Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 10
The Angel with the Little Book
- 1And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud, and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.
Commentary: The description of this angel in particular in interesting because it draws on images from several other places. Firstly, the cloud image quite possibly refers to the dream-like quality of John's revelation. The rainbow part of the description refers back to God's covenant with Noah. By using this symbol, John is emphasizing the fact that the goal of the plagues and judgments is to cause people to repent and come back to God. John's reference to the face like the sun, hearkens back to the way in which John described Jesus at the beginning of the Book of Revelation. The legs life pillars of fire evoke imagery of the pillar of fire that led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness. So far 2 angelic beings are marked as mighty or strong. The first angel identified as mighty appears in Revelation 5:2. There may be some significance or distinguishing mark about "mighty angels" versus John just using the term angel. In Revelation 5, the angel is a revelatory angel that acts as a messenger between God and man, carry critical information to pass on. This also poses the question of whether or not there is some sort of hierarchical system among the angels in Heaven. There has also been some suggestion that the mighty angel is in fact Christ, however there seems to be no good reason why the author would then identify the figure as an angle instead of Christ. The imagery of the angel complete with rainbow, a face like the sun, and legs which were as pillars of fire seems to suggest that this figure is a positive one rather in contrast with the graphic descriptions of other figures in Revelation which bring death.
The rainbow image associated with the avenging angel can be interpreted as an allusion to an older apocalyptic act by a vengeful god -- the rainbow was the symbol of the covenant between god and Noah. Witherington imagines that this then, is a sign of hope of salvation for a godfearing few.
- 2And he had in his hand a little book open, and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, 3and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars, and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
The fact that the angel is on both land and sea shows that this message is for everyone in heaven, on earth, and hell. It also shows that both land and sea are under the authority of this mighty angel. This open book can be contrasted to the scroll mentioned in Revelation 5, as this book is opened and exposed, revealing things to come to John.It speaks of the coming of Christ, the millennium kingdom, the heavens, and the final judgement. It is also interesting that this little book, or scroll, is already opened, as opposed to the previous scrolls that had all been sealed. The idea of the open book suggest that there is no secret hidden inside to reveal. The cry with a loud voice is a term that is mentioned multiple times in the book of Revelation and may be a typical oratorical communication used to convey critical messages by the heavenly beings. The planting of feet on the sea and dry land shows that Jesus has authority over all of the earth. This also shows that he inherets the earth as being Messiah.
- 4And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write, and I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.”
The Lord showed John a glimpse of what the end of time would bring. As John is getting ready to write about this, the Lord tells him to not write a thing. Many have said that John was shown a vision that no one else was as a means to comfort John during troubled times. Therefore, showing him a glimpse of what will happen on Judgement day gave John some relief.
This passage is especially interesting since John is instructed to not write something down, which seems counter to the rest of the book. This shows that his purpose was not, in fact, to write down everything, but only to write down what he was directed to. This makes his purpose, and the purpose of the book, much more specific. It is not meant to be all encompassing, but instead it only conveys very specific information. In other words, the book is intended to be incomplete, instead of a full record of what will come. It is not for John, or his audience to know everything.
As a syntactical point, this is first instance in the text in which the author indicates that he is recording all of these things. The voice is an example that John is to only record what he is instructed, and not what he is experiencing. Within the frame of the narrative John displays, it is now shown that these events transpire, and John records them journalistically. It is still uncertain if these images are poetic, prophetic, allusions to the past or present, or any of the other varieties of interpretations.
- 5And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven 6and swore by him that lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, and the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be time no longer, 7but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he will begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he has declared to his servants the prophets.
Commentary: In this translation, the mighty angel proclaims, "there should be time no longer." As many commentaries suggest, this phrase with the Greek word "chronos" (generally translated as "time") should not be interpreted literally. In other words, time will continue to exist; it will not fold or dissolve into eternity. Instead, this proclamation can be understood as an answer to the question posed by saints under the altar in Revelation 6:10. They essentially ask, "How much longer until God's judgment is carried out?" Here we see the mighty angel responding to that cry. Other translations suggest that the angel announces, "There will be no more delay." This seems to indicate that the sounding of the seventh trumpet is imminent. The mystery of God refers to all that has previously been revealed and is leading up to the end. Some believe that he is referring to "mystery of God" because man is uncertain and unable to tell what God will do next.
The confusion that may have occurred at the beginning of the chapter about who the "strong angel" is has now been cleared up. Although there are parallels that can be drawn between the "strong angel" and Jesus Christ, this passage clears that blurry line up. The angel being Jesus is really limited when John states "and the angel;" while it is indeed a unique angel, it is most certainly not Jesus Christ.
John Eats the Little Book
- 8And the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again, and said, “Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which stands upon the sea and upon the earth.” 9And I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book.” And he said to me, “Take it and eat it, and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10And I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but as soon as I had eaten it, my stomach was bitter.
Commentary: The "little book" or little scroll, is mentioned earlier in the chapter. There are many interpretations of the angel's stance. The angel's dominion may be over land and the sea, this expression could be used to show that the message is applicable to everyone, or the angel may truly be a mighty or large angel. The phrase "Take it and eat it" is a parallel to the verses found in Ezekiel 2 & 3 (vv 8-3:3) in which a man is also given a scroll and is instructed to eat it, the taste of which he describes as sweet as honey. The reasoning behind eating the book and the significance of the bitter feeling, but sweet taste is widely debated and merely speculatively interpreted. Some believe the bitter coupled with sweetness demonstrates the grievous feelings that John would experience with the revelation of the impending destruction and state of the world intermingled with sweet or future hopeful events for the righteous. Ezekiel was instructed, almost 700 years earlier, to eat the scroll and deliver the message to the people of Israel, so John is most likely intended to deliver the message also. He was most likely intended to deliver the second half of the tribulation because chapter ten takes place just before the second half.
C. Koestler has speculated that this little scroll is an overture to the bloody denouement of Revelation, serving as John's further prophesies. John here sheds his role of observer and becomes an actor. That the scroll is initially sweet and ultimately bitter suggests a final hopelessness and discomfort that is contradicted elsewhere in the book. This image seems to undermine the central concern of Revelation -- that though god's judgement is violent and fearful, it is a required step toward salvation.
The idea of eating scrolls or other sacred scripture is found elsewhere in the Bible. In the ancient Hebrew context there was not a separation between the physical and the spiritual like we have in modern times. For example, the same word for heart was used to describe their ancient conception of the abstract concept of the mind and at the same time for what we know now to be a cardiac muscle. So when the writer says to "eat" the scripture he is more or less saying to read it, memorize it, and to absorb it. In general, the symbolism is meant to give the reader an idea of how important what is written on the scrolls is.
- 11And he said to me, “You must prophesy again before many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”
Commentary: This is a contrasting statement to John being told earlier that he should not write something down. It also exemplifies that John is not seeing these visions to record everything he senses, but more-so to write down what God has specifically told him in order to get a certain point across. This also adds to the idea that this work is incomplete and not an exact chronology of what the apocalypse is supposed to entail.
The term "must" is the closest translation to the Greek verb for divine necessity. John has no other choice because this is God’s implicit will. John is called to be a prophet by God, he is expected to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the message of God. The term before is from the Greek word epi, meaning against.
The next 10 chapters is focused on the wrath of God and the fulfillment of His promise, bringing justice, and God’s judgment of his people.
The Last part of this verse “many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” defines the audience of Johns prophecy, it is a list of four ethnic groups, it is the third time of seven times that it is mentioned in the book of Revelation. (Fun fact: never in these 7 times is the order of the nations, tongues, kings, and peoples in the same order. Perhaps this shows that John focused on universality, or is just a fluke)