Forbidden Knowledge

by Roger McCay
25 September 2022
Sermon Passage: Revelation 10:1-4
Link to Audio Version

Only the Lord God is omniscient, all-knowing. Only he has perfect understanding of all the details and nuances of everything, every person, and every situation, even the future. Only God has the ability to act according to all that he perfectly knows and understands. And only God perfectly loves and perfectly applies justice and mercy, according to his perfect knowledge and wisdom. We, on the other hand, are limited in our capacity for knowledge, understanding, and our ability to act upon even what little we know.

The Lord, as our Creator, knows our limitations and what is best for us, thus puts limits on what he wants us to know—knowledge revealed and knowledge concealed. Wasn’t the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?” But our pride chafes that something might be kept from us. We don’t like knowledge to be kept from us. But God does just that. Yet, rather than be content with his wisdom, the desire of forbidden knowledge plagues us, and our pursuit of it endangers our well-being.

Dangers come with knowledge. One example in our society is the obsession with the consumption of news—constant news, trying to know everything that’s going on all over the world, all the time. But note that this is a form of Gnosticism. D. J. Marotta, in his insightful article “News as Spiritual Deformation,” writes how the “News media say, implicitly, ‘We’ll give you the inside scoop. Follow us and you’ll be one of the enlightened few and not in the mob of fools.’ The news offers salvation through special knowledge.” Then he adds, “The news offers a substrain of the temptation presented to the first humans in Eden: to be like God.”

Such is the cause of much neurosis and the propagation of a negative spirit, in many people. Marotta observes: “Most news is bad: an earthquake, a hurricane, a murder, a scandal. Most news is also inactionable: there is nothing you can do about it.” And this hurts us, causing “anxiety” rather than joy and contentment; “loss of agency” rather than a sense of ability to act with meaningful consequence; “anger” rather than peace; and “hate” rather than love.[1] Marotta’s solution to this problem is that we, particularly Christians, should restrict ourselves in our intake of news, with a focus on local news. And I’ll touch on that more when we pick up, in Rev. 10:5.

As it is, God limits our knowledge (putting some things off-limits, as forbidden), which is a way of lovingly protecting us and guiding us. And this seems to be behind his limiting of our knowledge when it comes to the future and end times. We are told certain things, but not other things. Hence, the themes, in Rev. 10, of knowledge revealed and knowledge concealed—the latter which is our focus today, particularly when we get to v. 4.

Now, Rev. 10 begins an interlude after the sixth trumpet and before the seventh trumpet—similar to the interlude after the sixth seal, back in Rev. 7. This interlude consists of three visions: first, in ch. 10, the mighty angel; then, in ch. 11, the trampling of the temple; also the two witnesses.

Let’s consider the first vision of the mighty angel. Look again at Rev. 10:1-3:

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded.

Who is this mighty angel? The symbolic description of this being hammers at us—boom, boom, boom. And the symbols are very specific, pointing to a specific Person. G.K. Beale aptly states, “He is given attributes that are given only to God in the OT or to God or Christ in Revelation.”[2] Thus, you’ve probably figured it out. So, I’ll tell you up front. It’s Jesus. Follow with me.

In the OT, understood from the earliest Christian times, the Angel of the Lord, when he manifests, is likely the second person of the Trinity, Jesus pre-incarnate. One source observes:

“In certain texts, it seems impossible to distinguish between the angel of the Lord and the Lord himself (Gn 16 … Ex 3 … Jgs 6, etc.). Sometimes the angel is depicted acting for the Lord and yet is addressed as the Lord. God says “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20), and yet Hagar …, Jacob …, and Moses … are said to have “seen God face to face” in view of their confrontation with this angel. God promises that his very presence will be among the Israelites, and yet it is the angel who goes with them (Ex 23:23). The commander of the army of God is given reverence equal to God’s (Jos 5:13[ff.]). The angel seems to possess the full authority and character of God.”[3]

Thus, appearing as an angel is not a new thing for the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God, in the Scriptures.

But why doesn’t John just say it’s Jesus? While that would make it much simpler for us, it wouldn’t catch our attention like the imagery John provides. We’d miss out on all that the symbolism suggests and the dance of the mind the imagery provokes. Speaking for dramatic effect, the symbols tie-in attributes of the Lord’s being and work. This gives weight to the purpose of this particular manifestation of Christ, as he commissions John as a prophet to proclaim the message of the little scroll. It is also consistent with the form of the Book of Revelation, which portrays Jesus in various ways, such as in the startling description of the one like a son of man, in ch. 1; also the “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” who was a Lamb, in ch. 5.

Now, right off, we notice the mighty angel’s contrast to Satan, from 9:1. Where Satan had fallen to the earth, this being descends from heaven. There is control and deliberateness here, as he comes down from heaven under his own power and for his own purposes. And this brings to mind Jesus’ discussion as to the purpose of his coming down from heaven, in The Gospel of John, ch. 6.

The mighty angel is also wrapped in a cloud, something that symbolizes his divine nature. In the OT, as Beale points out, it is the Lord alone who “comes in heaven or to earth in a cloud.”[4] Among other OT parallels and instances, Dan. 7:13 speaks of “one like the son of man” who came with “the clouds of heaven.” Then in the NT, the imagery Jesus gives in his Olivet Discourse is that of “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven”—the “Son of Man,” of course, being Jesus.[5] The context of the latter was also speaking to a major theme of Revelation—the Lord Jesus’ coming in judgment, which John specified in Rev. 1:7: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the [Land] will wail on account of him.”

Next, the rainbow over the head of the mighty angel, in Rev. 10:1, brings to mind the rainbow over the throne of God, in ch. 4 (also Ezek. 1:28). The imagery suggests movement from the throne of God, as the angel comes, with the rainbow over his head suggesting a crown. These symbols linked by the rainbow (throne and crown) point to the theme of the Lord’s sovereign reign, authority possessed by the Lord Jesus over heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18, and again Dan. 7:13-14). The rainbow also hearkens back to God’s covenant with Noah, with the theme of covenant mercy. And I suppose that one who had a face like the sun shining bright with clouds wrapped around him would have the effect of projecting a rainbow.

Further, that the mighty angel’s face was “like the sun” specifically points to the Lord Jesus. In Rev. 1:16, Jesus is described as having a face “like the sun shining in full strength.” And as I said when I preached on that passage, “This speaks to the glorious power of Christ’s countenance, a comforting countenance for his people, pushing back the darkness with his unrelenting light, and a terrifying countenance when turned upon his enemies.”

Likewise, the imagery of his legs “like pillars of fire” recalls the imagery in Rev. 1:15, where Jesus stood among the lampstands (the seven churches) and his feet “were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace,” indicating strength and stability (like pillars). The image of fire is also regularly used, in Revelation, as a symbol of judgment, like in the plagues of the trumpets in Rev. 8 and 9. Further, the pillar of fire imagery hearkens to the Angel of the Lord in the OT, who seems to have been Christ Jesus, pre-incarnate. The Angel of the Lord led Israel from Egypt through the desert as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day (Ex. 13:1; 14:19, and so forth). This fits the imagery of the trumpets (Rev. 8), which signaled that the plagues of Egypt were now turned upon Israel, and that Jerusalem (Israel, who had abandoned the Lord) was now symbolically called Egypt (Rev. 11:8). Thus judgment and wrath upon Egypt (in Revelation, Jerusalem) and mercy and redemption upon God’s covenant people (in Revelation, Christians, both Jew and Gentile) are brought to mind.

Rev. 10:2 then records that “He had a little scroll open in his hand.” This points back to the throne room, in Rev. 5, where Jesus, the Lamb, took the scroll out of the hand of the Father. He then broke the seven seals, and now the scroll is open, as is mentioned here. The scroll, of course is symbolic for the message it represents. That it is here called “a little scroll” implies a limitation of sorts. So, it seems to be a symbolic portion of the full message of the scroll, in Rev. 5:1. And such fits with the passage, in that John was not to record the message of the seven thunders but was to take the message limited to the little scroll and proclaim it to the nations. This fits the theme of the passage of knowledge revealed and knowledge concealed.

The mighty angel is then described as setting “his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land” (emphasized three times, including vv. 5 and 8). This indicates the Lord’s sovereign rule over all the earth, people, and nations (both Jews and Gentiles). The imagery of the sea and land is found the OT,[6] as H.B. Swete observes, as “an O. T. formula for the totality of terrestrial things.”[7] Ps. 69:34: “Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.” And, in the context of Revelation, it seems to be the case that, at times, as David Chilton observes, the terms “‘Sea and Land” … represent the Gentile nations contrasted with the Land of Israel.”[8] We’ll look at that concept more closely, as we travel through the Apocalypse.

Next, in Rev. 10:3, Jesus calls out, and his voice is described as “a loud voice, like a lion roaring.” Like a lion’s roar, his voice was majestic and terrifying. And the description also brings to mind Jesus’ description, in Rev. 5, as being “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” This, of course, hearkens to Gen. 49:8-10, where Jacob blessed his son, Judah:

8 Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. 9 You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.[9]

This blessing, as we know, was ultimately fulfilled in Christ Jesus, the Son of Judah, the Son of David, the Son of God, ruler over all nations.

We next read, in v. 3, that “When he called out, the seven thunders sounded.” This hearkens to the voice of the Lord in Ps. 29, where the God of glory thunders and the term “the voice of the Lord” is repeated seven times, with its power and majesty described in various ways.

So we have it that Jesus, the risen Lord, descended from heaven, coming to John with the little scroll in his hand—a proclamation. And the Word of God speaks with power and might as sovereign ruler over all. Thus, with the sound of the voice of the Lord, the Seven Thunders booming, we come to v. 4:

And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”

Here we find the Biblical theme of knowledge concealed. This is an old, old theme, from the beginning. Like I put forward in the introduction, there are certain things the Lord has chosen not to reveal to us for his own purposes, and for our own good. The earliest instance of which we have record was “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And I’m sure you recall how the apostle Paul also was forbidden to reveal knowledge he was given in heaven, “things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 2:4).

Now, in Rev. 10, the command for John to “seal up” brings to mind three incidences in Daniel: Dan. 8:26; 12:4 and 12:9—12:9, which refers back to 12:4. Let’s look briefly at these passages, which should help us understand a bit of what is going on here, in Revelation. So, go ahead and flip over to Dan. 8.

First off, for both John and Daniel, the command to seal up certain knowledge also came with revelation of knowledge. While our focus today is on the concealment, what is revealed is immensely important. And I hope to cover that further, when I preach next on the rest of Rev. 10.

Flip over to Dan. 8:26: “The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”

From a historical point of view, Dan. 8 is relatively straightforward. It speaks to the future history from Daniel’s time until the end of the time the vision encompasses—i.e. from the destruction of Babylon by the Medes through the time of Antioches Epiphenes IV. But then, in v. 26, Daniel is told to seal up this vision. Even so, he recorded the vision, in ch. 8.

So, how was it sealed up? Two things:

One, according to the traditions of Daniel’s time, a document that was sealed up was something that was to be preserved, not kept secret. The original was preserved without flaw, but a copy was kept so that the text could be referenced. This doesn’t mean the document was hidden away, it rather means that it, with its exact words, was to be preserved.

Second, up to this point, after ch. 2, v. 4, Daniel has been writing in Aramaic, the language of Babylon. In ch. 8, Daniel switches to writing in Hebrew. Why does he do that? Jim Boice suggests, “Daniel wrote in the language of the people to whom he primarily wanted these various parts of the book to be directed.”[10] Thus, this vision was for the Jews, not the Babylonians, who would quickly cease to exist. The Jews would benefit from the prophecies, as the prophecies’ fulfillment unfolded over the course of the Jews history, until Antioches Ephiphenes IV.

Thus, in Dan. 8, God gives knowledge to some but conceals it from others, because it would be of use to those to whom he gave it, leading up to and including the time of its fulfillment.

Then there is Daniel 12 (the last chapter of Daniel), vv. 4 and 9. So, Dan. 12:4: “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” Then, a few verses later, in v. 9, after Daniel expresses his confusion, an angel refers back to the sealing up which was commanded in v. 4, saying, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.”

Here, similar to Dan. 8, Daniel is told to seal up the prophecy he was given, again for the purpose of preserving the prophecy, so that it might be known up to and at the time of its fulfillment—which leads up to the great tribulation and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, then jumps to the resurrection in Dan. 12:2. This is because it reveals events up to the end of the time the vision encompasses (again, written in Hebrew). As to the meaning of the verse, a particular suggestion seems apt: “Daniel must place in security the prophecies he has received until the time of the end, so that through all times many men may be able to read them and gain understanding (better: obtain knowledge) from them.”[11]

So, compare these verses, in Daniel, to the last chapter of Revelation, Rev. 22:10, which says, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (also Rev. 1:1 and 3). Because of the nearness of fulfillment, the opposite is said to John about the revealed knowledge than was said to Daniel. Rather than its fulfillment being far off like in Daniel, most of the events prophesied in Revelation were close at hand, in time (with the book written circa AD 65). Revelation, rather than sealed up to be preserved for later times, was an open letter sent to the churches so that people would know and be talking about the events, as they were coming soon in their lifetime (Rev. 1-3). In contrast, Daniel’s prophecies, up into ch. 12, would, for the most part, not occur during his generation’s lifetime, with his prophecies following the course of history leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem, in AD 70, harmonizing with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and Revelation.

The thing is, in Revelation, while it might be said the events after Rev. 20, v. 6 have been inaugurated, Christ’s final return at the end of history, with the resurrection, and the day of judgment have not occurred; they are future. But this fits with the form of Daniel, going from Daniel 12:1 to 12:2, and also Jesus’ Olivet Discourse going from Matt. 24:34 to v. 36. In each case, there is a huge unrevealed gap of time and events that occurs in between the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 until Christ’s final return.

Back to Rev. 10:4. The seven thunders sounded, but John was told not to write down that information. As for sealing up, the knowledge was preserved in heaven. What is that knowledge? Well, its contents are concealed. But the time it covers seems evident. My thought is that the time of the knowledge concealed is the gap from Rev. 20:6 to Rev. 20:7, which are the same gaps I mentioned in both Daniel and Jesus’ prophecy—the time of the Christ’s millennial reign, the church age, which is going on right now.[12] But what happens during that time is not specifically revealed to us in prophecy, not like the parade of kingdoms and rulers in Daniel or the events through AD 70 spoken of in Revelation and Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. Yet we are not left totally in the dark. We are given some general knowledge to help us in our walk with Christ, to know the conditions we must traverse. The gospel will go forth victoriously (Rev. 19:11ff.), while the saints must persevere in the war between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Evil (1 Tim. 6:12; Gal. 6:9, etc., etc., etc.);[13] and there will be a time of increased apostasy in the church and severe persecution of the saints at the end (2 Thess. 2; Rev. 20:7-10).

All of which, by the way, could be said to be happening right now. Jesus tells us just that, in his Olivet Discourse (speaking as to the day of his final return in Judgment, after the millennium) “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36). Indeed, Jesus said he will come like a thief, a total surprise. The Lord doesn’t want us to know when he’s coming back. He did not lay out symbolic events that all point to the time of his final coming (like he did for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple). We must trust that his decision is for our own good. But what he does tell us is within our grasp, “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). In such a way, he encourages us to stay vigilant over the long years.

There are many Christians out there that strive to know all the events leading up to Christ’s return and predict it. And many Christians slaver over various events that happen, such as seeing signs in some of the strangest things, and insisting on it being a priority that the Temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt, so Jesus can return. Such obsessions betray a touch of feverish desperation (hence the title of Gary Demar’s book Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church). But the Bible only gives us some general ideas (as I mentioned) concerning the spread of the gospel and the struggles that will occur during Christ’s millennial reign and towards the end. As for signs, as for knowledge of the details leading up to and the time of his final coming? That knowledge is concealed—forbidden knowledge. In that we must be content, and there lies peace.

Yet we are living it. We are in the midst of what was concealed, and it rolls on before us. Thus we should hear and obey the Lord Jesus’ command. “Be ready,” for he could return at any time. Follow Jesus in faith. Live that holy life he’s called you to live, for the way of that life is knowledge clearly revealed in his Word.

Because the Lord has concealed certain knowledge, we must be content with his Revelation.


[1] D.J. Marotta, “News as Spiritual Deformation,” 25 February 2021, The Gospel Coalition,

[2] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1999), 522.

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Angel of the Lord,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 90.

[4] Beale, 523.

[5] Matt. 24:30.

[6] As to this symbolism in the OT, Gentry mentions Isa. 5:26-30; 17:12-13; Jer. 6:22ff.  (Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 2, lesson 11).

[7] Henry Barclay Swete, ed., The Apocalypse of St. John, 2d. ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1906), 124. He mentions Ex. 20:4, 11 and Ps. 69:34

[8] David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 261-262. Cf. Rev. 13:1, 11.

[9] Gen. 49:8-10 (NIV)

[10] James Montgomery Boice, Daniel: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 90.

[11] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 9 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 819, quoting Klieforth (reference unknown).

[12] Cf. Milton S. Terry, The Apocalypse of John, ed. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. and Jay Rogers (Chesnee, SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2021; originally pub. 1898), 126.

[13] John 16:33; Rev. 19:11ff.