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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?

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The Unholy Prophet

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men.” Revelation 13:11-13

Image result for lamb from the earthTrue to his counterfeiting nature, Satan will masquerade in the End Times not only as a god, but as a god-like trinity: the dragon [Revelation 12:9], the beast [Revelation 13:2] and the second beast [Revelation 13:11]–also referred to as Satan, the antichrist and the unholy prophet. Again, he counterfeits the lamb image of Christ [Revelation 5:6] though with only two horns to signal that the lamb really has less power than what God tells us.

This lamb is subservient to the antichrist–as Satan wishes Jesus were, but will never be. And this lamb also speaks like the dragon, Satan himself, because he is Satan’s puppet on behalf of the antichrist. In modern reference? The unholy prophet is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, speaking again to the deceptive nature of Satan and his counterfeit theology.

This unholy prophet will also have authority, he will act on the antichrist’s behalf so that the antichrist himself will become almost like a figurehead leader, though without relinquishing his authority. The prophet will turn the hearts and attention of the world to the antichrist, just as the antichrist turned their hearts to the dragon, Satan, and the antichrist himself will be worshipped as god. Ironically, part of the reason for this will be his apparent death and resurrection–the very attribute of Christ that the world is hot to disprove today.

But the counterfeiting doesn’t end there. This prophet will borrow the appearance of Elijah [1 Kings 18:37-38] and the two witnesses of God [Revelation 11:5]. He will, like the Egyptian magicians in Pharaoh’s day [Exodus 7:22], mimic God’s miracles believably enough to hold the hearts of the people. But true Satan’s nature and like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, this dragon in lamb’s wool is a liar. A liar who masquerades in images of godliness to deceive the hearts of those who are desperate to justify their rejection of the one true God.

This calls for discernment–the ability to see and know what is true despite the lies and deception that abound. Even today, Satan tempts and deludes, just as he has throughout time and will continue to do until his end. But when we know the word of God–truly know the word of God, we can stand on God’s truth to give us wisdom to understand the things meant to befuddle us. And even if you don’t know everything in God’s word, study it regularly and come to know what He says. Search His word and ask His Holy Spirit to help you find the truth in situations that are unclear.

Have you been deceived by the prince of this world, Satan? Have you been hurt or shamed by his lies before? We all have. The question is, what do you do when you realize that his lies and deception have touched your life and your understanding? Have you turned to God’s Word for discernment?

The Measuring Reed

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, ‘Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there.” Revelation 11:1

Image result for Jordan River ReedsJohn becomes present in his vision again and is told to take measurements. New Testament time readers would have envisioned a bamboo-like cane known as a reed that usually grew to about 20 feet tall. They were straight, light and grew in abundance on the banks of the Jordan so they were a very handy tool. We find similar rods used in the visions in Ezekiel 40 where the Temple is, once again, being measured and in Zechariah 2 in which the city of Jerusalem is measured.

Again, the Ezekiel passage contains a vision given during the Babylonian captivity and a great international upheaval. After prophesying to the exiles that Jerusalem would be sacked and the Temple burned to a pile of rubble, Ezekiel receives a vision of restoration and new life. This Temple measuring is part of the hope that Israel received.

Zechariah’s ministry was to the returned exiles back at home in Jerusalem. He had the joy of prophesying growth into the new life breathing again in the heart of Israel. The measuring line herein showed that Jerusalem would grow until it outgrew itself. Then, only the Lord God of Israel would be able to surround and fortify the city. He Himself would be there protection. However, Zechariah was also given the message that the Messiah would come and be rejected, and then later, that the Messiah would return and be acknowledged as Lord of all by all.

Measuring, then, serves two purposes to show what has been and what will be. To prophesy destruction–a demolition–making way for new construction and new life. So when John is told to measure, we can be sure that God is going to, once again, oversee a heavenly reconstruction project. The earthly Temple, while certainly sacred, was just a copy and a shadow of the real Temple to come in heaven. Heaven will not be limited by earthly measurements, but God wanted the readers of Revelation to wrap their heads around something tangible. Jerusalem would, as it has so many times before, face overwhelming hardship and desecration even, but God already has the renovation plans well in hand. And we can trust Him to do the work that needs to be done. Beyond anything that we could ask or imagine [Ephesians 3:20].

Has God applied His measuring reed to your life? Likely if you’ve read His word and accepted His Holy Spirit, then He has asked you to measure with His intent to renovate your life. Do you trust Him?

How to Handle Difficult Analogies in Scripture

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.” Revelation 9:7-10

Image result for locusts of revelation 8 and 9Here is where prophetic scripture can sometimes get a little difficult to discern. Analogy. Once again, John is defining something he has never seen before in terms of things he has seen. We see commonly identifiable nouns like: locusts, horses, heads, crowns of gold, human faces, women’s hair, lions’ teeth, breastplates of iron, wing sound of horses and chariots, and tails with scorpion stings. Even just listing these nouns one can form a semi-image of what John must have envisioned.

Some speculate that all of the likes indicate that John was actually seeing a piece of modern war machinery–i.e. a helicopter fitted with a laser gun–that he didn’t know the actual name for, so he just had to describe it. However, there are many pieces of this description that do not fit with this possibility.

Locusts like horses prepared for battle, so saddled and armored. The iron breastplates here refer to pieces of thin iron riveted to a leather base. However, locusts are quite a bit smaller than either horses or helicopters. So is John analogizing the size? Or just the shape? Scripture doesn’t say for sure.

Then there’s the human element–crowns on heads, human faces and women’s hair. Interestingly, the Bible has much hair symbolism that we won’t get into here, but suffice it to say that the reference to women’s hair is a cultural one that lets us know that these locusts have long hair–which was a glory to a woman at the time of these writings [1 Corinthians 11:15]. This is where the helicopter interpretation falls apart for me. Because the human face could be seen through the windshield, but then the hair would seem to be attached to this head–meaning all of the pilots are either women or long-haired men. But then, the whole windshield not being filled with the face, the hair is being called hair even though it is inside the so-called face/windshield. It’s a stretch, but not impossible. We really can’t be sure what John was seeing except to take his analogies for what they illustrate.

And clearly, lion’s teeth are so much larger than a locust jaw could handle, so here it must refer to shape rather than size. Again, lion’s teeth would be in the human head behind the windshield? Or somehow attached to the actual helicopter frame protruding up the front of the windshield?

The wing sound makes perfect sense. Thundering and pounding as they will be though, it could also be just the sheer size of this locust-scorpion army that creates such a cacophony.

The bottom line is that we don’t always have to be able to picture what is going to happen in the end to understand that: a) it will not be a pleasant time to have to live through; and b) the end will be like no other time before it on the planet. When we read a prophetic scripture that we can’t envision, we can still distill the most important facts from the passage. These locust creatures will judge the inhabitants of earth for a limited time after the fifth trumpet blast. They will spawn from the Abyss. They will torture, but not kill. And they will be like something no human–besides John in a vision–has ever seen before.

How do you handle difficult scriptures? Do you let them weigh your faith down with doubt and unbelief? Or do you ask the Holy Spirit to give you the discernment to understand what is important?

Questions of the Spirit

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes–who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.” Revelation 7:13-14a

Image result for askVerses like this are sprinkled throughout the Revelation account to remind us that John is still in a vision and being shown things that will happen in the future. An elder takes John aside to make sure that he understands what he is seeing, because John has been charged with reporting it with accuracy to the world at large.

In this instance, just like in Revelation 1:20 with the symbolism of the lamps and the stars, John is clearly told what the literal white-robed multitude means. But the elder does so through a question, much like God employed with Adam and Eve in the garden [Genesis 3:9, 11 & 13] and with Cain [4:6, 9 & 10].

The Genesis questions were not for God’s sake, not because He didn’t already know the answer, but to cause Adam and Eve, and Cain to consider the truth. Here in Revelation, the elder’s question is not because the elder doesn’t know the answer, but to prompt John to be an active observer–not passive. He needs to know what he is seeing, and the elder’s question causes John to ask for understanding.

We, like John, are not to be passive consumers of Christianity. We too need to understand what we read and hear of God’s Word so that we can always be ready with an answer for the hope we have within us [1 Peter 3:15]. And when we don’t at first understand, all we need to do is ask God for wisdom and believe that He will show us the truth of His Word [James 1:5].

What questions is the Spirit prompting your heart with today? Are you seeking His understanding? Are you listening for His answer?

How To Study Puzzling Bible Passages

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

Image result for puzzleI’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?

Seal of Protection

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Revelation 7:2-3

Image result for seal on foreheadDestructive atmospheric calm will come upon the earth, but–just like during the famine of the third seal–the angels are instructed not to allow anyone or anything to be harmed until God’s mercy intervenes on behalf of His people. An angel comes announcing the charge to seal the foreheads of God’s servants.

We see a similar scene in Ezekiel 9. A man dressed in linen with a writing kit is charged to go through Jerusalem and mark the foreheads of the holy–the people who detested idolatry just like God does. The mark was the Hebrew letter taw which had the shape as either an x or a + on the forehead. This charge and carrying out is a pause in the middle of the judgment on the idolaters in Ezekiel just as it is in the world judgment of Revelation.

To authenticate and protect ancient documents, they were folded, tied and a lump of clay pressed over the knot and stamped with a signet ring. This chapter 7 seal is literally God’s name being stamped on the foreheads of his followers [Revelation 14:1, 22:4], authenticating them as true believers and protecting them in the coming judgments [Revelation 9:4].

It’s reminiscent of the Old Testament command to bind God’s Word to our foreheads [Deuteronomy 6:8], which showed an understanding of and devotion to His Word. Practicing the godliness outlined in Scripture protected the Jews from many natural phenomena throughout history–one such being the Bubonic plague, because God’s dietary and hygiene laws prevented the spread of disease among the Jews long before science understood why.

But this Revelation 7 seal will protect not based on the undiscovered science of a world that is passing away, but it will be the hand of the Almighty God on the lives of those who worship and serve Him alone. More like the first Passover when the Hebrews were protected if they had lamb’s blood painted on their doorposts and lintels. This sealing of the faithful will be like a final Passover when–in God’s mercy–He will withhold the intensifying judgments, beginning with the seventh seal until He identifies His own.

In other words, God is Just. In this life, God allows both believers and unbelievers to enjoy His sun and rain, to experience the blessings and hardships of our freewill [Matthew 5:45], to have the opportunity to recognize Him and repent. But a day is coming when God will separate the believers from the unbelievers [Matthew 25:32]. Seven being the number of completion, God will not complete the judgment of the earth without first identifying and protecting the innocent–those pardoned for their sins because they have accepted Jesus as Lord of their life.

Is Jesus’ name already written on your heart? Do you trust Him to provide for you and protect you no matter what may happen on this earth? Do you believe that He alone is God and worthy of your faithful devotion?