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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
After 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?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: ‘Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!” Revelation 8:13
There is a pause after the fourth trumpeter takes his cue.
Here an eagle speaks, another throwback to the speaking serpent [and possibly all the animals] of the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:1]. An eagle, however, is a symbol of strength, courage and farsightedness. It was known in antiquity as the messenger of the gods, likely because of Satan perverting the truth that this Revelation eagle would carry this message from the One True God. But the seven churches of Revelation would have recognized the imperial authority held in this eagle’s words since it was also a symbol of Rome.
The eagle’s message? The loud anguish–the tribulation–is about to intensify. God’s mercy knows no end, but sin and death cannot endure forever, because His holiness also knows end.
Who has ever wanted the evil of sin and death to remain in the world? Yet, who is willing to live through the supernatural end of both? Because there is only way to eliminate sin and death, and it is so devastating, many blame God as being unjust. But it’s a lot like cancer in the body. Either the cancer is eliminated or the person who has it dies. No two ways about it. And often the only way to eliminate the cancer takes a devastating toll on the survivor. Do we therefore find the doctors unjust because they are working to destroy cancer and save the life?
When the tribulation intensifies, it is with the express purpose of uprooting sin and eradicating death so that eternal life can take hold.
Do you trust God to work all things together for your eternal good? Have you come to a place where you are aware of God’s perspective of your sinful state? Are you sharing the truth of Jesus Christ with everyone you know so that they will be able to stand on Him when the loud anguish comes, enduring until Christ’s return?
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
Jesus 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.
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.” Revelation 6:3-4
Once again, Jesus slips his finger under the loose edge of the scroll and breaks a waxen seal, the second of seven. So the second living creature–that is His throne–beckons a second horse and rider. Red this time.
Red. The color of Mars, named for the Roman god of war–as counterfeited by Satan. Red is the color of war, but the god Mars is no more than a figment of ancient imaginations. Yet, Christian and non-Christian readers or hearers of John’s vision would’ve recognized the meaning of this horse and rider immediately. War.
So first Jesus the victorious conqueror rides out across the earth. Then, He is followed by war. Surely Jesus reminds us that, in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world, [John 16:33]. But His other words also come to mind. Words of end time signs. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come, [Matthew 24:5-6].
Jesus rides victoriously across the earth, while many false “Christs” present themselves and continue to turn hearts. Jesus is armed with a bow and arrows that pierce the heart straight and true. It is not His desire that any should perish [2 Peter 3:9], but that all should have eternal life [John 3:16-17] and even here He mercifully shows Himself to the world again, allowing one more opportunity.
Yet war directly follows. War–that two-sided weapon that decides once and for all who has conquered. Make no mistake, Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword [Matthew 10:34]. Peace, meaning that He did not come to accept everything done by human kind despite His holy nature. But God’s Word–His sword–clearly shows us time and again, that God’s holiness demands decisions be made, right be done, evil be forsaken.
Throughout history, Satan has placed it in the hearts of men to war with one another over trivial things, earthly things that will all pass away. He desires only to steal, kill and destroy human life [John 10:10], and war accomplishes exactly that. Jesus’ presence on the earth has maintained a modicum of peace, so that the whole earth does not turn and destroy one another. But He will remove His presence in the end, and allow men to see what life without God is truly like. Because Satan has also placed it in human hearts to war against God Almighty for the right to be our own gods [Genesis 3:5].
And many who think they are good enough by their own measure, would not see a problem with being allowed to be their own god. They twist the sentiment to make God seem unloving and unjust for not allowing such a system. They want, like a spoiled child, to be allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, without God’s opinion on the matter, because they’re basically a good enough person to handle themselves.
But let me ask, if people are really good and God is good, then why do we choose to fight Him? Wouldn’t goodness demand that we at least work to get along with God as well as with all other people? And if we’re working to get along, wouldn’t our goodness bring us to recognize that true goodness needs a governing authority? And wouldn’t this recognition humble us to realize that only the One who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good and all-wise is worthy of such a position? Wouldn’t we then joyfully lay down our insistence to rule ourselves for the good of all if our self-imbued good was really good enough?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.” Revelation 4:4-6a
Numbers hold significance in scriptures, they’re not arbitrary. So the fact that John notes exactly twenty-four elders seated on twenty-four thrones surrounding the throne of God means something. But what?
Many biblical scholars agree that the number twenty-four–which is twelve times two, as in twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament and the twelve disciples in the New Testament. However, the scripture does not specifically name these elders as such. The Old Testament does use the term elders to describe the heads of tribal Jewish bodies or groupings [Exodus 19:7, 24:1; et al], and the New Testament also used it to delineate heads of the Christian Church [Acts 14:23, 20:17, 21:18; et al]. Regardless of whether the number consists of the actual patriarchs of the twelve tribes plus the disciples or not, it is clear that these twenty-four elders represent the complete body of Christ both past and future, both Old and New Testament.
Notice that they are dressed in white with gold crowns on their heads. These are representatives of the victorious that Jesus spoke about to the seven churches of Revelation [2:7, 11, 17, 26-28, 5, 12, & 21]. The white robes also speak of righteousness and priesthood, their sins have been washed away and they have been into the holy priesthood [1 Peter 2:9] able to commune with God Himself, the very thing He’d always intended for us, His most cherished Creation.
I wonder at the lightning and thunder coming from God’s throne. Obviously, John was writing to a people within a culture who believed Zeus to be the God who controlled such things. And Zeus was chief among the gods because of the power he wielded. However, Jesus through John clearly tells the people of that day that Zeus is a fraud, he does not possess lightning. Rather it emanates from the very throne of the One True Almighty God, Creator and Lord of all.
From here, Jesus, through John, shows us around the Temple of Heaven, a virtual tour if you will. And we begin to see the original that the Jewish Temple was patterned after. The Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple had seven lamps [Numbers 8:2] that were kept burning before the Lord night and day. They represented the seven spirits of God–seven being the number of completion and therefore perfection–to the Israelites, just as they are said here to represent the seven spirits [or sevenfold Spirit] of God in heaven. Also, the earthly Tabernacle and Temple had a basin used in the sacrifice system that was called the Sea [1 Kings 7:23-25] that was positioned in front of the holy of holies where the mercy seat, or God’s earthly throne, was. That Sea, however, was bronze though it was meant to be reflective and it was here that the priests washed themselves before going about their work. But the Sea before the throne in heaven is clear as glass. No more need to mirror man’s sins for him to see. No more need to be cleansed, because everyone will be eternally washed, clean, forgiven. Amen!
Are you washed and forgiven by God? Do you seek to recognize His heavenly patterns here on earth? Do you then testify about them to others?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Revelation 2:18-19
In Greek mythology, Zeus’ son Apollo was called the son of god, and he was the patron god of Thyatira when Alexander the Great founded it as an army garrison. Under Roman rule, Thyatira’s business structure was built around guilds. Much like labor unions today a worker had to be faithful to the guild and the guild would in turn be faithful to protect their job.
But the guilds often celebrated their festivities in the temple to Apollo, sponsoring acts that Christians could not take part in. And if you didn’t participate, your job was as good as gone; you had no way to make a living.
It is to this culture that Jesus proclaims Himself the Son of God–the True Son of the One True God, not like the culturally glorified fictitious Apollo and his father Zeus. Jesus identifies Himself with the bronze smiths and guild laborers in the portrayal of His fiery eyes and burnished feet. Then, He commends the Thyatirans for their works, love, faith, service and perseverance. He commends them for increasing in these things despite the cultural pressures of their city; not easy to do.
So how long does it take to become a mature Christian? The longer the Ephesians served God, the more ritualistic it became. They totally forgot about their love for Him. The longer the Church at Smyrna served God, the more they were slandered and suffered for Him. The longer the Pergamenians served God, the more they compromised. And the longer the Thyatirans served God, the more liars sprang up in their midst, encouraging them to return to their old life.
But this was not true of everyone in these churches. Because becoming a mature Christian is an individual process. No one is perfect, nor will anyone arrive at perfection–completeness–in this life. Everyone is maturing in their Christian walk. [Either that or they are shrinking, but that is a subject for another post.] And everyone matures at a different rate and will finish life at a different level of spiritual maturity than others.
However, we can do certain things to ensure that we are in fact maturing in Christ and that our experiential knowledge of Him develops sooner rather than later: prayer, Bible study, praise and worship, and fellowship with other believers. But even in these things, we must be careful not to fall into the religious pitfalls that the seven churches of Revelation experienced–losing sight of love for Jesus, compromising with culture or flat out turning back to our old way of life while still professing to be a Christian.
In effect, it takes a whole lifetime to become the most mature Christian that you’ll ever be, but it takes only a moment to devote yourself to maturing in Christ and the daily commitment to see it through. Are you on the path to Christian maturity?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live–where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.” Revelation 2:12-13
Pergamum means citadel in Greek. Once capital of the region, Pergamum became the first site of the Imperial–or Caesar–Cult in the Roman Empire. But the city was home to many pagan temples: Zeus [king of kings and god of gods], Asclepius [healer], Demeter [harvest/provider], Dionysius [pleasure], and Athena [wisdom].
It’s no wonder then that Jesus introduces His words to the Pergamenian Christians by reminding them that He has the sharp, double-edged sword. His words are the judgment that matter. And, knowing where they live, His words–not Satan’s pantheon of Greek and Roman frauds–were the only true judgments on which they were to build their lives.
Because Jesus is the actual King of Kings and Lord of Lords [Revelation 19:16]. Jesus is the divine physician and the healer from whom all healing flows [Exodus 15:26]. Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest and our loving provider [Matthew 9:38; Genesis 22:14]. Jesus is the center of pure pleasure because He came that we might have life more abundantly [John 10:10]. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and in Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10; Colossians 2:3].
But to proclaim Jesus in Pergamum was to denounce the gods and goddesses, to be basically labeled an atheist and subject oneself to Roman persecution. Pergamum was truly a city where Satan had his throne. But Jesus commends the church here for holding onto His Name. A Name that is above all names [Philippians 2:9], but that sentenced its bearers to suffering and even death.
Tradition holds that Antipas was the first bishop here and that he was martyred–that is killed–for his faith in Jesus. Despite his death, the church at Pergamum held onto Jesus as a child holds firmly to a park merry-go-round that is spinning faster and faster, threatening to throw them off. And Jesus held just as firmly to them–as He does to us–while the world does all it can to loosen our grip on the truth.
These are the positives that Jesus has for Pergamum. In the next few verses, we will learn where this church fell short. But consider what they did right as you consider your own life today.
Do the things of Satan [that is anything that is contrary to God’s will] infuse the cultural context in which you live? Whose judgments matter in your life? On whose words do you build your life? Do you hold onto Jesus’ name even in the face of opposition?