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Revelation 10:1-11:19: The Bitter and the Sweet Print E-mail
Sunday, 29 April 2012

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Preaching the gospel is not safe.  Holding fast to the Word of God is a dangerous act in the enemy-occupied world in which we live.  We saw an example of such dangers even this week in the news.  A Church in Portland had rocks thrown through its windows on Thursday night.  An email was sent out later to local media outlets claiming that the people who did it opposed the Church because of its belief that homosexuality is a sin.  For those of us who came to the ďLove Costs EverythingĒ simulcast a few weeks ago, we know that such an attack is actually mild in comparison to what is taking place in other parts of the world.  Should we be surprised when a local Church has to face such challenges?  Should the persecution of believers be unexpected?

According to the Bible, and in particular the book of Revelation, we should not be surprised by persecution.  Yes, the book of Revelation promises future glory, which we see in our text this morning.  But it also promises present suffering.  This morning we are looking at the second interlude passage which takes place between the blowing of the sixth and seventh trumpet.  As we saw in the first interlude (ch. 7), this interlude tells us what is happening to believers during the final days of this age.  These two chapters are difficult to interpret.  We face numerous challenges in seeking to understand them.  Yet, I think we can say with assurance that three of Godís promises are fulfilled in these chapters.  I want us to consider these in our time together.

First Promise: The Mystery of God Revealed (10:1-11)

This vision begins with John seeing another angel coming down from Heaven (he is apparently back on the earth).  The description of this angel leads some to think that this angel is actually Christ.  Yet, it seems odd for Christ to be called simply Ďanother angel.í  Either way, it is obvious that this angel is important and has a place of great authority.  He comes with a little scroll open in his hand.  This Ďlittle scrollí is probably a portion of the scroll that Christ was given containing the history of redemption (see 5:1ff).  The angel cries out with a loud voice and the seven thunders sounded.  Again, it is difficult to know what these refer to.  John starts to write down what is revealed but is told not to, possibly demonstrating that not all was to be revealed to the Church. 

Then the angel raises his hand to Heaven and gives an oath.  What is the content of this oath?  He tells John that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled.  First, the angel says that the long awaited time has finally arrived.  Over and over again the saints have cried: ďHow Long, O Lord, How longÖĒ  The angel tells John that the wait is over, the time has come.  This statement affirms the cyclical view of the seals, trumpets, and bowls, which all end on the final Day.  All of these visions that John is given are pointing us to the consummation of the history of Redemption.  On that Day, there will be no more delay.  Second, the angel tells us that the mystery of God would be fulfilled.  Again, many different interpretations have been offered for this phrase, but it seems that it points to the fulfillment of Godís plan of redemption.

After the angelís oath, John is told to take the little scroll and to eat it.  This seems odd until we remember Ezekielís commissioning as a prophet, which we read earlier (Ezekiel 3:1-15).  Ezekiel was told to preach repentance to Israel and such a privilege of preaching Godís Word would be sweet to him.  Yet, it would also be bitter because God told him that Israel would not repent.  His message would be a message of judgment on Godís people.  Johnís commissioning is strikingly similar.  The privilege of preaching will be sweet (and will involve glorious future blessings for Godís people), but it will also be bitter because it will involve severe suffering on the earth for Godís people, as well as judgment against the nations.  Such is the nature of preaching the gospel.  It is bitter and sweet.  It is curse and blessing.  It is judgment and salvation.  We see a fulfillment of this in Johnís ministry in chapter 11, which contains two more promises of God that are fulfilled.

Second Promise: The witnesses of God resurrected (11:1-14)

John is given a command to measure the temple of God in 11:1-2.  Look at those verses with me.  Many interpretations have been given for this temple, but I think the best in the context sees it as a figurative representation of the Church in the last days.  Johnís measuring of it symbolized the security of believers (particularly their spiritual protection).  The trampling of the outer court by the Gentiles for forty-two months refers to the persecution that the Church will face from unbelievers in the last days.  It is this interpretation that leads best to the rest of the vision involving the two witnesses, who are introduced in verse 3.  Look at that with me.  The two witnesses most likely refer to the Church collective, in particular the Church of the final days leading up to Christís return.  They are described in verses 4-6.  Look at those with me.  The two lampstands point to the witnesses as being the Church.  They will witness to Christ in the final days and their witness will not be snuffed out until it is complete.  They are described like Moses and Elijah, in that they will have power to execute their witness like those two prophets did. 

When their witness is complete (and not before), the beast will arise from the abyss and kill them.  Look at verses 7-10.  As we will see in future chapters, the beast is the major enemy of the Church in the final days.  We will consider his identity more in future passages, but here the point is that he makes war on the witnesses and kills them.  In response to their deaths, the unbelieving earth dwellers rejoice, they even exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.  Unbelievers view the testimony of the Church as torment.  They do not want to be told that they are sinners deserving of Godís judgment.  They refuse to believe that only the death of Godís own Son could save them.  They want to live their lives without the interference of God and His ways.  They rejoice over the dead witnesses.

But that is not the end.  Look at verses 11-14.  Death is not the end for the witnesses of Christ.  Just as it could not hold Him, so it will not hold them.  They will be raised victorious over the grave just as He was.  Do not miss the connection.  Jesus came and defeated evil by being defeated on a cross.  The witnesses defeat the enemy by being killed by the enemy.  The path to glory leads through suffering.  Paul writes that we are heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17).  Such a vision would greatly encourage those who were facing such suffering in the churches in Asia.  The enemy might have victory on the earth, he might set up rulers and authorities to persecute the Church, but he would not win in the end.  God will raise His people on the last Day and He will judge His enemies justly, which is what the third promise tells us about.

Third Promise: The Kingdom of God Realized (11:15-19)

John tells us that the second woe has ended and the third woe is soon to come, which is what takes place with the blowing of the seventh trumpet in 11:15-19.  Look at verse 15 with me. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God.  He called for people to repent because the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15).  He inaugurated the coming of Godís Kingdom to the earth.  In this verse we read of the consummation.  Godís Kingdom has come and He shall reign forever and ever.  As we continue to see in this book God sovereignly reigns over all.  On that Day, this truth will be undeniable.  His Kingdom will be fully realized in every way. 

John then gives us another vision of heavenly worship.  Look at verses 16-17.  Do you notice anything odd about the eldersí description of God here?  In 1:4, 1:8, and 4:8 God is described as the One who is, and the One who was, and the One who is to come.  Yet, here He is only the One who was and the One who is.  Why drop the last part?  Because He has come.  He has taken (His) great power and begun to reign.  One of my commentatorís notes: ďOne of the great moments in the book is when the threefold formula is altered so that there is no more future (ďwho is to comeĒ) because the eschaton has arrived and eternity is now to begin.Ē 1  John then describes Godís judgment of the wicked and the blessing of the righteous.  Look at verses 18-19.  The wicked will be destroyed.  This does not mean that they will no longer exist, but that they will be punished for their sins (see 20:14-15).  The righteous will be rewarded.  Godís presence, symbolized by the ark, will be with them forever. 

Two repeated prayers of the saints are answered in this passage.  First, the psalmistís cry of Ďhow long, O Lordí is answered by the angelís oath that there would be no more delay.  No more delay.  Second, Jesus taught us to pray and ask the Father: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).  How many times have those prayers been repeated throughout history?  People crying out for God to end the suffering and bring justice, longing for the return of Christ, hoping for His eternal reign.  In this passage we see Godís answer to all those prayers.  He will not delay forever.  His Kingdom will come and His will will be done on earth even as it is done in Heaven.  This is the promise of these visions.

Until then, we are called to endure the bitter and the sweet of proclaiming the gospel.  With John, we are commissioned to preach the good news to any and all.  To some it will be the sweet fragrance of life, but to others it will be the bitter stench of death (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).  We must never forget or minimize the privilege.  Who are we that God would call us to deliver His Word to the world?  What a privilege.  Yet, we must endure the bitter as well.  The promise is not just for future blessing and present privilege, it is also a promise of present suffering.  We will face many tribulations on the path to glory.  The enemy will enjoy many victories over Godís people in this life.  He will plunder and destroy and many will die at his hands.  But he will not win in the end.  He has no power over the promises that are made to those who conquer over him with their faithful witness to the slaughtered and resurrected Lamb.  So then, give your life to bearing witness of the One who came and gave His life for you.  He suffered and died and was raised again, so that you could suffer and die and be raised again with Him.  His Kingdom is coming for His witnesses, for those who fear His Name.  May we be numbered among them.  Amen.

1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 450.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 11 May 2012 )

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