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by Kristen C. Strocchia
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Revelation 2:14-16
Balaam was an Old Testament diviner who lived near the Euphrates river [Numbers 22:5]. He was neither Israelite nor Moabite, and yet he found himself caught up between these two colliding cultures.
In reading the Numbers account, we see that Balaam’s words are the words that God places in his mouth to bless the Israelites while Balak–King of Moab–has paid Balaam to curse them [Numbers 23:11-12]. He even builds altars and offers bulls and rams like one of God’s own in his divination processes.
But we can see here in Revelation [as well as in 2 Peter 2:15] that beating his donkey was not Balaam’s only wrongdoing. While he may not have cursed Israel with his mouth, he showed Moab’s King, Balak, how to tempt the Israelites into sinning against God. And when they sinned, they came under the curse of those sins.
Likewise, the church in Pergamum was being enticed to sin with the culture around them. They compromised their unswerving faith by also attending pagan temples and participating in pagan worship practices. This eased the cultural strain on their daily life, but in essence, partaking of idol’s food and temple immorality proclaimed their allegiance to the false Greek and Roman gods. Scripture is very clear that you cannot serve two masters [Matthew 6:24].
There were also church members in Pergamum who bought into the ideas of the Nicolaitans. This heretical sect said that body and soul were two separate things. So as long as your soul believed in Jesus, you could do whatever you wanted with your body.
But Jesus condemned these compromises. Either they worshipped Jesus alone. Or they were sensual idolaters. There was no middle ground. No way to do both and still be a follower of Christ.
It’s the same for us today. The world would like us to believe that we can call ourselves Christians and even attend church and read our Bibles, but still behave like the sinners we once were. And there are some Pergamenian-like Christians today who are trying to do just that. Drugs and Jesus. Adultery and Jesus. Greed and Jesus. Tolerance/Mindfulness and Jesus. Etc. But each of these is mutually exclusive. Sure, He can forgive us, but we are not to just keep on sinning in the presence of grace [Romans 6:1].
Are there any compromises in your faith? Any worldly practices or beliefs that stand in stark opposition to the word of God? Any issue that you believe God dislikes, but you do any way to make it easier to fit in with your peers?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Revelation 2:5-6
Without doubt, Roman life for Ephesian Christians was hard.
To enter the agora, a public market square that served as the center for provisions, business and social life, one had to take a bit of incense and burn a fragrant offering to Caesar, thereby proclaiming him Lord. However, a Christian could not in good conscience make offerings or acknowledge any one other than Jesus Christ as Lord. So, unless they compromised their faith, they were shut out of the heart of their city life.
The temple of Artemis, as well as many other pagan temples, held prominence in Ephesian life. Temple worship and annual festivals were filled with immoral and even self-mutilating acts. But amazingly the temple of Artemis actually served as a financial hub of the city as well, much like a bank, since so much wealth was offered and spent there. So a Christian would not have had access to the financial backing that secular businessmen enjoyed.
A heretical sect, called Nicolaitans, sprang up in this confluence of Christianity and Romanism. They believed that since the body was a physical being and faith was a spiritual thing that they could, therefore, do whatever they wanted to in their body and be unaffected spiritually. God is clear here that this is not right thinking by any means.
Among all of this, and other practices that there is not room to explore here, the Ephesian Christians still behaved in many ways in line with the gospel. However, they’d forgotten their first love. That is, they’d misplaced, lost sight of or just plain let go of the priority to put Jesus Christ first in their lives.
So Jesus called them to repent–to think again or have their thinking renewed/made new. If they didn’t put Jesus back into His rightful place in their lives, they risked their lampstand being removed, their light being ineffective in their generation.
In our day, we are not commanded to worship our president as a god, but as Christians, our beliefs have been shut out of public places: courts, schools, media, and the like. Not only that, but we are regularly asked to denounce our faith in the God of the Bible, because He does not fit with mainstream lifestyles and ideas.
It can be difficult in any culture to keep Jesus as our number one priority, but particularly when this choice segregates us. Yet if we compromise or lose sight of Jesus as Lord of our lives, our light will be ineffective, our generation unreached.
Who or what has first priority in your life? Do you need to repent, that is be transformed by the renewing of your mind [Romans 12:2]?
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
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:7-8
Here John’s vision invokes Old Testament scriptures, Messianic prophesies given pre-Christ.
Daniel saw one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven [Daniel 7:13] in a vision given in a dream. But the verses that follow make it clear that Daniel did not understand what he saw; so he approached one of the angels in his vision for an interpretation. John, however, receives a more complete revelation. He knows who this one like a son of man is–Jesus–and he passes on the angelic prophesy of Christ’s future return [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
Zechariah also prophesied pre-Christ that they [Israel] will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn [Zechariah 12:10]. Now Zechariah was given many Messianic prophecies, however, it is not clear whether he knew the full extent of his own message. But John, again, knows the one who was pierced–Jesus–and he speaks to the people’s response when they recognize what they have done.
Then John stamps these Old Testament revelations with a so let it be done, meaning, let God’s word come to pass as it is written.
Jesus speaks in verse 8, calling himself the Alpha and Omega. He’s not talking about wolf packs or lion prides though. When he says Alpha, he means the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the last letter. That is to say that Jesus was the beginning of all things and he is the end of all things. He reaffirms this title by defining his eternality, saying, who is, and who was, and who is to come. In John’s gospel, he wrote that Jesus was at the Creation [John 1:1-10]. He was here before everything and everyone else. And in Revelation, we learn that Jesus’ kingdom will have no end. He will exist after everything else on this earth has passed away and after our earthly bodies have been made a new creation.
Not only that, but speaking of himself as letters, Jesus reminds us of the Creation being spoken into existence. Jesus is that word. John 1 tells us that through him all things were made.
Jesus alone is the Almighty–all powerful, sovereign Son of God.
Have you recognized Jesus as such? Do you worship him as sovereign of your life?
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
“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel–because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:5-9
The Tower of Babel construction is known as a ziggurat. Ziggurats–also known as step-pyramids–can be found on five of the seven continents. These towers were built in many cultures as a temple to worship the heavens, that is the sun, moon and stars rather than the One True God.
Nimrod was the first to turn the hearts of people from their understanding of and a personal relationship with their Creator. And with the help of his wife, Semiramis, he propagated the first false religion on the face of the earth.
Because of this blatant disobedience and misuse of God’s name, God confused the languages of human beings. Human beings were made in God’s image [Genesis 1:27], with the ability to plan and create and work together. God acknowledges that if allowed to continue to work together, they could accomplish anything that they could of think of to undertake.
As the people scattered in their separate language groups, each culture shared a few common historical events: Creation, Flood, and the division of languages at the Tower of Babel. Until modern history, most people groups had in fact preserved a variation on these three stories in the forms of myths, legends and religious stories. The existence of ziggurats on five of seven continents itself is a testimony to a shared history and ancestry.
Moreover, this event is very important to the Biblical viewpoint of world history. So important that Babylon is mentioned 315 times in scripture. About 100 of those mentions occur in Jeremiah with the pending captivity.
When Israel, God’s chosen bride, prostitutes herself with the idolatry and false religions of surrounding nations, God relents. He gives Israel exactly what she insisted on out of His will to begin with. He allows Israel to have front row seats and firsthand experiences with the lifestyle that they so earnestly desired in Babylonian captivity in hopes that she will turn her heart once again to Him.
But one day, Babylon will fall. Revelation 19 records how the heavens will rejoice when that day comes, when the season of idolatry and false religion will lay decimated, never again to rise. When glory and honor will belong once again to God alone.
Is there any trace of Babylon in your heart or life? Is there anything that turns your prayer, praise, worship and devotion from the Creator? Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and bring such things to light to God’s glory and honor.
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?