NO MORE DELAY Revelation 10–11
“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” (Rev. 10:7).The fast-approaching new year may hold the events described in the rest of Revelation!
From this point the Book of Revelation becomes even more difficult to interpret, and here commentators are most clearly divided. The earliest interpretive school, current in the first two centuries, viewed Revelation as predictive prophecy, a literal though often obscure description of what is to happen in the future. In the third century Christians began to emphasize supposed allegorical meanings. Much later other Christians began to treat Revelation as a review of church history. For instance, depending on the commentator’s view, they saw the “beasts” of the book as Pope and bishops, or the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. A more sophisticated modern view suggests that each section of Revelation is a symbolic treatment of history, with each segment looking at God’s working throughout the ages from a slightly different perspective. And so any reader of Revelation has certain choices to make. Is the book predictive prophecy? Allegory? Or symbolic treatment of issues of John’s day, of church history, or of history’s end? Does the use of many terms found in Old Testament prophecy mean Revelation may be harmonized with Old Testament visions of history’s end that feature Israel? Or does the use of Old Testament elements mean that Old Testament prophecy too must be treated symbolically rather than literally? Is there a future for Israel as a chosen people of God? Or does Israel, which still exists as a people, have no such future, and the ancient promises given to the Jews are in fact spiritual promises fulfilled in the church? Even when reading the bulk of Revelation devotionally, and particularly chapters 10–14, some framework must be adopted for our reading. While recognizing that difficulties exist for any interpretive school, it seems to me that to be most consistent with the nature of Scripture and the character of God we should take Revelation as a narrative of future history, with its images rooted in Old Testament prophecy, and its constant references to Israel evidence that God intends to keep the prophets’ promises to His ancient people. Even given this framework, much in Revelation must remain a mystery. But much is also far more clear—and applicable to our lives.
John is told that history’s predicted end will now unfold (10:1–7). He is given a scroll to eat and told to prophesy (vv. 8–11). Two terrible prophets testify against mankind for a time period predicted in Daniel (11:1–6). They are killed, but raised again and taken to heaven (vv. 7–14). There all rejoice, for God has begun to reign (vv. 15–19).
Understanding the Text
“Seal up what the seven thunders have said” Rev. 10:1–4. John is not able, even in the powerful symbolism of Revelation, to report all that he saw in his vision. It may be the seven thunders are yet another nested series of judgments. Or perhaps not. In either case, it’s well for us to remember that it is God’s grace which keeps many aspects of the future hidden from us. Think how terrible it would be if you or I knew years ahead the tragedies we would experience. Then present joys would always be dimmed by our foreknowledge of darkness ahead. Or suppose we knew ahead of time that great prosperity and success were assured? Where would the struggle be? Where the satisfaction, as each effort received its reward? God leaves us uncertain, to guard us from premature sorrow, to surprise us by joy, and most of all, so that each and every day we will sense our need to walk with our hand in His. “There will be no more delay!” Rev. 10:5–7 One of the most powerful reasons to take Revelation as predictive prophecy is found in this verse. John tells us that the “mystery of God will be accomplished, just as He announced to His servants the prophets.” What John now sees is what Old Testament prophets foretold. In Scripture a “mystery” is something which has been for all time an element in God’s eternal plan, but has been revealed to humankind only recently. The church itself is such a mystery: no one living before Christ imagined that God intended to bond Jew and Gentile together into one body through faith in the crucified Son of God. Perhaps we can think of “mystery” as God, joyfully crying out, “Surprise!” as He unveils yet another stunning aspect of His complex plan for His creation. Judgment too will come as a surprise, even though dark warnings abound in Scripture. Elements of what John tells us are new, though they fit into an Old Testament framework. Even now the certainty of punishment for sin, and of an end to evil, rings throughout the Word of God. Let’s never become so lost in trying to interpret the details of Revelation that we lose sight of the crushing impression it is intended to make. Judgment is coming. Doom awaits. One day soon all the terrors predicted by the prophets of every age will be realized here on earth. How important that we be ready, and not be surprised! “Take it and eat it” Rev. 10:9–11. There is an obvious analogy here to Ezekiel, who was also told to take a scroll and eat it, and speak to the people of Israel (Ezek. 3). While that scroll too tasted like honey, it plunged the prophet into a ministry of condemnation, speaking against rebellious Israel until after the destruction of Jerusalem, and only then becoming a message of hope. Revelation follows a similar pattern. John first describes terrible judgments that will strike the earth (11–18). But he concludes with the triumph of God, and the welcome of the saints to a new and purified heaven and earth. In a way, even the Gospel is sweet and bitter. When we eat it, welcoming Christ into our hearts, we rejoice in its sweetness. But then, suddenly, we realize that the promise of salvation implies that all men are lost. We face that bitter truth, and realize that like Ezekiel and John, we are to witness to many who may not hear, and in refusing to listen, doom themselves to judgment. “But exclude the outer court” Rev. 11:1–6. The focus of the vision now shifts to Jerusalem. The city lies under the control of Gentiles, and numbers found in Daniel’s predictions concerning history’s end make the link between Old Testament prophecy and Revelation unmistakably clear. There is no doubt that Jewish commentators, and early Christians as well, understood the visions of Daniel to predict or at least foreshadow the last years of world history and the career of the Antichrist. But here more mystery is unveiled, and two unexpected figures appear. These are two witnesses, who are given supernatural powers reminiscent of Moses and Elijah. Interestingly, Jewish tradition foretold a return of Moses and Elijah at the time of the end. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the vision of the two witnesses for us, however, is a reminder. Even in the most desperate of times, God’s people are to take a stand against sin. And if such a stand provokes hostility, so be it. “The beast that comes up from the Abyss” Rev. 11:7–14. John sees the two witnesses killed by an individual commonly identified as the Antichrist. But after three and a half days their exposed bodies return to life, and are visibly taken up into heaven, to the consternation of their enemies. One phrase here says that people from “every people, tribe, language and nation” will gaze on the dead bodies of the two witnesses. It’s likely that this phrase is a symbolic expression meaning little more than “all mankind.” Still, it is fascinating to speculate. Ours is the only generation in history where events in any part of the world can be witnessed everywhere, as they take place. TV cameras, linked to satellites, simultaneously transmit pictures worldwide. How easy it would be today for people from every nation to see the dramatic events John portrays. Or to see them tomorrow!
Begun to Reign(Rev. 11:15–19)
A woman began the grand tradition. It was the first time she had heard Handel’s Messiah. It happened when the great piece reached its triumphant culmination, and the choir sang out, “And He shall reign, for ever and ever!” Victoria, the Queen of England, deeply moved, stood in honor of her great King, Jesus, Ruler of the universe itself. And ever since, as the “Hallelujah Chorus” is played, audiences have stood in awed respect. Here in Revelation 11, we see the source of that great piece of music. As the seventh trumpet sounds, and judgments continue to dash themselves against an unrepentant earth, the choir of heaven shouts: The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever. When the choir shouts out its joy, Christ does not yet stand on a subdued earth. Evil is not yet purged. The Antichrist continues to exalt himself, and Satan struggles mightily. Mankind spits out its hostility against God, and displays that hatred by killing God’s servants. Yet in heaven, the hymns of praise reach a loud crescendo. All heaven knows that “You have taken up Your great power and have begun to reign.” We live in a day when God has set aside the open exercise of His mighty power. He works now through providence, so subtly that the lost laugh at the notion of divine sovereignty, and pass all things off as chance or happenstance. One day God will openly take up His mighty power, and then His rule will be unmistakable. And that day is coming, soon. Until then, we must remember that when things look darkest on the earth, the songs of heaven are the most triumphant. You and I, limited to our physical eyes, may not see what is so clear in heaven. But we can still rise up, and shout it out with the angels. God reigns!
Show reverence for God’s name by trusting in His sovereignty.
“Brethren, be great believers. Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your souls.”—Charles Spurgeon