Revelation is a difficult book to understand and interpret. Its message is packed full of poetic imagery, yet at the same time it remains extremely literal. So what do we make of John's vision? What does God want us to learn from it? Let's join Stephen now to find out.
If you traveled back in time to the year 1665, you would find yourself living in a nightmare world. The great bubonic plague had wrapped its invisible arms around entire cities, in fact, entire countries. Six thousand people were dying every single day from this plague.
In modern cities, like London, at the height of the bubonic plague, people barely ventured outdoors. In fact, it was generally believed that the disease was being carried into the city by fresh air. They didn’t know about microscopic organisms spread by fleas which were carried around by ordinary mice, rats, cats and dogs.
So people actually believed the enemy was fresh air – carrying the disease from who knows where. And so they sealed themselves up inside their homes, burning foul smelling potions to ward off the fresh air.
The College of Physicians even recommended that guns and cannon be fired into the air, believing that they would blow away the deadly air.
In the meantime, chimneys were partially sealed and rooms become gray with smoke as people sat with their eyes stinging and their lungs congested, inside their homes, convinced, or at least hoping, they were out of the reach of this deadly plague.
Millions would die as this plague made its way into their tightly sealed homes.
What an illustration of the heart of sinful, unbelieving mankind to the coming judgment of God.
Perhaps if you seal yourself with some form of religion; maybe burn a few candles or say a few prayers, give away a little money to the guy ringing the bell outside Walmart at Christmas time; perhaps show up at church every so often or try to be as sincere as possible you can escape the encircling judgment of God and that predestined appointment before His throne. / Adapted from John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), p. 126
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no way to seal out the ultimate consummation of God’s plan not only for the planet, but every individual person.
When you arrive at Revelation chapter 10 time is running out for the people of earth! By the end of the first 6 trumpet judgments, half the population for the planet has been wiped out. / Edward Hindson, Revelation: Unlocking the Future (AMG Publishers, p. 113
It’s almost time for the seventh and final trumpet judgment to sound; contained in that 7th trumpet are the 7 bowls which pour out final judgment, a final battle and the second coming of Christ.
We are now well into the final 3 ½ years of the Tribulation.
But before that trumpet sounds by that 7th archangel, there is a pause in the action.
Let’s pick it up at John’s opening words in Revelation 10 and verse 1 . . . just the first part where John writes, I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven.
By now you recognize the fact that angels play a prominent role in the Apocalypse – the Revelation. They are involved in serving, worshiping, praising God, announcing messages, delivering judgments, pronouncing doom, and more. / Ibid, p. 114
In fact, there is even one angel who will have the privilege of throwing Satan into the abyss where he’ll stay confined for 1,000 years while Christ reigns on earth in the Millennial Kingdom.
I have the sense from studying Revelation thus far that the angels have been looking forward to these days. I believe they have been anticipating with great desire to serve in the consummation of the ages as God delivers full and final judgment to those who’ve scorned their Creator as well as the full and final judgment of fallen brother angels who betrayed God and battled His will and His work and His people for thousands of years now.
And John introduces us to yet another good angel with a special mission.
Now there are some who believe that this strong angel is none other than Jesus Christ. Certainly, in the Old Testament Christ often appeared as “The Angel of the Lord” in what theologians call Christophanies . . . appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ.
However, after the incarnation, there is no record of Christ ever appearing as an angel again.
Add to that the fact that the Lord is never referred to as “an angel” in the Book of Revelation, in fact, in all of the New Testament. / Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1995), p. 60
Furthermore, you will soon notice that John the Apostle will not worship this angel.
The primary reason I don’t believe this is Christ is the Greek language itself. John writes, “I saw another strong angel”.
In other words this angel is the same essence of the other archangels who’ve already appeared to sound their trumpets.
This angel’s appearance actually matches much of the description of Gabriel in Daniel 12. More than likely this strong angel is another archangel – a high order of special angels used by God to deliver messages to mankind.
So, before the 7th trumpet is blown, this rather amazing angel comes down to deliver an announcement.
The Angel’s Appearance
Notice 6 rather amazing features of this angel:
- John writes in verse 1, He was clothed with a cloud.
Clouds are often the vehicles on which heavenly beings ascend or descend – however, here the clouds seem to be his clothing – more than likely covering much of his body.
- Secondly, John writes that a rainbow was upon his head.
The word for “rainbow” is iris (iriV) which refers to a circle of color. The Greeks used it to refer to the brilliant colors surrounding the circles in a peacock’s colorful feathered tail; it is used to refer to the circle of color in a person’s eyes.
This past Friday I took my youngest daughter to the Division of Motor Vehicles to get her drivers permit.
It is no longer safe on Penney road. Actually she’s a good driver – course my eyes are closed . . . I have confessed all known sin – several times . . . I’m prepared just in case.
The officer filling out her permit had to type in the color of her eyes. She has her mother’s beautiful blue eyes. I’m just trying to dig out of the hole . . . actually, that part’s true.
The Greeks had created in their pantheon a goddess named Iris – this same word – who personified the rainbow and served as a messenger for the gods. / John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 280
Which has a kernel of truth, although corrupted by idolatry; we know from scripture that the original rainbow was indeed a message from the true and living God – a message that has lasted to this day, a message in the rainbow, given to Noah as a sign, that there would never be another universal flood. (Genesis 9:16)
This angel’s head is surrounded with amazing colors – the same word is used here for the rainbow that we saw earlier in chapter 4to describe the rainbow that encircled the throne of God.
This reveals that this angel represents the authority and throne of God, and the message he will deliver is from God.
- Notice thirdly that the angel’s face shone like the sun
He was simply brilliant and bright, like the angels who appeared at the tomb of Christ to announce His resurrection – they shone with dazzling brilliance (Luke 24:4).
- Fourth, his feet and legs were like pillars of fire
Suggesting his announcement will have something to do with further judgment of God on earth.
- Fifth and most importantly, verse 2 informs us that the angel had in his hand a little book which was open.
The word used for “little book” is so rare that we never see it in the New Testament except here in Revelation chapter 10.
It isn’t the same scroll which Christ has already opened in chapters 5 & 6.
But it would be correct to believe that this little book contains a small portion of the judgments yet to come.
This is a biblaridion (biblaridion) which simply means “a very small book.” / Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 834
This was a small booklet, so to speak, of God’s revelation to John.
By the way, that Greek root word gives us the word “Bible” as well, which simply means “the book”.
We attach the word “holy” to it and call it the Holy Bible – because the Apostle Paul referred to it as holy (2 Timothy 3:15). Holy, that is, set apart, distinct from every other book that has ever written.
Why? Because unlike any other book, its Author is God – for all scripture is inspired, literally, “God breathed” – 2 Timothy 3:16.
Well, this angel is holding in his hand a small biblaridion – not the Bible, but simply a small book.
- The final descriptive phrase concerning this amazing angel is his size.
In verse 2 where we’re told, “He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land.”
So huge was his appearance to John as the angels feet spanned an incredible distance – one foot on the sea and one foot on the land.
There isn’t any reason not to understand this literally, which allows for symbolism. We can easily recognize the angel’s posture symbolized his authority and message from God was universal.
Notice verse 3. And he cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars.
Now this doesn’t mean he isn’t communicating truth, it just means his voice reverberated like the roar of a lion.
John writes, “he cried with a loud voice” which comes from the words, “phone megale” (fonh megalh) which we reverse to create the word, megaphone. It is incredibly loud.
Look further in verse 3. And when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices. 4. When the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.”
Let’s step back for a moment and let me give you an ariel view of what’s happening.
This angel descends in a cloud, places one blazing foot on the sea and the other on land; he then shouts something so loudly that it reverberates around the planet. Then 7 thunders sound. Thunder throughout the Book of Revelation refers to the voice of God’s judgment. David speaks of the God of glory thundering (Psalm 29:3) as well as Job who writes of God’s voice, thundering in marvelous ways (Job 37:5).
Seven thunders would imply the full and complete revelation of all the details of judgments yet to occur.
You see, this isn’t just some loud booming sound because John is about to write down what the thunder says – notice again in verse 4, John says, “I was about to write it down,” but God said, keep it sealed up.” In other words, “John don’t reveal to anyone what you’ve just heard.”
Keep it a secret.
This is one of the clearest texts I’ve found that reveals the truth of something I’ve often said to people. The revelation of God is not exhaustive, it is sufficient.
In other words, what we hold in this Holy Biblion isn’t everything we’d like to know, but it is everything we need to know.
John wrote earlier in his gospel account about the life of Christ that there were many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
In other words, we don’t even have a fraction of what Jesus Christ taught and did while on earth – and wouldn’t you love to have a little more information?
One more verse . . . something about His childhood . . . another miracles . . . another sermon or two . . . perhaps an answer to someone’s question that you would say, “That’s the question I’ve been asking for years!”
This is not an exhaustive record . . . but it is a sufficient record for you and me.
We don’t know everything we’d like to know, but we’ve been given everything we need to know.
Can you live with that?
Can you live with the fact that God has chosen to keep some things to Himself; that there are secret things that belong to Him alone; that He’s chosen to withhold information and not to reveal it to us . . . can you live with that?
Listen, saying “God knows the answers and I don’t” isn’t necessarily a cop-out . . . it may be your greatest statement of faith.
Make sure you don’t use it as a cop-out either – as a glib statement that underscores your lack of interest.
Like the college student I read about who was take his final exam at the end of the fall semester. He hadn’t studied and when he saw the test, he knew he was in trouble. He didn’t know the answers to any of the questions. So he decided to play on the mercy of his professor and wrote at the top of his exam, “Only God knows the answers to these questions.” He turned in his exam and went home for Christmas break. During the break he received in the mail his exam. His professor had written in large letters at the top, “In that case, God gets an A and you get an F – Merry Christmas.”
We don’t avoid the challenges of life by shrugging our shoulders and saying, “God knows.”
But we can say it and trust it as a matter of faith.
Perhaps where you’re living right now, without an answer; without an explanation, there is some present dilemma in your own personal experience that remains an unanswered question; saying, “God knows” is the belief that proves faith and trust in Him.
John, keep this a secret . . . no one will know until I explain it later on . . . they’ll just need to continue trusting that I’ve revealed only what they need to know.
Now notice what the angel does next in verse 5. Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever.
This is the strongest reason yet to know that this angel isn’t Christ, because the angel is swearing an oath to tell the truth and he is swearing his oath on the authority and person of God.
By the way, this is the origin of the custom of the witness placing his left hand on the biblion – the Bible – and raising his right hand and swearing an oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
This very text was the basis for officials taking an oath of office. / Ray C. Stedman, Revelation: God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 203
A practice that no longer attaches itself to the existence of God, for sure.
In a few days a new president will be sworn into office. Would that he performed the tradition brought about by George Washington who, when he was sworn in as our countries first president, placed his left hand on a Bible, raised his right hand and said, “I solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” He then however, departed from the script, bowed his head and kissed the Bible and spontaneously added the words, “so help me God.”
In the History of America and the Birth of the Civilized World by Jay Winick that I am currently enjoying whenever I get the chance, he recorded that at that moment the crowd broke into applause and burst into tears. / Jay Winik, The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800 (HarperCollins, 2007), p. 151
It was a solemn moment in the history of America.
Here is a most solemn moment in the history of the world.
Imagine this angel, in his hand the revelation of God – his right hand raised toward heaven, swearing that his words are the truth.
And his oath is based on the truth of what? Notice verse 6 again; “By Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and things in it, and the sea and the things in it.”
In other words, his oath is based on the literal creation of the world and everything thing in it.
How important is a belief in theistic creationism? Ladies and Gentlemen, it is the defendant for the truthfulness of God’s word.
It also justifies God’s judgment. Since He is the Creator of all things He has the prerogative and destroying all things and replacing it with His new creation, if He pleases. / Thomas, p. 67
But if He didn’t create it, He would need somebody’s permission to destroy it – unless He is simply impolite.
No, this is God’s creation. John divided it here into its classic three sections: the heavens, the earth and the sea. And then he repeats 3 times for emphasis, so there isn’t any shadow of a doubt, the words, “and the things in it; the things in it . . . the things in it.”
I was having lunch with our seminary faculty this past week, along with a former seminary president who is consulting with our Dean and faculty through the process of accreditation for Shepherds seminary. He made the comment over lunch of one particular college – once known as an evangelical college – but has recently adopted the view that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are not literal, historical fact. In other words, this institution has denied a literal creation, in favor of some form of evolution.
The problem they’ve created for themselves is that now every other passage in the Bible that supports creationism has to be thrown out as well.
In fact, if you deny the historicity of the first 11 chapters of the Bible, you have to deny the last 11 chapters of the Bible, because the last 11 chapters reinforce the reality of a literal creation.
This angel is swearing an oath upon the truth of God being the Creator; that everything on the earth and in the heavens and in the seas originated is the created handiwork of God.
I find it interesting that the major religious systems of the world that do not follow the scriptures literally or entirely or solely, adopt some form of evolution. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Animism, Islam, Judaism, Catholicism and liberal Protestantism allow for some form of evolution.
By the time Paul was preaching the gospel, Buddhism had already reached the Mediterranean world.
And so what does Paul preach as he delivers the gospel? Listen, “We preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (Acts 17:24)
Sounds just like the Apostle John in Revelation 10.
Listen, the truth of the gospel isn’t the truth without a living, Creator God who created all there is.
Furthermore, this Book of Revelation isn’t the truth without a Creator God – for we see here in chapter 10 a reference to a literal creation and we will see in chapter 21 a literal new creation!
And doesn’t one demand the other? In other words, if God wasn’t able to create the first universe, how in the world do you think He can create a new one?
And how do you hope to get there?
You’re planning on a resurrection, aren’t you? You’re planning on a home God created for you in heaven, right?
Well, if He isn’t able to create, He isn’t gonna be able to recreate and He certainly isn’t able to resurrect anybody.
All of what we believe hinges on the reality of our God being the creator of all there is and everything that is in it (Revelation 10:6).
[Now notice] The Angel’s Announcement
Listen to the content of the angel’s message, verse 6b. There will be delay no longer, but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets.
In other words, there will be no further delays as God accelerates His kingdom program. The seventh angel is about to sound and all the judgments delivered by the prophets concerning this day of the Lord – this time of great judgment – will be finished – culminated.
The word mystery appears often in scripture – it’s a word that refers to divinely revealed truth, once hidden, which is so profound that there remains an aura of mystery about it. / Stewart Custer, From Patmos to Paradise (BJU Press, 2004) p. 116)
- In the New Testament you read about the mystery of the kingdom – Matthew 13
- The mystery of Israel’s blindness – Romans 11
- The mystery of the rapture – I Corinthians 15
- The mystery of Christ and the church – Ephesians 5
- The mystery of the incarnation – I Timothy 3
- And now here, the mystery of God’s unfolding judgment, prophesied by the prophets of old.
One author wrote, “To those who’ve believed in Christ during the Tribulation – living in the world now overrun by demons, murder, sexual immorality, drug abuse, thefts and unparalleled natural disasters, the promise here in this verse that God’s glorious plan is actually on schedule, the promised kingdom is near, when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14), will bring great comfort and hope in the midst of earth’s judgment. / Adapted from MacArthur, p. 286
Now something strange happens, and I want to cover it quickly.
We’ve seen the Angel’s Appearance.
We’ve heard the Angel’s Announcement.
Now notice the Apostle’s Application
Notice verse 8. Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” 9. So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said, to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” So I too, the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.”
Fascinating that John is now to become an object lesson for us all.
Every word of God is sweet – in fact as sweet as honey. Yet as its truth is understood or digested, it can bring bitter tears and sorrow and uneasiness and discomfort because of its message.
John is to literally eat the revelation of God’s further judgment. The words of God are sweet to him – but the truth brings him bitter sorrow.
This idea was also performed by Ezekiel who also ate a portion of God’s revelation and then delivered his message to the people of Israel. And Ezekiel recorded that the scroll was as sweet as honey. (Ezekiel 3:3)
You need to understand that this concept wasn’t as strange to the ancient world as it is to us.
In the ancient Jewish world, a young boy would learn the alphabet, motivated by the fact that he wrote out the letters with a homemade mixture of flour and honey. As he sounded out the letters correctly which he had written on his little slate board, he was allowed to literally lick the letters off the slate as his reward. / William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Volume 2 (Westminster Press, 1976), p. 57
To this day we speak of devouring some book . . . digesting some truth.
So John is literally eating this scroll, which will then become a literal illustration of the bitter sweet truth of God’s judgment.
It’s sweet because it’s God’s word.
It’s bitter because it speaks of God’s judgment.
You have found the same to be true haven’t you?
I had a gentleman come up to me recently with tears in his eyes, telling me that his father had recently passed away without accepting Christ. Tears, not because he believed God to be unkind or God’s word to be anything less than true; but tears because of the bitter sorrow that came from knowing what the word of God revealed about his father’s eternal condition.
Sometimes the word of God becomes a great burden. It requires of you obedience that is difficult. It speaks of testing and trials and they are never sweet, but painful.
By faith we accept both honey and bitter; both sweet and sour; both pleasant and painful aspects of what God’s word demands. / Adapted from Kendell H. Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary: Revelation (Holman, 1998), p. 179
The church is often represented by pastors and teachers who don’t want to deliver the bitter news of God’s judgment. They go on Larry King live and refuse to say anything about a coming judgment, an eternal hell, even this coming day of wrath we’ve studied thus far.
Listen, God knew the temptation would be there for even those who truly know Him to resist the bitter announcement; the offensive nature of the gospel; the truth about heaven and hell.
And so God addresses that temptation even with John in the last verse of chapter 10, “And they said to me – this is a reference by the way, back to the thunderous voice of God – 3rd person plural as an indefinite reference – this is the thunders of God’s voice from verse 4 now speaking to John. / Thomas, p. 74
Notice verse 11, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”
John you must deliver the truth.
Don’t hold back . . . it won’t help you and it certainly won’t help the human race. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
It’s bitter sweet . . . but deliver it all.
Obey it all . . . the easy parts . . . the difficult parts too!
In 1955 when Billy Graham was preaching the truth of heaven and hell, the gospel of Christ literally around the world – when he was only 35 year old his reputation was internationally renowned. He was in London that year holding an evangelistic crusade at Wembley Stadium when he received an invitation to No. 10 Downing Street, the residence of England’s Prime Minister. Upon his arrival, Graham was introduced to a weary-looking but keen-eyed Sir Winston Churchill. As it turned out, this was to be Churchill’s final year as prime minister after a long and illustrious career. Chomping on his unlit cigar, Churchill looked young Graham over with a penetrating eye and then said, ‘Young man, I’ve heard a great deal about these crusades you are having up at Wembley. Now, I want to ask you a question. You know the troubled shape the world is in. Personally, I don’t think the world has much longer to go.” He paused hesitantly and then said, “Can you give an old man any hope.”
Let me read further, ‘It seemed to Graham that Churchill was seeking hope not merely for a troubled world, but for an aging and troubled man. So he took out the pocket New Testament he always had with him and showed the prime minister that the Bible offers not only hope for the world in the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ, but hope for individual human beings in the plan of salvation. If Churchill ever made a decision, Billy Graham never learned about it. / Stedman, p. 199
Nine years after that singular conversation, Winston Churchill passed away.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the only hope for anyone is in Jesus Christ. What have you done with Him?
Would you be like that woman who wrote me this past week, announcing the wonderful news that she had been able to pray with a friend of hers who finally believed the gospel of Christ and prayed to receive the gift of eternal life.
I pray that you will be like the man who sat in my office a few days ago and prayed to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior.
My friend, there is no other hope apart from Jesus Christ. What have you done with Him?!