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Today, we continue our examination of the Book of Revelation (click the link for past entries). Most of this book has been excluded from the standard three-year Lectionary.  This may be because of the imagery and symbolism which was common to Jewish Messianic literature of the day.  Had we lived then, we would have understood the references quite plainly.

As such, it is fitting for the ongoing Churchmouse Campanologist series of Forbidden Bible Verses, those which are equally essential to our understanding as the daily and Sunday readings in church are.

Today’s reading is taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).  Exegetical sources are given at the end of the post.

Revelation 10

The Angel and the Little Scroll

1Then 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, 3and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4And 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.” 5And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 6and 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, 7but 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.

8Then 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.” 9So 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.” 10And 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. 11And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

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In Revelation 9, we read about St John’s vision of the six trumpets, heard in Revelation 8 and 9.  We shall wait a bit longer for the seventh trumpet to sound, although this chapter alludes to it.  This follows the pattern of the respite from the opening of the seven seals: our Lord Jesus Christ opened the first six in Revelation 6 and the seventh in Revelation 8.

The first verse of Revelation 10 gives us a vision of a ‘mighty angel’ coming down from Heaven in a cloud.  Yet, the cloud cannot obscure his dazzling brilliance, power and glory.  Who is this angel?  It is none other than Jesus Christ, the only angel who was worthy of opening the seven seals of the scroll.

The Lutheran pastor, the Revd Thomas Messer, of Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, Michigan, reminds us that the Old Testament makes numerous references to God appearing in a cloud: Ex. 13:21; 14:19-20; Num. 9:17-21; Ex. 24:15-18; Deut. 31:15-16; Ex. 16:10; Ex. 40:34-35. Therefore, this would have been a familiar type of imagery for St John as well as his fellow Jews.  Now, he — and we — see that Christ appears in the same way.  This is how He is introduced in Revelation 1:16.

Pastor Messer writes that the significance of the rainbow is that of redemption.  It is an allusion to the deadly deluge that Noah endured in the ark (Genesis 9:8-17), which is finished for good.  We now have hope in the risen Christ.  His message is not one of death but of eternal life, which He commanded us to proclaim in the Great Commission.  In Revelation 4:3, a rainbow with ‘the appearance of an emerald’ surrounds the heavenly throne.

In verse 2 we read that Christ holds a ‘little scroll’ which is open.  This is the same scroll which he opened in Revelation 6 — the one of the seven seals.  Our Lord’s standing with one foot on the earth and the other on the sea signifies His dominion over creation.  The mighty power of this vision continues in the next verse: his voice is like the mighty roar of a lion (verse 3).  Note that the seven thunders which sound only do so once He has spoken.  They follow His commanding authority.

Verse 4 implies that the seven thunders give John messages which he is about to write down.  Messer says that the thunders represent God the Father’s perfect voice — seven being a number of completion or perfection (depending on the interpretation).  He adds that as Christ’s speaks, His Father’s voice accompanies His own.  The Holy Trinity is a triune God, each sharing the same message, the same mission.

The thunders may be God’s sacred and beautiful mysteries revealed which no one on earth can understand at this time. In any event, John is not to put pen to paper to transcribe what he hears. Messer explains and cautions us:

Only those who enter His eternal kingdom can hear such things. This is also a warning for us not to delve into the mysteries of God which He Himself has not revealed to us. There are simply some things He hasn’t told us and we must not try to decipher those things using our own sinful human reason (e.g. Where did God come from? How can God predestine the saved, but is not, at the same time, responsible for predestining the damned? How can God be Human and Divine at the same time? How can Christ give us His very Body and Blood in the Holy Supper?, etc.).

In verse 6, Christ — ‘the angel’ — swears by God the Father that the time has come.  The Calvinist Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) interprets this in two possible ways:

(1.) That there shall be now no longer delay in fulfilling the predictions of this book than till the last angel should sound; then every thing should be put into speedy execution: the mystery of God shall be finished, v. 7. Or, (2.) That when this mystery of God is finished time itself shall be no more, as being the measure of things that are in a mutable changing state; but all things shall be at length for ever fixed, and so time itself swallowed up in eternity.

We have been in the last days since He sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles on Pentecost.  The last days will end when Christ comes again in glory.  On that day, the world will come to an end. During the intervening time, the divine plan for mankind will continue to be accomplished.  When the end comes, He will then reveal all (verse 7).  This is why it is so important to continuously study the Bible: know what it says.  Note that those who truly know and believe God’s Word are unsurprised by world events.  They do not lose heart but continue to preach and teach in His Name, in greater and lesser ways, depending on their calling in life, fulfilling the Great Commission — exhorting people to repentance and faith, not creating a utopia.

In verse 8, the mighty voice asks John to take the scroll from His hand. This is likely to be the voice of God the Father and God the Son in unison, as in verse 4.  John asks Christ — ‘the angel’ — for the scroll (verse 9).  Christ instructs the apostle to take the scroll and eat it — in order to understand the contents, John must fully digest them (figuratively). In the Old Testament, the Lord gave Ezekiel the same instruction (Ezekiel 3:3). Christ tells him that the Word will taste sweet in the apostle’s mouth — the joy and hope not only of the promise of salvation but in the fruits of faith of those who receive it.  Yet, they will leave a bitter aftertaste, meaning that he — like the faithful throughout the New Testament age — will be reviled and persecuted.

In verse 10, John eats the scroll and finds it bittersweet indeed. Henry says that, bitter or sweet, we must deliver the message of Jesus Christ.  We mustn’t present only the good things — grace and salvation — without the call to repentance and a warning about potential temporal suffering to come.  John’s mission would be greater.  As an apostle, he would be expected to deliver the message he received — in other words, to prophesy (verse 11).  Today, we have this prophecy in written form, to be read by all men in all nations throughout all ages, in fulfilment of the Great Commission.

Messer adds an important footnote to this chapter.  It concerns the falsehood of the church growth movement (emphases mine), a plague not only in Lutheran synods but also other mainline Protestant demoninations as well as the Catholic Church:

There is a lot of confusion today in defining the mission of the Church and how the Church carries out her mission. Too often, even now in Lutheran circles, people reduce the mission of the Church to simple witnessing, as if telling someone that Jesus loves them is the mission being fulfilled. But, the mission involves much more than simple witnessing. The Church’s mission is to “make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them all that Christ commands” (cf. Matt. 28:19-20). The goal of this mission is not to fill our pews or enlarge our synod, but to “make disciples” of Christ, our Lord

When we focus on increasing our numbers instead of making disciples, we run the danger of watering down our doctrine and practice in order to make it more appealing to people. When this approach meets with “success” (outward growth and enthusiasm), people are deceived into believing that God’s work is being done and He is blessing their efforts. But, God never blesses falsehood. He never permits His Word to be compromised with the world, as the entire testimony of Scripture clearly shows, and as we have learned in our study of Revelation. He “spits the lukewarm from His mouth” (Rev. 3:16). What looks like success is actually failure – grave failure. People come to believe that they are Christians on their way to heaven because they have “joined a Church they like and in which they feel comfortable.” The sad reality is that many of them will find on the Last Day that they were Christians in name only and that the Lord never knew them.

For this reason, it is vital that the Church truly understand her mission; that she be committed to “making disciples,” not “filling her pews.” She must be committed not only to bringing people into the Church, but to seeing to it that those people are properly catechized into the faith. She must realize that “watering down her doctrine and practice” will only result in “watered-down,” nominal Christians. She must remain firm and steadfast in the Word she is given to proclaim to the world. Then, and only then, is she about her Lord’s business, fulfilling the mission He has given her to fulfill!

Next week: Revelation 11

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘Revelation – Chapter 10 Notes’ – The Revd Thomas C Messer (LCMS)

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