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by Kristen C. Strocchia
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty–yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Revelation 2:8-11
Unlike the other churches of Revelation, the church of Smyrna received all accolades and encouragements from Jesus.
To them He calls Himself the First and the Last. And Jesus’ eternality is an important comfort to the Smyrnian Christians. They suffered affliction. They lived in poverty, but they had spiritual wealth that the world around them couldn’t understand. They were lied about by religious phonies. And they were about to experience even more trouble–prison, persecution, and possibly death.
The victor’s crown that Jesus spoke about was the olive wreath worn by champion athletes in Roman arenas. Those from Smyrna knew this cultural allusion well, though as Christians under the reign of Domitian, their only arena games were likely unarmed, deadly bouts with lions.
Jesus tells it like it is. You will suffer. You might even die. But then I–the One True God–will crown you the victor. Greater than any reward that a Caesar, who put himself in the place of God, could ever bestow–Jesus offered life, eternal life, to the faithful Christians who endured.
And after exhorting them to hear Him over the din of the world, He reaffirms that in the victory secured by their faith, the Smyrnian Christians would not experience the sting of second death [1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 20:14]. Because Jesus is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end. He was and is and is to come [Revelation 1:8 & 4:8]. His victory over death, hell and the grave is the promised reward to the faithful, and He alone is able to make such a promise.
Jesus is calling us to endure today, much as He did with the church of Smyrna centuries ago. Do you fix your eyes on spiritual abundance over physical wealth? Will you be faithful however far the world pushes you? Can you discern God’s voice over the din? If so, remain faithful. He has a crown of life with your name on it.
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:17-20
Seeing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His heavenly appearance compelled John to fall prone before Him. It’s that awestruck, worshipful response so natural to the heart that fears the Lord. But Jesus reminds John that fear of the Lord does not mean that we have to be afraid. Fear of the Lord is reverencing God for who He is, giving Him His rightful place as Lord of our lives and Creator of all. When we do this, we have nothing to fear from our loving Heavenly Father.
Jesus , further, proclaimed himself to be the First and the Last, just as He called Himself the Alpha and the Omega in 1:8, emphasizing His eternality in this passage.
He is the Living One. The one with God at the beginning through whom all things were made [John 1:1-3], One with the breath of life that was breathed into humankind in Adam. The One through whom all are made alive again [1 Corinthians 15:22], reversing the Adamic curse through which all died. The One who conquered death [1 Corinthians 15:57], hell and the grave [Revelation 1:18] to restore eternal life to those who believe in Him [John 3:16].
Therefore, because of who Jesus is, John was commanded to write down the God-given vision of present and future things. Only God is able to know such things. And the validity of a prophesy is known only when it does or doesn’t come to pass. So Jesus–as the author of life–orients the reader to some key symbolism in John’s vision. The stars [angels] and lampstands [churches].
I love knowing that the lampstands, representing the seven churches of Asia Minor, are golden. Gold is refined in a fire and purified in order to be formed into the tabernacle/ temple instruments. It took 75 pounds of gold to make the tabernacle lampstands and their accessories alone to God’s specifications [Exodus 25:39], and they stood, burning in front of the Most Holy Place [2 Chronicles 4:20]. But God tested the hearts of the churches in His refining fire, burning away the impurities, purifying them [Proverbs 17:3]. Yet, as we are about to read, even then at the time of John’s writing they were not perfect.
Likewise, God regards each of us as more precious than gold and He is testing our hearts, refining us day by day to become more like Him. We do not need to be afraid of Him or this process, but in faith to reverence Him as the One True God and Lord of our lives.
What is your response to God? Do you recognize Him when you see Him at work? Do you allow His word to work in your life? Have you given him the reins as Lord of your heart?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits from before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:4-6
The apostle John opens with a greeting to the seven churches of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. Now the Romans had a Leading Council of Asiarchs that met on a yearly rotation to six of these same influential cities. The seventh–a much more northernly city–John swapped for the centrally located Thyatira. It’s possible that these cities were also the postal centers for seven geographic regions which would have facilitated delivery and dissemination of the Revelation given to him.
Grace is an important greeting. Basically blessing people with more goodness than they deserve. Grace is the crux of God’s gift in the gospel, and the apostles often greeted their readers with that unmerited favor, paying forward what God had done for them. Peace is another powerful spiritual blessing. Especially when the enemy–Satan–is at work to steal, kill and destroy. [John 10:10]. He brings confusion and conflict where God intended peace [John 14:27].
And John doesn’t claim this in and of himself. He passes the grace and peace of the One True, eternal God the father–like the conduit that we’re each meant to be–onto the seven churches. But he also sends these from the seven spirits before God’s throne and from Jesus Christ the son of God. Who are the seven spirits? Revelation 1:20 indicates that these are the angels for each of the seven churches. What a wonderful thing to know that there are ministering spirits who are also contending on our behalf.
Jesus the Messiah is described as being the faithful witness. We can count on his testimony on our behalf if we have believed on Him [John 3:16]. He is described as the firstborn from the dead. Before Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected, no one else had been born again into new life. True, Jesus raised Lazarus and others from the dead, but they had not yet been born again because death still reigned. It is only through Jesus that we can be born again and have eternal life because he conquered death, hell and the grave to make that possible [1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Timothy 1:20; Revelation 1:18]. He is called the ruler of the kings of the earth, because all authority has been established by him [Matthew 28:18; Romans 13:1] and is subject to him.
The praise of Jesus continues. Glory–high renown or honor–be given to Jesus alone because 1) He loves us; 2) He died for us which freed us from the curse of sin; 3) He redeemed our heavenly citizenship which was lost in the Fall of Man. But not just glory. John also ascribes power–dominion, authority over our lives–for all time, to Jesus Christ, and stamps it with Amen–so let it be!
Is Jesus glorified [aka honored] by your life? In other words, do others see how amazing Jesus is when they meet/get to know you? Does Jesus have all authority in your life? Have you submitted everything to Him?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons who themselves had sons after the flood. The sons of Japheth…The sons of Javan [Japheth’s son]: Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittites and the Rodanites. (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.” Genesis 10:1-2a & 4-5
As an already established Genesis pattern, chapter 10 gives us a zoomed out understanding of where the post-flood nations came from. It tells us from which of Noah’s sons the people groups hailed and which regions of the world they generally settled.
However, just like the specific details of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, these settlement divisions and the notation of their separate languages will be more fully explained in a zoomed in story in chapter 11.
We’ll start with a look at one of the notables in Japheth’s line. If you notice, many of the descendant names in the Genesis 10 Table of Nations passage also double as town/city names in many biblical passages. That’s because often times, as in the case of the City of Enoch [Genesis 4:17], the town/city was named for the first or an important family member who settled it.
Do you see a familiar person/town name in Japheth’s line? His grandson Tarshish is listed as one of the many maritime dwellings–or seaport cities. Where do you know that name from? While Tarshish is mentioned 18 times in the Bible, it is most commonly associated with the story of Jonah.
Tarshish is believed to have been located near the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow spit of Mediterranean Sea that stretches between Spain and North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean.
A few verses from now we’ll see that Nineveh was descended from Ham [Genesis 10:11]. Jonah, on the other hand, was an Israelite–a descendant of Shem. So all three brothers’ descendants are present in this story.
Japheth’s territory was extended all across the Mediterranean [Genesis 9:27]. Shem was blessed as the Chosen People of the One True God [Genesis 9:26]. But in the story of Jonah, God is reaching through the generationally handed down sins of Ham’s line. He sends the son of Shem to preach repentance to the sons of Ham, but that son of Shem runs to the tents of Japheth. Crazy, right?!
Each Bible story and piece of world history is often connected in ways that we never even think to consider. One of Satan’s greatest lies is to make believers doubt the continuity of the Bible. However, as an aspiring author myself who has written a handful of novel manuscripts, I can tell you that it is remarkably difficult for one human author writing for a focused period of time to author a story that has no plot or character inconsistencies. Let alone for about 40 men over a period of about 1,500 years to write an amazingly consistent plot and character. And these men were separated not only by time, but often geography as well. And the Bible is still the longest, most richly layered and consistent stories in all of history!
It can only be a God thing.
And it’s not fiction. The Bible is truth. It’s the history of the world in its purest sense. As Christians, we do ourselves and the world around us a disservice when we do not intimately know God’s Word, His truth, His story. For without such an understanding, how could we ever be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have within us [1 Peter 3:15]? Or–like Jonah–how would we understand God’s heart to share His good news with the world?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“After the flood Noah lived 350 years. Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.” Genesis 9:28-29
The sinful saga continues. Noah’s epitaph mirrors Adam’s final verse so closely [Genesis 5:5]. It’s clear that God wants the reader to be aware that His plan of redemption did not come through the flood in the day of Noah. Yes, the majority of sin was purged from the earth with its inhabitants, but Noah still sinned, and then he died–old and full of years, but he died nonetheless. And sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death [James 1:15].
Jesus conquered death, hell and the grave to fulfill the Genesis 3:15 prophesy, but it won’t be fully realized in us until we have eternal life. Until Christ comes again and we believers meet up with him in the sky [1 Corinthians 15:52-53], we are still confined to sinful human bodies which, themselves, are subject to death.
But what we do with our lives while we are clothed in mortal array matters immensely. Do you live in such a way that you would find favor with God in your generation? Do you live by faith? Are you governed by righteousness? Have you accepted the atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ blood for your sins? And when you sin, do you repent, asking the Lord for forgiveness?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. [Ham was the father of Canaan.] These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth. Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.” Genesis 9:18-21
Here we see a point of view shift. The flood narrative to this point has been focused on Noah, but now God shifts the lens to include Noah’s sons–Shem, Ham and Japheth. Noah had no other children. So these three men and their wives repopulated the post-flood earth.
Shem means name or renown. Ham may mean hot, heat, warm, or brown. And Japheth means may he expand.
And in this shift, the author also mentions Ham’s son, Canaan; a name which has several possible meanings: flat, low, merchant, trader, or that humbles and subdues. From this we can infer that Canaan was already born by the time of the incident to follow.
Though we know that Noah had sufficient time to plant a vineyard, cultivate it through grape production, harvest grapes, press them and ferment them into wine, we don’t know exactly how long after the flood this event takes place or how old Canaan was at the time.
The sons and grandson’s name meanings may or may not have any story significance here, however their mention leads up to a small but important narrative.
Now, God does not mention His thoughts on the fact that Noah ended up drunk on homemade wine. We know that God chose to save Noah from the flood because he was favored for being upright [righteous; Genesis 6:9] in the sight of the Lord.
Upright does not mean perfect or sinless. And the Bible certainly warns against drunkenness [Galatians 5:21; 1 Peter 4:3; et al.]. Hebrews 11:7 tells us that Noah became an heir of righteousness because of his faith, but in this post-flood account Noah is described as a man of the soil.
The last person to be described as such in scripture was Cain [Genesis 4:2], though we know that Adam himself was charged with working the ground for his food [Genesis 3:17]. And we know that both men were identified as sinners.
All of this shows us that we can know for certain that the ground was still under the curse of sin and that Noah–like Adam and Cain before him–was still a sinner saved by grace, as were his sons. He allowed himself to become drunk, and, in this drunken state, slept naked in his tent. This is reminiscent of the three verses in Genesis 4 devoted to Lamech McCain in that it shows us that–after all of the destruction and devastation of the flood–there is still sin in the world. The work of redemption was not finished. And as was the case with Abraham [Galatians 3:6], it seems that Noah was credited as righteous because of his faith, not that his own righteousness was enough to save him from sin.
Just because we accept Christ in our lives, doesn’t mean that our sin nature instantly disappears. But when we allow Christ to be Lord of our hearts, we begin to become more like Him. Where God is, sin cannot be also.
Have you asked Jesus to be Lord of your life? Do you put Him first in all your ways? Will you allow Him to show you any sin that may be harbored in your heart so that He can root it out and you can become more like Him?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry. Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you–the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground–so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number.” Genesis 8:13-17
Remember that the flood began on the seventh day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year [7:11]. Now almost one year later–happy birthday Noah–and, by the way, look at how the water’s dried up!
But notice who opens the ark’s door. Noah. God shut him in [7:16] before the flood, but Noah opens the door after. So Noah could move this door after all. Was it because of compassion that Noah didn’t close the ark door beforehand? Was he trying to wait until the last possible moment and then some to see if someone would respond to his hundred year message now that the rain proved true?
And God was no less compassionate. He sent Noah and company into the ark one whole week before the floods began [7:4]. He even held the door open when the rains and flooding first began. But when it was clear that no one would turn their hearts to Him short of facing the end of their lives, God closed the door.
You see, that’s the rub of freewill. God is not willing that any of us should come to Him under threat or compulsion. Only those who entered the ark freely of their own accord were saved. Only those who lived by faith received God’s grace.
Eleven months later the earth’s surface was dry, and we know that there were at least olive trees growing again [8:11]. Nearly two months later–a full year and twenty seven days, or almost thirteen months!–God spoke to Noah again. This time to tell him that the earth was finally dry enough to inhabit again.
He also told Noah to send every one of the animals from the ark back into the earth. At that point, Noah and his family were still vegetarian [at least for seven more verses; 9:2], but it may have been tempting to hold on to some of the beasts of burden or the messenger doves. Who knows culturally exactly what Noah was accustomed to for “modern convenience” in his day. But no Noah, don’t keep any of the animals in the ark, and you come out too. It’s time to start anew. Let the creatures multiply as I created them to do. And mankind also.
When we are a new creation in Christ, God calls us to come out of the cleansing flood that washes away our sin. He prepares our hearts to start anew. And one day, the flood of end times will judge the world once more. We will escape this judgment only in the ark of Christ. After the end comes, we will once again start anew, but this time with a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 21:1] and a new heavenly body [2 Corinthians 5:1-3].
Have you been made a new creature in Christ? Have you been washed in His cleansing flood?