Another short interlude

In study seventeen, we saw that, after the judgement of the sixth seal, John describes the selection of one hundred and forty-four thousand Jewish people, drawn equally from the twelve tribes of Israel, to become evangelists. There is also a brief look at the "great multitude that no-one could count" who have been martyred for their faith in Jesus during the first part of the "tribulation". When the final (seventh) seal is opened, there is half an hour of silence in heaven as God considers the prayers offered to Him. After that, seven angels with seven trumpets step forward and further judgements begin.

Chapters eight and nine detail the first six judgements that follow the sounding of the trumpets but then, once again, in chapter ten and the first part of chapter eleven, our attention is briefly diverted elsewhere, firstly to a "mighty angel... holding a little scroll", secondly to "the temple of God and the altar" being measured and then to the appointment of "two witnesses". The purpose of these short interludes seems to be to two-fold: firstly, it allows us to see God's judgements balanced with His mercy as we are made aware of good things happening, even in the midst of painful judgements; secondly, it reinforces the significance and importance of the final judgement in each group of seven - the "seals" and then the trumpets.

Deception and deceit

As we come to chapter ten, we, too, are going to have a short interlude here in order to reflect upon why these judgements are necessary. We have seen that the world of the antichrist’s day is not going to be a pleasant one in which to live! The things that destabilise a society will be rife. Murder, rape, violence, homosexuality and theft, with no respect for the sanctity of life, will be just some of the horrific things that will be prevalent in those days. The antichrist will start out being conciliatory in tone - a man seen as one who can solve problems and gets things done. Because he is controlled by Satan (who is a master of disguise), beneath the cool and calm exterior the antichrist will be driven by the personification of evil. In a mere seven years, all that initially looks so good will become - like the father of lies himself - corrupt and riddled with death. Even today, before the "tribulation" has even begun, we can see that people throughout the world have little or no connection with the living God - the creator of our planet and the one who sustains our very lives, day by day. Few people understand that Jesus Christ came to our world as God in human form, central to the Father's plan of salvation for all mankind. It is no wonder that the affairs of nations are in such a muddle. So many remain ignorant of God, who designed and created us in His own image and longs for us to live lives of fulfilment and contentment. The resulting chaos is evident everywhere.

Mankind has a spiritual enemy in the form of "Satan", whose very name means "adversary". He is a fallen angel, a spiritual being, created to serve and worship God, who became proud and arrogant and rebelled against God. (Isaiah 14:12-15) In the New Testament, he is described as "the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient". (Ephesians 2:1-2) This enemy "prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour". (1 Peter 5:8) His aim is to recruit every human being to join him in his rebellion against God and he constantly seeks to oppose those who turn to God - through Jesus - for salvation and life. One of his main forms of attack is deception. Jesus described him as "a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies". (John 8:44)

On the surface, this enemy and the things that he says can look very attractive. What he does can also appear sensible, logical and normal, but it is only a gloss, a "top coat" of fresh paint. Immediately beneath festers corruption and sin, sickness and disease, destruction and death. Anyone drawn to the glossy, shiny attraction of appearance will quickly discover that it is a mirage that disguises the trap beneath, leading rapidly and remorselessly to hell and torment below.

Not just a spectator

In study twelve, as John's book moves from the letters to the seven churches to the beginning of his revelation of heaven, John himself is invited to play an active part: he is called to open a door and enter heaven itself. (Revelation 4:1) Now, in chapter ten, John is again invited to play an active part in the drama of the revelation that is unfolding. God is not fooled by any of Satan’s blusterings. He has always known the end from the beginning and His deepest desire has always been that not one person should perish needlessly. (2 Peter 3:9) The chapter opens with the appearance of another "mighty angel". Some have suggested that this may be Jesus Himself, but there is no clear indication of this, so it is probably best to regard him simply as another of God's messengers. Nonetheless, John's description of him indicates that he represents God Himself and reflects His glory. (The cloud shows that he comes from heaven, whilst the rainbow recalls God's faithfulness and mercy and the shining of his face (as with Moses) indicates that he comes from the presence of God. His legs of "fiery pillars" suggest the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire that symbolised God's presence with Israel in the wilderness (after their exodus from Egypt).

The mighty angel's announcement

The angel plants his right foot on the sea and his left on the land, indicating that his words are for the entire creation, not just a part of it. (Revelation 10:2) He gives a loud shout, "like the roar of a lion", and is answered by seven peals of thunder. Thunder normally gives warning of an approaching storm and these thunderings have a voice and give a specific message, but John is told not to record what is said. God has not revealed all His secrets and we simply have to trust that this is for our benefit.

This "mighty angel" has an important announcment to make: the time has arrived for the final judgment of the earth to begin. We have seen the first and second phases: the scroll with seven seals, followed by seven angels with trumpets. The seventh trumpet is about to be sounded and later on (in chapter sixteen) we shall see the seven "bowls of God's wrath". These judgements will bring to an end the world and life as humans beings have always known it. God is about to judge the earth and its inhabitants, together with the forces of evil that have so long tried to dominate its inhabitants and take control of them from God, their creator.

A time for everything

King Solomon recorded words of profound spiritual wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes. In chapter three, he talks about there being a time for everything, including a time when "God will call the past to account". (Ecclesiastes 3:1; 3:15) God does nothing in a quiet or underhand way. He has gone to inordinate lengths to ensure that we can know about Him and the good things that He wants to give us as part of His creation. The sixty-six books of the Bible record for us God's actions and activities, words and deeds, throughout history. We can read the stories of people like Noah and Enoch, then Abraham, Jacob (Israel), Joseph and Moses. We can read of leaders like the judges, the prophets and the kings of Israel. Finally, we have a detailed record of His Son's birth and life, the good news that He brought about the kingdom of God and the rescue from sin that He made possible through His death and resurrection. We know that God wants to save each and everyone of us from sin and give us new life in Jesus. (John 3:16)

But God also wants human beings, the pinnacle of His creation, to have a freedom of choice. He will not force us to serve Him or worship Him; He longs that we know Him and respond to Him willingly, in love, as our Father in heaven. A consistent thread, woven through this extended record of God's communication with us in the Bible, is that, one day, there will come a day of reckoning - a day of judgement. The prophet, Joel, spoke of this time – the time at the end of time, when God will call "time" on humanity's prevarication. It will be time to make a decision: do I accept Jesus as my Saviour - or not?

"The sun and the moon will be darkened and the stars no longer shine. The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for His people and a stronghold to the children of Israel. Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. (Joel 3:15-17)

The end of the "tribulation"

The mighty angel then raises his right hand to heaven and swears in the name of Him who lives for ever and ever, "there will be no more delay!" God's secrets are about to be revealed! All that has been prophesied in His word is about to take place. (Revelation 10:5-7) The "tribulation" is about to come to an end. We may think that we control our own destinies and our own lives but we are creatures of the one eternal God and it is ultimately He who governs all our lives. "He is before all things and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:17) The previous judgements have gone on throughout the period of "tribulation" (seven years in all), giving people time to repent. Now there will be no more delay and the final judgements will be arrive swift and fast.

The little scroll

John is instructed to go to the angel and take the little scroll that he is carrying. John obeys and the angel gives him the scroll, telling him to eat it, but warning him that it would give him a stomach-ache, although it would initially be sweet to the taste. John duly eats the scroll and finds the angel's words to be true. This probably indicates that John would find satisfaction in being given this knowledge of what is to take place, but the extent of the suffering to be inflicted would not sit well with him in the longer term. It indicates to John that the burden of what he must now reveal in his book is going to become much heavier.

The burden of God's word

When Jesus was on the earth, He often talked of the importance of what He was saying to His disciples, referring to His teaching as: "the word of life" and the "bread of life". He was, of course, also referring to Himself as He spoke. (John 1:1-5) Here, too, the importance of God's word is emphasised to John. He has to physically take hold of the little scroll (or book) that is in the hand of the angel and then eat it. God's word has to become part of him, absorbed into his very body. This poses a challenge for us too. When we read the word of God, we should absorb it into every fibre of our being. "My son, attend to my words; consent and submit to my sayings. Let them not depart from your sight; keep them in the centre of your heart. For they are life to those who find them, healing and health to all their flesh." (Proverbs 4:20-22)

The words in the Bible are not just a collection of sayings put together for our intellectual benefit; they are literally health to us. Our healing, our health, our wholeness lies in the words of God. When we use them against our Enemy, he has to flee. We can use them too in prayer, both to defeat Satan's temptations and to ask for our own needs, such as healing from sickness. Of course, as in any battle, there will be a fight, but if you and I stand firmly on what God says in His word, Satan’s followers, spiritual and physical cannot win. One day we will die, but it will be when God calls us home after our work is complete; it will not be at the behest of the king of demons!

Like John, when we first become Christians, we find that the words of God are sweetness to our souls. They are words of life to us and we are so excited about starting every day with Jesus. But, as time goes on, we begin to understand that the knowledge we have gained bears with it a responsibility to tell others. Sometimes people hate us for telling them the truth. Others are just unresponsive. These reactions can generate in us a sharpness and bitter-sweetness, like lemon juice in our lives. We are still glad of our own salvation, but we are so sad for those of our friends and loved ones who are still reticent about receiving the salvation which has so changed our lives. That is the way of the good news about Jesus: it is so sweet to all who find the truth, but can cause much sadness when we see it being rejected by our friends and family. If we feel it that way, imagine how God views it! We are, however, bound to carry on proclaiming the message - the very words of life - to any who will listen and to the many who will not!

John now had to be prepared to record yet more difficult things concerning "many peoples, nations, languages and kings". If we love the Lord Jesus, our work will similarly be incomplete until the day when we draw our final breath, or until the Lord comes to call us to Him in the air at the time of the "rapture". What a glorious day that will be!

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