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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Revelation 10

 

 

Verse 1
REV:10

The big thing in this chapter is "the little book open," which beyond any reasonable doubt is the New Testament. Of all the books ever heard of in the history of the world, there is only one small book continuing to remain open in spite of the most vigorous efforts of hell and the devil to close it, and deserving to receive the supernatural guardianship of one of God's most mighty and glorious angels. If there is even another candidate for such a unique status, this writer has never heard of it.

It is nothing short of phenomenal that most of the commentators on Revelation appear to be blind to the glorious vision of "the little book open." Many refer to this chapter as a consolatory vision for "the church," despite the church's not even being mentioned in the whole chapter; whereas, the little book or its equivalent pronoun occurs eleven times in as many verses!

What is the true significance of this? The Lord, through John, had just revealed the final impenitence and violent rebellion of the human race against God as history moves toward the terminal of the final judgment; and the persecuted and suffering Christians who first received this prophecy would naturally have been concerned with the question of what about the preaching of the word of God? especially of the New Testament, during such events, which, for all that they certainly knew were even then descending upon them. This chapter addresses that question. It is the apocalyptic counterpart of such great promises of the Lord Jesus Christ as these:

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away (Matthew 24:35).

The gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world (Mark 14:9).

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all nations; and then shall the end come (Matthew 24:14).

The word that I spake, the same shall judge him (man) in the last day (John 12:48).

Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:47).

Ye shall be my witnesses ... to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8).SIZE>

All history is the record of the fulfillment of these blessed promises of the Lord. These promises are found in the first five books of the New Testament, and the chapter before us is the inspired revelation of the reason why this fulfillment was possible. It shows that the holy providence of the Lord Jesus Christ which was pledged to the church in the promise of his being with them "always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20), also includes the exercise of that same providence in the preservation of the sacred New Testament, which is the unique origin, nourishment, and vitality of the church. Christ's promise to be with his church necessarily includes also his promise of being with the New Testament, without which the church could not possibly exist. This chapter makes that truth plain.

Right here is the reason why vicious and unbelieving scholars, devoting their total lives to the purpose of downgrading or destroying the New Testament, are foreordained to frustration and defeat. Let them look up from their mythology, folklore, Armenian and Mandaean eschatology, Babylonian creation stories, and the poetry and philosophy of pagan literature; let them desist from their silly word-counting games, their bizarre subjective guesses, and all their other devices, and let them behold the Rainbow Angel with the New Testament open in his hand! Open forever more, until day breaks and shadows flee! Will the enemies of the New Testament prevail? Ask the Rainbow Angel. Consult this chapter.

This chapter must not be understood as sequential chronologically to the six trumpets, but rather as a consolatory vision of the way it is with God's word throughout the entire Christian dispensation. Nothing of any greater relevance or significance for our own times, and for all times, appears elsewhere in this prophecy.

Despite this, the reading of the indexes of the whole period of writings by the Ante-Nicene authors reveals only two references to this chapter; and both of them omit any reference to "the little book open." Half a hundred volumes were searched with regard to comment on this chapter; and only the following authors got the point about this little book:

The little book is the word of God, his gospel in which the mystery of salvation is set forth.[1]

It is the word of God which is seen in the hands of this colossal figure (the Rainbow Angel).[2]

The little book contains the gospel of God's mercy.[3]

The little book has reference to the gospel.[4]

The little book open is that gospel which is the sword of the Spirit, the weapon of the church, the word of God open to all, hidden only to those whom the god of this world has blinded.[5] Bede unequivocally identified the little book as the New Testament.[6]

Origen, quoted in Speaker's Commentary, identified it as the book of Scripture.[7]

Davis identified it as the book that is so little that it can be carried in one's vest pocket and so cheap that it can be bought for a few pennies.[8]

Speck saw it as the Bible.[9]

Gaebelein understood it to mean the Old Testament.[10]

The main point of the open booklet is the open Word or Gospel.[11]SIZE>

We are thankful for these but distressed that so many miss this, usually identifying the little book as some portion of this prophecy, failing to see that one part of God's word could not possibly be more important than the rest of it. Thus, no portion of the New Testament could be elevated, as in the hand of this mighty angel, to a status higher than that pertaining to all of it. It is inconceivable that a glorious angel of Almighty God would be commissioned to look after a few passages in Revelation, as distinguished from the rest of the New Testament. We now turn to the text itself.

And I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, arrayed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire; (Revelation 10:1)

I saw another strong angel ... Some take this being to be Christ himself; but, as Earle wrote, "It is generally agreed that another mighty angel would not refer to the Son of God."[12] Still it is true that this angel's description resembles that of the glorified Christ (Revelation 1:16). Some have identified this angel as Gabriel,[13] or Martin Luther;[14] but it is our view that the rank and importance of this celestial being is to be stressed rather than his personal identity, which is not given. "Of all the angels who inhabit the pages of John's book, only three are called mighty.[15]

Coming down out of heaven ... "This event is not to be interpreted as an extension of the sixth trumpet-vision which was introduced in Revelation 9:13."[16] "The very nature of the last two verses of the preceding chapter shows that the account reaches its conclusion there."[17]

This is the beginning of a new vision of God's providential guardianship of the word of God, especially the New Testament, throughout this entire dispensation of the grace of God. It will be noted that John here appears to be on earth, contrasting with other occasions in Revelation when he was in heaven. "This illustrates the fluidity of apocalyptic thought; one can move from heaven to earth in vision without explanation."[18]

Cloud ... rainbow, ... "This is a description of the great angel emphasizing his rank and glory. Lenski called him "The Rainbow Angel."[19]

[1] William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 151.

[2] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, Vol. 20, The Revelation of St. John (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 138.

[3] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 126.

[4] R. H. Banowsky, The Revelation of the Holy City (Fort Worth, Texas: J. E. Snelson Printing Company, 1967), p. 48.

[5] W. Boyd Carpenter, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 582.

[6] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 273.

[7] Ibid.

[8] W. M. Davis, Studies in Revelation (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, n.d.), p. 25.

[9] Willie Wallace Speck, The Triumph of Faith (San Marcos, Texas: Mrs. H. E. Speck, 1958), p. 117.

[10] Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1961), p. 67.

[11] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 322.

[12] Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 559.

[13] Robert H. Mounce, Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 207.

[14] John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 146.

[15] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 125.

[16] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 573.

[17] Ibid.

[18] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 141.

[19] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 310.

Verse 2
and he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left upon the earth;

This verse introduces the principal theme in this chapter; namely, "the little book open" in the hand of a mighty angel. Pieters titled this chapter, "The Great Angel and the Little Book,"[20] and we would like to change that by the addition of a single word: "The Great Angel and the Little Book Open."

And he had in his hand a little book open ... See introduction to this chapter for our arguments positively identifying this little book as the New Testament of God's will. No other book, whether large or small, in the history of the whole world, could deserve the importance indicated in the powerful scenes of this vision. Behold this mighty and glorious angel so tall and glorious, standing with one foot in the ocean and another upon the continent; and what is he doing? He is holding a little book open! What does that say about the importance of that little book? No other function than that of holding open the little book is ascribed to this glorious being. Not even the words of the seven thunders which he uttered, or caused to be uttered, were recorded, perhaps by design that nothing should detract from the all-important thing the angel was doing.

ENDNOTE:

[20] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 131.

Verse 3
and he cried with a great voice, as a lion roareth: and when he cried, the seven thunders uttered their voices.

It would be impossible to design a pageant which could any more emphatically and gloriously stress and glorify a little book with the effective impact of such a vision as this.

And he cried with a great voice ... The world-shaking power and importance of this angel, and what he was doing, are further emphasized by this.

When he cried, the seven thunders uttered their voices ... We shall not find out what these voices said; but the very fact of the reverberating thunders attending the words of this angel emphasizes even more dramatically his eternal authority and power to keep on doing what he is depicted as doing here, keeping that "little book open"! There's hardly anything in this prophecy any more important. Some have wondered why these were mentioned at all, since John was forbidden to convey the message they spoke; but, as is often true in the Bible, what is concealed is as significant as what is revealed.

For example, the shepherds who heard the announcement of Jesus' birth are not identified by name, number, race, age, or whether they owned or merely tended their flock; and the very absence of specific details endows them perfectly as symbols of all mankind. So it is here. The voice of the seven thunders, by the omission of any specific message, is endowed with a symbolism infinitely beyond any specific message. This mighty angel crying with a loud voice, accompanied by the reverberating thunders, is the impact of God's word upon the world. What happens? The voice of the seven thunders rolls through the centuries. Mighty consequences follow the preaching of the word of God. Thus, the utterances of these thunders being first mentioned, and then their messages hidden, are by no means a meaningless part of the vision.

What did the thunders say? People have no right to ask such a question; but the proof that they do ask it is seen in the volumes of answers people have given. One famous writer has a total of five pages in fine print on the subject. We shall conclude with a single quotation from Pieters:

So far as I have learned the views of expositors, most of them do . not attempt any explanation; and those who do attempt it produce nothing worth repeating. This must therefore remain among the unexplained and unexplainable passages of the book.[21]

ENDNOTE:

[21] Ibid.

Verse 4
And when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying, Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.

Eller called this verse, "a puzzler, but a passage not to hang up on!"[22] As for the reason why the incident was given at all, see under preceding verse. Another possible view was given by Morris:

The Revelation conveyed the messages to John himself, for he clearly understood them; and Paul speaks of such experiences (2 Corinthians 12:4).[23]

In harmony with such a view, we might conclude that the messages had the purpose of encouraging the apostle John, which also seems to have been the purpose underlying Paul's similar experience.

Another important deduction which appears to be valid in this connection is, until people know what these thunders said (and they shall never know), there should be an end of dating events foretold in this prophecy. We simply do not have all of it. "God has kept back some things from us; let us beware of proceeding as though all has been revealed."[24]

[22] Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 112.

[23] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 139.

[24] Ibid.

Verse 5
And the angel that I saw standing upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his right hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created the heaven and the things that are therein, and the earth and the things that are therein, and the sea and the things that are therein, that there shall be delay no longer:

Lifted up his right hand and sware ... Here is another reason for holding this angel to be someone other than Christ. A vision of Christ taking an oath would not fit in here, or anywhere. In this oath, sworn by the eternal God himself (by the angel), it is inherent that some great truth of universal and everlasting significance is about to be announced; and it is exceedingly important to realize this, because of its bearing on the meaning of the last clause in Revelation 10:6, "that there shall be delay no longer."

If there is to be no delay, why then do we seem to get exactly that, a delay?

The delay is only apparent. What we have in Revelation 10 does not intervene chronologically between the sixth and seventh trumpets. It is simply a description of the present dispensation from a different viewpoint.[25]

Barclay thought that the meaning here is as the writer of Hebrews had it, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come, and shall not tarry."[26] However, the great oath was not that the delay would be brief, but that there would be "no delay." We must go back to the last two verses of Revelation 9 to find what this means. When, after all of God's warning judgments have fallen upon people, and when their state of rejection against God is final and complete, the final judgment of the Second Advent will occur then. Therefore, the events of Revelation 10 are not an "interlude" in time, but only in a literary sense. "The sounding of the seventh trumpet would usher in the finish of God's mystery."[27] "Redemption will be finished at the Second Coming of Christ."[28]

We have interpreted this verse as it stands in our version (ASV), but before leaving it, the fact should be noted that the KJV should be followed here, that "there should be time no longer." Roberts pointed out that "the word from which delay comes is [@chronos], which literally means time."[29] It would appear that the reasons behind the change are theological and philosophical, rather than textual. All of the manuscripts and cursives that have come down through the ages to us have time instead of delay except the Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and a few cursives, of which there are hundreds.[30] In this connection, it should also be remembered that both Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are of the same family of manuscripts, thus being practically but one witness instead of two. This shows the superiority of the KJV above subsequent versions in a very important particular, namely, that the KJV scholars believed they were translating God's word and accordingly had a higher regard for the text; whereas, in subsequent versions and translations, the translators took into consideration their own theological and philosophical views in choosing a rendition. This is a prime reason why the KJV must never be abandoned as a checking device against subsequent renditions. In this instance, the interpretation is not affected, because there being "time no longer" would also include the meaning that there would be no delay; but the awesome grandeur of the angel's words in the KJV are lost in our version.

The commentators who keep explaining why this should be rendered "delay" overlook the simple truth that the state of rebellion evident in Revelation 9:20,21 is represented as continuing until the very end; and thus the pronouncement that there should be no delay between that state and the end is meaningless.

None of these commentators attempts to say why this fact should be announced with an oath (and such an oath). What is announced is that time itself shall cease to exist. The clock of time shall stop.[31]

As Eller expressed it:

Sorry, the time has run out. The ball game is over. John is decidedly not one of those modern scholars who believes that human history never will involve an accounting but will simply go on forever.[32]

[25] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 151.

[26] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976),p. 55.

[27] Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1961), p. 161.

[28] Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 560.

[29] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: The R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 85.

[30] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 275.

[31] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 318.

[32] Vernard Eller, op. cit., p. 113.

Verse 7
but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets.

In the days of the voice of the seventh angel ... These words appear to mean merely "when the seventh angel sounds." It is a stylized or idiomatic way of saying it. Certainly we reject the notion of Wordsworth to the effect that "This verse points to a brief respite, during which men may yet repent."[33]

Then is finished the mystery of God ... Lenski correctly described this mystery as:

God's scheme of redemption. The eschatological mystery of the world's history. The glorious completion of the divine kingdom. The glorious consummation of God's kingdom.[34]

The theology of mystery has been extensively discussed by this writer in his book entitled The Mystery of Redemption.

There is that about the gospel which is not accessible to the mind of men. (There is still a mystery, and it is not even finished yet.) Left to ourselves, we would never have worked out that God would save men as he does. It had to be revealed.[35]

According to the good tidings declared ... These words make certain the identification of the mystery here as the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, both the facts of its being called the "good tidings," and its being "declared" unto the prophets are proof of it. "The very word here rendered declared means preached the gospel."[36]

Prophets ... These are those men of both the Old Testament and the New Testament "through whom God spoke to his people."[37]

[33] As quoted by Plummer, op. cit., p. 275.

[34] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 319.

[35] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 141.

[36] Michael Wilcock, I Saw Heaven Opened (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), p. 101.

[37] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 145.

Verse 8
And the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard it again speaking with me, and saying, Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel that standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.

The voice from heaven ... is a frequent reference in this prophecy. Although no definite speaker is identified here, the message is to be understood as coming from God.

Go take the book which is open in the hand of the angel ... Hinds pointed out that, "John himself now becomes a part of the scene,"[38] a very important truth to remember when we come to interpret Revelation 10:11.

Which is open ... It is nothing less than amazing that this fact of the book's being open, and continuing so, which is so repeatedly emphasized in this chapter should be so completely ignored by so many writers. For example, Wilbur M. Smith wrote, '"The little book which John is told to take and eat is never opened; and hence its exact nature must be a matter of dispute."[39]

Go take ... This command was repeated in Revelation 10:9, where its repetition has the effect of denying John's request that the angel "give" him the little book, and symbolizing the profound truth that the word of God must, in a sense, be taken by every man for himself. Some other person cannot give to any man the knowledge and understanding of the word of God that he should exercise himself to acquire. "Study to show thyself approved unto God!"

[38] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 150.

[39] Wilbur M. Smith, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1074.

Verse 9
And I went unto the angel, saying unto him that he should give me the little book. And he saith unto me: Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but in thy mouth it shall be sweet as honey.

Give me the little book ... See under preceding verse. "Take it, and eat it up ..." It is futile to search for John's "source" either in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 2:9-3:4) or anywhere else except in this vision "which God gave him" (Revelation 1:1). Nothing truly like this vision is found anywhere but here. The meaning inherent in taking a book and eating it up is simply that of mastering its contents; and this, of course, means digesting its contents also. Both Ladd and Morris missed this, causing them to interpret the bitterness that came later as something "internal, and within the believer himself."[40]

It shall make thy belly bitter ... Hendriksen's interpretation of this is correct, referring it to the suffering and cross-bearing which is ever the portion of those who faithfully proclaim the gospel. "That gospel is in itself glorious and sweet; but its proclamation is ever followed by bitter persecutions."[41] We agree with Hendriksen that this meaning is "very clear."

In thy mouth it shall be as sweet as honey ... The interpretation that would make this sweetness due alone to the sweet promise of forgiveness and eternal life, and the following bitterness to be due to the awesome revelations of God's wrath and judgment upon the wicked is incorrect. There is no need whatever for the revelation of God's wrath upon the wicked to be a source of bitterness to persecuted, suffering, dying Christians. Such is a false theological conception. Origen's notion that "The book of Scripture is very sweet when first perceived, but bitter to the conscience within,"[42] is also a false conception. The true meaning of this passage cannot turn upon the subjective response of the believer, but upon the turn of events which follow the proclamation of the truth. "The eating up" of God's word, and obeying it, which is necessarily included, brings nothing but joyful release and tranquillity to the conscience. Hinds grasped this fundamental truth: "The thoughts from eating the book would give him joy; but practicing the teachings would bring persecutions, sufferings and possibly death."[43]

Of course, the metaphor here is based upon the fact that some foods which taste good produce sickness or pain later. The sweet taste of God's word is a frequent Old Testament metaphor (Psalms 19:9,10; 119:103). It should not be forgotten that "eating the book" means, "The complete mastering of the contents, digesting it."[44]

[40] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 143.

[41] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 151.

[42] As quoted by Plummer, op. cit., p. 276.

[43] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 151.

[44] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 583.

Verse 10
And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and when I had eaten it, my belly was made bitter.

This verse merely says that John found the experience of sweetness, followed by bitterness, to be exactly as the angel had promised. Speck mentioned in this context "the bitter price people paid for reading the Scripture and rebelling against the authority of the Medieval Church,"[45] one of many illustrations that could be cited. Tyndale, it will be recalled, paid with his life for the precious sweetness of "eating the book" and making it available to others by his translation of it into our native tongue. There is not an English-speaking person on earth today who does not owe a deep debt of gratitude to God for William Tyndale.

ENDNOTE:

[45] Willie Wallace Speck, op. cit., p. 127.

Verse 11
And they say unto me, Thou must prophesy again over many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.

And they say unto me ... "It is best to take this expression as an indefinite plural, or the equivalent of the passive 'it was said.'"[46]

Thou must prophecy again ... John himself is part of the vision here, not merely in his person, but as an embodiment of the New Testament. It is not merely John who will continue to sound out the Word through the ages, but all of the apostles, and by extension the whole church of God throughout the dispensation, who will continue to prophesy, or proclaim God's truth. The reference here is not to the release of the Book of Revelation, either in part or whole, but to the proclamation of "the whole counsel of God." We regret Roberts' missing this in the comment that, "This explains the little scroll. It means that Revelation is divided into two grand divisions ... the little scroll is the second part, consisting of Revelation 12-16."[47]

Over many peoples and nations and tongues and kings ... The ASV margin here has "concerning" instead of "over"; and a great many scholars prefer that meaning, a preference apparently due to their thinking of Revelation as primarily a book "concerning" world history; but the true meaning of the place is "before" many peoples, etc., as in the KJV. Lenski unequivocally affirmed that the KJV is correct here,[48] and we believe he is right in this judgment, and that the reason so many have missed it is that they tend to think about the "predictions" that John is about to write; "but this is an idea that results from their misconception of this vision."[49] Of course, Revelation, in a certain sense, is "concerning" many peoples, etc.; but far more is involved here than this single prophecy. All of God's word is to be proclaimed "unto all nations" (Luke 24:47); and we are certain that that mandate is the commission to John which is reiterated in this verse.

This concludes the consolatory vision of God's word being proclaimed throughout history, no matter what evil men do; and the next consolatory vision (Revelation 11:1-13) will detail symbolically the fortunes of the church throughout her history. However, it should be remembered that both these consolatory visions are in a sense parenthetical. As soon as they have been related, the judgment scene will be depicted, an event that connects chronologically with the end of Revelation 9.

[46] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 217.

[47] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 87.

[48] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 302.

[49] Ibid.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 10:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=re&chapter=010". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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