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The Mercy-Justice Coin

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: ‘You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and the prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.’ And I heard the altar respond: ‘Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.” Revelation 16:5-7

Image result for justice is blindJustice is often portrayed as a woman wearing a blindfold, holding up scales. She weighs the faults of men, impartial to their race or religion or gender or financial station or political persuasion. But the woman, justice, must also mete out consequences for the unlawful and protect the law abiding. She must decide between right and wrong based on a moral absolute–the law of the land.

Very few disagree that this must be done or civilized nations would rapidly decay into violent chaos. But these same advocates of legal justice often decry scriptural descriptions of God’s justice–not because of what it entails, but because of what it means. If God is just, then we must obey His laws. He is the absolute authority, not myself, that sets the standard for my life. It grates against every grain in Satan’s lie that we, as sinful humans, know and love–be your own god.

But when we throw out God as just judge, we also throw out His mercy, because they are two sides of the same coin. In scripture, justice would not be portrayed as blind, but mercy would be.

God does not show favoritism [Romans 2:11]. Everyone is invited to lay their burdens down at the cross, receiving forgiveness for sin–no exceptions.

In God’s eyes, no human distinction matters, only that we come to a saving knowledge of His Son, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. From there, we allow His lordship in our lives to transform us by the renewing of our minds [Romans 12:2]. So that we can see His third of the ocean to blood in chapter 8 for what it truly is–mercy. So that we can understand why the water-keeping angel here proclaims God’s wrath as just–those who have rejected God’s authority and supported the total eradication of Christianity will receive the consequence of their choices. They will intoxicate themselves for a time by the witch hunt and bloodlust of Christian extermination, and they will be enraged, declaring God unjust when He revisits them with the same in one fell swoop of the third bowl judgment.

The only justice that the sinful-heart seeks, is the one that says I’m right. Anything else is an affront to our Satan-appointed-self-as-God-position. Don’t let sinful pride get the better of you in this life and eternity to come. Seek to know God for who He is. Seek to understand the truth of our sinful nature.

Ask yourself, would you reject His mercy in order to be your own justice? And at the end of the day, if you choose to be your own justice, whose mercy will have to lean on when you stand before the Just Judge of all eternity?

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Preparing for Victory

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths. They are blameless.” Revelation 14:1-5

Image result for Mount Zion in the BibleZion. The holy mountain that served first as a fortress before the Israelites established the city of Jerusalem. Later, it became synonymous with Jerusalem itself. And in Hebrews 12:22-24 as well as here in Revelation, it connotes the heavenly Jerusalem in which God and His people will live for eternity.

So it is not surprising that John sees the Lamb, Jesus, standing on Mount Zion with the 144,00 who were sealed [Revelation 7:4-8 & 9:4]. We learn a little more about this group. Previously we saw that they consist of 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Then we saw that they were protected from the hybrid locust-scorpions that came out of the Abyss.

Now we learn that they kept themselves pure from women. This does not mean that the group is made up entirely of unmarried men. Not at all. Before Israel used to go into battle, the soldiers would keep themselves from their women for a time to prepare [Deuteronomy 23:10; 1 Samuel 21:5; 2 Samuel 11:11]. Now in Revelation, we see that Babylon is portrayed as a woman, a prostitute really, that represents all of the false religion in the world [Revelation 17:1-5]. And that those who remain faithful to God are like a pure spouse [Revelation 19:7 & 21:2, 9]. So the 144,000 are Jews living in the last days, the end times, who refuse to participate in the false religions of the world, regardless of the persecutions it invites.

Heaven opens up on this scene, with a roar of rushing waters [Revelation 1:15, 4:5 & 22:1] and peals of thunder. The sound of harpists followed by the 144,000 singing a new song, signifies the celebration of victory in battle [Exodus 15:20]. And they sing this song in heaven before the four living creatures and the elders that surround God’s throne [Revelation 4:4 & 6]. None else in heaven will be capable of learning their song, because none else can understand what is like to come through the end times faithful to God. Just as the four-living creatures sing a different song than the twenty-four elders [Revelation 4], who sing a different song than the angels [Revelation 5], who sing a different song than the great multitude in white robes [Revelation 7], so the song of praise that the 144,000 will offer up will be a personal testimony to God’s work in their life. A story that no one else can sing, because no one else has lived it.

The amazing thing about this passage of scripture, is that it will lead up to the final battle–Armageddon [Revelation 16:16]. Many speculate about and fear having to live through such a battle. But Revelation shows us how calm and cool Jesus and his army are while preparing for Armageddon. They’re standing on the fortress. They’re keeping themselves pure as they would for any routine battle. And they’re already celebrating the victory. Before the battle even ensues, they’ve won with Christ, and they know it.

Are you living in victory today? Are you living a life of spiritual purity, garrisoned on the mountain of Christ, celebrating in advance the victory that He has already won?

The Consummate Charlatan

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” Revelation 13:14-18

Image result for pasquino statueThe unholy prophet has already established himself as a deceiver, a liar, a consummate charlatan. Everyone on earth will be deceived by him. He will find a way to make an image of the first beast speak and kill dissenters–possibly through the ancient literary means of hollowing out the image and hiding people or mechanisms inside, or using ventriloquism and booby traps. Whatever his tactics, they will seem so real that the earth will bow to the unholy trinity–prophet, antichrist and dragon.

The only possible way for everyone to be fooled is for no one to be holding onto the truth [2 Thessalonians 2:9-10]. And this passage tells us that there may be those who refuse to worship, whether that be because of truth or principal they will be killed for their refusal.

This is where the beastly trinity really distinguishes themselves as the antithesis of the adorable triune Godhead. Whereas God created us with free will and allows each to choose whom he will serve, the beast will kill everyone who refuses to serve him. Whereas God mercifully seals those who have chosen to serve Him in order to protect them, Satan paranoically forces his followers to be sealed under threat of starvation–to protect his own self-serving, temporal authority.

Such seals were seen in the practice of branding slaves or enemy soldiers, stamping official documents, the sign of the cross on new believers’ foreheads, and in the emperor worship of Rome. But it is the ultimate sign of disavowing God in the days of the antichrist, the final nail in the proverbial coffin. Not to mention just one more counterfeit in Satan’s uncreative bag of lies. God instructed His chosen people to bind His commands on their hands and on their foreheads as a way of impressing godly instruction on their children [Deuteronomy 6:8].

Finally, the number riddle follows patterns of puzzles that John’s readers in the seven churches would have recognized and possibly have been able to actually solve. Often numbers and ancient alphabets were used in place of one another to create cipher codes for such brain teasers. However, the number could also represent a trinity [three] of falling short of the glory of God’s [Romans 3:23] perfect number, the number of completion and the spirit of God [Revelation 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6], 7.

Whatever the actual number significance, the implications are clear–we don’t want to be around to accept or reject the mark of the beast. We want to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and serve Him only. We want to choose to love Him as He loves us.

But it is a choice.

Whom have you chosen to serve with your life?

Living Willingly

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast–all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” Revelation 13:5-8

Image result for Solomon's temple + imageFor three and a half years–like the number of days that God has brought Israel into safe-keeping [Revelation 12:6] and the number of days that the two witnesses will minister in the holy city [Revelation 11:3]–likewise, the antichrist will establish himself as ruler over the earth.

He will boast and he will violate and misuse both God’s words and his own words against God. That is, he will blaspheme, the unforgivable sin, setting himself up as god before the entire world and profaning the one true God in all things [2 Thessalonians 2:4]. He will slander–make false statements about God, further damaging people’s faith in Him and in eternity. By this he will lead all the world astray.

The devil, the red dragon who gave the beast his pseudo-authority [Revelation 13:4], will also empower the antichrist to make war against the saints and to conquer them. But we have to remember that while it may appear to be a victory for Satan, this life is only temporary. The real triumph is eternal life which Satan will never have. He may strike the heal of the faithful in this life, but Jesus will crush his head [Genesis 3:15].

With all believers now out of the way, the whole rest of the world freely worships the lie that is the antichrist. He attributes to himself the praise from every tribe, nation and language as is only fitting of Christ [Revelation 5:9]. But Revelation is clear that only those who have not had their names written in the book of life will suffer to worship this false-Christ.

We who have believed and have lived by faith will bow our knee to no one but Christ alone. We belong to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ [Revelation 5:6], and Him slain from the foundation of the world because God knew how He would redeem humankind to Himself from the moment sin entered the world [Genesis 3:15]. Our sin put Jesus on the cross. And He willingly died for us, because He didn’t want to live in eternity without us.

Do you recognize the enormity of this truth? Do you live just as willingly for Him?

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 white robed multitude + imageSo 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?