The Mighty Angel from Heaven (vv. 1-4)
Possibly Symbolic of Jesus Christ
John’s perspective is now changed. He is standing on earth, looking up to heaven. He sees another “mighty angel” coming down from heaven. I take this angel to be a visionary depiction of our Lord Jesus. It is true the “angel” is normally reserved in Revelation for God’s creaturely attendants, but there is Bible precedent in “Angel of the Lord” as a reference to the Son of God. Also, Jesus Christ “coming on the clouds” is the theme of the book (1:7). It was Jesus’ warning to the Jewish high priest (Matt. 26:64) of the judgment that would fall upon the Jewish nation and temple in the first century. Since the description of this angel is the same as the Son of God from the beginning of the book, I think we have all the literary ingredients for a pause, a restatement of the theme of the book, and a declaration of “now is the time.” The exalted Son of God is coming on the clouds in judgment. He is encircled with a rainbow, for he comes to fulfill the covenant curses upon an apostate people. His face is shining for he is exalted; his feet are pillars of fire to crush his enemies. His majestic voice shakes the heavens and earth, a likely reference back to Psalm 29:3 (Rev. 1:15). His kingdom will stand; the old Jewish order, which served its purpose to bring the Messiah into the world, but then rejected him, will now be destroyed.
Universal Dominion – No Longer a Jewish Kingdom
As the seven-sealed scroll was in our Lord’s sovereign hand, so is this “little book.” To say definitively what this little book contains is difficult. Since the Lord Jesus now places his feet on earth and sea, as a symbol of his universal kingdom, and as this vision concludes with the statement that John will prophesy to “many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings,” perhaps we are not far off in seeing this little book as a symbol of our Lord’s post-temple, post-old covenant order plans and judgments. Some of these are given in chapters 13-18, as the visions move away from Jerusalem and focus upon the Gentile church’s battle against the Roman beast. It is hard to say definitively, but we must let the context guide us. The main point seems to be that our Lord’s kingdom is no longer centered in Jerusalem and the old Levitical economy. That age is now definitively, publicly concluded. Jesus Christ is now coming on the clouds to judge those who desperately clung to the old order in self-righteous, nationalistic pride, but who rejected the very Savior who gave it meaning and life. The Jews wanted the blessings of the covenant, as Stephen preached (Acts 7), but they did not want to obey the Lord of the covenant.
Seven Thunders – Do Not Write Them Down
Much speculation surrounds the “seven thunders.” They are clearly connected to the voice of the mighty Angel. When he spoke, seven thunders peeled. John prepares to obey the command to “write what you see.” But a voice from heaven told him not to write down what the thunders said. If we needed to know the Lord would have told us. When the Holy Spirit stops talking, we are to stop asking. John is not permitted to tell everything he saw and heard, much like Paul when he was caught up into the “third heavens” in a visionary state. Speculation is useless. Instead, let us practice a studied, holy quietness before the Lord. He has more to do and to say than he has told us. The secret things belong to him (Deut. 29:29). It is more than enough for us to know that when the Lord speaks, it is like thunder in its shaking effect. Whatever is not built upon him as the only foundation will be shaken to pieces, as were Jerusalem and the old covenant order (1 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 12:27). It will be no different in our times. Only one building is built to code, only one body sealed – those built upon Jesus Christ and his Word. Let us abide in him, and we shall overcome the world by faith in him (1 Jn. 5:4).
The End of the Old Covenant Order (vv. 5-7)
The Oath of “Now”
Every careful reader of the New Testament knows that the apostles labored under the pressing conviction that they lived at the end of one age, and at the beginning of another. “Christ has appeared once, at the end of the ages, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4). God has “in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1). What did they mean? When God sent forth his Son into the world, it was the end of the old covenant age. This, I believe, is what is meant by the Angel, Jesus Christ, standing on earth and sea, raising his hand to heaven, and swearing by his Father. What did he swear? No more delay. The sounding of the seventh trumpet will be the formal conclusion to the end of the old age. God’s mystery will be finished. Clearly, this is not the end of the world. This is not the finality of Second Coming, final judgment, and resurrection of the dead, for John has more prophesying to do about subsequent time (v. 11). But the Lord Jesus, the covenant (Isa. 42:6) and the heir of the covenant (Matt. 21:38), with the covenant rainbow encircling him and the shaking warnings of Haggai thundering (Hag. 2:6,21; Heb. 12:27), now announces, with an oath, that the final judgment has come. The seven seals are open, and the Roman armies unleashed. The sealed of God are preserved. Sound the seventh trumpet. Jerusalem and the Levitical order are to be dismantled.
The Mystery of God Finished
What is this “mystery of God” that he has “declared to his servants the prophets?” This way of describing the prophets clearly hearkens back to the Old Testament prophets. This is one of the most common titles for them as a group. “Mystery” is not a detective story but a truth we could not know unless God revealed it to us. There are several “mysteries” in Scripture: Jews and Gentiles in one body (Eph. 3:3-9), the transformation of the living believers when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:51), and “Christ in us” (Col. 1:26-27). Later in Revelation, we shall encounter another “mystery” – Jerusalem, once God’s wife,” has become Babylon the mother of harlots (17:5,7). What is the mystery “now to be finished?” The Jewish nation is no longer God’s covenant people. The Jewish temple is no longer the place of his throne on earth. There are certainly Jewish believers, but the old covenant order of God’s kingdom, which was Jewish in geography and Levitical in worship, is now terminated. The veil of entrance to the Holy of Holies has been torn from top to bottom. Jesus Christ brought the end of sacrifice, as Daniel prophesied (Dan. 9:24-27). And now, our Lord announces that the old Levitical system, under which God’s church lived and died for 1,500 years, is brought to an end. The old is now done away in Christ. The new covenant order of God’s kingdom has come, in which men and women from all nations, tribes, and tongues are united into one body under one Head.
John Eats the Little Book (vv. 8-11)
More Judgments Coming
The reason for giving John the “little book” is that he will have a further commission after the seven-sealed scroll. God’s kingdom will not end with the destruction of Jerusalem and end of the Levitical order. Now, all nations and kingdoms must serve the Lord Jesus Christ. I think the “little book” teaches us that we are not in an interim period of church and world history, until the prophetic clock begins ticking again, as the older generation of Dispensationalists confidently asserted. No, we are not waiting for a resurrection of the old Jewish order or a rebuilt temple. To rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and resume sacrifices would be the ultimate blasphemy and repudiation of Jesus Christ. It boggles the mind that any Christian would welcome such an event. It would rather be a cause for worldwide mourning. John is now told by the little book that God’s purposes will move forward, focused upon the church, his holy nation (1 Pet. 2:6). A new round of prophesies is anticipated.
Sweet to the Taste, Bitter in Your Stomach
A voice from heaven instructs John to take the little book from the hand of the angel, which John does. That John was to eat them means he is to imbibe personally the word of God (Jer. 15:16). We are to abide in God’s word, and let it live in us (Col. 3:16). No man is truly called to preach and teach God’s word without having God teach him first and work in him inward conformity to it. Otherwise, we can preach to others but become personal castaways. God’s word is sweet to the believer: “How sweet are your words unto my taste! Sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps. 119:103). But some of God’s words upset our stomach, like bitter waters. In this case, John’s message of judgment to other nations, like the beastly Roman Empire, was so strong that it left him nauseated. Godly men, while they respect God’s holiness, take no delight in announcing the destruction of God’s enemies. If God “takes no delight in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11), something is very wrong with us if we do delight in their destruction. God’s word is sent into the world, and he “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:31). The word that tastes sweet is strong medicine. We must take the book of God’s word and eat it, and in our capacities, speak it. His word is not always settling to our soul. Sometimes, it is a sword.
Why Such a Dramatic Interlude?
To Strengthen First-Century Believers
We have been so indoctrinated to think of Revelation as a futuristic sci-fi or fantasy novel, that we cannot imagine that the transition from the old to new covenant order would require such an extended declaration. Read Acts. Remember the animosity of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus. “If we leave him alone, all men will believe on him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). They should have been more afraid of the Lord of the covenant riding on the clouds in judgment. It was very hard for Christ’s disciples to live through these times. The change from “worship in this mountain” to “worship God in spirit and truth” was monumental. Even the new covenant church has often reverted back to Judaist forms of highly ceremonial and ornate worship. “Spirit and truth” are spiritual, requiring faith and grounding in Christ and his word. “Spirit and truth” calls each of us to meditate upon Christ’s glory as our heavenly high priest rather than looking to costumed priests to mediate for us and teach us the right forms. There are no prescribed forms in the new covenant glory in which we now live – except the forms of Scripture, the law of God written upon human hearts, and the illuminating work of the Spirit in a joyful, humble church. Think about the Jerusalem Council – what hostility was created over ceremonies! Some were saying that the ceremonial laws of Moses must be kept in order for the Gentiles to be saved (Acts 15:1). Before Calvary, even the disciples could not imagine a difference between the destruction of the temple and the end of the world (Matt. 24:3) – but there is a vast difference. Revelation was thus written to strengthen first-century believers to weather this storm, this “end of the ages” and the beginning of the new covenant era.
To Fix Our Attention upon the Glory of Jesus Christ
In that transition, which was like the pains of childbirth, Satan’s malice was poured out upon the new child of Christ’s new covenant church (Rev. 12:1). And for three centuries, these “babies” were asked to give their blood for the new order, the new King, and his great salvation, which was promised by the law and the prophets. How could they realistically be expected to endure these times? We think our times are difficult, but, frankly, they do not compare in difficulty to those times. We have a completed Bible and this very book of Revelation to help us, a universal church being formed and the testimony of two millennia to the glory of Jesus Christ, the numerous victories of his kingdom over all enemies and heresies and wolves, and constant testimony to God’s faithfulness to his covenant. This brings us to one of the practical purposes of Revelation – to focus upon the glory of Jesus Christ. Who is standing on the earth and sea? Who has all authority and power in his hand? Whose voice shakes the kingdoms of man, exposes their sandy foundations, and humbles man’s abominable pride? Jesus Christ. The exalted Lamb of God. Who is able to help us when it seems that hell is opened and God’s locusts of judgment are crawling out by the millions? Jesus Christ, the King of kings, the King-Priest, the Son of God incarnate, who has been tempted in every way we have been, yet without sin. They overcome because they did not love their own lives and opinions and comforts – they loved the Lord Jesus, kept the faith, and obeyed God’s commands (Rev. 14:12).
To Reset Our Understanding of God’s Kingdom
Our path is the same. Our victory is guaranteed. We must hold fast to Jesus Christ and reject man’s counterfeit kingdoms. Now that Jesus Christ is exalted to the Father’s right hand, there can be no social justice or national prosperity unless men bow the knee to him. He shook the old covenant order until it crumbled, and it was ordained by God in his word! The rebel orders of man have no hope. They may endure for a while, rising to great heights, like Roman Catholicism, French Socialism, Russian Communism, German National Socialism, and American Militaristic-Hedonism, but they will fall. It is certain. All have fallen. Jesus Christ has swept them all away, and he will sweep this American empire of lies, military deceptions, poison, sabotage, and perversion into the garbage bin of history. I say this as no hater of my country but as a broken-hearted, grieving participant in its regime of terror upon the rest of the civilized world. This is not our kingdom. It is not Jesus Christ’s kingdom. His kingdom does not come when we try to rebaptize our present day septic statism with less government, or a return to the Constitution, or any of the other “Make American Great” movements. Our nation will never be great until its leaders and people humble themselves under the feet of Jesus Christ and confess that he is Lord. If this does not happen, we will die as a nation. Now, there is a new King, his glorious law, and his Spirit coming out of his mouth. He is patient. He gives his people time to make disciples. But the nation and kingdom that will not serve him will be destroyed. He will shake it to pieces (Rev. 2:27).
Thus, we need a reset, do we not, in our understanding of our Savior’s kingdom? It does not lie in the movements and governments of this world, civil or religious. His kingdom may make use of these things, but his kingdom is not to be identified with them. Hear his Word, like John was told. “My kingdom is not of this world. My kingdom is within you. It is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (John 18:36; Luke 17:21; Rom. 14:17). His kingdom topples the great enemy of God in this world – the rebellious human heart that will not surrender to the authority of God and his Christ. What is every world tyrant but a rebellious child grown up? What is every fomenting conspirator but a man or woman who will not bow the knee to Jesus Christ? But he breaks the human heart, humbles pride, scatters the darkness of the mind, and melts the stubborn will. He sets up his rule in our hearts, so that our passion, conviction, and pursuit is, “Father, hallowed be your name. Your will be done.” If this is your heart, you are part of Christ’s kingdom. You cannot be toppled. Whatever government you live under, rich or poor, imprisoned or free, you are Christ’s freedman. You are a citizen of his kingdom. His kingdom is not man’s movements, spiritual gurus, internet sensations, and ecclesiastical hierarchies. Christ’s kingdom is not crusades and cathedrals but your neighbor being brought to faith in Jesus Christ by your testimony to his love and blood. It is your children taught to overcome the world because you are helping and talking with them, praying with them, and bringing them to Jesus Christ every day, as Job did his adult children.
Along the way, his kingdom calms the fears and anxieties that create so much misery in our lives. Why do you think there is such an outbreak of insomnia, mental fog, constitutional nervousness, chronic digestive issues, and despair in our land? Jesus Christ is the King, and unlike human kings, he knows the hearts of his subjects. He troubles his enemies. He tests and chastens his friends so that they confess, Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, and your will be done – with these children, with this job, with this marriage, with our histories of sin, with our broken relationships – all of these things brought before the King, our sins confessed, our lives submissive. Whatever you want for me, Father; wherever I need to be touched by your healing hand, convicted, my sins shaken, my pride humbled – you are my Lord, faithful Savior. Help me find your word sweet to my taste, even if makes my stomach bitter for a season. I will trust you. Rule over me for your own glory. These are the realities of our Savior’s kingdom. He gives new life, new attitudes, and new hope. Seek him and know his grace.