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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
“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Revelation 2:18-19
In Greek mythology, Zeus’ son Apollo was called the son of god, and he was the patron god of Thyatira when Alexander the Great founded it as an army garrison. Under Roman rule, Thyatira’s business structure was built around guilds. Much like labor unions today a worker had to be faithful to the guild and the guild would in turn be faithful to protect their job.
But the guilds often celebrated their festivities in the temple to Apollo, sponsoring acts that Christians could not take part in. And if you didn’t participate, your job was as good as gone; you had no way to make a living.
It is to this culture that Jesus proclaims Himself the Son of God–the True Son of the One True God, not like the culturally glorified fictitious Apollo and his father Zeus. Jesus identifies Himself with the bronze smiths and guild laborers in the portrayal of His fiery eyes and burnished feet. Then, He commends the Thyatirans for their works, love, faith, service and perseverance. He commends them for increasing in these things despite the cultural pressures of their city; not easy to do.
So how long does it take to become a mature Christian? The longer the Ephesians served God, the more ritualistic it became. They totally forgot about their love for Him. The longer the Church at Smyrna served God, the more they were slandered and suffered for Him. The longer the Pergamenians served God, the more they compromised. And the longer the Thyatirans served God, the more liars sprang up in their midst, encouraging them to return to their old life.
But this was not true of everyone in these churches. Because becoming a mature Christian is an individual process. No one is perfect, nor will anyone arrive at perfection–completeness–in this life. Everyone is maturing in their Christian walk. [Either that or they are shrinking, but that is a subject for another post.] And everyone matures at a different rate and will finish life at a different level of spiritual maturity than others.
However, we can do certain things to ensure that we are in fact maturing in Christ and that our experiential knowledge of Him develops sooner rather than later: prayer, Bible study, praise and worship, and fellowship with other believers. But even in these things, we must be careful not to fall into the religious pitfalls that the seven churches of Revelation experienced–losing sight of love for Jesus, compromising with culture or flat out turning back to our old way of life while still professing to be a Christian.
In effect, it takes a whole lifetime to become the most mature Christian that you’ll ever be, but it takes only a moment to devote yourself to maturing in Christ and the daily commitment to see it through. Are you on the path to Christian maturity?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:7
Remember back to the Garden of Eden when sin entered the world and God let Adam and Eve know what the effects of this would be? Notably, the effects of sin are: guilt, shame, fear of God [as well as separation from God], experiencing both good and evil, spiritual warfare, emotional and interpersonal struggles, pain, sorrow, decay of the physical world and body, and ultimately death.
The answer to the question that was asked–What if I just really don’t like someone?–is sin. How?
The scriptures list many specific sins [i.e. Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:2-4; et al], and, to be sure, these lists contain many things not-to-like. But sin exists in all of our lives [Romans 3:23]. So it is the effects of sin in my life–interpersonal struggles, guilt, shame, experiencing both good and evil, pain and sorrow–that keep me from liking all of my fellow man. And it is also these same effects of sin in their lives that make other people seem unlovely and unlovable to me.
However, we have to remember that Jesus died to forgive us and to take the effects of sin from our lives. It’s not easy–no one can say that it is easy to learn to behave contrary to our sin nature–but it is possible and commanded by God that we love every other person on the planet just as much as we love ourselves [Mark 12:31].
So what if I just really don’t like someone? First, recognize that this dislike is the result of the sinful nature. Second, don’t try to hide it from God, He already knows anyway. Instead, ask God to help you to love this person. And not the late twentieth-century cop-out kind of love when some people actually said, “I don’t like’em but I love’em with the love of the Lord.” No, when God says to love others, He meant that we need to learn to like them for real–that’s the only way to genuinely love them as God commanded.
Again, it’s not always easy, but it is possible with God’s help. And remember–But by the grace of God, there go I–a more honest old saying that just means, remember that my sin nature makes me just as unlovely and unlovable to other people as they are to me. But God has called them to love me too, despite my faults.
Got a sin nature? [That’s rhetorical. We all do.] But do you recognize that you are a sinner? Ask God to show you the sin in your life, specifically where it pertains to being able to love everyone that He brings across your path. Because if we can’t love the ones He sends our way, how will we ever win them to Christ?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bare his brother Abel.” Genesis 4:1-2a KJV
For the sake of our younger students, I used the KJV here and have paraphrased the question asked, “How does God make babies since babies come from human parents?” A reasonable question.
First of all, without doubt babies come from both God and human parents. God set every system in the cosmos in motion from the Creation of the world, including the reproductive system of human beings and the marriage relationship, within whose confines He intended babies to come. So God is in the baby business largely because He established it.
However, just as plants reproduce according to the natural order God created and the earth continues in its orbit around the sun while the moon orbits the earth itself, creating tides and weather patterns in perpetuity, parents produce offspring according to God’s natural design. That is to say that God created the process and is intimately aware of every cell of every human being, but that He allows the natural processes He created to continue to function without divine intervention.
Still Eve recognizes that this process wasn’t possible if not for the Creator God [Genesis 4:1]. And King David [Psalm 139:13] and Job [Job 10:11] both attribute their lives to God’s sovereignty as well.
The popular Psalm 139:13 is often quoted to say, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” This appears to give God a more active process in the Creation of each individual child. And while each of us is God’s handiwork, God only created one man and one woman in the beginning and gave them–and their descendants after them–the ability to bring forth more human beings. Here the King James Version stays closer to the original Hebrew which says, “For you have possessed my reins, you have covered me in my mother’s womb,”[Psalm 139:13]. This original version makes it much more clear in English that God maintains the reproductive processes, not that He creates each individual as he did Adam and Eve.
But that is not to say that God never intervenes in this process. Certainly God answers the prayers of His people. And pregnant mothers and fathers often call out–as they should–to God for His protection or healing of an unborn life. Many times God answers with a happy, healthy delivery for mother and child. But there are also times when it seems that God has not heard, or not answered, or not cared, because the outcome is less than happy and healthy. In these times we have to remember that the effects of sin are still at work deteriorating our physical bodies and our physical world.
We do not always understand why God allows things to happen as He does, why He intervenes miraculously in some instances and not in others, nor do we need to fully understand in this life. Only to fully trust in Him who can work everything together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose [Romans 8:28].
Do you–as did King David and Job–recognize God’s handiwork in your life? Are you committed to living according to God’s design and purposes in all things?