July 12, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 17:15 in the audio file.
Or, The Bittersweet Little Scroll
God created us with a built-in mechanism that turns off our pain sensors at a certain point. It is, most of the time, a mercy. Shock is a medical condition where the body shuts down certain processes because it’s just too much to handle. We go numb, physically and mentally. We’re only fit for so much negative feedback.
This is also true when it comes to the problems around us in our environment. We can only take so much bad news before we cover our eyes, close the tab, or keep scrolling for a new cat video. We don’t want to see it; it’s too sickening. This ability to turn off attention is part of the discussion about how effective it is to show pictures of aborted babies; the sight may be so gruesome that it loses effect. Instead of horror and disgust, we go into denial overload.
As Solomon said, in much wisdom and knowledge there is much vexation and sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:18), so it is better to be oblivious. Dumb, fat, and happy depends a lot on the dumb. We are in a crisis season, not just because 2020 has more waves of crises than an alphabet of hurricanes, but because evil will continue to do evil, especially if we don’t want to deal with it anymore. There is a godly impulse to desire a quiet and peaceable life, and also, burying our talent because we don’t want to deal with the cheating banker won’t win approval from the Master when he returns.
We’re in a trying time, and we just don’t want to believe certain things because then we can’t justify complacency. What’s more, who wants to be “that” guy? “Here comes Noah again, saying that it’s going to rain. What is that even?” Who wants to be seen as a hater? It takes real maturity to be intense while being at peace, to hate evil while rejoicing always, to have eyes wide open without a calloused heart, to speak humbly and honestly and hopefully.
With a similar view to increasing difficulty, a mighty angel comes to recommission John for his prophetic task in Revelation 10. The visions he’s seen up to this point have been glorious, and ghastly. He’s seen angels around heaven’s throne and demons rise from the pit of hell. All the seals on the scroll have been opened, six of the seven trumpets sounded, widespread torment and destruction and death but without repentance (9:20-21). The intensity of the seventh trumpet is like a full crescendo in a quarter note. We’ve not hit the peak of wickedness or of God’s wrath. Before that comes, an angel visits John and gives him a taste from a bittersweet little scroll. John needs not to quit now.
Though the ESV has two paragraphs, there is a description of the angel’s stance found three times in chapter 10: on sea and on land. The mighty angel has his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, an image of God’s sovereignty over all the earth.
Just as there were two visions between seals six and seven, so now there are two visions after the sixth trumpet: a vision of a little scroll Revelation 10:1-11 and a vision of two witnesses Revelation 11:1-13; the first introduces the second.
1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.
John sees a mighty angel, though John doesn’t give us more detail about the angel’s identity. He heard a “mighty angel” in Revelation 5:2 asking who was worthy to take the scroll held by one sitting on the throne.
The attributes of this angel are attributes of God in other places, leading some to identify this angel as Christ. For example, God is “clothed” or wrapped with a cloud, like a full-body mask. In Psalm 104:3 clouds are a chariot for the Lord, and in Revelation 1:7 Christ is “coming in the clouds.”
And even a rainbow over his head describes a heavenly vision in Ezekiel 1:26-28, and the rainbow is visible around God’s throne in Revelation 4:3.
His face…like the sun sounds like Christ in Revelation 1:16, and his legs like pillars of fire also like Christ in Revelation 1:15. There is a lot that sounds like the presence of God with Israel in the wilderness.
But Jesus isn’t ever hidden in Revelation; the Son of God risen from the dead is always more celebrated. For that matter, Christ is nowhere called an “angel.” So another mighty angel represents the Lord in a way similar to the angel of the LORD. The cloud represents power, the rainbow reminds us of God’s mercy, the sun shines in glory, and the pillars of fire are guidance.
2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land,
This vision in chapter 10 features the little scroll, and it seems even the vision in chapter 11 as well. It seems to be a piece of the same as the scroll in chapter 5. This mini-scroll fits in John’s mouth.
Why does the angel have the scroll? What is in the scroll? It could be chapter 11, it could be 11-16, or even 11-22. If it is a part of the scroll revealing God’s righteous judgments, there are more to come.
The angel lands down in a power stance, with one foot on the sea and another on land.
3 and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded.
He is a mighty angel with a loud voice. His voice resonates like a lion roaring, provoking fearfulness as when the Lord God speaks in Amos 3:8, and a voice that calls children home like in Hosea 11:10.
4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”
The thunders sounded, but it is more than rumbling noise. It is understandable and coherent because John says that he was about to write, meaning he was about to record what the seven thunders have said, which is what the heavenly voice confirms. Like thunder the voice of the LORD comes forth seven times in Psalm 29.
From the start of the book, John has been recording what he was told to (see Revelation 1:19). Now he is told to not to write this. Any particular reason why he should not write the thunders’ words? We’re never told what they said in the rest of Revelation. Some guess that the Lord has prepared, but then cancels, another series of His judgments. But it is better to understand that the Lord still doesn’t reveal everything. John sees even more than he writes down (similar to Paul’s vision in 2 Corinthians 12).
The mighty angel makes a solemn oath.
5 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven
The raising of the right hand was standard position for making a formal vow.
6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay,
Abram took an oath with similar descriptions of God in Genesis 14:22-23. An even more likely connection is to Daniel 12:7 and the man clothed in linen who raises his hands to heaven and swears by him who lives forever about the time, two times, and half a time.
The martyrs asked, “How long?” In chapter 6 they were told to wait a little longer. Now the angel says, it’s time. The seven thunders won’t cause any holdup. This is the final scene, it’s what the whole of revelation has been looking to. Now there will be no more delay.
The Him is God, the Lord, the Almighty. He is eternal, He is powerful, The Alpha and Omega, the One who can be trusted. There isn’t someone else who is going to write the last season.
7 but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
The sounding of seventh trumpet brings the final stanza, then the song will be complete. This is how it’s going to end. The trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel will initiate the consummation.
The mystery is something unknowable apart from God unveiling it. This mystery is the Lamb as Lord, Christ as King, defeating His enemies and reigning (see what’s coming in Revelation 11:15). The bowl judgments will be poured out, the rebels, both human and supernatural, will be conquered, and those who suffered for Jesus’ sake will be proven right.
God has been saying what He’s planning to do for a long time, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. Do you want to know God’s will? His will is winning, in a triumphant display of His righteousness and His love. Do you feel how real evil is? Are you watching the wicked? They are all raised up by God to show God’s glory. This is good news, εὐηγγέλισεν.
8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’
This is the first time that John does more than see or hear, he plays a part beyond writing.
This is now the third time we’re told that the angel is standing on the sea and on the land (2, 5, 8). Would you feel right approaching this angel? The heavenly voice had to tell him.
Unlike the scroll in the hand of the Almighty, this scroll in the angel’s hand is open, unsealed.
9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”
The prophet Ezekiel was told to take a scroll and eat it (Ezekiel 2:8ff), but this is not just a repetition of that event. To eat is to identify with the message.
10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.
John eats it, at least symbolically, as he digests it. At first it was sweet, γλυκύς, then bitter. It isn’t two parts, it was two stages. The bitter taste remains when he is told to speak the burden of the rest of the book.
11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
The prophesy will continue shortly. Of course John has been prophesying about the earth already, especially in chapters 6-9.
There is an interesting switch from “tribes” to kings, looking ahead to kings in chapters 17-19. That they are distinguished from their people means that they are not above the Word. Those in the highest positions of power are not too high to give account.
We’re not told to eat a scroll, but we do feed on God’s Word, and it is by His Word that we know to lament all the rebellion we see against Him, a Word that prepares us for the bitterness of being targeted in various ways by non-Christians. The same Word, though, also gives us a taste that the Lord is good, and gives us promises to chew and digest into hope that is sweet.
The words of this prophecy in Revelation bless those who keep them (1:3; 22:7). Pray for capacity to see His works, His justice, His patience, His power, His goodness to you. Pray for eyes to see His glory on sea and on land. True peace does not come by pretending. Hear and keep the prophecy.
You do not need to be all current on all the current events; you do need to put all your confidence in the One who is accomplishing His will. You do not need to figure out how it’s all going to work together for God’s glory, but You do need to stimulate your faith in Him who says it will. He’s been telling good news to His servants for a long time. Live by faith, obey Him by faith, and even when the governor gives you lemons, don’t forget the honey of the gospel.
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith– to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27, ESV)