Revelation (Part 16): The Message of the Thunders
Verse 2 of chapter 10 tells us that the angel plants one foot on the land and one on the sea. Continuing with the understanding that this angel is none other than Christ himself, we must find his firm stance as meaningful. Remember that at this point the seals have been removed from the scroll that contains the redemption deed. Jesus, as Kinsman Redeemer, has opened up the scroll detailing redemption (its price, what is being redeemed, and who is being redeemed), and it lies open in his hand. This stance then shows Christ having had made the payment for the redemption (his death), and having done so, he now stands ready to claim his redemption. The earth and sea—the creation of God—is what he is ready to claim. See the strength in the scene: Jesus, the mighty angel, plants his feet on earth and sea and roars out in victory that he will retake all creation!
Immediately a chorus of thunders answer his claim. John is about to record their answer, but is told to seal what they said. Much speculation has swirled as to what the thunders may have said. Some commentators argue that we are not ever meant to know, claiming that God is showing us that some mysteries must be kept secret. But is this really a secret? I think that what they said is no secret at all if we keep a grasp on context.
Jesus is roaring out victory over sin and death. Jesus has planted his feet on creation in symbolic act of claiming creation. His roar undoubtedly has to do with his claim. How would we imagine the seven thunders to respond. The seven speaks of divine perfection/completion. So what would we guess would be heaven’s answer to Christ’s victory cry and claim? Of course heaven would respond with a deafening YES! “Yes, you have won. Yes you have completed the mission of love and sacrifice on which you embarked. Yes, you have won the right to God’s creation. Yes, you are Lord of lords and King of kings! Yes all creation is yours!” But this response is sealed, tucked away for a later time. Why? It is because of God’s plan.
Think back to the example of Boaz. Boaz redeemed the land. But his motivation and prize was not actually simply the land. His motivation was Ruth. It was love for her that moved him to redeem. And just so, it is God’s love for us that drew salvation’s plan. The plan to redeem included a time of calling, witnessing, testifying, and drawing all those who would come to the Redeemer to receive life. And so the final victory, “Amen,” to Christ’s roar must be delayed until salvation would be applied to all those responding in faith.
But notice the tension. When the fifth seal was plucked open, the souls under the altar cried out, “When?” They wanted to know how long until their blood would be avenged. And surely it seems anticlimactic if all of history had built up through God’s progressive revelation until the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus to reverse sin’s curse. And it had happened! And so . . . delay? Wait longer?
We know that God's redemption plan has an already-but-not-yet tension in it. There is an aspect of delay still—for the application of redemption. Nevertheless, there is also an aspect of no delay in the completed accomplishment by Christ's victory that won the path for believing humans to eventually gain that redemption. So that already-accomplished portion is what we hear in the angel's roar, "Victory is won!" But the responding cry from heaven is delayed ("sealed up") until the plan totally completes with Christ's return and application of redemption to his believing image bearers. But lest there is despair of further continued delay to our access to God, the angel (Christ) raises his right hand to heaven and swears there will no longer be that delay (10:6). Even though we must wait for all creation—this material earth, including our bodies—to be freed from the curse, our access is not limited because we are now in Christ. And OT believers in God's rescue may take part in his redemption as well (though they still wait as we do for its realization at Christ's return). But their access to God, like ours, is no longer delayed. They also join with Christ in spirit. But later, upon the sounding of the seventh trumpet at the end of the age when Christ returns, God's whole redemptive plan completes—redemption both accomplished and applied.
The rest of chapter 10 is a charge to Christians of this age. We find here that the mighty angel allows John to take the scroll and instructs him to eat it. The scene mirrors that of Ezekiel 2:8 through 3:3. There Ezekiel ate the scroll with the message of judgment. The scroll was sweet to the taste, but it contained a bitter message of woe and lamentation.
We find that duo of judgment and blessing always in God’s response. It is judgment (and therefore bitter) to those who reject God’s message. But it is blessing (sweetness) to those who embrace it.
This is a major point of how God works that should not be ignored when working on one’s own view of eschatology. Always God brings these two elements together. And always God presents the judgment before he presents the blessing. In Isaiah we read of judgment after judgment, but then the remnant comes through with blessing. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10, we read of judgment to those who afflict God’s people and reward of rest to those who are afflicted. And this happens (1:7b) “at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels.” So we find two thoughts: judgment and blessing go hand in hand and judgment seems always to precede blessing. And yet the Premillennialists insist that judgment and blessing are separated by seven years with blessing coming first. Postmillennialists demand blessing first to be followed by a time of judgment. Even a cursory reading of Revelation 20 and 21 record judgment and then blessing following.
John takes the scroll and eats it and finds the mixed sweetness and bitterness. But the interesting point is that he is able to take the scroll at all! Did we not see heaven and earth silent in chapter 5 when the call was made to anyone worthy to take the scroll?! But now Jesus himself gives up the scroll into John’s hand? Why?
Jesus has conquered sin and death. Jesus has applied his death to John (representative of all those of faith and taking part in redemption). John is made alive in the righteousness of Christ. Jesus was worthy in chapter 5 because he had righteous covenant relationship with God. Now, because of Jesus’s victory, John (and we) have righteous covenant relationship with God. And so John takes the scroll showing he (and we) share in redemption and in the mission of redemption.
Notice that mission. He must “prophesy again.” Remember that John represents us, so we must not look to John’s personal life to see how he would prophesy again. Since God’s people are represented by him, it is God’s people who must prophesy again. Of course, this refers to the prophesy—the witness—of those prior to Christ’s victory that pointed the world to his coming. Now we, who come after Christ’s victory, must testify again of our Redeemer King, pointing the world this time to his conquering.
As we move into chapter 11, we should step back to view our overall place in the story. Chapter 10 proclaimed the victory of Christ in his first advent: the death and resurrection. Chapter 11 verse 15 begins the section of Christ’s second advent in final judgment and reign. Therefore, chapter 11 verses 1 through 14 give instruction and account for that which takes place between those two advents.
The first verse of chapter 11 (and therefore the first indication of what must occur in this interadvental age) speaks of measuring God’s sanctuary. This is imagery. It starts a serious of figurative allusion throughout this chapter that, unless we proceed circumspectly and correctly recognize, interpret, and understand this beginning imagery, we will end up flailing as most frustrated commentators do, with no clue and no hope of having the passage speak to them. So let’s stop and listen and think. Let’s step through what we know already, and hopefully it will show us the way to proceed.
As I always admonish, everything that God says to us through his word must coalesce with his foundational purpose for creation. Why did God create? What is the Zion purpose? It is to establish everlasting love relationship with the community of his image bearers. Everything that you see in the Bible must be able to be tracked back to that foundational purpose. If your interpretation of anything in Scripture does not link to that foundational, bedrock purpose, you should definitely reevaluate your interpretation. That, then, is step one.
We are discussing the measurement of God’s sanctuary—God’s temple. The OT, of course, has much to say of the temple and temple imagery. From the wilderness wanderings when Israel first became a nation, God gave exact measurement and design to the tabernacle that was to be the meeting place of God with his image bearers. That tabernacle turned into Solomon’s temple, once the Israelites were settled in the land and God gave them instruction to build.
Even after that temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, God reestablished the temple, indicating his continued desire for that Zion purpose despite the interference of sin.
And then we find in Ezekiel a detailed measuring, defining, and outlining of a figurative new temple, new land, and new city in its last chapters: 40 through 48, that stands for us, his people.
All of this intense, intricate description, with emphasis on measurement, emphasizes the care of God on this meeting place of himself with his image bearers, providing a direct link to the Zion purpose. Of course, God is not obsessively concerned with a building. The NT tells us as much. But he is obsessively concerned with relationship with us. This is the point of the imagery of the temple. It is about God with us.
Consider first the NT’s insistence in how we are to understand temple imagery. Review these passages:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.
2 Corinthians 6:14-16 – Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? . . . And what agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols? For we are the sanctuary of the living God.
Ephesians 2:19-22 – So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
1 Peter 2:5 – You yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The idea in this all is that the measurement of God’s sanctuary is the establishment of God’s people who take part in his redemption to secure God’s Zion purpose of everlasting love relationship with the community of his image bearers who in faith acknowledge dependence on God’s truth, goodness, and beauty.