When reading the book of Revelation, it is easy to get caught up in trying to interpret all of the details. Perhaps this is why so many either become obsessed with the book or, alternately, despair over ever understanding its message and avoid reading it.
The best counsel I can give on how to avoid either extreme is to follow the admonition of the book itself and to read it as it was intended to be read. Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Revelation is meant to be read out loud and listened to rather than dissected word-by-word. It is meant to be experienced and visualized.
As we approach chapters 8-11 in our study this month, this becomes especially important. So, before you read any further, may I ask you to stop and read these chapters out loud?
It is vital that we understand the context of Revelation 8-11. In 8:1-5 we read:
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
Everything that follows from 8:6-11:18 is the result of God’s responding to the prayers of the saints in 8:4. What prayers are those? The answer is found back in 6:10 where the saints cry out from under the altar, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
At that time, they are told to be patient. God will respond. Their prayers have not gone unnoticed or unanswered. Indeed everything that occurs in Revelation 8-11 is God’s response to that prayer. But whereas the seals in chapters 6-7 result in the persecuted church pleading for justice from God (6:10), the trumpets in chapters 8-11 result in the persecuting world being offered mercy from God.
Yes, terrible things take place in chapters 8-9--hail, fire, poisoned waters, death and destruction, plagues and war. But the destruction is limited. There is mercy being offered; God’s hand is being held back. Then in chapter 10, God provides a message that is both sweet and bitter. It is sweet because it is a message of salvation and hope but it is bitter to those who eat it because of the inevitable persecution that will result from the proclamation of this message.
This is illustrated in chapter 11 as two messengers bring a message from God to a hostile world. Some repent and give glory to God (11:13) but only after the messengers have been killed for their witness (11:7). Revelation 10-11 reminds us that while Christ’s death provides the means for salvation, the death of His people is often required to bring that salvation message to others.
Chapters 8-11 also remind us that suffering itself rarely brings people to Christ. The result of the calamity in chapters 8-9 actually concludes with the people not repenting (9:20-21) even though they had the opportunity. Sadly, in times of suffering when people should turn to God, they often curse and turn from Him instead. The gospel of salvation requires messengers who will bring the sweet and bitter Word of hope to a world under the judgment of God.
Lastly, these chapters remind us that while God is concerned with justice, His first priority is to offer mercy to those who need to repent. How does He do that? Through you and me. Those who are protected (sealed) from the wrath of God (9:4) are protected for a purpose--to be His witnesses (chapter 11) even though it will likely result in rejection, hostility and, in some cases, even death.
Why are there only two witnesses in chapter 11? Because in Revelation 1-3, only two of the lampstands (cf. 11: 4), Smyrna and Philadelphia, were faithful witnesses. The rest were failing in their lampstand/witness role. Only two had the oil from the oil trees still burning in their lamps.
Are you being a faithful witness in the midst of a world under the judgment of God? Are you extending God’s mercy to a world that deserves His justice?