Tagged: time no more

The mighty angel and the small scroll: Revelation 10

Previously: 200 million mounted troops – Revelation 9:13-21

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)

An interlude between woes

There is an interlude between the second and third woes (the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments), just as there is a pause between the sixth and seventh seal judgments. John sees a mighty angel descend from heaven and stand with one foot on land and one in the sea. He holds a “little scroll” in his hand. The angel roars like a lion, prompting the seven thunders to speak; but what they say is sealed up and hidden, at least for now.

The mighty angel proclaims, “There will no longer be an interval of time.” When the seventh angel blows his trumpet, “God’s hidden plan” will be completed.

A voice from heaven tells John to take the scroll from the mighty angel. As the angel gives the open scroll to John, he tells the apostle to eat it. John obeys and finds the scroll as sweet as honey in his mouth but bitter in his stomach.

Finally, John is told that his work is far from finished; he must “prophesy again about many people, nations, languages, and kings.”

Why is there a break in the action between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments? Who is the mighty angel that roars like a lion? Who are the seven thunders that speak, and why is John forbidden from revealing what they say? Why is there to be no more delay before God’s hidden plan is completed? What is written on the scroll in the mighty angel’s hand? Why is John told to eat the scroll? And why is it sweet to the tongue but bitter to the stomach?

This chapter is filled with vivid imagery and rich meaning. Let’s move slowly through these verses.

Another mighty angel

John sees “another mighty angel” coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face is like the sun. His legs are as fiery pillars. He stands with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and his voice is like a roaring lion’s. What a magnificent image of a powerful heavenly being. So magnificent, in fact, that many commentators conclude this is Christ.

And perhaps he is. There are similarities between this “mighty angel” and Jesus as He is depicted in Revelation 1 and Revelation 19. But there also are differences – among them, the fact that the angel in Revelation 10 is called “another mighty angel,” whereas Jesus is unique and there is no one like Him. Also, in Revelation 1 John falls at Jesus’ feet in worship, but he does not worship this angel, even though he mistakenly worships an angel in Revelation 22. Jesus, we should remember, is never called an angel in Revelation.

Finally, in verse 6 the mighty angel swears an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, an inappropriate action for the Messiah, who is God and needs to swear no oath, for merely in speaking He guarantees the truth of His words and the surety of His promises.* For these reasons, it appears best to understand this mighty angel as a powerful heavenly messenger who, like John, worships and serves Christ.

In calling him “another mighty angel,” John may be distinguishing him from the mighty angel we encounter in Rev. 5:2, who proclaims, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Or John may be setting this mighty angel apart from the other angels who sound the seven trumpets. In any case, this appears to be a mighty angel who instills awe in the human observer yet is not divine.

Notice how John describes the mighty angel:

  • Coming down from heaven. As W.A. Criswell notes, this is not so much a point of departure as a description of his abode. He is a heavenly creature, familiar with the presence of the triune Godhead and the trappings of the throne room.
  • Surrounded by a cloud. The English Standard Version renders it “wrapped in a cloud” and the New American Standard Bible says he is “clothed with a cloud.” God often is identified with clouds. He leads Israel out of Egypt and through the desert by a cloud. Dark clouds cover Mt. Sinai when He delivers the Law. He appears to Moses in a cloud of glory. The Psalmist writes that He “makes the clouds His chariot” (Ps. 104:3). A cloud receives Jesus when He ascends into heaven. And when He returns it will be with clouds. This phrase alone may cause some to conclude that the mighty angel is Jesus. Yet for the reasons stated above, this likely is not the Lord. Consider that people are sometimes identified with clouds in service to the Lord. For example, the writer of Hebrews tells us we are surrounded by “a large cloud of witnesses,” those who have gone into heaven before us. And note that the Lord’s two witnesses are carried up to heaven in “a cloud” in Rev. 11:12.
  • A rainbow over his head. Some render it, “with a halo on his head.” Many see this as an allusion to Rev. 4:3, where we see an emerald rainbow surrounding the throne. At the very least, the rainbow is a sign of our covenant-keeping God. This does not necessarily mean the mighty angel in Revelation 10 is Christ, however, for the Lord employs angels in His covenant work.
  • With his face like the sun. This follows the description of Jesus in Rev. 1:16 and on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matt. 17:2. Even so, consider that Moses’ face “shone as a result of speaking with the Lord” so that he wore a veil to keep from frightening his fellow Israelites (Ex. 34:29-35). And other passages of scripture suggest that believers acquire a radiance in God’s presence (Judges 5:31; Dan. 12:3; Matt. 13:43). Remember, too, that angels, who reside in God’s presence, often are associated with bright light (see, for example, Luke 2:9). Even Satan may disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), although there is no suggestion in John’s vision that this mighty angel is anything but holy.
  • Legs like fiery pillars. This angel comes in judgment. Even though Jesus is depicted as One with “feet like fine bronze fired in a furnace” (Rev. 1:15), He also sends out His angels as “a fiery flame” (Heb. 1:7).
  • A little scroll in his hand. Some see this as the same scroll of Rev. 5:1. Two different Greek words are used to describe them (biblion and biblaridion), but they come from the same root word (biblos). Perhaps the most fitting tie is to the scroll Ezekiel is commanded to eat before prophesying to the house of Israel (Eze. 2:8 – 3:14).
  • His right foot on the sea, his left on the land. Many commentators believe this symbolizes a universal message, one for both Jews and Gentiles. The angel seems extraordinarily large, although John does not tell us his height and he could in fact simply be the size of a man standing on the shoreline. The rabbis in the Talmud discuss an angel named Sandelfon, who stands 500 miles taller than other angels (Hagigah 13b).
  • A loud voice like a roaring lion. The word translated “roaring” (mukaomai) usually is used for the voice of oxen, a low bellow. However, it seems an appropriate allusion to Old Testament passages where the Lord speaks as a lion (Jer. 25:30; Hosea 11:10; Joel 3:16; Amos 3:8). More to the point, throughout Revelation we see angels speaking with commanding voices (Rev. 5:2, 4:9, etc.).

So, while many commentators identify this mighty angel as Jesus – and again, perhaps he is – it seems best to see this figure as a powerful angelic messenger of the Lord, one with an awe-inspiring appearance and magnificent power who speaks on behalf of Almighty God and whose voice carries an ambassadorial authority.

It’s possible that this mighty creature is the same angel we encounter in Rev. 5:2, who proclaims with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Perhaps, as well, it’s the angel of Rev. 7:2, who has the seal of the living God and who instructs four other angels in a loud voice not to harm the earth until the servants of the Lord are sealed. Additionally, it could be the angel of Rev. 8:3-5, who carries a gold incense burner and stands before the altar in heaven, then takes coals from the fire and hurls them to earth.

Finally, it could be the angel we will see in Rev. 18:1, who comes down from heaven with great authority and illuminates the earth with his splendor. Some commentators suggest this is Michael the archangel, whose name means “one like God.” However, because John calls him “another mighty angel,” he simply may be a unique contemporary of the others.

W.A. Criswell summarizes, “More than sixty times, besides the reference to the angels of the seven churches, are angels referred to in the Revelation, and every time the reference is to their employment in the service to God. So this angel is a glorious servant of the most High God” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 198).

Next: A little scroll opened in his hand – Revelation 10