This is a continuation of Applying Revelation 9: The Locusts.
We’re still in Act 3 of this dramatic production and we’ve only got one trumpet left to go. Back in Act 2, when Lamb Jesus was working His way through seven seals, He paused between the sixth and seventh sealS for a little detour in the plot. That’s when we learned about the 144,000.
Well, now we’re between the sixth and seventh trumpets and another detour is going to happen. So far we’ve seen a pattern of a trumpet blasting and earth getting spanked. The last two trumpets unleashed two different angelic armies on the earth. The first one tortured non-Christians for five months, the second one killed a third of the world’s population. The fifth trumpet was said to unleash “the first terror”, while the sixth trumpet began “the second terror.” We’re still working our way through the second terror as we come to this strange plot twist in Chapter 10.
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from Heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. And in his hand was a small scroll that had been opened. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. And he gave a great shout like the roar of a lion. And when he shouted, the seven thunders answered.
When the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. But I heard a Voice from Heaven saying, “Keep secret what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down.” (Rev. 10:1-4)
This second angel has the characteristics of Yahweh all over him: He’s surrounded by a cloud, he’s got a rainbow over his head, his face is blindingly bright, his feet look like fire. His voice is a deafening roar. Even though this being isn’t specifically identified as Yahweh, he is being given very Divine attributes. Back in Moses’ day, Yahweh guided His people through the wilderness using a drifting cloud pillar which would glow like fire at night. He referred to that pillar as “My angel”. In Exodus 23, Yahweh has just given Moses the Ten Commandments and the great wilderness journey is just beginning when Yahweh says:
“I am going to send an angel before you to protect you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and listen to his voice. Do not defy him, because he will not forgive your acts of rebellion, for My Name is in him. But if you will carefully obey him and do everything I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. For My angel will go before you and bring you to the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.” (Ex. 23:20-23)
After the Israelites royally insult Yahweh by building a golden calf god to replace Him and crediting that god for rescuing them from Egypt (wow!), Yahweh declares that He will no longer accompany the little jerks through the wilderness. Here He once again distinguishes between Himself and a guiding angel.
Yahweh said to Moses: “Go, leave here, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your offspring. I will send an angel ahead of you and will drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you because you are a stiff-necked people; otherwise, I might destroy you on the way.” (Ex. 33:1-3)
Before Yahweh split open the Red Sea, the Egyptian army was closing in on the Israelites, who were trapped like sitting ducks. To protect the Israelites from getting assaulted, Yahweh moved His supernatural cloud pillar so that it would function as a kind of barrier between them and the Egyptians.
Then the Angel of God, who was going in front of the Israelite forces, moved and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them. It came between the Egyptian and Israelite forces. The cloud was there in the darkness, yet it lit up the night. So neither group came near the other all night long. (Ex. 14:19-20)
Notice how the cloud pillar is referred to as “the angel of God”, with “God” being a reference to Yahweh. Now here in Revelation 10, an angel shows up in the midst of a cloud. What should we be learning here? Well, this is yet another reminder of how very Jewish this book is. To the ancient Jews, a supernatural being operating out of a cloud pillar made everyone think of Yahweh, just as the sight of a cross today makes you think of Jesus.
So cloudy angel stands on land and sea and wows John with his many supernatural features. He shouts, and he is answered by seven thunders. To the Jews, those thunders would be the Voice of Yahweh Himself, and this is another reminder of that famous Sinai appearance when:
“Moses spoke and God answered him in the thunder.” (Ex. 19:19)
The point here in Revelation is that the cloudy angel and thundering Yahweh have just exchanged some words. John is eavesdropping on the exchange and he seems to understand what Yahweh just thundered because he starts writing it down. But then Yahweh calls down from Heaven and tells John not to write down what He just thundered because it’s a secret.
Now this seems very strange to us, but it’s not the first time Yahweh has revealed some glimpse of the future to a human only to then instruct him not to share. In the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel is quite similar to John in that he is given all kinds of symbolic visions addressing events that will happen far in the future. Daniel lives over 500 years before the birth of Christ. Daniel’s never heard of the Roman Empire—in his day, Babylon and Persia are the world powers. But Yahweh shows Daniel visions of future empires that will come long after he is gone, and one of those empires is Rome. Daniel’s visions are as strange as the visions we’re seeing here in Revelation—there are freakish looking beasts who go around killing people until they themselves are killed in graphic ways. Daniel doesn’t understand the meaning of most of what he sees, so he keeps asking his angel guides for explanations until he’s finally told that the conversation is over.
“Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end.” (Dan. 10:9)
Jewish Daniel was greatly admired by the Jews who came after him, and here in Revelation 10, we’re suddenly seeing Yahweh intentionally mimicking aspects of some famous Daniel accounts with what this angel does next. Let’s do a little comparison between Revelation and Daniel. First, here’s what happens next in Revelation 10:
Then the angel I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand toward Heaven. He swore an oath in the Name of the One who lives forever and ever, who created the heavens and everything in them, the earth and everything in it, and the sea and everything in it. He said, “There will be no more delay. When the seventh angel blows his trumpet, God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled. It will happen just as He announced it to His servants the prophets.” (Rev. 10:5-7)
Now here’s a passage from Daniel:
Then I, Daniel, looked and saw two others standing on opposite banks of the river. One of them asked the man dressed in linen, who was now standing above the river, “How long will it be until these shocking events are over?”
The man dressed in linen, who was standing above the river, raised both his hands toward heaven and took a solemn oath by the One who lives forever, saying, “It will go on for a time, times, and half a time. When the shattering of the holy people has finally come to an end, all these things will have happened.” (Dan. 12:5-7)
In both cases, we have angels standing on water. In both cases, the angel swears an oath in Yahweh’s Name—which was a way of emphasizing the truth of what he was about to say. And in both cases, the angels are identifying when Yahweh’s future plans will be fulfilled. The Revelation angel says that everything will be complete when the seventh trumpet sounds. The Daniel angel says everything will be complete when “the shattering of the holy people has finally come to an end.”
The similarities between these two accounts would not be missed by John. Yahweh is intentionally pointing John back to Daniel here, and reminding John that centuries ago, Yahweh prophesied about a time when His holy people would be brutally persecuted.
So what’s the take away here? Well, to John all of this would sound like major confirmation that he truly is living in the last days. He and his fellow Jews are living out the fulfillment of prophecies which Daniel spoke of long ago—prophecies which symbolically foretold of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the rise of the Roman Empire, and a great persecution of Jews. All of these ancient mysteries are now being fulfilled.
In Matthew 24, Jesus also refers to Daniel’s prophecies when discussing the end times with His disciples. He says the Temple will be assaulted, just as Daniel had predicted, then He says:
“Then there will be great tribulation, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again! Unless those days were limited, no one would survive. But those days will be limited because of the elect.” (Matt. 24:21-22)
But then Jesus went on to say that:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days:
The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the celestial powers will be shaken.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” (Matt. 24:29-31)
Notice how Jesus promises to return immediately after the great tribulation which John and his fellow Christians are now enduring. Immediately. Hm. Does 2,000 years seem immediate to you?
Because of our vantage point in history, we are able to look back on this whole scenario and learn a lesson that John and his fellow Jews completely missed. God lies. Here in Revelation 10, Yahweh is doing what Jesus did: He’s assuring the Jews that this really is the end. This is the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. This is the grand finale. They are living in the last days. If you look through Old Testament prophecies of future events on earth, you’ll notice an eerie pattern: everything builds up to the coming of Rome, and then there is silence. Daniel sees all kinds of freaky visions that show the rise and fall of various empires which will come after his time. Those visions end with the rise of Rome. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has a vivid nightmare of a large, creepy looking statue composed of various materials. When Yahweh interpreted that dream, it turned out to be a prediction of future world powers that would come after Nebuchadnezzar’s day. The dream predicts up to Rome and then falls silent. In the Bible, the end times are clearly identified as happening during the reign of Rome. Jesus said He would return immediately after His Church endured a period of intense persecution by the Romans. Yahweh predicted the same thing through Daniel centuries ago, and here in Revelation 10, He’s reminding John of those prophecies. To the Jews, everything is falling into place. They’re living in the last days—Jesus and Yahweh both say so. That means Jesus is going to come back and rescue them any second. They just have to hold on a little longer.
Two thousand years later, we see things differently, don’t we? The Temple in Jerusalem has been gone for ages. The Church has gone through many cycles of persecution and Jesus still hasn’t returned. Today some Christians are being horrifically slaughtered while others are living at ease. So what’s going on here? What happened to the Book of Revelation being our trusty manual for the real end times? It just isn’t. Revelation has never been your guide to the actual end times. Revelation was written for Jewish Christians in the early days of the Church. Yahweh and Jesus aren’t talking to you in this book, They’re infusing Jewish Christians with fresh courage and stamina to persevere through very difficult times. Pumping them up with a bunch of false promises about the end times being at the door is a key part of the plan. Centuries earlier, Yahweh knew what a tough time His people would be going through when He introduced His New Covenant, so He started laying the groundwork for epic encouragement through ancient prophets like Daniel. It has all been a very intentional set up to convince the Jews that they are just a few yards away from the finish line so that they’ll find the courage to keep pressing on. But it’s going to be a tough end of the race—Yahweh is at least honest about that as He reveals His plans to keep having Christians martyred. And Yahweh’s telling them that the dismantling of Rome is going to be a long, drawn out affair. But the big blazing hope in all of this is that everything is almost over.
The ancient Jews were all confused about how things worked in the afterlife. In ancient times, they thought that no one got to end up in Heaven until the world truly came to an end, at which point all dead souls would be reunited with their bodies, then whisked up to Heaven in some grand resurrection. Notice what Daniel’s angel says to him:
“As for you, Daniel, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you.” (Dan. 12:13)
In the New Testament, we find Jewish leaders divided about resurrection theology. The Sadducees believed people died and that was it: there was no afterlife. Pharisees like Paul believed in an eventual resurrection of the dead which would definitely involve receiving some kind of new body. But even among the Jews who believed in a later resurrection, it was assumed that there was a gap of time between death and the glorious entrance into Heaven.
Now this is not at all how things really work. In real life, when you die, you will immediately find yourself in either Heaven or Hell, and there will be nothing physical about those dimensions (see What Happens After Death). You won’t ever be reunited with your physical corpse. A proper understanding of death takes the fear out of the event, for what’s more thrilling than knowing that you will be with your Gods? Yet for the Jews, their belief in a time delay before the final resurrection resulted in death being viewed as a very negative thing. Even hardcore believers like David had a very negative view of death. Instead of realizing that when he died, he’d get to be in the fullness of Yahweh’s Presence and praise his little heart out, David viewed death as something which would silence his voice and sever his connection to God. In Psalm 30:9, he frets:
“What gain is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it proclaim Your truth?”
After being cured from a fatal disease by Yahweh, a grateful King Hezekiah revealed a similarly bleak theology about the afterlife by saying:
“Indeed, it was for my own welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love has delivered me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back. For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today…” (Isa. 38:17-19)
For many Jews, death meant being kept in some scary state of suspension until Yahweh resurrected them. Those Jews knew that that resurrection wouldn’t happen until the end of the world, but if they were actually living in the end times, well, that makes things a lot brighter. If the last days are truly at the door, then that means you won’t have to wait long at all to be resurrected. By insisting that the end was at the door 2,000 years ago, Yahweh and Jesus encouraged Jews to face death more boldly, confident that their reward would soon be experienced.
Now just as Christians today have different beliefs about the afterlife, not all Jews agreed about death. We’ve already discussed how the Sadducees and Pharisees differed widely on the concept of what happened after death. In the apostle Paul’s letters, we find him waffling all over the place—sometimes saying that to die meant to be in the Presence of God, and other times speaking of having to wait a while before being resurrected. In the Gospels, we find Jesus also doing a lot of doubletalk on the death issue. He mostly portrays death as resulting in immediate judgment, but with certain Jewish audiences He speaks of dead souls being resurrected after having waited a while in some suspended state. There was a lot of confusion surrounding the death issue, and we see Jesus and Yahweh working within different theological belief systems depending on who They are speaking to. But at this time in history, when Christians are getting beheaded right and left, suddenly it becomes very important to understand just what does happen after death. At the very least, these Jewish Christians could use some confirmation that their expectations of positive eternal rewards will be fulfilled. In this letter, Yahweh and Jesus both confirm that rewards will be granted, and here in Chapter 10, Yahweh is emphasizing how close the final end of all things is.
Then the Voice from Heaven spoke to me again: “Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
So I went to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach.
Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” (Rev. 10:8-11)
Here’s more strange imagery that would make John feel like another Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a famous Jewish prophet who was also told to eat a scroll in one of his visions from Yahweh. In Ezekiel’s case, the scroll also tasted sweet. This idea of eating Yahweh’s words and finding them sweet is another carryover from the Old Testament, in which we find statements like Psalm 119:103:
How sweet Your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey.
This is the end of our bizarre little chapter here in Revelation. It’s served three key purposes: to affirm that the Jews are living in the end times, to confirm that what’s happening to them now in AD 96 is fulfilling ancient prophecies, and to make John feel very special. After all, like Daniel, John got to hear some secret message from Yahweh that he was told not to share. That’s big stuff. And John is now being called on to keep prophesying. That’s big stuff, too. Up until now, John probably hasn’t considered himself to be a great prophet. Now he’s being given messages for the whole world. Remember that by now John is a very old man who is trapped on the prison island of Patmos. When he first got hauled over to Patmos, he was probably quite depressed and feeling like his usefulness in life was over. Now he’s been chosen out to be God’s spokesman to the whole world and God is talking to John like He used to talk to ancient heroes like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. This is all very thrilling for John.