After, perhaps, the Resurrection, these chapters represent one of the most triumphant and exultant scenes in all of Scripture. It represents a glimpse of the promises which have sustained the church since the time of Jesus' ministry. The mighty angel straddling the world has announced that the fulfillment of the mystery of God will be delayed no longer. Finally, after the terrible trials endured by the faithful and the horrific wrath exacted upon the whole earth by God, the kingdom of the Lord is come. The whole company in heaven announces that "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." The twenty-four elders sing still another new song of praise to Lord God Almighty. The temple in heaven is opened and the ark--the symbol of God's presence with His people--is revealed with flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. The servants of God are rewarded; the destroyers of the world are destroyed; God is glorified. Hallelujah! Amen.
Yet this triumphant image is preceded immediately by a cold reminder of the reality of the church's road to that glorious moment. First, John is commissioned once again to prophesy, the very behavior which has landed him in exile on Patmos to begin with. This calling is illustrated graphically with the little scroll which, if you'll pardon the pun, proves a bitter pill to swallow. If it was not already obvious, the eating of the scroll foreshadows the hardship which will always be associated with enlistment into the divine cause.
The succeeding narrative continues this theme, as John records the prophetic career of two witnesses sent to preach to a city. He goes to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate for the reader the awesome power of these witnesses. If they are harmed in anyway, the aggressor will die by that same means. Any offense against them is met with a consuming fire which pours from their mouths. They can shut up the sky, turn rivers to blood, and inflict upon the people any plague imaginable. No sooner has John told us how tremendous is their power, however, then they are martyred on the streets of the city and left their to rot. The two witnesses who stood before the throne of God and wielded His power on earth suffer the same seemingly ignoble fate as so many simple Christians in John's audience.
The story does not end there nor should our retelling of it. The witnesses are raised, the oppressors punished, the final trumpet sounds, and the Lord reigns. The one truth does not, however, change the other. That there will be vindication one day does not promise any easy road today; the treacherous path to God does not negate the magnitude of His promises. In fact, the two play off each other as they do in this passage. It is precisely the hardship which is endured which make the triumphant announcement of the kingdom so sweet. It is precisely the promise repose of the divine reign that makes the bitterness of the journey bearable. The rapid succession of what appear to be three loosely related stories--John and the little scroll, the two witnesses, and the seventh trumpet--in truth resound this very theme. God's demands on His people are great, His rewards greater still. We can forever take comfort in this, allowing our hope for salvation be the force which sustains us and spurs us toward greater heights of faithfulness.
For a full list of "Re-reading Revelation" posts, see Re-reading Revelation: Statement of Purpose.