Tuesday, September 14, 2021

39: The Revelation: The Little Book and the Two Great Witnesses - Part 1 (Revelation 10:1–11:14)

Before the seventh trumpet sounds there will be an interlude, which stretches from Revelation 10:1 to 11:14, allowing John to pause and assimilate the startling truths that have just been revealed to him. The interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets parallels similar interludes in the seal and bowl judgments. These interludes encourage God’s people in the midst of the fury and horror of divine judgment. During the interludes God comforts His people with the knowledge that He has not forgotten them, and that they will ultimately be victorious.

That is especially true in the longest of the three interludes, this one between the sixth and seventh trumpets. Believers alive during that time will endure the unimaginable horrors of a sin-infected world. God will comfort and reassure them that He has not forgotten them and that He still controls events and protects His own.


Revelation Chapter 10 describes the opening events of this interlude preparing for the final trumpet blast by highlighting five unusual occurrences: an unusual angel, an unusual act, an unusual answer, an unusual announcement, and an unusual assignment.

An Unusual Angel

"I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire; and he had in his hand a little book which was open." (Rev. 10:1–2a)

As it does throughout Revelation, John’s words “I saw” mark the beginning of a new vision. Following his vision of the first six trumpets, John saw a vision of someone new. This strong angel is distinct from the seven angels who sound the seven trumpets. Noting the similarities between his description and that of Christ in 1:12–17, and that he, like Christ, descends in a cloud (1:7), some identify this angel as Jesus Christ. However, this is very unlikely. First, the Greek word for “another” indicates another of the same kind, like the previously mentioned trumpet angels. Second, whenever Jesus Christ appears in Revelation, John gives Him an unmistakable title. Third, other strong angels appear in Revelation (5:2; 18:21). Fourth, Christ could not take the action of verses 5 and 6, raising “his right hand to heaven, and [swearing] by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it.” Since He is God, the risen, Jesus Christ would swear by Himself (cf. Hebrews 6:13). Finally, this angel came down out of heaven to the earth. To identify him as Christ is to add another coming of Christ to the earth.

Having introduced this powerful angel, John describes his spectacular attire. He was clothed with a cloud, wearing the drapery of the sky over his mighty shoulders. That symbolizes his power and the fact that he comes bringing judgment. Clouds are elsewhere associated with the second coming of Christ in judgment (1:7; 14:14–16; Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27).

John also saw a “rainbow upon his head.” Iris (rainbow) was the Greek goddess who personified the rainbow and served as a messenger of the gods. In classical Greek iris was used to describe any bright halo surrounding another object, such as the circle surrounding the eyes on a peacock’s tail, or the iris of an eye. Here it describes the brilliant, many-colored rainbow around the angel’s head, which reflects his glorious splendor.

While the cloud symbolizes judgment, the rainbow represents God’s covenant mercy in the midst of judgment (4:3). After the flood, God gave the rainbow as the sign of His promise never again to destroy the world by water (Genesis 9:12–16). The rainbow with which the angel is crowned will reassure God’s people of His mercy in the midst of coming judgments.

Moving on to describe the angel’s appearance, John notes first that “his face was like the sun.” His brilliant, radiant glory lit up the earth like the blazing sun. John next described the angel’s feet and legs as being like firm, stable, immovable pillars of fire. That symbolizes his unbending holiness in stamping out his judgment on the earth, pictured here as fire that consumes the ungodly.

The angel held “in his hand a little book which was open.” This is probably the same book described in Revelation 5:1, “sealed up with seven seals” and then opened in Revelation 6. Some argue that the use of the diminuitive “little” in 10:2 distinguishes this book from the book of 5:1. Rather than distinguishing this book from the one in chapter 5, the diminutive form merely adds a further description of it in this vision. The book needed to be made smaller for the sake of the symbolism of this vision, since John was to eat it (10:9–10). Further, the use of the perfect participle form—“which was open”—emphasizes the idea of the scroll being open; having been opened, it is to remain open. That further identifies it with the fully unrolled scroll of 6:1ff as seal after seal is broken. The little book lying open in this unusual angel’s hand unveils all the terrors of divine judgment yet to come.

An Unusual Act

"He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land; and he cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars; and when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices." (Rev. 10:2b–3)

That the angel put one foot on the sea and the other on the land shows his massive size from the perspective of John’s vision. This action of the angel demonstrates God’s sovereign authority to judge the entire earth (cf. 7:2; Exodus 20:11; 1 Corinthians 10:26), which He will soon take back from Satan. The angel’s act also symbolically anticipates the coming judgments of the seventh trumpet and the seven bowls on the whole earth.

In keeping with his huge size, the angel “cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars.” His loud cry reflects the power and authority of God. The Old Testament prophets also connect a loud, lionlike roaring voice with judgment (Jeremiah 25:30; Hosea 11:10; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2; 3:8).

After the angel cried out, an amazing thing happened—“the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices.” “Seven” speaks of completeness and perfection. “Thunder” is often a mark of judgment in Scripture (8:5; 11:19; 16:18; 1 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 22:14). These seven loud, powerful voices cry out for vengeance and judgment upon the sinful earth. The thunder was separate from the angel’s voice and may have represented the voice of God (1 Samuel 7:10; Psalm 18:13). The text does not reveal what the thunder said, but hearing it certainly would have added to the terror of the scene of judgment (see also 8:5; 11:19; 16:18).

An Unusual Answer

"When the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.” (Rev. 10:4)

The seven peals of thunder did not merely make a loud noise, but communicated information that John was about to write. In obedience to God’s commands, John had already written much of what he saw in his visions. Later in Revelation, John would once again be commanded to write what he saw in his visions (14:13; 19:9; 21:5).

But before John could record the message of the seven peals of thunder, he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.” Whether the voice was that of the Father, Jesus Christ, or an angel is not revealed. The command, however, clearly originated with God. The reason John was forbidden to record the message is not revealed. It may be that the judgment is simply too terrifying to be recorded. Any speculation as to the specific content of their message is pointless. If God had wanted it to be known, He would not have forbidden John to write it. They are the only words in the book of Revelation that are sealed.

An Unusual Announcement

"Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there will be delay no longer, but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets." (Rev. 10:5–7)

In a solemn act, the angel whom John “saw standing on the sea and on the land” (verse 2) “lifted up his right hand to heaven”—the standard gesture for taking a solemn vow (Deuteronomy 32:40; Daniel 12:7). To take such a vow is to affirm before God that one is going to speak the truth. That vow indicated that what the angel was about to say was of the utmost importance and truthfulness.

The angel took his vow in the name of “Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it.” That designation of God stresses His eternity and sovereign power in and over all creation. This identification of God as Creator echoes the praise song of the twenty-four elders recorded in 4:11: “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

The specific content of the angel’s oath was that there will be delay no longer, answering the question of the martyrs, “How long?” (6:10), and the prayers of the saints in 8:3–5. The phrase “but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound” indicates that the judgment of the seventh trumpet is about to come and that it is not a single event, but covers days, indicating a period of time. This period includes the seven bowl judgments (16:1–21), which would appear to require some weeks or months to unfold. The sounding of the seventh trumpet brings the final judgment depicted in the bowls of fury poured out on the earth. The time of God’s patience is seen as having ended. The time for the final acts of judgment is seen as being at hand. The time anticipated in the disciples’ questions recorded in Matthew 24:3 and Acts 1:6 has come.

At that time “the mystery of God is finished.” Mystery in Scripture refers to truths God has hidden and will reveal in His time. Mysteries hidden in the past that the New Testament reveals include the “mysteries of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:11), the mystery of Israel’s blindness (Romans 11:25), the mystery of the rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51), the “mystery of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7), the “mystery of Christ” and of “Christ and the church” (Ephesians 3:4; 5:32), the mystery of Christ in the believer (Colossians 1:26–27), and the mystery of the incarnation (1 Timothy 3:16). Paul saw himself as a “steward” or guardian of these great mysteries (1 Corinthians 4:1), to “bring to light” these mysteries “which for ages [have] been hidden in God” (Ephesians 3:9).

The mystery of God of which the angel spoke is that of “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10). It is the consummation of God’s plan in bringing His glorious kingdom in Christ to fulfillment. It involves the salvation of the elect and their place in His glorious kingdom and all that goes with that. It includes the judgment of men and demons. The mystery previously hidden refers to all the unknown details that are revealed from this point to the end of Revelation, when the new heavens and new earth are created. To believers living at that time in a world overrun by demons and unparalleled natural disasters, the realization that God’s glorious plan is on schedule will bring great comfort and hope in the midst of judgment.

An Unusual Assignment

"Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. And they said to me, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” (Rev. 10:8–11)

The voice John had earlier heard from heaven (verse 4) forbidding him to record the words of the seven peals of thunder spoke to him again. As he had earlier (1:17; 4:1; 5:4–5; 7:13–14), John again became an active participant in this vision. He left the place of an observer to become an actor in the drama. The voice said to him, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” This third reference to the location of the angel emphasizes strongly the unusual authority he has over the earth. Then, in a graphic illustration of what a proper response on the part of believers to God’s impending judgment should be, John was told, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” The angel knew what John’s reaction to this truth would be. Obediently, like Ezekiel before him (Ezekiel 2:9–3:3), John in the vision symbolically took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it.

The act of eating the scroll symbolized the absorbing and assimilating of God’s Word (cf. Psalm 19:10; Jeremiah 15:16; Ezekiel 3:1–3). When John took in the divine words concerning the remaining judgments as the Lord took possession of the universe, he found them both “sweet as honey” and “bitter.” Sweet because John, like all believers, wanted the Lord to act in judgment to take back the earth that is rightfully His and be exalted and glorified as He deserved. Yet the realization of the terrible doom awaiting unbelievers turned that initial sweet taste into bitterness.

All who love Jesus Christ can relate to John’s ambivalence. Believers long for Christ to return in glory, for Satan to be destroyed, and the glorious kingdom of our Lord to be set up on earth, in which He will rule in glory while establishing in the world righteousness, truth, and peace. But they, like Paul (Romans 9:1–3), mourn bitterly over the judgment of the ungodly.

In keeping with his bittersweet experience, John was told, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” The use of “again” indicates John was being commissioned a second time (1:19) to write the rest of the prophecies God was going to give him. What he was about to learn would be more devastating than anything yet revealed—and more glorious. He was to be faithful to his duty to record all the truth he had seen and would soon see. The prophecies John would receive would relate to everyone everywhere. John is to warn of all the bitter judgments coming in the seventh trumpet and the seven bowls.

As an exile on Patmos (1:9), he had no opportunity to preach to all nations, but he was to write the prophecies and distribute them, so as to warn all people of the bitterness of judgment to come, and of death and hell. Sinners everywhere may know because John recorded these prophecies that, while judgment is presently restrained, a future day is coming when the seventh angel will sound his trumpet and sin’s dominion will be broken, the freedom of Satan and his demons will come to an end, godless men will be judged, and believers will be glorified.