April 3, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XLV: Bittersweet Testimony

The Testimony of the Mighty Angel (Rev. 10:1–11)

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. 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, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 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.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 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, 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. 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.” 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.” 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. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

The little book is not the same book of destiny in chapter 5 since that book was intended to reveal its contents and this book was to be eaten. The description of the angel in verse 1-4 has some of the characteristics that belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. John had seen and heard a “strong angel” (Rev. 5:2), and the same Greek word is here translated “mighty.” All angels excel in strength (Ps. 103:20), but apparently some have greater power and authority than others. The fact that the angel’s face is “as the sun” corresponds to the description of Jesus Christ in Revelation 1:16; his feet correspond to the Lord’s description in Revelation 1:15. His voice like a lion is suggestive of Revelation 5:5.

It is quite possible this being could be Jesus Christ, appearing to John as a kingly angel. Jesus often appeared in the Old Testament as “the Angel of the Lord” or as a theophany. Two other characteristics would suggest identifying the angel as Jesus Christ: the book in his hand and the awesome posture that he assumed. The little book contains the rest of the prophetic message that John will deliver. Since our Lord was the only One worthy to take the scroll and break the seals (Revelation 5:5), it is probable that only God can deliver the truth of future prophecy as only God could know the certainty of future events.

He is claiming the whole world and only the Jesus can make such a claim. Jesus Christ will claim the world which is the very inheritance promised Him by the Father in Psalm 2:6–9. The declaration of the angel in verse 5–11, fills us with because of what he declares and the way he declares it. It is a solemn scene, with his hand lifted to heaven as if under oath. He would take an oath in order to affirm the solemnity and certainty of the words spoken. God put Himself “under oath” every time He made covenant His people as with Abraham as stated in Hebrews 6:13–20 or when He declared His Son to be High
Priest as mentioned in Hebrews 7:20–22.

Judgments have already been felt by the heavens, the earth, and the sea; and more judgments are to come. The word that is translated “time” actually means “delay.” God has been delaying His judgments so that lost sinners will have time to repent (2 Peter 3) but now we will see the acceleration of the end coming to fulfill the remainder of this book and the world as we know it now. All this will be done to fulfill His purposes and bring God glory.

The mystery of God would be fulfilled. In the Bible, a mystery is a “sacred secret,” a truth hidden to those outside but revealed to God’s people by His Word (Matt. 13:10–12). The “mystery of God” in this passage seems to deal with the age-old problem of evil in the world. Why is there both moral and natural evil in the world? Why doesn’t God do something about it? It is also possible that this mystery, which is fulfilled here or completed could be the fulfillment of the time of the Gentiles as the mystery of God is oft referred to as the glorious grafting in of the Gentiles.

If this is indeed evil being given free reign, we also know that God will permitting evil to increase until the world is ripe for  judgment (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Since God has already paid the price  for sin, He is free to delay His judgment. There is no possible way the unbelieving world can accuse God of being impatient or unjust as He has been exceptionally patient with man, just as He was with Israel....if not more so.

Whatever this mystery is, the signal for this mystery’s completion is the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Rev. 11:14–19) after which the angels start to pour out the bowls, in
which “is filled up the wrath of God” (Rev. 15:1). A heavenly voice which tells the seer not to write the revelation of the seven thunders, commands him to “take the open book in the hand of the angel standing on the earth and the sea.”  Three times John mentions that this angel is standing on the sea and the earth. The repetition is not for mere rhetorical purposes, but more likely emphasizes the fact that now this angel (Christ) exercises sovereignty over the whole earth both land and water, people and non-people.

The book held by the angel and then given to John has a message therefore appears applicable in some way to all the inhabitants of earth. The Lamb’s taking and opening of the scroll symbolized his newly gained authority over God’s plan of judgment and redemption, which was inaugurated by his own death and resurrection. Furthermore, just as the Lamb began to reign ironically by persevering through suffering, so John reigns in the same manner with Jesus - as will many of us, at least that is the overwhelming principle we have seen laid out not only Scripture but so far in the first 10 chapters of Revelation.

The main focus of this chapter though is John’s possession of the book.  In verse 9–10 there is a command to take the book and consume it and the carrying out of the command portray John’s formal re-commissioning as a prophet. This commission is surprisingly similar to Ezekiel 2:8–3:3. Ezekiel, like John is told to take a scroll and to eat it, and for both the scroll’s revelatory message “was sweet as honey in my mouth.”  In Ezekiel's case, he is called to warn the Israelites of doom if they do not repent of unbelief and idolatry. He is called to preach so that they will “know that a prophet has been among them.” Yet he is also told that Israel will not listen because the house of Israel has a hard forehead and a stiff neck...they're literally hammerheads and dopes. The prophet’s eating of the scroll signifies his identification with its message... Ezekiel has internalized and become the message so to speak. The scroll’s sweet taste represents the life-sustaining attribute of God’s word from which  the prophet will need to draw on to complete his task.  Ezekiel’s task is a somber one, but he does it with satisfaction as it is God’s will which is holy. Although Ezekiel does not get a bitter stomach like John will. John's bitterness is a gastrointestinal reaction to grief over unavoidable doom because of refusal to repent.

John’s eating of the scroll has the same meaning as Ezekiel’s, although the chronological situation is different. It represents total submission to God's will even in the face of persecution as this is the requirement for their service as prophetic instruments in God’s hand. The message they deliver carries with it the power of God as it is His word. Ezekiel warned Israel-John is warning the church and he warns them of the same thing Israel was warned of by Ezekiel-unbelief and compromise with the idolatrous world (a la the letters to the seven churches), and he even warns the world of unbelievers.

Prophets actually take pleasure in God’s announcement of judgment not because they are sadistic but because God’s word is His will, which in the long-run results in His glory. Glory inevitably results when God punishes evil and wrong-doing and His justice prevails. When His justice prevails it shows that He as indeed correct and righteous all along. The judgment invariably is encouragement to the faithful who have endured persecution and have been redeemed by a holy and righteous God.


John first tastes the sweetness of God's word and then digestion of the scroll brings bitterness. There seems to be a more enduring sensation of bitterness. I guess this comes from prolonged consideration of judgment that these words will bring if they are not obeyed. This sourness or  bitterness might better be understood as  mourning.

I suppose that we could see John has dealing with this in a "bittersweet" manner. He has eaten the scroll and now he must make its contents known to others and it will be a bittersweet affair since he knows not all will respond to God's message. It is the plight of all Christians who take serious the Great Commission. We love God and His word but we know that not many will respond to it. This spiritual inertia and fecklessness will be their demise and condemnation.

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