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Analysis Of The Chapter
This chapter Revelation 10:1-11 contains the record of a sublime vision of an angel which, at this juncture, John saw descending from heaven, disclosing new scenes in what was yet to occur. The vision is interposed between the sounding of the sixth, or second woe-trumpet, and the sounding of the seventh, or third woe-trumpet, under which is to be the final consummation, Revelation 11:15 ff. It occupies an important interval between the events which were to occur under the sixth trumpet and the last scene - the final overthrow of the formidable power which had opposed the reign of God on the earth, and the reign of righteousness, when the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of God, Revelation 11:15. It is, in many respects, an unhappy circumstance that this chapter has been separated from the following. They constitute one continued vision, at least to Revelation 11:15, where the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet occurs.
The tenth chapter contains the following things:
(1) An angel descends from heaven, and the attention of the seer is for a time turned from the contemplation of what was passing in heaven to this new vision that appeared on the earth. This angel is clothed with a cloud; he is encircled by a rainbow; his face is as the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire - all indicating his exalted rank, and all such accompaniments as became a heavenly messenger.
(2) The angel appears with a small volume in his hand, Revelation 10:2. This book is not closed and sealed, like the one in Revelation 5:1-14, but was “open” - so that it could be read. Such a book would indicate some new message or revelation from heaven; and the book would be, properly, a symbol of something that was to be accomplished by such an open volume.
(3) The angel sets his feet upon the sea and the land, Revelation 10:2 - indicating by this, apparently, that what he was to communicate pertained alike to the ocean and the land - to all the world.
(4) The angel makes a proclamation - the nature of which is not here stated - with a loud voice, like the roaring of a lion, as if the nations were called to hear, Revelation 10:3.
(5) This cry or roar is responded to by heavy thunders, Revelation 10:3. What those thunders uttered is not stated, but it was evidently so distinct that John heard it, for he says Revelation 10:4 that he was about to make a record of what was said.
(6) John, about to make this record, is forbidden to do so by a voice from heaven, Revelation 10:4. For some reason, not here stated, he was commanded not to disclose what was said, but so to seal it up that it should not be known. The reason for this silence is nowhere intimated in the chapter.
(7) The angel lifts his hand to heaven in a most solemn manner, and swears by the Great Creator of all things that the time should not be yet - in our common version, “that there should be time no longer,” Revelation 10:5-7. It would seem that just at this period there would be an expectation that the reign of God was to begin upon the earth; but the angel, in the most solemn manner, declares that this was not yet to be, but that it would occur when the seventh angel should begin to sound. Then the great “mystery” would be complete, as it had been declared to the prophets.
(8) John is then commanded, by the same voice which he heard from heaven, to go to the angel and take the little book from him which he held in his hand, and eat it - with the assurance that it would be found to be sweet to the taste, but would be bitter afterward, Revelation 10:8-10.
(9) The chapter concludes with a declaration that he must yet prophesy before many people and nations Revelation 10:11, and then follows Revelation 11:0 the commission to measure the temple; the command to separate the pure from the profane; the account of the prophesying, the death, and the resurrection to life of the two witnesses - all preliminary to the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and the introduction of the universal reign of righteousness.
The question to what does the chapter refer, is one which it is proper to notice before we proceed to the exposition. It is unnecessary to say, that on this question very various opinions have been entertained, and that very different expositions have been given of the chapter. Without going into an examination of these different opinions - which would be a task alike unprofitable and endless - it will be better to state what seems to be the fair interpretation and application of the symbol, in its connection with what precedes. A few remarks here, preliminary to the exposition and application of the chapter, may help us in determining the place which the vision is designed to occupy:
(a) In the previous Apocalyptic revelations, if the interpretation proposed is correct, the history had been brought down, in the regular course of events, to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, and the complete overthrow of the Roman empire by that event, 1453, a.d. Revelation 9:13-19. This was an important era in the history of the world; and if the exposition which has been proposed is correct, then the sketches of history pertaining to the Roman empire in the Book of Revelation have been made with surprising accuracy.
(b) A statement had been made Revelation 9:20-21 to the effect that the same state of things continued subsequent to the plagues brought on by those invasions, which had existed before, or that the effect had not been to produce any general repentance and reformation. God had scourged the nations; he had cut off multitudes of people; he had overthrown the mighty empire that had so long ruled over the world; but the same sins of superstition, idolatry, sorcery, murder, fornication, and theft prevailed afterward that had prevailed before. Instead of working a change in the minds of people, the world seemed to be confirmed in these abominations more and more. In the exposition of that passage Revelation 9:20-21 it was shown that those things prevailed in the Roman church - which then embraced the whole Christian world - before the invasion of the Eastern empire by the Turks, and that they continued to prevail afterward: that, in fact, the moral character of the world was not affected by those “plagues.”
(c) The next event, in the order of time, was the Reformation, and the circumstances in the case are such as to lead us to suppose that this chapter refers to that. For:
(1) The order of time demands this. This was the next important event in the history of the church and the world after the conquest of Constantinople producing the entire downfall of the Roman empire; and if, as is supposed in the previous exposition, it was the design of the Spirit of inspiration to touch on the great and material events in the history of the church and the world, then it would be natural to suppose that the Reformation would come next into view, for no previous event had more deeply or permanently affected the condition of mankind.
(2) The state of the world, as described in Revelation 9:20-21, was such as to demand a reformation, or something that should be more effectual in purifying the church than the calamities described in the previous verse had been. The representation is, that God had brought great judgments upon the world, but that they had been ineffectual in reforming mankind. The same kind of superstition, idolatry, and corruption remained after those judgments which had existed before, and they were of such a nature as to make it every way desirable that a new influence should be brought to bear upon the world to purify it from these abominations. Some such work as the Reformation is, therefore, what we should naturally look for as the next in order; or, at least, such a work is one that well fits in with the description of the previous state of things.
(d) It will be found, I apprehend, in the exposition of the chapter, that the symbols are such as accord well with the great leading events of the Protestant Reformation; or, in other words, that they are such that, on the supposition that it was intended to refer to the Reformation, these are the symbols which would have been appropriately employed. Of course it is not necessary to suppose that John understood distinctly all that was meant by these symbols, nor is it necessary to suppose that those who lived before the Reformation would be able to comprehend them perfectly, and to apply them with accuracy. All that is necessary to be supposed in the interpretation is:
(1)That the symbol was designed to be of such a character as to give some general idea of what was to occur; and,
(2)That we should be able, now that the event has occurred, to show that it is fairly applicable to the event: that is, that on the supposition that this was designed to be referred to, the symbols are such as would properly be employed. This, however, will be seen more clearly after the exposition shall have been gone through.
With this general view of what we should naturally anticipate in this chapter, from the course of exposition in the preceding chapters, we are prepared for a more particular exposition and application of the symbols in this new vision. It will be the most convenient course, keeping in mind the general views presented here, to explain the symbols, and to consider their application as we go along.
And I saw - I had a vision of. The meaning is, that he saw this subsequently to the vision in the previous chapter. The attention is now arrested by a new vision - as if some new dispensation or economy was about to occur in the world.
Another mighty angel - He had before seen the seven angels who were to blow the seven trumpets Revelation 8:2, he had seen six of them successively blow the trumpet, he now sees another angel, different from them, and apparently having no connection with them, coming from heaven to accomplish some important purpose before the seventh angel should give the final blast. The angel is here characterized as a “mighty” angel - ἰσχυρὸν ischuron - one of strength and power; implying that the work to be accomplished by his mission demanded the interposition of one of the higher orders of the heavenly inhabitants. The coming of an angel at all was indicative of some divine interposition in human affairs; the fact that he was one of exalted rank, or endowed with vast power, indicated the nature of the work to be done - that it was a work to the execution of which great obstacles existed, and where great power would be needed.
Clothed with a cloud - Encompassed with a cloud, or enveloped in a cloud. This was a symbol of majesty and glory, and is often represented as accompanying the divine presence, Exodus 16:9-10; Exodus 24:16; Exodus 34:5; Numbers 11:25; 1 Kings 8:10; Psalms 97:2. The Saviour also ascended in a cloud, Acts 1:9; and he will again descend in clouds to judge the world, Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 13:26; Revelation 1:7. Nothing can be argued here as to the purpose for which the angel appeared, from his being encompassed with a cloud; nor can anything be argued from it in respect to the question who this angel was. The fair interpretation is, that this was one of the angels now represented as sent forth on an errand of mercy to man, and coming with appropriate majesty as the messenger of God.
And a rainbow was upon his head - In Revelation 4:3 the throne in heaven is represented as encircled by a rainbow. See the notes on that verse. The rainbow is properly an emblem of peace. Here the symbol would mean that the angel came not for wrath, but for purposes of peace; that he looked with a benign aspect upon people, and that the effect of his coming would be like that of sunshine after a storm.
And his face was as it were the sun - Bright like the sun (See the notes at Revelation 1:16); that is, he looked upon people with:
(a)An intelligent aspect - as the sun is the source of light; and,
(b)With benignity - not covered with clouds, or darkened by wrath. The brightness is probably the main idea, but the appearance of the angel would, as here represented, naturally suggest the ideas just referred to. As an emblem or symbol we should regard his appearing as what was to be followed by knowledge and by prosperity.
And his feet as pillars of fire - See the notes on Revelation 1:15. In this symbol, then, we have the following things:
- An angel - as the messenger of God, indicating that some new communication was to be brought to mankind, or that there would be some interposition in human affairs which might be well represented by the coming of an angel;
(b)The fact that he was “mighty” - indicating that the work to be done required power beyond human strength;
(c)The fact that he came in a cloud - on an embassage so grand and magnificent as to make this symbol of majesty proper;
(d)The fact that he was encircled by a rainbow - that the visitation was to be one of peace to mankind; and,
(e)The fact that his coming was like the sun - or would diffuse light and peace.
Now, in regard to the application of this, without adverting to any other theory, no one can fail to see that, on the supposition that it was designed to refer to the Reformation, this would be the most striking and appropriate symbol that could have been chosen. For:
(a) as we have seen already, this is the place which the vision naturally occupies in the series of historical representations.
(b) It was at a period of the world, and the world was in such a state, that an intervention of this kind would be properly represented by the coming of an angel from heaven. God had visited the nations with terrible judgments, but the effect had not been to produce reformation, for the same forms of wickedness continued to prevail which had existed before. See the notes at Revelation 9:20-21. In this state of things any new interposition of God for reforming the world would be properly represented by the coming of an angel from heaven as a messenger of light and peace.
(c) The great and leading events of the Reformation were well represented by the power of this angel. It was not, indeed, physical power; but the work to be done in the Reformation was a great work, and was such as would be well symbolized by the intervention of a mighty angel from heaven. The task of reforming the church, and of correcting the abuses which had prevailed, was wholly beyond any ability which man possessed, and was well represented, therefore, by the descent of this messenger from the skies.
(d) The same thing may be said of the rainbow that was upon his head. Nothing would better symbolize the general aspect of the Reformation, as suited to produce peace, tranquility, and joy upon the earth. And,
(e) the same thing was indicated by the splendor - the light and glory - that attended the angel. The symbol would denote that the new order of things would be attended with light; with knowledge; with what would be benign in its influence on human affairs. And it need not be said, to anyone acquainted with the history of those times, that the Reformation was preceded and accompanied with a great increase of light; that at just about that period of the world the study of the Greek-language began to be common in Europe; that the sciences had made remarkable progress; that schools and colleges had begun to flourish; and that, to a degree which had not existed for ages before, the public mind had become awakened to the importance of truth and knowledge. For a full illustration of this, from the close of the eleventh century and onward, see Hallam’s Middle Ages, vol. ii. pp. 265-293, ch. ix. part 2. To go into any satisfactory detail on this point would be wholly beyond the proper limits of these notes, and the reader must be referred to the histories of those times, and especially to Hallam, who has recorded all that is necessary to be known on the subject. Suffice it to say, that on the supposition that it was the intention to symbolize those times, no more appropriate emblem could have been found than that of an angel whose face shone like the sun, and who was covered with light and splendor. These remarks will show, that if it be supposed it was intended to symbolize the Reformation, no more appropriate emblem could have been selected than that of such an angel coming down from heaven. If, after the events have occurred, we should desire to represent the same things by a striking and expressive symbol, we could find none that would better represent those times.
And he had in his hand a little book open - This is the first thing that indicated the purpose of his appearing, or that would give any distinct indication of the design of his coming from heaven. The general aspect of the angel, indeed, as represented in the former verse, was that of benignity, and his purpose, as there indicated, was light and peace. But still there was nothing which would denote the particular design for which he came, or which would designate the particular means which he would employ. Here we have, however, an emblem which will furnish an indication of what was to occur as the result of his appearing. To be able to apply this, it will be necessary, as in all similar cases, to explain the natural significancy of the emblem:
(1) “The little book.” The word used here - βιβλαρίδιον biblaridion - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament except in Revelation 10:8-10 of this chapter. The word βιβλίον biblion - “book” - occurs frequently: Matthew 19:7; Mark 10:4 - applied to a bill of divorcement; Luke 4:17, Luke 4:20; John 20:30; John 21:25; Gal 3:10; 2 Timothy 4:13; Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 10:7. In the Apocalypse this word is of common occurrence: Revelation 1:11; Revelation 5:1-5, Revelation 5:7-9; Revelation 6:14, rendered “scroll”; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:7, Revelation 22:9-10, Revelation 22:18-19. The word was evidently chosen here to denote something that was special in the size or form of the book, or to distinguish it from what would be designated by the ordinary word employed to denote a book. The word properly denotes “a small roll” or “volume”; a “little scroll” (Robinson’s Lexicon, Pollux. Onomast. vii. 210). It is evident that something was intended by the diminutive size of the book, or that it was designed to make a distinction between this and that which is indicated by the use of the word “book” in the other parts of the Apocalypse. It was, at least, indicated by this that it was something different from what was seen in the hand of him that sat on the throne in Revelation 5:1.
That was clearly a large volume; this was so small that it could be taken in the hand, and could be represented as eaten, Revelation 10:9-10. But of what is a book an emblem? To this question there can be little difficulty in furnishing an answer. A book seen in a dream, according to Artemidorus, signifies the life, or the acts of him that sees it (Wemyss). According to the Indian interpreters, a book is the symbol of power and dignity. The Jewish kings, when they were crowned, had the book of the law of God put into their hands 2 Kings 11:12; 2 Chronicles 23:11; denoting that they were to observe the law, and that their administration was to be one of intelligence and uprightness. The gift of a Bible now to a monarch when he is crowned, or to the officer of a corporation or society, denotes the same thing. A book, as such, thus borne in the hand of an angel coming down to the world, would be an indication that something of importance was to be communicated to people, or that something was to be accomplished by the agency era book.
It was not, as in Revelation 6:2, a bow - emblem of conquest; or Revelation 10:4, a sword - emblem of battle; or Revelation 10:5, a pair of scales - emblem of the exactness with which things were to be determined; but it was a book - a speechless, silent thing, yet mighty; not designed to carry desolation through the earth, but to diffuse light and truth. The natural interpretation, then, would be, that something was to be accomplished by the agency of a book, or that a book was to be the prominent characteristic of the times - as the bow, the sword, and the balances had been of the previous periods. As to the size of the book, perhaps all that can be inferred is, that this was to be brought about, not by extended tomes, but by a comparatively small volume - so that it could be taken in the hand; so that it could, without impropriety, be represented as eaten by an individual.
(2) “the fact that it was open:” “a little book open” - ἀνεῳγμένον aneōgmenon. The word used here means, properly, “to open or unclose” in respect to what was before fastened or sealed, as what is covered by a door, Matthew 2:11; tombs, which were closed by large stones, Matthew 27:60, Matthew 27:66; a gate, Acts 5:23; Acts 12:10; the abyss, Revelation 9:2 - “since in the east pits or wells are closed with large stones, compare Genesis 29:2” (Robinson’s Lexicon). The meaning of this word, as applied to a book, would be, that it was now opened so that its contents could be read. The word would not necessarily imply that it had been sealed or closed, though that would be the most natural impression from the use of the word. Compare for the use of the word rendered “open,” Revelation 3:8, Revelation 3:20; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 5:2-5, Revelation 5:9; Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:3,Revelation 6:5, Revelation 6:7,Revelation 6:9, Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:1; Revelation 9:2; Revelation 10:8; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 20:12. This would find a fulfillment if some such facts as the following should occur:
(a)If there had been any custom or arrangement by which knowledge was kept from people, or access was forbidden to books or to some one book in particular; and,
(b)If something should occur by which what had before been kept hidden or concealed, or that to which access had been denied, should be made accessible. In other words, this is the proper symbol of a diffusion of knowledge, or of “the influence of a book on mankind.”
(3) The fact that it was in the hand of the angel. All that seems to be implied in this is, that it was now offered, or was ready to be put in possession of John - or of the church - or of mankind. It was open, and was held out, as it were, for perusal.
In regard to the application of this, it is plain that, if it be admitted that it was the design of the author of the vision to refer to the Reformation, no more appropriate emblem could have been chosen. If we were now to endeavor to devise an emblem of the Reformation that would be striking and expressive, we could not well select one which would better represent the great work than what is here presented. This will appear plain from a few considerations:
(1) The great agent in the Reformation, the moving cause of it, its suggester and supporter, was a book - “the Bible.” Wycliffe had translated the New Testament into the English language, and though this was suppressed, yet it had done much to prepare the people for the Reformation; and all that Luther did can be traced to the discovery of the Bible, and to the use which was made of it. Luther had grown up into manhood; had passed from the schools to the university of Erfurt, and there having, during the usual four years’ course of study, displayed intellectual powers and an extent of learning that excited the admiration of the university, and that seemed to open to his attainment both the honor and emolument of the world, he appeared to have been prepared to play an important part on the great drama of human affairs. Suddenly, however, to the astonishment and dismay of his friends, he betook himself to the solitude and gloom of an Augustinian monastery.
There he found a Bible - a copy of the Vulgate - hid in the shelves of the university library. Until then he had supposed that there existed no other Gospels or Epistles than what were given in the Breviary, or quoted by the preachers. To the study of that book he now gave himself with untiring diligence and steady prayer; and the effect was to show to him the way of salvation by faith, and ultimately to produce the Reformation. No one acquainted with the history of the Reformation can doubt that it is to be traced to the influence of the Bible; that the moving cause, the spring of all that occurred in the Reformation, was the impulse given to the mind of Luther and his fellow-laborers by the study of that one book. It is this well-known fact that gives so much truth to the celebrated declaration of Chillingworth, that “the Bible is the religion of Protestants.” If a symbol of this had been designed before it occurred, or if one should be sought for now that would designate the actual nature and influence of the Reformation, nothing better could he selected than that of an angel descending from heaven, with benignant aspect, with a rainbow around his head, and with light beaming all around him, holding forth to mankind a book.
(2) This book had before been hidden, or closed; that is, it could not until then be regarded as an open volume:
(a) It was in fact known by few even of the clergy, and it was not in the hands of the mass of the people at all. There is every reason to believe that the great body of the Roman Catholic clergy, in the time that preceded the Reformation, were even more ignorant of the Bible than Luther himself was. Many of them were unable to read; few had access to the Bible; and those who had, drew their doctrines rather from the fathers of the church than from the Word of God. Hallam (Middle Ages, ii. 241) says: “Of this prevailing ignorance (in the tenth century and onward) it is easy to produce abundant testimony. In almost every council the ignorance of the clergy forms a subject for reproach. It is asserted by one held in 992, that scarcely a single person could be found in Rome itself who knew the first clements of letters. Not one priest of a thousand in Spain, about the age of Charlemagne, could address a letter of common salutation to another. In England, Alfred declares that he could not recollect a single priest south of the Thames (the best part of England), at the time of his accession, who understood the ordinary prayers, or who could translate the Latin into the mother tongue.”
There were few books of any kind in circulation, and even if there had been an ability to read, the cost of books was so great as to exclude the great mass of the people from all access to the sacred Scriptures. “Many of the clergy,” says Dr. Robertson (Hist. of Charles V. p. 14, Harper’s ed.), “did not understand the Breviary which they were obliged daily to recite; some of them could scarcely read it.” “Persons of the highest rank, and in the most eminent stations, could neither read nor write.” One of the questions appointed by the canons to be put to persons who were candidates for orders was this, “Whether they could read the Gospels and Epistles, and explain the sense of them at least literally?” For the causes of this ignorance see Robertson’s History of Charles V. p. 515. One of those causes was the cost of books. “Private persons seldom possessed any books whatever. Even monasteries of considerable note had only one Missal. The price of books became so high that persons of a moderate fortune could not afford to purchase them. The Countess of Anjou paid for a copy of the Homilies of Haimon, bishop of Alberstadt, two hundred sheep, five quarters of wheat, and the same quantity of rye and millet,” etc. Such was the cost of books that few persons could afford to own a copy of the sacred Scriptures; and the consequence was, there were almost none in the hands of the people. The few copies that were in existence were mostly in the libraries of monasteries and universities, or in the hands of some of the higher clergy.
(b) But there was another reason that was still more efficacious, perhaps, in keeping the people at large from the knowledge of the Scriptures. It was found in the prevailing views in the Roman Catholic communion respecting the private use and interpretation of the sacred volume. Whatever theory may now be advocated in the Roman Catholic communion on this point, as a matter of fact, the influence of that denomination has been to withhold the Bible from a free circulation among the common people. No one can deny that, in the times just preceding the Reformation, the whole influence of the papal denomination was opposed to a free circulation of the Bible, and that one of the great and characteristic features of the Reformation was the fact, that the doctrine was promulgated that the Bible was to be freely distributed, and that the people everywhere were to have access to it, and were to form their own opinions of the doctrines which it reveals.
(3) The Bible became, at the Reformation, in fact an “open” book. it was made accessible. It became the popular book of the world - the book that did more than all other things to change the aspect of affairs, and to give character to subsequent times. This occurred because:
(a) the art of printing was discovered just before the Reformation, as if, in the providence of God, it was designed then to give this precious volume to the world; and the Bible was, in fact, the first book printed, and has been since printed more frequently than any other book whatever, and will continue to be to the end of the world. It would be difficult to imagine now a more striking symbol of the art of printing, or to suggest a better device for it, than to represent an angel giving an open volume to mankind.
(b) The leading doctrine of the Reformers was, that the Bible is the source of all authority in matters of religion, and, consequently, is to be accessible to all the people. And,
(c) the Bible was the authority appealed to by the Reformers. It became the subject of profound study; was diffused abroad; and gave form to all the doctrines that sprang out of the times of the Reformation. These remarks, which might be greatly expanded, will show with what propriety, on the supposition that the chapter here refers to the Reformation, the symbol of a book was selected. Obviously no other symbol would have been so appropriate; nothing else would have given so just a view of the leading characteristics of that period of the world.
And he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth - This is the third characteristic in the symbol. As a mere description this is eminently sublime. I was once (at Cape May, 1849) impressively reminded of this passage. My window was in such a position that it commanded a fine view at the same time of the ocean and the land. A storm arose such as I had never witnessed - the clouds from the different points of the compass seeming to come together over the place, and producing incessant lightning and thunder. As the storm cleared away the most magnificent rainbow that I ever saw appeared, arching the heavens, one foot of it far off on the sea, and the other on the land - an emblem of peace to both - and most strikingly suggesting to me the angel in the Apocalypse. The natural meaning of such a symbol as that represented here would be, that something was to occur which would pertain to the whole world, as the earth is made up of land and water.
It is hardly necessary to say, that on the supposition that this refers to the Reformation, there is no difficulty in finding an ample fulfillment of the symbol. That great work was designed manifestly by Providence to affect all the world - the sea and the land - the dwellers in the islands and in the continents - those who “go down to the sea in ships, and do business in the great waters,” and those who have a permanent dwelling on shore. It may be admitted, indeed, that, in itself, this one thing - the angel standing on the sea and the land, if it occurred alone, could not suggest the Reformation; and if there were nothing else, such an application might seem fanciful and unnatural; but, taken in connection with the other things in the symbol, and assuming that the whole vision was designed to symbolize the Reformation, it will not be regarded as unnatural that there should be some symbol which would intimate that the blessings of a reformed religion - a pure gospel - would be ultimately spread over land and ocean - over the continents and islands of the globe; in all the fixed habitations of people, and in their floating habitations on the deep. The symbol of a rainbow bending over the sea and land, would have expressed this; the same thing would be expressed by an angel whose head was encircled by a rainbow, and whose face beamed with light, with one foot on the ocean and the other on the land,
And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth - The lion is the monarch of the woods, and his roar is an image of terror. The point of the comparison here seems to be the loudness with which the angel cried, and the power of what he said to awe the world - as the roar of the lion keeps the dwellers of the forest in awe. What he said is not stated; nor did John attempt to record it. Prof. Stuart supposes that it was “a loud note of woe, some interjection uttered which would serve to call attention, and at the same time be indicative of the judgments which were to follow.” But it is not necessary to suppose that this particular thing was intended. Any loud utterance - any solemn command - any prediction of judgment - any declaration of truth that would arrest the attention of mankind, would be in accordance with all that is said here. As there is no application of what is said, and no explanation made by John, it is impossible to determine with any certainty what is referred to.
But, supposing that the whole refers to the Reformation, would not the loud and commanding voice of the angel properly represent the proclamation of the gospel as it began to be preached in such a manner as to command the attention of the world, and the reproof of the prevailing sins in such a manner as to keep the world in awe? The voice that sounded forth at the Reformation among the nations of Europe, breaking the slumbers of the Christian world, awaking the church to the evil of the existing corruptions and abominations, and summoning princes to the defense of the truth, might well be symbolized by the voice of an angel that was heard afar. In regard to the effect of the “theses” of Luther, in which he attacked the main doctrines of the papacy, a contemporary writer says, “In the space of a fortnight they spread over Germany, and within a month they had run through all Christendom, as if angels themselves had been the bearers of them to all men.” To John it might not be known beforehand - as it probably would not be - what this symbolized; but could we now find a more appropriate symbol to denote the Reformation than the appearance of such an angel; or better describe the impression made by the first announcement of the great doctrines of the Reformation, than by the loud voice of such an angel?
And when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices - Prof. Stuart renders this, “the seven thunders uttered their voices,” and insists that the article should be retained, which it has not been in our common version. So Elliott, Dr. Middleton, and others. Dr. Middleton says, “Why the article is inserted here I am unable to discover. It is somewhat remarkable that a few manuscripts and editions omit it in both places Revelation 10:3-4. Were the seven thunders anything well known and pre-eminent? If not, the omission must be right in the former instance, but wrong in the latter; if they were pre-eminent, then is it wrong in both. Bengel omits the article in Revelation 10:3, but has it in Revelation 10:4.” He regards the insertion of the article as the true reading in both places, and supposes that there may have been a reference to some Jewish opinion, but says that he had not been able to find a vestige of it in Lightfoot, Schoettgen, or Meuschen. Storr supposes that we are not to seek here for any Jewish notion, and that nothing is to be inferred from the article (Middleton, on the Greek Article, p. 358).
The best editions of the New Testament retain the article in both places, and indeed there is no authority for omitting it. The use of the article here naturally implies either that these seven thunders were something which had been before referred to, either expressly or impliedly; or that there was something about them which was so well known that it would be at once understood what was referred to; or that there was something in the connection which would determine the meaning. Compare the notes on Revelation 8:2. It is plain, however, that there had been no mention of “seven thunders” before, nor had anything been referred to which would at once suggest them. The reason for the insertion of the article here must, therefore, be found in some pre-eminence which these seven thunders had; in some well-known facts about them; in something which would at once suggest them when they were mentioned - as when we mention the sun, the moon, the stars, though they might not have been distinctly referred to before. The number “seven” is used here either:
(a)As a general or perfect number, as it is frequently in this book, where we have it so often repeated - seven spirits; seven angels; seven seals; seven trumpets; or,
(b)With some specific reference to the matter in hand - the case actually in view of the writer.
It cannot be doubted that it might be used in the former sense here, and that no law of language would be violated if it were so understood; as denoting many thunders; but still it is equally true that it way be used in a specific sense as denoting something that would be well understood by applying the number seven to it. Now let it be supposed, in regard to the application of this symbol, that the reference is to Rome, the seven-hilled city, and to the thunders of excommunication, anathema, and wrath that were uttered from that city against the Reformers; and would there not be all that is fairly implied in this language, and is not this such a symbol as would he appropriately used on such a supposition? The following circumstances may be referred to as worthy of notice on this point:
(a)The place which this occupies in the series of symbols - being just after the angel had uttered his voice as symbolical of the proclamation of the great truths of the gospel in the Reformation, if the interpretation above given is correct. The next event, in the order of nature and of fact, was the voice of excommunication uttered at Rome.
- The word “thunder” would appropriately denote the bulls of excommunication uttered at Rome, for the name most frequently given to the decrees of the papacy, when condemnatory, was that of papal thunders. So LeBas, in his Life of Wycliffe, p. 198, says: “The thunders which shook the world when they issued from the seven hills sent forth an uncertain sound, comparatively faint and powerless, when launched from a region of less devoted sanctity.”
- The number seven would, on such a supposition, be used here with equal propriety. Rome was built on seven hills; was known as the “seven-hilled” city, and the thunders from that city would seem to echo and re-echo from those hills. Compare Revelation 17:9.
- This supposition, also, will accord with the use of the article here, as if those thunders were something well known - “the seven thunders”; that is, the thunders which the nations were accustomed to hear.
- This will also accord with the passage before us, inasmuch as the thunders would seem to have been of the nature of a response to what the angel said, or to have been sent forth because he had uttered his loud cry.
In like manner, the anathemas were hurled from Rome because the nations had been aroused by the loud cry for reformation, as if an angel had uttered that cry. For these reasons there is a propriety in applying this language to the thunders which issued from Rome condemning the doctrines of the Reformation, and in defense of the ancient faith, and excommunicating those who embraced the doctrines of the Reformers. If we were now to attempt to devise a symbol which would be appropriate to express what actually occurred in the Reformation, we could not think of one which would be better suited to that purpose than to speak of seven thunders bellowing forth from the seven-hilled city.
And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices - After he had listened to those thunders; or when they had passed by.
I was about to write - That is, he was about to record what was uttered, supposing that that was the design for which he hart been made to hear them. From this it would seem that it was not mere thunder - brutum fulmen - but that the utterance had a distinct and intelligible enunciation, or that words were employed that could be recorded. It may be observed, by the way, as Prof. Stuart has remarked, that this proves that John wrote down what he saw and heard as soon as practicable, and in the place where he was; and that the supposition of many modern critics, that the Apocalyptic visions were written at Ephesus a considerable time after the visions took place, has no good foundation.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me - Evidently the voice of God: at all events it came with the clear force of command,
Seal up those things - On the word “seal,” see the notes on Revelation 5:1. The meaning here is, that he was not to record those things, but what he heard he was to keep to himself as if it was placed under a seal which was not to be broken.
And write them not - Make no record of them. No reason is mentioned why this was not to be done, and none can now be given that can be proved to be the true reason. Vitringa, who regards the seven thunders as referring to the Crusades, supposes the reason to have been that a more full statement would have diverted the mind from the course of the prophetic narrative, and from more important events which pertained to the church, and that nothing occurred in the Crusades which was worthy to be recorded at length: Nec dignae erant quae prolixius exponerentur - “for,” he adds, “these expeditions were undertaken with a foolish purpose, and resulted in real detriment to the church,” pp. 431, 432. Prof. Stuart (vol. ii. pp. 204-206) supposes that these “thunders” refer to the destruction of the city and temple of God, and that they were a sublime introduction to the last catastrophe, and that the meaning is not that he should keep “entire silence,” but only that he should state the circumstances in a general manner, without going into detail. Mede supposes that John was commanded to keep silence because it was designed that the meaning should not then be known, but should be disclosed in future times; Forerius, because it was the design that the wise should be able to understand them, but that they were not to be disclosed to the wicked and profane. Without attempting to examine these and other solutions which have been proposed, the question which, from the course of the exposition, is properly before us is, whether, on the supposition that the voice of the seven thunders referred to the papal anathemas, a rational and satisfactory solution of the reasons of this silence can be given. Without pretending to know the reasons which existed, the following may be referred to as not improbable, and as those which would meet the case:
(1) In these papal anathemas there was nothing that was worthy of record; there was nothing that was important as history; there was nothing that communicated truth; there was nothing that really indicated progress in human affairs. In themselves there was nothing more that deserved record than the acts and doings of wicked people at any time; nothing that fell in with the main design of this book.
(2) Such a record would have retarded the progress of the main statements of what was to occur, and would have turned off the attention from these to less important matters.
(3) All that was necessary in the case was simply to state that such threaders were heard: that is, on the supposition that this refers to the Reformation, that that great change in human affairs would not be permitted to occur without opposition and noise - as if the thunders of wrath should follow those who were engaged in it.
(4) John evidently mistook this for a real revelation, or for something that was to be recorded as connected with the divine will in reference to the progress of human affairs. He was naturally about to record this as he did what was uttered by the other voices which he heard; and if he had made the record, it would have been with this mistaken view. There was nothing in the voices, or in what was uttered, that would manifestly mark it as distinct from what had been uttered as coming from God, and he was about to record it under this impression. If this was a mistake, and if the record would do anything, as it clearly would, to perpetuate the error, it is easy to see a sufficient reason why the record should not be made.
(5) It is remarkable that there was an entire correspondence with this in what occurred in the Reformation; in the fact that Luther and his fellow-laborers were, at first, and for a long time - such was the force of education, and of the habits of reverence for the papal authority in which they had been reared - disposed to receive the announcements of the papacy as the oracles of God, and to show to them the deference which was due to divine communications. The language of Luther himself, if the general view here taken is correct, will be the best commentary on the expressions used here. “When I began the affairs of the Indulgences,” says he, “I was a monk, and a most mad papist. So intoxicated was I, and drenched in papal dogmas, that I would have been most ready to murder, or assist others in murdering, any person who should have uttered a syllable against the duty of obedience to the pope.”
And again: “Certainly at that time I adored him in earnest.” He adds, “How distressed my heart was in that year 1517 - how submissive to the hierarchy, not feignedly but really - those little knew who at this day insult the majesty of the pope with so much pride and arrogance. I was ignorant of many things which now, by the grace of God, I understand. I disputed; I was open to conviction; not finding satisfaction in the works of theologians, I wished to consult the living members of the church itself. There were some godly souls that entirely approved my propositions. But I did not consider their authority of weight with me in spiritual concerns. The popes, bishops, cardinals, monks, priests, were the objects of my confidence. After being enabled to answer every objection that could be brought against me from sacred Scripture, one difficulty alone remained, that the Church ought to be obeyed.
If I had then braved the pope as I now do, I should have expected every hour that the earth would have opened to swallow me up alive, like Korah and Abiram.” It was in this frame of mind that, in the summer of 1518, a few months after the affair with Tetzel, he wrote that memorable letter to the pope, the tenor of which can be judged of by the following sentences: and what could more admirably illustrate the passage before us, on the interpretation suggested, than this language? “Most blessed Father! Prostrate at the feet of thy blessedness I offer myself to thee, with all that I am, and that I have. Kill me, or make me live; call or recall; approve or reprove, as shall please thee. I will acknowledge thy voice as the voice of Christ presiding and speaking in thee.” See the authorities for these quotations in Elliott, vol. ii. pp. 116, 117.
(6) The command not to record what the seven thunders uttered was of the nature of a caution not to regard what was said in this manner; that is, not to be deceived by these utterances as if they were the voice of God. Thus understood, if this is the proper explanation and application of the passage, it should be regarded as an injunction not to regard the decrees and decisions of the papacy as containing any intimation of the divine will, or as of authority in the church. That this is to be so regarded is the opinion of all Protestants; and if this is so, it is not a forced supposition that this might have been intimated by such a symbol as that before us.
And the angel which I saw stand ... - Revelation 10:2. That is, John saw him standing in this posture when he made the oath which he proceeds to record.
Lifted up his hand to heaven - The usual attitude in taking an oath, as if one called heaven to witness. See Genesis 14:22; Deuteronomy 32:40; Ezekiel 20:5-6. Compare the notes on Daniel 12:7.
And sware by him that liveth forever and ever - By the ever-living God: a form of an oath in extensive use now. The essential idea in such an oath is an appeal to God; a solemn reference to Him as a witness; an utterance in the presence of Him who is acquainted with the truth or falsehood of what is said, and who will punish him who appeals to him falsely. It is usual, in such an oath, in order to give to it greater solemnity, to refer to some attribute of God, or something in the divine character on which the mind would rest at the time, as tending to make it more impressive. Thus, in the passage before us, the reference is to God as “ever-living”; that is, he is now a witness, and he ever will be; he has now the power to detect and punish, and he ever will have the same power.
Who created heaven, and the things that therein are, ... - Who is the Maker of all things in heaven, on the earth, and in the sea; that is, throughout the universe. The design of referring to these things here is what is just specified to give increased solemnity to the oath by a particular reference to someone of the attributes of God. With this view nothing could be more appropriate than to refer to him as the Creator of the universe - denoting his infinite power, his right to rule and control all things.
That there should be time no longer - This is a very important expression, as it is the substance of what the angel affirmed in so solemn a manner; and as the interpretation of the whole passage depends on it. It seems now to be generally agreed among critics that our translation does not give the true sense, inasmuch:
(a)As that was not the close of human affairs, and
(b)As he proceeds to state what would occur after that.
Accordingly, different versions of the passage have been proposed. Prof. Stuart renders it, “that delay shall be no longer.” Mr. Elliott, “that the time shall not yet be; but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, whensoever he may be about to sound, then the mystery of God shall be finished.” Mr. Lord, “that the time shall not be yet, but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel,” etc. Andrew Fuller (Works, vol. vi. p. 113), “there should be no delay.” So Dr. Gill. Mr. Daubuz, “the time shall not be yet.” Vitringa (p. 432), tempus non fore amplius, “time shall be no more.” He explains it (p. 433) as meaning, “not that this is to be taken absolutely, as if at the sounding of the seventh trumpet all things were then to terminate, and the glorious epiphany - ἐπίφανεια epiphaneia (or manifestation of Jesus Christ) - was then to occur, who would put an end to all the afflictions of his church; but in a limited sense - restricte - as meaning that there would be no delay between the sounding of the seventh trumpet and the fulfillment of the prophecies.” The sense of this passage is to be determined by the meaning of the words and the connection:
(a) The word “time” - χρόνος chronos - is the common Greek word to denote time, and may be applied to time in general, or to any specified time or period. See Robinson, Lexicon sub voce, (a, b). In the word itself there is nothing to determine its particular signification here. It might refer either to time in general, or to the time under consideration, and which was the subject of the prophecy. Which of these is the true idea is to be ascertained by the other circumstances referred to. It should be added, however, that the word does not of itself denote delay, and is never used to denote that directly. It can only denote that because delay occupies or consumes time, but this sense of the noun is not found in the New Testament. It is found, however, in the verb χρονίζω chronizō, to linger, to delay, to be long in coming, Matthew 25:5; Luke 1:21.
(b) The absence of the article - “time,” not “the time” - would naturally give it a general signification, unless there was something in the connection to limit it to some well-known period under consideration. See the notes on Revelation 8:2; Revelation 10:3. In this latter view, if the time referred to would be sufficiently definite without the article, the article need not be inserted. This is such a case, and comes under the rule for the omission of the article as laid down by Dr. Middleton, part 1 Chronicles 3:0: The principle is, that when the copula, or verb connecting the subject and predicate, is the verb substantive, then the article is omitted. “To affirm the existence,” says he, “of that of which the existence is already assumed, would be superfluous; to deny it, would be contradictory and absurd.” As applicable to the case before us, the meaning of this rule would be, that the nature of the time here referred to is implied in the use of the substantive verb (ἔσται estai), and that consequently it is not necessary to specify it. All that needs to be said on this point is, that, on the supposition that John referred to a specified time, instead of time in general, it would not be necessary, under this rule, to insert the article. The reference would be understood without it, and the insertion would be unnecessary. This is substantially the reasoning of Mr. Elliott (vol. ii. p. 123), and it is submitted for what it is worth. My own knowledge of the usages of the Greek article is too limited to justify me in pronouncing an opinion on the subject, but the authorities are such as to authorize the assertion that, on the supposition that a particular well-known period were here referred to, the insertion of the article would not be necessary.
(c) The particle rendered “longer” - έτι eti - “time shall be no longer” - means properly, according to Robinson (Lexicon), “yet, still”; implying:
(1) Duration - as spoken of the present time; of the present in allusion to the past, and, with a negative, no more, no longer;
(2) Implying accession, addition, yet, more, further, besides. According to Buttmann, Grammatical section 149, vol. i. p. 430, it means, when alone, “yet still, yet further; and with a negative, no more, no further.” The particle occurs often in the New Testament, as may be seen in the Concordance. It is more frequently rendered “yet” than by any other word (compare Matthew 12:46; Matthew 17:5; Matthew 19:20; Matthew 26:47; Matthew 27:63; Mark 5:35; Mark 8:17; Mark 12:6; Mark 14:43 - and so in the other Gospels, the Acts , and the Epistles); in all, 50 times. In the Book of Revelation it is only once rendered “yet,” Revelation 6:11, but is rendered “more” in Revelation 3:12; Revelation 7:16; Revelation 9:12; Revelation 12:8; Revelation 18:21-22 (three times), Revelation 18:23 (twice); Revelation 20:3; Revelation 21:1, Revelation 21:4 (twice); “longer” in Revelation 10:6; “still” in Revelation 22:11 (four times). The usage, therefore, will justify the rendering of the word by “yet,” and in connection with the negative, “not yet” - meaning that the thing referred to would not occur immediately, but would be hereafter. In regard to the general meaning, then, of this passage in its connection, we may remark:
(a) That it cannot mean, literally, that there would be time no longer, or that the world would then come to an end absolutely, for the speaker proceeds to disclose events that would occur after that, extending far into tim future Revelation 10:11, and the detail that follows Revelation 11:0 before the sounding of the seventh trumpet is such as to occupy a considerable period, and the seventh trumpet is also yet to sound. No fair construction of the language, therefore, would require us to understand this as meaning that the affairs of the world were then to terminate.
(b) The connection, then, apart from the question of grammatical usage, will require some such construction as that above suggested - “that the time,” to wit, some certain, known, or designated time, “would not be yet,” but would be in some future period; that is, as specified, Revelation 10:7, “in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound.” Then “the mystery of God would be finished,” and the affairs of the world would be put on their permanent footing.
(c) This would imply that, at the time when the angel appeared, or in the time to which he refers, there would be some expectation or general belief that the “mystery was then to be finished, and that the affairs of the world were to come to an end. The proper interpretation would lead us to suppose that there would be so general an expectation of this, as to make the solemn affirmation of the angel proper to correct a prevailing opinion, and to show that the right interpretation was not put on what seemed to be the tendency of things.
(d) As a matter of fact, we find that this expectation did actually exist at the time of the Reformation; that such an interpretation was put on the prophecies, and on the events that occurred; and that the impression that the Messiah was about to come, and the reign of saints about to commence, was so strong as to justify some interference, like the solemn oath of the angel, to correct the misapprehension. It is true that this impression had existed in former times, and even in the early ages of the church; but, as a matter of fact, it was true, and eminently true, in the time of the Reformation, and there was, on many accounts, a strong tendency to that form of belief. The Reformers, in interpreting the prophecies, learned to connect the downfall of the papacy with the coming of Christ, and with his universal reign upon the earth; and as they saw the evidences of the approach of the former, they naturally anticipated the latter as about to occur.
Compare Daniel 2:34; Dan 12:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:8. The anticipation that the Lord Jesus was about to come; that the affairs of the world, in the present form, were to be wound up; that the reign of the saints would soon commence; and that the permanent kingdom of righteousness would be established, became almost the current belief, of the Reformers, and was frequently expressed in their writings. Thus, Luther, in the year 1520, in his answer to the pope’s bull of excommunication, expresses his anticipations: “Our Lord Jesus Christ yet liveth and reigneth; who, I firmly trust, will shortly come, and slay with the spirit of his mouth, and (destroy with the brightness of his coming, that Man of Sin” (Merle D’Aubig., vol. ii. p. 166). After being summoned before the Diet at Worms, and after condemnation had been pronounced on him by the emperor, he fell back for comfort on the same joyous expectation. “For this once,” he said, “the Jews, as on the crucifixion day, may sing their paean; but Easter will come for us, and then we shall sing Hallelujah” (D’Aubig., vol. ii. p. 275). The next year, writing to Staupitz, he made a solemn appeal against his abandoning the Reformation, by reference to the sure and advancing fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. “My father,” said he, “the abominations of the pope, with his whole kingdom, must be destroyed; and the Lord does this without hand, by the Word alone. The subject exceeds all human comprehension. I cherish the best hopes” (Milner, p. 692).
In 1523 he thus, in a similar strain, expresses his hopes: “The kingdom of Antichrist, according to the prophet Daniel, must be broken without hands; that is, the Scriptures will be understood by and by; and every one will preach against papal tyranny, from the Word of God, until the Man of Sin is deserted of all, and dies of himself” (Milner, p. 796). The same sentiments respecting the approach of the end of the world were entertained by Melancthon. In commenting on the passage in Daniel relating to the “little horn,” he thus refers to an argument which has been prevalent: “The words of the prophet Elias should be marked by every one, and inscribed upon our walls, and on the entrances of our houses. Six thousand years shall the world stand, and after that be destroyed; two thousand years without the law; two thousand years under the law of Moses; two thousand years under the Messiah; and if any of those years are not fulfilled, they will be shortened (a shortening intimated by Christ also, on account of our sins).”
The following manuscript addition to this argument has been found in Melancthon’s hand, in Luther’s own copy of the German Bible: “Written 1557 a.d., and from the creation of the world, 5519; from which number we may see that this aged world is not far from its end.” So also the British Reformers believed. Thus, Dr. Latimer: “Let us cry to God day and night ... Most merciful Father, let thy kingdom come! Paul saith, The Lord will not come until the swerving from the faith cometh 2 Thessalonians 2:3; which thing is already done and past. Antichrist is already known throughout all the world. Wherefore the day is not far off.” Then, reverting to the consideration of the age of the world, as Melancthon had done, he says, “The world was ordained to endure, as all learned ones affirm, 6000 years. Now of that number there be past 5552 years, so that there is no more left but 448 years. Furthermore, those days shall be shortened for the elect’s sake. Therefore, all those excellent and learned men, whom without doubt God hath sent into the world in these last days to give the world warning, do gather out of sacred Scripture that the last day cannot be far off.”
So again, in a sermon on the nearness of the second advent, he says, “So that peradventure it may come in my days, old as I am, or in my children’s days.” Indeed, it is well known that this was a prevalent opinion among the Reformers; and this fact will show with what propriety, if the passage before us was designed to refer to the Reformation, this solemn declaration of the angel was made, that the “time would not be yet” - that those anticipations which would spring up from the nature of the case, and from the interpretations which would be put on what seemed to be the obvious sense of the prophecies, were unfounded, and that a considerable time must yet intervene before the events would be consummated.
(e) The proper sense of this passage, then, according to the above interpretation would be “And the angel lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth forever and ever, That the time should not yet be; but, in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished.” Appearances, indeed, would then indicate that the affairs of the world were to be wound up, and that the prophecies respecting the end of the world were about to be fulfilled: but the angel solemnly swears “by Him who lives forever and ever” - and whose reign therefore extends through all the changes on the earth - “by Him who is the Creator of all things,” and whose purpose alone can determine when the end shall be, that the time would not be yet. Those cherished expectations would not yet be realized, but there was a series of important events to intervene before the end would come. Then - at the time when the seventh angel should sound - would be the consummation of all things.
But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel - The days in the period of time embraced by the sounding of the seventh trumpet. That is, the affairs of this world would not be consummated in that period embraced in the sounding of the sixth trumpet, but in that embraced in the sounding of the seventh and last of the trumpets. Compare Revelation 11:15-19.
When he shall begin to sound - That is, the events referred to will commence at the period when the angel shall begin to sound. It will not be merely during or in that period, but the sounding of the trumpet, and the beginning of those events, will be contemporaneous. In other words, then would commence the reign of righteousness - the kingdom of the Messiah the dominion of the saints on the earth.
The mystery of God should be finished - On the meaning of the word “mystery,” see the notes on Ephesians 1:9. It means here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the purpose or truth of God which had been concealed, and which had not before been communicated to man. Here the particular reference is to the divine purpose which had been long concealed respecting the destiny of the world, or respecting the setting up of his kingdom, but which had been progressively unfolded by the prophets. That purpose would be “finished,” or consummated, in the time when the seventh angel should begin to sound. Then all the “mystery” would be revealed; the plan would be unfolded; the divine purpose, so long concealed, would be manifested, and the kingdom of the Messiah and of the saints would be set up on the earth. Under that period, the affairs of the world would be ultimately wound up, and the whole work of redemption completed.
As he hath declared to his servants the prophets - As he has from time to time disclosed his purposes to mankind through the prophets. The reference here is, doubtless, to the prophets of the Old Testament, though the language would include all who at any time had uttered any predictions respecting the final condition of the world. These prophecies had been scattered along through many ages; but the angel says that at that time all that had been said respecting the setting up of the kingdom of God, the reign of the saints, and the dominion of the Redeemer on the earth, would be accomplished. See the notes on Revelation 11:15. From the passage thus explained, if the interpretation is correct, it will follow that the sounding of the seventh trumpet Revelation 11:15-18 is properly the conclusion of this series of visions, and denotes a “catastrophe” in the action, and that what follows is the commencement of a new series of visions. This is clear, because:
(a)The whole seven seals, comprising the seven trumpets of the seventh seal, must embrace one view of all coming events - since this embraced all that there was in the volume seen all the hand of him that sat on the throne;
(b)This is properly implied in the word rendered here as “should be finished” - τελέσθη telesthē - the fair meaning of which is, that the “mystery” here referred to - the hitherto unrevealed purpose or plan of God - would, under that trumpet, be consummated or complete (see the conclusive reasoning of Prof. Stuart on the meaning of the word, vol. ii. p. 210, footnote); and,
(c)It will be found in the course of the exposition that, at Revelation 11:19, there commences a new series of visions, embracing a view of the world in its religious aspect, or ecclesiastical characteristics, reaching down to the same consummation, and stating at the close of that Revelation 20:1-15 more fully what is here Revelation 11:15-18 designated in a more summary way - the final triumph of religion, and the establishment of the kingdom of the saints.
The present series of visions Rev. 5–11:18 relates rather to the outward or secular changes which would occur on the earth, which were to affect the welfare of the church, to the final consummation; the next series Revelation 11:19; Rev 12:20 relates to the church internally, the rise of Antichrist, and the effect of the rise of that formidable power on the internal history of the church, to the time of the overthrow of that power, and the triumphant establishment of the kingdom of God. See the Analysis of the work, Intro. 5. In other words, this series of visions, terminating at Revelation 11:18, refers, as the leading thing, to what would occur in relation to the Roman empire considered as a secular power, in which the church would be interested; what follows Revelation 11:19; Rev. 12–20 to the Roman power considered as a great apostasy, and setting up a mighty and most oppressive domination over the true church, manifested in deep corruption and bloody persecutions, running on in its disastrous influence on the world, until that power should be destroyed, Babylon fall, and the reign of the saints be introduced.
And the voice which I heard from heaven - Revelation 10:4. This is not the voice of the angel, but a direct divine command,
Said, Go and take the little book which is open, ... - That is, take it out of his hand, and do with it as you shall be commanded. There is a very strong resemblance between this passage and the account contained in Ezekiel 2:9-10; Ezekiel 3:1-3. Ezekiel was directed to go to the house of Israel and deliver a divine message, whether they would hear or forbear; and in order that he might understand what message to deliver, there was shown to him a roll of a book, written within and without. That roll he was commanded to eat, and he found it to be “in his mouth as honey for sweetness.” John has added to this the circumstance that, though “sweet in the mouth,” it made “the belly bitter.” The additional command Revelation 10:11, that he must yet “prophecy before many people,” leads us to suppose that he had the narrative in Ezekiel in his eye; for, as the result of his eating the roll, he was commanded to go and prophesy to the people of Israel. The passage here Revelation 10:8 introduces a new symbol, that of “eating the book,” and evidently refers to something that was to occur before the “mystery should be finished”; that is, before the seventh trumpet should sound.
“Which is open in the hand ...” On the symbolical meaning of the word “open,” as applied to the book, see the notes on Revelation 10:2.
And I went unto the angel - This is symbolic action, and is not to be understood literally. As it is not necessary to suppose that an angel literally descended, and stood upon the sea and the land, so it is not necessary to suppose that there was a literal act of going to him, and taking the book from his hand and eating it.
Give me the little book - In accordance with the command in Revelation 10:8. We may suppose, in regard to this:
(a)That the symbol was designed to represent that the book was to be used in the purpose here referred to, or was to be an important agent or instrumentality in accomplishing the purpose. The book is held forth in the hand of the angel as a striking emblem. There is a command to go and take it from his hand for some purpose not yet disclosed. All this seems to imply that the book - or what is represented by it - would be an important instrument in accomplishing the purpose here referred to.
- The application for the book might intimate that, on the part of him who made it, there would be some strong desire to possess it. He goes, indeed, in obedience to the command; but, at the same time, there would naturally be a desire to be in possession of the volume, or to know the contents (compare Revelation 5:4), and his approach to the angel for the book would be most naturally interpreted as expressive of such a wish.
And he said unto me, Take it - As if he had expected this application; or had come down to furnish him with this little volume, and had anticipated that the request would be made. There was no reluctance in giving it up; there was no attempt to withhold it; there was no prohibition of its use. The angel had no commission, and no desire to retain it for himself, and no hesitation in placing it in the bands of the seer on the first application. Would not the readiness with which God gives his Bible into the hands of human beings, in contradistinction from all human efforts to restrain its use, and to prevent its free circulation, be well symbolized by this act?
And eat it up - There is a similar command in Ezekiel 3:1. Of course, this is to he understood figuratively, for no one would interpret literally a command to eat a manuscript or volume. We have in common use a somewhat similar phrase, when we speak of devouring a book, which may illustrate this, and which is not liable to be misunderstood. In Jeremiah 15:16, we have similar language: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” Thus, in Latin, the words propinare, imbibere, devorare, deglutire, etc., are used to denote the greediness with which knowledge is acquired. Compare in the Apocrypha, 2 Esdras 14:38-40. The meaning here, then, is plain. He was to possess himself of the contents of the book; to receive it into his mind; to apply it, as we do food, for spiritual nourishment - truth having, in this respect, the same relation to the mind which food has to the body. If the little book was a symbol of the Bible, it would refer to the fact that the truths of that book became the nourisher and supporter of the public mind.
And it shall make thy belly bitter - This is a circumstance which does not occur in the corresponding place in Ezekiel 3:1-3. The expression here must refer to something that would occur after the symbolical action of “eating” the little book, or to some consequence of eating it - for the act of eating it is represented as pleasant: “in thy mouth sweet as honey.” The meaning here is, that the effect which followed from eating the book was painful or disagreeable - as food would be that was pleasant to the taste, but that produced bitter pain when eaten. The fulfillment of this would be found in one of two things:
(a) It might mean that the message to be delivered in consequence of devouring the book, or the message which it contained, would be of a painful or distressing character; that with whatever pleasure the book might be received and devoured, it would be found to contain a communication that would be indicative of woe or sorrow. This was the case with the little book that Ezekiel was commanded to eat up. Thus, in speaking of this book, it is said, “And it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe,” Ezekiel 2:10. Compare Revelation 3:4-9, where the contents of the book, and the effect of proclaiming the message which it contained, are more fully stated. So here the meaning may be, that, however gladly John may have taken the book, and with whatever pleasure he may have devoured its contents, yet that it would be found to be charged with the threatening of wrath, and with denunciations of a judgment to come, the delivery of which would be well represented by the “bitterness” which is said to have followed from “eating” the volume. Or.
(b) it may mean that the consequence of devouring the book, that is, of embracing its doctrines, would be persecutions and trouble - well represented by the “bitterness” that followed the “eating” of the volume. Either of these ideas would be a fulfillment of the proper meaning of the symbol; for, on the supposition that either of these occurred in fact, it would properly be symbolized by the eating of a volume that was sweet to the taste, but that made the belly bitter.
But it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey - So in Ezekiel 3:3. The proper fulfillment of this it is not difficult to understand. It would well represent the pleasure derived from divine truth - the sweetness of the Word of God - the relish with which it is embraced by those that love it. On the supposition that the “little book” here refers to the Bible, and to the use which would be made of it in the times referred to, it would properly denote the relish which would exist for the sacred volume, and the happiness which would be found in its perusal; for this very image is frequently employed to denote this. Thus, in Psalms 19:10; “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalms 119:103; “how sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” We are then to look for the fulfillment of this in some prevailing delight or satisfaction, in the times referred to, in the Word of the Lord, or in the truths of revelation.
And as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter - The effect immediately followed: that is, as soon as he was made acquainted with the contents of the book, either, as above explained, requiring him to deliver some message of woe and wrath which it would be painful to deliver, or that the consequence of receiving it was to bring on bitter persecutions and trials.
And he said unto me - The angel then said.
Thou must prophesy - The word “prophesy” here is evidently used in the large sense of making known divine truth in general; not in the comparatively narrow and limited sense in which it is commonly used, as referring merely to the foretelling of future events. See the word explained in the Romans 12:6 note; 1 Corinthians 14:1 note. The meaning is, that, as a consequence of becoming possessed of the little volume and its contents, he would be called to proclaim divine truth, or to make the message of God known to mankind. The direct address is to John himself; but it is evidently not to be understood of him personally. He is represented as seeing the angel; as hearkening to his voice; as listening to the solemn oath which he took; as receiving and eating the volume; and then as prophesying to many people; but the reference is undoubtedly to the far-distant future. If the allusion is to the times of the Reformation, the meaning is, that the end of the world was not, as would be expected, about to occur, but that there was to be an interval long enough to permit the gospel to be proclaimed before “nations, and tongues, and kings”; that in consequence of coming into possession of the “little book,” the Word of God, the truth was yet to be proclaimed far and wide on the earth.
Again - πάλιν palin. This had been done before. That is, supposing this to refer to the time of the Reformation, it could be said:
(a)That this had been done before - that the gospel had been in former times proclaimed in its purity before “many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings”; and,
(b)That it would be done “again”; that is, though the Word of God had been hidden, and a mass of corrupt traditions had taken its place, yet the time would come when those pure truths would be made known again to all lands. This will explain the word “again” in this place - not meaning that John would do this personally, but that this would be in fact the result of the restoration of the Bible to the church.
Before many peoples - This word denotes people considered as masses, or as grouped together in masses, without reference to the manner in which it is done. It is used when we look on a mass of people, without taking into account the question whether they are of the same nation, or language, or rank. See the notes on Revelation 7:9. The plural is used here - “peoples” - perhaps to denote that those to whom the truth would be made known would be very numerous. They would not only be numerous in regard to the individuals to whom it would be communicated, but numerous considered as communities or nations.
And nations - The word “nations” here denotes people considered as separated by national boundaries, constitutions, laws, customs. See the notes on Revelation 7:9.
And tongues - People considered as divided by languages - a division not always or necessarily the same as that denoted by the word “people,” or “nations” as used in this passage.
And kings - Rulers of the people. The meaning is, that the gospel would not only be borne before the masses of mankind, but in a special manner before kings and rulers. The effect of thus possessing the “little volume,” or of the “open book” of revealed truth, would ultimately be that the message of life would be carried with power before princes and rulers, and would influence them as well as the common people.
In inquiring now for the proper application of this symbol as thus explained, we naturally turn to the Reformation, and ask whether there was anything in that of which this would he the proper emblem. The following things, then, are found in fact as occurring at that time, of which the symbol before us may be regarded as the proper representation:
(1) The reception of the Bible as from the hand of an angel - or its recovery from obscurity and forgetfulness, as if it were now restored to the church by a heavenly interposition. The influence of the Bible on the Reformation; the fact that it was now recovered from its obscurity, and that it was made the grand instrument in the Reformation, has already been illustrated. See the notes on Revelation 10:2. The symbolical action of taking it from the hand of an angel was not an improper representation of its reception again by the church, and of its restoration to its true place in the church. It became, as it is proper that it should always be, the grand means of the defense of the faith, and of the propagation of truth in the world.
(2) The statement that the little book when eaten was “in the mouth sweet as honey,” is a striking and proper representation of the relish felt for the sacred Scriptures by those who love the truth (compare notes on Revelation 10:9), and is especially appropriate to describe the interest which was felt in the volume of revealed truth in the time of the Reformation. For the Bible was to the Reformers emphatically a new book. It had been driven from common use to make way for the legends of the saints and the traditions of the church. It had, therefore, when translated into the vernacular tongue, and when circulated and read, the freshness of novelty - the interest which a volume of revealed truth would have if just given from heaven. Accordingly, it is well known with what avidity and relish the sacred volume was studied by Luther and his fellow-laborers in the Reformation; how they devoured its doctrines; how they looked to it for comfort in their times of trial; how sweet and sustaining were its promises in the troubles that came upon them, and in the labors which they were called to perform.
(3) The representation that, after it was eaten, it was “bitter,” would not improperly describe the effect, in some respects, of thus receiving the Bible, and making it the groundwork of faith. It brought the Reformers at once into conflict with all the power of the papacy and the priesthood; exposed them to persecution; aroused against them a host of enemies among the princes and rulers of the earth; and was the cause for which many of them were put to death. Such effects followed substantially when Wycliffe translated the Bible; when John Huss and Jerome of Prague published the pure doctrines of the New Testament; and when Luther gave to the people the Word of God in their own language. To a great extent this is always so - that, however sweet and precious the truths of the Bible may be to the preacher himself, one of the effects of his attempting to preach those truths may be such opposition on the part of people, such cold indifference, or such fierce persecution, that it would be well illustrated by what is said here, “it shall make thy belly bitter.”
(4) The representation that, as a consequence of receiving that book, he would prophesy again before many people, is a fit representation of the effect of the reception of the Bible again by the church, and of allowing it its proper place there. For:
(a) it led to preaching, or, in the language of this passage, “prophesying” - a thing comparatively little known before for many ages. The grand business in the papal communion was not, and is not, preaching, but the performance of rites and ceremonies. Genuflexions, crossings, burning of incense, processions, music, constitute the characteristic features of all papal churches; the grand thing that distinguishes the Protestant churches all over the world, just in proportion as they are Protestant, is preaching. The Protestant religion - the pure form of religion as it is revealed in the New Testament - has few ceremonies: its rites are simple: it depends for success on the promulgation and defense of the truth, with the attending influence of the Holy Spirit; and for this view of the nature and degree of religion the world is indebted to the fact that the Bible was again restored to its true place in the church.
(b) The Bible is the basis of all genuine preaching. Preaching will not be kept up in its purity, except in the places where the Bible is freely circulated, and where it is studied; and where it is studied, there will be, in the proper sense of the term, preachers. Just in proportion as the Bible is studied in the world, we may expect that preaching will be better understood, and that the number of preachers will be increased.
(c) The study of the Bible is the foundation of all the efforts to spread the knowledge of the truth to “peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings,” in our own times. All these efforts have been originated by the restoration of the Bible to its proper place in the church, and to its more profound and accurate study in this age; for these efforts are but carrying out the injunction of the Saviour as recorded in this book - to “go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
(d) The same thing will be true to the end of the world; or, in the language of the portion of the Book of Revelation before us, until “the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever,” Revelation 11:15. The fact of the restoration of the Bible to its proper place in the church will, therefore, ultimately be the means of the conversion of the whole world to God; and this fact, so momentous in its nature and its consequences, was worthy to be symbolized by the appearance of the “angel descending from heaven clothed with a cloud”; was properly represented by the manner in which he appeared - “his face radiant as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire”; was worthy to be expressed by the position which he assumed, as “standing on the sea and the earth” - as if all the world were interested in the purpose of his mission, and was worthy of the loud proclamation which he made - as if a new order of things were to commence. Beautiful and sublime, then, as this chapter is, and always has been esteemed as a composition, it becomes still more beautiful and sublime if it be regarded as a symbol of the Reformation - an event the most glorious, and the most important in its issues, of any that has occurred since the Saviour appeared on the earth.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 10". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany