Revelation 10: John serves as the measure of Humanity’s strength as Christ and the Most High prepare a dose of evil for us to overcome.
In the theater, we feel tragedy when a person on the stage is surrounded by danger that we saw plotted in other scenes. The death of Romeo and Juliet is a great tragedy. In the final scenes, we know that Juliet has been given a drug that makes her seem dead, but Romeo does not. Finding her in the crypt, he takes a poison. Juliet awakens to find Romeo dead, and plunges a dagger into her heart.
There is no passage in the Bible that brings the human tragedy to light as does Revelation 10. Reading it now, with the struggle so close to its conclusion, we can see nobility as well, and celebration in Christ. But John is so unwitting as he brings suffering to us.
Many a parent knows this tragedy in the small. We take our trusting infant to the doctor for her first vaccinations. We know that is for her good – before we had vaccinations, mumps, scarlet fever, chicken pox and polio killed many children. But every parent tries to shield their child from pain, and every child trusts a protective parent. When the needle pierces her skin, that child’s frightened cries testify to the loss of that trust.
People offer other reasons for not taking their children for childhood vaccinations, but I think that this is the true root of their rebellion against public health laws. They can’t bear to lose the child’s trust.
In some ways, Jesus had been a parent to John. Early on, it was a troubled relationship. Jesus called John and his brother the “sons of thunder.” In one instance, they offer to call fire down to punish a town that refused entry to Jesus. Jesus’s rebuke was not gentle, but apparently didn’t change their hearts. As a final rebuke, after Moses and Elijah appeared in glory with Jesus, the Most High comes as a dark cloud to command “This is my son. Listen to him!”
Despite these troubles, John and Zebedee were honored apostles. Zebedee was the first of the Apostles to be murdered by the authorities, becoming a perfect reflection of Jesus’s courage.
John had already faced this test – alone among the Apostles, he had the courage to witness the crucifixion. So John was not made a martyr. No, the transformation that Jesus worked in him was another sort of measure. Not a measure of courage, but a measure of human strength in the battle against sin. That strength arose from John’s relationship with his savior, and it is this trust that Christ must shield as he uses John to take the measure of human strength.
For it is Christ that appears in Revelation 10, even though John does not recognize him. Perhaps John’s heart shields him, or perhaps Christ hides himself, afraid that John’s trust will be shaken.
But it is Christ, because no other possesses this authority:
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.
[NIV Rev. 10:2-3]
And he swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay!”
[NIV Rev. 10:6]
What is going on here?
The history told in Revelation is entering the last day of creation, which will end with the last of the trumpets. We know that on the seventh day the Most High created Eden, hoping that Adam and Eve would bring love to the world. They were tricked by the serpent, emissary of the enemies of the Most High, the angels that had ruled over the earth as the dinosaurs.
Christ takes John to that terrible moment in Eden. Adam and Eve were innocent children, yet to be tried by evil. But John was healed of his pride by Jesus. In him, Jesus knows the limit of human strength.
Why does Jesus hide himself in this moment? In Revelation 1, he appeared openly amidst the lamps and stars, and dictated letters to the early churches. So why does he conceal his identity now? Simply, to test John’s obedience to the Most High.
The Apostles receive little praise from Jesus in the Gospels – almost unique is his celebration of Simon Peter when he first recognizes Jesus as the Messiah:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
[NIV Matt. 16:17]
This was the goal of Jesus: for the apostles to receive the gift of power from the Most High – the power of his command. We know that if any resistance remained, that power would destroy John. So John must accept the command of the Most High without reservation and of his own will.
Jesus cannot affect that choice, but he had worked mightily during his ministry on earth to prepare John for this moment. It is as he said in the parable of the fig tree in [Luke 13:6-9]. Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is like a fig tree that bore no fruit. The owner – the Most High – commands the gardener – Jesus – to remove the tree. Jesus protests:
Sir, let it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not then cut it down.
When Christ cries out with the voice of seven thunders, he is fertilizing the world with his will. The fig tree is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that we eat of in our daily lives. But the question is whether humanity will bear fruit – whether the love of the Most High will move through us to heal the world.
So as an anonymous angel Jesus bears the little scroll in his right hand. There is no escaping that this scroll is a smaller copy of the scroll held by the Most High, the scroll of selfishness. The Most High commands:
Go, take the scroll that lies in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.
[NIV Rev. 10:8]
Like the child in the parent’s embrace, John steps forward, innocent of the consequences. Can we even begin to imagine the tenderness in Jesus’s voice as he spoke these words?
Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.
[NIV Rev. 10:9]
Yes, sweet in our mouths. For is this not the way of selfish lies? The fossil fuel industry promises us financial security. Racist politicians promise to preserve the privileges of the European immigrants, privileges created by exploitation of minorities that soon will be a majority.
We love such promises – for how else are we to survive except by consuming the weak? It is only when the promises begin to fail us that our stomachs turn bitter. Walmart hollowed out rural communities by bankrupting small businesses. The fossil fuel industry outsources drilling operations to fly-by-night operators that exploit rural workers and then disappear.
In urban areas, hospitals survive, because the communities are large enough to finance them. In rural communities, hospitals have disappeared. Poor minorities in cities now live longer than the poor in rural towns.
And the rural poor learn that they have joined the minorities as prey for the powerful.
It is against predators that Christ sets his feet and his voice. The voice is like that of a lion, king of the beasts. The lamb could choose to slay, but instead he promises:
But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished.
[NIV Rev. 10:7]
But how much will be accomplished? What is the measure of humanity? Christ does not bring the whole scroll to John, only a small portion. How much will the Most High gain from his investment of billions of years in the creation of humanity?
Far more than we might imagine from the size of the small scroll. Consider: when a child receives a vaccination, they suffer a little needle prick and fever. But when the disease comes, their immune system responds immediately to defeat the greater evil – almost without effort. Thus it will be in the end after humanity has mastered the sin contained in the little scroll. In its last chapters, Revelations teaches that through us heaven will conquer the evil in the larger scroll.
Let us summarize today’s study.
After the dinosaurs are destroyed in Revelation 9, the Most High awaited the arrival of a species that he could teach to heal the world. That species was humanity. Christ appears in Revelation 10 to announce that the time has come to accomplish the will of the Most High – which is to create a world ruled by love.
This is a great work of healing to be done through and by people. To prepare us for that work, we – through John – were asked to carry a small portion of the angels’ burden. Through the wisdom of Jesus, who had walked among us and knew the limits of our strength, the Most High exposed us only to evil that we could overcome – thereby ensuring that we would survive to heal the world.