The Mourning Sky

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” Revelation 6:12-14

Image result for blood moonJesus slides his finger under the second to last seal. Again no rider, but also no reprieve. The broken sixth seal brings an earthquake of such magnitude that even the heavens seem to be affected. But Jesus said that earthquakes would be the beginning of birth pains and that after these signs, the end was still to come [Matthew 24:7-8]. And Revelation 16:18 records an earthquake to end all earthquakes, so as terrible as this scroll seal earthquake is, it is not the end.

Notice the comparison of the sun to sackcloth. In Jewish custom, a person receiving bad news–such as the passing of a loved one or, in the case of kings, lost battles, et al–would tear the clothes they were wearing and put on sackcloth. This fabric was made of goat hair and was a very dark color, akin to wearing black clothes for mourning. But the fabric was also very itchy and uncomfortable and worn directly against the skin to physically display the emotional grief and mourning. So even the heavens appear to be grieving and mourning over the calamity on the earth.

Remember, it is not God’s desire that any should perish [2 Peter 3:9], but these things must take place [Matthew 24:6].

Now there have been many predictions and expectations of blood moons in recent history. They are a phenomena that have appeared sporadically throughout history, but in rare years have occurred in groups of three. Some find this significant. I will not pretend to know anything about this. However, the particular blood moon listed in this passage is a result of, or at least coincides with, this gargantuan earthquake. Directly following, stars will fall from the sky.

The late figs mentioned here are green–or unripe figs–that sometimes grow in winter. Since the tree has no leaves to protect the fruit, winter winds easily blow them to the ground. The sky being rolled back like a scroll is hard to imagine what that might look like or mean atmospherically. Does it mean that our visible light spectrum blocks our vision of heaven? Surely we are so minute that our whole universe rests in the palm of God’s hand orbiting like the fidget spinners that are so popular today. Perhaps the visible light maintained by our atmosphere will peel back, revealing our true station among the heavenly hosts and the throne room of heaven–maybe a little like the speck-city of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who.

Regardless, these heavenly signs marking the time of the end were spoken of in both the Old and New Testaments [Isaiah 13:10, 34:4; Matthew 24:29]. Jeremiah [4:24] mentions the impact of the great earthquake on the mountains. The earthquake will be so violent that mountains will bow and the islands will move or be swallowed up.

God created everything good, but disasters came on the earth when the Fall of Man ushered in Sin. In each generation, the closer the world comes to the end of times, the more intense and destructive sinful-natural disasters become. But we don’t need to be afraid of these troubles [John 16:33]. God is no less God. His heavenly throne is no less real. His promise of eternal life no less faithful or accessible. We need only believe. Keep our eyes on Him. Stand firm to the end, even unto death [Revelation 2:10]. And then we will truly live.

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.