Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 10]

Then I saw another mighty angel….~REVELATION 10:1

We come to our next interlude. And like the chapter 7 interlude which came after the sixth seal was opened and before the seventh, this one comes after the sixth trumpet is blown and before the seventh trumpet. And also like the chapter 7 interlude, this one is a two-parter, with chapter 10 being the first part, and 11:1-13 being the second part.

Let’s dig in to chapter 10.

John sees another strong or mighty angel come down from heaven. This is no ordinary angel, as you can clearly detect from the description in the first few verses (in picture form above). The description vividly matches that of none other than the risen Christ Himself. I agree with the interpreters who say that what we have here is “angelomorphic Christology”. How fun is that to say?? The point is not that the risen Christ was an angel and thus created, but rather to associate the risen Christ with the Angel of Yahweh who is God. The Angel of Yahweh visited people in the OT and was the form God took during those visitations. [for example: Exodus 3:1-6]

This “mighty angel” is holding a small open scroll in His left hand which is most likely the scroll from chapter 5 which had those seven seals ripped off and is, therefore, open. The angel figure having his right foot on the sea, and his left on the land connotes sovereignty over all of creation, another reminder that God is ultimately in control of everything.

When he shouted, the seven thunders answered with their own voices. (v.3) The seven thunders could be the very voice of God, with an allusion to Psalm 29–which is a very cool Psalm. Or they could be powerful, heavenly beings.

Just as John is about to write down what the thunders say, he is told by a voice from heaven to seal up what they said and to not write it down. Most say that they were probably uttering another round of sevenfold judgments to come, parallel to the sets of seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, but not to be revealed. This would be in keeping with the four sets of seven judgments of Leviticus 26 that God says He will send against His people if they disobey Him. As one scholar puts it, “The command to seal up what they said interrupts the movement toward increasingly devastating judgments, showing that they represent threats that are not to be carried out.”

Then the angel whom I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right toward heaven and swore an oath by the One who lives forever and ever…(v.5) This is a very direct allusion to Daniel 12:7, some of it pretty much verbatim, where Daniel is referring to “the man clothed in linen.” And what was the oath? That there would be no more time (v.6), or literally “time shall be no longer.” Everything (history and God’s mystery) will be “completed” or “finished”.

Here’s some of professor of New Testament G.K. Beale’s great words on God’s mystery being completed in verse 7: “When the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, the prophecy of Dan. 11:29-12:13 will be fulfilled and history will come to an end…The fulfillment of the prophesied gospel is occurring, and will continue to occur, in a mysterious and unexpected manner from the human perspective….This mystery is that of the cross…John is told that the “latter days” prophecies to Daniel have now begun, and that this has been set in motion through the ‘mysterious’ manner of Christ’s death and resurrection. That is, the prophecy of God’s defeat of the evil kingdom is being ironically fulfilled by this evil kingdom’s apparent physical victory over Christ and the saints.”

The voice from heaven speaks to John again, telling him to go take the scroll from the angel’s hand. So he goes up to the risen Christ in angel form who also tells him to “take it.” This shows us that God’s revelation is not forced on anyone, but must be taken. Then he tells John to eat it, and it tastes like sweet honey in his mouth, but felt bitter in his stomach, just as the angel had promised (and just as Ezekiel was told by God to eat a scroll and it was sweet as honey in Ezekiel 2:8-3:3). The eating of the scroll indicates complete identification with it, ingesting it into your very life and being. It is sweet because it is God’s word, and a privilege to be His messenger. It is bitter from unrepentant response and the judgment it foretells.

Now that John has digested the contents of the scroll, he must now make its contents known to others. This is his recommissioning from the Angel of Christ to prophecy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kingdoms (v.11). The verb “Prophecy” does not refer only to predicting future events, but also to providing God’s revealed perspective on what is happening in the present.

This RIPPLE has been more along the lines of a traditional Bible study, so I’d like to leave you with one of the very excellent “suggestions for reflection” which Beale provides at the end of each section of his commentary:

On the divinity of Christ. As presented here (10:1-6) and in many other places in the book, the divinity of Christ is a major and consistent theme in Revelation. The divine angel of the Lord, identified often in the OT with Yahweh, is here also identified with Christ, for which idea the commentary provides much support. Has a shallow reading of Revelation, with a focus on misguided eschatology, drawn us away from its presentation of the exalted Christ? What has drawn us to focus on (often poorly understood) eschatological timelines and miss the heart of the book, which is the glory of God and of Christ?

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 9]

Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet….Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet….All the other people, the ones who had not been killed in these plagues, did not repent… ~REVELATION 9:1,13,20

When the fifth trumpet is sounded, an angel with a key opens the shaft of the abyss, or bottomless pit, and smoke pours out; out of the smoke comes demonic beings which John sees as locusts with the power of scorpions tormenting people for five months. This scorpion sting-like torture is so awful, that people are longing to die so that it will just end, but they aren’t be able to find death.

When the sixth trumpet is sounded, a voice from the four horns of the altar in front of God says to release the four angels bound at the Euphrates River. These four lead an army of 200 million riders on horses to kill one-third of the human race by way of fire, smoke, and sulfur coming out of the mouths of the horses’ lion-like heads. Oh, and their tales are like snakes with heads which inflict damage as well.

So the fifth and sixth trumpets bring five grueling months of scorpion torture and then one-third of the entire human race being slaughtered..!!!

Try to let that sink in for a second. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of.

And of all this insanity, here’s the craziest thing that stood out to me: the remaining two-thirds of the earth’s population that was not killed by the demon horses still did not repent.

I mean, what does it take?

Apparently not retribution alone. Is this what John is telling us? That is what one commentator said, which caused me to pause and think, because it’s an angle I’ve not considered before. He said that John is showing the reader what an outpouring of divine wrath would look like, and that the non-repentance shows us that plagues in and of themselves would be ineffectual. (see the extended quote at the bottom for more context if you so desire)

Things in life don’t always work the way we think they will.

I found these words from Henry Blackaby in the margin of his study Bible to be poignant: “As destructive as our sinful habits may be, we may prefer living with the familiar rather than being freed to experience the unknown. Do you fear change more than you fear God?”

Some people say, “If Jesus would just write His name in the sky, everyone would then believe.” Yeah, right. It would just be explained away, somehow. Anything can be explained away if one is not ready or willing to believe, if there is simply no faith. While suffering increases the faith and dependance on God in one person, the same suffering will serve to only harden the heart of another.

God is just too darn smart. Knows us so much better than we realize.

This all reminded me of my friend I quoted in the last Ripple who was having doubts and wanted questions answered, only to find that it wasn’t his questions being answered that satisfied him, but an undeniable encounter with the very presence of God. He said the next week at church in the liturgy there was this line: “We come to you, God, for answers, but you give us deeper questions.” This is so true, isn’t it? Jesus hardly ever answers a question straightforwardly in the Gospel accounts. Most of the time He answers people’s sincere questions with invitations to go deeper. Again, He’s smarter than us, and knows what we really need. We think we want a simple solution, but that’s just not what our soul truly craves. It is difficult to improve upon Augustine’s classic line, “our hearts are restless until they can rest in You.” Perhaps we could add on to the end of that “beyond answers” for our purposes here.

This is not to say that we need no answers at all, and that they do us no good whatsoever. It’s just that it does seem there is something significant to how we get there which should not be overlooked.

It’s like how effective it is for a good therapist, counselor, or pastor to lead us into discovering a truth for ourselves, as opposed to it being simply handed to us. Maybe this has to do with the effort or seeking put into something being proportional to the value we place on that something.

And sometimes God zaps people with His overwhelming presence in an instant when they’re not expecting it or searching for Him.

Hey, don’t ask me, I don’t have all the answers.

The first six trumpets work with a profound irony. The plagues manifest divine wrath in ways that would have been broadly familiar in the Greco-Roman world. Yet this complicates the issue: Given only the plagues, people have no reason to distinguish the wrath of the Jewish and Christian God from the wrath of the Greco-Roman gods. Therefore, since wrath alone does not move people to repent, the pattern of wrath will be interrupted, so that prophetic witness can be given before the seventh trumpet is blown (10:1-11:13). John will emphasize the importance of witness by creating a literary connection between the end of the sixth trumpet vision and the beginning of the seventh. The sixth trumpet shows a third of humanity being killed and “the rest” (hoi loipoi) refusing to repent (9:20-21). Yet after God’s witnesses have finished giving their testimony, the threat of judgment is moderated, and “the rest” (hoi loipoi) of the people come to glorify God (11:13). When change has occurred, then the seventh trumpet can sound, announcing the coming kingdom of God.

Craig Koester

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 8]

The smoke of incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose up from the hand of the angel in front of God. ~REVELATION 8:4

Our prayers give God something new to work with.

Do you realize that our prayers are a tangible ingredient which God can then consider and use within the mix of a given circumstance? If we do not pray on something or over someone, then that factor is not in existence to be regarded among the myriad of other factors in that situation. It’s not that God can’t do a work without our prayers, but from what Scripture communicates to us, God seems to choose to work with us in this way.

Just two weeks ago I experienced a wonderfully affirming answer to the incense of my prayer. A friend had reached out who was going thru a sort of crisis of faith, questioning what he really believed after decades of following Christ. I asked him what I could specifically pray for, even though he was having trouble believing in the power of prayer at that moment. He replied with “to just feel God’s presence.” The rest of that day I did indeed pray for Christ to draw near to my friend in an intimate way. And he experienced a heart change quite literally overnite! I believe Christ saw the smoke of the incense of that prayer rise before His face, added that request into the mixture containing countless other ingredients, considered it, and bestowed upon my friend a manifestation of His loving presence and power, drawing his heart to Himself. Here are my friend’s words of what happened: “I was in a place where I had a lot of questions about God, and still do actually, but it’s really interesting how in the midst of that there was an experience of God that was like, ‘OK, I don’t really know how to explain this, but I know He showed up in my life, and saved me.’ I felt like I was about to fall off a cliff, and God showed me what it would look like if I fell, and then pulled me back. It didn’t answer my questions, and didn’t make those particular concerns disappear, but He showed His presence and His power in an undeniable way. And I know prayer, and your prayers for me were a major part of that.”

This picture of our prayers as incense rising before God is a wonderful one, isn’t it? We sometimes need visuals to help solidify what can be ethereal truths. It might be very helpful to imagine each of your pleas as a sweet smelling smoke in front of God’s face. May my prayer be set before you like incense. ~Psalm 141:2

This is not simply fruitless speculation, but rather holy imagination, which is what Revelation invites us into with its abundance of vivid imagery. So many of us have been conditioned to read this book thru the filter of pointless speculation–trying to predict when certain things will happen, who the antichrist is, who the 144,000 are–all the while missing the life-giving encouragement toward discipleship at the deepest level, as well as the display of the unfathomable awesomeness of God.

Revelation 8 picks up where chapter 6 ended, which was the opening of the sixth seal (remember, chapter 7 was all interlude). Now the seventh seal is opened, and there’s silence in heaven for a half hour. In utter silence the prayers of the kedoshim (holy ones) go before Yahweh with the incense. These prayers are the cries of the martyrs from 6:9-10, “Holy and true master! How much longer are you going to put off giving judgment, and avenging our blood on the earth-dwellers?”

That smoke arose before Yahweh, He considered it, and then acted.

Fire is thrown down on earth resulting in thunder, rumblings, lightning, and earthquake. Then seven Angels with seven trumpets start to blow those trumpets, and all sorts of hell rains down, reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt beginning in Exodus 7. So another one of my revelations from Revelation, an aspect that I had not specifically considered before, which came from my many readings , is this: If the violence of Revelation is offensive to you, then you have probably not lived under severe oppression.

Here are some quotes that have given me much to ponder:

“we are to see these…judgments as the deepest desire of the oppressed for justice. They have a very real purpose: to portray the pain of the oppressed and show how it is finally resolved in God.”

“Often it is difficult for persons who have not been hopeless to understand how precious hope (and judgment, that is, justice) can be for those without hope.”

“People who do not know what oppression and suffering is react strangely to the language of the Bible. The truth is that God is the God of the poor and the oppressed….Because they are powerless, God will take up their cause and redeem them from oppression and violence. The oppressed do not see any dichotomy between God’s love and God’s justice.”

“All these..remind the oppressed people of God that it may not look good today, but tomorrow brings new Jerusalem. These judgments have a clear purpose as well: the elimination of evil in the world so the people of God can dwell in peace in the new Jerusalem.”

“Without such judgment there can be no world of peace, of truth, and of justice: terror (the ‘beast’ that devours) and propaganda (the ‘false prophet’ that deceives) must be overcome, evil must be separated from good, and darkness from light.”

There is “a polarity within the heart of Christianity; a crucified Lamb who turns out to be the rider on the white horse. After all, the cross is not forgiveness pure and simple, but God’s setting aright the world of injustice and deception. The polarity is there because some human beings refuse to be ‘set aright.'”

We must also recognize and keep in mind that Revelation does not depict human believers acting violently, nor does it command us to do so. Vengeance is up to God, to the rider on the white horse.

“While Christians follow the standard and act out the legacy of the crucified Messiah, they must simultaneously recognize the right and need of the rider on the white horse to do what he needs to do.” All of this is seen “through the cultural lens of a people who have been raped and pillaged by the bestial power of a force like the one John fights against in Rome.”

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 7]

After this I saw four angels, standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to stop any wind from blowing on earth, or on the sea, or on any tree….After this I looked, and lo and behold a huge gathering which nobody could possibly count… ~REVELATION 7:1 & 9

We come to the first of the ten interludes in Revelation 6-16. There are two interludes back-to-back in chapter 7: the sealed 144,000 in verses 1-8, and the innumerable multitude of saints in verses 9-17.

This is another one of those features of Revelation which I never noticed before. Why all these interruptions in the narrative flow of this book? Just when you think the seventh seal is gonna get cracked open, we come instead to this digression of four angels holding back destruction.

These interludes, I’ve come to find out, are here to give the listener/reader a little break. They keep you from becoming too depressed from all the carnage and mayhem going on. Most importantly, they give the listener a glimpse of hope by pulling back the curtain to reveal God’s world–what is happening in the heavenly realm, the truest truth, and the realest reality.

John’s letter is saying to these seven churches, “Hey, you’re not alone! I know it looks bad, but there are way more of you than you realize. Stay faithful. Keep working to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth as in heaven. Endure to the end. Just take a peek at what it looks like in God’s realm for a minute.”

And what does it look like?

A gathering of people so huge that no one can possibly count them all, from every nationality and ethnicity on earth, standing in front of the throne of Yahweh and in front of the Lamb shouting praise, as well as all the angels, the 24 elders, and the four living creatures falling down before Yahweh and Christ in full-on worship of them. Everyone is completely satisfied, without any hunger or thirst whatsoever, always being lead by the Good Shepherd to springs of living water, having every tear they’ve ever cried wiped away from said Shepherd. They are all experiencing “the joy and praise that come from eternal relationship with God”, as Brian Blount puts it.

So, it’s pretty good there.

In the deep words of Kung Fu Panda, it’s “PURE AWESOMENESS”.

Sometimes, maybe a lot of times, we need to pull back that curtain and be reminded of what is going on in God’s world, where Yahweh and the Lamb are on the throne, ultimately in charge, bringing everything on earth into order, even as we speak. It may look rough, it may not be our timing, but it is surely transpiring. I think of my mom and dad there in heavenly bliss praising God, completely fulfilled as they never could have been here.

We must guard our hearts from sinking into a small, isolated view of this world only and its circumstances. Not that it doesn’t matter, but always remembering there’s more that matters.

Perhaps you need to more regularly pull back the veil and be reminded of just who is really in charge and where this is all going. Or maybe you’re being called to do this for someone else. Do you know anyone who has forgotten God’s world, the realest reality? Or someone who has grown so weak from being beaten down by the world that they no longer think they have the strength to peel back that lighter-than-it-looks curtain?

You can be an encouragement today to someone who is fixated on this world’s darkness only. You can redirect their eyes to see not only the heavenly realm in another dimension but the heavenly kingdom which has already begun to take root like a mustard seed here on earth now. Remind them and yourself that full consummation of all the good being done here and now will eventually come to fruition!