The Mystery

Revelation 10

Friday, November 25, 2022

After the sixth trumpet we have a break when John is prepared for what comes next, which mirrors the break after the sixth seal when the 144,000 were sealed. We are reminded that all through this vision John has been writing what he sees, as Jesus told him to do back in 1:19 (10:4). I wonder if he started the vision in front of a blank scroll and finished with a completed work. Or was the writing part of his vision, and he needed to rewrite it all afterward? And I wonder, again, how often what he wrote came to him as part of the vision and how often his words are his efforts to convey what he experienced. For example, did John make the distinction of a “strong angel” himself, based on experience in this vision looking at different angels?

It wasn’t pointed out at the time, but in chapter 5 it was a “strong angel” that proclaimed the question about whether anyone could open the seals of the book in God’s hand. And now a “strong angel” holds the small book John will eat. Perhaps this is setting up transitions in the vision for us, as the book John eats seems to establish his personal involvement in the next part of the vision. (There is one more “strong angel” reference, in 18:21, punctuating and concluding the section on Babylon.)

When our strong angel in chapter 10 cries out like a lion roars, seven peals of thunder respond – these may refer to the peals of thunder that come from God’s throne (4:5). But John is told by a voice from heaven not to write down what the thunders said. Among all the details in Revelation this lack of information can be one of the most interesting things for us. What secret is left out here? I have sometimes suggested it might have been a self-unfulfilling prophecy (my own phrase), something we can’t be allowed to know because knowing it in advance would make it awkward for it to still take place. Like “tomorrow [fill in the blank date] king [fill in the blank name] falls.” In the context it is hard to expect a minor statement – the strong angel is just about to swear an oath by God that the mystery of God is on the verge of being completed.

The same voice from heaven tells John to get the book and eat it, which he does, but first he is warned by the strong angel that it will be sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. This is interesting, because in Ezekiel 2:8–3:3 we get a similar story of eating a scroll that tastes sweet but there is no mention of bitterness. This is more like comments in Jeremiah 15:16-17 about him eating God’s words and finding them a joy and delight, but then being filled with indignation. What John ate was easy to take in but would result in him needing to “prophesy again concerning many people and nations and tongues and kings.” The phrase “prophesy again” is sometimes taken to mean that the next part of the vision will revisit ground, duplicating some parts of the story to get at new aspects of it. And not all of that prophecy would be a joy and a delight. But God will be revealing what He recognizes needs to be shown.

It may be worth recalling that John is in exile when he sees this vision. He will emerge from it to send his letters, his warnings and encouragements and predictions, and continue in exile. We don’t really know how bringing more attention to himself this way during a time of persecution affected his situation. Maybe not positively. But John was God’s worker and working for God isn’t always pleasant for the one working, at the time. But I trust that John absolutely knew the job was worth it, and I hope that he found the experience of his vision encouraging.

Lord, forgive me the foolishness I sometimes experience of wanting to know what you aren’t interested in telling me, and showing too little interest in what you have made plain for me. You have shown me things that are good, help me to act on that awareness. You have shown me things that are not good, help me to act on that awareness as well. If at times I have found your words bitter in my stomach I have little right to claim I have been cheated, for they were sweet on my tongue. And I acknowledge you have given me far more than I ever can give you. Help me to serve you as I ought to, even if I feel I am in the valley of the shadow of death. Your light can never be overcome. I will trust in you. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection Questions

  1. What are your thoughts and feelings when you read verse 7, “But 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.”
  2. What words of God might be sweet in the mouth, but sour in the stomach?

The Right Days and Hours

Revelation 9

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Chapter 9 gives much more detail on the first and second woes than the first four trumpets, which received just six verses. That mirrors the brief coverage of the first four seals. It is true that seven is “a number of completion or perfection”, but I think more than that is involved with the several sets of seven in Revelation. John’s vision is very complicated, but how it was relayed to him helped him pass it along. It also helped others to memorize it (many believers have heard rather than read Revelation). One aspect is how certain descriptions parallel or contrast with each other. Another useful detail is the images it contains, particularly the throne. Most of John’s vision can be placed relative to that central image. We can’t automatically visualize how that gives the vision structure, but we can attempt to bring it to mind. Perhaps John didn’t always hear the 24 elders at the same volume in the background of a scene, they could have been ‘turned down’ in his perception to let him concentrate on a new event, but several times we read of scenes happening near the throne or of John looking farther away. We don’t always understand the significance of the details John provides, but some of that may be in what we are actually looking for. John provided this book for audiences with varying needs, encouraging in times of persecution, reminding of God’s promises, and offering warnings, among others. Perhaps the final generation of this age will make very special use of the vision, employing some of its peculiar design as an aid to its understanding, when taken in context with events.

The fifth trumpet involves a pit being unlocked to release creatures that are like winged locust-horses prepared for battle. They have human faces with lion’s teeth, long human hair and something like gold crowns. They also have scorpion tails that they will use for five months to deliver pain in a reign of terror. Their targets are only those who don’t have God’s seal on their foreheads (9:4, referring back to chapter 7). These attacks cause so much pain people wish to be dead, but they aren’t killed. You can choose whether to see them as monsters, or perhaps a really complex metaphor. In Jeremiah 51 we read of an army serving God in bringing judgment described as “a population like locusts” (v. 14) and “horses like bristly locusts” (v. 27), maybe picturing their armor. But this goes a fair way beyond that. And it doesn’t help that their leader is described as an angel king known as Destruction or Destroyer. We only hear of him this one time, but it seems like we will read about the pit again a few days from now – the key to the pit will be brought back by another angel so that the devil can be locked up there (20:1-3).

The sixth trumpet is blown, and a voice speaks from the four horns of the golden altar (in front of God’s throne). This takes us back to just before the start of the sequence of seven trumpets when a censer filled with fire from the golden altar was cast onto the world. Each of the first four trumpets related to flame, and the fifth trumpet involved a burning star falling from the sky and smoke rising up. Now with the sixth trumpet the reference to flame is very distinct. The voice calls for four angels which have been bound at the Euphrates River in the Middle East to be released. We are told they were kept in waiting for this exact day and hour, but it isn’t fully plain what their role in the situation is. Perhaps they act as generals directing the force which emerges, for there comes a massive army of what are in effect mobile flame throwers. They are described as 200 million horsemen mounted on creatures with lion’s heads and snake tails capable of producing fire, smoke, and sulfur from the mouths at both ends. Sulfur (which has also been known as brimstone) produces a dangerous gas when it burns, and its flames are difficult to put out. The text pictures the fire, smoke, and sulfur as three plagues on humanity.

We are not given a timeframe for how long the second woe devastates humanity, but the death toll is a third of the global population. We also learn that in the wake of these events the survivors do not change their ways. In 6:16 we heard that the people realized God’s wrath had come, but they wanted to hide from it rather than repent. This text reaffirms that remorseless attitude, as well as stating some of the evils they were guilty of. Between the two trumpets there is quite the display, first a group of people who hurt so badly they wish they were dead but who don’t improve their lives during the course of five months of this, and then the deaths of masses of people without providing a cautionary tale to anyone. If God is teaching lessons by these events perhaps it is less to the people of that time than to us, letting us see how far gone matters will be by then, making us aware that God picked the right time for the end of the age. Renewal needs to come, I long for renewal actually, but let it be at the right time. The Father knows all the right days and hours.

Lord, you are loving and patient and kind. But you will not let the wicked go unpunished. You are the one who provided the Lamb, you wanted the stain of sin to be removed from me before I even knew what it was. You want to avoid punishing. You want to save, to protect, to shelter. You once flooded your creation and said you would never do it again. But you reserved this world for fire because the flood didn’t solve everything. And I’m sorry all this came about. I grieve that it was necessary. Please show me how to be a blessing, to use your Spirit to make this world a better place and reduce some of the suffering that might have been in it when you will need to act. Thank you God, I love you. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection and Application Questions

  1. Would you rather…live through the events of the 5th trumpet or be killed in the events of the 6th?
  2. Why do you think God prompted John to write down the vision of the book of Revelation? Why are we reading it today? What specific further actions should it lead us to?
  3. Can you give an example of God’s perfect timing, either from the Bible or a personal account?
  4. How would you describe God’s love AND His need to punish the wicked to someone who has never met God?

Silence in Heaven…Then the Trumpets Begin

Revelation 8

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

            At the start of chapter 8 the Lamb opens the final, seventh, seal of God’s book, and there is silence in heaven for about half an hour. John may have experienced this, felt it, but it is difficult as a reader to appreciate a dramatic pause. And it was not just a pause but a silence – praise has been the backdrop of John’s vision for some time, from beasts and elders and angels and creatures, and more recently they were joined by a vast throng. Suddenly all is silent. This was reverence. The book was fully open. We humans still aren’t told what that means precisely, but what it means is very big.

We then transition into a new series of seven with the blowing of trumpets. It isn’t quite clear whether this resulted from opening the seventh seal, or not. People question whether the trumpet blasts proceed chronologically after the seals or if the trumpets describe some of the same time as the seals, perhaps focusing in tighter and narrowing our attention. 

After the trumpets were distributed, and before they were to be blown, we are reminded that the tabernacle on earth was a shadow of the one in heaven. An angel works with the prayers of the saints that are on the golden altar before the throne, mixing them with incense in a censer and letting the mix go up to God on His throne. Maybe these are the prayers of believers on earth, or this may be yet another reference to the souls of the saints that are beneath the altar, calling God to render judgment soon. Then the angel puts fire from the altar into the censer and casts it down onto the earth – the sounds that accompany its fall suggest this may symbolize judgement commencing (or resuming).

            As the trumpets begin to blast (sounding after the quiet, like a new fall of Jericho) there are disasters that bring to mind the plagues against Egypt, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As with the first four seals the first four trumpets seem to go together in a set, but the big number this time is one-third rather than one-fourth. We don’t know whether a single huge portion of the planet (land, sea, and rivers) is rendered uninhabitable or if scattered sections across it are devastated. Each of the first three trumpets involves things falling from the sky, and the fourth involves the sky growing darker as the lights start to go out. The impression is of creation being undone – but not fully undone, because God still has use for it. It is tempting to say that the falling objects are of increasing size and violence, but we struggle to understand John’s reporting of his vision. For one thing, sometimes we are unsure whether to treat John’s words more as descriptive of what he saw in the vision or as coming from the vision. For example, verse 8 says that something like a mountain fell into the sea, and verse 10 says a great star fell in the waters – from our perspective of what a star really is we may suppose that these two objects were not very different in size but that the “star” probably glowed as it fell. Both would be terrifying.

            One more pause comes with the final verse of the chapter, as an eagle warns that the remaining three trumpet blasts will mark terrible woes. It is unclear if anyone living on the earth can hear the warning. Of course the warning has long been available in the book of Revelation. It remains remarkable for God to offer a warning to people He is on the verge of bringing these punishments to for their sins. But God doesn’t stop caring about His creation even when faced with tearing it apart. We’re talking about the God who is aware of the death of every bird. Creation groans, but God lays out plans so that one day it will be freed from the curse.

             Lord, thank you for your openness to the prayers of your saints. And thank you for not always saying yes to prayers. I, for one, would not have been wise enough to choose all of your plans. You are kind enough to guide us into things we do not understand. Thank you for the opportunity to worship you and rejoice in your presence. Please also help me take opportunities to be silent before you. You are awesome and deserving of both my loudest praise and my silent reverence. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection and Application Questions

  1. What do you think the significance or purpose of the silence might be when the 7th seal is opened? Have you sat before God in silence? What might the benefit be?
  2. What are your thoughts on God’s justice and judgment? Have you ever prayed for it (for someone else more sinful than yourself of course)? How can we better appreciate God’s timing and wisdom in this matter?
  3. Have you thanked God for his creation today? Thank Him for His plans to free us from the curse.
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