Revelation 10: 1-2; 9-11; 11: 1-6
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven….He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand….
...So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, ‘Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but “in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.”’ I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.’
I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, ‘Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshippers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.’ They are ‘the two olive trees’ and the two lampstands, and ‘they stand before the Lord of the earth.’ If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.
I’m a very picky eater, so probably the most adventurous thing I’ve ever eaten was squid. Some of you have probably eaten all sorts of things from dog (apparently big in Korea) or chickens' feet or haggis or tripe. The angel shows up here to John and says, here, eat this scroll. Eat paper. We’ve probably all done it at some stage. But this isn’t any paper. The angel says: It’ll taste sweet when you put it in your mouth, but it will turn your stomach sour when you swallow it.
The scroll is the Word of God, it’s the message of what God has done, is doing, and is going to do. It’s declaration that Jesus is coming back, so people get ready. John, represents the church, he represents us as God’s people.
The first thing we are told to do is to eat the scroll. Eat the Word of God, consume it, be nourished by it, let God’s Word fill you. And as we do, we discover what the writer of Psalm 119 found:
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119: 103)
To the faithful Christian God’s Word is sweet. It speaks of God’s goodness to us, His grace, His faithfulness, His kindness, what He has in store for us.
So what’s this bitter, sour language about? To be honest, I think it’s about the stuff we read in the Bible that we struggle with. That we don’t like to talk about. The challenging stuff. The fact that God will judge the earth, that He is holy, righteous and just and doesn’t take sin lightly, that He has standards that He calls us to live up to, that there are consequences for sin and disobedience, that there is right and there is wrong.
We as Christians struggle with some of it, and when we try to share the Gospel, we either leave this side of it out completely because we want everyone to just hear the sweet stuff, or we water it down, we sugar coat it. Or we might even twist it to say it means something which it doesn’t. We don’t want to change our lifestyle, so we manipulate scripture to justify our lifestyle.
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army prophetically said this about 125 years ago:
“The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”
And yet, God is calling us to faithfulness to His whole Word, not just the parts we like or agree with. Not only the parts that taste sweet, but the parts that are a bit harder to swallow. And when we share, preach and teach and live the whole of God’s Word, it provokes a reaction. That’s what we see as we finish up today in chapter 11.
Here we have these two witnesses, who will illustrate what John has just been told. That’s God’s Word is both sweet and bitter. 1260 days is 3 ½ years. 7 is a fullness of time – so half of that just means – for a while. For a set time, these two men we preach and prophesy, but not forever. The sackcloth was often worn by the prophets in the Old Testament as a sign of repentance and humility. So the church is a humble church, not an arrogant church, it’s a church which repents of sin and stays close to Jesus.It’s also a Spirit-filled supernatural church.
This image of the two olive trees and the two lampstands comes from the prophetic book Zechariah. The olive oil constantly flowed into the lamps as a symbol of the Holy Spirit flowing into God’s people. The miraculous come with this supernatural power. Look – they can shut up the heavens so that it doesn’t rain. Who’s that a picture of in the Old Testament? Elijah – the prophet who confronted evil King Ahab with God’s authority and power.
They can turn the waters into blood and strike the earth with plagues. Who’s that a picture of? Moses – the great leader who came against evil Pharaoh in the miraculous power and authority of God.
Just as God’s authority and power were released by God’s people to bring down the evil empires of Pharaoh and Ahab, so God’s Spirit-filled church will carry the same supernatural power and divine authority, and see every kingdom and empire opposed to Jesus come down.
The church can’t shrink back, it can’t become timid and afraid and hide from the evil and wickedness – it stands up with boldness and proclaims the word of God, it prophesies what God is doing, and it displays the supernatural power of God with signs and wonders. It preaches the Kingdom and it demonstrates the Kingdom.
“Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.” (v. 7)
There will again be a clash of Kingdoms. God’s people will suffer and lay down their lives. The church will look like it’s finished. As you know, for the last 2000 years, many times it looked like the church was finished, like it was dead and defeated. A few times in our history here it looked like this church was dead and defeated. But Jesus said something that we need to never forget:
“I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18)