The last time we were reading about what happened on the earth as the first six of seven trumpets were sounded in heaven. And do you remember? I suggested that the sounding of the trumpets and the disasters which followed them signified how in these, the last days, the Lord will punish the wicked with all kinds of temporal punishments before the arrival of that great and terrible Day of Judgement when the Lord will punish the wicked finally and for ever. And the real tragedy about the passage last time — and it’s especially poignant given the current coronavirus crisis which has befallen the world — the real tragedy was how the wicked did not repent of their wickedness despite all of these temporal punishments with which they were afflicted. So, instead of giving up their sins and crying to the Lord for mercy, they continued in their rebellion. And, of course, when we get to the second half of chapter 11, we’ll see how, after the sounding of the seventh trumpet, we have the announcement of Christ’s victory over his enemies, because all those who refuse to repent of their rebellion are going to be judged and condemned for ever.
But between the sounding of the first six trumpets and the sounding of the seventh trumpet there’s a gap. And in that gap we have chapter 10 and part of chapter 11. And in chapter 10 — which we’ll study today — we read how John saw a mighty angel; and we also read about a little scroll which John was commanded to eat. And so, let’s think about those two things.
Verses 1 to 7
And so, in verse 1, John tells us how he saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. The first mighty angel John saw was the angel who asked who was worthy to open the scroll which the Lord God Almighty was holding. That was back in chapter 5. And now, in chapter 10, John saw another mighty angel. And in the following verses John describes the appearance of this mighty angel. And so, we’re told he was robed, or wrapped, in a cloud. And there was a rainbow above his head. And his face was like the sun, which presumably means it shone and radiated like the sun so that you wouldn’t be able to look at his face directly. And his legs were like pillars of fire. And he was holding a little scroll in his hand. And one foot was planted on the sea and the other foot was planted on the earth. So, we’re to imagine a giant, who rules over land and sea. And he gave a shout, which was like the roar of a lion. And when he shouted, John heard the voices of seven thunders.
Who is this mighty angel? Some of the commentators think it’s the Lord Jesus. And they think that because the description of this mighty angel matches the description of the Lord Jesus in chapter 1. Do you remember? John saw the Lord, standing among the lamp stands, and he wore a long robe, and his face was like the sun, shining in all its brilliance, and his feet were like bronze, glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing, roaring waters. The description of the Lord Jesus in chapter 1 matches the description of the mighty angel in chapter 10. And so, for that reason, some of the commentators suggest that this mighty angel is the Lord Jesus Christ. However, other commentators point out that the Lord Jesus is not called an angel anywhere else in the book of Revelation; and John does not fall down in worship before this angel the way he fell down in worship before the Lord Jesus in chapter 1. And so, I don’t think this angel is the Lord Jesus. But he clearly stands out as mighty and he clearly reflects — like no other angel — the glory of the Lord.
When he gave this loud shout, a shout which was like the roar of a lion, John heard the voice of seven thunders. Now, we’ve had the opening of seven seals. We’re about to hear the sounding of the seventh trumpet. And here we have seven thunders. And presumably, the seven thunders are like the seven seals and the seven trumpets in that they announce the plans of the Lord for these, the last days. And so, whenever John heard these seven thunders, he began to write down what the seven thunders signified. And we can imagine him, picking up his pencil, and opening his notebook, in order to write down the message. But look at verse 4: just as he started to write, he heard a voice from heaven say:
Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.
So, instead of writing it down, and making known to us what he saw and heard, he was commanded to seal it up and to keep it a secret from us.
We’d love to know what John heard, wouldn’t we? Back in school, if someone brought the teacher a note, the class was curious to know what was in it. Or, if a pupil was passing around a note, you wanted to see what it said and to be let in on the secret. We like to know things; and we don’t like being kept in the dark. However, in this passage, we read how John was told to keep secret what he heard. One of the commentators explains it this way. He said that in the book of Revelation the Lord has revealed many things to us about his plans for these, the last days. We have the opening of the seven seals and what that means; we have the sounding of the seven trumpets and what that means. As we go through the rest of Revelation, we’ll see the Lord revealing many more things to John and to us. So, God has revealed many things to us about his plans for these, the last days. However, the sealing up of the seven thunders shows us that there are some things which we are not permitted to know. We can understand some things, because the Lord has revealed them to us; but there are other things which the Lord has kept to himself. And so, we ought to be humble, and remember that we do not know all things, because there’s only one being who knows all things; and it’s the Lord our God.
While John was not permitted to record for us what the seven thunders said, nevertheless he is able to tell us more about this mighty angel. And so, in verse 5 we read how the angel raised his right hand to heaven in order to swear an oath. And look how he describes the Lord Almighty here: he’s the one who lives for ever and ever; he’s the one who created the heavens and all that is in them; he’s the one who created the earth and all that is in it; and he’s the one who created the sea and all that is in it. So, he’s the Eternal God who created all things and who therefore rules over all things.
And then the angel said:
There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
So, he’s referring to the sounding of the seventh trumpet, which is recorded for us in the next chapter. And, as we’ll see, the sounding of seventh trumpet will announce the final judgment when Christ’s victory will be complete and his enemies will be condemned for ever. And the angel refers to the final judgment as a mystery which is about to be accomplished when the seventh trumpet is sounded. And the angel says this is something which the Lord announced to his servants the prophets. He’s probably referring to the Old Testament prophets. For instance, the Lord revealed to Daniel his plans for the world and how, in the end, some will rise to be condemned and punished, whereas others will rise to enjoy everlasting life in the presence of the Lord. The Lord announced to Daniel the resurrection of the dead and the judgment to come.
And what’s perhaps surprising is that the angel says there will be no delay. Do you see that at the end of verse 6? Now, how can the angel say to John that there will be no more delay when, in fact, 2,000 years have passed since the angel said these things to the Apostle John?
One possible explanation is that the angel is re-assuring John that nothing will prevent the judgment from happening on the day the Lord has planned. You know how it is with you and me: we’ve arranged to go out and see some friends on a particular day; it’s in our diary and we’re all set for it. But then the phone rings just before we’re due to leave the house: one of our friends is ill and we have to postpone the arrangement. Well, nothing will prevent the judgment from happening on the day the Lord has planned. Nothing will delay it from taking place on the day he was marked on his calendar. So, when the trumpet is sounded — whenever that is; and we don’t know when the last trumpet will sound — but when the trumpet is sounded, the end will definitely come. And when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead, his enemies will be destroyed, but his people — all who have trusted in him — will be gathered together and we’ll be brought into the presence of the Lord, where we’ll be made perfect, and where we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever and for ever, and where we’ll always be with the Lord.
While this is terrible news for those who don’t believe, it’s good news for those who believe. In fact, when the angel says in verse 7 that God’s mystery about the final judgment was ‘announced to his servants the prophets’, the word which is translated ‘announced’ is the normal word for ‘preaching the good news’. You see, whenever God announced this mystery to the prophets in the past, it was an announcement of good news, because the coming of Christ is good news for God’s people, because he’s coming to gather his people together so that we will live with him in glory for ever.
This is an encouraging message for the Lord’s people, and especially for those who — like John’s first readers — were being persecuted for their faith. This is an encouraging message for us, because this is the news that in the end, all of Christ’s enemies and their enemies will be punished for what they have done; and that Christ’s victory and the salvation of his people — will be complete. And this is the news that nothing will delay it. And so, in the meantime, and while we wait for that day to arrive, believers ought to remain faithful to him and not to give up the faith.
Verses 8 to 11
In verses 8 to 11, John is commissioned again to prophesy and to make known God’s will. And his commissioning involved taking the little scroll which was in the hand of the mighty angel and eating it. And he was told that the scroll would turn sour in his stomach, though it would be sweet as honey in his mouth. And sure enough, when he took the scroll and ate it, it tasted sweet in his mouth, but it was tasted bitter in his stomach. And having eaten this scroll, and having digested its contents, John was commissioned to prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.
What was this little scroll? Some commentators suggest it’s the good news of the gospel. Others say the contents of the scroll is everything we’re about to read in the rest of the book of Revelation. Others say it’s the scroll which was sealed with seven seals which we read about in chapter 5 which was in the hand of the Lord Almighty and which the Lord Jesus took and opened. Whatever it is, John was commanded to eat it and to preach it’s message, which is both sweet as honey and also very, very bitter.
God’s word is both sweet as honey and very, very bitter. It’s bitter because it speaks to us of sin and guilt and a coming judgment; but it’s sweet because it speaks to us of God’s grace and mercy and of the free gift of eternal life.
But it’s sweet and bitter in another sense. The message the church proclaims is as sweet as honey, because it’s such good news. There’s no better message to proclaim than the good news of Jesus Christ who died for sinners and who was raised and who now rules over all and who is coming again one day. There’s no better, sweeter message to proclaim.
And yet, as the church proclaims this message, the church also experiences the bitterness of rejection and even persecution because of it. That was Ezekiel’s experience. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel was given a scroll to eat which was sweet in his mouth. And yet, the Lord warned him that when he preached the message, the people would not listen. This was John’s experience too, because he was in exile on the island of Patmos because of the word of God. So, when he preached God’s word, the people did not listen; and they rejected the word he preached and they rejected him because he preached it. And, of course, it was the Lord’s experience, because the Lord Jesus was rejected by those he came to save.
Preaching God’s word is both sweet and bitter. And we’ll read more about that in chapter 11, which is about the witness of Christ’s church and the suffering the church experiences as a result. And so, since the church will often suffer because of its witness, what should we do? Well, we ought to pray for another, asking the Lord to strengthen his church around the world so that we will stand firm and continue to bear witness to Christ even in the face of unbelief and persecution.