If you’ve been following this series for the last couple of weeks, you’ll be pleased to know that we’re pretty much finished with all the judgement stuff. And by itself, it wasn’t really working. At the end of the first six trumpet judgements (which themselves had followed the seven seal judgements), despite all of the suffering and destruction and death, it was business as usual for a world in rebellion to God:
9:20-21 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.
So by the start of chapter 10, another question has to be raised (following on from the previous series of questions we looked at earlier in the series.) And the question is this: the judgements don’t seem to be working; humanity isn’t turning back to God; this isn’t getting their attention; is there anything else that can be done?
The earthquakes; the wars; the terminal diseases; the senseless killings; the abuse and misuse of power – it’s not having the intended effect! The world isn’t listening! They’re still on the highway to hell and they’re ignoring the warning signs! Is that all God’s got, or is there anything else that can be done?
Introducing Revelation 10-11
Just like between the sixth and seventh seals, we have a dramatic pause, heightening the suspense. The focus again shifts away from God’s acts of judgement, to the role of God’s people. Firstly in chapter 10 to John, as their representative; then to the church as a whole in chapter 11.
In these two chapters, we get a kind of parable, or symbolic story about the church. And as you’ll see shortly, this parable describes the role of the church at this point, between the sixth and seventh trumpets. And it gives us the answer to that question we just raised: since God’s judgement isn’t causing humanity to repent, is there anything else that can be done? The answer is “yes, there is something else that can be done.” And guess what. God has decided that we – the church – are the ones who are going to do it!
But first, let’s work through the vision:
10:1-4 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.”
The angel in this scene is huge – like the Colossus of Rhodes, an enormous statue that stood on the edge of the ancient harbour, arm raised. And the angel stands on both the land and the sea (symbolising all of creation). He shouts, and seven thunders answered him, possibly symbolising the voice of God.
But we don’t get to hear what the seven thunders said. Why is that? Here are a few suggestions:
- It revealed the time of the end. In Daniel 12, Daniel asks a similar question and gets rebuffed by a similar angelic figure with a raised arm.
- The seven thunders had seven more plagues attached (maybe with one half of everything destroyed?), but God decided not to delay anymore since the previous sets of seven hadn’t worked. This has a powerful rhetorical effect: There’s another set of seven judgements… but let’s skip those and go straight to the end game. It increases the urgency.
- In much apocalyptic literature, everything but one is revealed. It enhances the status of the author, who knows things that he’s not allowed to reveal. Again, there’s a powerful rhetorical effect: but there’s still some stuff you don’t know. We can’t know everything about God and his plans, and this puts us firmly in our place.
10:5-7 Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, 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, and said, “There will be no more delay! 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.”
Basically, the angel says “time’s up.” In contrast to the answer to Daniel, who was told that there was still time. (In fact not just time, but also two times, and half a time.) The fulfilment of the prophetic message is about to occur.
But something important has to happen first. Something that involves you and me. But we’ll seal that up until tomorrow.
To think about
How does this scene remind us that God won’t always satisfy our curiosity about everything? Does this frustrate you?
How does this scene give us a sense of urgency about our faith? How might you live out that urgency more consciously?
How does this scene excite us about the fact that God’s plan – so long in the making – is now only one step away from completion? How do you feel about that?