The true measure of how much someone loves us is the extent to which they will embrace genuine sacrifice for us. We know that intuitively. We know that someone loves us if and when that person will sacrifice of their time, their resources, their attention, and their agenda for us. But us is the wrong pronoun here. We want that personally. You want that personally. I want that personally. You want someone who will voluntarily embrace sacrifice for just you, yourself. At a deep, deep level that is precisely what each one of us wants. We each want to be loved individually by someone who considers just me and me alone worthy of sacrifice.
At the same time, many of us doubt our worth, because we know too much about ourselves. I know myself. I know my faults and my failures, my tendencies and my desires. I also have an idea of how I am regarded by others. And you know yourself. You know your faults and failures, your tendencies and your desires. You also have an idea of how you are regarded by others. Since we know what we know about ourselves, we sometimes doubt whether we actually are worthy of sacrificial love. We hope we are. We would like to think that we might be, maybe. But we doubt it, at times.
At the heart of the Christian message is the Cross of Christ. The message is that Jesus Christ was willing to sacrifice himself because he considered us worthy of the cost. He was willing to endure the extreme agony of the brutal, awful cross because he wanted to make reconciliation possible. He loved us. He considered us worth it.
But this only makes sense if Jesus Christ was more than a mere human being. If Jesus was just a historical figure who was executed by the Romans years ago, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that he did what he did because he loves us. It only makes sense if Jesus was somehow more than a mere human. It only makes sense if he was divine, the Son of God. Jesus died for us because he knows us, and knows us in some capacity as God. As part of the eternal Godhead, Jesus loved us and loves us still. And as part of the eternal Godhead, he was was willing to embrace unimaginable sacrifice for us.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus, speaking of himself in Mark 10:45
Are you worthy of that kind of love? Well, yes and no. Or more accurately, no and yes.
We certainly do not deserve that kind of love. We really are flawed. We really are tainted. We really are guilty. God knows us better than we know ourselves. And that should not necessarily encourage us. God actually knows how vile we can be. God actually knows how crumby our thoughts and intentions are. God knows our worst faults and failures, our ugliest tendencies and our basest desires. He does not sugarcoat or excuse the wrong we have done. He recognizes that we deserve judgment and punishment. God is offended at our failures, even highly offended. Our sin defiles us before God.
But nonetheless, God does not want to punish us. He would rather withhold punishment. Our failures and wrongs put God in a bind. On one hand, we ought to be judged. On the other hand, He wants to show mercy. He wants to show you mercy because He considers you worth the sacrifice. Otherwise, He would not have bothered stooping so low.
Since God loves us, and since His mercy triumphs over judgment, God made a way for us out of our predicament. He shared in our humanity so as to take our punishment. He became a man for our sake. He became mortal and sacrificed himself. God the Father and God the Son agreed to the horror and agony of the Cross. Jesus Christ would sacrifice himself on our behalf, because the justice of God required it, and because God loves us that much.
He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works.
The Apostle Paul, regarding Jesus, in Titus 2:14.
But there is a catch, a requirement. The catch is that you have to accept Christ’s self-sacrifice as a gift, and give your allegiance to him. He did not die simply because he wants to show you how nice he is. He wants you in return. He wants your love and allegiance in return for the love He showed you. And that is an entirely reasonable expectation and offer. Indeed, that is the best offer you will ever get, bar none.
… and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood … to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
From the introductory benediction in the Book of Revelation 1:5-6
This past weekend my wife and I attended a long-delayed wedding. For well over six months, the dread virus had prevented the betrothed couple from publicly exchanging their wedding vows. Nonetheless, after patiently (or impatiently) enduring the pandemic-imposed pause, they had made it to the re-predetermined big day. Their long-anticipated, once-in-a-lifetime day finally, actually arrived. We were happy to witness the ceremony and share the occasion with the two of them.
At the reception afterward my wife and I were seated by the Officiant and his wife. I call him the Officiant because the pretty wedding program said as much. However, based on his eloquence and the poise with which he conducted himself during the wedding ceremony, I knew that the man could be no mere bureaucratic officiant. That was just a temporary title, a role he played in the wedding ceremony. I was very confident that professionally the man must be a preacher. And indeed, he is. All of this background information is just to arrive at the pertinent point that someone decided to seat us near the polished, professional preacher man.
The polished, professional preacher man and I talked over dinner. It ended badly.
Throughout the reception, we periodically talked shop. I told him that I had attended seminary, like him. He informed me that not only did he attend seminary, he once taught at a seminary. In fact, he taught the art of Homiletics, which means he taught aspiring preachers how to preach. No surprise there: Based on the poise, the polish, the quick wit, and the eloquence with which he had conducted himself during the wedding ceremony as the Officiant, I already had him pegged as a prestigious religious professional.
Our dinner conversation was going along quite nicely and cordially until I solicited his highly trained professional opinion on my favorite topic. Perhaps I should have been more hesitant to inject something so awkward into our pleasant banter. But my desire to go beyond conventions and pleasantries got the best of me, as it often does. So I went ahead and presented him with a brief summary of how I interpret the Book of Revelation. He politely humored me for a while, and gave me some considerate, candid feedback. However, he was not sold. He thought I had not established my points well enough. When I tried even more to convince him, he reached the end of his patience with me. He turned to his wife, and asked if she were ready to leave. I had pushed him too hard.
And so it goes. And I cannot blame him. We had not met before; yet I had turned an otherwise pleasant evening into an awkward interaction. When I persisted, he desisted. Of course, it was his prerogative to do just that.
To be candid, I am still quite conflicted about my encounter with the polished, professional preacher man. I am not entirely repentant. If given the same opportunity again, I might do exactly the same thing again. That is because I believe that there are some things more important than meeting the expectations of social propriety. And, in my own defense, I also knew when it was time to quit — sort of, maybe.
The thing is, I actually gave the polished, professional preacher man something worthwhile to think about. He might not have agreed with me. He might not have liked the setting in which I chose to say it. But nonetheless, I gave him something potentially valuable. And I made my pitch somewhat discretely, as only two other people were there to overhear our conversation — his wife and mine.
Jesus did the same thing. On occasion, he deliberately violated social convention. Sometimes, Jesus was intentionally impolite. He did so because he knew that what he had to say was far more important than how he was expected to behave.
Are you wondering what I am talking about? In the Gospel of Luke 11:37-54, Jesus behaves quite badly as a guest at a banquet. He breaks social conventions over and over. To start, he fails to follow the custom of washing up before dinner. His failure to do so shocked his host. Thereafter Jesus berated his host and the gathered religious professionals for being more interested in exterior cleanliness than interior purity. Jesus denounced his host and his fellow guests as fools, and pronounced three woes upon them.
Therefore, I think it is fair to say that Jesus was not polite in that social situation.
But, was Jesus wrong? His behavior was an absolute breach of propriety and convention. The Pharisees were very much offended. And Jesus must have known as much. But he chose to do it anyway. Jesus chose to offend them because he knew what he had to communicate was far more important than a pleasant evening with easy dinner conversation.
Now I do realize that not every dinner conversation needs to be a blunt confrontation with hard truths. But some dinner conversations should be. Sometimes hard things need to be said and heard.
May God grant us the discernment to know when to dispense with propriety and when not.
They were there on the mountainside out of deference to their esteemed Rabbi from Galilee.
Catastrophes invariably provoke variations on one basic theological question: What did God have to do with this event?
One week ago, on Friday, April 30th 2021, an awful tragedy occurred on a mountainside in northern Galilee at an annual nighttime festival called Lag Ba’Omer. Forty-five men and boys were accidentally trampled to death after they fell onto the metal floor of a narrow passageway which had been constructed near a tomb-turned-shrine. No, nothing malicious occurred. There was no bomb. There was no terrorist attack. It was simply a freak accident. It was just far too crowded on the mountainside that night. Too many of their fellow festival-attendees were rushing ahead and pushing through the narrow passageway at once. Someone must have lost his footing; and then a tragic domino effect occurred. The sheer momentum of the crowd crushed forty-five of them.
So why were there so many people there on the mountainside last Friday night? Every year on Lag Ba’Omer thousands of Orthodox Jewish men and boys make a pilgrimage to Mount Meron to venerate a second-century Rabbi named Shimon Bar Yochai, also known as Rashbi, because Mount Meron is where his tomb is located; and Lag Ba’Omer is the anniversary of Rashbi’s death.
Incidentally (and of special interest to me), Lag Ba’Omer translates from Hebrew into English as “the 33rd [Day] of Omer.” The omer are the sheaves of grain that symbolize the 49 days between the end of Passover and the Day of Pentecost (see Leviticus 23:9-21 for a scriptural description of the period). Of course, the end of Passover and the Day of Pentecost are very important holy days for Christians, as well, as one happens to be Resurrection Day, and the other the anniversary of the Founding of the Church. Christians might also find it curious that Mount Meron is considered a possible site for the Transfiguration, when and where Jesus was transfigured into a glowing figure who spoke with the two long-departed Old-Testament figure-heads, Moses and Elijah. This event — this splendid, glowing Transfiguration — happened in view of three of his awestruck disciples — Peter, James, and John (see Mark 9:2-13; Matthew 17:1-13; and Luke 9:28-36). But the whereabouts of the Transfiguration is contested by scholars. Did it actually occur on Mount Meron? We don’t know. New Testament scholars cannot be certain as to where the Transfiguration occurred, because the three Gospel accounts simply say it occurred on “a high mountain.” Still, based on Jesus’ textually-indicated route from Point A (Caesarea Philippi) to Point B (Capernaum), it might well have happened somewhere in between, which would be Mount Meron.
From henceforth however, Mount Meron will be remembered as the place where 45 Orthodox Jewish men and boys were crushed on April 30th 2021 in an awful accident. Predictably, in the week hence, lots of people in Israel are asking just whom to blame for the accident. Someone even wrote an Op-Ed article saying no one person bears the blame, besides God. Although it may sound blasphemous, it is legitimate to ask if the Op-Ed writer was right. Should God be held responsible for the accident? Please ponder the matter with me before you answer that.
Whenever an event like this occurs, people ask the what-about-God question. They ask if God had anything to do with it or not. Theologically speaking, this is called the Problem of Evil, because instances of evil (perceived or actual) leave us wondering why God decreed it or allowed it to occur. Technically speaking, the Problem of Evil is reduced to just a single word: theodicy.
At the risk of sounding far too detached and clinical, over the years theologians (like me) have compiled a number of answers to the theodicy question. A six-point list may seem especially callous. But in the final analysis, detached logical reasons can actually help people grapple with such questions. So here are six possible theodicies — six theological explanations for any given catastrophic event:
Individual Judgment. God is using this catastrophic event to express some measure of displeasure with a person.
Corporate Judgment. God is using this catastrophic event to express some measure of displeasure with a defined group of people.
Individual Testing. God is focusing this catastrophic event instrumentally on an individual basis. That is, God wants to see how an individual person will respond to this circumstantial test. The person’s response will determine growth in his/her character, and may well determine his/her future.
Corporate Testing. God is using this catastrophic event instrumentally on a corporate basis. That is, God wants to see how a group of people will respond to this circumstantial test. The group’s response will determine growth in their corporate culture, and may determine their future course.
Cause and Effect. God is not directly involved in this catastrophe, insofar as it was not divinely ordained as judgment nor testing. However, God did not intervene to prevent its occurrence, either. The catastrophic event in consideration is best explained as a cause-and-effect situation.
Divine Non-Involvement. God had nothing whatsoever to do with the catastrophe in consideration. God neither ordained nor allowed the catastrophe to occur; but it occurred nonetheless. (However, given what the Bible reveals about the Sovereignty of God, I do not believe this can ever stand as a genuine theological option.)
At this juncture, I have a question: Are there any other possible theodicies that I have not listed here? If so, please feel free to let me know what possibilities you might suggest.
As for which of the six explanations fit last week’s Mount Meron accident, I will simply shrug. But if pressed, I would say I think it is probably a combination of the first five explanations — but not the sixth. I do not think the sixth explanation is viable for anyone who believes in the foreknowledge and sovereignty of God.
As a Christian theologian, I do wonder if this catastrophic event will prompt further questions about the irreconcilable claims of two Jewish Rabbis from Galilee, one of whom is buried on a slope of Mount Meron, the other of whom is not.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
1 John 3:8
A good friend asked me to write something about unanswered prayer. Ironically enough, his request to write about the vexing problem of unanswered prayer comes as an answer to a standing prayer of mine. His request gave me a clear sense of which direction to take my blog, which is something I have been feeling unsure about and praying about.
To answer his question about why our prayers sometimes go unanswered (at least seemingly so), I am going to reference and bring together a number of passages from the Bible. At the center, my anchor passage will be Revelation Chapter 10, which in perusal appears to have nothing to do with prayer whatsoever. So it seems, until you study its subtle signposts.
In a previous blog post entitled The Cast of Chapter Ten, I argued that the Mighty Angel in Revelation Chapter Ten is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Are you skeptical of that claim? I strongly suspect that some of my readers and listeners are initially uncertain about that claim. Why not just accept that the Mighty Angel is an angelic being? I would ask anyone who is skeptical about it to do two things: First, go re-read or re-listen to that blog post. Second, hear me out in this blog post.
An edible (and yet indigestible) scroll ties Revelation 10:8-10 directly to Ezekiel 3:1-3. In the Prophecy of Ezekiel, Someone enthroned in glory (yet resembling a man: Ezekiel 1:26) hands an edible, script-covered scroll to Ezekiel and instructs him to eat it. In the Book of Revelation, the Mighty Angel (who, incidentally, is described very similarly to the One Enthroned in Ezekiel: compare Ezekiel 1:28 to Revelation 10:1) hands an edible scroll to John and instructs him to eat it. Could this be the one and the same Scroll-Giver in both Ezekiel and Revelation? I do believe so. I will assume so. I assume the celestial Scroll-Giver to be none other than Jesus Christ in both books. Again, I argue for this more thoroughly in my previous post The Cast of Chapter Ten.
If you are willing to tentatively grant me my premise (that in both Ezekiel and in Revelation the Scroll-Giver is Jesus Christ), then I will proceed to introduce an awkward, unsettling, and complicating piece of information, a piece of information that opens up the question of unanswered prayer. This awkward, unsettling, and complicating piece of information truly does complicate things.
Here I go: Revelation 10 points not just to the introduction of Ezekiel, but also to the closing of Daniel. Revelation 10:5-6 depicts the Mighty Angel as making a solemn oath, in deliberate replay of the angel depicted in Daniel 12:7. In itself, that deliberate replay — that echo — is not a problem. But it becomes awkward for me quickly, because the angel at the end of the Prophecy of Daniel looks less like Jesus Christ and more like a standard-issue angelic being. It would be much better for my argument if it were the other way around.
Consequently, I do not readily admit that, nor point it out. I do not want to admit that because at the end of Daniel we are presented with an angel who comes across as a mere angel, and not Jesus Christ. All the same, Revelation Chapter Ten clearly points its readers not just to the opening of Ezekiel, but also to closing three chapters of Daniel, where we read about or hear about an angel who gets temporarily delayed in a spiritual conflict. That temporary delay poses something of a problem for me. And my whole argument may disintegrate due to it.
But then again, maybe not.
Am I getting way ahead of myself? My readers and listeners might not know enough about the angel or angels in the closing chapters of the Prophecy of Daniel, yet. So here is a quick and loose summary: While exiled from his homeland Daniel served as a government official (in multiple foreign administrations) and as a prophet of God (an interesting and unusual combination of occupations). At one point, after reading the Prophecy of Jeremiah, Daniel began praying about the potential reconstruction and restoration of Jerusalem, a city he had not seen for decades, since his youth. In response to Daniel’s prayer, God sent the Angel Gabriel with an answer (see Daniel 9:21). Who did God send? A standard-issue angelic being named Gabriel. And no, the Angel Gabriel is definitely not Jesus Christ. Am I wrong, then, to think that the doppelgänger Mighty Angel in Revelation 10 is Jesus? Might he simply be the Angel Gabriel? Hold on, though. Angelic mix-up is occurring here. Gabriel is not the Mighty Angel’s doppelgänger; another angel/messenger is.
On another and separate occasion Daniel prayed another time. Again, God sent an angelic messenger to answer Daniel’s prayer. But this time, the angel is not named; instead this Angel is said to resemble a man (see Daniel 10:18). You might recall that in Ezekiel the Scroll-Giver is said to resemble a man (see Ezekiel 1:26). Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. Perhaps this Angel — this man-resembling messenger — is said to resemble a man because he is in fact the Son of Man, that is, Jesus Christ. This, then, is not just a doppelgänger. This is the same person, the same individual, the same being. This is Jesus Christ, in Daniel, as in Ezekiel, as in Revelation. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He just appears to humanity in various guises.
But if so — if the Angel introduced in Daniel 10 is in fact Jesus Christ — then how is it that this divine Angel was delayed by the Prince of Persia for 21 days (see Daniel 10:13)? How is it that Jesus Christ was held up for three weeks? How is it that Jesus Christ required the assistance of a Chief Prince named Michael? That does not compute. Could Jesus Christ really be delayed in spiritual conflict and in need of assistance?
Yes. Yes, he could. If I am interpreting these passages correctly, that is the implication.
What?!? Some of my readers and listeners did not like that answer, not at all. Admittedly, it sounds nigh-to-heretical. If Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then nothing and no one can stand in his way and hold him up. Jesus Christ does not need anyone’s assistance.
That is true, on this side of the Cross. But somehow the Prince of Persia (who was not a man, but an evil spiritual being) had legal standing and real spiritual authority. At that point in human history, Jesus Christ had not yet defeated the Principalities and Powers of Darkness. Jesus Christ would utterly defeat them later, at the Cross. Yet for some reason, in Daniel’s day, Jesus Christ did not invoke or actualize his full divine authority. It may even be accurate to say that Jesus Christ could not invoke or actualize his divine authority until after he had completed his mission to save humanity. I think this may be because once God sets spiritual rules, He plays by those rules, even if it means He necessarily imposes limits on Himself.
This may all sound slightly crazy and maybe even theologically unsound. But consider the New Testament passages where Jesus confronts demons and evil spirits. They are fully aware of the potential threat he poses to their “turf,” their domain and dominion (see Mark 1:24). And in his temptation of Jesus, Satan himself even claims to have rightful authority over the kingdoms of the world (see Luke 4:5-6). Jesus was an invader who had come to reclaim what they had previously seized in spiritual battle.
Prior to his incarnation and his victory at the cross, then, Jesus’ authority was temporarily restrained. The Prince of Persia, who had real spiritual authority, was able to contest and delay the pre-incarnate Christ. And the pre-incarnate Christ even required the assistance of Michael, an angel. It sounds crazy, I admit. But it might be right.
What does this have to do with prayer? Daniel only got the answer to his prayer after 21 days of intense spiritual warfare. Perhaps that tells us something important. Perhaps some spiritual battles are only won through persistence in prayer. Perhaps we even assist God through our prayers. Perhaps some accomplishments only occur when we partner with God in prayer. If so, it is probably because those are the spiritual rules God has set; and God plays by those rules.
His disciples once asked Jesus why they had been unable to rid a boy of a demon. Jesus’ response (see Mark 9:29) was telling: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” My wife gets a nod and the credit for making the link between this passage in Mark and the conundrum we find in Daniel 10. Thank you, my dear.
As you might guess, I am back to asserting and affirming that the Mighty Angel of Revelation Chapter 10 is one and the same person as the one resembling a man in Ezekiel 1:26 and the angel/messenger resembling a man in Daniel 10:16.
How does all this help my friend who is perplexed by the problem of unanswered prayer? If nothing else, it tells us that due to unseen spiritual opposition some of our prayers will require patient persistence and even more patient persistence. We know from Scripture — from Ephesians 6:12 in particular — that we struggle not against flesh and blood opponents, but against rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world, against spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms. Since Jesus has already defeated those spiritual forces of evil at the Cross, we are much better positioned than Daniel ever was. And if Daniel was able to secure an answer to his prayer through persistence before Christ’s victory on the Cross, we stand an even better chance of getting answers to our prayers after the Cross.
Aside from shouting loudly with a roar like a lion, the Mighty Angel in Revelation Chapter Ten performs two conspicuous actions. First, he raises his right hand to heaven and makes a solemn vow by Him who lives forever and ever that there will be “NO MORE DELAY!” And second, he gives Narrator John an edible small scroll and instructs him to eat it, but warns John beforehand that it will hard on his stomach. Therefore, we will focus here on a solemn vow of prompt completion and an edible, yet indigestible small scroll. In my previous blog-cast I mentioned that I would get to each these two loose ends from Revelation Chapter Ten, so here I go.
As I explained previously, the Mighty Angel is actually Christ Jesus himself, but in the guise of the Angel of the Lord, which was how he appeared to people over and over throughout the Old Testament. The Mighty Angel (who is Christ Incognito) stands on the sea and the land. To stand on the sea and the land is a symbolic action of dominance. It shows the Mighty Angel’s supreme sovereignty over the Sea and the Land. Throughout the Book of Revelation the Sea represents foreign and distant nations, especially the diverse ethnic groups that populated the Roman Empire. The Land represents local and native people, which would mean the Jewish people, if and when Israel is the narrative point of reference, or alternatively, the natives of Roman Asia, if the Province of Asia is the point of reference. Thus the strident symbolism is meant to show that even when Christ is Christ Incognito, he is still sovereign and dominant over the the various peoples of the Roman Empire, and by extension, the whole world.
For the first recipients of Revelation, the natives of Provincial Asia, this imagery of the Mighty Angel astride the land and sea very likely (read: almost certainly) brought to mind the nearby ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes. The Colossus of Rhodes was once a tourist-attracting giant harbor-front statue, something like the Statue of Liberty near Manhattan. Like the Temple in Jerusalem, the Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And also like the Temple in Jerusalem, the Colossus of Rhodes was associated with one particular deity; in the case of the Colossus, that deity was the Hellenistic sun god Helios. But by the time Revelation was written and circulating, both had been toppled and were in ruins. The Temple in Jerusalem had been demolished by Emperor Titus’s troops, the Colossus of Rhodes by an earthquake. It is contextually telling, therefore, that the Mighty Angel of Revelation Ten stands astride the sea and the land. Revelation’s message must be that Jesus Christ stands supremely sovereign, where the Colossus had fallen.
Back to the narrative of the passage, though. In the fifth verse of Chapter Ten, the Mighty Angel raises his right hand to make his vow of prompt completion. This hand-raising action refers back to not one but two key Old Testament passages. The first passage is Deuteronomy 32:39-42, wherein God says, “For I lift up my hand to Heaven and swear, ‘As I live forever … I will take vengeance on my adversaries and will repay those who hate me.’” With the threat of certain vengeance, this might disturb a 21st century reader. But it makes the point clear that God is not to be trifled with. It also begs the question of whether the Mighty Angel is somehow the same person as the Divine Vow-Maker of Deuteronomy, given the strong similarities and the slight differences of the two passages. See my previous blog-cast entitled “The Cast of Chapter Ten” on that point.
The second passage is Daniel 12:5-13, where we see a Mysterious Figure — a Man. The Man is clothed in (white?) linen. He stands atop or above the Tigris River (see Daniel 10:4). He raises both his right hand and left hand to Heaven in a vow. He then informs (or perhaps more accurately, declines to clearly inform) the statesman-prophet Daniel how long he and his readers must wait until the end arrives. Daniel is given the cryptic answer of “a time, times, and half a time” until everything is accomplished. For Daniel, there will be delay — a very long delay. In the ninth verse of Daniel 12, the Mysterious Man solemnly says, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret (that is, a mystery) and sealed until the time of the End.” This passage is exactly what Revelation 10:5-7 references. Daniel is informed of a very long delay. Alternatively, John and his readers are promised that the delay will end promptly, when certain conditions are fulfilled. We are meant to catch that.
Of utmost importance, the Mighty Angel/Christ tells John that the Mystery of God will be fulfilled (or accomplished) when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet. What then, is the Mystery of God? Recall that the Mystery of God was sealed to Daniel. Does it remain sealed? Can we know what the Mystery of God is before the End? We can know it; and we do know it. We are already living in the last days, which is the Church Age. And we are privy to the Mystery of God.
While the Book of Revelation usually references the Old Testament, here we have to look to the New Testament. The Mystery of God is an important theme of the Apostle Paul’s. And yes, John’s listeners would have known that, because they were very familiar with the Pauline Epistles. Paul had written to them and their near-neighbors before John wrote Revelation. Therefore, when Jesus through John began talking about the Mystery of God, they knew exactly what he was talking about. The Mystery of God was their own adoption into the family of God. Adoption was and is the Mystery of God. Even though most of them were once pagan Gentiles, they had been invited to come join the household of God. Before the Church began, this was something unheard of and almost entirely unexpected. But God had extended an invitation to outsiders and foreigners. They, too, could accept the invitation and choose to be part of the household of God. The Mystery of God was the extent of his gracious invitation: It was even for Gentiles, who were previously excluded (see Ephesians 1:3-14; Colossians 1:24-27; 1 Timothy 3:14-16).
Consequently, when the Mighty Angel/Christ says in Revelation 10:7 that the Mystery of God will be fulfilled when the the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, he means that when the End comes, all the Gentile peoples will have had a chance to accept the invitation to be adopted — to join the family of God. The Mystery of God is accomplished when the Church accomplishes its mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ worldwide (see Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10).
As for the scroll that the Mighty Angel gives to John, it contains information — bittersweet information. Although it is true and ultimately good, it is nonetheless very difficult and even sometimes terrifying. As with Ezekiel, the scroll that John must eat contains information about various trials and catastrophes that are yet to come (see Ezekiel 2 through 5, where God tells Ezekiel of the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem). This is unwelcome information that the recipient must nonetheless pass along. It is information that pertains to the events of the End, as in, the end of the Church Age.
Considered as a whole, Chapter Ten is about Christ’s commissioning of John to pass along a preparatory revelation of the events to occur at the end of the Church Age, which I believe is about where we find ourselves in history. (Parenthetically, I say that because the fulfillment of the Great Commission seems both foreseeable and likely within the next century, if not sooner.) The contents of the Little Scroll are found in chapters eleven through twenty-two of the Book of Revelation. The Little Scroll reveals what Daniel 12 conceals. What was sealed to Daniel has been revealed to us by Christ via John in the Book of Revelation.
Count the characters. This chapter of Revelation presents listeners with a variety of characters. How many do you count? While some observers say Chapter Ten presents listeners with ten different characters, I see six fewer. No, not ten — only four. One, two, three, four, and no more characters are to be found in Chapter Ten. Of those four, one or two are primary and focal, while the other two are mostly peripheral. You might not agree with me. You might count more. How is it I count only four? Why so few?
John, of course, counts as one character, albeit a relatively minor character. John serves throughout the Book of Revelation as the vision transcriber and as our narrator. For the most part, John quietly and inconspicuously narrates what he sees and hears, and does so whenever possible from the periphery. He does not focus on himself. That is true here in Chapter Ten, except for when he must eat the edible yet indigestible scroll. More on the edible scroll in a forthcoming blog cast.
The Seven Speaking Thunders count as a second character. I say they are a character, as opposed to an event, since they do more than rumble. They speak, and speak intelligibly. Although they are said to number seven, they neither do nor say anything obviously distinctive from each other, but appear to function just as one message bearer. Perhaps they spoke simultaneously in stereo surround sound or echoed the same message in turn; yet nothing in the text indicates that they delivered seven different messages. Again, the Seven Speaking Thunders seem to function narratively as just one character. Furthermore, the Thunders cannot be considered a major character in Chapter Ten, since they appear only briefly in verses 3 and 4, where they deliver a message that is curiously censored, and immediately so.
Forgive me, but to make my point I must resort to Seminary-speak in this paragraph. As I already said, the Seven Speaking Thunders function narratively as one — as a singularity. That fact may be intended to point Revelation’s listeners to an underlying ontological/essential reality: Somehow the Seven Speaking Thunders are best understood as one — a unified one. Ontologically (that is, in essence), they may be just one spiritual entity. Like the Seven Spirits of Revelation 1:4 and 4:5, the Seven Speaking Thunders may constitute not seven separate and distinct individuals, but just one single, yet diverse, entity. Indeed, if Chapter Ten is best interpreted using a Trinitarian hermeneutic, as I would argue it ought to be, then the Seven Speaking Thunders may well be one and the same as the Seven Spirits before the Throne — the one Holy Spirit. I am suggesting that the Seven Speaking Thunders may be the same entity as the Seven Spirits before the Throne, also and more commonly known as the Holy Spirit. Please reference in particular Revelation 4:5, where peals of thunder and seven flaming torches are some of the phenomena associated with the Throne of God.
As for Chapter Ten’s third character, the Mighty Angel stands center stage. And the fourth character, though very, very important, is heard but never seen. That would be the Voice from Heaven. Throughout its eleven verses, Chapter Ten turns John’s attention, and thus the listener’s attention, to these two primary characters, who sometimes act and speak in tandem. Do notice that the Mighty Angel gets most of Chapter Ten’s airtime, by far. Thus the Mighty Angel ought to be considered Chapter Ten’s central character and primary focus.
Now that the four main characters have been counted, I will move on to my next controversial claim. Here it is: The main character is probably not whom you think he is.
Many Revelation-readers/listeners will quickly get the identity of one of these characters right, and just as quickly get identity of the other character wrong. The Voice from Heaven must be God, they will decide, and correctly so. As for the Mighty Angel, he is most likely a high-ranking angel, such as an archangel, many will conclude, incorrectly. Sorry, but that’s the wrong answer, albeit entirely understandable. No, the Mighty Angel is not merely a high-ranking angel. He is mighty. The adjective is there for a reason. He is mightier than other messengers, and far greater than other heavenly emissaries. The Mighty Angel is someone mightier than other messengers, and yet someone other than God Almighty. Who could it be?
Many Revelation interpreters will doubt with my assertions at this point. Some may anticipate where I am going, and disagree with me on this point. They will argue that the Mighty Angel is obviously portrayed as a high-ranking angel. The text clearly says he is an angel, so he must be a heavenly emissary, simply an angel. What else or who else could he be? If not a high-ranking angel or an archangel, what else or who else could the Mighty Angel of Revelation Chapter Ten possibly be?
That is a key question, a crucially important question. Chapter Ten effectively poses that very question to those who are familiar with the Bible. But those who are not well acquainted with Old Testament prophecies will likely make some quick assumptions and even miss the question altogether, because it is implied. The Book of Revelation makes a lot of subtle scriptural references and drops a lot of detailed hints. Key questions and leads are there to be discovered; but they usually require a significant degree of prior biblical knowledge and a substantial measure of theological discernment. The Book of Revelation does this sort of thing very frequently. You gain deeper understanding of the Book of Revelation as you catch the subtle referential hints, which are almost always hidden in plain sight, there in the details. In fact, it may be an accurate statement to claim that no detail whatsoever in the Book of Revelation is extraneous. Every detail given to the listener and provided by the Book of Revelation is there deliberately and intentionally. Such details often require further study. The interpreter will have to reference and re-read Old Testament prophecies. But it will be worthwhile, since the details will help a careful interpreter arrive at a clearer interpretation.
To be blunt, the hints all point to the Mighty Angel being Jesus Christ himself. More specifically, the Mighty Angel is a New Testament cameo of the pre-incarnate, pre-existent Jesus Christ. The Mighty Angel is who Christ Jesus was before he was born as a human being. Throughout the Old Testament, Jesus appears and reappears as a mysterious figure known as the Angel of the Lord. And Revelation Chapter Ten is dropping hints galore that the Mighty Angel is the pre-incarnate Christ. That is indeed the correct interpretation, in spite of how things may initially seem on a superficial, un-referential read.
In particular, two key Old Testament passages are hidden in the details of Revelation Chapter Ten. The first key passage is the opening vision of Ezekiel the exiled priestly-prophet, found in the Book of Ezekiel chapters one and two. The second key passage is the concluding vision of Daniel the exiled statesman-prophet, found in the Book of Daniel chapters ten, eleven, and twelve. If a reader/listener compares Revelation Chapter Ten to the opening chapters of Ezekiel and the closing chapters of Daniel, the detailed references are overwhelmingly obvious.
In both the opening of Ezekiel and the closing of Daniel, a Mysterious Figure appears. Although the Mysterious Figure seems like he might well be God himself, the two passages leave the identity of the Mysterious Figure something of a mystery, because unlike God, he is described as visible and likened in form to a human being, a man. So if he is not exactly God, who is the Mysterious Figure? Is he a variation or manifestation of God, or an angelic proxy, or what? Revelation Chapter Ten points the discerning listener directly to both prophetic passages, and links the Mighty Angel to the Mysterious Figure therein, leaving the distinct impression that the Mighty Angel is one and the same as the Mysterious Figure in both passages.
Therefore, at least three claims can be made. First, the Mysterious Figure in Ezekiel and Daniel is, at very least, God-like in position, appearance, and glory. Second, the Mysterious Figure in Ezekiel and Daniel personally and authoritatively delivers divine messages and interpretations to the respective prophets. Third, Revelation Chapter Ten ties or even fuses these two Mysterious Figures together into one. In Chapter Ten, the equation is not one plus one, but one times one. This is just one individual. The Mysterious Figure in the opening chapters of Ezekiel is one and the same as the Mysterious Figure in the closing chapters of Daniel; that is what Revelation Ten portrays in the person of the Mighty Angel.
So if the Mysterious Figure of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation is the same singular being throughout, who is he? If your inclination is to say that he is an angel of some sort, I would caution you with the observation that he is enthroned in glory among the cherubim in Ezekiel (see also Ezekiel 10:20). Enthroned in glory, like God and as God. Among the cherubim, like the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, where the presence of God resided. However, if your inclination is to say that he is simply God, I would ask you, How is it that he appears visibly in the likeness of a man in both Ezekiel and Daniel? How is it the prophets can see anyone at all, since God is invisible, and since no one can see God and live (see Exodus 33:20, John 1:18, and 1 Timothy 6:16)?
This individual defies easy categorization because he actually fulfills all three. He is wholly divine. But sometimes he takes the role of a heavenly angel/messenger in order to appear to human beings. But then he went an additional condescending step and even assumed full humanity in the incarnation. He became a man for our sake. Only one individual in history fits all three categorizations: Jesus Christ. Therefore, especially when its two primary Old Testament prophetic references are taken into account, Chapter Ten of Revelation pushes a trinitarian portrait of God, the whole way through. The Voice from Heaven is God the Father. The Seven Speaking Thunders are the Holy Spirit. And the Mighty Angel is Jesus Christ.
But I have not covered everything in Chapter Ten yet. There are two big remaining narrative issues from Chapter Ten that need to be addressed. There is a vow made by the Mighty Angel. And there is an edible scroll given by the Mighty Angel.