Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Pt 1)

1 and 2 Thessalonians

Most New Testament scholars are in general agreement that the two letters to the Thessalonians are the earliest of the surviving letters of Paul, written c. 49-51 A.D. As such, they would date from perhaps 5-10 years before the great letters of Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. The Thessalonian correspondence is certainly much simpler in form and style, and likely represents the kind of letter Paul typically would have sent to the various communities of believers. It is for just this reason, however, that 1 and 2 Thessalonians are less well-known, lacking the polemic and extensive ethical and doctrinal discussions found in the other letters. Yet, as it happens, the two Thessalonian letters contain the strongest eschatological emphasis throughout, and provide the clearest statements of Paul’s eschatological views.

It should be mentioned that a fair number of critical commentators have doubts regarding Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians, and believe it to be pseudonymous. For my part, in the case of 2 Thessalonians, I do not find such arguments especially convincing. In these studies, I treat 2 Thessalonians as genuinely Pauline, without any real reservation. At several points, however, mention will be made of the critical view. There is also the question of the sequence in which the two letters were written. Commentators have tended to follow the canonical order; however, the canonical order of the letters is based primarily on length, and has no real bearing on when they were written. Strong arguments can be made for 2 Thessalonians being written before 1 Thessalonians. I will touch upon these briefly on a couple of occasions in these notes.

Due to the length of this article, it will be divided into three parts:

    1. A survey of key references in 1 & 2 Thessalonians
    2. The eschatological section in 1 Thess 4:13-5:11
    3. The eschatological section in 2 Thess 2:1-12

I save discussion of 2 Thess 2:1-12 for last, due to the fact that it is the most complex (and controversial) passage for readers today.

Eschatological References in 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Apart from the two main sections mentioned above (to be studied in Parts 2 & 3), there are five relevant passages which are eschatological in orientation or emphasis—1 Thess 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thess 1:6-10. The eschatological context of 1 Thess 2:14-16 will be treated in a separate note.

1 Thessalonians 1:10

The statement in 1:10 represents the conclusion of the introductory section (exordium) of the letter (1:2-10). In it, Paul gives thanks to God and praises the Thessalonians for their willingness to accept the Gospel and their continued faithfulness. The climax comes in vv. 9-10:

“For they (them)selves [i.e. believers in the surrounding regions] give up a message [i.e. report] about us, what kind of way in we held toward you, and how you turned around toward God, away from the images, to be slave (instead) to (the) living and true God, and to remain (waiting) up (for) His Son out of the heavens, whom He raised out of the dead, Yeshua, the (one) rescuing us out of the coming anger.”

Verse 9 is a roundabout way of describing the mission work (i.e., preaching of the Gospel) of Paul, etc, among the Thessalonians, and their subsequent conversion, coming to faith in Jesus. This leads into a kind of early credal statement in vv. 9b-10, the eschatological orientation of which is central to its formulation. Like all believers, these Thessalonians are exhorted to remain faithful, and to wait for the (end-time) return of Jesus. Note the way this is formulated:

  • “His Son
    • whom He raised out of the dead
  • Yeshua
    • the one rescuing us from the coming anger”

The parallelism is clear enough: (1) Jesus is identified as God’s Son, and (2) the resurrection of Jesus (by God) from death is parallel to the rescue of believers (by Jesus) from Judgment. For early Christians, the end-time Judgment was frequently referred to as the “anger” (o)rgh/) of God, that is, an expression and manifestation of His anger against the wickedness and evil in the world. This goes back to Old Testament and Jewish tradition, especially the “Day of YHWH” theme in the Prophets, and was inherited as a mode of (eschatological) expression by the first believers, being attested in early Gospel tradition through the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus (cf. Matt 3:7 par; Lk 21:23; Jn 3:36, etc). It is used frequently by Paul in this eschatological sense, as we shall see. On the emphasis of the coming end-time Judgment in early Christian preaching, cf. the two-part article on the Eschatology in the book of Acts (Pts 1 & 2).

All of the basic elements of early Christian eschatology are present here:

    • The return to earth of the exalted (resurrected) Jesus (“from out of the heavens”)
    • That this coming will coincide with the end-time Judgment by God (i.e. His “anger”)
    • That Jesus will function as the heavenly deliverer who will rescue the faithful ones (i.e. believers) at the end-time
    • That this coming, together with the Judgment, is imminent.

The sense of imminence is implicit, both in the overall phrasing, but also, in particular, with the participle “coming” (e)rxome/nh$); elsewhere, this is expressed more precisely as the Wrath/Judgment that is about (vb. me/llw) to come (Matt 3:7 par; Acts 17:31, etc).

1 Thessalonians 2:19

Within the narration (narratio) section of the letter, as part of Paul’s expression of his wish to see the Thessalonians again, he makes mention of the (heavenly) reward that awaits believers when Jesus appears (from heaven):

“For what is our hope or delight or crown of boasting—or, not (to say) even you (yourselves)—in front of our Lord Yeshua in his (com)ing to be alongside (us)? For (indeed) you are our honor and delight!” (vv. 19-20)

Proper English syntax would require a rearrangement of the clauses in v. 19, but the idea is clear enough. Paul, along with other faithful missionaries, will be able to stand before Jesus in the time of Judgment, with hope and expectation of heavenly reward (“crown [ste/fano$]”, “esteem/honor [do/ca]”). Again, an imminent eschatology is implied—Paul expects to be alive at the coming of Jesus and the time of Judgment (for more on this, see the discussion on 4:13-18 in Part 2).

1 Thessalonians 3:13

1 Thess 3:11-13 represents the transition (transitus) between the narration (2:1-3:10) and main section (probatio, 4:1-5:22) of the letter. It takes the form of an exhortation and wish-prayer for the Thessalonians which effectively summarizes the themes introduced in the letter thus far. The prayer element is two-fold, addressing both God the Father and Jesus (the Lord):

“(That) He (Him)self—our God and Father, and our Lord Yeshua—would put down our way straight toward you…” (v. 11)

It is perhaps best to understand both God and Jesus being referenced together by the title “Lord” (ku/rio$) in verse 12:

“…(and that for) you, the Lord would make (your) love unto one another (grow all the) more and go over (and above), and unto all (people), even as we also (experience this) unto you…”

The first part of the prayer-wish focused on what God and Jesus together will do, the second part on what they will do for the Thessalonians (emphatic “you”). The exhortation aspect comes into view in the closing verse 13, framed in terms of the result/effect of the prayer (emphatic preposition “unto” [ei)$]), and what Paul hopes/expects will take place among the Thessalonian believers:

“…unto the setting firm of your hearts, without blame, in holiness in front of our God and Father, in the (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] (us) of our Lord Yeshua (along) with all his holy (one)s.”

This hope is quite clear: that the Thessalonians will remain strong in faith, living exemplary (holy) lives, until the moment when Jesus appears on earth. The ethical dimension—indicated by blame, holiness, etc—is related to the correspondence of the Jesus’ return with the end-time Judgment. As in 1:10, the noun parousi/a (parousia, lit. “being alongside”) is used, already (as of 50 A.D.) a technical term among early Christians for the end-time return of Jesus, requiring no further explanation. The “holy ones” are best understood here as heavenly beings (“angels”), rather than human believers; this reflects apocalyptic and eschatological tradition of the time (Mk 8:38 par; 13:27 par; Matt 13:39, 41, 49; 25:31; Dan 4:34; 7:18; 8:13; Zech 14:5; 1 Enoch 1:9, etc).

1 Thessalonians 5:23

At the close (peroratio) of the letter, we find a similar exhortational wish-prayer by Paul. It more or less restates the aim and purpose in 3:13, casting it in a comparable eschatological context:

“And (that) He (Him)self, the God of peace, would keep you complete(ly) holy and whole in (every) part—spirit and soul and body—without blame in the (com)ing to be alongside (us) of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, (and so) watch over (you).”

Here the active role and work of God in keeping the Thessalonians “without blame” (a)me/mptw$) is emphasized, presumably achieved through the Holy Spirit, though this not specified. The verb a(gia/zw is probably better understood as “keep holy” rather than “make holy”, parallel with the emphatic use of the verb thre/w (“[keep] watch [over]”). Again the noun parousi/a is used for the end-time return of Jesus, assumed to be imminent—i.e. the Thessalonians to whom he is writing are expected to experience it.

Thus we have four distinct eschatological statements by Paul in 1 Thessalonians, all formulated in a similar way, and included as a natural component of everything he is discussing in the letter. In no other surviving letter by Paul are so many eschatological references made, in such a commonplace way. When combined with the major discussion in 4:13-5:11, as well as his statements in 2:14-16 (cf. the separate note), the eschatological emphasis in the letter is unmistakable.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

There is a parallel in 2 Thessalonians to the wish-prayers of 1 Thess 3:11-13 and 5:23. It is part of the introductory section (exordium, cf. on 1 Thess 1:10 above), and precedes the more famous eschatological discussion in 2:1-12 (to be studied in Part 3 of this article). As it happens, 1:3-10 comprises one long complex sentence, which, for practical reasons, it is necessary to break up for our study.

In 1:4, as part of his opening thanksgiving, Paul mentions the Thessalonians’ experience of being pursued (diwgmo/$ [pl.]) by adversaries and feeling pressure or “distress” (qli/yi$ [pl.]). The latter noun came to be a kind of technical term in early Christian eschatology, largely by way of Daniel 12:1 (LXX), with qli/yi$ rendering Hebrew hr*x*, a word with a comparable range of meaning (i.e. “pressure, stress, distress”). It is used by Jesus in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:19, 24 par), and again, even more famously, in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:9; 2:9-10, 22; 7:14). Thus, there is every reason to assume that Paul understands the suffering of the Thessalonian believers as having eschatological significance—a sign of the “last days”, and that the end was fast approaching.

This would seem to be confirmed by the way Paul connects this suffering with God’s judgment (kri/si$) in vv. 5ff:

“in (this is) a showing of the just Judgment of God, unto your being brought into value of (belonging to) the Kingdom of God, under which also you suffer…”

The verse begins with the compound noun (e&ndeigma) that is difficult to translate; literally it means “(something) in (which) it is shown (that…)”. Elsewhere in his letters, Paul uses the related noun e&ndeici$ (Rom 3:25-26; 2 Cor 8:24; Phil 1:28). Referring back to verse 4, it means that the persecution and “distress” experienced by the Thessalonian believers is an indication, or demonstration, that the (end-time) Judgment of God is taking place. Indeed, the believers are said to be suffering under this very Judgment—the feminine relative pronoun (h!$) relates to the feminine noun kri/si$ (“judgment”). However, this experience of the Judgment is not the same as it will be for the wicked; rather, for believers, it makes them worthy of belonging to (or entering/inheriting) the Kingdom of God. The rare verb katacio/w, an intensive compound of a)cio/w, is based upon the image of bring the scales into balance—i.e., as in weighing out the value of something (cf. on the adjective a&cio$). Elsewhere in Old Testament tradition, this dual aspect of God’s Judgment is expressed by the image of fire (cf. below), in which the metal of value is purified, while the dross is burned away.

Paul’s declaration continues in verse 6:

“… (so) if (then it is) just alongside God (as indeed it is) to give forth distress in exchange to the (one)s bringing distress for you…”

Here God’s Judgment is defined in terms of retributive justice—giving out punishment that matches the crime (the so-called lex talionis principle). The people oppressing the Thessalonian believers will soon be oppressed (by God) in return; actually, it is their own wickedness that brings about their suffering. The conditional particle (ei&per) assumes that the condition described is true—this retribution is indeed just (di/kaio$), and reflects the justice of God. The statement in verse 7 continues the main clause of v. 6, referring to what God gives out in exchange (vb a)ntapodi/dwmi):

“…and to you, the (one)s being distressed (along) with us, a letting up (of that distress), in the uncovering of the Lord Yeshua from heaven with (the) Messengers of his power…”

In other words, God will effect a transfer of the distress, removing it from the believers and onto the persecutors instead. This is expressed here as a “letting up” (a&nesi$) of the distress for believers; however, also implicit is the idea that believers will not experience any of the remainder of the Judgment, which will be focused entirely on the wicked. The image of Jesus coming to earth from heaven, in power, accompanying by heavenly Messengers (“Angels”), is derived from traditional apocalyptic motifs, and, in particular, the eschatological “Son of Man” sayings by Jesus recorded in the Gospel tradition (e.g., Mk 8:38 par; 13:27 par; Matt 13:39, 41, 49; 25:31). This appearance of Jesus is specifically referred to as an “uncovering” (a)poka/luyi$), a word frequently used in the Pauline letters (Rom 2:5; 8:19; 1 Cor 1:7; etc), though not always in an eschatological sense. Currently, Jesus resides with God the Father in heaven, and thus is “hidden”; at his end-time appearance, he will suddenly become visible, manifest to all humankind—i.e. the cover is taken away. His appearance also marks the onset of the Judgment proper, utilizing the common judgment-motif of fire:

“…in flaming fire, giving a working out of justice to the (one)s not having seen [i.e. known] God and to the (one)s not hearing under [i.e. being obedient to] the good message of our Lord Yeshua…”

It has been suggested that the first part of this verse alludes to Isaiah 66:15-16, and, indeed, the wording of Isa 66:15b [LXX] is very close: “…to give forth [a)podou=nai]…a working out of justice [e)kdi/khsi$]…in flaming fire [e)n flogi\ puro/$]”. The focus of this Judgment moves from the ones oppressing believers to unbelievers in general, expressed by two participles:

    • Perfect participle of ei&dw (“see”, often = “know”), “having seen/known”, here with the negative particle (mh/): “the ones having not seen/known God”. The implication of the perfect tense is that, even before the proclamation of the Gospel, they have had no knowledge of God, thinking and behaving in a wicked manner.
    • Present participle of u(pakou/w (“hear under”), i.e. listen obediently under someone with authority. This too is expressed with a negative particle, and with the Gospel as the object: “the ones not hearing under the good message”. In other words, not only did they have no knowledge of God before, but they also refused (or were unable) to accept the Gospel message of Jesus, such as was proclaimed (to the Thessalonians) by Paul.

The description of the fiery punishment on the wicked/unbelievers continues in verse 9:

“…who will pay (the) just (penalty), destruction of the Age, from the face of the Lord and from the splendor [do/ca] of his strength…”

The noun di/kh, often translated “justice”, more properly means the “just/right thing”, and here with the verb ti/nw (signifying the paying of a price) must be understood as the “just/right penalty“. The expression o&leqro$ ai)w/nio$ is typically translated “eternal destruction”, but this loses the important eschatological idea of the destruction of the current Age; thus I render the adjective ai)w/nio$, as I do consistently, rather more literally as “of the Age(s)”. The wicked will perish, being caught up in the destruction at the end of the current Age. The expression “face of the Lord” is an Old Testament idiom (referring to YHWH); here, in its early Christian context, it refers to the exalted/risen Jesus as Lord (ku/rio$). As the heavenly (and Anointed) representative of God, Jesus will oversee the great end-time Judgment. This idea of Jesus as Judge is a key component of early Christian eschatology (Acts 17:31; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; 1 Pet 4:5f, etc; along with the eschatological “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel, cf. above).

It is a concise statement of Jesus’ appearance that concludes the passage (v. 10):

“…when he shall come, to be treated in [i.e. with] honor among his holy (one)s, and to be regarded with wonder among all the (one)s trusting—(in) that our message upon [i.e. to] you was trusted—in that day.”

The subjunctive e&lqh| (“he should come”, “he would come”) is governed by the temporal particle o%tan (“when”); since the coming of Jesus is certain, in the mind of Paul and the other believers, I render the phrase here as “when he shall come…”. The only question is exactly when he will come. The result (and purpose) of his coming is expressed with a pair of articular infinitives:

    • e)ndocasqh=nai, from the compound verb e)ndoca/zw, meaning “be [regarded] in honor”, the passive here indicating that a person is to be treated/regarded with honor.
    • qaumasqh=nai, also a passive infinitive, of the verb qauma/zw (“wonder [at]”), here meaning that a person will be treated with wonder (i.e. amazement, admiration, etc).

Two groups correspond to these two verbs:

    • Jesus will be treated with honor “among his holy ones” (e)n toi=$ a(gi/oi$ au)tou=); as in 1 Thess 3:13 (cf. above), the “holy ones” are the heavenly beings (Messengers/Angels) who accompany him.
    • He will be regarded with wonder “among all the ones trusting” (e)n pa=sin toi=$ pisteu/sasin); this, of course, refers to earthly beings, believers in Christ. This may also reflect the same idea as in 1 Thess 4:15ff (cf. also Mk 13:27 par, etc), that Jesus, at his coming, will gather together all believers everywhere.

The long, complex sentence, concludes with the emphatic summary phrase “in that day”. This relates to the important discussion to follow in 2:1ff, regarding the meaning of the expression “the day of the Lord”. Here, Paul identifies the coming of Jesus, and the ushering in of the Judgment on the wicked, as “that day” (i.e. the day of the Lord). This will be considered further in the study on 2:1-12 (in Part 3).

As noted above, 1:3-10 represent a single long sentence in Greek, a fact which is totally obscured in nearly every English translation. Readable English requires that such long sentences be broken up into shorter units, much as I have done above; however, it is important to remember that, in actuality, a single continuous statement is being made. With that in mind, and in conclusion to this portion (Part 1) of the article on 1-2 Thessalonians, I wish to give here a continuous translation of the entire passage:

“We ought to give thanks to God always (for His) favor, about you, brothers, even as it is brought in balance [i.e. is proper], (in) that your trust grows over and the love of each one of all of you toward the other (grow)s more (and more), and how we (our)selves even (are able) to boast in you among the congregations of God, over your remaining under, and (your) trust, in all the (time)s of your being pursued, and the (moment)s of distress in which you (are) hold(ing) up, (that) in (this is) a showing of the just Judgment of God, unto your being brought to (the) value of (belonging to) the Kingdom of God, under which also you suffer; if (then it is) just alongside God (as indeed it is) to give forth distress in exchange to the (one)s bringing distress for you, and to you, the (one)s being distressed (along) with us, a letting up (of that distress), (so it will be) in the uncovering of the Lord Yeshua from heaven with (the) Messengers of his power, in flaming fire, giving a working out of justice to the (one)s not having seen [i.e. known] God and to the (one)s not hearing under [i.e. accepting] the good message of our Lord Yeshua, (these people) who will pay (the) just (penalty), destruction of the Age, from the face of the Lord and from the splendor of his strength, when he shall come, to be treated in [i.e. with] honor among his holy (one)s, and to be regarded with wonder among all the (one)s trusting—(in) that our message upon [i.e. to] you was trusted—in that day.”

A detailed syntactical breakdown and diagram of this passage is certainly warranted, and worth doing, but it rather goes beyond the scope this article. I would encourage readers and students to pursue such an analysis on their own.

In the next part of this article, we will examine 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-11; for a study on 1 Thess 2:14-16, cf. the special supplemental note.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Letters of Paul (Introduction)

Having examined the eschatology of Jesus as recorded in the (Synoptic) Gospels, as well as that expressed by the early Christian preaching in the book of Acts, it is now time to turn our attention to the Pauline Letters, and to give consideration to the eschatology of Paul, as studied through his letters.

One fact we may note before proceeding, is that, with regard to the eschatology found in the letters, there is surprisingly little that is unique to Paul’s thought and manner of expression (the discussion in Romans 9-11 being a notable exception). On the whole, he follows the traditional eschatology of early Christians, very much in accord with what we find in the preaching recorded in the book of Acts (cf. the previous two articles). What is distinctive is the way that Paul develops the tradition, giving added theological (and Christological) weight to the basic contours of the eschatological expectation of 1st century Christians. The main eschatological components handled and addressed by Paul in his letters are:

    • The return of Jesus to earth (i.e. the Parousia)
    • The great Judgment by God on humankind, and
    • The Resurrection (spec. of believers)

It is the last of these which is given most attention by Paul, since it relates to a fundamental (theological) aspect of his understanding of the religious identity of believers in Christ—namely, our identification (and union) with Jesus in both his death and resurrection (see especially Romans 6:3-4). This will be discussed in more detail as we encounter the various passages.

Any comprehensive treatment of Paul’s letters must always take into account certain critical questions of authorship. In particular, many (if not most) critical commentators regard a number of the canonical letters as pseudonymous. Among such scholars, there is general agreement that the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy, Titus) and Ephesians are pseudonymous; others believe that Colossians and/or 2 Thessalonians are as well. For my part, entirely on objective grounds, I consider 2 Thessalonians and Colossians as genuinely Pauline, and will treat them as such in these articles (while occasionally mentioning certain critical objections). More substantial questions surround the Pastorals (esp. 1 Timothy) and Ephesians, in terms of vocabulary, style, and points of emphasis. I do not intend to address any of these, except in passing; however, as a point of procedure, in deference to the (critical) questions, I will treat the eschatology in Ephesians and the Pastorals last among the letters of Paul.

Here is an outline of the articles:

  • 1 & 2 Thessalonians:
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians:
    • Part 1: Survey of the Corinthian correspondence
    • Part 2: Key passages examined in detail
    • Part 3: The Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15
  • Romans:
    • Part 1: Survey of passages
    • Part 2: Development of the Resurrection theme
    • Part 3: Romans 9-11 (esp. chap. 11)
  • Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians
  • Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters

October 6: Revelation 10:7-11

Revelation 10:7-11

In the previous note, we began to examine the message uttered by the heavenly Messenger (Angel) in verses 6b-7:

“…there will not yet be (any more) time [xro/no$]; but (rather), in the days of the voice of the seventh Messenger, when he shall be about to sound the trumpet, even (then it is that) the secret of God is completed [e)tele/sqh], (even) as He gave the good message (of it) to His slaves the Foretellers.”

As I indicated, this statement, along with the verses which follow, are most important for a correct understanding of the book of Revelation as a whole, and of the visions which make up the remainder of the book. However, a precise interpretation of the Angel’s words here in vv. 6b-7 is by no means easy to establish; indeed, the language and phrasing used presents a number of difficulties. I begin with the initial statement:

xro/no$ ou)ke/ti e&stai
which I have translated as
“there will not yet be (any more) time”

Of the two primary Greek words translated “time”, xro/no$ and kairo/$, the former (used here) more properly refers to a length of time, as opposed to a particular point in time (kairo/$). The compound particle ou)ke/ti means “not yet” or “no longer”. The bluntness of the statement has led some commentators to think that it may refer to a cessation of time itself. This, however, is unlikely; more probable is a reference to the time which is to pass before the end comes and God’s Judgment is completed. To say that “there will not yet be time” or “there will no longer be time” simply means that the end will finally come. This is described in verse 7 as the completion of the “secret [musth/rion] of God”. That it is a “secret” means that it has been kept hidden, revealed only to the Prophets (“Foretellers”)—both those in the Old Testament, as well as chosen believers in Christ such as John. Much the same idea is expressed elsewhere in the New Testament, in passages such as Rom 16:25-26; Eph 3:3-5, and 1 Pet 1:10-12. From the standpoint of the visionary narrative in the book, a final stage in this process of (special) revelation involves the sealed scroll of chaps. 5ff. Its opening by the Lamb (6:1ff) indicates that its contents are to be read and made known.

The message also gives a general notice as to the time-frame according to which the end will finally come: “in the days of the seventh Messenger, when he is about to sound the trumpet”. The expression “in the days of…” could suggest that a period of time is involved; from the point of view of the visions, this would mean a period between the first six trumpet-visions and the time when the seventh sounds.

Though the declaration “there will not yet be (any more) time” is set (in the visionary narrative) at a point after certain events will have taken place, it would have had meaning as well for readers/hearers at the present moment (i.e. when the book was first written and transmitted). As I have discussed at various points in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, as well as in these notes on the book of Revelation, early Christians generally held to an imminent eschatological expectation—i.e. that the end would occur very soon. If, as is commonly thought, the book of Revelation was written toward the end of the first century (c. 90-95 A.D.), most of the first generation of believers would have already passed away, and Christians at the time would have become increasingly aware of what is referred to as “the delay of the Parousia” (cf. 2 Pet 3:3-10, etc). The entire thrust of the book reiterates and reinforces the idea that the end-time Judgment and return of Jesus will yet occur very soon.

Rev 10:8-10

Verses 8-10 describe an interesting scene, involving a symbolic action (within the context of the vision) which resembles certain episodes in the Prophet books of the Old Testament, especially that in Ezek 2:8-3:3. The seer (John) is commanded, by a voice from heaven, to eat the scroll held by the Messenger. As I argued in the previous note, this is the same scroll from chaps. 5ff, which had been sealed, but has now been opened (by the Lamb, 6:1ff). It is important to remember that the visions in 6:1-8:1 stem from the opening/breaking of the seals; they do not, it would seem, reflect what is actually written on the scroll itself. This is what the prophet John consumes in the vision. The action is narrated in a repetitive, three-fold manner, which has most ancient roots in Near Eastern (Semitic) oral tradition and writing:

    • The voice tells John to take the scroll from the Messenger, implying that the Messenger will instruct him what to do with it (v. 8)
      • The Messenger tells John to take it and eat it, describing what the effect will be (v. 9)
        • John follows the Messenger’s instruction (practically verbatim), takes the scroll and eats it, and experiences the effects (v. 10)

As noted, the action itself draws upon Ezek 2:8-3:3, describing the scene more or less precisely—the prophet eats the scroll, with writing on front and back, as commanded, and it was sweet (as honey) in his mouth. Here is how this is narrated in verse 10:

“And I took the little paper-roll [i.e. scroll] out of the hand of the Messenger and I ate it down (completely), and it was sweet as honey in my mouth, and (yet) when I ate it my belly [i.e. stomach] was made bitter (by it).”

I would interpret this graphic contrast as follows: the words of the scroll initially seem sweet, as they entail the fulfillment of God’s will and the deliverance of His people; however, the implications of this also involve pain and bitterness. The source of this discomfort, best understood as the realization and experience of the Judgment, may be two-fold: (a) the suffering/persecution to be faced by believers, and (b) the suffering of humankind generally during the Judgment. The same verb (pikrai/nw) was used in the third trumpet-vision (8:11).

Moreover, it is the prophet who experiences this bitterness in his stomach, implying that it is difficult for him to digest. This relates specifically to his role as prophet—i.e. spokesperson/representative who delivers the divine message. This certainly is reflected in the Ezekiel passage (2:3ff; 3:4ff), indicating the difficulties facing the prophet in delivering the message—the word and will of God—to the people.

Rev 10:11

This prophetic task is precisely what is described in verse 11:

“And he said to me: ‘It is necessary for you again to foretell about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings’.”

The four terms (peoples, nations, tongues [i.e. languages], kings) are comprehensive—i.e. all of human society—and echo the wording used earlier in 5:9. This marks an important shift in the book. Up to this point, the visions foretelling and announcing the coming Judgment involved the world and humankind generally, treated as a whole; but now, in the remainder of the book, a more distinct world-historical approach will be taken, entailing visions and prophecies related to the history of God’s people (Israel/Believers) and the surrounding nations (the Roman Empire, etc).

In this regard, as we shall see, the visions of the book come to resemble the visions of Daniel, in many aspects. The Danielic influence has been present throughout, but perhaps comes into sharper focus here in chapter 10. In concluding this note, I would point out certain parallels of wording with Dan 12:6-9 (cf. the upcoming special study on Dan 12); in this illustration here I follow Koester (p. 489), using his translation with relevant words in italics (modified slightly):

“How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” The man clothed in linen … raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives forever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished. I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end.” (Dan 12:6-9)