Sweet and Sour

“Then the voice from heaven spoke to me again: “Go and take the open scroll from 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 small scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.””
Revelation‬ ‭10:8-11‬ ‭NLT

A voice from Heaven jolted John in to action. He was told to go and get the small scroll from the angel and eat it. And he was warned that although the scroll would taste sweet, it would give him heart burn. What was all that about?

John was told that the scroll’s taste would be as sweet as honey. We heard much about this product of the honey bee in Israel’s history – their promised land reputedly would be found to be flowing with milk and honey. Moses was told by God in the Burning Bush episode, “So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live”. (Exodus 3:8). To the Israelites, the presence of honey would be a sign that the land was full of natural resources. A wonderful place to be.

But more than that, honey has a spiritual significance. We read in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet Your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey“. So perhaps John accepted and ate the scroll, enjoying the sweetness of God’s Word. But then in some way he found that the words written on it were not the sweet platitudes full of love and grace that he expected to find, but instead the consequences of the third terror or woe that was still to come. And the sweetness turned bitter to the very pit of his stomach. There is a huge gulf between the sweetness of God’s Word and the bitterness of our wicked and sinful world. The one provides nourishment to our souls. But the other leaves a sour taste in our mouths. There is nothing sweet about the sinful world in which we live. 

The last verse of Revelation 10 had an instruction for John. He was to prophesy again, “about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” But what was he to say? Perhaps it was to make known what was written on the small scroll that he had just eaten. Perhaps he had to communicate God’s mysterious plan, that we read about earlier. Perhaps he was to prophecy what would happen when the final trumpet sounded. John would not have been lacking material about his forthcoming prophetic announcement.

We pilgrims prophecy. Not just by words but by our lives. The ways in which we set an example to the world around us. We are prophetically counter-cultural in all we do. As an example, a group of us Christian men had breakfast together in a local restaurant recently. We had not long finished when the fire alarm sounded and we had to leave, to assemble in the car park. The manager said we were free to go and there was nothing to pay. But we insisted on paying for our meal anyway. That was a counter-cultural prophetic statement, declaring to the rest of those in the car park that God and His ways are true and righteous. The world’s ways are not God’s ways. We are called to live holy lives. 1 Peter 1:14-15 reads, “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy“. 

Dear Father God. You are holy and righteous in all Your ways. Thank You that through Jesus we too can be righteous and holy, as You are. Please help us to declare You and Your ways in our families and communities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Sixth Seal

“I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood. Then the stars of the sky fell to the earth like green figs falling from a tree shaken by a strong wind. The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places. Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?””
Revelation‬ ‭6:12-17‬ ‭NLT

The sixth and penultimate seal was broken and the scroll unrolled a little further. The contents of the sixth section describe a series of natural disasters on a scale never before experienced. It starts with a “great earthquake”, which perhaps filled the atmosphere with so much dust that the moon became blood red. It would seem that the earth shifts on its axis so that the sun and stars either disappeared or appeared somewhere else. Seismic upheavals continue, with catastrophic changes to the earth’s crust and the moving of mountains and islands. And as the words on the scroll continue to be read, a terrified population, those still remaining on the earth after the impact of the previous five judgements of God, try to find somewhere safe. Of course, after such a seismic event, there would have been no buildings left standing. At last, the people finally seem to realise what was going on, why it was happening and who was responsible, because they cry out for help from the mountains and rocks around them, preferring death to seeing God and feeling “the wrath of the Lamb”. And the disaster that had struck them was no respecter of persons – everyone was impacted, from the kings and rulers all the way down to the slaves. And Revelation 6 ends with the verse, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?”  Who indeed! But there is a seventh seal coming, introducing another judgement from God. There were still people left alive even after the sixth judgement.

There is always a temptation when something inexplicable crops up in the Bible, to ask Mr Google what it all means, with varying results. Certainly, regarding the sixth seal, odd-ball theories abound. One is that there will be an asteroid strike. And there are others. But all we need to realise is that the opening of this seal will precede a catastrophic series of events that will severely, but not fatally, impact the earth’s population. And it obviously hasn’t happened yet. We don’t know if the opening of the sixth seal will impact the whole of the earth, or will just be a disaster local to the Middle East. But disaster it will be.

There is some comfort to be gained from Jesus’ account in Matthew 24:22. We read, “In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones”. Even with the judgements of God being handed down to the wicked and sinful world population, God, in His love and mercy, cut short the time over which it will take place “for the sake of [His] chosen ones”. Even while such catastrophes are occurring, God still cares for us. 

Another piece of information from Jesus’ account is what will happen immediately after the sixth seal judgement. Again from Matthew, this time 24:30-31, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven”. 

We pilgrims, at least those who are still alive at this point in earth’s history, are going to be “gathered”. Some denominations refer to this event as the Rapture. But none of us will be missed, no matter where we live. The Apostle Paul gave us some insight about what will happen from his first Thessalonian epistle. We read in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, “We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet Him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words”. 

There is so much that we cannot understand in the writings on the scroll, describing the sixth judgement. But one thing is for sure – all the people in the world will suddenly wake up and realise the consequences of their sins. There is a day coming when God no longer will be able to tolerate evil and wickedness, and He will have to deal with it. We don’t know how much longer the time of grace in which we are living will last, but while He graciously allows mankind time to repent and embrace His Son, we have an opportunity to warn our friends and families, even our communities and nations, about the coming judgement.

Near the beginning of his Acts 2 sermon, Peter boldly declared this statement, “And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below— blood and fire and clouds of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives. But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved“. After Peter’s sermon, 3000 people responded positively to his invitation for salvation. One thought today. In Peter’s sermon he majored on our wonderful Saviour, what He did for us, and he finishes with the appeal, “…Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Perhaps in our messages of hope, our testimonies and our conversations with “this crooked generation” we should include a reference to the scroll with its seven seals, and the consequent judgements from God.

Dear Father God. I thank You that You have graciously included in Your Word references to the ages to come. You do not want us to uninformed. Please lead and guide us in our conversations with those around us, and help us to communicate Your message clearly to them. In Jesus’ name. Amen

The First Seal

“As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll. Then I heard one of the four living beings say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked up and saw a white horse standing there. Its rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on his head. He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:1-2‬ ‭NLT

After the tremendous worship experience in Heaven, John’s focus now returns to the scroll. It has seven seals and each was broken in turn, revealing the writing on the scroll. So the scroll seemed to be structured in seven sections, each sealed so that the previous seal had to be broken before the next section could be read. But what was written on this scroll? And why was each broken seal followed by an act of apparent judgement?

Revelation 6 sees the start of the time of what is called the Tribulation, where God’s judgements are carried out on a world of unbelieving, sinful and rebellious people. We have to bear in mind that our Heavenly Father is not just a God of love, but He is also a God of righteousness. One day the period of grace in which we are now living will come to an end. One day sin will have to be judged. So with the sound of the worship still reverberating through the universe, Jesus opens the first seal.

John was perhaps startled by one of the living beings thundering out the word “Come!”. And John saw a white horse with a rider who had a crown on his head and who carried a bow. And we’re told he went out and won many battles. We don’t know for sure who the rider was, or what he represented. The crown would imply someone of authority, the white horse would indicate peace; perhaps the rider was a devious person, promoting peace when carrying an instrument of war, in the shape of a bow. The false prophets Jeremiah wrote about in Jeremiah 8 come to mind, and we read in verse 11, “…They give assurances of peace when there is no peace“. Some have suggested the crowned rider was the Antichrist (see the prophecies in the book of Daniel), but whoever the rider was who rode out on the white horse, he created mayhem, fighting and winning battles on earth.

With the conflicts of the twentieth and now the twenty-first centuries, we could ask the question if the first seal has already been broken. Certainly, some evil leaders have emerged on the world stage, and to one or two, even divine qualities have been assigned. But when the first seal is broken, I don’t think we will have any doubts. We will know.

When the first seal is broken it will be a difficult time for the pilgrims still alive, but for us pilgrims today, still living in this time of grace, we can only look on with some trepidation, and pray. We pray for our families, for our communities and for ourselves. And we pray for mercy from our God of love and righteousness. Ever since Jesus ascended from this earth, there has been an expectation that He will return again “soon”, ushering in the end times. We don’t know when that will be, but we do know that it could be at any time. So we mustn’t waste the moment, and instead not miss an opportunity to extend God’s grace to a lost world around us with our messages of hope.

Dear Father God. We thank You for this period of grace in which we live. Please help us not to hold back when we have the opportunity to reach others with the Good News that Jesus saves. 

Jesus is Worthy

“Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Revelation 5:4-5 NLT

John was bitterly disappointed that the “strong angel” was unable to find anyone who was worthy enough to open the scroll and break the seven seals. He was so disappointed that he recorded his bitter tears. But one of the twenty four elders took pity on him and told him to get a grip and stop crying. And with good reason, because he pointed out that Jesus was worthy enough to open the scroll. Of course He was. 

Jesus, the Son of God, left the comfort of Heaven, and came to this world as a baby, born to a young peasant girl just over two thousand years ago. He was brought up, humble and obedient, as a typical Jewish boy of His time, before starting the ministry of an itinerant Rabbi when He was about thirty years old. And for the next three years or so He selflessly walked the highways and byways of Israel teaching the people about God’s Kingdom and healing them of their ailments, even raising the dead. But He upset the religiously entrenched people of His day, to the extent that they killed Him by hanging Him on a Roman cross, one dark and dismal day, at a place called Calvary, the Place of the Skull. Now here’s the thing. He became alive again on the first Easter morning. He overcame death and is still alive today. And in John’s vision of Heaven, there he was, the only One worthy enough to open the scroll and read it.

The elder who spoke to John in his vision described Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne“. Where did that description come from? And why is it relevant? The expression, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” would have been important to the Jews because it connected Jesus all the way back to Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49. A lion was considered to be the strongest of animals and was appropriate in the description because it established His victory. In a similar way, “the heir to David’s throne” confirmed Jesus’ pedigree, right in line with Old Testament prophecies. But the important factor is that Jesus was victorious because He was the only One who had conquered death. He was the only One “worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Regarding us pilgrims, we can take great encouragement through our faith in the victorious One. We are not supporting or following a lost cause, or backing a three-legged horse. We are on the winning side, watching with faith-filled, bated breath as the victory pans out before us in the age to come in Heaven. We might be going through difficult times, as many are just now. Interest rates are rising. Food and energy are getting more and more expensive. Our enemy the devil is attacking our families and churches. But these are just the troubles and trials James wrote about in his Epistle. We stand firm, secure in the knowledge that the victorious One has already claimed the victory for all eternity.

Dear Lord and Father, we’re deeply grateful for Your presence in our lives. You have truly done great things and there’s more to come. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

A Strong Angel

“And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.”
Revelation‬ ‭5:2-3‬ ‭NLT

I wonder who the strong angel was. The experts in Biblical analysis think it might have been the angel Gabriel, a name that means “God is my strength”. There is also a reference to Gabriel in Daniel 9, when he brought an answer to Daniel’s prayers. But whoever it was, the strong angel (some versions say mighty angel) shouted out a challenging request, “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it”?

Why would a worthy person, or being, be required to open this scroll, breaking the seven seals in the process? Obviously it couldn’t just be anyone, because the scroll was still in the right hand of God. And John continued, pointing out that there was no-one worthy enough to “open the scroll and read it”. The search for a worthy person covered everywhere in creation – Heaven, the earth, and Sheol, the place under the earth. There was no other place where a worthy person could reside. But what was so important about this scroll that was going to require a worthy person to open it? It was obviously something of much consequence never seen before, and all those in Heaven were in a cliff-hanging position awaiting to discover what was written.

What is a worthy person? Worthy of what? We see the UK Honours List, that comes out periodically, awarding “worthy” people an honour, encapsulated in a medal, for people deemed “worthy” by their work perhaps for charity or some other good cause. In the workplace, we perhaps notice someone who is “worthy” of a pay rise because of their hard working ethic. But none of these “worthy” people got anywhere near what the strong angel was looking for. 

We pilgrims achieve a certain amount of worthiness by default. Because of our unstinting faith in God through our journeys in life, we will one day receive our Heavenly reward, our crowns of righteousness. Perhaps this is a mention on the Heaven Honours List. We will hear the words of our Saviour, saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). But we don’t aspire to becoming “worthy”. That is the road to pride. We seek to please God through our faith. Hebrews 11:6 reads, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him“.

In the rest of this chapter in Revelation we will find out more about the real “Worthy”, and what happened when the scroll was opened. The writings on the scroll will shock us. But hopefully inspire us as well.

Dear God. We thank You for Your loving care and kindness. For Your grace and mercy. For Your guidance on our walk through life. You pick us up when we fall and bring us back to earth when we become too full of ourselves. What a loving Father You are. We praise You today. Amen.