REVELATION 8 of 16
We’re going to be in Revelation 10 and 11 this morning.
The large sweep of Revelation tells a story.
It’s easy to lose sight of that.
Revelation frequently becomes a breeding ground
for arguments and debates and disagreements.
But the large sweep of Revelation tells a story
that transports us from prison to paradise.
From the Island of Patmos (ch 1)
to the gardens of New Jerusalem (ch 21-22).
Revelation is telling the story of the world’s salvation.
Of the God of infinite, self-giving love
finally and forever establishing
his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
The story is not an Almanac—
giving us literal predictions about the future’s weather.
The story is an Apocalypse.
it’s uncovering, it’s unveiling—
what God is like.
God has a plan
to transform the world.
We first saw this plan as chapter 5 began
in the form of a sealed scroll.
What a wonderful revelation—!
Despite the way things look,
despite pain and suffering,
despite a government behaving badly (then and now),
despite death claiming loved ones,
God is good and faithful
and has a plan to save the world.
But over the last couple of weeks especially—
looking at chapters 6 to 9—
the picture has begun to look pretty grim.
After seven seals and almost seven trumpets
Revelation doesn’t quite feel
like a pick-me-up.
It feels a little depressing.
The first week we began looking at Revelation,
we said that chemo therapy might be
a good way of thinking about this book.
Revelation is like
chemo therapy for all creation.
The process of chemo therapy
is incredibly painful and absolutely horrible to watch,
but the point it is healing.
The point of it is life.
But up until this point in Revelation,
it’s like we know we’re experiencing a lot of pain
but we’re still waiting to see the healing.
Sure, the Lamb has begun breaking through the seals
(pushing through everything blocking God’s good purposes),
and, sure, God has begun sounding the trumpets
(answering our deepest prayers for things to be made right),
but even God’s answers to prayer
seem like dark answers.
Like chemo killing cancer,
God’s answers to prayer are mixed with fire:
Warning the world to repent—
to turn from evil—to choose life.
It’s all feels a bit dark.
It’s like we’re waiting on the tables to turn—
we’re waiting for the sun to rise.
Today—I’m pleased to tell you—that
chapters 10 and 11 mark something
of a turning point in John’s letter.
By the end of chapter 11,
the sun won’t be fully risen yet,
the sickness won’t be fully destroyed yet,
but we’ll feel like God is bringing us somewhere.
After struggling through
the long night of the seals and the trumpets,
we’re going to start seeing the first hints of dawn.
(Rev 10.1-7) Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.”
What a refreshing sight
after the devastation and carnage
of the last couple of chapters:
we’ve got this massive, powerful angel
who looks and smells and sounds like heaven:
his body robed with cloud (v1),
his head wrapped with rainbow
his face shining,
his legs like pillars of fire—
When he speaks,
his voice sounding like a lion (v3)—
From top to bottom,
this angel reminds us of everything happening backstage—
reminds us of the love and delight and peace and energy of heaven.
And yet this angel isn’t standing in heaven—
this angel is standing on the earth.
He’s got one foot planted on the earth
and the other foot planted on the sea (v2).
Not IN the sea—ON the sea.
It doesn’t seem like this angel is Jesus himself
but he’s definitely embody strength and authority.
Maybe in the same way that
suddenly seeing an Allied Tank
in the middle of Nazi-occupied territory,
would embody the strength and authority.
And seeing that Allied Tank
probably means that more help is coming.
When the angel speaks in verse 3,
it’s like this Tank is radioing for air support.
He radios heaven with a roar like a lion
and the seven thunders answer.
Time to bring the thunder.
But then (v4) all of sudden
we hear a voice from heaven saying:
“That bit from the seven thunders…
don’t include what they said…
that’s not your message.”
What’s that all about?
Well, over the last few chapters
we’ve seen an escalation of judgment:
We went from judgment
on one-fourth of the earth
during the seven seals (6.8)
to judgment on one-third of the earth
during the seven trumpets (8.7-12, 9.15).
All of these judgments are about God’s desire
that people would turn from evil and choose life (9.20-21).
All of these judgments
are about God healing the world
not killing the world.
But as the trumpets are winding down,
people are still refusing to turn from evil—
refusing to be healed, refusing to choose life.
So if things keep going
the way they’ve been going
we should expect another cycle of seven
that be judgment on… one-half of the earth.
But then the seven thunders are silenced—
they’re put on mute.
Don’t write that down.
Don’t pass that along.
“Your vision, John,
is not simply more and more pain and suffering—
that’s not the way this going to go.
“That’s not the story, that’s not your message,
that’s not what I want the churches to hear.”
(10.5-7) Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and 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 this angel announces that soon—very soon in fact—
God’s mysterious purposes are going to be accomplished.
There will be no more delay—
no more time, no more warnings—
God’s plan to put the restore the world is going to happen.
(10.8) Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
Since chapter four,
John has been watching this vision unfold
from the vantage point of heaven—
but now it’s as if he’s being called back to the earth.
“Go to that angel linking earth
and the sea and the heavens—
go to him… join him.”
“That angel is bringing the scroll—
the scroll we first saw in chapter five1—
the unsealed, open scroll of God’s plans and purposes—
this angel has brought that scroll into the world.”
“And I want you to take that scroll, John.”
(10.9) So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’”
Alright. Maybe that’s worth a pause.
“Eat the scroll,” the angel says.
This is a wonderful symbolic image
borrowed from the prophet Ezekiel.
When Ezekiel was first being called by God
to be speak God’s words to people,
Ezekiel had a vision of a scroll.
A scroll with writing on both sides of it.
And then Ezekiel was told to eat the scroll.
It’s this picture that says:
“The words of God are not something
that you can just read and be done.
“This isn’t a scroll isn’t mean to be read.
You’ve got to take the words into you,
you’ve got to ingest them,
they’ve got to become part of you.”
That’s how the image is being used here.
(10.10-11) I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
John is invited to take in—to ingest—
the mysterious plan of God into himself.
This is what we’ve been waiting on—
this is what John was despairing might never be known—
the plan of God to set the world right has arrived on a silver platter:
It’s kind of a big deal.
It’s a climactic moment.
We’re almost halfway through Revelation,
and God’s plan to heal the world is finally about to be revealed.
“This scroll… what’s the plan?
What is it like?”
John gives us a vague kind of answer:
Well, God’s plan is to healing (and that tastes sweet)
but that healing hurts his stomach (a little like chemo).
“Ok. Tell us more.
Can you be more specific?
How does God save the world?”
At this point, we’ve got to pay attention.
Because what comes next
in Revelation is a little confusing.
The move from chapter 10 to chapter 11
almost feels like it’s completely changing subjects.
But the pattern of what happened with Ezekiel holds true with John.
Right after Ezekiel eats the scroll,
he immediately began to convey God’s message
in every way he could.
Through visions, through stories, through haircuts—I kid you not.
Ezekiel eats God’s message
and then immediately does everything he can
to communicate that message.
And I think John is following his example.
John is told that he’s got to prophesy to the world—
to the people that God loves and wants to make fully alive:
to peoples and nations and languages and kings.
And as chapter 11 begins,
that’s exactly what John does.
John eats God’s message
and then immediately does everything he can
to communicate that message.
Buckle up—get ready—this is exciting:
John is about to reveal
God’s plan to save the world:
(11.1-13) I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.
Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.
At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
That is not what what we expected—not at all.
John eats the scroll and we’re holding our breath:
we’re waiting for him to clearly tell us
about God’s plan to save the world.
But he immediately starts talking about all kinds of things.
The Temple beings measured (v1),
and the holy city being trampled (v2),
and two witnesses who put on quite the spectacular show
until they get killed (v3-12).
Verse 11 says that “the beast” from “the Abyss”
makes war on them—attacks them, overpowers and kills them.
A monster from an evil blackhole in the ocean
kills these two witnesses…
They’re witnesses to the point of death.
(“Martyr” is simply the Greek word for “witness.”)
But then (v11-12) they get rescued from the impossible—
they’re raised from the dead—they’re proven to be right.
It’s a strange, mysterious story,
these martyrs who die for their faith…
But notice what happens because of them.
Because of them—
because of their faithfulness to the point of death—
because of their witness—
the impossible happens.
Verse 13: people repent of their sin.
People turn from the wickedness.
A symbolic number of people die,
but even more people begin to find life.2
They find themselves gripped by the beginning of wisdom—
by the fear of the Lord—and they give glory to the God of heaven.
In a short little parable—in the span of 10 verses—
John tells us a short little story of something
achieving what judgment alone could not.
The lives of these witnesses accomplish
what the plagues of Egypt could not.
The story of the two witnesses
seems to be
a parable about the Church.
God saves the world through the church.
It’s a incredibly intricate little story—
a genius sort of parable.
We don’t have time to examine it in exhaustive detail,
but if you want a snapshot of what’s going on under the hood:
John eats the scroll like Ezekiel
that reinterprets the prophecies of Daniel3
with an image from Zechariah4
which remixes the stories of Moses and Elijah5
to describe the Church following Jesus.
That’s a snapshot of it.
John is tapping into the most powerful
prophecies and stories and images and language he can think of
to communicate what has been revealed to him:
The church is
at the heart of
how God saves.
And so he tells us a story of two witnesses
(because you need at least 2-3 witnesses to trust a testimony)
who live and die faithfully proclaiming truth,
to paint a picture
of what the church’s role in history
looks like from a distance.
It’s a stylized, symbolic picture of the Church.
For some period of time before the end of history—
three and a half years, 42 months, 1,260 days6—
the church will tell the world about Jesus.
John is not describing literal fire-breathing
any more than he’s describing a literal monster
from a literal abyss.
The fire coming out of the witnesses’ mouths in verse 5
is just as symbolic as
the sword coming out of Jesus’s mouth in chapter 1.
He’s saying something like
the church’s proclamation of Jesus in the world—
The church’s actions of love in the world (v6)—
they’re just as incredible and miraculous
as Moses or Elijah ever were.7
And the Church is called to witness, to testify, to love—
to proclaim and follow Jesus—even when it’s hard.
Even when the world hates truth.
Even when violence and hatred
are more popular
than grace and forgiveness.
Even when it means
following Jesus to the cross.
Even when we’re attacked or killed (v7)
for witnessing to Love.
Even when God’s “temple” (v1)—
the Church—is given to nations.
Even when “the holy city” (v2)—
the people of God—are trampled.8
Even when it means our discomfort
or embarrassment or shame or even literal death,
the Church is called to love—called witness to Jesus.
In our word and deed—in all we say and all we do.
Even when love torments people (v10)—
when it feels like hot coals on their head (cf. Rom 12.20-21).
Love him. Love her.
Love to the point of death—that’s the secret on the scroll.
Love to the point of death—that’s God’s plan to save the world.
Because love to the point of death
is the only thing that can make people change.
The church is invited
to embody the life of Jesus
for the sake of the world.
In words from Philippians,
we’re called to share in the sufferings of Christ
and also share in Christ’s resurrection.
That’s the story of the witnesses—that’s our story.
Until the end of history—until the seventh trumpet sounds—
the Church loving to the point of death
is at the heart of God saves the world.
(v14) The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.
Last week we heard our friend the eagle announcing woes—
warning the world about trumpets 5, 6, and 7—
And now, after John eats the scroll and tells this story,
it’s like we’ve got that eagle’s voice
echoing in our ears.
But watch—after these witnesses—
instead of a woe, we get something else:
(v15-19) The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:
“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”
And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.
Another explosive light show tells us that the trumpets are over,9
and instead of a woe we get wonder.
We’re only halfway through Revelation,
but it’s like we’ve already arrived
at the end of the world.10
At the final trumpet,
God is making good on all of his promises,11
and his good future is arriving.
And what’s crazier—we hear people
celebrating the end of the world:
God’s kingdom has arrived,
and the time has come (v18)
for the God of goodness
to judge the world.
To destroy whatever destroys life.
The seventh trumpet—the end of history—
is only a woe, it’s only scary, it’s only a problem,
for those who want absolutely nothing to do with real life.
Revelation is going to circle back around
and reflect more on all of this from different angles
in the coming chapters.
But for us—here, today—one thought as we come to the table:
God’s purposes are meant to be eaten not read.
I struggle a lot of times with God,
because I can’t figure out—I can’t understand—
certain parts of life.
It’s like I’m a character in a novel,
and I want to read and understand the whole novel
while I’m in the middle of living it.
A few chapters back was really dark—what was that about?
(Maybe for you, this chapter—right now—is the dark one.)
Why does this painful thread keep popping up again and again—
what’s going on there?
There are so many parts of this story that just don’t make sense to me.
I don’t understand how God could sort this out,
how there could be any healing,
how any of this works.
I can’t read the scroll… and that’s ok.
I’m not invited to read the scroll.
i’m invited to eat the scroll.
We’re invited to undertake God’s purposes
even when we don’t fully understand God’s purposes.
Even when we don’t know what the next chapter holds (always),
even when we can’t figure out the details of our story (ever)—
even then we can do something.
We can feast on love.
That’s what we’re always invited to do.
We’re invited to feast on love—
to make the powerful, painful love of Jesus
more and more part of our lives.
The scroll is meant to be eaten—
meant to be embodied, meant to become part of us.
The kind of love willing to be suffer instead of causing suffering.
The kind of love willing to speak truth even when it gets you hurt.
The kind of love that seeks the good of others
even to the point of pain and death.
Because that’s the kind of love—
that’s the kind of life—that really is life.
That’s the kind of life that heaven always holds before us—
that God is always pouring into those who want it—
the kind of life that brings healing and salvation
into the world around us.
But it’s not something that can be examined from a distance,
not something that can be analyzed from the outside,
not something that can always be understood in the moment.
But make no mistake—
crazy, relentless love to the point of death,
that’s God’s secret plan to the remake the world.
And some wonderful morning—I know not when—
we’ll sip on coffee together in the New Jerusalem
and maybe understand a little more how the scroll works.
Until then, may we eat the scroll—
may we receive the crazy, relentless love of God into our bones
and become witnesses who display the power of that love,
may we trust this love even when all seems darkness—
even when the beast from the Abyss seems to be winning—
and may God’s carry us into his sunrise—
into dawn of God’s good and endless dawn
that is coming very soon.
- Richard Bauckham makes the technical, exhaustive, and (for my money) conclusive argument in his massive work The Climax of Prophecy (243-257).
- “The remarkably universal, positive result of the witnesses’ testimony is underlined by the symbolic arithmetic of 11:13. In the judgments announced by Old Testament prophets a tenth part (Isa 6:13; Amos 5:3) or seven thousand people (1 Kings 19:18) are the faithful remnant who are spared when the judgment wipes out the majority. In a characteristically subtle use of allusion, John reverses this. Only a tenth suffers the judgment, and the ‘remnant’ (hoi loipoi) who are spared are the nine-tenths. Not the faithful minority, but the faithless majority are spared, so that they may come to repentance and faith.” (Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 87)
- The way John first begins communicating the scroll is something like “inside baseball” for the earliest readers familiar with Daniel 8.11-14 & 12.7. Daniel 8.13 especially seem to play significant roles in this parable, with its concern for the Temple. The “trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people” seems embodied in the images of the temple (Rev 11.1), holy city (Rev 11.2), and the life of the witnesses (Rev 11.3-12). See Bauckham’s The Climax of Prophecy (266-273).
- The images of lampstands and olive trees are from Zechariah 4.11-14 and symbolize the governor (Zerubbabel) and high priest (Joshua) of Zechariah’s own time (4.14). It’s noteworthy that lampstands have already been clearly established as a symbol for the Church in Rev 1.20. Here instead of seven lampstands, we have two to match the symbolism of Zechariah’s olive trees and to dovetail with the symbolic figures of Moses and Elijah.
- The figures of Moses and Elijah became something of an embodiment of Scripture (Moses = the law, Elijah = the prophets), and they also appear as the two closest witnesses to Jesus’s transfiguration (Mk 9.2-13 and parallels).
- The symbolic depiction of time comes from both half of “fullness” (seven) and also Daniel 12.7 (a time = 1, times = 2, half a time = 1/2).
- The plagues and waters into blood (v6) are obvious allusions to the work of Moses (Ex 7-11) and prophesying drought to Elijah (1 Kings 17).
- The reference to “the Temple” and the “holy city” in verse 1-2 seem to be symbolic representations of the people of God (cf. Eph 2.21-22, 1 Pet 2.5) rooted in the prophetic images of Daniel 8.13 (see note 3 above). When “the great city” is described (11.8) and collapses (11.13), this seems to be symbolic as well. Egypt and Sodom are explicitly figurative representations of what happened outside the literal city of Jerusalem (“where [the] Lord was crucified”) and of the oppressive power of the literal city of Rome.
So Joseph Mangina: “The great city, then, is neither one particular city (Rome, say) nor all cities in all times and places. It is rather the name we give to all those particular stories in which human beings rise up in opposition to the rule of God, seeking to dispose of God (and safeguard their own autonomy) by murdering his appointed messengers… The narrative does not, however, assign direct responsibility for the witnesses’ death to the inhabitants of the city. The one who does the actual killing is ‘the beast that arises from the bottomless pit.’” (140).
- The theophatic “light show” that signals the presence of God in heaven (4.5) and at the end of the seals (8.5) returns again only amplified. The final appearance of this “light show” will appear at the end of the bowls (16.18).
- The seventh trumpets seems to signal the end of the world and arrival of the future because in verse 17 God is no longer praised as the One “who is to come.” God is simply “the One who is and who was.” The “is to Come” has arrived. The second half of Revelation seems to be further exploring the redemptive task of the church in an oppressive world before this “seventh trumpet” sounds. We might call this seventh trumpet “the bowls of God’s wrath” (Rev 16).
- It seems significant that during “the light show” we catch a symbolic glimpse of the ark of the covenant, reminding us that Revelation is God’s climactic follow through on his saving promises to Abraham (Gen 12), Moses (Ex 19), and David (2 Sam 7).