Friday, 18 November 2016

Revelation before Advent 10+11: eating his words

This is the eighth of a series of blog posts on the book of Revelation. There's an introduction to the series. Previous reading: ch 8+9, angels, trumpets & disasters. Where I quote from the Bible, it's generally the New Revised Standard Version unless I say otherwise. The numbering covers the chapters of the book, not the days of the reading. 

Quite a lot of different elements in chapters 10+11. Chapter 10 and the first half of chapter 11 are described in the Oxford Bible Commentary as an interlude. The scene shifts from catastrophes on earth back to John and his prophetic role.

First, he sees another mighty angel, vividly described as wrapped in a cloud with a face like the sun and legs like pillars of fire, standing with one foot on the sea and one on the land, roaring with the sound of seven thunders; there is a message in these thunders but John is not permitted to reveal it. There's something rather primeval about this latest angel. However the angel has something else about it: it is holding a scroll, and a voice from heaven tells John to take the scroll.
Image: Latin Bible (1150-1200), Bibliothèque nationale de France,
Département des manuscrits, Latin 16744 (via The Peanut Gallery)

He's not to read it however: rather, he is to eat it, which he duly does. The scroll tastes like honey but leaves a bitter feeling in his stomach. It's not entirely clear (and a bit contested by scholars), but there's a good chance that the scroll is the same one that the Lamb held and opened the seven seals. And having received the message of the scroll, John is told to prophesy. This idea of eating the message, bodily taking it into yourself to gain knowledge, is one is also found in the experience of Ezekiel. It's not so very far from the way Adam and Even gained knowledge of good and evil in Genesis, or the way Christians still receive Christ into their bodies. Incarnation sometimes demands a physical experience of knowledge.

John was told to prophesy, and so he does. He recounts a tale of times to come which will be expanded upon in later chapters - of the witness of the church and of two prophets who in turn will come and give a testimony to the people of the earth for three and a half years (a time which recalls the complex three and a half years timing in Daniel), who cannot be harmed, and who will be given power to strike the earth with plagues. Again this motif of power used violently, even by those sent by God. But the prophets will be killed by a beast from the bottomless pit (we'll meet that beast again) and will lie on the street of the great city.

But after three and a half days the prophets will be brought back to life and will ascend to heaven on a cloud. This isn't equated with Christ, but the parallels are very close. The people are terrified. And then, in case we're not worried enough, just relaxing a bit, John slips in a happy note of "the second woe has passed, the third woe is coming soon".

And then finally the seventh angel blows his trumpet. And we get... singing and praising. Familiar words, that "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah and he will reign for ever and ever" - the basis of the most famous part of Handel's Messiah, the Hallelujah Chorus. It's a good reminder, that in the midst of all this torment and violence and prophesying, we get praise to God. 

But of course it doesn't last. No moment of tranquility ever does in this tumultuous book. Because in the very last verse of chapter 11, God's temple is opened in heaven, the ark of the covenant (the great place of God's presence) is seen in the temple, and there are all sorts of portents. Much more destruction to come in the forthcoming chapters. The end of the world is nigh ... possibly.

Next reading: ch 12+13, the woman, the dragon and the beasts

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