By Christopher VanDusen
As the world plummets downhill to its destruction, many Christians may wonder, “what can I know about how it’s all going to end”? God gives an introductory and instructional answer to this question in Revelation 10.
When we come to the tenth chapter of Revelation, John has just seen six visions of judgments on God’s enemies, all announced by the trumpet blasts of six angels. First, the earth was scorched a little. Second, a portion of sea life was destroyed. Third, some of the fresh water sources were poisoned. Fourth, a part of the natural light sources were dimmed. Fifth, demonic locusts tormented unbelievers. Finally, an army of supernatural horsemen assaulted and killed a portion of the earth’s population. All these judgments show us the ways in which God judges His enemies throughout history, and how He’ll do it immediately before the return of Christ.
When we come to chapter ten, we may expect to read about the last trumpet judgment that has been anticipated by John’s vision of seven trumpet-carrying angels. This final judgment will have to be a vision of the last judgment on the earth, involving the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, before God reveals this last judgment to John, He wants to teach him, and his audience, about the nature of the final judgment, and people’s knowledge of it. He does this by giving John a vision of a glorious angel with a scroll in his hand:
“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3 and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, 7 but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”” (ESV)
In this vision, John experiences five main things that teach us about the final judgment:
- A Strong Angel Shouts Like a Lion (vss. 1-3)
- A Seal is Placed on the Seven Thunders (v. 4)
- The Standing Angel Swears that the Seventh Trumpet will Be Last (vss. 5-7)
- The Scroll is Sweet and Sour to John (vss. 8-10)
- The Seer is Assigned with Speaking About the Nations (v. 11)
A Strong Angel Shouts Like a Lion
In the first three verses of this chapter, John sees the angel stand on both the sea and the land, and shout like a lion, resulting in the rumbling of thunder:
“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded.” (ESV)
John describes this angel as “another mighty angel”. In chapter 5, and verse 2, John saw the first angel that he calls “mighty”, who asks everyone in the universe, and in heaven, if they’re able to break the seals of the scroll held by God on His throne. There, the reason John saw a “mighty” angel in particular seems to be to show that not even the mightiest angel in heaven was able to unseal the scroll. Here, the reason this angel looks “mighty” is because he has the power to unleash God’s final judgment on the earth, as evidenced by his lion roar, and the resulting “seven thunders”.
This “angel”, which literally means “messenger”, comes from heaven, showing that he’s been sent by God to the earth. However, unlike all the angels whom John has seen previously, this one is “wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face [is] like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire”. The first element of his appearance recalls multiple descriptions of the Lord Jesus. First, in Daniel 7:13, He ascends to God’s throne “with the clouds of heaven”. Second, in more than one of the Lord’s descriptions of His return to earth, He says that He’ll “come with the clouds”. Finally, this is exactly how John describes His second coming in the first chapter of Revelation. If one looks for a similar description of a mere angel in the Bible, he won’t find one. This is clearly a description of part of Christ’s heavenly glory.
Secondly, this Messenger’s head is covered with a rainbow. The first mention of a rainbow in the Bible is in Genesis, where God uses a rainbow to show Noah and his family that He’ll never flood the entire earth again. This lays the foundation for the use of the rainbow as a symbol for God’s trustworthiness, or faithfulness to His promises. In the case of John’s vision of this messenger, the promise that’s emphasized is God’s promise to finally judge everyone, and punish His enemies.
Third, this Messenger’s face is “like the sun”. This is similar to John’s description of Jesus in Revelation 1:16, where “his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (ESV). Again, nowhere in Scripture is a mere angel said to have a face shining “like the sun”. This is yet another display of Christ’s divine glory.
Finally, the fact that this messenger’s legs are “like pillars of fire” is clearly an allusion to the pillar of fire in the wilderness wanderings of Israel, found first in Exodus. This pillar was a physical manifestation of God’s presence, which guided Israel by night. Therefore, the fact that the heavenly Messenger’s legs are like this pillar of fire shows that He’s a manifestation of God’s presence on the earth. Given all of these descriptions of Christ’s glory, this Messenger that John sees must be a representation of the Lord Jesus.
The next thing John notices about this divine Messenger is that he has “a little scroll open in his hand”. Whether or not this is the same scroll as the one that Jesus has just completely unsealed is unclear, but it is clearly a symbol of an available revelation that John will soon receive.
Before the Messenger gives the scroll to John, however, He puts one foot “on the sea”, and the other one “on the land”. God has just brought destruction to both of these spheres of the earth, but the fact that the Messenger stands on them shows that He has authority over them. Thus, He has authority over the entire earth.
The last thing the Messenger does is to “call out” with a “loud voice”, which John describes as similar to “a lion roaring”. In the books of Joel and Amos, God Himself roars “like a lion”, signaling His fierce judgment that He’s determined to bring on His enemies. Likewise, here the Lord Jesus roars like “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”, to announce His intention to bring God’s final judgment on His enemies.
In response to the Messenger’s roar, “the seven thunders” rumble. As seen multiple times in Revelation, the number seven either represents completion, or divinity. In this case, it’s both, since Scripture often uses thunder to represent God’s powerful wrath and fury. So, the fact that there are seven thunders shows that God’s wrath is complete, and ready to be unleashed on His enemies in John’s vision.
A Seal is Placed on the Seven Thunders
Although John has just heard a revelation of God’s judgment through the “seven thunders”, God commands him to refrain from including this revelation in his description of his vision:
“And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.’” (v. 4 ESV)
This voice “from heaven” is either God’s own voice, or the voice of one of His angels, but in either case comes with God’s authority. As I said, the thunders represent God’s completed wrath that’s ready to be unleashed in the final judgment, but the details of this judgment are clearly withheld from us. Although John heard this revelation, and understood it, so he was able to write it down, God didn’t want anyone but him to know the details. Since these details were disclosed through the revelation of God’s final judgment, they must have something to do with that. However, it’s only for John to know them, since he didn’t write them down, but “sealed” them up in his mind.
The Standing Angel Swears that the Seventh Trumpet will Be Last
After John is forbidden from writing down the revelation of God’s thunderous wrath, the Messenger swears that God’s “mystery” will be completely unveiled at the blast of the last trumpet of judgment in verses 5-7:
“And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” (ESV)
First, the Messenger raises “his right hand to heaven”, showing John His unwavering commitment to what He’s about to say. Further, He swears by the One who “lives forever”, and who created everything. Therefore, what He’s about to say is as true as God is eternal, and is the Creator of the universe.
The first thing He promises is that there will be “no more delay” before the final revelation of God’s judgment on His enemies. John calls this revelation “the mystery of God”. The word “mystery” simply means secret, but this secret is God’s secret that He “announced to his servants the prophets”. What is this secret? Well, since it will be “fulfilled”, or literally “completed”, when the last trumpet is blown, it must be the secret of God’s final work on earth, marked by the return of Christ, and culminating in the creation of the new universe. This secret was vaguely revealed to the Old Testament prophets, but vividly revealed to the New Testament prophets, including the apostles Paul, Peter, and John.
The Scroll is Sweet and Sour to John
In verses 8-10, John obeys God’s command to eat the scroll held by the Messenger, and physically experiences the character of the scroll’s contents:
“Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in 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 little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.” (ESV)
Here, the same voice that forbade John from recording the information revealed by the seven thunders now invites him to literally ingest the Messenger’s scroll. He does this by asking Him to give him the scroll. He replies by instructing John to “take and eat it”. However, He also promises that it will “make [his] stomach bitter”, but will “be sweet as honey” in his mouth. The feeling of “bitterness” represents sorrow and revulsion, while the taste of honey, which was the sweetest food to the Jews, represents pleasure and joy. So, when John eats the scroll, he experiences exactly what the Messenger said he would.
Clearly, the act of eating the scroll represents learning, understanding, and applying its information to oneself. As one of God’s prophets, John does this with God’s messages. The fact that the scroll tastes sweet to John shows that God’s message is first pleasant. However, the message is secondly bitter to John, since it makes his stomach bitter. The joyfulness of his message comes in the form of his message of salvation and victory for the church. In contrast, his message of judgment for God’s enemies is bitter to him. Yet, he must embrace both of them.
The Seer is Assigned with Speaking About the Nations
In verse 11, the heavenly voice explains why John ate the scroll:
“And I was told, ‘You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’” (ESV)
This promise reveals that the contents of the scroll included the remainder of John’s prophecy recorded in Revelation. Since he’s been given this revelation, he must “again prophesy”. While the word “prophesy” can certainly mean “foretell the future”, it literally means “to speak forth”, or “to speak before”. In fact, many of the messages of prophets in the Bible are messages about their own time, and not about the future. However, since John’s vision has a forward-looking aspect to it, and he’s not yet seen the final visions about the final judgment and the end of the age, his prophesying will clearly involve describing future events. And what will this description be about? “Many peoples and nations and languages and kings”. In other words, John is being commissioned to deliver God’s message about the entire world, and how it will end.
Be Content with Ignorance, Expect to Learn, and Digest God’s Word
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus, how does this passage apply to you?
First, the fact that God forbids John from recording the information conveyed through the “seven thunders” shows us that God doesn’t reveal everything to us about the future. He leaves some details out of His revelation, although He may have disclosed them to others in the past. This teaches us that we’re not meant to know everything about what Scripture addresses. We need to be content with the information we have, and be grateful that God has revealed so much to us, and everything that we need to know.
Second, although God’s doesn’t reveal everything to us, the fact that Jesus promises that His mystery will be completed at the time of the final judgment shows us that much that used to be an unclear and vague mystery to us will eventually be clear to us. At the end of this age, God will reveal to us His final activities, and how everything will end. However, not until He sends Jesus to earth again will we know the details of the end.
Finally, although God has withheld some information from us, and promised to reveal a lot of it in the future, He invites us to learn what He has made available already. Just as God commanded John to eat the little scroll in the Lord’s hand, so now He bids us to learn His Word, to understand it, and to apply it to our lives. Although there are no prophets today, all Christians that have the opportunity to speak to others have the privilege and duty to share God’s Word with others. In order to do that, however, we need to know it, understand it, and apply it.
Are you ready for the return of Christ, and the final judgment? He has promised to come back soon, and punish all who are living in rebellion against Him, or in sin. If you aren’t submitting yourself to the Lord, then you’re one of His enemies, and will be punished forever because of God’s wrath and justice against your rebellion. The good news is that He sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross for our crimes against God. Then, he raised Him from the dead, and took Him into heaven as the Ruler of the universe. How demands that everyone change their minds, and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior from sin to receive His forgiveness, mercy, and peace, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly, and punish His enemies. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion, and are trusting only in Jesus to provide you with God’s forgiveness. If you’ve done that, then Jesus requires His people to be baptized under water as an appeal to God for a good conscience, and a profession of faith.
All full Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.