A Strong Angel and the Seven Thunders: A Study in Revelation 10
Revelation 10 is one of the less famous portions of the most famous book in the Bible. That is unfortunate, for it tells us much of the eschatological purposes of God, not to mention the mystery of the seven thunders. One other important element to note is the place of the chapter in the structure of the book.
We earlier saw that a parenthesis or dramatic interlude (7:1-17) stands between the sixth and seventh seal judgments. Here, too, we have a parenthetical pause or digression (10:1-11:13) between the sixth and seventh trumpets. We also saw that the events of 7:1-17 do not chronologically follow those of 6:1-17 but rather describe the same period of time from another, but related, perspective. Likewise, whereas the first six trumpets have focused on judgments that unbelieving “earth-dwellers” suffer throughout the church age, the parenthesis in 10:1-11:13 explains the relationship between the unbeliever and the believer during that same time. Ladd also points out that “in the present instance, the interlude is directly preparatory for the continuation of the trumpet visions, for one of the purposes of the interlude is to announce that ‘in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God, as he announced to his servants the prophets, should be fulfilled’ (10:7). Then John the prophet is prepared by a renewed commission for his mission in communicating to men the consummation of God’s redemptive purpose” (140).
There is also a theological parallel between the two parentheses (i.e., between the content of 7:1-17 and the content of 10:1-11:13). In chapter seven believers are sealed or protected against the spiritually destructive impact of the first six seals. Likewise, in chapter eleven believers are protected (“measured”) against the spiritually destructive impact of the trumpets and the beast.
Here John sees “another strong angel coming down out of heaven”. See 5:2 for the first reference to a “strong angel”. In both instances they cry out “with a loud voice” (5:2; 10:3). Some believe this “angel” in chp. 10 is, in fact, the person of Christ himself or perhaps “the angel of the Lord” referred to often in the OT (see Gen. 16:10; 22:11-18; 24:7; 31:11-13; Exod. 3:2-12; 14:19; Judges 2:1; 6:22; 13:20-22). Against this suggestion is the fact that the word translated “angel” (angelos) is never used elsewhere in Revelation of anything but a created, heavenly being (whether good or evil). Also, the “angel of the Lord” was a distinctly pre-incarnate manifestation of God. Now that the Son of God has appeared (permanently) in the flesh, it would be unlikely, if not impossible, for him to assume the guise or form of an “angelic” being. But let us note how he is portrayed:
·“clothed with a cloud” – In the OT the “clouds” are often the vehicle or means by which God makes an appearance.
·“the rainbow was upon his head” – This is probably an allusion to Ezek. 1:26-28 where God is described in similar terms. The only other reference in Revelation to the “rainbow” is in 4:3.
·“his face was like the sun” – This recalls the description of the risen Jesus in Rev. 1:16 (cf. Mt. 17:2 and the transfiguration of Jesus).
·“his feet like pillars of fire” – This also points back to 1:15 and the description of the risen and glorified Jesus. This also may point to Exod. 13:21 and the “pillar of fire” by which God guided Israel at night.
·We should also note that in 10:3 his voice is compared to a lion roaring. Christ is compared to a lion in 5:5.
These factors would appear to indicate that the “angel” in chp. 10 is the risen Christ. However, it may simply be that the angel is portrayed in such terms because he represents Christ and speaks authoritatively on his behalf. If this being is in fact an angel it may well be Gabriel whose name literally means “mighty one of God”.
·He holds “in his hand a little book which was open”. The Greek word is biblaridion, which is a diminutive of biblarion, which itself is a diminutive of biblion, which is the word used in Rev. 5:1ff., translated “scroll”. Is this “little scroll” in chp. 10 identical with the “scroll” of chp. 5? Richard Bauckham says yes and marshals forth the following evidence:
(1) In the Greek of this period most words which are diminutive in form no longer carry a diminutive meaning. Bauckham points to examples of diminutives elsewhere in Revelation where this is true: “beast” (therion) and “lamb” (arnion) being two. Even if “little scroll” retains its diminutive meaning, there may be reasons for this. Perhaps the scroll is “little” in comparison with the “strong” angel who straddles land and sea (5:2). Also, perhaps the scroll is portrayed as “little” because it must be small enough for John to eat (5:9).
(2) He argues that the only other occurrences of biblaridion in Greek literature are in the Shepherd of Hermas, a document roughly contemporary with John, where the word is used interchangeably with biblion (Vision 2.1,4).
(3) John creates an obvious literary link between chapters 5 and 10 by opening both chapters with a reference to a “mighty angel”. This lends some support to the idea that the “scrolls” in the two chapters are identical.
(4) Bauckham argues that the scroll in the hand of God in Rev. 5:1 is patterned after Ezek. 2:9-10, which is also the model for Rev. 10:8-10. In Ezek. 2:9-10 we read, “I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” Although there are differences between Ezek 2 and Rev. 5,10, Bauckham contends that “the pattern of allusion to Ezekiel’s prophetic commissioning in Ezekiel 2:8-3:3 shows that John intends Revelation 5 and 10 to tell a single story of his own reception of a prophetic revelation which is symbolized by the scroll” (Climax, 247).
(5) Identifying the two scrolls solves the question of the nature and content of the scroll in Rev. 5. Bauckham contends that the scroll of Rev. 5 cannot be opened until its seven seals are broken. This being the case, it should be “obvious that the scroll whose last seal is broken at 8:1 then appears opened . . . at 10:2” (250). Or, as Beale points out, “the scroll in Ezek. 2:9-10, on which the books [scrolls] of Revelation 5 and 10 are modeled, was at first not opened and then was opened by God so that the prophet could read it, which suggests that the book of ch. 10 was at first not opened (in ch. 5) and then was unsealed for John” (530). The content of the scroll is God’s “secret purpose for establishing his kingdom on earth. From chapter 4 we know that God’s kingdom must come: the scroll will reveal how it is to come” (249). Perhaps the book in 10 is called “little” precisely because its contents are smaller than the book in 5. That is to say, the book of 10 describes a smaller portion of God’s eternal purpose in Christ (in particular, 11:1-13), the whole of which story is found in the larger book of chp. 5.
·“he placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land” – This points to the dominion over all creation of this being, or better still, of the One whom he represents, embodies, and for whom he speaks. We should also note that “the heavenly being’s sovereignty over ‘sea and land’ shows that God is also ultimately in control over the dragon when the dragon ‘stands on the sand of the sea’ (12:18) to conjure up the beast ‘from the sea’ (13:1) and the ‘beast arising from the earth’” (Beale, 529).
Aune suggests that the imagery of this “angel” is similar to what we know of the Colossos of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Colossos was a bronze statue erected in 280 b.c. by Charles of Lindos. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 224 b.c. It was approximately 70 cubits high (105 feet). “According to a popular but erroneous view, the Colossos stood astride the harbor of Rhodes permitting ships to pass through its legs; actually it stood on a promontory overlooking the harbor” (Aune, 2:556).
What are the “seven thunders” and why was John prohibited from writing down in Revelation their content? The presence of the definite article with the phrase “the seven thunders” may be referring back to something familiar to John’s audience. In other words, it may imply that “the seven thunders” are “an entity already known to them” (Aune, 2:559). They may even be based on Psalm 29 where we read that “the God of glory thunders” (v. 3). His judgments are equated with his “voice” which is then mentioned seven times.
In 6:1, one of the four living creatures is said to speak with “a voice of thunder”, a phrase also found in 19:6-8 where the people of God give voice to their praise. It may be that the “thunders” are, like the seals, trumpets, and bowls, judgments that have been entrusted to seven additional angels. Why is John not permitted to write down what he heard them say? Several options
·William Hendriksen writes: “The meaning is clearly this: never shall we be able to know and to describe all the factors and agencies that determine the future. We know the meaning of the lampstands, the seals, the trumpets, the bowls, etc., but there are other forces at work; there are other principles that are operating in this universe, namely, the seven thunders. What they are we do not know. Hence, let us be very careful in making predictions regarding the future: we may be leaving out a very important factor” (149-50). His point is that by withholding this information God is compelling us to rely more fervently on Him.
·Some see here an echo of Paul’s experience in 2 Cor. 12:4 where the apostle was not permitted to share the revelatory experience he had while in the third heaven.
·G. B. Caird suggests that God “has cancelled the doom of which they [the thunders] were the symbol” (126), an expression of his mercy in providing opportunity for people to repent. But as Beale notes, “this proposal is hard to harmonize with the fact that later John does write down the revelation of the seven bowls of judgment” (534). But if the bowls are temporally parallel with the seals and trumpets, this objection lacks substance. However, Beale goes on to point out that “the metaphor of ‘seal up’ refers throughout apocalyptic literature, especially Daniel, not to canceling future events but either to delayed fulfillment of predestined events in the present or to not revealing how such events will be fulfilled” (534).
·Perhaps the thunders are withheld because it has already been demonstrated that such plagues and judgments do not bring people to repentance. Therefore, final judgment will now come. There will be no further “delay” (10:6). One need not wait for the thunders to witness the end of history. John is not allowed to write down the seven peals of thunder because they will never occur. Bauckham puts it this way:
“It is probable that the seven thunders represent a further series of limited, warning judgments, which are revoked. After the judgments of the seal-openings, affecting a quarter of the world, and those of the trumpets, affecting a third of the world, we might expect a series of judgments of even greater severity, affecting half the world. But warning judgments have proved ineffective (9:20-21). There are to be no more series of limited judgments. The next and final series of seven judgments which Revelation depicts are those of the seven bowls (15:1,5-16:21), which are unlimited in their effect and lead immediately to the final destruction of evil” (Climax, 259).
This is clearly an allusion to Dan. 12:7 where Daniel encountered a “man [angel] dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever . . .” It would appear that “raising the right hand to heaven when an oath is taken is a gesture that symbolically appeals to God, who dwells in heaven and therefore sees and knows everything, as a witness to the oath (Deut. 32:40; Ps. 106:26)” (Aune, 2:564)
The content of his oath is that “there shall be delay no longer” (v. 6). Literally it reads, “the time will be no longer,” but “this is not to be understood in a technical philosophical sense that at the end of history there will be an abolition of time, which is to be replaced by timelessness. . . . The idea here is that there is a predetermined time in the future when God’s purposes for history will be completed. . . . The point is that when God has decided to complete his purposes and to terminate history, there will be no delay in its termination” (Beale, 538-39).
Although John has already been instructed to prophesy in 1:10 and 4:1-2, here we find a formal recommissioning. The instructions given to John by the angel are patterned after Ezekiel’s experience where he, too, is commanded to eat the scroll (Ezek. 2-3; see also the experience of Jeremiah in 15:16 of his prophecy). The eating of the scroll symbolizes the spiritual “assimilation” of the message it contains and the prophet’s personal identification with and submission to its truth (“Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I shall speak to you and listen closely,” Ezek. 3:10).
The book is sweet in his mouth because of the joy and delight which God’s word brings to the believer (see Ezek. 3:3; Jer. 15:16; Pss. 19:10; 119:103; Prov. 16:21-24; 24:13-14) and also because of the blessings to God’s people that the outworking of the divine purpose will bring. Its bitterness, however, is more difficult to interpret. Generally, two reasons have been suggested as to why the book turns bitter in John’s stomach:
(1)Although salvation is certain for the people of God, the book contains a prophecy of harsh persecution they must suffer at the hands of Satan and the Beast before entrance into the bliss of eternal fellowship and joy with Christ.
(2)The book is bitter because it contains a prophecy of the judgments which must soon fall upon unbelievers. This bitterness may simply be a reflection of what they will experience, or it may also be an expression of John’s personal feelings as he contemplates their ultimate demise.
Beasley-Murray seeks to combine both views:
“ . . . it is more suitable to view the vision of the scroll as illustrating the mixture of joy and pain which the word of God by its varied contents conveys, rather than the joy of receiving it followed by the pain of understanding and declaring it. The duality of joy and pain applies equally to the word for the Church as it does to the word for the world. For the Church must learn the weight of the cross before she participates in the glory of the kingdom, and the world must learn the reality of judgment before it experiences the grace of the kingdom” (175).
Here John is addressed by a plurality of beings: “they said to me.” Up till now, John has heard only a singular voice. These may be the angel of 10:1-3 together with the “voice from heaven” in 15:4,8. “Or the plural may represent the consensus of Yahweh’s angelic council” (Beale, 554).
There is uncertainty in the translation of John’s instructions. Some contend that he is to prophesy “concerning” or “about” the peoples, nations, tongues, and kings, while others argue he is to prophesy “against” them.