A Church Commissioned (Rev. 10: 1-18)
THE VISION of the Seven Trumpets opened with a sequence focusing on God’s judgement on sinners and his preservation of Christians (8:2-9:21). However, John now sees that the Church has a task to perform within the context of God’s judgement. A mighty messenger of God descends from heaven and bestrides the earth and sea, speaking with the ‘lion’s roar’ which characterizes the word of prophecy and judgement in the OT (10:1-3a, cf Amos 3:8; Hos 5:14; 11:10). This voice is answered by the thundering voice of judgement from heaven (10:3b cf Psa 18:13) etc. However, the content of the heavenly message is not to be revealed (10:4, cf 2 Cor 12:3-4).
Our focus is not there but here, with another message, which is given to John by the angel without delay (10:6). This message is described as “the mystery of God … announced to his servants the prophets” (10:7), which reminds us of Paul’s description of the gospel in Romans 16:25-26. It is this mystery which the world needs to hear, not the mysteries of the heavenly realms.
Then, in a scene reminiscent of the experience of Ezekiel, John is actually given his message to eat (10:8-11, cf Ezek 3:1-4)! However, whereas Ezekiel’s scroll is sweet, John’s is both sweet and bitter. And indeed the gospel is like that – a fragrance of life to some and of death to others (2 Cor 2:14-16). Moreover, its proclamation can bring a certain ‘bitterness’ to the lives of the preachers as they suffer for Christ’s sake. Nevertheless, the message must be preached to all, from the least to the greatest (10:11, cf Mk 13:9-10).
Yet although “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” may bring persecution (1:9), God’s people are always kept secure. Just as Ezekiel saw an angelic figure measuring the symbolic new Temple (Ezek 40-42), so John is now set to measure the Temple of God and the worshippers (for they are the true Temple (1 Cor 3:16). However, in contrast to Ezekiel’s vision, John is not to measure the court beyond the inner sanctuary (10:2, cf Ezek 40:19, etc). Everything beyond that (in fact the entire world!) is to be given over to desecration by those who do not obey the gospel. Yet during these “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) which last three and a half years (half the perfect number), there will be a gospel witness in their world.
The witnesses are clothed in sackcloth (11:3b) indicating that they have heard their own message of repentance, but they preach the powerful word of God (11:5, cf Jer 5:14). As God’s “priests and kings” (cf 5:10) they are like the anointed priest and king seen by Zechariah (11:4, cf Zech 3-4) and as God’s messengers they speak as Elijah and Moses (11:6). This is the power of the gospel in the world today (cf Rom 1:16).
Yet when their work is finished (11:7) or fulfilled (cf 10:7), they are overcome by Satan! Perhaps we should understand that in the time of the Antichrist (cf 17:8, 2 Thess 2:3) the Christian message will seem to die. Then the Holy City itself will be a veritable Sodom, God’s moral enemy, and Egypt, his people’s oppressor (11:8). For the watching world the result will be rejoicing, since the silencing of the Church’s true message is always welcomed (11:9-10). In the same way, the death of Jesus was welcomed by some as proving the falsehood of his claims (Matt 27:41-43). But just as Jesus was vindicated, so the Church will be vindicated (11:11-12). And here, for the first time in Revelation, we read of a positive impact from God’s judgement on those who formerly did not believe God (11:13b).
Thus two woes have passed, the demonic assaults (9:12) and the testimony and defeat of the Church (11:14). The third woe (11:14) arrives immediately as the seventh trumpet sounds (11:15), with the beginning of God’s everlasting reign (11:17) and the final judgement (11:18). But still John’s vision is not finished, for we are about to see exactly how Satan wages his war against the Church.
John Richardson is Anglican Chaplain to the University of East London and author of Revelation Unwrapped.