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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 10

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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Verse 1

Revelation 10:1 . ἄλλον , referring to Revelation 10:2 , where another strong angel was mentioned, also in connexion with a book. The position of the seer is implied (since Revelation 8:2 ?) to be no longer in heaven ( cf. Revelation 10:4 ; Revelation 10:8 ), but on earth, as the gigantic angel of light descends to him. The face and feet are described in stereotyped fashion. In Ezekiel’s description of God (Ezekiel 1:28 ) the appearance of a rainbow surrounds the divine throne, as an element of the theophany in nature. Here also it is an æsthetic detail. Suetonius describes ( Vit. Aug. 95) Augustus seeing suddenly “in a clear and bright sky a circle, like a rainbow in heaven, surrounding the sun’s disc”.

Verse 2

Revelation 10:2 . “And in his (left? cf. Revelation 10:5 ) hand a small booklet open” (in contrast to the larger closed book of Revelation 10:1 ), after Ezekiel 2:9 . This colossal figure, like an Arabian jin, bestrides earth and sea. His message is for the broad world.

Verse 3

Revelation 10:3 . ὥσπερ λέων (of God in O.T. reff.; of the messiah 4 Esd. 11:37, 12:31) μυκᾶται Theokr. Id. xxvi. 21, μύκημα λεαίνης , properly of cattle =“to bellow”. ἐλάλησαν κ . τ . λ . = “uttered what they had to say” ( i.e. , spoke articulately). αἱ (the well-known or familiar) βρονταί “of the apocalyptic machinery” (Alford), or a popular piece of apocalyptic prophecy (see below). Cf. the sevenfold voice of the Lord in thunder, Psalms 29:0 . The seven thunders here may be conceived loosely as the echoes of the angel’s voice reverberating through the universe (Spitta, Weiss), thunder, throughout the ancient world, being especially venerated as a divine voice or warning.

Verse 4

Revelation 10:4 . To seal or shut up a vision is to keep it secret from mankind, i.e. , in the present case (by a sequence of thought which is scarcely logical) to leave it unwritten. In a similar passage (Apoc. Bar. xx. 3) “seal” means to lay up fast in one’s memory (because the realisation is not immediate); but this meaning is suggested by the context, although it might suit the present passage. The seer describes himself as prohibited by a heavenly voice (which reverence leaves as usual undefined, 4 Ezra 6:17 : Dalman viii. 1) from obeying his impulse. No reason is assigned; but the plain sense of the passage is that the author wishes (Weizs., Schön, Bs., Holtzm., Pfleid.) to justify his omission of a seven-thunder source or set of visions circulating in contemporary circles of prophecy (Revelation 10:7 ). In view oi the authoritative character of such fragments or traditions John justifies his procedure by the explanation that he felt inspired to do so, and also to substitute other oracles. Thus in the middle, as at the opening and end of his book, he reiterates his prophetic authority. The episode may further indicate that the written contents of the Apocalypse represents merely a part of the author’s actual vision ( cf. John 21:25 ), or it may serve to heighten the effect of what is now to be introduced, or it may suggest that while the seer is to write (Revelation 1:11 ), he is to write only what is revealed through the medium of angels. In Slav. En. xxiii. 3, 6 the seer spends thirty days in writing the remarks of his angel-instructor. To hear ἄρρητα ῥήματα , ἃ οὐκ ἐξὸν ἀνθρώπῳ λαλῆσαι was not incompatible, however, with an ἀποκάλυψις κυρίου (2 Corinthians 12:1-4 ), cf. Weinel, 162 f. There was an inspiration of restraint as well as an inspiration of impulse. Thus Hermas ( Vis. i. 3) listens with wonder to glories of God which he could not remember, “for all the words were awful, such as man cannot bear. The last words, however, I did remember; they were fit for us and mild”. Possibly the seven-thunders source was of a severely punitive character (Revelation 8:5 ), traversing ground which had been alre ady (6-9) and was to be again ( 15 16.) covered.

Verses 5-6

Revelation 10:5-6 . Modelling from Daniel 12:7 , the writer describes the angel’s oath (by the living God, as usual in O.T.; cf. Matthew 26:63 ), with its native gesture ( cf. Trumbull’s Threshold-Covenant , 78 f.) and contents. In the ancient world oaths were usually taken in the open-air (Usener, Götternamen , 181), before the all-seeing deities of the upper light. But here, as at Revelation 14:7 , the eschatological and the creative acts of God (the latter an outcome of His living might, as Sir 18:1 , En. Revelation 10:1 , Acts 16:15 , etc.) are deliberately conjoined; God’s activity in creation and providence would culminate in judgment. “There shall be no further delay,” or time lost. The interval of Revelation 6:11 (Daniel 12:7 ) is over: all is ripe now for the end, ἡ συντέλεια καιροῦ . The parallels in Slav. En. xxxiii. 2, 65:7, upon the abolition of seasons and periods of time are merely verbal. What engages the writer here is the usual point of importance in apocalyptic literature, viz. , “Is it long to the end? Is the future longer than the past” (4 Esd. 4:44 50)?

Verse 7

Revelation 10:7 . Vav consec. with the Heb, pf. (LXX= καὶ and fut. indic.) here by an awkward solecism ( cf. on Revelation 3:20 ) = “Then is ( i.e. , shall be) fnished the secret of God.” The final consummation (inaugurated by the advent of messiah, 12.) is to take place not later than the period of the seventh angel’s trumpet-blast, which ex hypothesi is imminent. The μυστήριον is plainly, as the context implies, full of solace and relief to God’s people. εὐηγγ . The total (exc. Revelation 16:6 ) omission of εὐαγγέλιον and the restricted use of its verb in the Apocalypse may have been due to the fact that such terms had been soiled by ignoble usage in the local Ionian cult of εὐάγγελος ( e.g. , at Ephesus), with its oracular revelations and fellowship of Euangelidae . The Asiatic calendar of Smyrna contained a month called εὐαγγέλιος . The connexion between μυστήριον = “secret purpose or counsel” (as here) and μ . = “symbol, or symbolic representation” (Revelation 1:20 , Revelation 17:7 ) is due to the fact that in the primitive world the former was enigmatically conveyed by means of symbolic-representations in word, picture, or deed. As “every written word was once a μυστήριον ,” it was natural that the word used for the sign came to be employed for the thing signified (Hatch, Essays in Bibl. Greek , 61). The near approach of the end had been for years a matter of confidence and joy to the Christian prophets for it is they and not their predecessors who are specially in view. The special and solemn contribution of John’s Apocalypse is to identify certain events in the immediate future with the throes out of which the final bliss was to be born. These throes include the downfall of the dragon from heaven, the subsequent climax of the Beast’s influence on earth, and the assertion of God’s authority over his own and against his foe’s adherents (Revelation 12:1 to Revelation 14:20 ). The great and glad revelation is God seen in action, with his forces deployed for the final campaign which, with its issues of deliverance and triumph (Revelation 15-22.), forms the climax of this book. The apotheosis of the Cæsars in their life-time above all, of Domitian marked the pitch of human depravity; divine intervention was inevitable.

Up to the end of Revelation 9:0 , the Apocalypse is fairly regular and intelligible; thereafter, criticism enters upon an intricate country, of which hardly any survey has yet succeeded in rendering a satisfactory account. The problem begins with Revelation 10:0 . Although Revelation 10:1-7 complete the preceding oracles by introducing their finale (7 = Revelation 11:14 f.), while Revelation 10:8-11 connect more immediately with Revelation 11:0 , this forms no reason for suspecting that the oracle is composite. Spitta takes Revelation 10:1 a , Revelation 10:2-7 (except Revelation 10:4 ) as the continuation of Revelation 9., followed by Revelation 11:15 ; Revelation 11:19 , while the rest is substantially a prelude to Revelation 11:1-13 ; Briggs similarly views Revelation 10:1 a , Revelation 10:3-7 as the original transition between Revelation 9:0 . and Revelation 11:14-15 a , Revelation 11:19 , while Revelation 10:8-11; Revelation 10:8-11 (a vision of messiah) introduces the new source of Revelation 11:1-13 , Revelation 12:17 ; and Rauch regards Revelation 10:1 b , Revelation 10:2 a , Revelation 10:5-7 ; Revelation 10:4 ; Revelation 10:9-11 as the opening of Revelation 11:1-13 , Revelation 12:1-17 , with Revelation 10:1-4 a (substantially) as the preface to Revelation 12:17 ., Revelation 16:13-16 . These analyses are unconvincing. The alleged signs of a Hebrew original ( e.g. , Revelation 10:7 , also λέγουσί μοι and λέγειμοι in Revelation 10:9 ; Revelation 10:11 = variant versions of ואמר לי ) are not decisive.

Verse 8

Revelation 10:8 . ἡ φωνὴ ( cf. Revelation 10:4 ) left ungrammatically without a predicate, the two participles being irregularly attracted into the case of ἥν ( cf. Revelation 1:1 , Revelation 4:11 ).

Verses 9-10

Revelation 10:9-10 . The prophet absorbs the word of God; in our phrase, he makes it his own or identifies himself with it (Jeremiah 15:16 ). To assimilate this revelation of the divine purpose seems to promise a delightful experience, but the bliss and security of the saints, he soon realises, involve severe trials ( cf. Revelation 11:2 , Revelation 12:13 f., etc.) for them as well as catastrophes for the world. Hence the feeling of disrelish with which he views his new vocation as a seer. The distasteful experience is put first, in Revelation 10:9 , as being the unexpected element in the situation. (The omission of bitterness in LXX of Ezekiel 3:14 renders it unlikely that this additional trait of unpleasant taste is due, as Spitta thinks, to an erroneous combination of Ezekiel 3:2 ; Ezekiel 3:14 ). The natural order occurs in Revelation 10:10 . The only analogous passage in early Christian literature is in the “Martyrdom of Perpetua” (4. cf. Weinel, 196, 197). Wetstein cites from Theophrastus the description of an Indian shrub οὗ ὁ καρπὸς … ἐσθιόμενος γλυκὺς . οὗτος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ δηγμὸν ποιεῖ καὶ δυσεντερίαν . Before the happy consummation (Revelation 10:7 ), a bitter prelude is to come, which is the subject of national and political prophecies. In order to underline his divine commission for this task of punitive prediction, he recalls his inspiration.

Verse 11

Revelation 10:11 . λέγ . μοι , an oblique, reverential way of describing the divine impulse, due to Aramaic idiom and common in later Biblical Hebrew ( cf. Dalman, i., viii. 11). The series of oracles, thus elaborately inaugurated, is concerned increasingly (“again,” in view of Revelation 4:4 , 15, Revelation 7:4 ; Revelation 7:9 , Revelation 8:13 , Revelation 9:6 ; Revelation 9:16 f.) with those international movements (“kings” = φυλαί , or those in Revelation 17:10 ; Revelation 17:12 ) which a prophet related to the course of the divine kingdom. Strictly speaking, the revelation assimilated in Revelation 10:10-11 opens in 12., but the intervening passage is linked to both (see below). The first part of this passage (Revelation 11:1-13 ) evidently forms part of the βιβλαρίδιον ( cf. Introd. § 2). Its enigmatic contents, interrupting the trumpet-visions with edges which do not fit into the context or the rest of the Apocalypse, point to the incorporation of a special and disparate source. Any analysis is more or less hypothetical, but the writer is evidently not moving with absolute freedom. He has his own end in view, but he reaches it, here as elsewhere ( cf. Revelation 7:1 f.) by means of stepping-stones which originally lay in different surroundings. This is widely recognised by critics and editors, who commonly take 1 2 and 3 13 as separate oracles. Each indeed might be the torso of a larger source. But, in spite of the different descriptions of Jerusalem, the hypothesis of their original unity has much in its favour. How could so tiny a scrap of papyrus as that required for 1, 2 be preserved? Besides Revelation 10:3 goes with Revelation 10:2 (the prophetic mission as a counterpart to the punishment), the two periods are alike, the strange δίδωμι -construction occurs in both (here only in Apoc.), and the inversion of object and verb is common to both (Revelation 10:2 ; Revelation 10:5-6 ; Revelation 10:9-10 ). To discover an oracle of the Zealots in 1, 2 (Wellhausen, Bousset, Baljon, J. Weiss) is precarious, for even if we could suppose that these passionate citizens took time to write oracles, they had not a monopoly of belief in the temple’s inviolability. The latter belief conflicts with Mark 13:1-2 (Acts 6:14 ); but, while this makes it extremely unlikely that the passage was adopted, or at least composed, by one of the Twelve, it does not necessarily disprove a Jewish Christian origin for the fly-leaf. Patriotism must have often swayed hope, even in face of authoritative logia. Still, a Jewish origin is more probable (so from Vischer and Sabatier to Baljon, Forbes, von Soden, Wellhausen and J. Weiss), in which case 8 c ( ὅπου … ἐσταυρώθη ), with possibly 9 a and 12 b , must be Christianising touches by the editor. As 8 c is the only place in the Apocalypse where Jesus is thus designated (contrast 4), and as the unexampled αἱ … ἑστῶτες occurs in 4, the editor may be using a previous translation of the fly-leat. Otherwise, the repeated traces of Hebraistic idiom suggest that he translated it from an Aramaic or Hebrew original (so especially Weyland, Briggs, and Bruston) which was a Jewish (or Jewish Christian) oracle, composed towards the end of the siege in 70 A.D. between May and August ( cf. Joseph. Bell , ver 12, 3) by a prophet who anticipated ( cf. S. C. , 219, 220) that the temple and a nucleus of the God-fearing would be kept inviolate during the last times of the Gentiles , at the end of which anti-Christ or the pseudo-messiah would blasphemously re-assert himself in the temple (hence its preservation, 1, 2), according to one cycle of tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:3 , etc., cf. A. C. 160 f.), after murdering the two heralds of messiah. The motives and further career of the beast are omitted, if not in the source, at least by the editor. He resumes the subject afterwards ( cf. Revelation 13:6 ), when the eschatological monster is specially identified with the imperial power. Here his main concern is with the fate of the two witnesses. Probably it was this feature of the oracle which primarily led him to adopt and adapt it, as showing how the beast or anti-christ was foiled in his attack on messiah’s forerunners, just as (in 12) the dragon is foiled in his attack on messiah himself. The other details are left standing; in their present setting they have much the same pictorial and dramatic interest as the minutiæ of the parables, and it is perhaps doubtful whether the editor linked any symbolic or allegorical meaning to them, although such can easily be attached in a variety of ways, e.g. , to the language of 1, 2 in the light of Barn. iv. 11, Ign. ad Magn. 7, etc. (so Weiss, Simcox, Swete, and others). Even the two witnesses are not to be identified with any historical figures of contemporary life, much less taken as allegorical or as typifying aspects of the church’s testimony. “The vision … is of the nature of a superimposed photograph showing traces of many pasts” (Abbott). The original Jewish tradition which lay behind the source expected only Elijah, who should preach repentance to the pagan world, but he was occasionally furnished with a companion in Moses (on the basis of Deuteronomy 18:15 ; cf. Malachi 4:4-5 , the transfiguration-story, and possibly the two radiant saints of Apoc. Pet. 6 f.). The only other serious rival is Enoch, a grand figure in Jewish and early Christian eschatological tradition (for the curious Sir 44:16 , cf. E. Bi. 1295). Later tradition, indeed, thinking mainly of Elijah and Enoch (Gfrörer ii. 261 f.; A. C. 203, 211), whom antichrist in wrath slays for their witness against him, and whom God (or Michael and Gabriel) resuscitates, suggests a fairly apposite cycle of belief which may reproduce the earlier Jewish expectation out of which the materials of this fragmentary oracle have been drawn. The unique character of this expectation is illustrated, not so much by Anu and Nudimmut, Marduk’s predecessors in the fight against Tiamât, as by the Zoroastrian belief that the temporary triumph of the evil spirit would be followed by the appearance of two reformers or prophets, Hushêdar and Hushêdaarmâh ( S. B. E. xxiii. 195; cf. Hübschmann, 227), who would act each for a millenium on earth as the precursors and heralds of their Lord, the Persian messiah. This belief is much older than the sources in which it occurs, and like several other Zoroastrian traits, it may have fused with the Jewish expectation in question, though the Zoroastrian heralds do not appear simultaneously ( cf. Encycl. Relig. and Ethics , i. 207). Here at any rate the appearance of the two anonymous and mysterious witnesses precedes the final outburst of evil (Revelation 11:7 ; Revelation 11:12 f.) and the manifestation of messiah (Revelation 11:15 f., Revelation 14:14 f.) an idea for which no exact basis can be found in the strictly Jewish eschatology of the period. It may have grown up under the influence of this kindred trait in the adjoining province of Zoroastrian belief, unless the doubling of the witnesses was simply due to the side-influence of the Zechariah-trait (in Revelation 10:4 ). Wellhausen argues from the singular πτῶμα (Revelation 10:8-9 ) that the two witnesses were a duplication of the original single witness, i.e. , Elijah; but the singular is collective, and there is no trace of any conflation with Jonah.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 10". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/revelation-10.html. 1897-1910.
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