Expositor's Bible Commentary
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:CHAPTER VII.
FIRST CONSOLATORY VISION.
AT the point now reached by us the regular progress of the Trumpet judgments is interrupted, in precisely the same manner as between the sixth and seventh Seals, by two consolatory visions. The first is contained in Rev. 10, the second in Revelation 11:1-13. At Revelation 11:14 the series of the Trumpets is resumed, reaching from that point to the end of the chapter.
"And I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, arrayed with a cloud: and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand a little book-roll open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left upon the earth: and he cried with a great voice, as a lion roareth: and when he cried, the seven thunders uttered their voices. And when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying, Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. And the angel which I saw standing upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his right hand to heaven, and sware by Him that liveth forever and ever, who created the heaven, and the things that are therein, and the earth, and the things that are therein, and the sea, and the things that are therein, that there shall be time no longer: but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which He declared to His servants the prophets. And the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard it again speaking with me, and saying, Go, take the book-roll which is open in the hand of the angel that standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel, saying unto him that he should give me the little book-roll. And he saith unto me, Take it, 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-roll out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and when I had eaten it, my belly was made bitter. And they say unto me, Thou must prophesy again over many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings (Revelation 10:1-11)."
Many questions of deep interest, and upon which the most divergent opinions have been entertained, meet us in connection with this passage. To attempt to discuss these various opinions would only confuse the reader. It will be enough to allude to them when it seems necessary to do so. In the meantime, before endeavoring to discover the meaning of the vision, three observations may be made; one of a general kind, the other two bearing upon the interpretation of particular clauses.
1. Like almost all else in the Revelation of St. John, the vision is founded upon a passage of the Old Testament. "And when I looked," says the prophet Ezekiel, "behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein. . . . Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, eat what thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that roll. And He said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness. And He said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with My words unto them."* (* Ezekiel 2:9; Ezekiel 3:4)
2. In one expression of Revelation 10:6 it is doubtful whether the translation of the Authorized and Revised Versions, or the marginal translation of the latter, ought to be adopted, whether we ought to read, "There shall be time" or "There shall be delay" no longer. But the former is not only the natural meaning of the original; it would almost seem, from the use of the same word in other passages of the Apocalypse,1 that it is employed by St. John to designate the whole Christian age. That age is now at its very close. The last hour is about to strike. The drama of the world s history is about to be wound up. "For the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, finishing it and cutting it short."2 (1Comp. Revelation 6:11; Revelation 20:3; 2 Romans 9:28).
3. The last verse of the chapter deserves our attention for a moment: And they say unto me, Thou must prophesy again over many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. Although prophecy itself is spoken of in several passages of this book,* we read only once again of prophesying: when it is said in Revelation 11:3 of the two witnesses that they shall prophesy. A comparison of these passages will show that both words are to be understood in the sense of proclaiming the righteous acts and judgments of the Almighty. The prophet of the Apocalypse is not the messenger of mercy only, but of the just government of God. (*Comp. Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:10; Revelation 22:18-19)
From these subordinate points we hasten to questions more immediately concerning us in our effort to understand the chapter. Several such questions have to be asked.
1. Who is the angel introduced to us in the first verse of the vision? He is described as another strong angel; and, as the epithet "strong" has been so used only once before - in Revelation 5:2, in connection with the opening of the book-roll sealed with seven seals - we are entitled to conclude that this angel is said to be "another" in comparison with the angel there spoken of rather than with the many angels that surround the throne of God. But the "strong angel" in chap. 5 is distinguished both from God Himself, and from the Lamb. In some sense, therefore, a similar distinction must be drawn here. On the other hand, the particulars mentioned of this angel lead directly to the conclusion not only that he has Divine attributes, but that he represents no other than that Son of man beheld by St John in the first vision of his book. He is arrayed with a cloud; and in every passage of the Apocalypse where mention is made of such investiture, or in which a cloud or clouds are associated with a person, it is with the Saviour of the world as He comes to judgment.1 Similar language marks also the other books of the New Testament.2 The rainbow was upon his head; and the definite article employed takes us back, not to the rainbow spoken of in the book of Genesis, or to the rainbow which from time to time appears, a well-known object, in the sky, but to that of Revelation 4:3, where we have been told, in the description of the Divine throne, that "there was a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon." The words his face was as the sun do not of themselves prove that the reference is to Revelation 1:16, where it is said of the One like unto a son of man that "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength;" but the propriety of this reference is made almost indubitable by the mention of his feet as pillars of fire, for this last circumstance can only be an allusion to the trait spoken of in Revelation 1:15, "And His feet like unto fine brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace." The combination of these particulars shows how close is the connection between the "strong angel" of this vision and the Divine Redeemer; and the explanation of both the difference and the correspondence between the two is to be found in the remark previously made that in the Apocalypse the "angel" of any person or thing expresses that person or thing in action. Here, therefore, we have the action of Him who is the Head, and King, and Lord of His Church. (1 Revelation 1:7; Revelation 14:14-16. In Revelation 11:12 "the cloud" is the well-known cloud in which Christ ascended, and in which He comes to judgment; 2 Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
2. In what character does the Lord appear? As to the answer to this question there can be no dubiety. He appears in judgment The rainbow upon His head is indeed the symbol of mercy, but it is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that He is Saviour as well as Judge. So far is the Apocalypse from representing the ideas of judgment and mercy as incompatible with each other that throughout the whole book the most terrible characteristic of the former is its proceeding from One distinguished by the latter. If even in itself the Divine wrath is to be dreaded by the sinner, the dread which it ought to inspire reaches its highest point when we think of it as "the wrath of the Lamb." The other features of the description speak directly of judgment: the "cloud," the "sun," the "pillars of fire."
3. What notion are we to form of the contents of the little book-roll? They are certainly not the same as those of the book-roll of chap. 5, although the word here used for the roll, a diminutive from the other, may suggest the idea that there is an intimate connection between the two books, and that the second, like the first, is full of judgment Other circumstances mentioned lead to the same conclusion. Thus the great voice, as a lion roareth, cannot fail to remind us of the voice of "the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah" in chap. 5. The thought of the seven thunders which uttered their voices deepens the impression, for in that number we have the general conception of thunder in all the varied terrors that belong to it; and, whatever the particulars uttered by the thunders were - a point into which it is vain to inquire, as the writing of them was forbidden - their general tone must have been that of judgment But these thunders are a response to the strong angel as he was about to take action with the little book, - "when he cried, the seven thunders uttered their voices," - and the response must have been related to the action. It is clear, therefore, that the contents of the little book cannot have been tidings of mercy to a sinful world; and that that book cannot have been intended to tell the Seer that, notwithstanding the opposition of the powers of darkness, the Church of Christ was to make her way among the nations, growing up from the small seed into the stately tree, and at last covering the earth with the shadow of her branches. Even on the supposition that a conception of this kind could be traced in other parts of the Apocalypse, it would be out of keeping with the particulars accompanying it here. We may without hesitation conclude that the little book-roll has thus the general character of judgment, although, like the larger roll of chap. 5, it may also include in it the preservation of the saints.
We are thus in a position to inquire what the special contents of the little book-roll were. Before doing so one consideration may be kept in view.
Calling to mind the symmetrical structure of the Apocalypse, it seems natural to expect that the relation to one another of the two consolatory visions falling between the Trumpets and the Bowls will correspond to that of the two between the Seals and the Trumpets. The two companies, however, spoken of in these two latter visions, are the same, the hundred and forty and four thousand "out of every tribe of the children of Israel" being identical with the great multitude "out of every nation;" while the contents of the second vision are substantially the same as those of the first, though repeated on a fuller and more perfect scale. Now we shall shortly see that the second of our present consolatory visions - that in chap. 11 - brings out the victory and triumph of a faithful remnant of believers within a degenerate, though professing, Church. How probable does it become that the first consolatory vision - that in chap. 10 - will relate to the same remnant, though on a lower plane alike of battle and of conquest!
Thus looked at, we have good ground for the sup position that the little book-roll contained indications of judgment about to descend on a Church which had fallen from her high position and practically disowned her Divine Master; while at the same time it assured die faithful remnant within her that they would be preserved, and in due season glorified. The little book thus spoke of the hardest of all the struggles through which believers have to pass: that with foes of their own household; but, so speaking, it told also of judgment upon these foes, and of a glorious issue for the true members of Christ’s Body out of toil and suffering.
With this view of the contents of the little book-roll everything that is said of it appears to be in harmony.
1. We thus at once understand why it is named by a diminutive form of the word used for the book-roll in chap. 5. The latter contained the whole counsel of God for the execution of His plans both in the world and in the Church. The former has reference to the Church alone. A smaller roll therefore would naturally be sufficient for its tidings.
2. The action which the Seer is commanded to take with the roll receives adequate explanation. He was to take it out of the hand of the strong angel and to eat it up. The meaning is obvious, and is admitted by all interpreters. The Seer is in his own actual experience to assimilate the contents of the roll in order that he may know their value. The injunction is in beautiful accord with what we otherwise know of the character and feelings of St. John. The power of Christian experience to throw light upon Christian truth and upon the fortunes of Christ’s people is one of the most remarkable characteristics of the fourth Gospel. It penetrates and pervades the whole. We listen to the expression of the Evangelist’s own feelings as he is about to present to the world the image of his beloved Master, and he cries, "We beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten from the Father;" "Of His fullness we all received, and grace for grace."l We notice his comment upon words of Jesus dark to his fellow-Apostles and himself at the time when they were spoken, and he says, "When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He spake this; and they believed the word which Jesus had said."2 (1 Joh 1:14, John 1:16; 2 John 2:22)
Finally, we hear him as he remembers the promise of the Spirit of truth, who was to instruct the disciples, not by new revelations of the Divine will, but by unfolding more largely the fullness that was to be found in Christ: "Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth: for He shall not speak from Himself; but what things soever He shall hear, these shall He speak: and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you."* Everywhere and always Christian experience is the key that unlocks what would otherwise be closed, and sheds light upon what would otherwise be dark. To such experience, accordingly, the contents of the little roll, if they were such as we have understood them to be, must have appealed with peculiar power. In beholding judgment executed on the world, the believer might need only to stand by and wonder, as Moses and Israel stood upon the shore of the Red Sea when the sea, returning to its bed, overwhelmed their enemies. They were safe. They had neither part nor lot with those who were sinking as lead in the mighty waters. It would be otherwise when judgment came upon the Church. Of that Church believers were a part How could they explain the change that had come over her, the purification that she needed, the separation that must take place within what had hitherto been to all appearance the one Zion which God loved? In the former case all was outward; in the latter all is inward, personal, experimental, leading to inquiry and earnest searchings of heart and prayer. A book containing these things was thus an appeal to Christian experience, and St. John might well be told to "eat it up." (* John 16:13-14)
3. The effect produced upon the Seer by eating the little roll is also in accord with what has been said. It shall make thy belly bitter, it was said to him, but in thy mouth it shall be sweet as honey; and the effect followed. It was in my mouth, he says, sweet as honey: and when I had eaten it, my belly was made bitter. Such an effect could hardly follow the mere proclamation of judgment on the world. When we look at that judgment in the light in which it ought to be regarded, and in which we have hitherto regarded it - as the vindication of righteousness and of a Divine and righteous order - the thought of it can impart nothing but joy. But to think that the Church of the living God, the bride of Christ, shall be visited with judgment, and to be compelled to acknowledge that the judgment is deserved; to think that those to whom so much has been given should have given so little in return; to think of the selfishness which has prevailed where love ought to have reigned, of worldliness where there ought to have been heavenliness of mind, and of discord where there ought to have been unity these are the things that make the Christian s reflections "bitter;" they, and they most of all, are his perplexity, his burden, his sorrow, and his cross. The world may disappoint him, but from it he expected little. When the Church disappoints him, the "foundations are overturned," and the honey of life is changed into gall and wormwood.
Combining the particulars which have now been noticed, we seem entitled to conclude that the little book-roll of this chapter is a roll of judgment, but of judgment relating less to the world than to the Church. It tells us that that sad experience of hers which is to meet us in the following chapters ought neither to perplex nor overwhelm us. The experience may be strange, very different from what we might have expected and hoped for; but the thread by which the Church is guided has not passed out of the hands of Him who leads His people by ways that they know not into the hands of an un-sympathizing and hostile power. As His counsels in reference to the world, and to the Church in her general relation to it, contained in the great book-roll of chap. 5, shall stand, so the internal relations of the two parts of His Church to each other, together with the issues depending upon them, are equally under His control. If judgment falls upon the Church, it is not because God has forgotten to be gracious, or has in anger shut up His tender mercies, but because the Church has sinned, because she is in need of chastisement, and because she must be taught that only in direct dependence upon the voice of the Good Shepherd, and not in the closest "fold" that can be built for her, is she safe. Let her "know" Him, and she shall be known of Him even as He is known of the Father.* (*Comp. John 10:1-15)