Staking claim

Perhaps it’s an urban myth that Germans place towels sun loungers around hotel pools early in the morning to stake their claim for the best places! I suspect that this practice is not restricted to the Germans! In Revelation 10 I believe that we see God staking his claim for occupancy of this world.

Just as ‘reserving’ a sun lounger does not involve immediate occupation but rather establishes rights of occupancy by placing an object belonging to the person on the sun lounger so God seems to do something rather similar in this chapter. The big difference of course is that this world was not only created by God in the first place but that it came under occupancy by a usurper. The big story in Revelation is the reestablishment of God’s rights and rule over this world.

We have thus far studied the scroll with seven seals and we have seen that the scroll may be considered a sort of title deed to ownership of this world. As each seal is removed God unleashes judgements on this world which will culminate in the removal of Satan’s evil rule and the establishment of God’s eternal righteous rule. With the opening of the seventh seal a series of trumpets are sounded which brings about another series of judgements. The first four trumpets concern judgements on the physical earth and relate to the land, the sea, the sky and fresh water. The latter three trumpets are described as three woes. The first two were directed against people: all people not protected by God’s seal. Chapter 10 is a sort of parenthesis which comes before the sounding of the seventh trumpet.

1.            The mighty angel

You will remember that Revelation is an unveiling; it is intended to inform us. And the wonderful promise is that it will do us good if we read it and take to heart what it says. We must take care not to add to the words of the prophecy or to take away from them. Much of the book contains the observations of John – he simply describes what he sees. Sometimes he struggles to describe exactly what he sees and all he can do is to say what things look like. The location of John’s place of observation has hitherto been in heaven around the throne of God, now he observes from a position on earth.

First of all John sees ‘another mighty angel coming down from heaven.’ John now describes what he sees. The angel is ‘robed in a cloud.’ Clouds are often mentioned in the bible in connection with movement between earth and heaven. When Jesus was with the disciples in Acts 1 he was ‘taken up’ and a cloud hid him from sight. Paul informed the Thessalonians that we will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4) and in Revelation 1, Jesus will come ‘with the clouds.’ In Matthew 24:30 Jesus said: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” The clouds here speak of impending judgement – the earth will mourn because Jesus will come! The cloud in Revelation chapter 10 thus speaks of the angle’s arrival from heaven and may well speak of coming judgement.

John describes seeing a rainbow above the head of the angel. The rainbow was the sign originally given to Noah: when there were clouds and a rainbow it would be a sign of God’s promise to mankind that never again would the waters become a flood to destroy all life. So this angel brings with him a symbol of judgement as well as a symbol of grace. The angel’s face was like the sun! When Moses spent time with God his face glowed! I wonder if we glow with God’s personality when we spend time with him! Presumably this angel was an angel so intimately connected to God that he glowed with God’s glory, just as Moses did. Finally the angel is described as mighty with legs like fiery pillars! The children of Israel were lead by God through the desert by a pillar of fire – perhaps this feature pictures God’s leading and his strength. Overall this angle carries with him many of the qualities of God himself and we may take it that that is just what he is, God’s representative.

The angel was holding a ‘little scroll’ – it was open in his hand. We will refer to this scroll a bit later in the chapter as it is given to John. The scroll is open – it may be read and since it is little it could represent the idea that there are now remaining just a few judgements before the full judgements are unleashed and God’s rightful occupancy of the world is secured. The angel is positioned importantly and significantly with one foot on the land and one in the sea – thus apparently staking God’s claim of ownership and he’s not doing it covertly! He gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion and as he spoke, the ‘voices of the seven thunders spoke.’ There can be no doubt that God is making a clear, unambiguous statement that he is about to take possession of his created world. He is placing the towel on the sun lounger – his sun lounger! - And woe betide anyone who tries to get in his way! As the voice of the seven thunders spoke, John was about to write down what he heard, but was ordered to stop by a voice from heaven: ‘seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.’ John has faithfully been recording both what he has seen and heard – this is an unveiling, it is not a series of inscrutable mysteries, it is God showing John (and us) ‘what will happen next.’ But there are some restrictions on what God is prepared to reveal. The revelation is for our good (if we read it, hear it and take it to heart), but I suspect that there are some things that it is better for us not to know. Some one once said ‘it’s just as well that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.’ That’s true, how could we possibly live today of we knew that something difficult was going to happen tomorrow? God knows what’s best for us and has told us about these future things for our good, but some things are better not known until they come to pass.

The angel next raises his right hand and swore an oath to God. Interestingly God is described as the one who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it.’ One of the worst lies the devil has propagated (and propagated with great success) is that there is no creator. It is a lie that robs mankind of any meaning and consigns him to be a mere collection of chemicals. The more I listen to atheistic scientists and their wild assumptions the more I wonder if they are willfully ignorant. Paul said in Romans 1 that ‘since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’ I believe with the discoveries in biology over the last few decades makes Paul’s statements even more apposite for our day than for the day in which he wrote. The angel is saying God made all this and he’s coming to get it back!

In chapter 6 the martyrs asked ‘how long.’ Now the angel says ‘there will be no more delay. In the days when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.’ If we can understand what the blowing of the seventh trumpet will bring, we will have some idea of what this angel is telling us. If we take a peek forward to the sounding of the seventh trumpet (in chapter 11) we read these words which follow the sounding of the 7th trumpet: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” This is surely the main story of the bible and will be the result of the sounding of the final trumpet. The mighty angle says that the ‘mystery of God will be accomplished. The bible seems to use the word ‘mystery’ to describe a new revelation: something that had hitherto remained undisclosed. Paul speaks many times of the mystery of his gospel that relates to God saving Gentiles as well as Israel (something that was not foreseen by Israel). I suspect that this mystery referred to by the mighty angle is the full unveiling of Revelation which contains much new information that had never been unveiled before. And the main theme of that revelation is that God’s eternal kingdom has come to this world. As the angel indicates, this had indeed been announced by the prophets of the Old Testament – take a look at Isaiah for instance and you will see some of these ‘announcements’ e.g. Isaiah 9: 6-7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” How Isaiah would have loved to read Revelation to complete the picture of the coming Messiah! How privileged we are to be given this new knowledge, it does indeed do us good!

2.            The little scroll

The voice that told John not to write down the content of the seven thunders spoke once more. This time John is instructed to take the scroll from the angel. John is not just observing, he is interacting with the players in this revelation. Now consider for a moment what John has just been asked to do: to approach this angel with fiery pillars for legs, a face shining like the sun and a voice that sounds like a lion roaring and help himself to the scroll! What happens next rather makes me smile: John did not just take the scroll from this mighty angel, here’s what he says: ‘so I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll.’ Sensible! I expect that he said ‘please’ too!

On receiving the scroll, John is told to eat it! Ezekiel was also given a scroll to eat! (Ezekiel 3: 1-3). On eating the scroll Ezekiel was to speak to the house of Israel. God had a message for Israel and it was to be given by Ezekiel as enabled by consuming the scroll. The scroll tasted sweet as honey to Ezekiel, but the message would involve bitterness and difficulty. Ezekiel was to warn God’s people of their sin and impending judgement. It’s likely that the phrase eat the scroll is a figure of speech just as we have the sort of phrases such as ‘have your cake and eat it.’ The meaning however is clear: digest what you have read. Ezekiel did just that and took God’s message to the house of Israel. Now it is John’s turn to eat, digest and announce.

As John eats the scroll it was sweet as honey in his mouth and then turned his stomach sour. The angel explains: ‘now you must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.’ This new prophecy, contained in the little scroll will contain the sweet and the sour and will relate to matters on earth, to the current rulers and their peoples.

In some ways the outline of the Revelation story has now almost been given – there remains the seventh trumpet and the unfolding of the coming of the king. But now we have a clear indication that there is more detail to be filled in and John has now been enabled to bring that new information in the next few chapters.