Roma Downey and Della Reese starred in a popular television show in the 90’s. The show was one that my mother loved to watch, and if I dare admit it, it had a certain charm, even for me with its hallmark type stories, good morals and the various trials that the young angel Monica encountered as she ministered to people in various predicaments from disaster, to loss, to emotional angst. Only at the end of each episode, did the client get to see Monica in her angelic beauty robed in a halo, finally realizing that they had been Touched by an Angel.
Most of us would love to have that kind of angelic touch would we not? It is safe, comfortable, even assuring. Now it is this kind of hallmark version of angels in our midst that the Book of Revelation, and for that matter most of the Scripture, challenges. Angels are not docile, soft, cuddly teddy bears. In fact, most often when an angel appears to someone in the Scriptures, the person’s response is one of terror. Think about when the angels appear to the women in the garden, the first thing they say is, “Do not be afraid…” (Matt. 28:5). When the angel appears to Zechariah before he tells him that Elizabeth will have a son, he says the same thing, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah;” (Luke 1:13). When the angel appears to the Shepherds, “How do these burly outdoorsmen respond?” An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:9). And when an Angel comes to meet with Cornelius, we are told that this Roman centurion Cornelius stared at him in fear (Acts 10:4).
This is the first point I would like to make today, when angels appear in the world, God’s people ought to have a holy fear of their presence. For these beings may bring good news as they did in the scriptures quoted above, they may also bring words of rebuke or warning or even judgment. Their presence in our world is a testimony to the fact that things are not as they should be and a war is being fought in the spiritual realm. To be touched by an angel is not necessarily a comforting experience, as we will ultimately see with the scroll that is sweet in the mouth and sour in the stomach.
With that, let us jump into our passage. Though we covered all 7 Trumpets last week, the text stops after 6 trumpets and inserts this intermission or interlude in much the same way that six of the seals were introduced then interrupted by the sealing of the 144,000 before the 7th seal was opened. The first interlude served to give the people of God some assurance that they are safe in Christ, marked off as God’s people. This interlude is longer than the last and covers chapters 10-11, and it will give the church direction on their task during the times of judgment, which are being seen.
As John sees the judgment of God being poured out on the ungodly and he views their unwillingness to repent of their sin and idolatry, he is given another vision. The camera angle is switched from God’s throne room and he is upon the earth watching another mighty angel coming down from heaven (Rev 10:1). We met the first mighty angel in Rev. 5:2 calling out “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” To which we learned, That Jesus, the lamb that was slain, the great high priest is worthy, indeed, he alone is worthy because he was slain and he “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).
We don’t know anything about what this mighty angel in Rev 5 looked like, but in our passage, we are given quite a vivid description of the angel. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head, his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars (Rev 10:1). If we just stopped there the picture is quite amazing. This sounds like the picture of Christ doesn’t it? I mean Rev 1:15,17 tells us that Christ had feet like bronze glowing in a furnace…His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. And the rainbow was last mentioned in Rev 4:3 as encircling the throne of God and it is the Son of Man who will return riding on the clouds according to Mt 24:30 and Revelation 14:14-16.
And if this is Christ, then he is holding the same scroll that he began unsealing earlier in the book and he has assumed a rather ominous position straddling the earth and sea, representative of all the created order and he roars like the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the voice of God responds, for the seven thunders are another way of describing the voice of God. Psalm 18:13 says, The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the most high resounded or again in Psalm 29 the voice of the Lord is described 7 times in various ways reminiscent of the crash of thunder. As I read these verses, close your eyes and picture a storm in each of the places: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon…The voice o f the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry “Glory!”” (Psalm 29:3-9).
Even Ezekiel’s call in chapter 1 paints a picture very reminiscent of what we encounter in the mighty angel, “Above the expanse over their [cherubim] heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Eze 1:26-28). And in chapter 2-3 we encounter this one on the throne holding a scroll with words written on both sides and Ezekiel is told to eat this scroll.
And Daniel describes one dressed in linen in who has a face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude (Dan 10:5-6) and again he says, The man clothed in linen…lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever and ever, saying, ‘It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed’” (Dan 12:7).
God seems to be drawing on all these Old Testament images and theophanies as he gives John this vision. But if this is Christ, then why does John describe him as another mighty angel instead of as the Son of Man, or the Lamb seated on the throne, or looking as if he was slain? The best reason that has been found is that the one in Daniel 10 who looks similar to our picture tells Daniel in 10:10-12 that he was hindered from answering Daniel’s prayers speedily because he needed the help of the Archangel Michael. Based on this and this alone, many believe that this cannot be a picture of Christ, but must be an angelic messenger who represents Christ and so is arrayed in his splendor. I am not sure I buy their arguments, the similarities between Christ and the mighty Angel seem pretty strong to me, even if we take the Daniel passage at face value.1 But if you disagree that is fine, the main point of the passage doesn’t hinge on whether the mighty angel is Christ himself or his representative. Either way, I think the picture is clear, God is coming in great power and when he determines that the time is done, and everything in history will be consummated.
In fact that is what this mighty angel declares, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets” (Rv 10:7). What is this consummation we are awaiting? It’s the mystery of God. And the mystery of God is described in Colossians and 1 Tim 3:16 as Christ. Listen to these passages, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3). And again, “The mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1Tim 3:16).
The mystery of God is Christ’s appearing and his work. We saw the first half of that mystery in the gospel narratives when Christ died for sinners and opened the way to eternal life for all who believe. But we are awaiting the second half of the mystery, where Christ returns and ultimately judges, defeats and destroys every act of godless rebellion and every one who has a part in these acts. Paul reminds us, “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1Cor. 15:52) and as Rev 11 ends the judgment of God is being poured out upon the ungodly world.
So why does God tell John and the church all of this? Why is he reminding the church that the judgment of God is coming to an end and the final return of Christ is near? I think the best answer for that can be found if we return back to the commissioning of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was handed a scroll with words written on both sides and he was told to eat the scroll and it tasted as sweet as honey in his mouth. On this scroll was written words of lament and mourning and woe (Eze 2:10). And what was Ezekiel’s task? Was it not to preach repentance to stubborn and rebellious people? Was it not to go and speak the words of God to a sinful nation?
Ezekiel was being commissioned as a prophet. He called Israel and Judah to repentance. He declared the coming judgment of God upon Ammon, Moab, Edom, Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt (Eze 25-32). If that was Ezekiel’s charge from one arrayed in a similar way and told to eat a similar scroll, might it be that God is commissioning John to a similar ministry of prophesy? Darrell Johnson, a professor at Regent College in Vancouver, rightly declares,
“The trumpets alone do not bring about repentance. The trumpets alone can bring about great confusion or despair or greater hardening toward God. What enables the trumpets to bring about repentance is prophecy, preaching. What brings about repentance is being told that the judgments are a warning, designed to bring us back.
Chapter 10 shows us the role of the church as judgment is worked out on the stage of history. We are to declare the truth in the midst of all that is happening.”2
And that is why the scroll is sweet and sour. It is sweet to preach about the redemption that God is working in Christ, it is sweet to proclaim the hope of salvation and the defeat of every form of evil. It is sweet to know that some will respond to this preaching and come to faith in the glorious risen Christ. But it is also sour. It is unsettling to talk about judgment and death and destruction. It is hard to call stubborn people to repentance and to see little response. It causes the stomach to twist and turn to declare God’s hatred of sin and it is hard to suffer the rebuke and wrath of a world that is opposed to their Creator.
Working for God isn’t often a pleasant experience on this side of the final trumpet. Just ask the prophets – ask the men who were sawn in two, ask those who are tortured for the faith, ask the ones stoned or beheaded or persecuted and mistreated. Just ask John if it was sweet to suffer in the mines or Paul if it was good to be stoned. And yet, proclaim the message of judgment and redemption God’s people must. It is the only hope the world has for gaining salvation. As the word declares, Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17) and hearing by the word of God or “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom. 10:14)
So this advent, remember that you to have been “Touch by an angel” as you live your life in the midst of the war zone. As you see the rubble in your life and the life of your friends and coworkers and anyone else you come across, tell them about your longing for redemption. Tell them about the coming King who is going to judge the earth and all who live in it and give them a chance to hear the real story of Christmas – the Son of God coming in the flesh to save his people from destruction. For this is a message that is sweet as honey.
1 Beale, NIGTC: Revelation, p525 and Hoeksema, Behold He Cometh, p.337 agree this is Christ. Though Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p.158; Hendricksen, More than Conquerors, p.124; Osborne, ECNT:Revelation, p.393, 406; Ladd, Revelation, p.141; Riddlebarger, Sermon 16 of Revelation series, p. 4 all disagree and believe this is an angelic representative of Christ. Daniel 10:12-14 are the clinchers since the man dressed in linen is assumed to be the one touching Daniel and he claims that he needed the help of the archangel Michael to defeat the “prince of Persia”.
2Darrell Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, p.199