Revelation Chapter 10
From Rev 10 to Rev 11:15, the camera swings round and there is an interlude and another perspective given. In the appearance and description of an awesome angel in the first verses of Rev 10 (v 1-3) we are reminded that God is in control and will bring all things to His appointed end. In reminding ourselves of this truth, we remember that the first six trumpets announcing the plagues arise from the seventh seal and are therefore a part of it. What is happening in this interlude is that we are being allowed to see a wider and deeper picture concerning what is going on along with the point that there will be a decreed end.
As we move into this chapter we note that the scroll in this picture is already open (Rev 10:2) and we are looking at what has already been ordained. The mystery of God will be accomplished and no matter what is going on in the world right now, His purposes for humanity and the world will come about. This is also seen in that the angel raises his hand to heaven and swears by the One who lives forever, this being an action akin to Jewish oath-taking and which reminds us of Daniel 12:7. What God ordains will come about.
As mentioned already the imagery and words of Revelation 10:1 to 11:13 are like an interlude but do not speak of a chronological delay, as if something has to happen before we can move on. What we are seeing is another part of the same picture from a different perspective. God is always in control and there will be a time when a seventh trumpet sounds and a declaration is made that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of God. Later, in chapter ten (10:11) John is going to prophesy again, but before looking at this we will focus on the description of the angel.
An angel appears.
As the camera focuses on the events of chapter ten, John sees a mighty angel coming from heaven robed in a cloud and in Scripture clouds are sometimes associated with God’s presence (Ps 68:4; Dan 7:1; Nahum 1:3). For example in Exodus 13:21 we read of Israel being led by the cloud-presence of God during the day and a pillar of fire by night during her desert wanderings.
As we continue to focus our attention on the angel we also note that there is a rainbow above his head. This is a sign of the covenant and not the crown of conquest. The angel is clearly a servant of the covenant.
As previously mentioned in chapter four, a rainbow reminds us of the covenant that God made with creation after the flood in the days of Noah (Gen 9:12-16). Noah’s name means ‘rest’ and through trusting in God and resting in His grace and mercy Noah was lifted to safety in an ark covered in bitumen. I mention the covering of the ark because it is where our word ‘atonement’ (meaning ‘to cover’) comes from. The rainbow (the ‘bow in the cloud’) was a covenant sign stating that the world would not be flooded again.
In Rev 4:3 the emerald-rainbow is seen around the throne from which all power and glory emanates. God is and always will be the life-breather, the covenant maker and covenant-keeper, with His transcendence being captured through such words as, “Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). His immanence is also clearly seen in Jesus, (the God-with-us One) who, on one occasion, was seen with a face shining like the sun and with clothes as white as light (Mt 17:2). God is the closest person to us and yet also the furthest from us.
The angel in Revelation ten is pictured with the cloud-presence of God, the sign of the covenant (rainbow) and a face like the sun speaking of God’s favour (Ps 84:11) and reminding us of the glory of Christ (Mt 17:2); the grace and mercy of the One ‘robed’ in flesh. With legs like fiery pillars, the angel is seen placing one foot on the land and the other on the sea (with fire conveying purity and holiness and pillars capturing a picture of strength and stability). The One who sends this angel is the All-Powerful One, and any one of His angels could destroy a nation in seconds if God ordained it; yet God is no cosmic tyrant.
In the ways of the world, power often corrupts people or distances them from others. In the ways of the Kingdom, power is expressed in love, mercy and compassion. In Jesus, we see the most powerful man who ever walked these earthly realms and yet at the same time we see the most gentle and considerate person who has ever lived. God desires all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4) and in Jesus is the power of love, grace, mercy and the holiness of the Servant-King Messiah.
“The gospel is that God sets to rights man’s relationship with himself by an act of sheer generosity which depends on no payment man can make, which is without reference to whether any individual in particular is inside the law/covenant or outside, and which applies to all human beings without exception. It is this humbling recognition – that he has no grounds for appeal either in covenant status or in particular “works of the law” that he has to depend entirely from start to finish on God’s gracious power, that he can receive acquittal only as a gift, which lies at the heart of faith for Paul.”
Prof J. Dunn in ‘Romans’, p 178
The angel who has the open scroll in his hand gives a loud shout, after which the voices of the seven thunders speak. However, John is told to seal up what was said and is not allowed to write down what he hears. The number seven speaks of perfection and the thunder speaks of the voice of God (Isaiah 33:3) - the Creator of the heavens and the earth (Job 40:9). But why is John not allowed to write down what he hears?
In the first set of judgements, we found a quarter of the world being affected (Rev 6:8) and as judgement intensifies, this increases to a third (Rev 8:7-9:18) - yet repentance does not come about (Rev 9:2-21). Now, in the sealing of what has been said (Rev 10:4), we are reminded that God will bring about His will in the fullness of time and nothing can change this. In John not being allowed to write anything down, we are reminded that not everything is ours to know unless God ordains it to be so. Our focus is to be on God and not on agendas or time-scales.
The mystery of God will be accomplished (Rev 10:7).
The angel then raises his hand (10:5) and makes an oath to the eternal One, saying there will be no more delay and that in the days when the seventh trumpet is about to sound, the mystery of God will be accomplished (Rev 10:7).
Scripturally speaking, we need to recognise that the term ‘mystery’ does not speak of a secret that can never be known. It is about truth that was otherwise unknowable, being revealed by God. So, for example, we have the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God given by Jesus to those who were willing to listen and think through what He was saying (Luke 8:10). We also see Jesus deliberately speaking in parables to encourage struggling and often marginalised people to think about what God was really like, whilst others who were not prepared to think would not understand them.
Elsewhere in Scripture, we see Paul speaking of the cosmic mystery of God’s plan which has been in place since before the foundation of the world (Rom 16:25, Eph 1:4). Paul also speaks of the inclusion of Gentiles (Eph 3:4) and entering into the fullness of the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:55), yet this does not mean that all is ours to know. God reveals what He chooses to you and I who so often see in a mirror dimly (1 Cor 13:12), yet all that has been promised concerning both judgement and restoration will come to fruition on the day of the Lord. The entire unveiling of truth has been made known to the prophets and will be revealed after the seventh angel blows his trumpet (Rev 10:7). May His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
Called to know God.
Many years ago a thirteen-year-old princess who eventually became Queen read out a poem written by Minnie Haskins (1875-1957) on Christmas Eve 1939. At that time the Nazi’s in Germany were flexing their muscles and the princess’ father, the King of England, had been speaking words of peace to the nation. He then went on to remind everyone that the only King who could truly provide peace and real rest was Jesus Christ. King George VI’s daughter then read out Minnie Haskins Poem, ‘God Knows.’ Part of that poem reads like this:
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day…
God knows; His will is best. The stretch of years which wind ahead, so dim to our imperfect vision, are clear to God. Our fears are premature; in Him all time has full provision. He will lead and direct our lives. It is a reminder to trust in Him alone, the One who is sovereign. So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day...”
Our minds were not designed to function by looking to self alone as a reference point to life, or by trying to work out cosmic plans and agendas in our own strength; we have been created to know God. In light of this our minds can only fully function as they were intended to through engaging with God who helps us understand who He is, who we are and part of what is going on, if He so wishes. We are able to do this because God draws close enough for us to see Him (John 1:1) and communicates in such a way that everyone has the opportunity to know Him. As Scripture says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8.
“A little child is not interested in place and prestige and rank; he is not interested in getting the seat of honour at a feast or the first place at a king’s court. He would not be in the least worried if he did not get a seat on the platform at some public function or if he did not get what people call “their place” on some public occasion. He just does not think of these things at all because he does not think of himself. It is only people who have a high idea of their own importance who speak and act like that; and a little child does not think himself important.”
Dr W. Barclay, ‘The King and the Kingdom’, p 130.
God wants us to experience what it means to know Him, which means living out what we learn to be true. We are not always given the full picture, but are given enough to help us make sense of what is going on and keep our focus on Him. Above all else, God wants us to know Him.
Throughout Scripture, we see that God has always been willing to engage with man. He is the One who reached out to fallen man in the Garden of Eden, called Abraham a friend (James 2:23) and spoke with Moses “face to face as a man speaks with His friend” (Exodus 33:11). God also spoke in various ways to Hagar, Rahab and the Kings of Nineveh and Babylon. He is always prepared to make Himself known and in Deuteronomy 33:29 we read of God as the shield, the helper and glorious sword of His people, whilst David writes, ‘He is with me, he is my helper’ (Psalm 118:7). Elsewhere we find God’s words to a Tekoan shepherd called Amos where we read, ‘Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.’ (Amos 3:7). God wants to be known and as the writer to the Hebrews said, “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb 1:2). God wants us to know Him and helps us to make sense of what is going on – but again let’s remember that this does not mean we are going to see or understand everything.
John’s commission is underlined again.
In Revelation chapter ten, we find John’s commission being underlined again, reminding both John and us that we are a part of God’s work. It is important for us to know this if we want to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Yes, God comes close to help and nurture us in our homes, work-places and the communities in which we live, yet we are very much a part of His plan – He is not part of our agenda.
God is the One who gives us power to overcome the past, the wrong-thinking and the destructive ways that set us back, yet is not a cosmic-counsellor who is here to make us feel safe and comfortable all the time. He is the Sovereign creator of the heavens and earth and we are part of His plan. We may not always feel comfortable but, as many have testified down through the centuries, we can know His presence even in the most difficult of circumstances.
“But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:9-10
We have received incredible grace, mercy and forgiveness through the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18-20) and are called to reach out to others with this same grace, mercy and forgiveness as the following story reveals. It is by Dr Dorothy Soelle, a German theologian and political activist and speaks of the time in the 1960’s when she found out that one of her professors was an ex–Nazi.
“In the late 1960s I learned that this professor whom I greatly respected and revered for his sensitivity and receptive spirit, had not only been a Nazi but had even participated in a book burning. I couldn’t fathom this, and visited him at his apartment to learn the truth. “Why did you do this, who commanded it, did you know which books were burned?” I wanted to know exactly. It was an excruciating few hours, he didn’t protect himself, but he did insist on the distinction between books and people – which naturally, was the underlying issue during every moment of our conversation.
When I asked where he stood now, he wept. He stammered something that I didn’t understand. The word “Forgiveness” was unspoken yet implicit. And then something utterly extraordinary happened, something I had never experienced before or since. He threw himself on the floor, knelt down, wrung his hands, and then folded them. I couldn’t remain seated in my chair, I didn’t want to leave, so I knelt beside him and we prayed aloud the Lord’s Prayer: “…and forgive us our sins.”
I had never known before what remorse was, yet many years later I learned what the word ‘teshuvah’ meant in the Jewish tradition: deliverance, changing one’s ways, a new beginning.”
Dorothy Soelle’s story which she wrote for Simon Wieshethals’ book, ‘The Sunflower”, pages 243-244.
John eats the scroll.
The camera continues to whirr and John is told to take the open scroll (revelation already made known) and eat it and in doing so John finds that it tastes like honey. In tasting as ‘sweet as honey’ the scroll reminds us of God’s words and wisdom (Ps 10:10; 119:103; Prov 24:13), as well as grace and mercy; however, in order to know this we need to receive it. Elsewhere in Scripture Ezekiel ate a scroll (Ezekiel 2:6-3:3) which tasted sweet, yet it was a message of judgement on a nation that turned towards idolatry. Here in Revelation John eats the scroll and it is sour to his stomach; it is a message of judgement to those who live by their own rules and ignore God and the needs of those around them.
Ezekiel had had a twenty-two year mission and suffered the constraints of captivity yet was protected by God (Exek 2:6). Likewise, John is a prophet protected by God, as are all those who serve Him, even through death. God is the One who said to Joshua, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’ (Joshua 1:9). He is also the One who said, ‘When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say’ (Luke 12:11-12). God is also the reason Paul could write, ‘That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.’ (2 Tim 1:12).
Albert Raboteau, a scholar of slave religion in the American South, gives an account of a secret prayer meeting among slaves in Virginia of 1847. The slaves gather surreptitiously in the swamp, following signs marked on the trees pointing them to the selected spot. They begin by asking each other how they feel, the state of their minds. Stories of beatings, lynchings, and other cruelties pour out. Then the prayer service begins. As one slave reports, “The slave forgets all his sufferings, except to remind others of the trials during the past week, exclaiming, “Thank God, I shall not live here always.””
P. Yancey in, ‘A Sceptic’s Guide to Faith’, page 220.
Finally, in chapter ten, John is told to prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings and in chapter 11:1-13. We will see what this involves. In the first thirteen verses of chapter eleven, we are going to be given a taster before the ‘meal’ of chapters twelve to fifteen. In these first verses (11:1-13) we will see the protection and witness of the church before the final judgement that is going to be brought about (11:15-19). This is then spoken of in more detail in chapters twelve to fifteen where we read more about the birth of the church, the enemy that comes against it and victory.