As we consider today’s reading, let’s keep in mind the apocalyptic language being used. These prophesied events aren’t to be taken literally, this isn’t like reading a newspaper or a history book. The keys to much of what we read can be found in the Old Testament’s rich mine of symbols, especially Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. And even so, as you do dig down into the meanings of these things, please also keep in mind that they still will remain mysteries, the precise events and people will remain cloaked, becoming clear only after the event itself.
The purpose of this revelation is not to give us a heads-up on exact people and events, but rather they were intended to give the readers down through the ages the sure and steadfast hope of God’s word that no matter how bad things get, God still wins — and therefore, so do we, if we remain faithful. Such a hope really does provide an anchor for the soul, when the storms of life — and even of prophecy — break on us. When these persecutions hit and things look dark indeed, we can confidently remember that God anticipated all of it well in advance; and it is no sign of defeat, but rather a sign that God’s ultimate victory and our salvation is sure. Speaking of such mysteries…
Seal up the things spoken — 10:4
Not everything that is given in a revelation to a prophet (or apostle) is for public consumption. Here John hears the seven great peals of thunder, he is then told to seal it up and not write it down. Apparently, it was something only for John to know. This isn’t terribly unusual. God told Moses that there might be things that humans would like to know, but that God will either not divulge at all, or divulge to a very select few — Deuteronomy 29:29 ““The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” He told Daniel (Daniel 8:26), “The vision of the evenings and mornings Which has been told is true; But keep the vision secret, For it pertains to many days in the future.” And Paul tell us that in a vision he (2 Corinthians 12:4) “was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” Why? Perhaps like as God told Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:5), “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days– You would not believe if you were told.” Perhaps, it is because we wouldn’t be able to handle it; maybe we wouldn’t be able to understand it (it may be way over our ability to follow); maybe we only THINK we want to know; or maybe God keeps certain things secret like a general keeps His operational matters secret. We needn’t be concerned about the details of God’s plan, He’s got it all under control.
Sweet but bitter — 10:8ff
The scroll that John is told to eat here apparently has prophecies about the future. Why does it have a sweet taste but a bitter effect on the stomach? This may be a message for the martyrs under the altar, or the martyrs of that age that had not given their lives yet, or the Christians at the very end of time — the ultimate victory is coming (the sweet taste) but there’s a lot of bitter in between now and the victory. And this is important for us to remember in our personal lives as well as in the larger picture — we do win (great news!) but there are plenty of trials between here and there. Israel celebrated on the other side of Red Sea as Pharaoh and his army drowned in the Red Sea; they were free and would be given the Promised Land. But there would be plenty of trials between the Red Sea and the Jordan River. The goal is to be as faithful and courageous as Joshua and Caleb.
Two witnesses — 11:1ff
And no, I don’t think these two witnesses are Joshua and Caleb. In fact, I don’t know who they are. They are obliquely compared to Elijah and Moses in v. 6. They are compared with Jeshua the priest and Zerubbabel (v. 4), from Zech. 4. They are martyrs (the Greek word for witness) and prophets and they will serve the Lord during a period of great tribulation — 1260 days, 42 months, and 3.5 years are all the same length of time and they symbolize intensely troubled, but time-limited periods. Whoever they are — people, OT and NT, or whatever — they make the world really uncomfortable with their preaching of the Gospel, and when they are killed, the world celebrates — until they are raised up again (3.5 days later, sound familiar?) to the world’s amazement and terror. And here this revelation seems to end at “the end”. Some of these revelations in Revelations are like strands of prophecy about certain aspects of God’s victory, leading us to the end. Some look at the call of God through disaster to the world in hopes of their repentance — right down to the end. Others like this one focus on the persecution of the world upon the church during the last days of world. Others seem to focus on the fall of the world power of their day (Rome) with parallels to a similar downfall of a similar power at the end of time. Daniel does a similar thing as he talks about the 4 great empires three different times in his prophecy — each with a different emphasis in mind.
The woman and the child — 12:1ff
Here’s a wonderful look at the stretch of God’s dealing with His people to bring about their salvation. The woman symbolizes God’s people in the OT and the NT. The child is the Christ. The serpent is Satan. The picture is one in which Satan is trying everything to kill the woman, but God continues to intervene and rescue her to Satan’s ultimate and complete failure. The message? God will always be there to take care of His people — always!
The dragon was enraged with the woman — 12:17
But the dragon is enraged with the woman and goes off to make war with her children. Who are these children? You and me, the individual disciples. Satan will not be able to destroy the corporate people of God, the church, but he can attempt to pick us off individually and he does. Like a raging criminal, knowing that he cannot win, he is determined to do as much damage as he possibly can. Therefore, we must watch out.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing