A little scroll opened in his hand: Revelation 10

Previously: The mighty angel and the small scroll

The scripture

Rev. 10:1 – Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like fiery pillars, 2and he had a little scroll opened in his hand. He put his right foot on the sea, his left on the land, 3and he cried out with a loud voice like a roaring lion. When he cried out, the seven thunders spoke with their voices. 4And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. Then I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down!”

5Then the angel that I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. 6He swore an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: “There will no longer be an interval of time, 7but in the days of the sound of the seventh angel, when he will blow his trumpet, then God’s hidden plan will be completed, as He announced to His servants the prophets.”

8Now the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “God, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”

9So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take and eat it; it will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”

10Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter. 11And I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” (HCSB)

A little scroll opened in his hand (v. 2)

John notes that the mighty angel has “a little scroll opened in his hand” (v. 2). Later in this chapter we will see that John, for the first time, becomes an actor in this drama as he is instructed to take the scroll and eat it. It seems reasonable to view the little scroll here as the same scroll we see in Revelation 5, which the Lamb takes from the hand of the One seated on the throne. The same root word for scroll, biblos, is used in both instances (biblion in the first and biblaridion in the second), the only difference being that in Revelation 5 it is described as being “sealed” while in Revelation 10 the emphasis is upon it being “opened.”

Interpreters who say it is the same scroll explain that the scroll in the hand of God in Revelation 5 represents forfeited inheritance, or the title deed to the earth that Satan takes from Adam at the Fall. But as the Lamb receives the scroll from God the Father and opens each seal, He unveils the Good News – that He has come to defeat the usurper, pay humanity’s sin debt, and redeem the earth and its inhabitants. Now, in Revelation 10, the scroll lies fully opened; the redemption story has been told and what remains are the final acts of human history culminating in the personal, physical and visible return of our Lord.

Since John has witnessed the opening of the scroll’s seven seals (Rev. 6:1-8:5), it makes sense that the scroll is now fully opened. And just as the Lamb takes the scroll in the presence of a mighty angel in Revelation 5, it follows that John is commanded to take the same scroll from another (some  say the same) mighty angel and “eat it” in Revelation 10. The fact that the scroll is described as “little” in this passage could be a matter of revelation. Once the seals have been broken and the divine story told, it is now time to “eat,” or internalize, the Word of God, so the scroll is of a size that John can consume. Many times in scripture we are commanded to take God’s Word into our minds so that it directs our thoughts, words and actions. For example, the Psalmist writes, “I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11). And the Israelites are commanded in Deut. 18:18, “Impress these words of Mine on your hearts and souls, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads.”

The seven thunders spoke (vv. 3-4)

The mighty angel now puts his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. In effect, he is claiming possession of the world for God. When someone sets foot on a piece of land, it often symbolizes his intention to take it as his own. The Lord tells His people in Deuteronomy 11, as they are about to step into the Promised Land, “Every place the sole of your foot treads will be yours” (v. 24). He repeats the message in Joshua 1: “I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses” (v. 3). The apostle Paul instructs us, “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity” – more specifically, a beachhead or a foothold (Eph. 4:26-27); once Satan claims a tiny portion of our lives, he guards it ferociously as if it’s his property, even though our whole beings belong to God. The mighty angel has a message for Jew and Gentile alike, for believer and unbeliever: he is reclaiming the earth on behalf of our Kinsman Redeemer, and he claims it while standing on the earth and sea.

When the mighty angel cries out with a loud voice, “the seven thunders” speak with their voices. Who, or what, are the seven thunders? To begin, it’s important to note that these thunders are well known; they are the seven thunders. Some say this is the voice of God, for often in scripture His voice is compared to thunder (Job 26:14, 37:5; Ps. 29; John 12:28-29). There also is thunder at the opening of the seventh seal and the pouring of the seventh vial, concluding events in cycles of the Lord’s judgment upon the earth. This booming voice could be coming from God’s throne, although John doesn’t say (Rev. 4:5). The thunders could even relate to the seven spirits of God (Rev. 1:4, 4:5, 5:6). The thunders are said to speak with “their voices,” indicating a plurality of sounds, but unified in their message, for John clearly understands what is being spoken and begins to write it down.

At this point, however, there is a voice from heaven, saying “Seal up what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down!” John has been faithfully recording what he sees and hears, but now he is told that this particular message is to remain hidden, at least for a time. Perhaps it is because the seven thunders speak something to be revealed later in Revelation; by the time we get to Rev. 22:10, John is told, “Don’t seal the prophetic words of this book, because the time is near.” This is not unprecedented in scripture. At least three times, Daniel is prohibited from sharing what has been revealed to him because those things are for “many days in the future,” or “the time of the end” (see Dan. 8:26; 12:4, 9). Or perhaps there simply are some things God determines should not be shared. The apostle Paul has a unique experience in 2 Corinthians 12 where he is taken up into the third heaven – the throne of God – and hears “inexpressible words, which a man is not allowed to speak” (v. 4). Is it possible that some experiences in the presence of Almighty God are so awe-inspiring, so wonderful, so frightening that there is no earthly way to express them?

John does not protest. He obeys the prohibition against writing down the words of the seven thunders and moves on. Perhaps we should as well.

Next: There will no longer be an interval of time