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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 10 - Verse 11

Verse 11. And he said unto me. The angel then said.

Thou must prophesy. The word "prophesy" here is evidently used in the large sense of making known Divine truth in general; not in the comparatively narrow and limited sense in which it is commonly used, as referring merely to the foretelling of future events. See the word explained in See Barnes "Ro 12:6; 1 Co 14:1".

The meaning is, that, as a consequence of becoming possessed of the little volume and its contents, he would be called to proclaim Divine truth, or to make the message of God known to mankind. The direct address is to John himself; but it is evidently not to be understood of him personally. He is represented as seeing the angel; as hearkening to his voice; as listening to the solemn oath which he took; as receiving and eating the volume; and then as prophesying to many people: but the reference is undoubtedly to the far-distant future. If the allusion is to the times of the Reformation, the meaning is, that the end of the world was not, as would be expected, about to occur, but that there was to be an interval long enough to permit the gospel to be proclaimed before "nations, and tongues, and kings;" that in consequence of coming into possession of the "little book," the word of God, the truth was yet to be proclaimed far and wide on the earth.

Again—palin. This had been done before. That is, supposing this to refer to the time of the Reformation, it could be said

(a) that this had been done before—that the gospel had been in former times proclaimed in its purity before "many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings," and

(b) that it would be done "again:" that is, though the word of God had been hidden, and a mass of corrupt traditions had taken its place, yet the time would come when those pure truths would be made known again to all lands. This will explain the word "again" in this place— not meaning that John would do this personally, but that this would be in fact the result of the restoration of the Bible to the church.

Before many peoples. This word denotes people considered as masses, or as grouped together in masses, without reference to the manner in which it is done. It is used when we look on a mass of men, without taking into account the question whether they are of the same nation, or language, or rank. See Barnes "Re 8:9".

The plural is used here—"peoples"—perhaps to denote that those to whom the truth would be made known would be very numerous. They would not only be numerous in regard to the individuals to whom it would be communicated, but numerous considered as communities or nations.

And nations. The word nations here denotes people considered as separated by national boundaries, constitutions, laws, customs. See Barnes on "Re 7:9".

 

And tongues. People considered as divided by languages: a division not always, or necessarily, the same as that denoted by the word "people" or "nations" as used in this passage.

And kings. Rulers of the people. The meaning is, that the gospel would not only be borne before the masses of mankind, but in a special manner before kings and rulers. The effect of thus possessing the "little volume"—or of the "open book" of revealed truth would ultimately be that the message of life would be carried with power before princes and rulers, and would influence them as well as the common people.

In inquiring now for the proper application of this symbol as thus explained, we naturally turn to the Reformation, and ask whether there was anything in that of which this would be the proper emblem. The following things, then, are found in fact as occurring at that time, of which the symbol before us may be regarded as the proper representation:—

(1.) The reception of the Bible as from the hand of an angel—or its recovery from obscurity and forgetfulness, as if it were now restored to the church by a heavenly interposition. The influence of the Bible on the Reformation; the fact that it was now recovered from its obscurity, and that it was made the grand instrument in the Reformation, has already been illustrated. See Barnes "Re 10:2".

The symbolical action of taking it from the hand of an angel was not an improper representation of its reception again by the church, and of its restoration to its true place in the church. It became, as it is proper that it should always be, the grand means of the defence of the faith, and of the propagation of truth in the world.

(2.) The statement that the little book when eaten was "in the mouth sweet as honey," is a striking and proper representation of the relish felt for the sacred Scriptures by those who love the truth, (compare See Barnes "Re 10:9") and is especially appropriate to describe the interest which was felt in the volume of revealed truth in the time of the Reformation. For the Bible was to the reformers emphatically a new book. It had been driven from common use to make way for the legends of the saints and the traditions of the church. It had, therefore, when translated into the vernacular tongue, and when circulated and read, the freshness of novelty—the interest which a volume of revealed truth would have if just given from heaven. Accordingly it is well known with what avidity and relish the sacred volume was studied by Luther and his fellow-labourers in the Reformation; how they devoured its doctrines; how they looked to it for comfort in their times of trial; how sweet and sustaining were its promises in the troubles that came upon them, and in the labours which they were called to perform.

(3.) The representation that, after it was eaten, it was "bitter," would not improperly describe the effect, in some respects, of thus receiving the Bible, and making it the groundwork of faith. It brought the Reformers at once into conflict with all the power of the Papacy and the priesthood; exposed them to persecution; aroused against them a host of enemies among the princes and rulers of the earth; and was the cause for which many of them were put to death. Such effects followed substantially when Wycliffe translated the Bible; when John Huss and Jerome of Prague published the pure doctrines of the New Testament; and when Luther gave to the people the word of God in their own language. To a great extent this is always so—that, however sweet and precious the truths of the Bible may be to the preacher himself, one of the effects of his attempting to preach those truths may be such opposition on the part of men, such cold indifference, or such fierce persecution, that it would be well illustrated by what is said here, "it shall make thy belly bitter."

(4.) The representation that, as a consequence of receiving that book, he would prophesy again before many people, is a fit representation of the effect of the reception of the Bible again by the church, and of allowing it its proper place there. For

(a) it led to preaching, or, in the language of this passage, "prophesying" a thing comparatively little known before for many ages. The grand business in the Papal communion was not, and is not, preaching, but the performance of rites and ceremonies. Genuflexions, crossings, burning of incense, processions, music, constitute the characteristic features of all Papal churches; the grand thing that distinguishes the Protestant churches all over the world, just in proportion as they are Protestant, is preaching. The Protestant religion—the pure form of religion as it is revealed in the New Testament—has few ceremonies; its rites are simple; it depends for success on the promulgation and defence of the truth, with the attending influence of the Holy Ghost; and for this view of the nature and degree of religion the world is indebted to the fact that the Bible was again restored to its true place in the church.

(b) The Bible is the basis of all genuine preaching. Preaching will not be kept up in its purity, except in the places where the Bible is freely circulated, and where it is studied; and where it is studied, there will be, in the proper sense of the term, preachers. Just in proportion as the Bible is studied in the world, we may expect that preaching will be better understood, and that the number of preachers will be increased.

(c) The study of the Bible is the foundation of all the efforts to spread the knowledge of the truth to "peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings," in our own times. All these efforts have been originated by the restoration of the Bible to its proper place in the church, and to its more profound and accurate study in this age; for these efforts are but carrying out the injunction of the Saviour as recorded in this book—to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."

(d) The same thing will be true to the end of the world: or, in the language of the portion of the book of Revelation before us, til the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever," Re 11:15. The fact of the restoration of the Bible to its proper place in the church will, therefore, ultimately be the means of the conversion of the whole world to God; and this fact, so momentous in its nature and its consequences, was worthy to be symbolized by the appearance of the "angel descending from heaven clothed with a cloud;" was properly represented by the manner in which he appeared—"his face radiant as the sun, and his feet pillars of fire;" was worthy to be expressed by the position which he assumed, as "standing on the sea and the earth" —as if all the world were interested in the purpose of his mission; and was worthy of the loud proclamation which he made—as if a new order of things were to commence. Beautiful and sublime, then, as this chapter is and always has been esteemed as a composition, it becomes still more beautiful and sublime if it be regarded as a symbol of the Reformation—an event the most glorious, and the most important in its issues, of any that has occurred since the Saviour appeared on the earth.

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