Like any great storyteller, John knows when to capture our minds with explosive images and when to speak clearly, when to openly call us to action and when to lead us in quiet reflection upon what we’ve heard.
One of John’s storytelling techniques is his use of pauses. He likes to stop… and interrupt himself. He did this back in chapters six and seven. He walked us through the opening of each seal—one through six—and just as we were approaching the climactic seventh seal, he paused… and walked us through a vision of the church victorious and protected.
He has used a similar technique leading up to today’s passage (if you haven’t read it yet, this will make more sense if you read Revelation 9-11). In chapter nine we hear the blasting of six trumpets, one after another. And when we get to the tip of the crescendo . . . he interrupts himself (again).
These pauses/interruptions have two purposes. The first, which we have mentioned, is the dramatic effect it has on the hearers. Remember that Revelation was first read out loud (1.3), and maybe John wrote it to be performed with at least a bit of theatrics. These pauses heighten suspense and keep the hearers on the edge of their seats.
In addition to the dramatic purpose, John has a teaching aim as well. Each time he interrupts his sequences of seven, his goal is to reveal something about the church.
So when John interrupts the trumpet calls, we should be alerted to the fact that he’s about to tell us something about who we are.
And just as the two halves of chapter six didn’t make sense apart from one another, we won’t fully understand chapter 10 apart from chapter 11, and vise versa. Today we’ll examine chapter 10, which will set us up to look at chapter 11 tomorrow.
John makes extensive use of three key Old Testament texts in chapter 10: Daniel 12.1-10, Amos 3.7-8, and Ezekiel 3.1-6
Both the similarities and differences are highly significant for understanding what John was communicating in our text.
I will be referring back to these OT passages as we go, but let’s first take a few minutes and walk through today’s text (Revelation 10).
The “mighty angel” that comes to John is first of all a sign of God’s own powerful and loving presence. He is described using imagery that elsewhere is attributed to both God (Rev 4.3b; Psalm 18.7-15; Amos 3.8) and Jesus (Rev 1.16b). The fact that his legs are pillars of fire is meant to recall God’s protection and guidance of the Israelites as he led them out of Egypt (Exodus 13.17-22; 14.19-31).
This angel is also the revealer of God’s will to John’s hearers. We see this in the prophetic imagery taken from Daniel and Amos, as well as the fact that he has an open scroll in his hand. The last time we saw a mighty angel, God began to reveal his plan for the world; he is now adding to what he has already made known.
The seven thunders likely represent another cycle of judgments, similar to the seals and trumpets. But John is told not to include them in prophecy. The best explanation for this is that they have been cancelled. Why? Because God has a different (presumably better; 9.20-21) plan for bringing people to repentance.
The angel announces that God is no longer delaying his plan for the world (notice the difference between Daniel 12.7 with Revelation 10.5-6). It is also important to note that John seems more interested in how God’s plan will be fulfilled than when exactly various things will take place.
John being told to eat the scroll deliberately recalls the similar experience of the prophet Ezekiel. Only this time the scroll tastes bittersweet (more on that tomorrow). And while Ezekiel was only to go to the Israelites, John is sent out into the whole world.
For now that’s all John gives us. He will continue this same message tomorrow, but it would be wise for us to experience our own little dramatic pause, so as to not bite off more than we can chew in one sitting. (John did not have any chapter divisions, of course, but they are helpful for sectioning off the right amount of material.)
Living what we learn
Chapter 10 (along with 11) is basically a fancy way for John to say that God’s plan for saving the world doesn’t revolve around wrath and destruction. Once again, that is the significance of the seven thunders being “sealed up.”
So how does God intend to redeem the world?
Great question. I don’t want to say too much about this until we get to the next chapter, but at least part of John’s message there (and here) is about the church’s role in all of this.
For now we’ll steal Paul’s words (and tomorrow we’ll see that John is using different instruments to sing the same song): Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3.8-11)
In the book of Revelation, the first time we encountered a scroll we learned that Jesus stands at the center of God’s plan for restoring the universe to its original beauty and purpose.
Now, in chapters 10-11, where we encounter a scroll for the second time, we will see that God has likewise made the Church an integral part of the same process. That is today’s big idea: God has committed himself to working through the Church to restore the world.
We’re going to continue to reflect on what this might actually mean in practice, but for now meditate on the passage quoted above (Ephesians 3.8-11). And as frustrating and petty as the church can be at times, remember that this ragamuffin group of people is God’s chosen method for redeeming the world.