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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 10 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER X

 

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER

THIS chapter contains the record of a sublime vision of an angel which, at this juncture, John saw descending from heaven, disclosing new scenes in what was yet to occur. The vision is interposed between the sounding of the sixth, or second woe-trumpet, and the sounding of the seventh, or third woe-trumpet, under which is to be the final consummation, Re 11:15, seq. It occupies an important interval between the events which were to occur under the sixth trumpet, and the last scene—the final overthrow of the formidable power which had opposed the reign of God on the earth, and the reign of righteousness, when the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of God, Re 11:15. It is, in many respects, an unhappy circumstance that this chapter has been separated from the following. They constitute one continued vision, at least to Re 11:15, where the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet occurs.

The tenth chapter contains the following things:

(1.) An angel descends from heaven, and the attention of the seer is for a time turned from the contemplation of what was passing in heaven to this new vision that appeared on the earth. This angel is clothed with a cloud; he is encircled by a rainbow; his face is as the sun, am/his feet like pillars of fire:—all indicating his exalted rank, and all such accompaniments as became a heavenly messenger.

(2.) The angel appears with a small volume in his hand, Re 10:2. This book is not closed and sealed, like the one in chapter 5, but was "open"—so that it could be read. Such a book would indicate some new message or revelation from heaven; and the book would be, properly, a symbol of something that was to be accomplished by such an open volume.

(3.) The angel sets his feet upon the sea and the land, Re 10:2: indicating by this, apparently, that what he was to communicate upperrained alike to the ocean and the land—to all the world.

(4.) The angel makes a proclamation—the nature of which is not here stated—with a loud voice, like the roaring of a lion, as if the nations were called to hear, Re 10:3.

(5.) This cry or roar is responded to by heavy thunders, Re 10:3. What those thunders uttered is not stated, but it was evidently so distinct that John heard it, for he says (Re 10:4) that he was about to make a record of what was said.

(6.) John, about to make this record, is forbidden to do so by a voice from heaven, Re 10:4. For some reason, not here stated, he was commanded not to disclose what was said, but so to seal it up that it should not be known, The reason for this silence is nowhere intimated in the chapter.

(7.) The angel lifts his hand to heaven in a most solemn manner, and swears by the Great Creator of all things that the time should not be yet—in our common version, "that there should be time no longer," Re 10:5-7. It would seem that just at this period there would be an expectation that the reign of God was to begin upon the earth; but the angel, in the most solemn manner, declares that this was not yet to be, but that it would occur when the seventh angel should begin to sound. Then the great "mystery" would be complete, as it had been declared to the prophets.

(8.) John is then commanded, by the same voice which he heard from heaven, to go to the angel and take the little book from him which he held in his hand, and eat it—with the assurance that it would be found to be sweet to the taste, but would be bitter afterwards, Re 10:8-10.

(9.) The chapter concludes with a declaration that he must yet prophecy before many people and nations, (Re 10:11,) and then follows (Rev 11.) the commission to measure the temple; the command to separate the pure from the profane; the account of the prophesying, the death, and the resurrection to life of the two witnesses—all preliminary to the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and the introduction of the universal reign of righteousness.

The question to what doer the chapter refer, is one which it is proper to notice before we proceed to the exposition. It is unnecessary to say, that on this question very various opinions have been entertained, and that very different expositions have been given of the chapter. Without going into an examination of these different opinions—which would be a task alike unprofitable and endless—it will be better to state what seems to be the fair interpretation and application of the symbol, in its connexion with what precedes. A few remarks here, preliminary to the exposition and application of the chapter, may help us in determining the place which the vision is designed to occupy.

(a) In the previous Apocalyptic revelations, if the interpretation proposed is correct, the history had been brought down, in the regular course of events, to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, and the complete overthrow of the Roman empire by that event, A.D. 1453, Re 9:13-19. This was an important era in the history of the world; and if the exposition which has been proposed is correct, then the sketches of history pertaining to the Roman empire in the book of Revelation have been made with surprising accuracy.

(b) A statement had been made, (Re 9:20,21,) to the effect that the same state of things continued subsequent to the plagues brought on by those invasions, which had existed before, or that the effect had not been to produce any general repentance and reformation. God had scourged the nations; he had cut off multitudes of men; he had overthrown the mighty empire that had so long ruled over the world; but the same sins of superstition, idolatry, sorcery, murder, fornication, and theft prevailed afterwards that had prevailed before. Instead of working a change in the minds of men, the world seemed to be confirmed in these abominations more and more. In the exposition of that passage (Re 9:20,21) it was shown that those things prevailed in the Roman church—which then embraced the whole Christian world—before the invasion of the Eastern empire by the Turks, and that they continued to prevail afterwards: that, in fact, the moral character of the world was not affected by those "plagues."

(c) The next event, in the order of time, was the Reformation, and the circumstances in the case are such as to lead us to suppose that this chapter refers to that. For

(1) the order of time demands this. This was the next important event in the history of the church and the world after the conquest of Constantinople producing the entire downfall of the Roman empire; and if, as is supposed in the previous exposition, it was the design of the Spirit of inspiration to touch on the great and material events in the history of the church and the world, then it would be natural to suppose that the Reformation would come next into view, for no previous event had more deeply or permanently affected the condition of mankind.

(2.) The state of the world, as described in Re 9:20,21, was such as to demand a reformation, or something that should be more effectual in purifying the church than the calamities described in the previous verse had been. The representation is, that God had brought great judgments upon the world, but that they had been ineffectual in reforming mankind. The same kind of superstition, idolatry, and corruption remained after those judgments which had existed before, and they were of such a nature as to make it every way desirable that a new influence should be brought to bear upon the world to purify it from these abominations. Some such work as the Reformation is, therefore, what we should naturally look for as the next in order; or, at least, such a work is one that well fits in with the description of the previous state of things.

(d) It will be found, I apprehend, in the exposition of the chapter, that the symbols are such as accord well with the great leading events of the Protestant Reformation; or, in other words, that they are such that, on the supposition that it was intended to refer to the Reformation, these are the symbols which would have been appropriately employed. Of course, it is not necessary to suppose that John understood distinctly all that was meant by these symbols, nor is it necessary to suppose that those who lived before the Reformation would be able to comprehend them perfectly, and to apply them with accuracy. All that is necessary to be supposed in the interpretation is

(1) that the symbol was designed to be of such a character as to give some general idea of what was to occur; and

(2) that we should be able, now that the event has occurred, to show that it is fairly applicable to the event; that is, that on the supposition that this was designed to be referred to, the symbols are such as would properly be employed. This, however, will be seen more clearly after the exposition shall have been gone through.

With this general view of what we should naturally anticipate in this chapter, from the course of exposition in the preceding chapters, we are prepared for a more particular exposition and application of the symbols in this new vision. It will be the most convenient course, keeping in mind the general views presented here, to explain the symbols, and to consider their application as we go along.

Verse 1. And I saw. I had a vision of. The meaning is, that he saw this subsequently to the vision in the previous chapter. The attention is now arrested by a new vision—as if some new dispensation or economy was about to occur in the world.

Another mighty angel. He had before seen the seven angels who were to blow the seven trumpets, (Re 8:2) he had seen six of them successively blow the trumpet; he now sees another angel, different from them, and apparently having no connexion with them, coming from heaven to accomplish some important purpose before the seventh angel should give the final blast. The angel is here characterized as a "mighty" angel—iscuron—one of strength and power; implying that the work to be accomplished by his mission demanded the interposition of one of the higher orders of the heavenly inhabitants. The coming of an angel at all was indicative of some Divine interposition in human affairs; the fact that he was one of exalted rank, or endowed with vast power, indicated the nature of the work to be done—that it was a work to the execution of which great obstacles existed, and where great power would be needed.

Clothed with a cloud. Encompassed with a cloud, or enveloped in a cloud. This was a symbol of majesty and glory, and is often represented as accompanying the Divine presence, Ex 16:9-10; 24:16; 34:5; Nu 11:25; 1 Ki 8:10; Ps 97:2.

The Saviour also ascended in a cloud, Ac 1:9; and he will again descend in clouds to judge the world, Mt 24:30; 26:64; Mr 13:26; Re 1:7.

Nothing can be argued here as to the purpose for which the angel appeared, from his being encompassed with a cloud; nor can anything be argued from it in respect to the question who this angel was. The fair interpretation is, that this was one of the angels now represented as sent forth on an errand of mercy to man, and coming with appropriate majesty, as the messenger of God.

And a rainbow was upon his head. In Re 4:3, the throne in heaven is represented as encircled by a rainbow. See Barnes on "Re 4:3".

The rainbow is properly an emblem of peace. Here the symbol would mean that the angel came not for wrath, but for purposes of peace; that he looked with a benign aspect on men, and that the effect of his coming would be like that of sunshine after a storm.

And his face was as it were the sun. Bright like the sun, (Barnes on "Re 1:16") that is, he looked upon men with

(a) an intelligent aspect—as the sun is the source of light; and

(b) with benignity—not covered with clouds, or darkened by wrath. The brightness is probably the main idea, but the appearance of the angel would as here represented, naturally suggest the ideas just referred to. As an emblem or symbol, we should regard his appearing as that which was to be followed by knowledge and by prosperity.

And his feet as pillars of fire. See Barnes on "Re 1:15".

In this symbol, then, we have the following things:

(a) An angel—as the messenger of God, indicating that some new communication was to be brought to mankind, or that there would be some interposition in human affairs which might be well represented by the coming of an angel;

(b) the fact that he was "mighty"—indicating that the work to be done required power beyond human strength;

(c) the fact that he came in a cloud— an embassage so grand and magnificent as to make this symbol of majesty proper;

(d) the fact that he was encircled by a rainbow—that the visitation was to be one of peace to mankind; and

(e) the fact that his coming was like the sun—or would diffuse light and peace.

Now, in regard to the application of this, without adverting to any other theory, no one can fail to see that, on the supposition that it was designed to refer to the Reformation, this would be the most striking and appropriate symbol that could have been chosen. For,

(a) as we have seen above, this is the place which the vision naturally occupies in the series of historical representations.

(b) It was at a period of the world, and the world was in such a state, that an intervention of this kind would be properly represented by the coming of an angel from heaven. God had visited the nations with terrible judgments, but the effect had not been to produce reformation, for the same forms of wickedness continued to prevail which had existed before. Barnes on "Re 9:20".

In this state of things, any new interposition of God for reforming the world would be properly represented by the coming of an angel from heaven as a messenger of light and peace.

(c) The great and leading events of the Reformation were well represented by the power of this angel. It was not, indeed, physical power; but the work to be done in the Reformation was a great work, and was such as would be well symbolized by the intervention of a mighty angel from heaven. The task of reforming the church, and of correcting the abuses which had prevailed, was wholly beyond any ability which man possessed, and was well represented, therefore, by the descent of this messenger from the skies.

(d) The same thing may be said of the rainbow that was upon his head. Nothing would better symbolize the general aspect of the Reformation, as fitted to produce peace, tranquillity, and joy upon the earth. And

(e) the same thing was indicated by the splendour—the light and glory— that attended the angel. The symbol would denote that the new order of things would be attended with light; with knowledge; with that which would be benign in its influence on human affairs. And it need not be said, to any one acquainted with the history of those times, that the Reformation was preceded and accompanied with a great increase of light; that at just about that period of the world the study of the Greek language began to be common in Europe; that the sciences had made remarkable progress; that schools and colleges had begun to flourish; and that, to a degree which had not existed for ages before, the public mind had become awakened to the importance of truth and knowledge. For a full illustration of this, from the close of the eleventh century and onward, see Hallam's Middle Ages, vol. ii. pp. 265-292, chap. ix. part ii. To go into any satisfactory detail on this point would be wholly beyond the proper limits of these Notes, and the reader must be referred to the histories of those times, and especially to Hallam, who has recorded all that is necessary to be known on the subject. Suffice it to say that, on the supposition that it was the intention to symbolize those times, no more appropriate emblem could have been found than that of an angel whose face shone like the sun, and who was covered with light and splendour. These remarks will show that, if it be supposed it was intended to symbolize the Reformation, no more appropriate emblem could have been selected than that of such an angel coming down from heaven. If, after the events have occurred, we should desire to represent the same things by a striking and expressive symbol, we could find none that would better represent those times.

{a} "rainbow" Eze 1:28 {b} "face" Re 1:15,16; Mt 17:2

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