Is Revelation the Word of God?
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. (Revelation 10:1-3, NIV)
Take one look at Revelation, and you’ll quickly see that it is packed with pictures - such as the one I’ve quoted above - which seem fantastical and very strange. Sometimes they are also gruesome. After page upon page of this, we might be wondering whether this book should be regarded as the Word of God, or just the product of a very vivid imagination, or even a mind that is out of control.
We might also find ourselves asking whether God himself would really want to communicate with us in language like this.
Let me suggest the start of two answers, from within Revelation itself.
First, the human author identifies himself in his introduction as John. It is striking that he does so three times in quick sequence (1:1, 4 9). This repetition suggests he wants his readers to know that it is he who is writing. He only has to mention his name to be known to them, and this would make most sense if he is indeed the John, the Apostle. Certainly that would make sense of his description of himself as one who testifies [could be translated testified] to everything he saw - that is the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ (1:2). He was already well-known for passing on his eyewitness account of Jesus.
If so, the author isn’t some random individual but in the mainstream of Christianity, as an Apostle. And he would have known his Master’s voice when he heard it.
Secondly, the apparently bizarre images relate again and again to other points in the Bible, mainly the Old Testament. Take the appearance of the angel in the quote above. Robed in a cloud and having legs like fiery pillars suggests the presence of God with his people in their desert wanderings. The seven thunders possibly looks back to Psalm 29, where God’s voice is compared to thunder - and mentioned seven times. What the angel’s appearance conveys, then, is that he is sent by none other than God himself. The angel’s voice is God’s voice. (In fact, at this particular point, the angel is addressing the very question in the title of this post!)
Again and again in Revelation we find this: the symbolism takes us to the Old Testament. In fact, it’s been noticed that Revelation quotes or alludes to the Old Testament more than all of the rest of the New Testament put together. In this way, Revelation doesn’t stand alone, but in line with the rest of Scripture, and completes the narrative of Scripture, drawing the threads together in a coherent way. Could God speak in such images? Yes, for he already had.
We resume our journey through Revelation as a church this coming Sunday morning. As we read this book, we will be hearing God’s own voice.