Buy our Entire Web site on CD Revival Reformation Classics:
Can Change the World Again.
Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Revelation of John - Chapter X
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).





This short chapter, unsurpassed in the magnificence of its scenes, is remarkable for its introduction of new imagery. The old symbolism which in its general outline has been constantly before us through chapters 5-9 is now, not perhaps entirely dropped, but greatly modified by the appearance of new elements. Consequently we have new questions of interpretation to grapple with.—But let it be suggested that in so far as these questions pertain rather to the drapery of the vision than to its contents and subject-matter, their importance is only secondary, and is not vital. Yet it must be a matter of some interest to look into these questions of drapery and symbol.—Thus we have here the questions (1.) Who is this mighty angel? the Son of God himself, or some archangel? (2.) What is this little book? what are its contents? what its relations to the first book (chap. 5), and what (if any) to the second part of this book of Revelation (chaps. 12-19)? (3.) What was said by "the seven thunders?" and if their sayings are not to be even conjectured, why did they speak at all, and why is any thing said of their speaking? (4.) What is meant by the twofold result of eating this book, the sweetness and the bitterness?—To these questions we will give some attention in their place. More vitally important than any mere question of costume is the fact that this chapter comes in here to apprise us that the grand catastrophe is near—that the long delayed and final blow is about to fall. The blast of the seventh trumpet, closing out the contents of the seventh seal, will cut short and complete the fearful work of retribution on the first grand enemy of Christianity. The event is of such importance as to justify these solemn premonitions by means of this new and magnificent imagery.—Hence in this chapter we have a mighty angel coming down from heaven, and his appearance (v. 1); his little book and his attitude (v. 2); the speaking of the seven thunders which was not to be recorded (vs. 3, 4); the solemn oath of this mighty angel and its import (vs. 5-7) the taking and eating of the book and its effect (vs. 8-10); with an intimation to the prophet of his further work (v. 11).

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:

The reader will notice that the standpoint of the seer is somewhat changed. From chapter 4 onward, his point of view is mainly in heaven, save that his sweep sometimes seems to embrace earth as well; but here he sees an "angel come down from heaven "—i. e., to the earth upon which the seer is supposed to stand.-One "mighty angel' has been seen before (5: 2) where our English version has "strong," but the Greek has the same word as here.—"The rainbow," it should be read, perhaps in the sense, the rainbow par excellence, in its highest splendor and glory. " His face as the sun " corresponds to the description of "the Son of man" (1: 16), and not essentially unlike are his feet; here, "as pillars of fire;" there, "like unto fine brass as if they burned in a furnace."—Was this "other might angel" truly the Son of man, or some lofty archangel? I incline strongly to the former opinion, induced by the majesty of his appearance, by the close analogy between this description and that given of Jesus Christ in 1: 13-16; by the fact that Jesus appropriately has the custody of the book of destiny; as in 5: 7, and 6: 1, etc., so here also; and further, that when Jesus become's a messenger, bringing down the book of destiny from heaven to earth, he may very fitly be termed an angel. This corresponds with Old Testament usage. (See Ex. 23: 20-23, and elsewhere.)

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,

Questions of secondary interest cluster about this "little book," claiming only a brief attention. Of these the main one is—What were its contents? Did it comprise the second great division of this book of Revelation, i. e., chaps. 12-19? Or was it only a codicil or supplement to the first book with its seven seals, or possibly, what remained of that first book itself, but brought forward prominently here only to reveal the great fact of this chapter the immediate approach of the grand catastrophe-the fact of no more delay, but the terrible execution of the long impending vengeance?—I am drawn to the latter view by the following considerations: (1.) No "book" of destiny appears in the imagery throughout chaps. 12-19. (2.) If this "little book" comprised those chapters, it would not be little relatively to the first, but great. (3.) This book appears at first as "open," indicating that its contents are fairly out; not shut up; a circumstance appropriate if its contents were the things brought out in this chapter, but inappropriate if they were the events of chaps. 12=18. (4.) It will seem incongruous and unaccountable that a little book, pregnant with the prophecies of Rome (chaps. 12-18), should be brought to view here, on the very eve of the great catastrophe of Judaism, where we naturally look for concentration of thought upon this near impending and most appalling event. This latter consideration has chief influence on my mind to restrain me from finding Rome in this "little book."

The point made above (No. 3) somewhat favors the opinion that this book is essentially the same as the first, now appearing small because the greater part of its contents have been disposed of. It is significantly said to be "open," or rather as the participle strictly means opened, laid open—all its seven seals broken, and all its contents now disclosed: It is no longer a book sealed with seven seals but, a book with' all its seals broken. It is in the same hand as when seen before in heaven. He brings it down now for the special. purpose of making the solemn proclamation by the sacred oath that the time of vengeance—the time to fulfill the last terrible judgment included in this book-has come.

The grandeur of his attitude-his right foot on the sea and his left on the land—revealed him as the mighty Lord of all, Maker and Sovereign of worlds.

3. And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion. roareth and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.

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.

V "He cried as a lion roareth;"—the word "when" given in our English version is omitted by all the best authorities.—The word rendered "uttered" is commonly used of speaking articulate words and not of making inarticulate sounds. These thunders (always in the best manuscripts " the seven thunders," v. 3) speak audible, intelligible words, and therefore John at first supposed they were t to be written down. The command to "seal them" seems to have meant only—forbear to write them; seal them in thine heart; put no word they have spoken on paper. Why was this? If it were wrong for us to conjecture, why did they speak at all and why was so much recorded about their speaking?—I have no conjecture to offer save this—that they spake, as none but the seven thunders could speak, of the final fall of Jerusalem, and that the suppression of their words harmonizes essentially with the manner in which the sounding of the seventh angel is given (11: 15), i. e., by implication rather than by explicit assertion; by giving only the thrill of joy it sent through heaven, and not the dark, sad aspect of woful desolation as viewed on the side of human suffering, or the wreck of the once sacred city and temple.

5. And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,

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:

7. But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be fin. ished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.

"Lifted up his hand" in the improved text becomes his right hand. Lifting the hand toward heaven was the from of the solemn oath, said of Abraham (Gen. 14: 22), and repeatedly of God himself (Ex. 6: 8, and Num. 16: 30, and Dent. 32: 40). The last named passage is emphatic: "Fox I lift up my hand to heaven and say, I live forever! If I whet my glittering sword and mine hand take hold on judgment," etc. The coincidence of thought as well as language suggests that this awful passage may have been in the min of the august speaker in the verse before us.! That there shall be time no longer" does not mean, no more time as compared with eternity, i. e., no longer probation for the race on this earth; but it means precisely, no longer delay in the execution of the doom threatened upon the great enemy of Christ's kingdom. The delay has already been long: it can be protracted no longer!—In verse 7, the translation, "When he shall begin to sound," is not accurate. 'flu; original neither makes nor implies any distinction between the beginning of his sounding and the later or closing periods of it. The precise sense is, who shall sound very soon, or more fully, when he shall sound, which will be very soon. This Greek future io made by a special verb [mello] for which we have no precise equivalent, hut which is used with another verb in the infinitive to qualify it as we use an adverb, and which indicates a future event close at hand. Examples are abundant, e. g., "ready to die" (Luke 7: 2); "at the point of death" (John 4: 47), the same Greek words as the preceding; "were almost ended" (Acts 21: 27); "the things that remain which are ready to die" (Rev. 3: 2). So here, "Who is ready to sound," on the very point of sounding, and when he shall do so, then "shall the mystery of God be finished."—This word "mystery" is used by the New Testament writers of things revealed by the Old Testament prophets which were otherwise inscrutable to human vision. Here the word refers to the judgments long before predicted against the Jewish city and nation for their persistent and most guilty rejection of their Messiah, as in the last two chapters of Isaiah. [See my notes on those chapters.] The language here does not naturally imply (as some have supposed) tb t all the prophecies given by the old prophets were then to be fulfilled, but only this special judgment which had been foreshown by the prophets respecting the retributive judgment of God on that people, once his own by covenant, but then fearfully, utterly, hopelessly apostate.

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.

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.

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.

To eat a book is to take its contents into the mind and consider them diligently or to keep up the figure, "inwardly digest" them. This symbol is imitated from Ezek. 2.—On the question, What precisely is meant by its being sweet in the mouth but bitter and painful after being swallowed, we must choose between these alternatives: (1.) Pleasant in its first impressions and in the first view taken of it, but painful in the subsequent reflection upon it. Or (2.) That some of its revelations were joyous and some were sad; or which amounts nearly to the same thing—that this great event would be joyful in some of its aspects and relations but sad and afflictive in other aspects of it—I incline to the latter view which certainly applies forcibly to the great truth which was the chief if not the only burden of this little book—viz., the ruin of the city, temple, and civil state of the Jews. This event, seen in its relations to the progress and triumphs of Christianity—seen as a sublime manifestation of God's righteous retribution upon a most guilty people—was glorious to God and fraught with success and victory to Christ's kingdom: but seen on the side of the human sufferings involved in it—seen in the light of the hallowed associations of every Jew with the sacred temple, the holy city, the homes and the sepulchers of the honored fathers, it was bitter to the soul.

11. And be said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

Though the scenes of the first book of destiny, and of its "little" supplement, were about to close, yet John is reminded that there are yet other events to be predicted. "Thou must prophesy again;" not before [in the presence of], but concerning people, nations, etc.—i. e., Gentile powers as distinguished from Jews. The language implies that thus far he has prophesied concerning Jews, but that the latter part of his book will treat of Gentile powers.

Next Chapter.
Previous Chapter.

Preface | Introduction | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII
"Day" = year?