Sweet Hope for Bitter Times
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. 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, 3 and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 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.” 5 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 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, 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. 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.” 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.” 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. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
We could say that it’s been a bitter month. You’d think that with the possible downfall of Roe v. Wade, preserving life would be good news for any society. However, many in our nation, including our President, defied that possibility reminding us how morally dark things are. Then, a couple weeks ago at a Buffalo supermarket, a gunman murdered ten people out of racial hatred. Last Sunday a report from Guidepost Solutions hit the press; and we learned that leaders within our own cooperation of churches abandoned integrity and justice for the oppressed. Then another shooting at the Uvalde school left 21 people dead, and hundreds more reeling in pain and fear.
These are bitter times. In bitter times, we need hope. We need some ray of promise to pierce these dark clouds. We need a vision of someone in control who’s good and powerful to guide this world to a better place. God meets us there in Revelation. God gave this revelation to a church in bitter tribulation. Much of that tribulation includes persecution for spreading the gospel. But it also includes the broader havoc Satan unleashes on earth. If he can’t get you by threat of death, Satan will suffocate you with every kind of darkness till you start doubting Jesus.
So, the saints—longing for the day when God vanquishes evil—they start asking questions. “How long, O Lord, holy and true.” “How long before you will judge.” In bitter tribulation, they echo some of your own cries: “How long, O Lord?”
Revelation 10 speaks to people in that darkness; and it provides sweet words of assurance in bitter days. In chapters 8-9 we encountered seven angels with seven trumpets. The trumpets serve as warnings. Remember Jericho. Seven priests with seven trumpets, marched around the city seven days. But at the seventh trumpet, God destroyed the rebellious city. In Revelation, seven priest-like angels blow seven trumpets. Meaning the rebellious city of man will soon crumble. Six angels have sounded their trumpets. We expect judgment to fall at the seventh. But the seventh doesn’t sound…
At least, not yet. We get another pause. The same happened after the sixth seal. John paused to paint a bigger picture reassuring the church that God would preserve us through tribulation. So also here, John pauses—and that pause makes up chapters 10 and 11. John pauses to reassures the church. I see three ways these words reassure us.
Reminders of Deliverance and Dominion
One, Jesus reassures the church of his deliverance and dominion. John sees a mighty angel. But notice how John describes him. Wrapped in a cloud—in 1:7, Jesus comes with the clouds. The angel has a rainbow over his head—in 4:3 a rainbow surrounds God’s throne. The angel’s face is like the sun—in 1:16 Jesus’ face is like the sun. His legs are like pillars of fire—in Exodus, the Lord led his people by pillar of fire. Given these similarities, some would say John sees here the exalted Jesus.
For several reasons, I take a different approach. In Revelation, the two other places that John sees a “mighty angel,” an angel is clearly in view. The first time was the mighty angel of 5:2. He asks John, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” The other time is 18:21 where a mighty angel illustrates the downfall of Babylon. From those two clearer texts, I think John is using “mighty angel” the same way here.
Also, when we studied the vision of Jesus in chapter 1, we noted from imagery in Daniel 10 that some angels reflect aspects of Christ’s own glorious appearance. Some of these angels reflect aspects of Jesus’ glory so much, it leads people to worship the angel. That’s what John does to the “mighty angel” in 19:10,[i] and the angel says, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you…”
Something else is that Revelation 10 follows what John told us to expect in 1:1. He told us that this revelation came from God to Jesus to an angel to John to the church. Have we not seen that unfold? Chapter 4 is the scene with God holding the sealed scroll. In chapter 5, Jesus receives that scroll from the Father. Chapters 6-8 are then Jesus breaking those seals to open the scroll. Now in chapter 10, we find a mighty angel descending from heaven with an opened scroll in his hand.[ii] That same angel then gives it to John that he may eat it and speak it to the church.
So, I think we’re looking at an angel, the angel of Jesus who delivers the revelation. He reflects the glories of Jesus. He comes wrapped in cloud with legs like pillars of fire, because he has a message from the Lord who delivered his people by cloud and pillar of fire. Recall chapter 7—John characterizes the church as a people passing through a wilderness. Here Jesus sends them an angel whose glory reminds them of God’s deliverance in the wilderness.
In Exodus 14:19, the Lord sent his angel to fight for Israel. Numbers 20:16 speaks of the Lord hearing his people’s cry and sending his angel to bring them out of Egypt. Isaiah 63:9 says the angel of the Lord’s presence delivered Israel. So also here, Jesus sends this mighty angel from the Lord’s presence to remind us of the Lord’s ability to deliver. Jesus is bringing a greater exodus for the church. Already we have seen him as the greater Passover Lamb. By his blood, God rescues his people from slavery. Now, just like the exodus, he sends this warrior-like angel to help us into the promised land. Hebrews 1:7 compares Jesus’ angels to flames of fire; and he sends them out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.
This angel also reflects Jesus’ dominion. Notice in verse 2 how the angel plants his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. To have something beneath your feet means you have dominion over it.[iii] That’s important because later in John’s vision, guess who wreaks havoc on earth and sea? The Dragon, the devil. He’s cast out of heaven to earth, and a voice says, “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows his time is short!” Then what does the devil do? We find him standing on the sand of the sea with a Beast rising up from the sea and another Beast rising out of the earth; and both work together to destroy God’s people.
But before we get there, God gives the church a vision of Jesus’ angel. Satan will do what he does, and he will wreak havoc while he can, but Jesus has dominion, and nothing will change that. His mighty angel reflects Jesus’ dominion over land and sea. If his angel is this glorious, how much more glorious is Jesus who made him. In the same way the Lord fought for Israel at the red sea; so Jesus will fight for us. He will deliver us from our enemies and secure our place in the promised land. In this angel we’re reminded of the Lord’s ability to deliver and the Lord’s dominion over everything.
God’s Saving Purpose Will Prevail
Two, Jesus reassures us that God’s saving purpose will prevail. In verse 3, the angel calls out with a loud voice. In response, these seven thunders sound. John nearly writes what they say. But for reasons we’re never told, the Lord has John seal them up and not write them down. Many have attempted to explain what these seven thunders are. The best attempt I’ve seen is to view them as the next series of seven judgments that get revoked. Seven seals affected a fourth of the earth. Then we got seven trumpets that affected a third of the earth. We’re expecting another series of seven to affect half the earth. Instead, the Lord chooses no further delay.[iv]
The time for judgment has come. So, the Lord has John seal it up. Now, Daniel has a similar experience. In Daniel 12:4, the prophet sees a vision, but the Lord tells Daniel to “seal up the book.” That’s what happens to John. But a couple of differences stand out. John can’t even write what the seven thunders said. But when he does write, those words not only further explain Daniel’s visions; they bring Daniel’s prophecies to their intended goal. Whereas Daniel’s vision is sealed up until the time of the end (Dan 12:4); John sees the unsealed scroll revealing the end (Rev 22:10).
That’s important because when Daniel gets his vision, he hears that God’s people are going to suffer greatly for a time. But he doesn’t get to see how the end will come in Daniel 12. John does. God opens that ending to John in the scroll; and it’s meant to encourage those suffering tribulation.
Notice, in verse 7, he tells us what the opened scroll reveals: “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.”
No more delay; the mystery of God fulfilled. Since John has a similar experience to Daniel,[v] he stands in the line of God’s authorized prophets. Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, and so on—John is one of them. But even more, his vision of the opened scroll shows how all their prophecies come true. Those prophets announced God’s plan to save his people and judge his enemies and create a new heaven and new earth. John’s prophecy shows how all those prophecies will come true.
This lines up with other places in the New Testament that speak of God’s mystery now being revealed in Jesus. The person and work of Jesus set in motion a new age where all God’s promises are coming true. Jesus’ revelation to John does the same thing—only it takes us to the very end. The Lord’s final return guarantees that all the mystery of God will reach its climax. His purpose cannot fail. Everything God spoke through his prophets will come true. How do we know that?
Look who he is in verse 6! He lives forever and ever. He preceded all earthly rulers. He will outlast all earthly rulers. He also created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, the sea and what is in it. Nothing from heaven or land or sea can thwart his purpose. He already owns it all and sustains it all. He controls it all and he will see to it that all things work to fulfill his good purpose, including the end of all evil.
More than that, remember that this Creator of all things—the one seated on his throne in chapter 4—that Creator has already started the final triumph through the Lamb who was slain in chapter 5. Jesus was slain, and through that death he conquered. Jesus conquered, and he’s coming to finish God’s purpose in restoring all things.
Sweet Hope in Bitter Times
Three, Jesus reassures us of sweet hope in bitter times. In verses 8-11, John has an experience like that of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 2:9—Ezekiel also sees a scroll. It contains words of lamentation, mourning, and woe. It’s a message of judgment. The Lord then tells Ezekiel, “Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel…Feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it,” Ezekiel says, “and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”
Eating the scroll illustrates God preparing Ezekiel to prophecy his word of judgment. Eating God’s word is also not what rebellious Israel was doing (Ezek 2:8). They were like children who won’t open their mouths to eat what’s good for them.* They stubbornly refused God’s word. By contrast Ezekiel takes it in fully. God’s word is sweet in his mouth and it affects his whole self. At the same time, speaking God’s word of judgment meant Ezekiel would face bitter times (Ezek 3:14).
The same happens to John. Like Ezekiel, God prepares John to prophecy. Like Ezekiel, John eats the scroll of God’s word. Like Ezekiel, God’s word for John is sweet as honey in his mouth. But it also makes John’s stomach bitter.
Now, people go different ways on what the bitterness includes. But one clue is verse 11. John must prophecy “about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” We’ve seen this list before. What’s new is the addition of “kings.” These kings eventually show up in 16:12 and in 17:2 and in 18:9. Basically, they’re in cahoots with the Dragon and the Beast. They influence nations to hate God and to persecute God’s people. Which chapter 11 also explains. We’ll get to this next time. For now, I’ll just say that the Beast and his kingdom murder God’s witnesses, and the nations love it.
In other words, part of John’s vision that turns his stomach bitter is the persecution that the church must endure. God’s plan includes the suffering of his people in the advance of Jesus’ testimony. For a time, the church will suffer in their mission. Nations will trample on the church for speaking God’s word. Kings and peoples will follow the darkness as the Dragon spreads his lies. Yet we are not left without hope. For those who belong to Jesus, the Lord’s word is sweet as honey. God’s vision for the church includes suffering, but it also includes the church triumphant over evildoers, the church nourished in this wilderness, the church rescued into a new heaven and earth. These promises are sweet for John to indulge.
Taking Courage in Jesus’ Lordship
Now, with that vision before us, let me tease out a few implications. One, if you’re not a Christ follower, repent before the seventh trumpet blows. In verse 7, God promises to fulfill his mystery at the sound of the seventh trumpet. Read the end of chapter 11 and you learn what the seventh trumpet means: Jesus will reign forever; his kingdom will replace all rebel kingdoms; God will judge the nations; God will destroy those who destroy the earth. That’s coming, and you’re running out of time. You live here [screen]—in the last days before the Lord’s return. He has warned you.
Your only hope to escape judgment is to put your trust in the Lamb who was slain. Without Jesus, you’re an enemy of God. But please hear this: “while we were still enemies, Christ died for us.” He died to take away your sins. He died to take away your punishment. He died so that you could be on the receiving end of glorious promises. So, leave your sinful ways and return to the Lord who’s rich in mercy.
If you belong to Christ already, keep declaring and submitting to Jesus as Lord. Think how John’s vision would’ve been received in a culture where Caesar declared himself lord. Check out this image [screen]. It’s a “first-century relief from Aphrodisias in Asia Minor.”[vi] It pictures the Emperor Claudius taking a stance much like the angel of Revelation 10. Craig Koester says this:
Encircling his head is a billow of cloth, similar to the rainbow around the angel’s head in Revelation. At the emperor’s right foot is a figure personifying the land, and the fruitful nature of imperial dominion is shown by the cornucopia in the emperor’s right hand. At his left foot is a figure personifying the sea, and he shows his providential care over the oceans by grasping the steering oar that the figure extends to him. The sculpture portrays land and sea at the emperor’s feet, in order to show the world flourishing under imperial rule…[vii]
Now, imagine John writing this book and sending it all over the empire to say, “Hey! Your emperor isn’t the real lord, Jesus is. Land and sea belong to Jesus, not Caesar. The earth will flourish under Jesus’ rule, not Roman rule.” You can probably see now why a prophecy like this one would lead to persecution.
Brothers and sisters, the times have changed but the human heart hasn’t. In various ways, our culture attempts to assert its own lordship. Leaders pretend that the earth will finally flourish under their political party. Leaders pretend to usher in a utopia under their policies and plans for the planet. People pretend that they can make themselves into whatever they want, that they have lordship over the body. Let this passage revive your confidence to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord.” Uphold Jesus’ standards. Obey Jesus’ truth at all costs. Submit to Jesus’ revelation. He alone is Lord.
Finally, take courage that God’s saving purpose will prevail—that’s another implication. Look at the end of verse 6. The ESV has, “there would be no more delay.” Word for word in Greek, “time no longer there will be.” I mention that because the previous place this word appears is 6:11, where God tells the martyrs “to rest a little longer [i.e., for a little time].” In other words, God’s word of assurance in 10:6 is tailored specifically for those crying in 6:11.
Chapter 10 is another answer to the cry, “How long, O Lord?” Answer, there will be no more delay…the mystery of God would be fulfilled. That doesn’t mean “no more delay” the moment John is writing this book. It means “no more delay” with the way things play out in the vision. It’s another way of saying, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for you. The seventh trumpet will blow. Your enemies will be judged, and I will finish all my good purpose for you.” You will pass through bitter times. You will cry, “How long?” You will wait for a little while. But that bitterness and crying and waiting will end. God’s saving purpose will prevail.
I’ve used this before, but it’s worth repeating again. In Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, there’s a character named Armulyn the Bard. In the middle of a dark moment, someone brings him a ray hope. He says, “Sometimes in the middle of the night, the sun can seem like it was only ever a dream. We need something to remind us that it still exists, even if we can’t see it. We need something beautiful hanging in the dark sky to remind us there is such a thing as daylight.”[viii]
Sometimes this bitter darkness causes us to doubt whether the light still exists. Revelation 10 is like the moon in Armulyn’s analogy. For us who sit in that darkness, it shines forth a ray of hope. It gives us heaven’s perspective on what’s real and ultimate. The sun will rise again to end this bitter night. Jesus has all dominion. Jesus is mighty to deliver. Jesus is in control. The Lord rules heaven, earth, sea, and all that is in them. The mystery of God will be fulfilled. All his promises for a new heaven and a new earth will come true. This isn’t a guess on how the world will end; it’s a guarantee!
Therefore, courage, dear heart. The Lion has conquered. To close, I’d like to read a few promises from the Old Testament prophets. As I read them over you, hear them again in light of this assurance that God’s saving purpose will prevail. In Christ, hear your future, beloved. In this bitter time, hear these sweet words:
“…in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim” (Joel 3:18).
“…the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa 35:10).
“On [Mount Zion] the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken” (Isa 25:6-8).
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:1-9).
“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa 62:3-5).
[i] Cf. the “mighty angel” of Rev 18:21, which seems to be the antecedent to the angel in 19:10.
[ii] John uses the diminutive biblaridion in Rev 10:2, 9, 10, which has led some to conclude that this scroll differs from that of Rev 5:2. However, by returning to biblion in Rev 10:8, it appears that John uses the terms interchangeably. The scroll of Rev 5:2 reappears in Rev 10:2, although now opened.
[iii] E.g., Pss 8:6; 47:3; 110:1; 1 Cor 15:25.
[iv] Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 82; Koester, Revelation, 478.
[v] Dan 12:6-9.
[vi] Koester, Revelation, 490.
[viii] Andrew Peterson, The Warden and the Wolf King (Nashville: Rabbit Room, 2014), 153.