And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He held a little scroll open in his hand. Setting his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, he gave a great shout, like a lion roaring. And when he shouted, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.’ Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: ‘There will be no more delay, but in the days when the seventh angel is to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced to his servants the prophets.’ Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, ‘Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.’ So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. Then they said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’
I am so glad that this reading does not appear in the lectionary! Like so much of Revelation it is strange to our ears. So much of it is picture language and yet we want to spend so much time trying to understand what each means. So much has been written about the identity of the angel – but the bottom line is – we don’t know. John is about to write down what God has revealed to him in the seven thunders when he is commanded to seal it up and not write it down. Again, several different commentaries speculated about what it was and why God told John not to record it. Those attempts to figure out what God has chosen to hide from us show me just how uncomfortable we tend to be with the idea that there are some things that God hasn’t yet revealed to us and that we can’t figure out.
To John the scroll was sweet and bitter at the same time. It was sweet because it was a great thing to be a messenger of God, but the message it proclaimed was a bitter one.
Although God did reveal some things that were for John only and not to be passed on, the main message about God’s plan of redemption and salvation was not something for John to just keep to himself, it was to be shared with others. John had to forecast the time of terror, even if triumph lay at its end. He is commanded to prophesy again. God is going to give all the peoples of the world one last chance to come to God before God’s final judgment is poured out. John believed that there would be a final showdown between good and evil and God’s final victory will be won.
Christ, as a light – illumine and guide me. Christ, as a shield – overshadow me. Christ under me; Christ over me; Christ beside me – on my left and my right, this, and everyday. Amen
The Rev’d Sue Henderson retired URC minister member of United Church Bradford on Avon