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our bittersweet calling, revelation 10

In Revelation 10 John saw “another mighty angel coming down from heaven” having “a little scroll open in his hand” (10:1-2). The fact that the little scroll had already been opened may indicate that it is the earth’s title deed, the same scroll of Revelation 5.

A human being had to open the scroll since the earth was given to humanity. The only human being that is worthy (sinless) to claim the title deed is Jesus Christ. And it was by his blood that Christ “ransomed people” to be fully human, fully functioning king-priests on God’s good earth (Rev 5:9-10).

The mighty angel sets “his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and calls out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded” (Rev 10:2-3). John is forbidden to record the revelation of the thunders (10:4). No reason is given. Perhaps the unknown thunders are meant to humble us and steer us away from timelines and charts that claim to have the book of Revelation all figured out.

When the mighty angel raised his right hand to heaven, he makes an oath: “There would be no more delay … the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets” (Rev 10:5-7; cf. Deut 32:34-35). The mystery of God here is likely the mystery that history, as we know it, will end when, as Daniel put it, the “shattering of the power of the holy people” come “to an end” (Dan 12:7) and God’s purposes are completed.

Notice the movement of the scroll that’s developing. In Revelation 5, God holds the scroll, and the Lamb takes and opens it. In Revelation 10, John is instructed to take the scroll and eat it (10:8-10). By partaking, John is not assuming Christ’s sovereignty over the earth; he is sharing in the reign of Christ as do all believers. Christ reigns through us, through courageous proclamation and sacrificial acts of kindness.

Eating the earth’s title deed is bittersweet. We receive his forgiveness and long for righteousness to prevail, for God to right all wrongs and bring an end to evil and suffering. Yet the more we let that word soak in, more we realize how terrifying the final judgment will be for those who do not trust in Christ.

I like how Greg Beale sums up our calling: Christians are “to reign ironically as Christ did by being imitators of the great cosmic model of the cross … The persecution and defeat of the witnessing church is the means leading to the resurrection of Christians and to their enemies’ defeat.”

The Lord’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:9); which means that his plan unfolds in unexpected ways from our limited perspective. It is not important that we grasp it all but that we trust in him through it all. We receive the promised inheritance through the triumph of suffering love—which ironically lays the basis for the final judgment of those rejecting our testimony. That is certainly bittersweet.