the seven trumpets 2 (8:2-11:19)
Serving Christ un a World Under judgment
The following are some thoughts reflecting on the reality that we live and serve Christ in a world under divine judgment.
Our task as the church is not to “change the world,” “make the world a better place to live,” or be the “moral guardians” of our time and place.
-The first is Christ’s job, and he’s done it. -The second is a pagan preoccupation. -The last is a perversion of the gospel.
Christ has changed the world. Period. That’s what the cross and resurrection are all about. Sin has been forgiven. The powers are defeated. New creation has dawned. The old world is passing away. The church lives from and into this new world amid the old world that is passing away.
The church is not about “making the world a better place to live.” That’s what the old world, the pagan world, is up to. It’s about “Making America Great Again.” The church, however, is about demonstrating a new world, a new way of being human that in Christ has become our destiny. The church lives a conflicted relationship with the old world, the old way of being (sub)human. Indeed, it’s presence is a reminder that that world exists under the judgment of God. A judgment of mercy directed to restoration and reconciliation; but a judgment that resisted means the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev.6) have their way with that old world. As such, this old world can never be made “a better place to live.” It is riven by the judgment that rests on it and those who give themselves to facilitating that judgment.
Within such a world the church’s first business to is witness to the new creation that has dawned in Christ. To be a prototype of what God desires for human life. It bears this witness not as moral guardians who tell everyone else how to live. Rather, we live out our witness as those who take responsibility for the mess the old world is, confess our complicity and guilt in making it that way, and bear Christ’s cross in it. This cruciform way of life stands with others immersed in daily life, helps and serves them in doing what can be done to help them (both justice and mercy), sees the old world most clearly when it sees it from the point of view of those who suffer. If “follow the money” is the best way to keep tabs on the shenanigans of the wealthy folks’ schemes, “follow the suffering” is a gospel way of identifying where and how God is active in our world. And we are to be there with him. The church bears up under the judgment that already rests on the world and lives under its pressures and terrors in such a way that testifies to others that it is “Godness” not goodness that matters. And the name we give that “Godness” that rules our world in Christ is “Grace”!
Jesus has given us insight into what’s really going on in the world in the Seals cycle (the first point of his sermon). In the Trumpet cycle he overlays that picture with a detailed answer to the cry of the martyrs in the fifth seal: “How long till we are vindicated and your way proved right, O Lord?” (the first six Trumpet blasts). Just as there was an interlude between the sixth and seventh Seals that dealt with the church’s status as God’s “sealed” and secure people in a world under judgment, there is an interlude between the sixth and seventh Trumpets. This one deals with the character of the church’s witness in such a time as this.
A “mighty angel” descends. One who bears a striking resemblance to God and Christ. Note the rainbow (see 4:3), “face like the sun” (see 1:14), “legs like pillars of fire” (1:15), and “like a lion roaring” (5:5). “Wrapped in a cloud” suggests power and authority. Not identical to Christ but clearly closely tied to him. At the same time we remember the lion is the slaughtered Lamb who works God’s will through sacrificial, serving, cruciform love. This imposing presence, indeed, this angel stands astride land and sea (10:2). Grace, I think, trumps judgment is the message here. The wild and bizarre beasts just described do what they do, terrifying and lethal. But they are no match for this Lion/Lamb who has the right to unroll the scroll of God’s fulfillment of his purposes and has defeated death itself!
This gracious note is highlighted by the sealing up of the seven Thunders (presumably another set of judgments) before John can capture them in writing. The angel, having been interrupted from heaven (v.4) from delivering the vision of the Thunders to John, swears a solemn oath that it is now time for the seventh Trumpet to sound, and God’s work will be fulfilled according to what he has spoken in the prophets (10:7). Much like the sixth Seal brings us to the time of judgment, so this interlude between the sixth and seventh Trumpets bring us to the same point.
The voice from heaven, an authoritative voice, directs John to take a “little scroll” resting in the hand of the mighty angel who stands astride land and sea. We have meet the action of taking a scroll from someone earlier when the slaughtered Lamb took the scroll from the One on the throne (ch.5). Here John mimics such action as he takes a smaller scroll from the hand of a divinely authorized agent. I suspect we have analogy of a “greater to a lesser” here. As Christ took a scroll from his father so John takes one from the hand of an angel. Here John, representing God’s people mimics, that is, participates in the ministry of the Lamb through this mimicry. That the Lamb opens the scroll but the one John is bidden to take is already open (10:8) points in this same direction.
This scroll, doubtless, is also about the fulfillment of the “mystery of God” (10:7). In other words, it reveals the secret of God’s work as Jesus’ own way of conquering through sacrificial, self-giving love. Grimsrud comments:1 "The 'mystery' is the pattern of Jesus, especially insofar as his pattern of persevering love is the means to conquer. Such a path is indeed, in Paul’s words, “foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). In a world shaped by the Beast’s ideology of domination, it is indeed a “mystery” how persevering love can conquer."
This perhaps accounts for the “sweet and sour” taste of the scroll when John obeys the divine voice and eats it (10:9-10). The fulfillment is coming, indeed, is at the doorstep. Yet the beast and his minions and the judgments they have loosed (the bottomless pit” (9:1-11) on the inhabitants of the earth must be faced and borne with the love by which Jesus conquered in his life, death, and resurrection.
John’s mission (and ours): prophesy. Bear the word and deed of God’s coming kingdom to “many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (10:11). We met the first three in 5:9 and 7:9. They are among the people of God and the Lamb. Interestingly, “kings” are always with the “bad guys” – the oppressors, aggressors, tyrants, opponents of God. Yet, in the final scene of the vision we find this about the New Jerusalem: “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day . . . People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (21:24-26). Apparently some of these “bad guys” may be won over by the gospel!
Notice it is the gospel that wins them over. Not the judgments. They come as God’s response to human betrayal and the violation of their relationship to him, mostly as God allows the consequences of their perfidy to play themselves out. This is divine parental discipline (Heb.12:5-6) designed to recall and restore children to their familial loyalty. It is not the discipline itself that that effect the cure. It's the good news of God's inexhaustible love ready to forgive and welcome back that does that!
1 Grimsrud, https://peacetheology.net/2014/03/30/revelation-notes-chapter-10/.