John’s book is a revelation of Jesus Christ because he appears so different from the person John knew before or even after the resurrection. Although he wrote that ‘we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us’, on seeing him he falls at his feet, as though dead. Here the son of God seems even more distant, and it is left for us to recognise who he is: not by his human-like appearance, but by the clothing of cloud (1:7) and rainbow (the rainbow of 4:3), the sun-like radiance of his face (1:16), his radiant feet (1:15), his voice like a roaring lion’s (5:5), the reference to his right hand (1:16). His stance and his oath recall the angel at the end of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 12:7). Even if one prefers not to identify the mighty angel as the Son of God, it must be acknowledged that he appears very like him. Similar uncertainty arises in relation to the angel at 14:14 (and indeed 19:9f).
The seven thunders have a message, but we are not told what it is. An obvious one is surely that the world should tremble, for the sounding of the last trumpet is imminent. Standing on the sea and land and looking towards heaven, the angel swears by him who created land and sea and who has total control over them. The world’s wise men will continue to assure us that there is no such God. They will continue to maintain that the universe with its two trillion galaxies all arose from a singularity the size of a pea, that life is just a complex organisation of matter, and that its wonders are all natural wonders. But God is God, and his purpose will be fulfilled. The mystery revealed to the prophets is his kingdom on earth, which all history has been moving towards.
The seventh trumpet is not blown until 11:15. The announcement that time has run out indicates that the three and a half years encompassed by the following section, 10:8-11.14, do not follow chronologically from 9:21. The two witnesses of that section prophesy over the same period as the horrors heralded by the trumpets. Accordingly, while the second ‘woe’ is clearly that of the sixth trumpet, the woe is not said to have passed until the end of their prophesying (11:14).
The edible scroll recalls the ministry of Ezekiel, which began with a vision of God similar to that at the beginning of John’s prophecy. After the vision Ezekiel was given a scroll with words of lamentation and woe on both sides. Having eaten it, he had to prophesy to the house of Israel concerning their immediate future. John must prophesy about Gentile peoples and kings, concerning a time much later in history. He does so in 11:1-13, beginning with these words: