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The Razor-Edged Gospel

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth–to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Revelation 14:6-7

Image result for flying angelIn Revelation chapter 8, an eagle flew in midair pronouncing three woes to come. Here, the angel flying in midair proclaims the eternal gospel, literally glad tidings often translated as good news as the angel brought to the shepherds in the Christmas story [Luke 2:10].

This so-called good news, will not be good news at all to everyone living on the earth at this time, because it will mean that their time is up. They have no more opportunity to accept Jesus as Lord of their lives.

Good news is always double-edged though [Nahum 1:15]. For someone to celebrate a win in this life, someone else has to lose. For one candidate to be blessed with a new job, another candidate has to be rejected. For there to be a recipient of a life-saving transplant, a donor has to lose their life. And for the good news of Jesus’ victory over Satan to be completed and the faithful to go on to eternal life, all those who have chosen to follow Satan–that is everyone who has rejected God–have to go on to eternal damnation.

Make no mistake about this moment, it breaks God’s heart that any should choose to perish [2 Peter 3:9]. Even now He withholds His hand of judgment so that others can choose eternal life.

The angel commands everyone to fear God, but throughout scripture God, or His theophanies, command people, Do not fear. The fear of the Lord, however, is a right respect for who God is. It’s like, when you meet world leader, you recognize their position of authority and honor them accordingly. So with God, we are to reverence Him for who He is. Those who have rejected Him, in this moment, come to the place where they will bend their knee to Him fully understanding the error of their ways [Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10].

Worship Him, the angel says, acknowledge His true worth. Creator. Sustainer. Provider. God Almighty. There is none like Him.

The angel invokes the image of Creation through the heavens and the earth [Genesis 1:1] and the seas [Genesis 1:10 & 22]. And he invokes an image of the flood when the springs of the great deep burst forth [Genesis 7:11], an image equated to the lostness of sinful humankind [2 Peter 2:17] that only Jesus can set to right [Revelation 7:17].

Do you know people on the other side of the gospel’s razor edge? People who will pass to eternal damnation when you take your place in eternal life? Does your heart break for their salvation as God’s does? Share your hope with them and everyone you meet.

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Preparing for Victory

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths. They are blameless.” Revelation 14:1-5

Image result for Mount Zion in the BibleZion. The holy mountain that served first as a fortress before the Israelites established the city of Jerusalem. Later, it became synonymous with Jerusalem itself. And in Hebrews 12:22-24 as well as here in Revelation, it connotes the heavenly Jerusalem in which God and His people will live for eternity.

So it is not surprising that John sees the Lamb, Jesus, standing on Mount Zion with the 144,00 who were sealed [Revelation 7:4-8 & 9:4]. We learn a little more about this group. Previously we saw that they consist of 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Then we saw that they were protected from the hybrid locust-scorpions that came out of the Abyss.

Now we learn that they kept themselves pure from women. This does not mean that the group is made up entirely of unmarried men. Not at all. Before Israel used to go into battle, the soldiers would keep themselves from their women for a time to prepare [Deuteronomy 23:10; 1 Samuel 21:5; 2 Samuel 11:11]. Now in Revelation, we see that Babylon is portrayed as a woman, a prostitute really, that represents all of the false religion in the world [Revelation 17:1-5]. And that those who remain faithful to God are like a pure spouse [Revelation 19:7 & 21:2, 9]. So the 144,000 are Jews living in the last days, the end times, who refuse to participate in the false religions of the world, regardless of the persecutions it invites.

Heaven opens up on this scene, with a roar of rushing waters [Revelation 1:15, 4:5 & 22:1] and peals of thunder. The sound of harpists followed by the 144,000 singing a new song, signifies the celebration of victory in battle [Exodus 15:20]. And they sing this song in heaven before the four living creatures and the elders that surround God’s throne [Revelation 4:4 & 6]. None else in heaven will be capable of learning their song, because none else can understand what is like to come through the end times faithful to God. Just as the four-living creatures sing a different song than the twenty-four elders [Revelation 4], who sing a different song than the angels [Revelation 5], who sing a different song than the great multitude in white robes [Revelation 7], so the song of praise that the 144,000 will offer up will be a personal testimony to God’s work in their life. A story that no one else can sing, because no one else has lived it.

The amazing thing about this passage of scripture, is that it will lead up to the final battle–Armageddon [Revelation 16:16]. Many speculate about and fear having to live through such a battle. But Revelation shows us how calm and cool Jesus and his army are while preparing for Armageddon. They’re standing on the fortress. They’re keeping themselves pure as they would for any routine battle. And they’re already celebrating the victory. Before the battle even ensues, they’ve won with Christ, and they know it.

Are you living in victory today? Are you living a life of spiritual purity, garrisoned on the mountain of Christ, celebrating in advance the victory that He has already won?

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?

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?

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?

Poured Out for God

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” Revelation 6:9-11

Image result for drink offeringThe fifth seal is a reprieve from the devastation of the last three. This time, the living creatures that make up God’s throne are silent. No horse and rider is sent to the earth. Instead, we see an altar in heaven, just like there was an altar in the Tabernacle and Temple of the Old Testament. Now the altar was where the lifeblood of the sacrifice was poured out, and this was done at the base of the altar.

So here, under the base of the heavenly altar, God recognizes those who have laid down their lives for their faith in Him, the martyred. In John’s vision, God portrays the martyrs’ personal sacrifice as the origin of the earthly sacrificial system. This system foreshadowed the coming savior and taught people to see their need for a savior, but it also foreshadowed the call to daily take up our cross and follow Jesus. Lay it all on the line for our faith. Pour out our lives to the glory and honor of God alone.

However, just like the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin, neither can our own blood wash away our sins. Only Jesus’ blood can take away sin. So we do not seek to be martyred. It is not a requirement for heavenly admission any more than regular church attendance or daily Bible reading. Again, by God’s grace, only our faith–believing on the Lord Jesus Christ–will bring eternal life [Ephesians 2:8-9]. There is nothing we can do in our power, including choosing martyrdom, that can open the gates of heaven to us.

These martyrs recognize God for who He truly is and address Him as such–Sovereign. Lord. Holy. True. They speak to Him about avenging their blood–the injustice created by sin that one should die for faith in the One True God–because vengeance belongs to God alone [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19]. And God gives them the promised white robes of victors [Revelation 3:5], but He tells them to wait.

Be patient. Jesus is coming soon [Revelation 1:7, 22:7, 12, 20], but with God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day [2 Peter 3:8]. My kids put in this perspective for me the other day when they were thinking of insect lifespans. They said, “What if each minute was a year? Then we’d only live 120 minutes–2 hours!” And so earthly time is for God. What feels like years, decades, centuries and millennia to us, are nanoseconds to God.

Jesus is coming soon. Judgment to avenge the blood of the martyrs will also be coming soon.

Do you recognize, as the martyrs do, that God alone is the Sovereign Lord? Do you believe that He is holy and asks us to abstain from the sinfulness of the world, to set our lives apart for Him? Do you believe that He is true and will come again soon, avenging the martyrs, just as He said?