The Witness to the New Creation (10:1-7)
- And I saw another strong Angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was on His head, and His face was like the sun, and His legs like pillars of fire;
- and He had in His hand a little book that was open. And 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.
- And 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 that the seven peals of thunder have spoken, and do not write them.
- And 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 shall 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 accomplished, as He preached the Gospel to His servants the prophets.
1 The strong Angel can be none other than Jesus Christ Himself, the “Angel of the LORD” who appeared in the Old Testament. This will be clear enough if the description of this Angel is compared with that of Christ in 1:14-16, and of God on His throne in Ezekiel 1:25-28. There are, however, further indications of the divine identity of this strong Angel.
First, the Angel is seen clothed with a cloud – an expression that should call to mind the Glory-Cloud. And while the Cloud is filled with innumerable angels (Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:17), there is only One who could be said to be clothed with it. Compare Psalm 104:1-3:
O LORD my God, Thou art very great;
Thou art clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain –
The One who lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
Who makes the clouds His chariot;
Who walks upon the wings of the wind….
The basic reference for this, of course, is the fact that God was indeed “clothed with the Cloud” in the Tabernacle (cf. Ex. 40:34-38; Lev. 16:2). This could not be said of any created angel. To be clothed with the Cloud is to be clothed with the entire court of heaven; it is, in fact, the created angels who form the Cloud. Jesus Christ is wearing the host of heaven (cf. Gen. 28:12; Jn. 1:51).
Second, the Angel had the rainbow upon His head. We have seen the rainbow already in 4:3, around the throne of God; and Ezekiel says of the One whom he saw enthroned that “there was a radiance around Him. As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” (Ezek. 1:27-28).
Third, the Angel’s face was like the sun. This fits the description of Christ in 1:16, and in Matthew 17:2, the account of Christ’s transfiguration (cf. Ezek. 1:4, 7, 27; Acts 26:13; 2 Cor. 4:6). He is “the Sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:2), “the Sunrise from on high” (Lk. 1:78; cf. Ps. 84:11; 2 Pet. 1:16-19). In particular, the imagery of the sun and sunrise – as we have already noted with the words day and light – is often used to describe the glory of God shining in judgment (cf. Ps. 19:4-6; Ezek. 43:2; Zech. 14:7; Mal. 4:1-3; Rom. 13:12); and the “flaming fire” of judgment is spoken of by Paul as Christ’s “face” and “glory” (2 Thess 1:7-9). This is especially appropriate here, since Christ has come to St. John to announce the annihilation of Jerusalem.
Fourth, His legs were like pillars of fire. This refers to some of the most complex imagery in all the Bible. Obviously, the phrase is intended to remind us of “the pillar of fire and cloud” – the Glory-Cloud of the Exodus (Ex. 14:24). As we have seen, it is the Lord who “wears” the Cloud (Deut. 31:15), and the Cloud is also identified as the Angel of the LORD (Ex. 32:34; 33:2; Num. 20:16). It appears that the dual aspect of the Cloud (the smoke and the fire) symbolically represented God’s legs.
Thus, the LORD walked before the people in the Cloud (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19,24; 23:20, 23); He came in the Cloud and stood before them (Ex. 33:9-10; Num. 12:5; Hag. 2:5). In terms of this imagery, the Bride describes the Bridegroom’s legs as ”pillars” (Song 5:15). We should also note that the dual nature of the pillar, representing the legs of God, was incorporated into the architecture of the Temple (l Kings 7:15-22; 2 Chron. 3:15-17); thus ”the ark of the covenant located beneath the enthroned Glory is accordingly called God’s footstool (Isa. 60:13).” The significance of all this, and its relationship to the passage as a whole, will become apparent below. Enough has been seen, however, to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that this rainbow-haloed, Cloud-clothed Angel coming down out of heaven is (or represents) the Lord Jesus Christ.
2-3 The Angel, holding a little book, then placed His right foot on the Sea and His left on the Land. H. B. Swete comments: “The Angel’s posture denotes both his colossal size and his mission to the world: ‘sea and land’ is an O.T. formula for the totality of terrestrial things (Ex. 20:4,11; Ps. 69:34).” We might modify this point with the observation that in the Bible, and especially in the Book of Revelation, “Sea and Land” seems to represent the Gentile nations contrasted with the Land of Israel (2 Sam. 22:4-5; Ps. 65:7-8; Isa. 5:30; 17:12-13; 57:20; Jer. 6:23; Lk. 21:25; Rev. 13:1, 11). Thus, this picture does contain a cosmic, worldwide import; but its meaning, as we shall see further on, is tied up with the fact that Christ is standing on Israel and the nations (cf. v. 5-7).
And He cried out with a loud Voice, as when a Lion roars; by now, of course, we are familiar with the great Voice coming from the Cloud; as Kline says, the Voice “is characteristically loud, arrestingly loud. It is likened to the crescendo of ocean and storm, the rumbling roar of earthquake. It is the noise of war, the trumpeting of signal horns and the din of battle. It is the thunder of the storm-chariot of the warrior-Lord, coming in judgments that convulse creation and confound the kings of the nations.” In worshipful response to His Voice, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices. This sevenfold thunder is itself identified with the Voice in Psalm 29, where some of its phenomenal effects are noted: It shatters cedars in pieces, rocks whole nations with earthquakes, shoots forth mighty bolts of lightning, cracks open the very bowels of the earth, causes animals to calve, and topples the trees, stripping entire forests bare. This adds a dimension to our understanding of the nature of the Voice that issues from the Cloud: It consists of the heavenly antiphony in which the angelic chorus answers the declarations of the Sovereign Lord.
4 Of course, everyone wants to know: What did the seven thunders say? An astounding amount of scholarly ink has been wasted on the solution of this problem. But, in this life at least, we can never know the answer. St. John was about to write down what the thunders had spoken, when he heard a Voice from heaven saying: Seal up the things that the seven thunders have spoken, and do not write them. The message was intended for St. John’s ears only. It was not intended for the Church at large. But what is important here is that God wanted St. John to record the fact that he was not supposed to reveal whatever the seven thunders said. God wanted the Church to know that there are some things (many things, actually) that God has no intention of telling us beforehand.
This serves well as a rebuke to the tendency of most sermons and commentaries on this book-that of a curious searching into those things that God has not seen fit to reveal. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). In other words, “Man has been given the law, which he must obey. He has been told what the consequences of obedience and disobedience are. More than that, man does not need to know.” R. J. Rushdoony writes: “Man is more often prompted by curiosity than by obedience…. For every question a pastor receives about the details of God’s law, he normally receives several which express little more than a curiosity about God, the life to come, and other things which are aspects of ‘the secret things which belong to God.’… As against curiosity and a probing about ‘secret things,’ we are plainly commanded to obey God’s law and to recognize that the law gives us a knowledge of the future which is legitimate.
In the final chapter of the book St. John is commanded: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (22:10); the message of the Book of Revelation as a whole is contemporary in nature, referring to events about to take place. In contrast, however, the message of the Seven Thunders points us to the far distant future: Daniel was told to “conceal these words and seal up the book until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4), for the reason that the time of its fulfillment was not at hand. Similarly, when St. John is instructed to seal up the words spoken by the Thunders, it is another indication that the purpose of Revelation is not “futuristic”; the prophecy refers to the time of the establishment of the New Covenant, and points beyond itself to a ”time of the end” that was still very distant to St. John and his readers. We are thus taught two things: First, the Book of Revelation is a contemporary prophecy, concerned almost entirely with the redemptive-eschatological events of the first century; second, the events of the first century were not exhaustive of eschatology. Contrary to the theories of those interpreters who would style themselves as “consistent preterists,” the Fall of Jerusalem did not constitute the Second Coming of Christ, the end of the world, and the final resurrection. There is more to come.
5-7 St. John now shows us Christ’s purpose in revealing Himself in this way: The Angel lifted up His right hand to heaven (the proper stance for a witness in a court of law: Gen. 14:22; Ex. 6:8; Deut. 32:40; Ezek. 20:5-6; Dan. 12:7) and swore an oath. Some commentators have taken this fact as their basis for holding that this Angel is not Christ, apparently regarding swearing as somehow below His dignity or out of character. One wonders, in response, about the soundness of these commentators’ views regarding the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s deity. For, assuredly, the Lord God swears oaths throughout Holy Scripture (cf. Gen. 22:16; Isa. 45:23; Jer. 49:13; Amos 6:8), and in fact our salvation is based on God’s faithfulness to His covenant oath, the ground of the Christian’s assurance and hope (Heb. 6:13-20).
We must observe carefully that Christ is presented here in the position of a witness, as St. John has informed us on two occasions already (1:5; 3:14). This is the point at which the various details of the vision converge. We have noted some of the significance of His legs appearing like pillars of fire (v. 1), and this must be further developed. For, in the first place, pillars are used in Biblical symbolism and ritual as witnesses (cf. Gen. 31:45, 52; Deut. 27:1-8; Josh. 8:30-35; 22:26-28, 34; 24:26-27). Similarly, the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments served as witnesses (Deut. 31:26), legal documents of testimony to the covenant stipulations. Thus the law is called the Testimony (Ex. 16:34; 25:16, 21-22; 32:15; 34:29; Lev. 16:13; 24:3; Num. 1:50, 53; 4:5; Josh. 4:16; 2 Kings 11:12). When God stood in the dual pillar of cloud/fire before Israel at the “tent of testimony” (Num. 9:15; 10:11), He was identifying Himself as the Witness to the Covenant (cf. 1 Sam. 12:5; Jer. 29:23; 42:5; Mic. 1:2; Mal. 2:14).
The Angel-Witness swears that there shall be delay no longer, but in the days of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the Mystery of God is accomplished. The word Mystery does not mean something “mysterious” in our modern sense, but rather “something formerly concealed and now unveiled.” It is revelation: knowledge that God formerly withheld, but has now “revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5), a mystery “that has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (Col. 1:26). This “Mystery” is a major aspect of the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians: the union of believing Jews and Gentiles in one Church, without distinction; “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Jesus Christ through the Gospel” (Eph. 3:6). Gentiles, who had been strangers and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and from the covenantal promises, are now, through the work of Christ, full sons of Abraham, heirs of the Covenant, on an equal and indistinguishable standing with believing Jews (Eph. 2:11-22; Gal. 3). They form one “new man,” one Church, one Body of Christ, in the one New Covenant. And this one covenantal Kingdom, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, will have universal dominion: All nations will now flow to the Mountain of the Lord, as the kingdoms of the world become the one Kingdom of Christ (11:15). The Mystery of God, the universalization of the Kingdom of God, is to be accomplished – as He preached the Gospel to His servants the prophets. The Mystery is simply the revelation of the message of the Gospel.
This is why the Angel stands as witness on the Sea and on the Land (cf. v. 2), a fact that is repeated for emphasis in verse 5. The Angel takes the oath with His pillar-legs planted on Israel and the nations, proclaiming the New Covenant which will unite the two into one new nation in Christ. Moreover, He swears in the name of the Creator: 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 (cf. Ex. 20:11; Ps. 146:6; Neh. 9:6). The Angel swears in this manner because He is standing as divine Witness to the New Creation. The details of the passage remind us of two other “New Creation” events: the covenant with Noah (the rainbow) and the covenant at Sinai (the pillar of fire). Both of these recalled how “the Spirit at the beginning overarched creation as a divine witness to the Covenant of Creation, as a sign that creation existed under the aegis of his covenant lordship. Here is the background for the later use of the rainbow as a sign of God’s covenant with the earth.” “At the ratification of the old covenant at Sinai, this cloud-pillar form of theophany represented God standing as witness to his covenant with Israel. Once again at the ratification of the new covenant at Pentecost, it was God the Spirit, appearing in phenomena that are to be seen as a New Testament version of the Glory-fire, who provided the confirmatory divine testimony.”
Thus, we have seen several Biblical ideas joining together at this point to form a consistent pattern: covenant, oath, creation, testimony, and witness. The Spirit, appearing as the original cloudy pillar of fire, was present at the original creation, and then at the later re-creation events in the history of redemption: the Flood, the Exodus, the erection of the Tabernacle and the Temple, and the Day of Pentecost. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost was prophetically described by Joel in terms of the Glory-Cloud: “I will display wonders in heaven and on earth: blood, fire, and pillars of smoke” (Joel 2:30); and the Apostle Peter, quoting Joel’s statement, declared that the Pentecost event was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy (Acts 2:16-21).
The various creation-events thus interpret and are re-interpreted by each other. That the covenants were made in terms of the creation shows them to be provisional re-creations which point to the final New Creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24). And that the creation accounts use covenantal language and settings (witness-pillar, oath, and testimony) shows it to have been a covenant (i.e., if covenants are re-creations, then the creation was covenantal.
Another motif common to creation and covenant is the sabbatical form in which both are structured. The entire book of Revelation is, as we have previously noted, structured in sevens, revealing its nature as a record of a covenant-making process; and here we see “the Mystery of God” declared to be completed with the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet. The Sabbath “is a day of divine action featuring divine judgment with the penetration of the darkness by the light of the theophanic glory, it is a day of creating heaven and earth and consummating a temple of God made in the likeness of the Glory, it is a day of the revelation of the sovereign glory of the covenant Lord. Taken together, the seven days are the fullness of time of creation, the sevenfold fullness of the day of the Lord. In redemptive re-creation, the day of the Lord, wherein the old passes away and all is created anew, is again a fullness of time, in which, as Paul declares, all the mystery of God comes finally into eschatological realization” (see Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:9-10; cf. Matt. 13:11-17; Mk. 1:15; Col. 1:15-20; Rev. 10:7).
Revelation 10 thus serves to introduce us to the first great climax of the prophecy: the announcement of the destruction of Jerusalem. And through its use of multi-layered Biblical imagery it declares the fall of Jerusalem to be an inescapable aspect of the great and final Covenant-making event. The sounding of the seventh angel will be the irrefutable sign that the promised New Creation, the New Covenant, is an accomplished fact. The great Mystery of God – the completion and filling of His new and final Temple – will have been revealed to the world (11:15-19).
The Bittersweet Book (10:8-11)
- And the Voice which I had heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, saying: Go, take the book that is open in the hand of the Angel who stands on the Sea and on the Land.
- And I went to the Angel, telling Him to give me the little book. And He said to me: Take it, and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.
- And I took the little book out of the Angel’s hand and ate it, and it was in my mouth 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 peoples.
8-10 The instructions to take and eat the book held by the Angel are based on a similar incident in the life of Ezekiel, who was commanded to eat a scroll symbolizing the prophetic denunciation of the “rebellious house” of Israel (2:8-10; 3:1-3). This reference enables us to identify the book given to St. John as his commission, based on the New Covenant, to prophesy “lamentations, mourning and woe” against apostate Israel. The book is thus, essentially, the Book of Revelation itself. As with Ezekiel, the Covenant Lawsuit tasted to St. John as sweet as honey (cf. Ezek. 3:3), but his stomach was made bitter (cf. Ezek. 3:14). This should not be difficult to understand. St. John was called to prophesy about the victory of the Church and of the kingdom of God. A necessary corollary to the triumph of the righteous is the destruction of the wicked. The pattern holds throughout Scripture in the history of salvation: The same judgments that deliver us also destroy God’s enemies. “Salvation and judgment are two aspects of the same event.” Old Israel had turned from the true God to worship idols and demons; she had become a harlot and a persecutor of the saints, and had to be destroyed. And while St. John could rejoice in the victory of the Church over her enemies, it would still be a wrenching experience to see the once-holy city leveled to rubble, the Temple torn down and burned to ashes, and hundreds of thousands of his relatives and countrymen starved and tortured, murdered, or sold into slavery. All the prophets experienced this same emotional wrenching – which did not usually involve a rebellion against their calling (Jonah is a notable exception), but rather a deeply rooted recognition of the two-edged nature of prophecy, of the fact that the same “Day of the Lord” would bring both immeasurable blessing and unspeakable woe (cf. Amos 5:18-20). It should be noted further, however, that a vast chasm separates the prophets from many of their interpreters in our own day. For while modern theologians will affect a weepy attitude over the sufferings of “humanity” in general, or in the abstract, the prophets suffered from no such humanitarian impulses. The prophets grieved over the disobedient children of the Covenant. The bitterness St. John will experience is not over the fate of the Roman Empire. He grieves for Israel, considered as the Covenant people. They are about to be disinherited and executed, never to be restored as the Covenant nation. The divorce of old Israel is necessary in God’s plan of redemption, and St. John both welcomes it and proclaims it with vigorous joy. Yet there is legitimate sorrow for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
11 In the Old Testament background of the Book of Revelation, the Angel of the Lord is identified as the original Prophet (cf. Ex. 23:20-23; Deut. 18:15-19). As such, He raised up and commissioned other prophets in His image, reproducing Himself in them (Ex. 3:2ff.; 33:14; 34:5ff.; 29-35; 2 Ki. 1:3, 15; 1 Chron. 21:18). For this reason, the prophets are often called angels (messengers), expressing their re-creation in the image of the divine Prophet-Angel (2 Chron. 36:15-16; Hag. 1:13; Mal. 3:1). The same pattern is continued here: the Angel-Prophet, who proclaims His message while straddling the inhabited earth, commissions St. John to prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings. St. John’s prophecy regarding the destruction of Israel and the establishing of the New Covenant will encompass the nations of the world. Christ has announced the Gospel, the message of the universal sway of the Kingdom, to “His servants the prophets” (v.7), and now His servant John is to extend the proclamation of that Gospel to all nations. Christ has redeemed men from every nation (7:9). The mighty Roman Empire itself is ultimately an instrument of God’s will (17:16-17), eventually to be crushed and cast away when its usefulness has ceased (19:17-21; cf. Dan. 2:44). “The kingdoms of the world are but the scaffolding for God’s spiritual temple, to be thrown down when their purpose is accomplished.”
 Cf. Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 108, 121.
 Ibid., p. 19; cr. 1 Chron. 28:2; Ps. 99:5; 132:7. In the larger, cosmic Temple (“the heavens and the earth”), the earth is called God’s footstool (Isa. 66:1), and thus the earth is said to have pillars (1 Sam. 2:8; Job 38:4-6; Ps. 75:3; 104:5; Isa. 51:13, 16; 54:11), and sockets to hold the pillars (Job 38:6; the same word is used for the pillar sockets in the tabernacle, in Num. 3:36-37; 4:31-32).
 The meaning of the little scroll will be discussed below, in connection with v. 8-11.
 Henry Barclay Swete, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 3rd ed.,  1977), p. 127.
 Here is yet another identification of the Angel with Christ: He is the Lion who “has overcome so as to open the Book” (Rev. 5:5).
 Kline, p. 101.
 Rousas John Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1983), p. 388.
 See, e.g., Max R. King, The Spirit of Prophecy (n.p., 1971). While King’s work has a great deal of value for the discerning student, its ultimate thesis – that there is no future Coming of Christ or Final Judgment – is heretical. Historic, orthodox Christianity everywhere, with one voice, has always taught that Christ “shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed). This is a non-negotiable article of the Christian faith. Cf. David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 138-48.
 Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), pp. 113-30. The law required two witnesses (Deut. 17:6; 19:15), and, as we have noted in the Introduction, the two tablets were duplicate copies of the covenant.
 “The sense here is not an abolition of time and its replacement by timelessness, but ‘no more time’ from the words of the angel until the completion of the divine purpose.” James Barr, Biblical Words for Time (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson Inc., rev. ed. 1969), p. 80.
 F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957), p. 218.
 “Preached the Gospel,” rather than “declared” or “preached,” is the literal translation of the Greek text.
 Kline, Images of the Spirit, pp. 19f.
 Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue, Volume I (privately published syllabus, 1981), p. 28. Kline also points out (pp. 5f.) that the words oath and covenant are often used interchangeably (cf. Deut. 29:12; Ezek. 16:8).
 No other construction may legitimately be placed upon the apostle’s words. The coming of the Spirit was the fulfilment of Joel 2:28-32. “The Last Days” had arrived. See Chilton, Paradise Restored, pp. 115-22.
 See Kline, Kingdom Prologue, Vol. I, pp. 33f.
 Ibid., p. 33.
 Kline, Images of the Spirit, pp. 114f.
 See R. J. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule, pp. 19ff., 140f.
 For an incisive analysis of humanitarianism, see Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: Christian Faith and Its Confrontation with American Society (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), pp. 39-87.
 That Israel will someday repent and turn to Christ is, to me, indisputable (Rom. 11; cf. Chilton, Paradise Restored. pp. 125-31). That is not at issue here. The point remains, however, that in order to be restored to the Covenant, Jews must join the Church of Jesus Christ along with everyone else. Israel will never have a covenantal identity distinct from the Church. For more in-depth discussions of the place of Israel in prophecy, see (in ascending levels of complexity) lain Murray, The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971); John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., [1959, 1965] 1968), Vol. 2, pp. 65-108; Willem A. Van Gemeren, “Israel as the Hermeneutical Crux in the Interpretation of Prophecy” (I), Westminster Theological Journal 45 (1983), pp. 132-44; idem, “Israel as the Hermeneutical Crux in the Interpretation of Prophecy” (II), Westminster Theological Journal 46 (1984), pp. 254-297.
 See Kline’s discussion of this in Images of the Spirit, pp. 75-81, 91-95.
 Ibid., pp. 57ff.
 Thomas V. Moore, A Commentary on Haggai and Malachi (London: The Banner of Truth Trust,  1968), p. 80.