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Revelation 10:1. A strong angel is seen coming down out of heaven who is said to be ‘another.’ Already, at chap. Revelation 5:2, we have met with a ‘strong angel’ who is also introduced in connection with the book-roll spoken of in that chapter. It is reasonable to think, therefore, that this mention of ‘another’ has reference to that one, and not to the ‘many’ angels of whom we have elsewhere read. What we are to think of this angel will be best considered after we have noticed the things said concerning him. (1) He comes ‘out of heaven,’ where is the throne of God. (2) He is clothed with a cloud. The expression ‘a cloud,’ or ‘the cloud,’ or ‘clouds,’ is met with seven times in the Apocalypse, and in five of these it is distinctly connected with the Son of man as He comes to judgment. In the sixth, chap. Revelation 11:12, we shall see that it must also be the investiture of the Son of man. The cloud here must have a similar meaning. (3) And the rainbow was upon his head. The article does not lead us to the well-known ordinary rainbow, or to the rainbow of Genesis 9:13, but to that already mentioned at chap. Revelation 4:3. (4) And his face was as the sun. These words take us back to chap. Revelation 1:16, and again bring the sun before us in a light similar to that in which it is presented there, as the source of burning, scorching heat. (5) And his feet as pillars of fire. These words carry us to chap. Revelation 1:15, and the fire is that of judgment (comp. chap. Revelation 20:9). (6) And he had in his hand a little book-roll open. It appears from Revelation 10:5 that the book must be in the left hand of the angel, and an important distinction is thus drawn between it and the roll of chap. 5. The latter was ‘on’ the hand, and that hand the ‘right;’ the former is ‘in’ the hand, and that hand the ‘left.’ The contents of the two rolls, therefore, cannot be exactly the same, although the fact that the word employed in the original for the ‘roll’ now mentioned is a diminutive of that which meets us at chap. Revelation 5:1, combined with the whole contents of the present passage, is sufficient to show us that the two rolls are of the same general character. The roll now before us is ‘little’ in comparison with the larger one previously spoken of, and it is ‘open’ while the latter was ‘sealed.’ The interpretation of the passage is affected by all these circumstances.
It can hardly be doubted that the whole of chap. 10 and the first part of chap. 11 (Revelation 10:1-11) are episodical, after the same manner and with the same purpose as chap. 7. The sixth Trumpet, or the second Woe, seems obviously to close at chap. Revelation 9:21; the two visions contained in the passage upon which we enter are of a tone entirely distinct from that of a Woe; and the seventh Trumpet only begins at chap. Revelation 11:15. These considerations are sufficient to determine the character of the visions before us. It has indeed been urged that the words of chap. Revelation 11:14 are conclusive against this view, and that they indicate the continuation of the second Woe to that point. The insertion of these words, however, in the place where we find them may be explained without our so entirely mistaking the nature of the passage between chaps. Revelation 10:1 and Revelation 11:13 as to suppose that it forms the continuation of a Woe. The word ‘quickly’ is the emphatic word in chap. Revelation 11:14, denoting as it does that climax in judgment which is to be made known under the seventh Trumpet. But to have introduced it at chap. Revelation 9:21 would have led to the impression that the third Woe was immediately to follow. It was necessary therefore to postpone the statement that the second Woe was past and the third at hand, until the moment when the latter was to be introduced. Thus the two consolatory visions of chaps. Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:13 are interposed between the end of the second Woe and the declaration that the third is about to begin.
Revelation 10:2-3. The action of the angel is next described. First, he set his right foot upon the sea and his left upon the earth, thus asserting his supremacy over the whole world; and then he cried with a great voice as a lion roareth, thus intimating that something terrible was about to be revealed. Immediately thereafter the seven thunders uttered their voices. The analogy of the ‘seven churches,’ ‘seven spirits of God,’ etc., leads directly to the conclusion that these thunders are seven, not because St. John at the moment heard seven, but because they represent the thunder of God in its completeness and intensity. Two or three questions must still be answered in connection with these verses. First, as to the personality of the angel. On the one hand, it appears to be impossible to adopt the idea of many, that this angel is the Lord; for, throughout the Apocalypse, angels are everywhere distinguished from the Divine Beings, and in chap. 5 the ‘strong angel’ spoken of is certainly neither the Father nor the Son. On the other hand, it appears equally impossible to think that we have before us simply a created angel. The mention of ‘the cloud,’ of ‘the rainbow,’ of the ‘face as the sun,’ of the ‘feet as pillars of fire,’ and of the ‘little book-roll in the hand,’ leads us to something more. These are the characteristics of the Divine Lord Himself. The explanation is to be sought in what has been already more than once remarked, that in the Apocalypse the action of any person or thing is said to be effected by means of an angel who expresses it. We have here, therefore, neither the Lord, nor a mere creature executing His will, but a representation of His action. The angel by whom such representation is effected has necessarily the attributes of the Being whose action he embodies. Secondly, the light in which the angel appears is that of judgment, not of mercy and judgment combined. The ‘rainbow’ is indeed the symbol of mercy, but everything else mentioned speaks of judgment. Mercy is alluded to simply because the Lord is gracious, and because it would convey an imperfect and false idea of His character were we to think of Him only as a judge. It is the Lord of love who judges. Thirdly, we have to ask as to the contents of the ‘little book-roll.’ These we have already seen cannot be the same as those of the larger book-roll of chap 5. It is more difficult to determine what they are. Upon this point the most various opinions have been entertained. We cannot examine them, and must be content to note one or two particulars which may assist in guiding us to a satisfactory conclusion. (1) It is a well-known characteristic of the Apocalypse that it generally anticipates beforehand in some brief statement what is afterwards to be unfolded at greater length. We may be sure that the judgments contained in the little roll will meet us again in subsequent visions of this book: (2) The contents have an important relation to that work of prophesying or witnessing which is to distinguish the true people of God at the stage of their progress which they have now reached. The witnessing and not merely the suffering Church is to be comforted by the vision: (3) We have thus a point of connection with the consolatory vision of the two witnesses in chap. 11, and that too in a manner precisely analogous to the relation which exists between the two consolatory visions of chap. 7; there, suffering in the first followed by heavenly bliss in the second; here, action in the first followed by going up to heaven in the cloud (chap. Revelation 11:12). But the vision of the two witnesses, as we shall yet see, deals with the preservation of a faithful remnant in the midst of a professing but faithless Church which is cast out. The natural conclusion is, that the vision before us is also occupied with the same thought: (4) The effect produced upon the Seer by his action with the little roll is worthy of notice. When he eats the book the first taste of it is sweet: he has heard glad tidings and is filled with joy. When he has eaten the book, when he has had further experience of its contents, it is bitter. The bright dawn becomes clouded; joy gives way to disappointment and sorrow: (5) The whole symbolism is taken from Ezekiel 3:0, and it is reasonable to suppose that not merely the facts but the aim and spirit of that chapter were present to the Apostle’s mind. Of the latter, however, there can be no doubt. The language of the fourth and fifth verses of the chapter is unmistakeable, ‘And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. For thou art not sent unto a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel:’ (6) We shall find, as we proceed, that a large part of the Book of Revelation, its most sublime, if at the same time its darkest and most mysterious, part is occupied with the judgments of God upon a worldly and apostate Church. Putting all these circumstances together, it seems most natural to suppose that the contents of the ‘little book-roll’ are occupied with the dealings of the Lord not so much towards the world as towards His Church in her connection with the world, when she yields to the temptations which the world presents to her, and when, from having been a pure virgin faithful to Him to whom she is espoused, she becomes a harlot. Thus also perhaps may we explain the epithet ‘little’ applied to this book-roll in contrast with that of chap. 5. It is ‘little,’ not as being less important, but as relating more immediately to the fortunes of Christ’s ‘little flock.’
Revelation 10:4. The thunders must not only have been in themselves intelligible, but they must have been understood by the Seer. Hence, thinking probably of the command in chap. Revelation 1:11, he was about to write them. A voice out of heaven, however, was heard saying, Seal the things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. We are not to suppose that the object of this command was to keep the contents of the thunders for ever concealed. These contents, we have seen, relate to the fortunes of Christ’s Church and people. But they learn only by experience. They must pass through trials, whatever they may be, before darkness is dispelled and light in its full brightness shines around them (comp. John 2:22; John 12:16).
Revelation 10:5-7. Intimation is now made that though the thunders are sealed the judgments which they threatened will not be long delayed, and the solemn manner of making it corresponds to the great issues that are to come. The angel whom the Seer saw standing upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his right hand to heaven, and sware by the great Creator of the universe that there should be delay no longer. The ‘delay’ here spoken of is the space of time referred to in Matthew 24:22, where it is said that the days shall be shortened for the elect’s sake. The coming of the end in view is next defined alike as to its time and its results. Its time shall be in the sounding of the seventh trumpet: its results shall be seen in the completing of the mystery of God, that is, in the completing of all His purposes with regard to His Church on earth.
According to the good tidings which he declared. The word ‘good tidings’ is remarkable. Most interpreters will admit that it does not imply that the tidings were only of mercy. In reality the whole context shows that they were tidings of judgment upon the enemies of God. Yet even these were ‘good tidings,’ for they told that ‘the righteous Lord loveth righteousness,’ and that for the welfare of His creatures He would yet ‘take to Him His great power and reign.’ It will be well to remember this in the interpretation of a more difficult passage to follow.
Revelation 10:8. The Seer is commanded to take the open book-roll in the hand of the angel.
Revelation 10:9. The command is obeyed, and the further instruction is given, Take it, and eat it up. For a similar action comp. Ezekiel 3:1. The eating of the roll can hardly be anything else than a symbol of the complete assimilation of its contents.
Revelation 10:10. The effect of eating the roll is next described. It was, says the Seer, in my mouth sweet as honey, and when I had eaten it my belly was made bitter. The double character of this effect was not produced by different parts of the contents of the book, as if these were partly sweet partly bitter, partly of joyful partly of sorrowful tidings. The contents of the book are one; are all, like those of the larger book-roll, judgment, are all ‘mourning and lamentations and woe.’ For the same reason also the double effect cannot be ascribed to the double character of the Seer, the sweetness being felt by him as a prophet, the bitterness as a man. He is a prophet throughout, and his human feelings have been so identified with those of his Lord that whatever is the Lord’s pleasure is also his. Equally impossible is it to think that the bitterness was due to the thought of those persecutions which he and other faithful witnesses would have to endure in making known their message to the world. Believers feel that while they suffer they are walking in the steps of their great Master, and that they are suffering with Him. In the midst of suffering they learn to glory in His cross, and to welcome it as a gift of the Divine love (comp. Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 4:13). The bitterness proceeds from the nature of the tidings. The little book-roll dealt with the fortunes of the Church, not of the world; and the fact that it did so made the first taste of it sweet. To learn that the Lord had chosen out of the nations a people for His name; that He ‘loved the Church, and gave Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present the Church to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish;’ such tidings could not fail to be sweet. But then to learn still further that that Church would forget her Lord, yield to the seductions of the world, and become lukewarm in the service of One who had bought her with His own precious blood, was bitter. Yet these were the contents of the book now eaten by the Seer. No wonder, therefore, that though sweet as honey in his mouth the little book made his belly bitter.
Revelation 10:11. The little book-roll has been eaten; and, in the midst of the judgments which it foretold, it has brought consolation to the Seer, for the only true consolation of the righteous is that all evil, whether in the world or in the Church, shall be put down, and that nothing but ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’ shall reign. Animated by this prospect he is ready to hear that he has still a work to do. He must prophesy again before many peoples and nations and tongues and kings. The intimation, and they say unto me, with which these words are introduced, may help us to understand the nature of the prophesying referred to, for these words are hardly equivalent to the formula ‘It is said.’ They may be much more naturally referred to the seven thunders which had already spoken at Revelation 10:3. A voice of thunder, however, is a voice of judgment, and the ‘prophesying’ now spoken must be also judgment. One further remark may be made. The verb ‘to prophesy’ is used only twice in the Apocalypse, here and of the two witnesses at chap. Revelation 11:3. In the latter case it cannot be confined to the proclamation of the visions of this book, and neither in like manner can it now be so. When, therefore, the Seer is told that he must ‘prophesy,’ the meaning does not appear to be that he must declare the contents of the little book to an audience the various parts of which are immediately enumerated. The meaning rather is that he must go on uttering to the world his general testimony to the truth of God, and so preparing the world for its self-chosen fate. In other words, the Seer in this verse is less the apocalyptic revealer than the minister of Divine truth in general, the type and pattern of all the preaching of the New Testament Dispensation.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 10". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany