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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!

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?

 

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?

 

Hold On: Summarizing the Seven Churches

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-13

Image result for holding onAs John records Jesus’ words to the seven churches of Asia Minor, each letter contains one main idea, critical to the believers getting their faith back on track.

To Ephesus: Lost Love.

To Smyrna: they’re not off track…yet. But they will face trials and need to hold on tight so that this doesn’t shake them from their faith.

To Pergamum: Compromise.

To Thyatira: Tolerance.

To Sardis: Spiritually Dead.

To Philadelphia: another church that was not off track, but being pushed to their limits by the surrounding culture. They needed to persevere in the face of slander and betrayal, guarding their faith.

To Laodicea: The distant, lukewarm faith of affluence.

But the point in pointing out the faith flaws and trials of each church was to exhort them and guide them in holding on.

Like Ephesus: Hold onto your love for Jesus.

Like Smyrna: Hold onto your faith no matter what the physical threat.

Like Pergamum: Hold onto the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Hold onto righteousness.

Like Thyatira: Hold onto your stand, boldly. Hold onto sound teaching.

Like Sardis: Hold onto abundant life.

Like Philadelphia: Hold onto your identity in Christ.

Like Laodicea: Hold onto true wealth, the spiritual treasures that can only be laid up in heaven.

To those who are victorious, to those who have donned the full armor of God and made their stand in the face of cultural opposition and spiritual temptation and confusion, to these victors go the spoils of eternal life.

Are you holding onto Jesus with all that you are?

Jesus at the Door

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:19-22

Image result for knock on the doorThe Laodicean faith was lukewarm, as if it was being piped over a long distance to Christ. They stood away from Him, yet still wore His name before this world. And their worldly impurities clogged the pipeline of their prayer, praise and worship to Him. It smelled foul and tasted worse–an offense to God.

He offered them–knowing their love of marketplaces–the opportunity to shop in His store, where they could purchase something not available anywhere else and not for any earthly price. His gold was the character of their lives refined in the fires of persecution for standing strong for Him.

And how like a father who loves his child enough to discipline the folly out of him, Jesus says–not for the first time–I correct those whom I love [Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-11]. In our modern culture, many parents fear the word discipline, believing if they consequence their children it will bring the authorities to their door. But Godly parents have always known that if they neglect disciplining their children, the authorities will come to their home one day for other reasons, legal discipline reasons or even announcing their death.

Laws demand respect, obedience and discipline–either of self to follow the laws, or by the governing authorities to enforce them. God gave parents the first line of responsibility for disciplining children to respect God, obey His righteous decrees and to be self-disciplined like athletes training for Olympic games. God Himself sends the Spirit into our hearts to prick our consciences whenever we disrespect Him, disobey or are being undisciplined. This type of discipline is an act of love–saving a child from harmful foolishness and willful defiance of human law and Godly living.

God so earnestly loves the Laodiceans–as He does all people–that He says He’s standing outside, knocking on the door of their hearts, waiting to be let in. And if they open their lives to Him, He offers them deep fellowship, such as was the custom of their day. He offers them the prestige of sitting enthroned with Him on high, just as His victory afforded Him the right to sit with His Father God on His throne. Affluence of an other worldly nature.

But they needed to lay this world aside and follow Jesus [Matthew 16:24; 19:21-24].

Do you enjoy close fellowship with Jesus? Or is the Spirit convicting you about material things? When He offers it, accept the Lord’s discipline–His correction to keep you on the straight path through the narrow gate [Matthew 7:14].

Entrenched in Affluence

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm–neither not nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:14-16

Image result for church of laodicea revelationAffluence. The people of Laodicea–Christians as well–enjoyed financial security and material accessibility. However, their city was built close to trade route access, and not to water access. So water had to be piped in.

Neighboring Colossi had wonderfully icy springs fed by mountain snow melt. And on the other side, Hierapolis had sacred mineral hot springs believed to heal. But Laodicea’s mineral laden water, deposited sediment all along the aqueduct. Minerals that ruined even the flavor of the lukewarm water that arrived in town. Minerals that stunk up the whole house if the water was boiled, not to mention food preparation and even left some sick from drinking it.

It is to their own decrepit water that Jesus compares the Christians of Laodicea. Your faith tastes foul and it is neither hot nor cold enough to satisfy. One drink makes me want to gag, spewing your worship from my mouth.

Ouch!

And the rebuke goes back to the culture of Laodicea. The deep entrenchment in affluence. The people had all they needed and provided for themselves in everyway beyond what many cities and peoples around them ever could. They needed nothing. Including Jesus. And their lifestyles and worship testified to their lukewarm, sediment filled faith in Him.

It wasn’t about becoming on fire for Jesus or getting out of the faith altogether. It was about loving the giver Himself more than gifts and blessings He could bestow.

Do you lean on the Lord? Or are you so self-sufficient that Jesus is almost an afterthought to your daily life?

In Due Time

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the whole earth.” Revelation 3:9-10

Image result for ancient church of philadelphiaThese scriptures are in no way Jesus indictment against Jews. After all, the Israelites were God’s chosen people throughout the Old Testament. Rather, here Jesus is specifically referring to those Jews who denounced Christians to Roman officials. Remember that Christianity initially came out of Judaism and for a time the two of them coexisted, both teaching in the Jewish synagogues. But the sect converted some from Judaism, and brought in some God-fearing Gentiles as well as former pagan worshippers.

Judaism was protected under Roman rule. So when a few of the Jews decided they wanted to separate themselves from the followers of Christ, the Christians became dissenters to the Imperial cult, that is the practice of emperor worship. Not only did this noncompliance mean persecution, but all out prosecution by the Roman legal system.

Jesus encouraged His followers that one day, those who had denounced them would submit–falling at feet was a common Near East act of submission–and thereby acknowledge that Jesus loved the Christians. It’s an interesting assurance since Jesus Himself will be acknowledged as Lord by all [Philippians 2:10; Romans 14:11], then this group will also recognize the truth of the people they denounced. It should remind us of God’s right to avenge and His promise to repay [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19]. The Christians didn’t need to increase the strife of this life by futile retaliation. God would set all to right in due time.

Additionally, Jesus promised that since the Philadelphian Christians would be exempt from a worldwide trial of an undisclosed nature. We have to remember that the book of Revelation is largely prophetic–it records Jesus’ words for things to come. Some things, like the persecution that the churches would face in their culture, came to fruition within in a few decades after the letter circulated. Other things, such as this worldwide trial, have yet to come.

There are some who speculate perhaps this tribulation refers only to what the Christians experienced under the Roman Empire, but notice that this verse specifically says a worldwide trial. Worldwide as in a calamity like Noah’s flood. There have been many local trials of faith. But we have not, in human history since the flood, experienced a worldwide trial of faith.

Do you face persecution–whether great or small–for your faith? Are you enduring patiently, leaving vengeance to the Lord?