Revelation 10.

DESCENT OF THE STRONG ANGEL

THE LITTLE OPENED BOOK

INTRODUCTORY.

Previous to the opening of the seventh Seal to the sounding of the seventh Trumpet, and to the pouring out of the seventh Vial, a break in the course of judgment in each case is witnessed. The briefest pause is the Vial one (Rev. 16:15). The Trumpet interlude is the longest (Rev. 10 — 11:13).

The seventh Seal, under which no separate action or judgment is witnessed, introduced the Trumpet series of divine chastisements. Similarly the third Woe, or seventh Trumpet, prepares the way for the final outpour of God’s wrath upon the apostate scene. These last septenary judgments, i.e., the Vials, are of an open, manifested character. They are clearly seen by all to issue from Heaven. God is owned as the source of these horrors, not in true repentance, but in open blasphemy of God and of His Name. In the episode between the sixth and seventh Trumpets we read, “In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets” (Rev. 10:7). The sounding of the seventh Trumpet brings the patience of God to a close. The apostate power on earth is to be openly dealt with, not providentially, as under the two previous series of judgments. Heaven and earth, angels and men, witness that these last strokes under the Vials are inflicted by the hand of God. Hence the sounding of the seventh Trumpet heralds the pouring out of the concentrated wrath of God on the guilty and apostate scene. The blows are short, sharp, and unsparing (Rev. 16).

It has been held that as the immediate result of the seventh presence angel sounding his Trumpet the Lord takes to Himself His great power; at once commencing His millennial reign. But this we conceive is a mistake. The active hostility of the Beast against the saints ceased with the expiration of the 1260 days, the exact period of suffering measured by days and months (Rev. 11:3; Rev. 13:5-8). This leaves seventeen and a half days to make up the three and a half years needed to complete the seventieth week of Daniel, that eventful week of seven literal years (Dan. 9:27). The Vials are poured out during these seventeen and a half days.*

{*See article, “The Celebrated Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks.”}

The power of the Beast to further harass God’s saints comes to an end when the angel begins to pour the Vials out. How can the Beast persecute when he is himself the direct subject of these last judgments? We gather that Revelation 11:15-18 does not present events which directly come under the seventh Trumpet, but rather groups millennial and eternal scenes, and celebrates in the near anticipation Christ’s universal reign and God’s triumph. The kingdom is anticipated, not yet come. After the sounding of the seventh angel the Vials are successively poured out. Thus the Trumpets succeed the Seals, and the Vials follow the Trumpets.

But before Rome becomes the direct subject of intense judicial dealing (Rev. 16) the public intervention of God is witnessed in symbol and word (Rev. 10), and another testimony is shown, one hitherto undisclosed in any previous vision (Rev. 11). This testimony has a character peculiar to itself (v. 4), and is a much more restricted one than either that of Revelation 6:9, or the yet more extensive one shown in Revelation 7. The city of Jerusalem, then trodden down under the iron heel of the Gentile oppressor, becomes the sphere of the operation of the very special testimony of chapter 11.

GLORIOUS DESCRIPTION OF THE MIGHTY DESCENDING ANGEL

Rev. 10:1-3. — “And I saw another strong angel coming down out of the Heaven, clothed with a cloud, and the rainbow upon his head, and his countenance as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire, and having in his hand a little opened book. And he set his right foot on the sea, and the left upon the earth, and cried with a loud voice as a lion roars. And when he cried the seven thunders uttered their own voices.” Things are drawing to a close. The half-week of sorrow (three years and a half) is nearly spent, but its last hours reveal the world in mad and open rebellion against God, and His saints on whom the Beast and the Antichrist wreak their fury. Before, however, the last dregs of the Lord’s vengeance are drunk by the Gentile and Jewish apostates and their dupes this consolatory vision breaks through the dark clouds of judgment. It is a stern reminder to the world that, in spite of the raging of the wicked, the government of the earth is the just claim of the Creator and one about to be made good in power. But the vision is also one eminently fitted to strengthen and console believers, and especially suffering saints, for the same power which will crush the enemy exalts the sufferers to honour.

The vision is easily read. It is one of the most profound in the book, yet withal exceedingly simple in its main features. The mysteriousness of the Trumpet visions here disappears.

1. — “Another strong angel” carries us back in thought to Revelation 5:2, but the only thing common to both references is the epithet “strong.” In the earlier text a created being endowed with might is referred to, whereas in the passage before us an uncreated Being of divine majesty and power is witnessed. It is the Lord Himself. We have had already a vision of the Lord in angelic, priestly intercession (Rev. 8:3); here He asserts in angelic power His undisputed claim to the dominion of the earth.

1. — “Coming down out of the Heaven,” not simply “from” it as a point of departure, but “out” of it as being His native home (1 Cor. 15:47, R.V.; John 3:13, last clause); “the Heaven” fixes a definite locality. The insertion of the preposition from and the omission of the definite article the in the text of the Authorised Version may seem to some veriest trifles, but for those maintaining the verbal inspiration of the Sacred Scriptures, as we trust all our readers do, an unwarranted interpolation, or the omission of an inspired letter or part of one, jot and tittle (Matt. 5:18), must be regarded as a distinct loss. God warns and threatens in unusually solemn terms against tampering with the inspired Word, either in adding to it (Rev. 22:18) or in taking from it (v. 19).

In the descent of the strong angel to earth is intimated the close of providential dealing. The former scene of prophecy was viewed as having its source in Heaven; here the scene of operation is openly shown to be on earth. The whole prophetic scene under Heaven is openly and publicly occupied. The Lord in thus coming out of His place to establish His worldwide kingdom on earth changes the point of view, which in the vision is earth, not Heaven.

1. — “Clothed with a cloud.” In the ancient oracles the cloud figures largely as representing the presence and majesty of Jehovah. There is great fulness and boldness in the symbols employed to set forth the glorious majesty of the Lord, symbols, too, which in their interpretation leave little room for discussion. “Clothed with a cloud” is a public sign of His majesty.

1. — “The rainbow upon his head.” The same rainbow* as previously witnessed by the Seer (Rev. 4:3). In the earlier reference a rainbow encircles the throne and its august Occupant, here the rainbow with its many and variegated colours and glories rests on the head of the angel. The use of the definite article the in our text (R.V.) connects the scene of chapter 10 in some of its essential features with that of chapter 4. It is the same rainbow, “this crest of divinity” which surrounds the throne (Rev. 4) and the head (Rev. 10). Amidst the apocalyptic scenes of judgment God’s remembrance of mercy is constant and unfailing. The bow in the cloud,** that ancient token of divine goodness (Gen. 9), here reappears, and just at the time and season when most needed.

{*In chapter 4 the appearance of the rainbow is “like in appearance to an emerald,” the never-tiring green, so restful to the eye.

**“The rainbow could not, consistently with the mythology of the heathen, constitute a part of the regalia of any particular deity. They had such exalted notions of it, they thought it was not properly a bow, but a goddess. The Greeks supposed Iris to be the daughter of Thoumas and Electra. The Romans considered her as a particular favourite of Juno. Among the Peruvians the highest acts of worship were paid to the rainbow; in the celebrated temple of the sun at Cusco, an apartment was dedicated entirely to the worship of the rainbow, and an order of priests set apart to perform the customary services.” — “Lectures on Prophecies of John,” by Robert Culbertson, vol. 1, p. 387. The bow of an archer round the head of some of the heathen deities is different from the rainbow. The heathen could neither open the clouds nor bind them up, and hence adds the above writer: “They were not therefore entitled to wear this badge of distinction.” The rainbow is pre-eminently a symbol exclusively used of the divine Being or of His throne (see also Ezek. 1:28).}

1. — “His countenance as the sun, and his feet as pillar of fire.” Substantially the description here is that of the glory of the Son of Man in chapter 1:15, 16. There, however, the feet of the glorious One are mentioned before His countenance. Both descriptions apply to the same blessed Person in different connections. In the former (Rev. 1) the expression of His character and glory as man are set forth. In the latter (Rev. 10) the majesty of angelic strength and glory are witnessed. Supreme majesty and government are reflected in His face, while “His feet as pillars of fire” indicate stability and firmness, the unbending holiness of His judicial action.

Rev. 10:2. — “Having in his hand a little opened book.” In Revelation 5 Jehovah holds in His right hand a closed seven-sealed book or roll; here the angel holds in his hand an open book. Why closed in the one and open in the other? In the former hitherto unrevealed counsels of God are successively disclosed by the Lamb, whereas in the latter “the book is open as part of well-known prophecy, and now brought to a direct issue on known ground.” Further, this is a “little” book, diminutive in contrast to the larger book of chapter 5, which was so full that it was written without and within. A book both in size and contents larger and fuller than the one in the hand of the angel.

2. — “He set his right foot on the sea, and the left upon the earth.” Three times in the course of this vision the angel is seen standing on the sea and the earth, and in each instance the mention of the sea precedes that of the earth (vv. 2, 5, 8), whereas in other parts of the Apocalypse the order is reversed (Rev. 7:1-3; Rev. 14:7; Rev. 5:13; Rev. 12:12, etc.). This latter is certainly the natural order, i.e., the earth and the sea. We have already remarked upon the force of these symbols; the earth denoting the civilised portion of the globe, the sea referring to the masses of mankind in an unformed, uncivilised condition. But in our passage the sea, the turbulent heathen, is first named. Is it random or divine precision that the right foot is set down on the rebellious nations and peoples, and the left on the professed scene of light and government? How firm the tread of the angel! How complete the action! How thorough the subjugation of all to Him! He set those pillars, or columns, of fire on all beneath the sun. Right and might, both in exercise, are characteristic of the significant act of the angel as He takes possession of the whole scene under Heaven.

Rev. 10:3. — He “cried with a loud voice as a lion roars.” Accompanying the act of the angel we have His voice of majesty and power causing intense terror throughout the whole earth (Hosea 11:10; Joel 3:16). It is the voice of Christ. “He doth send out His voice, and that a mighty voice” (Ps. 68:33). We have here the roar of the lion of the tribe of Judah. He was named as such in conjunction with the Lamb in that heavenly and magnificent scene unfolded in chapter 5. But there we witness the action of the lamb; here that of the lion.

3. — “When he cried, the seven thunders uttered their own voices.”* The cry of the angel was a cry to Jehovah which is immediately answered. The answer is one of power and judgment. Thunder is God’s voice in judgment, the expression of His authority therein (1 Sam. 7:10; Ps. 18:13; Job 26:14). “The seven thunders” intimate a full and perfect response to the angel’s cry. “The seven” gives precision and definiteness to the answering voices of the thunders. It was not a crash like the thunder of nature, but these thunders intelligently expressed the mind of the God of judgment, they “uttered their own voices.”

{*The seven thunders seem to answer to the seven times in which the voice of Jehovah is heard (Ps. 29:3-9). The seven thunders point to “the perfection of God’s intervention in judgment.”}

THE SEER FORBIDDEN TO WRITE.

Rev. 10:4. — “And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write,* and I heard a voice out of the Heaven saying, Seal what the seven thunders have spoken, and write them not.” The prophet was about to record the words of the thunders. He heard and understood. This vision is full of voices. That of the angel of the thunders, and another “out of Heaven.” This was a voice of authority, “Seal what the seven thunders have spoken, and write them not.” Those to us unrevealed communications were to be sealed. It was not the time to make them known. The exact import of these revelations has not been disclosed; probably they are embodied in the after communications directly concerning the end. There are two commands addressed to the Seer: first, to seal up the sayings of the thunder; second, to write them not (compare with Dan. 8:26; 12:9). It may be, as in the case of the Hebrew prophet, that this part of the apocalyptic vision, containing the unwritten words of the angel and of the seven thunders, is “closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” Sealing these prophetic revelations supposes that the end is a long way off. If the end is near, then the prophecies are not to be sealed. In one case the words are sealed, for the end is far off (Dan. 12:9); in another the sayings are not sealed, for the end is nigh (Rev. 22:10).

{*“The intimation here plainly is that John was employed in writing during the intervals of his vision.” — “Stuart on the Apocalypse.” page 585. We question this statement.}

SOLEMN OATH OF THE ANGEL.

Rev. 10:5-7. — “And the angel whom I saw stand on the sea and on the earth lifted up his right hand to the Heaven. And sware by Him that lives to the ages of ages, Who created the Heaven and the things that are in it, and the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be no longer delay. But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound the Trumpet, the mystery of God also shall be completed, as He has made known the glad tidings to His own bondmen the prophets.” One of the most sublime of apocalyptic actions is here recorded. How strengthening and how consolatory! We turn from the din and angry strife amongst the nations to the eternal purpose of God respecting this earth. It belongs by native right and purchase to Christ. What a sight! Sea and earth under His feet, the book of closing prophecy in His left hand, while He lifts up His right to Heaven,* and swears by the ever-living God and Creator** that there should be no longer delay. It is not “no longer time” as in the Authorised Version and retained in the Revised Version. The translators have corrected their blunder by substituting for “time” delay in the margin. Either the text or margin is right, for both cannot be. After the accomplishment of the oath of the angel at least a thousand years run their course ere time ceases and eternity opens; hence it cannot mean that there shall be no longer “time.” Tregelles, Stuart, Darby, Kelly, and a host of others competent to judge, read “no longer delay.” The meaning is that “man’s day,” which commenced with the Ascension of the Lord and is closed up by His Advent in power, is drawing to an end. The age of secret, providential dealing with evil is about to close. For 2000 years God has not openly interfered in the government of the world. The Church is a ruin, and the world a wreck. It is the time when the will of man is everywhere rampant. It is, too, the time of God’s patience with evil, the era of His long-suffering with men. There will be no longer delay in setting up the kingdom and taking the government of all creation into His own hands. Man’s day is to be closed up in sharp and severe judgment, and the Lord’s reign and kingdom set up. The oath of the angel not only assures us of this, but guarantees the immediate execution of it. There is to be no longer delay in bringing the present age with all its evil to an end.

{*In Daniel 12:7 the man in linen swears holding up both hands.

** “The description of this angel has been admired by every classical scholar. Abstracted from its spiritual meaning, and considered merely as a literary production, it stands unrivalled by anything we meet with in all the pages of Grecian and Roman literature.” Here is another eloquent tribute. “Be pleased to observe the aspect of this august personage. All the brightness of the sun shines in his countenance; and all the rage of the fire burns in his feet. — See his apparel. The clouds compose his robe, and the drapery of the sky floats upon his shoulders; the rainbow forms his diadem, and that which compasseth the Heaven with a glorious circle is the ornament of his head. — Behold his attitude. One foot stands on the ocean, the other rests on the land. The wide extended earth and the world of waters serve as pedestals for those mighty columns. — Consider the action. His hand is lifted up to the height of the stars, he speaks, and the regions of the firmament echo with the mighty accents, as the midnight desert resounds with the lion’s roar. The artillery of the skies is discharged at the signal; a peal of sevenfold thunder spreads the alarm, and prepares the universe to receive his orders. — To finish all, and give the highest grandeur, as well as the utmost solemnity to the representation, he swears by Him that liveth for ever and ever.” — “Hervey’s Meditations.”}

Rev. 10:7. — “In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound the Trumpet, the mystery of God also shall be completed.” What is signified by the mystery of God?* Does it not seem strange that Satan has been allowed for 6000 years to wrap and twist his coils around the world, to work evil and spoil and mar the work of God? What havoc he has wrought! He is the god of this world and the prince of the power of the air. God’s saints have ever been the objects of his fiercest malignity. Is it not a mystery why God, the God of righteousness and holiness, allows evil to go unpunished and His own people to be crushed and broken on every hand? Truly this is the mystery of God. Is it that He is indifferent to the wrong, indifferent to the sorrows of His people? Nay, that were impossible. God bears with evil till the hour of judgment arrives, when He will avenge the cry of His elect, and come out of His place to punish the wicked. The checks and restraints upon evil now are unseen as to their source, and are only of partial application. Everything in the world and in the Church is out of order save what God by His Spirit produces.

{*The mystery of His will (Eph. 1:9). The mystery of iniquity (2 Thess. 2:7). The mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). The mystery of Christ and the Church ( Eph. 5:32 ). The mystery of God (Col. 2:2). The mystery of the seven stars (Rev. 1:20). The mystery of the woman and the beast (Rev. 17:7). The mystery of Israel (Rom. 11:25). These and other mysteries are distinct from the mystery of God in the passage before us. Mystery signifies something previously unknown but now revealed: when made known it ceases to be a mystery of course; it is then “an open secret.” All the mysteries are unfolded in the New Testament. The word “mystery” does not occur in the earlier oracles.}

Now, however, this mystery of God is about to be finished, and God by His Son, the Heir of all things, will wrest the government of the world from the iron grasp of Satan, confine him as a prisoner in the abyss for 1000 years, finally casting him into the lake of fire for eternity, and then rule and reign in manifested power and glory. Evil now tolerated and allowed, spite of numerous checks to hinder its coming to a height, will then be openly punished. The mystery is at end. Christ is about to reign.

This is indeed glad tidings proclaimed to His prophets of old, not declared by them (although they did that as their books testify), but to them, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secrets unto His servants, His prophets” (Amos 3:7). The public intervention of God on behalf of His afflicted saints to crush the power of evil, to expel the usurper Satan from the earth which he has been, so far, permitted to destroy morally and physically, and to set up the world in more than primitive beauty and order: such is God’s decree. This was the glad tidings which roused the energies, stimulated the faith, brightened the hope, and gladdened the hearts of the prophets of God in all ages. The same blessed hope with added glories is our strength to-day.

Not exactly when the seventh angel sounds, but in the days of the voice of the angel, the mystery of God shall be completed.

THE LITTLE BOOK OF DIVINE COUNSEL AND THE RECOMMENCEMENT OF JOHN’S PROPHETIC MINISTRY.

Rev. 10:8-11. — “And the voice which I heard from the Heaven (was) again speaking with me, and saying, Go, take the little book which is opened in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the earth. And I went to the angel, saying to him to give me the little book. And he says to me, Take and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but in thy mouth it shall be sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the hand of the angel, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth as honey, sweet; and when I had eaten it my belly was made bitter. And (he) says to me, Thou must prophesy again as to peoples, and nations, and tongues, and many kings.” The prisoner of Patmos again hears the voice from “the Heaven,” the dwelling of God. The limbs of John may have been fettered, and the wild waves of the sea dash against his rocky prison, but the island was no lonely place for the man whose soul was wrapped up in the visions of God, whose ears heard the songs of the redeemed, and the spoken worship of angels, and who was personally addressed out of Heaven again and again. He is commanded to go to the angel and take out of his hand the little opened book. Instantly he complied. The Speaker was none other than God Himself, and hence obedience was prompt and unqualified. The majesty of the angel had no terrors for John. Undismayed by the divine dignity and grandeur of the all-glorious One Who held the book in His hand the Seer goes in the authority of the Creator and asks for the book. The soul who is obedient, who yields unquestioning submission to the expressed will of God, is for the time omnipotent. He walks and acts in the strength of the Creator, the Maker of Heaven and earth. Fear! He knows it not. The invisible God, seen by faith, makes him invincible in the path of obedience, “immortal till his work is done.”

A further command is given by the angel. The first command was from Heaven to take the book, the second was from earth to eat it. Why bitter in the belly, and sweet in the mouth? Prophecy is both bitter and sweet. We are here dealing with symbols. There should be no more difficulty in understanding the prophet eating the book than in Jeremiah eating the words of Jehovah (Jer. 15:16). To eat is to make the thing one’s own, to incorporate it into one’s being (John 6:49-58). The Christian prophet eating the roll, and finding it both sweet and bitter, reminds us of a similar symbolic action by the Jewish prophet (Ezek. 2:8; Ezek. 3:1-3). The first effect of prophetic communication, the roll in the mouth, was sweetness, the sweetness of honey; but as the revelations are weighed, the judgments they announce considered, the next effect is to cause bitterness and sorrow. Prophecy both gladdens and saddens, as it contains announcements both of joy and grief.

Finally, the Seer was to recommence his prophetic ministry, not to “peoples, and nations, and tongues, and many kings,” but concerning them. He was to prophesy of them. This we find him doing in the following chapter; hence the last verse of chapter 10 naturally leads us into new scenes and circumstances, of which this later prophetic ministry treats. Its character we shall now, through grace, examine.