REVELATION - CHAPTER 10
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
10:1. “And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire.”
Most exegetes agree that this mighty angel is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is unlikely that the description could apply to anyone else. In Ps 97:2 it is written, “Clouds and darkness are round about Him....” One of the visible symbols of the Lord’s presence with Israel in the wilderness was the cloudy pillar. Acts 1:9 records the fact that as the Lord went up into heaven, “... a cloud received Him out of their sight,” while two angels assured the disciples that as He had gone up in a cloud, so would He also come again in the clouds. He Himself, referring to His return to end the Tribulation and establish His millennial kingdom, said, “Then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lk 21:27),and Rev.1:7 declares, “Behold, He cometh with clouds....”
As John in his vision beholds this mighty angel coming down to plant one foot on the earth (symbol of Israel) and the other on the sea (symbol of the Gentile nations), he is seeing, not the Lord’s actual return, but the symbolic presentation of that soon-coming event.
“... and a rainbow was upon his head.” As has been noted already in connection with Re 4:3, the rainbow is the symbol of mercy, and its appearance here is undoubtedly the reminder that His coming, while bringing judgment to unbelievers, brings to believers merciful deliverance from all Tribulation suffering. He is the God Who must punish sin, but He is also the God Who is rich in mercy to all who call upon Him. That God can bestow mercy on an absolutely just basis, is possible only because this One Whose head is seen adorned with a rainbow, was nailed to a cross, and crowned with thorns.
“... and his face was as it were the sun.” This is in sharp contrast with His appearance at Calvary where, “His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” This reference to the sun confirms that the coming portrayed here is in relation to Israel, for while the Church looks for Him to come as “the bright and morning star,” Israel looks for Him to come as “the Sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2). Incidentally, the fact that literally the appearance of the morning star precedes the rising of the sun, is the symbolic assurance of what many other Scriptures also declare: His coming to rapture His Church to heaven will precede His coming in power and glory with her to reign. The Church will be raptured before the Tribulation begins.
“... and his feet as pillars of fire.” Fire is the symbol, not only of divine holiness, but also of divine anger. In contact with holiness, the fire simply manifests the character of holiness: it shows it to be nothing less than the very nature of God, and therefore impervious to harm in the flame. It is a vastly different matter, however, when that same flame comes into contact with that which is not absolutely holy. Then it is what God Himself is, “a consuming fire.”
He Who came to earth once as God’s Lamb, is coming again as God’s Son, God’s King, the mighty Lion of Judah. The feet which once were nailed to the cross, will yet bestride earth and sea “as pillars of fire,” consuming that which is not of God, and manifesting that which is.
10:2. “And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth.”
There is disagreement among commentators as to the identification of the little book. Some take it to be the title deed of earth, and being open in the hand of the angel (Christ), shows Him to be the owner of the inheritance by double right, that of Creator, and also of Redeemer. Others regard it as the symbol of the judgments to fall upon the earth, while still others assume that it is simply the symbolic equivalent of OT prophecy. In this latter context it is considered to be a “little” book because the prophecies are in the themselves relatively small until understood in the light of NT revelation.
In Ez 2:9-3:4 we read of a book which the prophet is commanded to eat, and which is in his mouth as sweet as honey, and the reference is clearly to the Word of God. Again in Jer 15:16 there is also a reference to eating the Word of God and finding thereby joy and rejoicing of heart. In the light of these references, there can be no doubt that the little book in the angel’s hand represents a part of the Word of God, and very possibly the part is prophecy not yet fulfilled, particularly those prophecies which relate to the Tribulation era. John’s being commanded to eat it means simply that he was to read and digest its contents. In regard to its being sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his belly, it is generally accepted that this has reference to what results from sharing God’s counsels as revealed in the Scriptures. There is “sweetness” (joy, pleasure) in understanding that Word, but the bitterness betokens the sorrow that comes from learning of the awful judgments which must fall upon men who continue to defy God, and who refuse His mercy. That the little book, then, represents prophecy not yet fulfilled, seems clear.
Its being open may perhaps signify that God is about to reveal the contents of those judgments, and that the time has come for them to be poured out.
Speculation centers around the fact that the angel’s right foot stands upon the sea, and his left on the earth. The problem is to determine whether literal earth and sea are meant, or whether they are only symbols: the earth, of Israel; and the sea, of the Gentile nations. Controversy is avoided by recognizing that in a sense both interpretations are valid. His dominion is over literal earth and sea, as well as over Israel and the Gentiles.
10:3. “And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.”
The Christ portrayed by the mighty angel cried with a voice like the roar of a lion, for the obvious purpose of drawing attention to the fact that the coming pictured here is in complete contrast with His first advent. Then He came as the Lamb of God to bear away the sin of the world, here He is seen coming as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, to take up the scepter of earth and crush all rebellion under His feet.
In response to His cry seven thunders are heard. The sound is not that of literal thunder, but rather the thunderous voice of God uttering a message which John understood, but which he was forbidden to write. Thunder is frequently used metaphorically of God’s voice, particularly in connection with judgment.
10:4. “And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.”
Since God has chosen not to reveal what the thunders uttered speculation is futile. We should not, however, miss the lesson being conveyed by this instance of divine reticence. Earth is not the place for us to enter into the possession of all knowledge. That is an experience reserved for the eternal state.
Since seven is the number of perfection or completeness, this descriptive detail seems to confirm that this is indeed the voice of God. It is significant that He used natural phenomena to declare His anger when a rebel earth rejected His Son, earth’s rightful King. At Calvary that anger found expression in rending rocks and a quaking earth. It almost seems as though inanimate nature was aware of the enormity of the offense of which man, the guilty perpetrator, was ignorant.
10:5. “And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,”
10:6. “And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.”
Since men are forbidden to swear, Mt 5:34, “Swear not at all...”; James 5:12, “...swear not, neither by heaven....” we find in the swearing of this mighty angel further confirmation that He is Christ, for we have several instances of God’s swearing, e.g., in His promises to Abraham.
“That there should be time no longer,” means simply that there is to be no further delay.
The lifting up of his hand to heaven may indicate that earth is now to acknowledge the authority of heaven. Under the reign of Christ, the will of God will be done on earth. Further confirmation of earth’s submission to heaven’s rule is indicated in the emphasis laid upon God as Creator. Heaven, earth, and sea, and all that are in them, owe their very existence to His creatorial power. That indebtedness may be acknowledged in the uplifted hand of Christ, for since it is not yet the time when God is all in all, Christ, as Head of all creation, and in the present context its Representative, betokens His submission to God the Father. It is not till after the end of the Millennium that the Son will deliver up the kingdom to the Father, as it is written, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (1 Co. 15:24-26).
10:7. “But 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.”
The differences amongst able commentators regarding the term the mystery of God simply point up the difficulty of determining exactly what is meant.
A clue to the correct meaning may be provided in the clause, “as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.” The “mystery of God” may be the whole of the revelation given by Him to the prophets. Prophecy comprises a very large part of Scripture, yet it has to be acknowledged that a great deal of mystery attaches to all of it, and a peculiarity of prophecy is that much of it was meaningless to the men who wrote it, the meaning becoming crystal clear only after the prophecy was fulfilled. The result is that it is the privilege of those now living, to enjoy, from the vantage point of prophetic fulfillment, a clearer understanding of prophecy as a whole than has perhaps been the lot of any past generation. Even so, there are still prophetic mysteries which will be understood only as passing time brings their fulfillment.
The sounding of the last trumpet, then, bringing to pass events foretold, will end the mystery. Just as we today, with Calvary an accomplished fact, can read with perfect understanding, the prophecies (many of them in symbolic language) which foretold it, so the sounding of the seventh trumpet will bring to pass foretold events, the occurrence of which will enable the men of that day to understand those prophecies (which to us are still a mystery), with the same clarity as we understand those having had fulfillment before or during our own day. Thus with the sounding of the seventh trumpet will be brought to pass the foretold events which will end the “mystery of God.”
Some take the mystery to be a reference to God’s patience during this present age in which His failure to deal immediately with sin, has led many in this unbelieving world to conclude very wrongly, either that He does not exist at all, or, if He does, lacks the power or the will to mete out retribution.
Having regard to the fact that prophecy is linked with the mystery, it would seem better however, to adopt the former view.
10:8. “And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.”
Since the identification of the little book has been dealt with in verse 2, it remains only to comment on the command given to John to take it out of the angel’s hand. The command indicates God’s willingness to share His counsels with His servant, but it implies the need of willingness on John’s part to learn the mind of God. He does not reveal Himself to careless indifference. The proof that John is not indifferent is demonstrated in his willingness to do his part in sharing God’s secrets. The book is not placed in his hand and its contents revealed: he must go and take it for himself out of the angel’s hand. Some effort is required on his part.
The salutary lesson of this is that it is a revelation of the way God’s secrets may be learned by all his servants. Knowledge of divine things will not be the possession of the careless indifferent believer. It requires effort to mine the gems buried in the pages of Scripture, but the diligent student finds the effort abundantly rewarding.
10:9. “And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.”
In this verse God would teach us more of the way by which knowledge becomes our possession. Verse 8 records God’s command, “Go and take....” Verse 9 records John’s obedience, “I went.” The disobedient believer will no more become the recipient of knowledge than will the careless.
But faith is also required. God had said, “Go and take,” and the demonstration of John’s faith is that he went, and with complete confidence that his request would be granted, said to the angel, “Give me the little book.” His obedience was rewarded, and his faith justified. The angel’s response was, “Take it.”
If God requires diligence, obedience and faith on the part of all who would possess knowledge, He is a generous Rewarder of those who exercise those virtues. There is no reluctance on His part to give. Seeming reluctance is simply the means by which He tests diligence, obedience and faith.
The confidence with which John approached the angel and said, “Give me the little book,” is the pattern of conduct for all who would share God’s counsels. If there is a sincere desire to learn, willingness to do the necessary work, and an obedient heart, the seeker after wisdom and knowledge will not be sent away empty. Faith can always enjoy the assurance that if we are faithful in our part, God will be faithful in His.
The angel’s response to John’s confident request was, “Take it.” The Divine response to unwavering, confident faith will be always the same. Our “Give me” will always evoke God’s response, “Take it,” as we are assured in Jas 1:5-6, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.”
But God would teach us more. Not only was he given the book, he was given also instructions for its use. He was to “eat it up.” Before being used for any other purpose, it was to be first food for him. The lesson surely is plain. Before I can use the Word to minister to others, it must first have nourished my own soul. Much is implied in that. If the Word has no effect on my own life, my ministry will have none on the lives of others. It must first be my food, if I am to minister it as food to others. Bible knowledge which fills the head, but leaves the heart and life untouched, is worthless. It will puff up, but not build up. The motive for study must be pure.
Having been instructed as to the use of the little book, he was then told what the results would be, “It will make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.”
Commentators are generally agreed that the truth being portrayed here is that the privilege of knowing the mind of God is “sweet,” even though sorrow comes from knowing that eternal torment is to be the portion of those who refuse His salvation.
Since the normal order in eating would be for the effect to be felt in the mouth before being felt in the belly, there is the suggestion that there may be a special reason why the normal order is reversed here, and the effect upon the belly described first. One thought at least, suggests itself. The bitterness in the belly, speaking of sorrow, reminds us that love alone begets such sorrow. If we have no love for those who make themselves the heirs of judgment, there will be no sorrow for their misery. God sets a high premium on love. The bitterness of belly therefore comes before the sweetness in the mouth which speaks of the effect on the intellect rather than on the heart.
10:10. “And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.”
In Jn 13:23 it is written, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” Did not the Lord love all the disciples? Of course He did! But there is implied here a special love for this one disciple. That disciple, it is agreed by most exegetes, was John. This tenth chapter of Revelation indicates at least one obvious reason for the Lord’s special love for John. If what is recorded here is any clue to the character of the beloved disciple, then it was his obedience that commended him to his Lord. In response to the Lord’s command in verse 8, “Go,” he went; and when the angel commanded him “Take it, and eat it up,” he obeyed.
Obedience makes sinners heirs of eternal life; and saints, heirs of eternal reward. Disobedience and spiritual penury go hand in hand.
10:11. “And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.”
Since John was an old man near the end of his life when he wrote the Revelation, and there is no indication that his ministry continued much beyond that, it would seem that the mention here of further testimony has reference to those who would hear the Revelation read. The audience which was first to hear his prophecy was composed of those who made up the seven churches, but during the past twenty centuries he has indeed prophesied again. That original small audience has been multiplied into a countless multitude as each succeeding generation has added its quota of hearers, that audience including virtually all nations, past and present, and the pauper as well as the prince.