Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. 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. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.”
Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “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.”
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’” I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.” (New International Version)
Maybe this goes without saying, yet it probably needs to be said anyway: Our human participation is required to go along with God’s action.
We are fellow actors with God in the drama of what is happening in this world. This is both invigorating and scary, at the same time. Decrees were not simply shouted from above, and down to humanity. Instead, God’s words are sent by heavenly messenger to the earth, to be digested by people.
The world is not changed from its hateful ways and prejudiced stances simply by God decreeing love for us. Rather, the words are followed by the invitation to participate.
For the Christian, this participation begins with the Lord Jesus. He entered into our situation, lived among us, full of grace and truth. Christ took the words of God, ate them, digested them, and allowed them to thoroughly guide his earthly life and ministry.
Some believe that the mighty angel in today’s New Testament lesson is none other than Christ in the form of, or using, an angel to communicate. Whatever is happening in the text, it is clear that Jesus is certainly behind it all.
A scroll was given to the Apostle John. He was exhorted to move from observer to actor. The bad news of humanity’s sin and judgment must be transformed into good news of grace and forgiveness through human presence and cooperation.
Take the scroll and eat it. The prophet Ezekiel, in the Old Testament, was also told to eat a scroll and then go speak (Ezekiel 3:1). We aren’t told anything about what was written in the scroll which John took – and that’s because the words themselves aren’t really the point of what’s happening.
Whenever the people of God take and eat the words of God, they have the dual experience of delivering the good news of grace with great joy, as well as enduring suffering with patience because of the testimony they proclaim.
Revelation, or the Apocalypse of John, was written not to craft elaborate prophecy charts about the end times, but was meant to offer encouragement to a suffering church that their witness to the gospel was worth it.
The believers were experiencing persecution from the hands of unbelievers. The vision of John was designed to pull back the curtain a bit, revealing a peek that, in the end, God’s purposes will be accomplished, evil shall be vanquished, and the people of God will be vindicated.
Perseverance requires active participation, not passive acquiescence. We endure through hardship. It has always been this way for God’s people. Believers walk through the valley, and sit at the table with the presence of enemies, along with the presence of God.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:4-5, NRSV)
The ability to move through adversity requires collaborating with the Lord, knowing God’s words, and using that message for help and encouragement.
People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4, NLT)
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Hebrews 4:12, NLT)
The angel of the Lord camps around
the Lord’s loyal followers and delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
How blessed is the one who takes shelter in him.(Psalm 34:7-8, NET)
The word of God is active and powerful. Ingesting God’s words enables God’s message to move within us and shape us for active and effective participation in the world.
It is neither an easy path, nor a wide smooth highway to speed down. Yet, for those who will take the journey, it is a joyous road and a winding narrow trail full of God’s signs and wonders.
This is the way of perseverance, and God’s words are our guide.
Heavenly Father, give us faith to receive your word, understanding to know what it means, and the will to put it into practice; through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.