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Goodness and Godliness at War

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

Image result for red horseOnce 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?

Come and Truly See

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!” Revelation 6:1

Image result for inviting handRemember that John is watching a vision of things to come [Revelation 1:19]. These book of Revelation visions–along with some other scriptures–are commonly referred to as End Times Prophecy. In his vision, John is in heaven’s throne room with God Himself and all the heavenly hosts. The Lamb at the center of it all is Jesus, still in appearance of having been slain [Revelation 5:6]. He is the only one worthy to open up the seven seals of the scroll in God’s right hand [Revelation 5:7-9], so herein He begins to do just that.

When Jesus runs a finger under the loose scroll end to break the first waxen seal, He’d already beckoned John to come closer and see what happens [Revelation 4:1]. God intends for John to accurately write what His Spirit is showing Him about the future.

This is a very intimate look at what the Bible means when it tells us that all scripture is God-breathed [2 Timothy 3:16]. Not every biblical author is recorded as having had a revelation like John did, but we can be assured that God, who spoke the world into perfect existence, also breathed–that is inspired–His word perfectly into being through His chosen instruments.

Throughout history, Satan also uses willing instruments, people, to persuade believers away from the faith on a key issue like the origin of the world and the origin and maintenance of the Bible. As Jesus appealed to the seven churches, hold firm to your faith in God’s Word [Ephesians 6:10-18]. If ever doubt creeps in, it will come from outside of scriptures and should be countered by getting back into them. God’s Word is unchanging and eternal [Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25], it is truth [John 17:17] and life [John 6:63]. And to those who are victorious in holding to His truth, God will give eternal life [Revelation 2:7,11,17, & 26-28; 3:5,12 & 21].

God is still alive–always has been and always will be [Revelation 4:8]. His throne is alive and, just as it beckoned to John on the aisle of Patmos to come closer to God and see, so it calls to the hearts of all people in every nation throughout the history of the world. Will you answer the call from God’s throne? Will you come nearer to God? Will you allow Him to open your eyes that you might truly see?

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?

The Open Door

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:7-8

Image result for open doorJesus’ introduction of Himself as holy and true was a cultural assurance to the Philadelphians rooted in their current events and political climate. Following an earthquake, the city was neglected by the Roman Empire, they didn’t send help to rebuild. Then Domitian ordered them to tear out their vineyards so that the Italian ones would be the frontrunners, breaking the Philadelphian economy. The Christians themselves faced neglect and opposition from the local authorities.

But Jesus tells the Christians that He is apart from all of the betrayals of this world. That He will do them no wrong and be faithful to them.

Now Christianity, though having begun as a sect of Judaism, began to be excluded from the synagogues as well. Literal doors were closed in their faces when they came to teach and hear the teachings with family that may not have converted yet from Judaism, segregating them further. Not only that, but Judaism was protected under Roman rule at this time. So anyone who wasn’t included on the religious rosters was subject to Imperial worship and punishment for noncompliance.

It was a big problem that the Christians were being shut out of the synagogues. It could mean their very lives were at stake.

Despite all this, the Church at Philadelphia faithfully persevered. Though they were weak, they remained strong in Him. So Jesus encourages them that He holds the key of David–an allusion to His authority over the Nation of Israel. And He would open a door for them that no one would be able to shut.

As Christians today, we have plenty of cultural pressures that segregate and alienate us from the world. Just as Jesus holds the key of David, so He holds the key to the whole world and every nation therein. We can hold to the promise that He made the Philadelphians, He will hold open the door to eternity for us if we, like them, keep His word and boldly proclaim His name in our lives.

In your weakness, do you allow Christ to show Himself strong [2 Corinthians 12:10]? Despite being excluded by the world, do hold fast to your faith in Him?