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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
Some 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?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulon 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.” Revelation 7:4-8
I’m going to be honest, I’m not exactly sure the significance of the numbers in this passage. But when I come across a piece of scripture that perplexes me, it is exciting to start hunting through God’s Word for understanding. The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. It makes the simple wise and enlightens the eyes [Psalm 19:7-8].
Obviously, 144,000 is the product of 12,000 sealed from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. But my question is why 12,000 from each tribe? I’ve searched through the commentaries to see what others have said and the agreement is inconclusive. This is a point of Scripture on which we can pray for God’s understanding and that, if it still pricks our hearts to know, we can ask Him about in heaven .
A few thoughts to consider when delving into the Word to understand this matter:
1) The tribes are given out of order and two are omitted, but there are still twelve total–so in all things we can know that God’s purposes prevail [Proverbs 19:21];
2) These same 144,000 are mentioned again in Revelation 14 with the Lamb–so we can read within the larger context of Revelation to see if anything else can be disclosed about who and why;
3) There are many Old Testament passages that refer to the twelve tribes in list fashion, often with social/spiritual commentary about the state of each [i.e. Genesis 49, Numbers 26 and Deuteronomy 33 to name a few]. I’m particularly interested to study through these scriptures to see what light they can shed on the puzzling Revelation 7 passage, because they may give insight into the order rearrangement and omissions mentioned above. But also because they give snapshots of the tribes over distant points of time and place.
In Genesis 49, the patriarch Jacob is blessing his sons, the tribal heads, on his death bed. Blessing in this instance meaning that he speaks to the character and lets them know what it will produce in their life, so not always a positive. While the Deuteronomy 33 passage is Moses blessing the twelve tribes before they part ways–him to his death and them to possess the Promised Land. This blessing is as it sounds, good things spoken on behalf of each tribe, good things spoken with future blessing in mind.
4) One other factor not to be overlooked in interpretation of difficult Scripture passages–the Holy Spirit. As I puzzled over this the last few days and looked for other passages that might give insight, the Holy Spirit spoke to me about the equality of the number 12,000.
No matter what each tribe’s patriarch behaved like or the decisions he made, no matter what the particular history of each Israelite tribe throughout scripture and beyond, God does not show favoritism [Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25]. He forgives each of us equally. He loved each tribe equally. No matter their position or their history, when they devoted themselves to God they inherited the same measure of blessing.
What’s your Bible study routine? Do you dig deep into passages that perplex you or skip over them? Do you have sound Bible study tools and practices?
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
“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
As 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?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” Revelation 3:1-3
It is extremely important that the church of Sardis recognized Jesus as the One holding the spirits of God and the stars that represented the angels of the Asia Minor churches. It reminded them that He alone is God. There is no other.
Why was that particularly important to this church? Because they’d found a way to avoid persecution. A way to worship God in their house churches without suffering for their dissenting faith. They simply stopped dissenting with other belief systems. “You want to believe Judaism is the way or that pagan worship is for you? Go for it. It’s all good. And we’ll just do our Christian thing over here and leave you alone.”
It’s a stance that we see imitated in modern American society. How many times I’ve heard someone say, “Well, being a Christian works for me, but I don’t try to push my views on other people. They can do what works for them.”
But Jesus calls out the church on this approach, saying, “You are dead.” People see a church that appears to be alive with the love of God, but your message is dead.
It is not enough to hide the light of Jesus under the bushel of our comfortable lives [Matthew 5:14-16]. We claim that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. There is no other. So how can we keep this truth to ourselves? Knowing that no one will receive eternal life who does not believe in Jesus. So again, how do we keep this to ourselves? We were called to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I [Jesus] have commanded you [Matthew 28:19-20].
Jesus commands the Church of Sardis–and us today–to wake up! Get the message back on track. Do not cut short the truth in order to get along and have social peace in this life. Repent–rethink this in the light of God’s truth. If they didn’t, they would be like the history of their own city. Twice, Sardis was conquered because the enemy discovered a weakness through the fault of the city’s own guard. That enemy overwhelmed them like a thief in the night, caught the city unaware in their complacency.
Jesus is coming back soon and we have to be watchful, but also faithful with His truth, His whole truth and nothing but His truth. Not just as hearers of His word, but as doers [James 1:22].
Would you say that your Christian walk is dead or alive? What does the Spirit testify within you? Does your Christian walk challenge those around you to examine their own lives? Or do you silently coexist with unbelievers despite conflicting worldviews? Does your light shine for Jesus? Or does your comfort shade it?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood. Now the whole earth had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Genesis 10:32-11:2
Now that the historical big picture has been laid out in the table of nations, God zooms into the Nimrod and Tower of Babel portion of the chronology. The flood is done. The brothers and their wives have started their families. Ham’s grandson Nimrod has grown into manhood along with his brothers and cousins–the grandchildren of Shem and Japheth. The whole world expanded eastward, where Nimrod finds the plain of Shinar and begins to build his empire [Genesis 10:10].
At this time, all of Noah’s descendants still shared one language. Everyone on the earth could understand each other. Even their speech–how they used the language–was still in common. They had the same idioms, figures of speech and cultural/historical background to inform their language usage. In fact, Genesis 10 & 11 are the first mentions of language in the Bible, because before that there was no need to define language. There was only one.
It would not remain that way, but we will one day return to God’s intention for our common speech and shared language. However, before that day comes, our languages will only be united in Christ. Daniel 7:14a gives us a sneak peak at this, “He [Jesus, the Son of Man] was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.” Philippians 2:10-11 and Romans 14:11 concur that every tongue–that is language and literal tongue–will one day confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Not only that, but until our speech is united in heaven, the Holy Spirit enables us to speak in other languages and, thereby, to share the gospel with the world [Acts 2:4-8]. We were meant to speak God’s truth with one another and to understand the same.
Does the Holy Spirit live in you? If you are a Christian, He surely does. Ask Him, therefore, to enable you to share God’s truth with whomever you meet, regardless of whether you personally know their language. And let Him amaze you with His grace.
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all the living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” Genesis 9:12-16
Wedding rings are not themselves a promise, but just a sign of a promise that was made. Whenever a husband and wife see or feel the circle of gold on their finger, they remember the promise that they made to be faithful to one another.
So the rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness to His promise.
However, He didn’t just promise human beings, but every living creature whose existence is bound to ours. Adam and Eve were charged with stewarding the animal kingdom [Genesis 1:26]. Noah obeyed the command to receive and tend the animals in the ark [7:2-3]. Likewise, we ought to recognize that our choices and our end are not ours alone. When the earth was destroyed in the flood, it didn’t merely destroy precious habitats, but all animal life–except for those contained in the ark–perished along with sinful mankind.
God holds back His return out of love for His creation. But He will not hold it back forever [6:3].
At this point, it’s imperative to draw a distinction between mythology and the Bible. Myths use fictional stories to explain natural phenomena to a culture that didn’t understand the scientific truth. The Bible, however, teaches scientific truths behind natural phenomena and explains how these truths testify to the Almighty God.
Take the rainbow for example. Mythologies would offer an explanation such as this:
A beautiful maiden, favored of the gods, received suitors from near and far. Each brought a precious stone from their homeland and laid it at her feet. They would know whose heart she had chosen by whose stone she wore around her neck on the day of the great feast. But the maiden could not choose. Instead she made her necklace of every stone. The suitors became jealous of one another waiting for a decision and began to war with one another, but the gods admired the maiden’s loving wisdom. So when the war came to her palace gates, the gods whisked her safely into the air. Her necklace fell away behind her. To this day, her many stoned necklace appears on the warring clouds of storms, as a rainbow.
But notice how God says that He set His rainbow in the skies. Revelation describes the throne room of heaven, and God is, in fact, encircled by a rainbow that shone like an emerald [4:3], and the New Jerusalem’s foundation is inlaid with ascending layers of precious stones coming in every color of the rainbow [21:19-20].
Being surrounded Himself by rainbows, God knows full well how they form. He allowed this piece of His heavenly throne room to manifest itself on earth, and He says that the rainbow will appear in the clouds–not that He sends each one, but that He set in motion the science behind the natural processes that give us rainbows…air, water and light.
And the purpose of this rainbow is to remind Him that even though sin brews like a storm on the earth, He promised never to destroy the entire earth in floodwaters again. Local floods will happen, but there will always be a refuge of dry ground.
Do you believe that God is faithful to keep His promises? Do you know the promises that He has made to us in scripture? Become a students of God’s Word so that you can stand in faith.