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The Fire Coals of Forgiveness

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” Revelation 8:1-5

Image result for burning coalsAfter our brief intermission to learn the whereabouts of the sealed and the saints, we return to Jesus opening the seven-sealed scroll [Revelation 5 & 6]. He picks up right where He paused while heaven prepared, the seventh and final seal. He slides His finger under the wax, loosing the last thing holding the scroll together, and all of heaven draws a collective breath, silently holding it to see what will happen next.

Seven angels stand before God’s throne and accept trumpets, which were used of old to announce important events or to signal troops during war.

But before the announcements being, an eighth angel comes to the altar, carrying a golden censer–the firepan used in the Old Testament temple and tabernacle to carry live coals for burning incense. Incense, representing the sweet aroma of praise to God, and the prayers of His people. Both of these mingle in the angel’s hand and waft up to God on His throne.

The censer, or firepan, the angel then fills with live coals and throws it down onto the earth. Where have we heard about live fire coals in the Bible before? Proverbs 25:22 and Romans 12:20 speak about the fire coals of forgiveness. That when we repay the evil that others to do to us with good instead of retaliation, our forgiveness heaps burning coals on their head.

Could it be that God is foreshadowing His vengeance on our behalf [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19-21]? We are commanded not to judge, because He alone is Judge of all, and we are also told that if we present the truth of God to nonbelievers they may repay us with violence [Matthew 7:5-6]. Those who neither accept our message nor God’s forgiveness, call down the burning coals of their own rejected forgiveness on their heads. This rejection should sadden us, knowing what they will receive in the end, rather than enrage us to the point of seeking revenge in this life. It’s a tragic choice to reject faith in God, but it is every person’s choice to make.

On two other occasions, Revelation shows that peals of thunder, rumblings and flashes of lightning emanate from God’s throne [Revelation 4:5, 11:19]. This fire-coal judgment elicits a grievous response from the Almighty God who does not want any to perish, but all to come to eternal life [2 Peter 3:9]. But it also brings another earthquake–though not the last [Revelation 6:12, 11:13 & 19, & 16:18].

It breaks God’s heart when we choose our destruction, when we reject His love and grace and forgiveness. Does you heart break like God’s when people around you choose sin? Do you understand the seriousness of your own sin? Do you freely forgive those who do you wrong?

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?

Heavenly Domino Effect

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Revelation 7:11-12

Image result for worshipPraising and worshipping God has a domino effect in heaven. Remember back in Revelation 4, every time the four-living-creature [cherubim]-throne of God praised Him [4:8] then the elders would bow down and worship God as well [4:11]. And again in chapter 5, the cherubim and elders sang a song of praise to the Lamb [Revelation 5:9-10] –God’s Son, Jesus–which prompted the millions of angels to sing praise [5:12], which prompted every living thing on the entire face of the earth to sing praise [5:13], culminating full circle with the cherubim and elders falling down in worship [5:14].

Here again, when the innumerable multitude of the saved praise God for who He is [7:10], then the 4 cherubim and 24 elders and millions of angels all three will fall down in worship.

Perhaps you’ve noticed this same domino effect in a church worship service here on earth. A loud voice cutting over the music or moment of worshipful silence, giving glory to God for the things He has done. Others hear this praise and join in with praises of their own. Voices go up and the presence of God descends into the midst of His people [Psalm 22:3].

It can all feel quite euphoric, but, at the same time, extremely heavy with the tangible presence of God. It’s a momentary glimpse of the true joy that restored communion with God brings. Heaven will carry this feeling forward eternally [Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17, 21:4]. So it’s a good sign of church health when worship naturally spreads throughout the body of believers.

Beware of naysayers and counterfeits. I’ve heard some celebrities who have left the church try to downplay their past experiences of God’s presence by saying things like, “Oh, I got the same feeling at a concert or when my team scored the winning touchdown.” Karl Marx–the German philosopher and economist whose ideas formed the basis for later communism–tried to reduce worshipping God to an experience that is just, “the opium of the people.” In other words, he said God worship is no more than a drug high. Naysayers do so because–like Nimrod at the Tower of Babel [Genesis 11:4]–they refuse to accept God, instead choosing to elevate self, however falsely.

Satan is always at work to undo our minds and experiences with the question, “Did God really…?” And he is always ready with counterfeit moments of euphoria. Fleeting experiences and temporary happiness triggers come in many forms–food, clothes money, relationships, jokes, media, drugs, alcohol, you name it–but they are all empty and none lasting. Only God can give true joy, the fullness of which is eternal.

Are you in a healthy worshipping church? If not, pray that God would use you to relight the fire, restore health in your church situation. Or if He chooses to move you, pray for guidance to bring you into a healthy church body. Do naysayers of your faith bring you down? Pray for strength to endure. Do counterfeits threaten to overtake the time you devote to true worship? Hold on. Jesus is coming soon!

The True Triumphal Entry

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

Image result for People Waving Palm Branches Palm Sunday JesusSome 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?

Preternatural Phenomena

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.” Revelation 7:1

Image result for wind and sunBefore Jesus–the slain Lamb–opens the seventh and final seal on the scroll, there is a heavenly time out to prepare for what the seal will bring. Chapter seven shows us behind the scenes of this time out.

Just like Daniel, John is shown the four winds of heaven in a prophecy of the end to come [Daniel 7:2]. But in Revelation, John sees four angels who stand in the cardinal directions of the earth, keeping these winds from blowing across the earth.

It’s interesting to consider the science of this. There are times when geographical pockets go prolonged periods without winds, but there is never a day where wind is absent from the entire planet all at once. Because the rotation and orbit of the earth, together with the heating and cooling created by lit and darkened areas, churn up the winds.

The book of Joshua explains a similar preternatural and impossible phenomena–the sun stood still in the sky for a full day after it had already been in the sky for almost a full day [Joshua 10:13]. And during King Hezekiah’s reign, the sun also reversed its course by several hours [2 Kings 20:8-11]. Knowing that the earth revolves around the sun to create the appearance the of sun moving around the earth from our perspective, means that in each of these instances it was the earth–by God’s command–that froze in place and reversed.

Similarly, for the winds to be held back, the world would probably stop its revolutions at God’s commands so that the natural processes that create wind would cease. However, that is not to say that is what will happen. God is certainly able to keep the world in motion and simply stop the winds. How ever He chooses to carry out this prophecy, the bottom line is that a windless world is a drudgery for all the living, and one that will wreak havoc on the earth itself.

I read many school articles and writings growing up that talked about the sun blowing up or another comet/meteor hitting earth or the ice caps melting and flooding us all out. Yet God’s Word is clear, everything will continue as God created it–day and night, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat–until He brings the end of these things [Genesis 8:22]. So when we read scientific predictions, just like when we hear so-called Christians trying to pin down an exact date for the return of Christ, we shouldn’t be afraid.

The Bible tells us exactly how the end will come. And even when we see the signs, we do not need to fear–only trust God our Creator, Protector and Provider who Himself is Love and Goodness, Holy and True.

Do you believe that God holds all things in His hand? Do you believe that He holds and cares for you personally? Do you trust God no matter what happens in the world around you?

Merciful Bread of Truth

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a black horse. Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” Revelation 6:5-6

Image result for balance scaleJesus’ finger continues to slide under the scroll edge, and He looses the third harden wax closure. As He does so, the third living creature–which is His throne–beckons a third horse and rider. Black this time.

We can see from the grain dialog and the pair of scales that this rider holds–which was a balance beam hung with trays from both ends to measure two weights against one another–that the black rider symbolizes pestilence, famine. The cherubim quote market prices. Just enough wheat for one person or barely enough barley–less nutritious–for a small family for your whole day’s pay!

Now there are many places in the world today where such prices and malnutrition are at work, but in the time and place that John wrote, food in the Roman empire was plentiful, just as we enjoy here in America. So readers would be shocked to hear of such prices. They would understand instantly that only severe famine would drive consumers to be willing to pay such highway robbery.

Again Matthew 24:7 tells us that this famine is a sign of the end of time. But Jesus also–in His temptation in the wilderness–reminds us that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God [Matthew 4:4].

Even when physical lack of food comes, we should remember that our spiritual nourishment is of more value. Because the world will fail, but God will never fail. He will never fail in His promises [2 Corinthians 1:20]. He will never fail in His love [Psalms 136]. He never fails in His rewards for obedience [Leviticus 26:9-12], He does not fail in punishment for disobedience [Leviticus 26:23-26] nor does He fail to show Himself merciful to those who repent [2 Chronicles 7:14].

The interpretation of this pestilence goes spiritually and prophetically deeper, but for now it is good to understand the most basic premises herein. And these end with an exhortation to the black rider not to damage the oil and the wine. Oil and wine were not necessities, but niceties of the diet. So here we see God’s mercy once again portrayed. There is still some food, though it is costly and scarce due to famine, and there are still the pleasures of oil and wine. People have to work hard and trust God to provide in times like these, but He will show Himself faithful to those who remain in Him.

No matter what else this passage signifies in terms of end times happenings, where does your daily bread [Genesis 2:9; Exodus 16:4; Matthew 6:11; John 4:32] come from?

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?